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!

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.

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 🙂

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!

Back in Time …. But no DeLorean for me today. :)

Sunlit view of palm trees in park between apartment and Praia Bay festival ground and Praia Marina.
View from a friend’s rental apartment overlooking Praia Bay, furnished with the same government-provided furnishings I spent half my life living on. Still, a great view right across from the Praia Fest concert tents!

Flashbacks. A cinema phenomenon and usually a filmmaker’s staple for storytelling.

Over the past 40+ years of living around the world, in government quarters and off-base communities, I enjoyed support from each base housing office. (In all honesty, one facet of my job was to lead the American’s Community Relations programs, I almost always elected to live “off-base” in the local community to get to learn more and meet more residents). Success is apparent every Christmas when we enjoy holiday greetings and family updates from every continent.

Today I helped clean up and take photos for neighbors who have an apartment to rent to Americans in nearby Praia da Vitoria. These photos help the Lajes Air Base Housing Office show incoming airmen what life may be like while stationed here for a year or two. My friend’s recent apartment upgrades caused a little more construction dust than anticipated, so I pitched in to get ready and shoot the photos. Brought back MANY memories.

Over the years, two events people rarely think about is moving into and out of apartments, houses, rooms, etc. The good news is the enormous opportunities to meet new folks. The bad news is that all are subject to inspections, from Cherry Lane (married housing at MSU) to on and off-base furnished houses in Germany, San Antonio Texas, Montgomery Alabama, Arkansas, Honduras, Japan, Korea, and Portugal. Since each housing office is staffed by local residents, the “inspection” is sometimes influenced when a friend or relative of the inspector has cleaned the property. So if you’re a tight-fisted American officer or student, you learn to be VERY critical of your own cleaning procedures before the inspectors arrive. For me, probably the toughest was at Yakota AB in Japan … right Marie? 🙂

My most recent “Back in Time” experience was kind of fun. I helped move around the same “Thomasville” government-supplied furniture (sofa, chair, “occasional tables” — vis-a-vis Colonel Jimmy Bittles from the UK — bed, two dressers, dining table and chairs, some lamps with 110-volt plugs and adapters, etc.) with dark semi-polished tops (which fit any decor and show every scratch and streak) and unfinished bottoms of trim panels, drawers, etc. For me for many years, in other words, home!

Apparently cleaning is like falling off a bike … you never forget. Tall guy gets the tough jobs … wiping down the ceiling molding, taking globes off the light fixtures and cleaning them (good news, the traditional “Leatherman” tool has been upgraded in the past 40 years but is still vital!) and of course, I get to lift the sofa and bed.

At my age and station in life, retirement offers me many things besides memories, so while I have them, I enjoy them. Taking photos and helping out in the apartment brought back many memories, helped some neighbors, and perhaps helped some airman coming to live on the island. I think that’s all we can ask for, so I enjoy it.

Memories, to me, are the same as traveling “Back in Time.” Some good, some bad. Some great, some horrible. But memories, just the same. I try to enjoy the good ones, occasionally reach out to friends who share the memories (good and bad), and try to survive the horrible ones … at least, wake up.

Now, if I could just find a DeLorean here, it would be perfect for an island in the Atlantic; that stainless steel body should never rust. I’ll keep an eye on the used car market here! 🙂

Nothing to “wax eloquent” about…just love this island:)

Waves as big as a house and winds blowing the photographer away...a fabulous spring day on Terceira!
Waves taller than a house and winds blowing the photographer away…a fabulous spring day on Terceira! It’s one of those “no picture can do it justice” but it’s the kind of weather that I always think of when someone asks “What do you love about the island!”

Sunday afternoon. I learned from the Internet that today is “Siblings Day,” and I definitely miss my siblings, scattered from San Diego to Cincinnati to Kalamazoo, MI. I feel we’ve drifted apart, as much with time as with my decision to move to the island. I learned from my older sister when I retired that many in my family had never been too pleased when I traveled around the globe with the military and retired to my wife’s homeland. A connection between our physical distance and our familial distance is purely anecdotal; don’t know what it is for certain, but it is what it is. We keep in touch is the best I can say.

So after days of high winds and rain (great, the grass is again green and tall!) we enjoyed a typical Azorean Sunday. Palm Sunday. Lunch with family, after which they invited us for a drive to the north side of the island to Biscoitos. About 12 miles away. The sun came out, but the winds were still in the 30-45 knot range:) I love the wind here…it makes you stand up taller, face Mother Nature on her terms, and teaches you humility when you succumb to whatever you can’t triumph over.

Just a few kilometers east of Biscoitos, there is a trail we have often walked, from the higher fields to the ocean at the foot of some cliffs…I estimate the cliffs to be about 400 meters, about 1/4 mile straight down. So we parked about half-way down to shoot this photo. Everyone stayed in the car but me. I love the wind, the salt spray as waves were thrown against the cliffs and spray washed over the trail, the car, and the camera. After several perfunctory cautions about safety, I did have to sit on the stone wall to hold the camera against the winds. It was exhilarating, to say the least!

After stopping at a cafe for a coffee and a pastry, we continued to circumnavigate the island toward the western shore, where the winds were not as high, the seas were not as high, and the sun shone warmer. We headed home…back to reality. We did rinse the salt off the car, an electric Mazda.

So on my little family excursion Sunday, I learned (or re-learned) a few things about myself. In today’s world, missing one’s siblings is honestly depressing. Being treated as a sibling by in-laws is truly uplifting. Finding a challenge and succeeding is good “Chicken Soup” for the soul. While not exactly up to the old standards of riding motorcycles in the Sahara or in a blizzard in the French Alps, standing up against a strong wind to get an “almost perfect” photo to share gives me a sense of accomplishment. And most importantly, I am reminded that every now and then, you have to seek out something which requires fortitude, gives you great enjoyment, and live it up!

Island life goes on … with neighbors helping neighbors

Busy month for news and ‘discussions’ around the kitchen. War and the possible threat of cyber warfare affecting banks and stores, news stories about evacuations of our neighboring island due to volcanic tremors on Sao Jorge, and ever-rising prices. So naturally, we’re trying to adjust and support those we can.

Paulo is a neighbor successful in building up vegetable gardens and he is helping us out with a new one.
Paulo is a proven gardener and is helping us get a better vegetable garden going in our small backyard. He is a hard worker, needed some additional money, and as food prices rise here, we decided that we would all benefit. I feel bad not helping him, but he asked to be left alone, so I honor his request. Instead, I take photos and blog:)

The island does business differently, and adjustment I still have not marshalled and don’t know if I ever will. So when we decided it was time to cut down on grass-cutting (yeah!) and make sure we have fresher herbs and kitchen fare, my darling went to work. For more dirt, she called the lady where she gets eggs; their friend dropped off about 4 cubic meters of good earth for about $30.

We had met Paulo about a year ago and he seemed a hard worker adept at gardens, both flower and vegetable. First decent weather we had, he came over on his scooter, surveyed our plans, the dirt, seeds, and gave us a list of what he wanted to do the job. He’s been out there since 8 a.m. moving dirt, making a fence, and moving flowers to another part of the yard.

Meanwhile, for lunch, we’re having freshly-caught fish from a relative. I sharpened their kitchen knives for them, and they wanted to give something back, so they dropped off the fresh Pargo. Needless to say, my wonderful wife (the “boss” in English, the “Chef” in Portuguese, and “the Chef” in English) whistled up a great lunch. (Hey c’mon, I can do more than blog, I also cut up the fish, the onions, carrots, and helped with the potatoes (which we also got from a neighbor for whom I sharpened some farm and yard tools). Against this backdrop of activity, we waved and hollered to our farmer friends who were in the field below our yard milking cows:)

Our neighbor (who ran down to his brother’s house to borrow a rake for Paulo) also mentioned that the local news was that many homes near the now-downsized Air Force base was opening many homes used for housing American families when I was stationed at the base for use by both Ukrainian refugee families and families evacuated from the nearby island. So we’re making calls to see if we can help with that “resettlement” effort in any way.

Retired life on an island doesn’t seem to be very dull lately. Recent winter days of rain and wind (lots of both) encourage lounging, setting by the wood stove, and reading or watching TV (American, Portuguese, French, German, and some Swedish — that one needs subtitles). We still miss being near DC sometimes, miss the great restaurants, daughters and old friends. I have also been very active lately in supporting some old colleagues at Department of Interior with some computer and database assistance. We also offer our meager assistance and moral support to friends here facing cancer, heart problems, and ‘age-related’ injuries.

So, as I’ve said many times, retiring to an island in the Atlantic is not retiring to a paradise. We’ve consciously traded some problems (traffic and parking here are a lot easier; helping daughters deal with relationships and professional advancement) etc. But here the weather is tough, world issues directly impact family and friends here, and preparing to proactively face new challenges remains a high priority. Don’t be fooled. If you move to an island, prepare to face a different lifestyle, different problems, and continue to “feed” your support structure. I predict that if you do that, you’ll have a magnificent, satisfying experience!!!

Embracing Retirement

Vizinha sorting shirts, ties, etc.
Vizinha sorts remnants of “the old days,”
shirts, slacks, ties, etc.

Another gray, windy, rainy day at Casa Da Sonhos, so it’s time to tackle yet another retirement task. Years after the paperwork, the move, the cleanups, the cleaning (perhaps I should say Cleaning ad Infinitum) etc., I’ve tackled one of the final tasks.

The End of an Era.

Final admission to myself that I won’t be going back to the office soon. Final admission that the life of this retired guy on the island of Terceira is getting healthier, exercising more, losing weight (nearly a hundred pounds) and ‘living the good life.’

Yes, I cleaned out the closet.

Colorful shirts, ties, and old uniforms from days as a warrior, bureaucrat, IT geek, nerd, motorcycle guru, photo freak, and hiker/camper. They have all moved on to new homes in the neighborhood, some destined for folks we know, some who need colorful scraps for sewing projects, and probably some for oil cloths in the workshop. Most still have their final dry cleaning tags in them. Many have memories; this is the tie I wore on my first interview at the newspaper, this is the shirt and tie I wore to my niece’s wedding, this is the coat and tie I wore to my daughter’s graduation. All great memories. All a patchwork of great times in a busy, varied career.

Now that chapter has closed. I don’t need souvenirs, just memories, good and bad. The closet is now better prepared for my new life. Retirement. I have a suit and tie for weddings, one for funerals, and a standby outfit for the unknown. (For decades, I kept a suit and tie in a locker at work or a Class A uniform for when I’d get calls to meet a plane, brief a general, etc. Now, i keep one more handy that fits, more as homage to those days which helped me advance in my chosen career). And of course, the closet is well-stocked with sandals, shorts, and swimming trunks.

Just to make me feel better about the shift, the warden has agreed to a few “lightly-worn” outfits to visit the tailor in Lajes, shorten the pants, take in the shirts to reduce that ‘tent’ effect, etc. Never know when we’ll be called upon to represent our country, impress a neighbor or elected official, or otherwise be “socially acceptable.”

But mostly it’s another step toward embracing a new lifestyle in a distant land. With a little luck, I’ll still occasionally bump into some of these good old duds, smile at the Azorean wearing them, wish a “Boa Dia,” and compliment him on his attire:)

Hope it serves him as well as it did me…it got me to this retired life.

A New Slant on “For Whom the Bells Toll”

Home on Terceira from teh belltwoer of the Matriz da Praia where we were married.
Home on Terceira from the belltower of the Matriz da Praia where we were married.

Despite a gray February morning, we climbed the steps to the top of the bell tower in Praia Da Vitoria’s Matriz da Praia, the church where we said vows nearly 30 years ago. A tour from our friend Lugerio showed us rarely-seen glimpses of the church, built in 1456 and destroyed and rebuilt through numerous earthquakes. This morning we saw the priestly robes that were worn in the 1700s.

Matriz da Praia holds many fond memories for both of us. Sofia was raised less than 5 minutes walk from the church. Her father (my Sogro) served masses and instructed decades of catechism students. Presided over by family friend the honorable Padre Candido, Sofia has been to many marriages, baptisms, and funerals over the years here.

Not earth-shattering (vis a vis the many earthquakes which shook the church) but still fond memories and a new opportunity even though we’ve walked through these aisles hundreds of times.