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 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.

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 🙂

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.

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…”

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!

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!

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:)

Ever wonder if your kids will appreciate your efforts?

Sunrise Miradoura Wall on Praia
The sunrise highlights the stone wall built along the beach between Praia da Vitoria and Cabo da Praia.

After a morning walk along the beach, it’s time to face the day. “Face the day” after retirement has different connotations for me; always the usual cleanup after breakfast looking out kitchen windows, and often working around the new house, which sometimes leads me to think of family back in the states. So as we tackle some “less than exciting tasks” around the house, I wonder if the next generation will appreciate our hard work?

I spent most of my adult life working in jobs where my work had an immediate impact on someone else. I’ve had to face a transitionary period when I realized no one really sees an impact on what I spend most of my energy on…or really cares about it one way or the other. That realization, for me anyway, is a significant adjustment.

So when I buckle down to tackle yet another task, I find myself wondering if future generations will appreciate our hard work. Planting trees in the yard (today it was two bright red flowering bushes which resemble bottle brushes and are aptly named something which translates loosely to  ‘bright red bottle brush bushes”); repairing wind-blown screens around the mango tree, the avocado tree, etc. Other tasks this week included greasing all of the shutters, doors, windows, and locks throughout the house; weeding, collecting rocks and moving them out of the gardens and yard (this is, after all, a volcanic island in the ocean).

As I’m struggling to get the dirt off my jeans and clean up the trowels and rakes, I’m searching for truths in my last 40 years…did I raise my daughters to appreciate what we’re building for them? When my grandchildren visit the island, will they appreciate fresh avocados, mangoes, and persimmons? Will they enjoy the fragrance of the flowers we’ve planted and nurtured? Will they even be cognizant of how much work it is to maintain all the steel and aluminium elements of the house in gale-force winds all winter, rain blowing horizontally, the sun baking down all summer?  Probably not.

So, I open a cold beer and find myself asking, are we doing this to ourselves? Investment? Battling Boredom? Keeping ‘the warden’ happy? Physical activity to combat aging? All good, selfish reasons. But under the surface, that faint vein of introspection…did we raise our children to appreciate what we’ve done so they would enjoy it? Who knows.

Such intellectual meanderings keep my brain happy while I’m pulling rocks or weeds out of the yard.

Most mornings and evenings I find myself peacefully enjoying the beautiful view and occasionally contemplating mortality.  Invariably, I refocus on reality, hoping that I’ve done all I can to raise a family that does occasionally appreciate our efforts, and then re-invigorate myself with the mantra I’ve adopted to face life and the pandemic…”It is what it is.”  Then I force my aging joints off the stone wall where I’m sitting, head into the house, kiss my darling bride, and smile to myself. It is, after all, time to get ready to “Face another day.”


Spring is Sprung? Well, not yet, but we’re getting ready:)

Praia in Winter
Hard to believe in just a few months the sand will be gone, the umbrellas will be out, and the families will be frolicking in the surf…to most, not soon enough!

Winter is hard on the beaches in Praia (which means “beach”) and the winds, sands, tides, and storms, deposit a lot more sand even inside the bay. So each year about this time, the Camara da Praia da Vitoria (City of Praia da Vitoria) brings in trucks, tractors, and excavation equipment to redistribute the sand and carve out a pleasant beach for the year.

Some say it’s the first sign on spring.

Some poor schmucks like to agree, but instead know that “Spring Cleaning” is the first sign of spring.  So when the sun comes out, the winds die down (slightly), and “outdoor dining” becomes tenable, one unnamed individual labors at power washing the veranda, getting the Terra Trikes out and oiled up, and cleaning cobwebs off the eaves.

I know, it could be worse. I haven’t shoveled any snow in several years.  Moving the furniture on smooth tile floors is easy and painless. The windows have power shutters, so cleaning them isn’t too time consuming, and honestly makes everything look a lot brighter. Mowing the grass is more than physical exercise, it’s intellectually challenging, with three “smaller” yards separated by tiled cement, two of them are “triangular” and so I experiment with the most efficient way to cut them and empty the clippings. (So my definition of “intellectually-challenging” has evolved since days of military tactics and community and media relations, and snow plowing:))

Either way, we also have more time to get together with friends and family in our relatively Covid-free environment, share some chats, wine, and more than enough food. Way more than enough.  (A wonderful Italian neighbor just dropped off a pot of Cabbage Soup which smells fantastic:))

So as spring comes, we welcome some changes (NOT spring cleaning), but watching the sand disappear on the beach. We prepare for the joys of the change of seasons! And that is the best part of island life today.  Relaxing with friends, fine wine, and anticipation of next month….

Winter Day lockdown…cooking and cleaning with my darling:)

Sunny Winter Day in Terceira
Perfect Quarantine Sunday here; hanging clothes, cooking Sopa da Cenoura (Carrot Soup…it’s great!!!) and listening to the news:)

We minimize time with family and friends, often just hunkering down with a movie and a fire in the stove as the wind and rains pound our Casa Da Sonhos. But when we wake to a Sunday with Sun (actually sunshine in Praia, although the Serra da Cume mountain ridge behind is is still shrouded in clouds) it’s time to embrace our “minimal contact” while Europe battles yet more strains of the virus.

So we wash the bedding and hang it to dry. It’s Sunday, so it’s time to teach me to make my favorite Portuguese dish…Sopa da Cenoura (Carrot Soup). It was the first dish I ever ate on the island (Rhonda took me to Restaurante Atlanico by the Aeroporto in 1990 the night I arrived at Lajes) and I’ve been a fan ever since. No one makes it better than Sofia’s mother and now Sofia (she pays me to say that:)) and now I’m learning how to make it…hopefully with just the right “bite” of Massa Malagueta (great homemade spicy stuff:))

After lunch, I’ll be going for my walk on the shore and then enjoy a nice steak dinner, with soup and rice, red wine, and a pleasant move with my darling, after a call or message to check on daughters in the states. At one point (or many) during the day, we’ll turn to each other, hug and smile, and remark…”if you have to survive a worldwide pandemic, this is the best way to do it!” So far, knock on wood, we’re surviving well.

Take care and be safe!

Missing friends and family, but know it’s necessary!

No Festivals this year:(
Annual Praia Fest parades cancelled this year for the pandemic, sad but necessary.

Missing Home! Yesterday Air Azores started flights back to the island for the first time in months. First flights were filled, we hear. This also on the heels of news that the U.S. is not on the list allowing visitors to Europe, and the slightly confusing reports that the Azores may or may not play by the same rules. We’ll wait and see what options develop; we miss home and we also love so many friends and family on the island that we have no desire to endanger any of them. Meanwhile, we isolate, watch TV, and drink Aguar Dente!


Overwatch — that’s what we used to call the team which had the best vantage point and sufficient power to keep an eye on anyone operating at a lower level. That’s the team who never tired, you could always count on, had the most creativity, communication skills and knew when to act and when not to.

Here at Casa da Sonho, we currently have a great overwatch team commanded by a great friend and neighbor… and her team:)

Bumper Junior and Easy E
Bumper Junior and Easy E stand Overwatch

Donkeys on nearby Captain's Mountain overlooking Casa da Sonhos
Donkeys on nearby Captain’s Mountain  (Pico do Capitao) overlooking Casa da Sonhos