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.

Just another Winter Day…or Winter Week…or Winter Month

Waves crashing against the volcanic shoreline in the winter winds.
Good thing my favorite color is Blue…plenty to see during the winter months here. Blue waves crashing, blue skin as the chilly winds dash against you, and bluish sky when the clouds look blue but we really know they are gray:)

We’re often accused of retiring to an island paradise, and it is. However the winter months (January through March for you southerners) rarely bring us calm seas, swimming on sandy beaches, natural swimming pools, and pleasant breezes. As February wanes, temperatures in the evening drop to low teens (Celsius) and our Heritage wood stove takes the edge off the chill.

I think I am getting more acclimated to the island. I accept the winter chills, rains, high winds, and empty beaches as part of life, just like the thousands of Azoreans who are born and raised here. Charles Darwin, when he visited Terceira on his way home aboard the HMS Beagle, recorded the utilitarian lifestyle of residents here….they enjoy life, make the most of the work and fun, and accept the weather, the seasons, and enjoy family, friends, and faith. So here I am, retired and settled here, and surrounded by ancestors of Darwin’s subjects.

So as I build a fire each evening (shades of Boy Scouts and Camp Northwoods with Leroy et al building campfires, splitting wood, sharpening knives and axes) I am learning to quit comparing to other things and places in my life. This is where I am, this is what I’ve chosen, and this is what I will enjoy. I don’t compare it with life in the greater Washington DC area, rural and urban life in Michigan, and a small cabin near International Falls Minnesota in the winter. Like my new neighbors, accept life, make the best of it, and enjoy it.

For example, I’ve learned yet another thing…having a weather station that measures rainfall, winds and temperatures hasn’t turned out to be terribly useful. I’ve learned that weather stations are tantamount to comparisons; other days, other locations, or conditions. I’m reminded of my family’s great consternation when I was touring on motorcycles throughout North America, South America, Europe and Africa. I would watch the weather before I rode…much to the amazement of friends and family. “You’re going to go, even through storms, snow, hurricanes, and blazing hot deserts, so why watch the weather reports?” Took me about 50 years, but I can finally see their point. I would tell my “pillion” riders…”if it’s raining, don’t think about being at home in front of a fireplace. You’ll be miserable.”

I was right! (Gasp:)) Like a winter day on Terceira, I have learned that if you compare a cold, rainy, day to a tropical paradise on a beach, you’ll likely be miserable. But when I look at the great friends, family, food, drink, grass and trees blowing, waves crashing, then I’m happy.

I like being happy in retirement!

Spring hasn’t Spring…but it’s gettin’ pretty close

Cruise ship Ventura docks at Praia da Vitoria on February 3, 2022. Image is view over fields and port visible from our breakfast nook; this sight heralded a new season of cruise ships, tourists, fascinating discussions at local bars and restaurants, and of course, numerous busses navigating narrow streets in town.
Cruise ship Ventura docks at Praia da Vitoria on February 3, 2022. Image is view over fields and port visible from our breakfast nook; this sight heralded a new season of cruise ships, tourists, fascinating discussions at local bars and restaurants, and of course, numerous busses navigating narrow streets in town.

Breakfast as a bright sun wakes us, we are greeted by the view of the cruise ship Ventura, with 3,000 passengers, 1,200 crew, and more amenities than we have on the island.

Even though evenings are slightly chilly (by island standards) and we still enjoy a fire in the wood stove in the evenings, cruise ships on the horizon herald arrival of a warmer season and return to beaches, natural swimming pools, relaxing meals, and drinks on the veranda. While our friends and family are imprisoned in a very bad winter storm hitting the U.S., we count our blessings that we “came home just in time.” (Trust me, I’ve survived driving over the Mackinac Bridge in blizzards, sub-zero temperatures in International Falls, MN while in the outhouse, and snowplowing feet of snow each morning at 2 a.m.!)

You know we miss the snow, and nestled in our sub-tropical climate here, we still encounter the dynamics of Covid rules, surges, testing, boosters, and lengthy discussions with friends and neighbors, we’re preparing for days at the beach and long walks along the ocean shore. We’re also listening with some trepidation for increased air traffic of allied forces refueling at the base as military forces move further into eastern Europe. Memories of my days in the Persian Gulf redouble my concern and respect for military service!

Seasons change, weather changes, the ocean changes, but some things are predictable, like seasons. Whether we explain these changes as politics, economics, mythological gods, or astronomical and environmental phenomenon, we admire our ancestors and pay homage to their fortitude and perseverance. To us, sitting in our breakfast table, watching cruise ships arrive and leave, it makes no difference to us. We admire, respect, and enjoy our retirement:)

Holiday Visits (limited due to Covid Concerns) are over and “Gee, it’s good to be back home……..”

Alexandria National Cemetery after snowfall during a walk with the family... Love the Azores but miss the snowfall:)
Family walk through Alexandria National Cemetery; we love being home but our short holiday sojourn gave us an opportunity to see both daughters, sample a few restaurants, make a new friend, and get our dose of snow and ice before heading back to the island.

With appropriate apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, it’s so wonderful to be home, nestled around an occasional fire in the wood stove as wind and rain beats against the glass. We drink morning coffee looking out over the ocean and Praia Bay, marveling at the awesome majesty of the weather and the ocean. I nearly always comment on the ancient mariners for which Portugal is so famous and their fortitude taking to the sea to explore. In my head, I always wonder if I offer my family the same strength and courage.

With each visit to the USA, as I start to get more homesick for our home, family, and friends on the island, I always speculate on the differences of the two homes and societies, and what attracts me to each. I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant, famous U.S. general and president, which describes his challenges supporting his family between his father and mother and in-laws with great cultural and geographic divides. I’m reminded that I love and miss my family in the states, and I love and miss my family on the island. Whenever I get into these thoughts, I repeat my mantra that has helped me survive years in government service, worldwide travel, and significant family separations, “Enjoy this time together, don’t compare other times to this time, and when my present situation changes, I will enjoy that time as well.” I have tried to relate this philosophy to others, but it seems easier for me to accept than others.

So I enjoyed our visit to the states, hampered though it was by pandemic rules, changes, etc. We didn’t get to see many family and friends in other states, a sad hardship in these perilous times. Friends who supported my family over the years got only a video call or some phone time, and of course, very very limited drinking and dining out in the vast array of local establishments in Old Towne Alexandria. (Of course, that also meant less shopping for the girls, which doesn’t break my heart at all; most of those “badly needed” essentials like cooking pans, soaps and bath oils, cooking spices, and of course, the year’s supply of ZipLoc bags (not available on the island for some reason) get squeezed into suitcases and checked on the five-hour flight back home. Some poor schmuck has to carry those suitcases… so I didn’t rue the decreased shopping opportunities:))

The flight home — even in a pandemic — always brings me back to those ancient mariners. We complain about a few extra hours waiting in an airport on weather delay. They endured storms in wooden ships, disease, illness, water shortage (OK, you’re right, they did supplement water with rum … I pay homage to their tradition drinking Aguardente). So I bravely drag my suitcases through TSA lines, lines for Covid testing, and chilly aircraft, to return home from a great family vacation. And I wonder if I would have the fortitude to make the same decisions they would!

Few people realize that Charles Darwin sailed on the HMS Beagle for five years. Terceira was the last island he visited on that five year trip, and as he sailed out of Angra Bay, he must have been thinking about home after he documented life and nature touring Terceira. He left here and headed home…anxious to see family and friends. I know how much I miss it here when I’ve only been gone a few months. Different times and different men.

But I know the sentiment that Simon and Garfunkel sang in my youth…”Gee it’s good to be back home…”

Adjustment … flexibility. Traits needed for Azorean Retirement

November dip in Praia Bay
Saying farewell to Praia Bay in November before jumping on a plane to visit family for the holidays.

“Indecision is the key to Flexibility,” has proven a mantra over these many years. I’m here to tell you, flexibility is critical to success in retired life overseas! An old adage dictates getting older often means less flexibility; I’m learning that is NOT accurate.

Tight seating on planes, masks at airports, sleeping in the den on foam pads, these are things I know I can adjust to. I plan on them, expect them, adjust to them, all so my family can spend some “quality time” together for the holidays.

I thought I could adjust to anything, and that I could plan anything. Oops! For anyone preparing for more challenging environments, here’s some of the things I failed to consider and you might want to;

  • Shopping for shoes. And boots. And candles.
  • Long walks to discuss different issues. Not one long walk with everyone, but many long walks with separate people to discuss different issues. Exercise helps me learn what’s important to different people! Never hurts me either.
  • Lengthy discussions of menu options, dining diversions, and of course, the ongoing discussions about how much “holiday spirits” are appropriate, necessary, or desired.
  • Who has the smartest, cutest, most clever cat:)
  • the list goes on… ad nauseum

So when we’re at home, lounging on the beach, grilling fresh fish, mowing the grass, or walking along the shore at sunset, retiring to the Azores is a wonderful life. And the occasional trip back to see friends and family poses new challenges, it’s also wonderful.

Basically, it’s just like everything about retiring…plan for everything good, prepare for everything not expected, and remember to smile through everything. Or drink heavily. Or both:)

What do you miss the most when you “hit the road?”

Three kittens lounging in the planter.
The three stooges, hours of endless, mindless entertainment

After you’ve built a Dream House (Casa do Sonho) and love every day of retirement in the Azores (well, not EVERY day, but damn close!), occasionally you need a road trip. A few days in mainland, a trip back to see daughters, sightseeing in Europe, etc.

As part of the planning, undoubtedly we digress to discuss “What are you going to really miss?” Over the years, some of the answers are already canned. “My bed.” “Multiple screens on a faster computer.” “My kitchen.” “My icemaker.” (Bet you can’t guess which one of these are from me and from the wife:)).

This year, the list got longer. Our neighborhood Mama Kitty (who started only understanding Portuguese directions and now ignores commands in every language) had six kittens and she would maternally drag the food we left on the porch back to the little ones to eat. We would occasionally follow mommy home and take some goodies and milk to the kittens in a nearby abandoned farm. Six kittys became four, and when the four were old enough, mommy kitty brought the gang to stay nearer us and we started putting out some food on the porch. One more disappeared about three months ago, and now mommy and the three stooges stay nearby and play in the yard, to the thrill of family and friends who come for dinner and get a free floor show.

So when we’re off on a road trip, we beg family and friends to come and drop some food on the porch for the “family,” and of course, we have to dial in and watch the antics on the surveillance camera.

If I had to prioritize the items on our list of “What will you miss most?” sisters, neighbors, shooting companions, creature comforts, favorite restaurants and menu items, but I think at the top of the list this time is “our kittens!”

Who knows, when we return, they may be all grown up and want to borrow the car keys:)

The race is on here…getting ready for the long, wet, windy, winter:)

Dodging the raindrops is more challenging for some. But these snails also making mowing the grass more challenging:)
The yard is home for many visitors, all preparing for the long, wet, windy winter. This guy is hiking across the tiled veranda to find some wet grass to hole up in:)

Fall (Autumn) is different on a sub-tropical island. Like most things, that’s good and bad.

The good is that beaches are no longer crowded, the festival season (cancelled this year) is normally drawing to a close, and folks are stacking firewood, clearing fields, and cutting weeds and lawns. City and village workers are struggling to clean and prepare the beautiful parks and gardens around the island for more wind and rain.

The bad is that my “homesickness” kicks up again. Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, all have colorful fall seasons. Football games, tailgating on campus, picking apples, gathering around fires with neighbors on a crisp night, all of them are distant, loving memories. Falling leaves and brisk breezes (here “brisk” has a totally different meaning:)) are replaced by cleaning windows, washing the veranda, and getting the wood stove ready for another winter.

But with retirement age comes my ability to tune in to the positive side of things. Not many things in life are better than cuddling up with your best friend around a wood fire crackling in the stove or listening to the wind howl while you’re inside, safe, warm, sipping on a coffee, and enjoying some music. Especially that excitement when friends and neighbors stop in for a chat, apple pie, and a glass of Maciera. Sure, I remember raking leaves with my brother, football games at MSU with my cousin Mike, and the annual race to get our cars ready for winter, check antifreeze, dig out the snow shovels, and mark driveways and parking lots for snowplow customers. But they are memories, and at my age, I smile and know that’s what they are.

Enjoy what you have. Sometimes tough to say, but always keep things in perspective. No cheering football fans (American football) here, but a pleasant moonlit walk along the beach, walking hand-in-hand and watching surfers as waves crash on the shore; those are the the life.

Seasons are now. Life is now! Enjoy seasons, enjoy memories, and make new ones:)

Surprise! One Daughter visits for a week…what do you do?

Sabrina, Mom and Tia in the Atlantic
Sabrina, Mom and Tia in the Atlantic

Sabrina surprised Mom one morning with a week-long visit; Sabrina and I had been planning it since June..tough keeping something. like that a secret! (Bridget couldn’t make this trip:() Mom was very surprised!  We took the week off from day-to-day life and had a relaxing visit with Sabrina, who hadn’t been back here for almost two years.

Retirement overseas changes some of the family dynamics. I was raised driving an hour to spend weekends and holidays with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmothers. Sofia was raised with her entire family less than 10 minutes away….by foot. Even though we now have near-daily video calls, nothing beats an in-person hug!

It also makes us remember some of the unique characteristics of life with “children.” Hair in the shower drain, lively discussions of which recipe is best, which kitty is the cutest, and if it’s important to sleep until 11 a.m. every day:).

Any visit to the Azores is measured in the time from one meal to the next. Three sisters making lunches, dinners, of Alcatra, Feijoada, and baking Filhoges. Then off to the beaches for a few hours punctuated by snacks of fresh Donettes and warm Corn on the Cob, then home for dinner. Lunches at Caneta and O Alambique. I just settle for the wine!

 

 

Angra Gardens under cloudy skies
After a big lunch (not too many small ones here) a pleasant walk in the centuries-old Angra do Heroismo Gardens is just the ticket

Then a leisurely walk in the rain-soaked Angra Gardens. (We met a man from California standing under a huge old tree remembering when he was five years old, collecting a few leaves from the tree to take home for family tea:))

So against the backdrop of a stress free summer on Terceira, a surprise visit by one daughter doesn’t really add interruption, but enhances each day. Now that’s relaxing!

Mom and three kitties on the veranda
Mom and three kitties on the veranda

Mommy kitty and three kitties waiting for more food
Mommy kitty and three kitties waiting for more food

Next year maybe both daughters can make it:)

Nature in the Azores – diversity is abundant

Bird on wire in front of blazing red sunrise
Mornings are great in retirement, a cup of coffee and watching nature.

Some things just creep up on you in the Azores (see my new friend below:)) when you have time to notice (and photograph) them. Waking up early every day is sometimes frustrating, but often rewarding. A bright red sunrise over Pico da Capitao (Captain’s Mountain) across the street greeted me the other day. While there are usually many birds (don’t know what kind) perched on the power lines, this one large guy took a moment to pose and survey his domain.

Meanwhile, as I stepped onto the patio to take this shot, I nearly squashed this little guy making his way to the lawn to get out of harm’s way. I’ve never timed them, but this Azorean caracol seemed to haul ass faster than snails in Germany (Wittlich) and in the U.S. (Mattawan). So I spent a few minutes encouraging him (or her). While cheering, it occured to me that for many years, I would be up, showered, and racing off to catch my train for Farragut West and work. Those were the Rat Race days…now I have time to cheer on snails and observe nature!

Life is good After The Rat Race:)

Snail making his (or her?) way across the patio after a night time rainstorm.
Night time rain brings out all kinds of visitors. Snails are abundant, colorful, and are actually faster than snails I’ve lived with in Germany and the U.S.A.

The Neighborhood is Changing:)

 

Barn Kitties
Many visits from Mommy Kitty and we saw her 6 kitties hidden in a nearby abandoned bard. They are so cute, we had to go back in the evenings and bring them food!

Sofia has a soft spot in her heart for troubled and homeless…she married me:) So when some of the neighborhood cats are hungry, they get some food. One pregnant momma has become a regular, and we finally saw her kittens hidden in a nearby barn.

They play so cute together, and we fell in love with the little white one with grey spots (like dominos). Last night they disappeared from the barn (darn calves moved in, but they’re cute too) and we are not sure if we’ll see kitties again. But I am certain, if the they show up (especially the little white one) Sofia will roll out the red carpet and the bowls.

Now my main concern is that she will start feeding the little cows that moved into the field!

 

Always a new awakening here

Burning Sunrise over Capitao
Waking up to “unpredictable” weather is normal here, and sometimes just downright beautiful.

When you’re retired to an island in the Atlantic, the only sure thing is that every day brings something new, and at the end of each day, you also figure out you have survived whatever new thing came your way.

Sometimes morning coffee brings a mundane view of cows in the fields, a tall ship (The Portuguese Navy Sagres) coming in for a few days, clouds, sun, rain, and sometimes, just pure majesty. Middle of July during the second year of the pandemic, a red sky greeted my coffee cup and I. Makes you feel humble, tiny, and seems to put all our troubles into a perspective that can help us deal with things, one at a time.

Summer nights also bring great stress relief. The backyard, shielded from the street lights, displays stars like I’ve not seen except at sea or in the Sahara.  Our great nighttime constitutional here … kill all the house lights, hug on the back patio, and share amazing memories about stars and reinvigorating discussions of “counting our blessings.”

At my age, friends are retiring. Remembering past friends and escapades is wonderful; so is the hope that retiring friends will be able to share the joy of retiring in peace!

Tranquility … enjoying letters from old BFFs before we had the term BFF:)

Rick Reading mail by the Ocean
What do I enjoy about retirement on the island? One is a day at the beach with family, time to read and enjoy email from a dear friend, and sit and think as the waves crash.

Life here is sometimes challenging, trying, and most often unbelievably peaceful. One of the best things of it is an email from a friend from way back in Germany, a friend who has been on my mind nearly every day for many many years, and who reports she is doing great.

I get her updates sporadically, and often have time to only digest the news and reply, but yesterday I was picnicking with family by the ocean. As they play cards and swim in the cool waters of the Atlantic, I had a chance to really sit, read and reflect on fabulous times.  Vielen Dank, Miss Mon. Muito Obrigada.

Sitting and listening to the waves, or sitting in the back yard and counting stars here happens relatively often.  I often feel guilty hearing from friends and family in the DC area or in the military as they bemoan stress, responsibilities, inadequate leadership in their jobs, etc. Then I force myself to remember many years of those same things, in uniform and working with State Department in “much less relaxing places” on every continent around the globe. (All right, I never made it to Antartica, true)! When I feel guilty, my wonderful family reminds me, I did my time — long days, radios, beepers, guns, and cell phones, short notice airplane “rides” etc.

Now I can relax and stay in touch with those who helped me survive those years. My wife, children, family and friends all thank you.

To all my dear friends, stay healthy, enjoy life, and thank you for being there when I need you!!!

 

Shh honey, the Neighbors are trying to have a baby….

“Neighbors” throughout the world is a diverse term. As a child, we had Nigerian neighbors who had never seen snow (and we’re not very good at snowball fights:)); stationed in many nations I’ve enjoyed neighbors of different cultures. learned more about them, and love many of them to this day. Here in Terceira, our neighbors and friends include cows, chickens, and donkeys.  Yes, we have great American friends who have lived the world over and have great love everywhere they go for donkeys, including the two they have here living in a field nearby.  Now they want three, and after we’ve seen baby donkeys grow, we can share their excitement as they bring in a “gentleman caller” and try to get a baby donkey.

Courting is different in the Azores!  I can attest to many of the differences from before I married a magnificent woman, so the protocols must work. So we recently “peeked in” on the couple and, like everywhere, relationships seem to be a bit of a roller coaster:)

Boy and girl donkeys close
It’s a roller coaster alright. Sometimes the happy couple seems inseparable…

 

Donkeys separate and one braying
Ups and downs … boy and girl donkeys at odds and one is “complaining” or “bragging?”

Rain and Wind aren’t gone, but the flowers in the yard know it’s almost summer

Blooms along the front walkway
When you can’t find your wife, look across the street or next door, but most often putting loving touches on her flowers in the yard.

In the U.S.A. for almost 3 decades, house plants weren’t always her “forte,” but in the front and back yard of Casa do Sonhos, the wife makes everything outside colorful and bright. For hours, she and our wonderful neighbor talk, laugh, and dig around in the soil to make the entire end of the street glorious. (The local government is supposed to do this, but, well, I guess they haven’t gotten around to our street yet:)) No matter, these ladies absolutely love getting dirt under their nails, have fun doing it, and the many visitors here especially enjoy the beauty, aroma, and all their hard work!

Here’s just a taste, but pictures don’t do it justice!

Terceira – an island in the Portuguese Azores – Around every turn is a new view

Mira doura - Scenic View
A new scenic turnout on the western-most end of the Portuguese Island of Terceira

Even as the Regional Government of the Azores struggles to keep pandemic cases at a minimum (on Terceira we’re very conscientious and cases often are zero) more  emphasis on tourism anticipates a return of visitors.

Tourism, interrupted by the pandemic, is expected to return, both good news and bad news for the residents of this peaceful volcanic “rock.” Tourism has, and will, bring tourists by plane, yacht, and cruise ships to enjoy the tranquility and natural beauty. This beauty is enhanced by warm, wonderful people who welcome visitors. Those same welcoming residents will also cope with the influx of people, rental car drivers, and crowded beach restaurants. Such is life:)

Post-pandemic springtime encourages returns to the hiking trails for our many retirees and their family and friends. These trails, which honeycomb the island, are constantly being improved, enhanced, and safer. Last weekend under perfect skies, about a dozen friends (citizens of Portugal, U.S., United Kingdom, and Germany) all explored a new trail with added WC, campsites, parking, picnic, and a groomed path. From the picnic grounds high above crashing waves, through forests, cow pastures, down to fishing overlooks, and back to parking lots, the 5 kilometer trail was magnificent.

After a couple hours on the trail, a short drive to Altares on the north side and a favorite eatery, Caneta, with an old-world atmosphere, fantastic dishes with home-grown beef, many bottles of wine, and great friends.

Reality Check: Retirement in the Azores has some ups and downs. A weekend hike through forests and along the coast is definitely one of the highs. The scenery is great, the activity is healthy, the history is amazing, and the photography is flawless. Pandemic be damned, good friends practicing social distancing, masks, and safe dining procedures, I can’t imagine how you could ask for a better day!

Life is full of two-edged swords:)

Good news, bad news. You can defend yourself with a two-edged sword, but you can also cut yourself. With a good fire, you can heat, cook and see after dark; or you can burn yourself or burn down a home!

Weather here has been vicious. Four days straight of rain, winds to 34 knots (39 MPH or 63 Kph), winds so strong it was tough walking across the veranda for firewood for the stove. (Make no mistake; I love the Azorean weather!)

Here’s what it looked like most of the time on the trees on the far side of our little backyard (more impact if you crank up the sound!)

So you know what’s coming next: It’s an American right to complain about everything!  Now that the storm has passed, the grass is high, some poor schmuck has to go out and mow the grass, bring in more firewood, clean the ashes from the stove, and wash the truck, etc.

Good news, the grass is very very green, the ocean is very very blue, and the view from the kitchen is relaxing, tranquil, pastoral, and downright beautiful.  After four days in the house, all the cleaning is done (if you know the boss, you KNOW that will never happen:)), the laundry is done, the honey-do list is complete (I wish) and there is nothing on Netflix we haven’t watched in any language.

Yes, I’m an American first (Portuguese second) and so I complain. It’s my right, I’ve earned it (25-plus years of government service) and now I’m exercising my right. But I was raised that if you can’t something nice, don’t say anything. So, Mom and Dad, rest assured, I still follow your teachings. There are many nice things, and after most difficult times, there is a rainbow after each storm. I love my rainbows here:)