Big day at a Little Church … a tight community in Porto Martins, Portugal

Catholic Church in our village, Porto Martins
Mass welcoming a new priest to Porto Martins

The ‘hood grew last week in Porto Martins as our neighbor’s newborn, Amelia, was baptized and a new priest arrived to shepard the Porto Martins Catholics.

Nearly eveyone agrees life on Terceira is tranquil, relaxed, and friendly. When asked why we retired here, the first answer is usually “to be near Sofia’s family” or “because the people here are so great.” The tale of how we found an overgrown plot of land across from her sister’s new house, turned it into a wonderful home with a great view of the ocean, and grew to love our new neighbors is a major success story. We look out the window, watch news of the world, and hug each other!

How do we guage acceptance and freindliness? This year one neighbor invited us to his Esprit do Santos celebration, a week of friends, feast, drink, and meeting his friends and family. This past week, another neighbor invited us to his daughter’s baptism, a celebration and feast for the first of many sacrements for this darling little infant. Also noteworthy was this gathering at our little (tightly-packed) church built in 1901 was the arrival of a new priest, a man stretched with sheparding over Praia Da Vitoria and several other churches besides Porto Martin.

Many who know me know I’m not Catholic, not practicing very much, etc. (One friend, a pastor in Michigan, always quips “the church wasn’t hit by lightning when you walked in?”) So I maintain it’s not the practice of faith as much as the tremendous community feeling here. As neighbors drive by, they wave, invite us to family events, and ask how we’re doing. To a guy who lived in apartments where we never saw our neighbors, that feeling is very inspiring. Kind of refreshes our view of humanity.

Not a big deal in the balance of the world today, but reinforces our continual happiness of retiring into a little Portuguese village!

PraiaFest 2023…a great time is being had by all…including these retirees:)

Selfie in front fo the multi-colored "sails" heralding the excitement which overtakes the entire town each August.
Not normally a fan of “selfies,” but the friendly crowd and cool evening breeze during PraiaFest’s Antique Car Parade seemed to require a photo image of the moment. About 5,000 folks (my estimate, never an easy thing to do) surrounded us as we sampled food, bands, and drink; greeting many friends and neighbors.

Maybe I’m a slow learner, maybe I just needed the ‘right’ incentive, or maybe I’m getting more acclimated to life on Terceira, but this year the annual Praia Festival has been so enjoyable. Sofia and I venture out many evenings (some we just listen from our veranda) to enjoy the people, planned events, captivating array of foods and drinks, and enjoy music and dancing. (All right, in all honesty, you who know me know I don’t dance, but i sway with familiar music😎)

For nearly 30 years, we have returned from our stateside lives to visit family and celebrate our anniversary in August. I have never totally embraced the crowds, loud music, and the efforts to meet folks who remember us but I don’t always remember them; and then share a drink or beer and try to discuss life over the crowd noise and music. I’m just not good at it.

I’m improving with age. My magnificent wife and translator has worked out signals and introductions to help me remember who is greeting us, how they know us, and sometimes I even get a quick intel breif on their family; if they knew me when I was stationed here, were they at our wedding, did they help us design or build the house, or do we hike with them on many of the islands trails through volcanos and fields. I’m getting better at shaking hands, smiling, and greeting women with the familiar Portguese greeting of kissing both cheeks. I’m improving. Slowly, but improving.

My analysis is predicated on the fun I’m having. Spending time with the warden, walking, talking, reminiscening — ah, forget it, the spell checker isn’t helping, let’s go with “remembering” — is very relaxing, comforting, and falls into the category of enjoying my reitrment years! When in the Azores, enjoy the festivals!

Another “Day in the Life” of Life After the Rat Race:)

Cut the grass, clean up, beach, and spend the evening listening to Nuno Bettercourt and most of the family play in the square…wait, what?

Not sure how this link will work, but…

It always starts with…”Honey, if you want to, we can go watch this concert tonight…” My response is always the same, with some hesitation, “yes dear, if you want to.” “Rui and Cesar are saving us seats…”

It was just another day in paradise… breakfast, mow the grass, make the bed, you know, the usual. Hot day here, so we had a fantastic lunch, then headed to the beach, baked and slept and swam for the afternoon, came home to dinner, and then headed out for Praia da Vitoria. True friends had saved us a nice table in the small plaza where, just the day before, Cousin Mike and Cindy had sat, looking out the sea, watching some guys run power cables and lights from the nearby Ramo Grande auditorium across the street. I explained Praia Festivals were coming in a week or two.

“The band is supposed to start about 8 p.m.” In island time, expect about 10 p.m. Sitting and drinking beer, met a couple of new friends from Callfornia here for the festivals, and an a visit to the table from from Luis Bettencourt, in charge of the concert and raising money for the Praia da Vitoria Philharmonika band. Very nice guy; someone said he’s an awesome guitar player. OK. Seemed like a nice guy and a good cause, very well organized. Just running late. Sold more beer and sangria.

Band settles in about 10. Not a troop to the stage, Luis calls his band members from the bar, family gatherings, beach, etc. Finally everyone settles into the small stage and the rock and roll starts. Great tunes from CCR, Beatles, Elvis, etc. Fabulous vocals, jokes, forgotten words, more jokes, fun emanating from every mike! Awesome. My sister in law and her friend Paula dancing by the stage, trying to hail Sofia to join them. Crowd grows much larger; we’re darned glad we have seats:) Music was loud, not unbearable. Overall a fantastic time. Another group of musicians join the stage, again, members of the local Familia Bettercourt. Nuno on drums. Luis on guitar. Great sounds. Sisters singing and dancing. (cmoore, I often thought about you…I think you would have loved the music and the great guitar work!!!)

Sofia says in my ear…drummer is Nuno Bettencourt. That’s nice. I’ve heard the name, he’s from Praia. I didn’t realize he’s Rock and Roll Royalty, and basically comes back to Praia for the festivals and a family reunion most years. I seem him playing drums, joking with family on the mike, and then later he’s helping a cute little blond child dance to the music behind the stage.

I was never a fan of concerts, but this ranked as one of the best nights I can remember since moving here. As the warden pointed out, I knew the words to almost every song they played. We hugged and moved in our seats (never got the sisters together dancing, but I tried!) No one complained about my English or Portugeuse or German, I didn’t even get through the crowd to have too many drinks. I did bump into my neighbors, Eduardo my best man, and other ex-pats and folks. Just pure fun with family and friends. I’m certain Nuno and his family also had fun with family and friends.

So as we’re driving home in the wee hours, Sofia reiterates…”That’s what festivals on the island are all about…fun times with family and friends!”

She seems to be always right! 🙂

Family visitors and yet more chances to learn more about our island

Three family folk sitting on the wall atop the Praia Bay with our house in the distant background
OceanEmotion’s guide Jao explains to Mike and Cindy more about the dolphins and whales we saw touring around Angra do Heroismo. Cousin Mike and Cindy spent a wonderful week with us before returning to their home in Texas. They agreed the swimming and sunny days were much cooler than Texas:) **Note, Sofia did not join us on the boat…no surprise, right:)

Cousin Mike, my oldest cousin, came for a visit, the first family we’ve hosted from stateside. We all felt the visit was a great success, gave us a chance to visit after many years apart, and see how they were doing and show how our retirement life is on Terceira.

Growing up, Mike was a strong influence on my education; cars, guns, mechanical innovation, attitude, etc. So it was facinating to see how were similar and disimilar as we’ve aged, learned about family we’ve not seen in years, and compare memories of youth, aunts and uncles, grandmothers, and days of misspent youth (his was misspent….I was a perfect angel! :))

As we’ve distanced ourselves from my family in retirement, it’s refreshing and rewarding to get these visits for several reasons. Reminiscing and catching up is a laugh riot! It forces us shift slightly out of our comfort zone; months of the same lifestyle makes for some stagnant habits, which are useful to break on occasion. Even different breakfast schedules, new broadcast preferences, even lanugage preferences … flexibility is necessary to enjoy, adjust, and evolve. We are loving such things more and more.

Some things are not easy. Changing habits and lifestyle take some effort, and all efforts require some balance. Fortunately, with family and close freinds, the effort always pays off, and the end result is a tighter group, and I beleive family and good friends deserve such effort. Like most things which require effort, the end result is worth it.

Thanks for visiting, Mike and Cindy. I know it’s not easy to travel from Texas to Terceira and back, and we know it was worth it for us. Hopefully it was also worth it to you guys:)

guide and Cindy and Mike aboard Ocean Emotion whale watching boat
guide and Cindy and Mike aboard Ocean Emotion whale watching boat

Where you been? Exploring a new country with new friends!!!

Traveling around the globe has always had joys and challenges. I’m a firm believer that everything in life is a two-edged sword; some good, some bad. When you’re traveling, you make choices, some turn out great, some turn out ok (better memories than moments:)) and some things are unbelievably excellent.

So I invited a distant friend to our place to recuperate from surgeries. She accepted, suggested brining her family from the US and then we all go visit his homeland in Romania. My wife and I had never met her husband, daughter, and I really knew very little beyond a tremendous like and respect from working together on a project. A little nervous, but her husband, an ace project manager by profession, promised to show us Romania like we’d never seen it. So we booked the tickets, planned a few days for them to visit our island, some sightseeing in Lisbon, and then accepted Gino’s itinerary to his beautiful place in Romania. Gino did all the planning, scheduling, reservations, and driving. Which was significant, including the Transfagarasan Highway, more than 130 kilometers of motorcycle heaven.

Transylvania's Transfagarasan Highway into the highest reaches of the Carpathian Mountains. Fabulous driving, and no one felt queasy...thank you amigo:)

My bottom line is simple…travel again with these great friends, return to Romania with more time, and most importantly…get a BMW motorcycle and ride the Transfagarasan Highway again!

In the meantime, the greatest lesson was not a new one, it was a reinforcment of one of our primary rules of thumb; meet new folks, try new things, and take pictures and memories. You’ll never regret it!

Protecting children’s inheritance – getting ready for summer

Two men painting Casa do Sonhos even in cloudy weather - experts make the work fast and excellent

Busy summertime activity at Casa da Sonhos.

Even though the house is only five years old, we plan on portecting the investment for future generations here by painting with high-quality paint against the sometimes-vicious elements. Even though we scheduled the painter last year for June, he was unavaible and signed us on with a team which is going through our one-story house in record time, and doing it perfectly. The blue trim, picked before building by our daughter, turns out to be a painting nightmare, all done by hand by a guy with steadier hands than I have ever seen! Turns out one of the guys lives near one of my favorite towering pine trees (a landmark which has steered me toward home on many occassions) and the other lives near Sofia’s old schoool and knew her father. As does the electrician working on installing our new video camera on the gate.

While the guys are outside painting, I’m inside packing for our trip to Romania for a few weeks. (Did I need to mention that I’m also dicing vegatables, mowing grass, and updating blogs?) Friends are coming in from DC, spending a few days on the island, a few days with us in Lisbon, and then we’re off to visit their summer home in Romania. Looking forward to some well-deserve relaxation, learning more about a new culture, visiting the Carpathian mountains, and getting to know our friends better. Needless to say, in true Azorean tradition, the boss is cleaning house, cooking up a storm, and of course, telling me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it:)

Meanwhile, we are busy collecting vegetables from our garden, huge cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, and such. Peppers aren’t in yet, but we’re expecting them by the time we get home. Very few things beat garden-fresh soup, salads, and fresh fish for lunch.

So this summer promises to be warm and busy with our primary desires for retirement; learning more about our world, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying our wonderful Casa da Sonho on the island of Terceira. While in a restaraunt in Praia da Vitoria recently, we ran into a family of military folks who had a great time stationed here years ago. When they asked where we lived, we pointed to our house overlooking the bay, and they loved it. As do we.

Last weekend a group of our dear freinds in the ex-pat community took a boat trip around the island (A zodiac with two 300-horse engines!). The weather was perfect, not always the case. Had a wonderful time, emptied several coolers, and as always, I learned even more about our volcanic island. Every morning when I walk out on the veranda, I am amazed at the secrets this place holds.

Rest assured, it’ll be a busy summer, but a great one. Stay tuned:)

Enjoying an amazing Terceira tradition Espirit do Santo

Neighbor's home with the three crowns for the Holy Spirit observance.

We were honored to receive an invitiation to our neighbor’s Holy Spirit observance, an annual event at many homes and in every village around the island. Each Pentecost Sunday famliies pray to the Holy Spirit for some favor or help. The week preceding Pentecost the family gathers with extended family, friends, and neighbors, prays the Rosary at the altar in their home, and serves food and wine after the prayers. The sense of family and community is very strong!

On Sunday, everyone meets an an Imperious (little chapels in each village which honor the Holy Spirit, identified by a Dove and a Crown) and are only used one or two times each year, but are maintained very well year round. The family leads a processsion of friends and family to the local church accompanied by a local band. At the church, a Mass is said, the priest blesses the crowns, and the people wear the crown and lead the procession back to the Imperious for a traditional meal of Holy Spirit Soup, alcatra, meats and cabbage, and wine.

This tradition dates back to the 14th century, Terceira is one of the few places in the world where this celebration to the Holy Spirit is held.

Like so many things about living in a different country, I’m learning about the local traditions, cultures, and values. I ask questions, learn from the answers, and most importantly, I have a great time learning:)

Spring is Sprung…on Terceira everyone is Spring Cleaning…including digitally:)

Home computer network
Boasting high speed Fiber Optic cables, sitting in Terceira is exactly like sitting in my offices in Washington D.C.

Spring Cleaning — Digitally

After many years of earning a paycheck for online activities and travelling around the globe, I wanted to share some ideas of what everyone might try for a little digital spring cleaning.

Don’t let it phase you!

Living overseas or from a suitcase, I have avoided some digital disasters with a few simple actions. I run this list every few months, but Spring Cleaning might help shake cobwebs from the digits and accounts we all rely on when overseas. Some of them are common sense, some are simply awareness, and some can be downright daunting. If you’re not more comfortable, find someone who is, but please, do it.

  1. Back up all of your digits
    • Your cellular phone(s). Simple process, often easiest to jut search for instructions for your operating system (Android or iPhone), hook up a cable or point to a cloud and let it rip. It’s also a good time to delete some stuff…my wife uses her iPhone to help her remember appliance serial numbers, hard to see places under cabinets, etc. Takes up space and slows things down. Purge things you don’t need and back up.
    • Your desktop or laptop. Invest in an external hard drive (I always recommend Paulo at Ciberangra in Praia across from the police station…perfect English, good advice, and good prices. Depending on the size of the USB drive (just one cable and the plug) you’re up and running. Most external drives come loaded with backup software.
    • If you want to get braver, download or buy a program to scan your hard drive, remove useless software, malware, and things that will slow your computer down. Then back it up!
    • Update your software. Windows or Mac, sometimes your settings allow automatic updates; sometimes that’s turned off. Run updates to get the latest security patches, etc. Update your profiles for accounts if needed: retirement, investments, government(s).
  2. Think about investing in an Encrypted Hard Drive. Going back to my military days, I bought two virtually indestructible “thumb drives” that’s encrypted. The teeny tiny numeric keypad is coded with my secret combination, which then makes it so I can see the contents…scans of our ID cards, passports, important papers like home ownership, insurance, birth and death certificates, credit card and bank accounts, etc. Whenever we travel off-island, we take the drive, so no matter what happens, we will have copies of the important information we need to get our lives back on track. I’ve carried this thing for decades, around the world, and never had to use it — that’s a good thing!
  3. Take a few moments to “Google” your own name(s) and see what the world sees about you. You should see your social media accounts, perhaps a list of your past jobs and cities you’ve lived in, etc. Many times you will also find a few surprises. For instance, when I Googled my full name with middle initial, I discovered that the State of Michigan had an old tax refund check waiting for me, which I claimed and used to buy another subscription for anti-virus software. You could also run into some bad information which might need addressing.
  4. Check your security settings. On Social Media accounts, most are constantly increasing the “robustness” (not sure if it’s a word, but you get the idea😊) for personal security. Some accounts like Facebook also have preferences for if you can’t access your account, and/or if you pass and your friends or relatives have to decide what to do with your account.
  5. Record Passwords and Logins. I know such ideas are strictly Verboten, but I keep my login information hidden just so my family can cope with any situation -insurance, bank accounts, social media, etc. In my days as an Air Force planner, we documented things under the “if I get hit by a bus” presumption…my plans will still be accessible to those who need them. My wife, children, and business associates know this system and seem to like it. (There are those who think I use too much detail, but hey, different generations!)

These are relatively simple steps. This list is NOT comprehensive. But it is a start. Hopefully, it prompts you to think about “your digital footprint” at least every spring, time change, quarter, birthdays, any simple tracking mechanism. Also hopefully, it prompts you to be slightly adventurous, invest in some technology which you may never use, but will save you days of distress in the event of a natural disaster, cyberattack, lightning storm, power surge, blackout, etc. If you can’t or don’t want to face the challenge, hopefully it will prompt you to find someone who can and will help, and then YOU need to check the results. You are the one who has to live with them.

After you spend some time on this project, go outside and enjoy spring…or at the very least, do what I do and go help the “warden” do spring cleaning…don’t forget under the refrigerator😊!

Terceira continually works on their “Green Footprint”

Ancient stone house and and nearby geothermal station on the interior of the island of Terceira.
In the hills near the center of the island, hikers will see the old and the new. The quaint stone houses from generations gone by, many still in use, and this geo-thermal station taking energy from the volcanic substructure of the island and converting it to electric power.

Over the years I have named many pros and cons of life on a volcanic island in the middle (actually 2/3s of the way across from Washington DC to Lisbon) of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the main attractions I have to this island life here is the perpetual balance of people here of self-sustenance and dependence on Mother Nature. When I was stationed here at Lajes AB in 1990, I marvelled at how farmers used donkeys and horses to till their fields; how they rotated crops and cows, and even how the bulls and cows would graze on the mountain sides with two legs uphill and two downhill. Here farmers and fishermen bundle up before dawn to coexist with the elements and take care of crops, catches, their families and each other.

During return visits over the years, my wife and I have marveled and dreaded how modern technology has changed things in Terceira. Cell phones (the island only needs a couple of cell towers), many more cars, huge tractors now loom over the stone walls which border plots of land for crops and cows and goats. Fishing boats now stop to unload by the port’s giant ice maker to pack a catch and send them to our European Union customers.

Without doubt, one of Terceira’s sources of pride in today’s world is how they enjoy capitalizing on natural resources to further life and technological advances. Out our kitchen window, the Serra do Cume sports 11 giant wind generators spinning silently day and night to increase renewable energy. Each day we drive past a solar panel farm, and many houses here have solar panels on their roof. Hiking through the island’s interior, one might dodge some cows grazing to come across a geothermal plant that harnesses some of the sub-surface pressures and activity to generate more power.

So sure, there are some down sides to life on the island. It’s not a great fit for some. The Regional Government recognizes that and the Portuguese government sometimes offer financial incentives to attract doctors and other professionals to live and work here. Many of the blog readers here will visit and decide to immigrate to mainland Portugal (and visit the islands often:)) But overall, if you’re cut from the right cloth, love nature, consider yourself independent and largely self-sustaining, island life on Terceira is great.

Many folks from both sides of the Atlantic are checking it out, and one thing which many find attractive is the environmentally-friendly energy posture which is present and growing here. Of course, that’s one consideration…others include beautiful scenes, welcoming people, and a calm, relaxing life. Like everything else in the world, sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s fantastic, and always … it’s Terceira!

Carnaval — Annual Fun on Terceira … In Person or On TV

Performers on stage in 2019 in Porto Martins Carnaval. Singing and dancing by community members dressed as police and a prisoner.
Terceira may only have two movie theaters and no mall, but every spring you can see how the island comes together to enjoy Carnaval, with bands, music, hilarious skits, political discourse (sung by costumed performers) and all-around camaraderie. (This shot was from 2019, I was not feeling up to shooting for 2023).

Technology changes many things in Terceira, some changes good, some not so good. But technology hasn’t (yet) changed the age-old tradition of Carnaval; the fun-filled days celebrating with neighbors prior to observing the Roman Catholic church’s season of sacrifice prior to Easter. Carnaval is an international celebration and the remote island of Terceira adapts for fun every year.

This year (2023) was slightly different for us, and that technology saved us. A local TV channel broadcast live from the streets of Praia da Vitoria, Angra do Heroismo, and several of our favorite villages. We did get one chance last week to share the “seniors” performance, seven groups in one auditorium, before we both came down with a nasty cough. (We tested, it’s just a cough)! So we stayed home, ate soup, drank Aguardente, and tried to enjoy recuperation together. Fortunately, our local TV channel brought us right into the action, with broadcasts from streets and Casa da Povos (literally House of the People), the community center in the center of each village.

I should explain Carnaval in Terceira! Nearly the whole island turns out. (While seated at the Ramo Grande auditorium, a beautiful young lady sitting next to me explained that on mainland Portugal, many claim that the Azores consists of eight islands and one “fun park,” since they party, have street bullfights, and enjoy life so much)! Each Freguesia (parish) sports a group of performers, band members, and comedians in festive costumes who spend about 45 minutes singing, dancing, and doing skits on stage.

The performances feature jokes, social discourse (this year unity with Ukraine, city hall spending habits, etc.) separated by original songs or island favorites to the accompaniment of each village’s Filharmonica; drums, horns, guitars, lutes, and violins. The dancers “cover” skit set changes with chorus line-style dancing while performers change costumes, place new props, and then dancing stops for another “scene” in the action.

I am fascinated by two major elements of the many Carnaval presentations each year. One, my wife and her family get together, laugh, sing, and smile and laugh. That’s awesome. The other is the performers. No one brings in paid “talent,” very few are even what one could dub ‘semi-pro,” but these are the people of the island who pay for their costumes, practice, and perform each year. One group we saw included our doctor’s receptionist, our seamstress, carpenters, brick masons, handymen, girls we sun next to at the beach … you get the idea. During Carnaval, crime is non-existent, fights virtually unheard of, and the minimal police presence, crowd control, and traffic control are all done with smiles.

So while we inwardly curse some technology, this Carnaval I realized how nice it is that the island has reached this “progress.” In centuries past, performers and audiences would stay in one place and others would come to enjoy, walking and using horse and donkey carts. This year buses carried troups and equipment, including sound systems, cameras and a multitude of musical instruments. The local TV setup was excellent; we could enjoy most elements of Carnaval in the comfort of our own home, near tissues and medicines (including Aguardente).

Retiring here is sometimes very trying. When folks ask me, I always say it has its pros and cons. To thrive here, I have gotten better (still not perfected) the spirit of my neighbors; when living through the cons, remember the pros. It will all even out in the end!!!

Boa Carnaval, my friends!

Blog visitors and Happy Wife story:)

Been a little relaxed in posts lately, but hey…I’m retired:)

What a great weekend! Yesterday was a first for our Life-After-The-Rat-Race.com blog which I started when I retired from the Department of the Interior in 2018. One couple who read the blog, R & G, contacted me a few months back, were coming to “check out” a couple of Azorean islands, and flew in to join us while we showed off Sofia’s home island and my adopted home. (I even got acknowledgement of my Gomez Addams impersonation of “Querida!”)

Although a short visit, these two divers from California shared many stories of their travels and cultural experiences from the back seat as we drove around the island before taking them to the airport. Fascinating couple with great conversations. We’re hoping they come back to visit longer and in a few years, consider joining our wonderful “ex-pat” group here!

Wife wearing motorcycle helmet in Wyoming on a trip from Michigan some years back.
Happy Birthday, Feliz Aniversario, Muito Parabems, Querida. Literally thousands of photos of my darling wife and co-conspirator, but this is her on a motorcycle trip with Dan and Linda from Michigan to Wyoming a few years back. My awesome woman from a little island in the Atlantic has been by my side for many decades, willing to try almost (she’s not stupid:)) anything with me. This weekend is her birthday, and I am so honored she is sharing another trip around the sun with me!

So many joys this weekend here on Terceira. Rain, sunshine, wind, and waves as we “cruised” around the island. Sofia and I do almost everything together, and have since we got married decades ago. But variances in weather, friends old and new, helping with some of our charitable efforts, nothing can compare with her birthday. So, please, allow me to briefly wax eloquent on this amazing (and now slightly older) better half of our dynamic duo.

To this day, one of the toughest things I’ve ever done was take my 27-year-old bride of three months away from her entire family and move to pursue dreams with my family in Ohio. We have many stories of how difficult it was for her, the joys and pains of such a major cultural transformation, and how we supported each other — sometimes well, sometimes not so! But we’ve prevailed, raised two fantastic daughters, and returned her home after 28 years. (I recall we courted in secret because her father didn’t want her dating an American … he said he didn’t want her being dragged away from her family to America. I promised I would bring her home, and we are home. He told me when we moved back here he didn’t believe I would return with his daughter, and here we are!)

Over the years, we have done many tough things together, dealt with life, death, disappointment, joy, elation, COVID … you know, life. I expect we’ll keep on enjoying life together just a few meters from her family. Terceira is a small island.

As followers of “Life-After-The-Rat-Race” know, here it is not always smooth sailing. As we enjoyed sharing our story with R & G during our whirlwind visit this weekend, we were reminded we have worked hard, lived amazing lives, and have done this together. And mostly, I have to say, because of the courage, persistence, love, and downright stubbornness of our birthday girl.

Happy Birthday, Querida.

New year, memories, holidays, and annual tasks

Brothers Rick and Rob at MSU in 2017
Something we rarely see … As a result of a New Year’s task of annual photo filing, a photo of brothers Rick and Rob (both smiling) getting together. Taken at MSU in 2017, I realized it’s been almost 5 years since we’ve gotten together. So around New Year’s, I organize photos, memories, and make plans for the new year.

The great news here on the island is that I survived another holiday season of merriment, spiritual enlightenment, large quantities of alcohol, more good food than i should, and plenty of time with friends and family.

The bad news is that once again I have to tackle those holiday tasks — taking down the tree, getting ready to do taxes, and backing up many computers, cell phones. Of course I also get to split firewood, oil guns, and help around the house with Winter Cleaning. When the winds die down, I still have to wash the car and cut the grass. When the winds are high or it’s raining, I back up systems…which always leads to finding old photos which need to be consolidated.

I also have time to think of what I didn’t get done last year. For instance, while I try to talk to my twin brother a couple of times a month, as well as both sisters and both daughters, annual photo sorting and backups bring back memories and longings. Through social media like Facebook, Instagram, LInkedin, (yes, I realize I’m old fashioned by modern standards) keeps me informed of many friends life, but that includes aging, retirements, deaths, births, graduations of kids I remember babysitting…you know the drill.

So as I plan on tasks, goals, and objectives for each new year, I “pencil in” family visits into travel plans and desires. Hopefully this year the travel gods will keep medical and health difficulties at bay, money and time more manageable, less pandemics, and more reliable airline service. If all these things align, maybe we’ll get the chance to see people we care about but don’t hug enough. We knew retiring to an island in the ocean would result in in long absences, and my darling bride spent many years adjusting to only an occasional visit from her family…so I make adjustments too. Retiring to the Azores requires adjustment, and I am adjusting. But I also can prioritize visits back to the states to see friends and family. Not sure if that constitutes a News Years resolution, but we’ll see:)

So, back to the annual tasks at hand. Now which files have I already moved?

Miss you Bro.

Winter in the Azores…is it a return to childhood?

Ocean in high winds and trees blowing
Winds howl outside, the ocean churns, and trees bend to seemingly impossible angles… and I read comfortably.

I’m sitting here reading a brief history of Japan and how it grew into a colonial power like other “western powers” and the ironies which came with that.

Also sitting here listening to the winds howl. Had a fire going, a glass of wine (or two) and observing distant lights on the commercial port through the horizontal rain. Her cats are huddled together in the garage, and the warden is asleep, dreaming sweet dreams without care. So it’s me, the wind, and a good book. Actually, not a book, but a mini-iPad I have used for years; it travels well, doesn’t get dog-eared pages, and I can watch movies, listen to tunes, and read, all in the same amount of space on an airline seat. Teachers and librarians in the family don’t approve, but … oh well, if that was the only thing they didn’t approve of:)

As winds whistle (or blast) past the windows, I realize I am taking comfort in reading. All kinds of things. Biographies, novels, mysteries, war stories, you name it. I harken back to school days…from Grade 3 through High School. When I sought comfort, I read. I skipped classes, sat in the library or nearby woods, and read. Loved it. Pretty good at it (often a book a day). Now here I am, reading:)

Retirement is supposed to give you time to relax and enjoy the life you’ve earned. I’m busy… too often. Helping folks, which I live to do. But in the wee hours of each morning, as winds whistle, I read. I’m not into book clubs, group discussions, even comparing notes. (Actually, one daughter enjoys going to a used book shop in Virginia and picking out some older books, many of which I read and she has yet to, so we compare notes and bond!) I just read to be by myself and “enjoy the life I’ve earned!”

So years of hard work — very hard work sometimes — and planning have paid off. I’m enjoying a good book. (All right folks, not a good “book” but good writing on an electronic screen!) Let the wind blow, let the fire crackle, let the wine flow, and let me enjoy my peace. The sun will be up soon, and then it’s back to my other ‘retired’ life. “Yes, dear. I’ll set the table and sweep the floor.” Glad to help you change your tire, set up a new application on your computer, etc.

But for now, peace, quiet, and a good “book.”

So maybe it’s time to define “bad weather” :)

distant photo of volcano overlooking Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island.
Monte Brazil, a local park, picnic place, ancient volcano, military barracks, shooting range, and landmark for Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO City, the biggest town on the island, etc. covered by clouds and fog. Not visible in the clouds is the ancient whale-watching hut where sentries would alert the population to launch whale hunters.

I’m feeling pretty guilty.

Obviously I stay in pretty close touch with old friends and comrades around the world. We share news, complaints, miseries, old age stories, memories, and of course, weather reports. Followers know that I have survived and loved winters in International Falls Minnesota, Iron Mountain, Marquette, and Ginn Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and operated snow plow businesses as a troll in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Loved nearly every minute of it!

So I’m guilty of looking out at the mountains in front of and behind my house here and seeing nothing but clouds. Stinging rains, high winds, and weather to challenge even the most cheerful soul.

So I really feel guilty after several calls from friends in Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. Reports of 10 inches of wet snow in one day, 30 inches of snow in one day, and reports of 70 inches of snow in one day. I feel bad. (Remember I plowed for years, most of my friends are the same age as I am —old!— and I’m not there to help them.

So I feel guilty about looking out my window at the green grass (yes, it needs cutting again) and the cattle lazily munching in the fields amidst downpours. When I drive, my Michelin tires bit the cobblestones perfectly, no skidding, spinning, shoveling and towing.

I feel guilty. But then, we all make our choices. While I wish I could help these friends and hundreds more, I can sympathize, listen, and feel bad for them. Then I can go look out the window at the blue ocean and have some fresh bread, a glass of local wine, and some local cheese.

I amy be guilty, but I’m not stupid!!!!

Out the window today … bad weather leads to great memories

My truck and plow outside my snow-covered driveway in snowy Michigan, years before I retired to the Azores.
Memories of Michigan, I plowed snow for many years in lower Michigan for a company, The Neighbors. I enjoyed the early mornings, the often-near-zero-visibility storms, and clearing friend’s drives between shopping centers and gas stations and churches.

There is a big difference in “getting ready for winter” in my old life and my new life. For many years, my company The Neighbors would prepare by closing contract agreements, greasing the Boss 8-foot poly blade, tune the engine, and load tow ropes and salt (for those less fortunate and having no four-wheel-drive or less experience driving on snow). Great times, getting up at 2 in the morning, checking web cams, making phone calls and coffee, checking numerous reports, kissing the sleeping girls, and hitting the road. Really great times!

Retired life is different. We really miss the snow, never gets cold enough on Terceira. That’s just as well, because the narrow, twisting roads (often cobblestone) and hills would be a nightmare to drive and plow. Driveways here often have a 40-degree slant, put ice on that and, well…..

Here we have about a month of “fall,” plenty of time to put away the lawn furniture, stack more firewood, stake out the young avocado tree, and prepare a soft bed in the garage for the neighborhood kittens. Of course, bracing for the cold winds of winter also require several additional bottles of aguardente, the local version of brandy, perfect for fighting off chills. Needless to say, most of us also stow the beach bags and umbrellas, although we have many acquaintances who religiously take a constitutional morning swim to stay fit. (We know them; we don’t join them:)

So the seasonal changes, the memories and photos, they all remind me about retired life in the Azores. Some memories are happy, some sad. All reinforce my prevailing attitude…it is what it is. Enjoy it!

Azorean Corn Harvest … a study in precision

Tractors and combines harvest summer corn crap late one night getting ready to feed livestock for the winter.
Late night ballet of tractors, combines, farmers, heavy equipment operators, and drivers provided an entertaining hour as the summer crop of corn was cut, ground, and trucked to storage in preparation of feeding livestock for the winter.

We love sitting in the backyard at night, shielded from street lights, to gazing at stars, enjoying tranquility, and reflecting on the day or how lucky we are to sit in this unique, beautiful land. Few things I enjoy more; but one of them is any and every display of precision!

My family tells tales of my fascination with precision performances, Formula One pit stops, aerobatic teams including the Frecce Tricolori, Red Arrows, Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, Grasshoppers, etc. I love sitting at breakfast and watching the choreography of watching ships sail into the port, tugs and pilot boats meeting them, docking them, and unloading them. I even focus on the precision of when to shift the car perfectly smoothly. I admire precision!

So the other night our peaceful reverie was shattered with the sudden appearance of dozens of headlights coming through a stone wall separating nearby fields of corn. A combine — as tall as the 25-foot drop from our back yard to the field below and as wide as three cars — roared into the field. It was towing a trailer for the cornstalks, and half dozen more tractors, all lined up in each of the three corn fields where “our cows” normally graze and milk. The combine operator carefully cut a swath from one stone wall to the other, curving, backing, and progressing down the field. Each tractor and trailer maneuvered into position next, driving parallel to the combine, receiving the ground corn and stalks blown into the trailer until that one filled and another was pulled into position. All this done in a stone-walled field smaller than a soccer field. Then on to two more fields. In less than an hour, seven trailers filled, before everyone rode off into the moonlight. We didn’t; we slipped inside and had a drink and marvelled.

I make note of the fact that our neighbors here are not military men, not technological masters, not scientists, engineers, or mathematicians. These are folks who are out working their fields and cows every day, rain or shine, drinking beer at the festivals, cheering on bulls in street bullfights, and singing next to us in church. Their precisions comes from necessity, efficiency, and years of practice. These people are precise and friendly survivors.

So it is not at all difficult to admire them and give them a friendly wave and salute when they drive past, or when they are leading their cow herd down the street. More of the joy of life here 🙂

Summer here is a time to make new friends…and we love it

Atop the Serra da Cume with a family stationed at Lajes 45 years ago. Had a wonderful meeting and some great memories:)
Grinning atop the Serra da Cume (545 meters or 1,788 feet) with new acquaintances from Texas. He was stationed here 45 years ago, his daughter was born on the base 45 years ago, and they brought her to celebrate on her birthday. The hospital is gone, but the base provided a tour, and we were fortunate to be able to show them some of the island which he and his wife remembered. Not enough time with these great folks; hoping they return soon.

It must be the air here.
Or the fresh breeze?
Or the great food (and wine!)
Or perhaps the often-immediate realization that my wife is a warm, compassionate, intelligent person with knowledge of many parts of the world, many cultures, and respects and learns from all of them? (I already know those things:))

But this summer, like many others for past years, we’ve been honored to meet some great new friends visiting Terceira. Couples from France, Great Britain, the U.S. (this time Texas); all interested in visiting the island, learning more about it, and seeing more of the scenery, tasting the great food, and meeting the people we live with every day.

One family from Texas had sent a letter to our friends here asking if we could help arrange a tour of Lajes Field on a specific date, when his daughter was born on the base decades before. We were honored to help them connect with a base official who arranged the tour, and then we met them the next morning and took them to some of the places they remembered around the island from years ago. We had a wonderful day, learned that his career as an Air Force officer paralleled mine in many ways, and everyone seemed to enjoy the day, several meals, and sights together.

Like almost everything else, summer here is a “good news, bad news” situation. Summer brings tourists, more traffic “jams” with an abundance of rental cars, more crowded restaurants with more limited table reservations, and of course more people on the beaches and at the natural swimming pools. Summer also means festivals in each village, street bullfights, folklore groups, and evening promenades along the beaches. That increased activity also brings many single people, couples, and families from around the world, and all of them are potential friends.

We enjoy it; we remember it, and we love it. Padre Candido (the priest and family friend who married us) admonished us to “share everything.” Don’t know if he envisioned us sharing this magnificent island, culture and people, but it’s working for us!

Let us know if you’re coming over:)

Everyone asks “What do they do for fun on the island?”

So I’ll try to concisely summarize what our relaxation includes. It’s not easy, often because in other countries (even parts of mainland Portugal) many folks can’t relate to the island “definition for fun.” Even after being stationed here and visiting for more than 25 years, it took me about four years to adapt, and I’m still working on it:)

Festivals: Every village in the summer hosts a festival. Local bands play old songs and march to new songs, very accomplished guitar players regale us with tunes from their forefathers day, dancers dress in the attire of our neighbor’s great great grandparents, then dance up and down the street; every age group, from little children through young couples, local merchants and retirees. (During large festivals, the parade route takes about four hours…that demonstrates the fortitude, dedication and energy of these people)! Here in Terceira we are honored to have a group I personally have enjoyed through many free concerts, FadoLado was the winner this year of Portugal’s Got Talent, they are from the same town where we usually go the beach, and the group and their backup musicians often provide free concerts for everyone on the island. In this photo, male singers from our nearby village of Fonte do Bastardo join them for fun, bantering, and wonderful sounds.

Men and Woman singing on stage at night festival in city square of Praia da Vitoria
Our wonderful neighbor’s brother-in-law joins FadoLado at Praia Fest 2022 in the city square. He’s the one on the mike at the moment (lighting was tough at best:))

Major festivals (Praia and Angra do Heroismo) are only once a year. Each other village prepares, spruces up everything in each town square, and has their own festival, local bands, singers, plenty of food and drink, local handicrafts, etc. Nearly every weekend in summer months you can just drive until you find the next festival. Driving around is fun — the entire island can be visited in about an hour — just about the same time it takes to park and walk in a town with a festival:) Terceira is growing more popular, and as always, it’s a two-edged sword… stronger economy, new neighbors and ideas, but traffic and parking get more challenging each year.

My plan was to list a little about each form of entertainment, village bullfights, arena bullfights, cultural demonstrations from islanders and other nations, etc. Decided I can’t do it in one post, it is too long and detailed. Just tune in again, see more, and check back. Meanwhile, I’m heading to the beach…after I mow the lawn:)

Sometimes it takes a while, but Dreams do come True!

Friends and wife enjoying a great lunch on the Veranda with a sunny day, cool breeze blowing.
Great friends, great view, great breeze, and a great retirement home. I’ve dreamt of this for nearly 25 years…and here it is!

Giving up is too easy. I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised to have a vision, work hard, be patient, and you’ll achieve it.

While I haven’t yet achieved every dream I had, many have come using this formula; vision, hard work, and patience (definitely not my forte!). But then again, when something you’ve dreamed off does come true, it’s great to relish it.

So after retiring from the U.S. government, years in the military, travelling around the world many times, settling in one sub-tropical island with a loving wife and family, the “retirement dream” began to appear on the horizon. First finding land with a dream ocean view just a few meters from family. Then finding the best builder on the island, developing a floor plan and seeing it constructed with extraordinary quality, then moving everything we own halfway across the ocean. “The Dream” was moving closer on the horizon. We could see it now while having breakfast in our new kitchen. It was close, just not quite there yet. Wonderful family, great friends living around the island, even a visit from a few in the states, but….

The girls met at a party in Angra do Heroismo. I think it was a Halloween Party, or something similar in the Portuguese culture. They got to know each other better over months and “dragged” husbands along for a lunch. We all it off perfectly; both couples had lived and worked in similar places around the world. Both couples boasted fabulous daughters. Over the course of a year or two, we all became great friends. So, back to the dream…

Great house, great weather, great food (and wine), and great cool breeze blowing over the great ocean view. Great wife (a.k.a. partner, cook, friend, and supporter). It all came together last week. For me, personally, the dream came true.

So, while not pontificating or preaching, I once again defer to the lessons of my childhood. Have a vision, work hard, and eventually dreams come true. Those of you who know me will attest that as I publish this, a million sarcastic straight lines are screaming to get to the keyboard. But I can’t be sarcastic (gasp…you say?) about a dream this old and this much effort. I can only be thankful and honored that I have been blessed with this magnificent event in my life.

Keep working toward your vision, or enjoy your achievements!

Retirement Revelation: Friends really make a difference.

I’m a pretty antisocial character. Seriously. But over the years I have learned how important it is to make the effort to understand ‘if and how’ other people perceive me; this often results in lasting friendships which follow me from every corner of the Earth.

Fortunately.

Traveller lowering the rigged sailboat into the water after a winter dry-dock.
Watching a friend lower his sailboat into Praia Bay for the summer. Glenn had spent hours cleaning, painting, grinding, sanding, and preparing his boat for the summer, then the Praia Da Vitoria Marina team lowered it into the water and he motored off to his slip.

For instance, we had dinner with our sailor friends the other day, along with another couple who are visiting them. Had a wonderful time, shared a lot of history, stories, and wine. Turns out this other couple is also contemplating buying a small place here on the island, after many visits. We all got along famously and hope to see each other more. In fact, we offered to help them find a place and help them settle in amongst the challenges of finding and buying a place here.

I also learned another joy of meeting some new folks, especially a couple who speaks English. This is the sheer joy (and embarrassment) of telling tales of when the warden and I met, where, how, dates, weddings, honeymoon, etc. Maybe I’m getting old (no doubt) but I get more and more personal comfort in hearing her re-tell some of these legends. Even the embarrassing ones:)

As I settle into my fourth year here, I make more friends. While I was down ill last year, several shooting club buddies have taken to stopping by the house to see how I’m doing, offer ideas, suggestions, alcohol, and encouragement. One of the more familiar Portuguese phrases I’ve mastered is “if I can do anything to help, just call on me!” I always echo the sentiment (“Igualmente”) and we continue to check on each other.

Another friend, an ex-pat couple who settled here after numerous U.S. Government-assignments here over the years, are frequent dinner companions, concert companions, and coffee meetings where we DO solve the problems of the world. We often only meet once or twice a month …. based on how many world problem solutions we have developed:)

So yes, I am an anti-social type (evidenced by the fact that I only meet for coffee or drinks every few weeks, as opposed to many friends who meet virtually daily to walk, work out, drink, and support local cafe owners:))

So what have I learned, Dorothy? I have learned that I must make an effort, move out of my own comfort zone, to make and keep friends as I age into retirement. I call my old work associates, I use social media (not a lot) to keep up , comment on their progress and challenges, and offer some free (worth-what-you-pay) advice on my success and failures to solve similar situations.

I expect these thoughts are common-sense for most people, but I’m antisocial, so it’s taken me more time to learn and value friends and the minimal efforts I’ve made to meet and keep friends. I guess friends and family are critical to successful retirement!

Having said that, I’m off to Bela’s to meet some friends and have a coffee!