Another two-edged sword…any news from friends around the world is great…even two months late!

Christmas Card from a very dear friend in the states….it arrived on my birthday in early February. Mail from the U.S. is about two months for an air mail letter (Par Avion) with plenty of stamps…but they still take two months. Packages… we don’t even think about, some never make it! One time we got a new sewing machine from Italy in three days:)

My birthday is in early February, and on my birthday, my darling wife suggested she see if there were any birthday cards in the mailbox; we hadn’t heard the CTT Delivery man’s scooter stop, so I was skeptical. Mail for us is very rare. So she went out and I heard her laughing histerically from the mailbox.

Nearly two months late, we got a Christmas Card from a wonderful friend who still remembers some great times together while I was in the Air Force. Marleen worked with me and became a great friend in Arkansas, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years, even when she moved to her home in the Netherlands for a time. She is so wonderful! So I was very pleased to get her card and a photo newsletter summarizing her year. It’s been years since we’ve seen her, but we still fondly remember each other. Things like this make me feel really “warm and fuzzy!”

But that brings up one of the critiical questions friends from around the globe ask me about our decision to retire to the Portuguese Azores. Many things defy understanding, explanation, or indeed, reason here. Why it takes nearly two months for an Air Mail letter to arrrive from the states? Isn’t the Portuguese system Socialist? Is the island of Terceira run by their own version of a mafia? All possible considerations. In defferenece to family and freinds, I refrain from commenting.

Some things I don’t try to explain, I just accept; much to my wonderful bride’s joy. Her culture is different. Portugal, until 1978, was ruled by a dictator named Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. That’s less than one generation ago, many remember “the old days” which were vastly different from my experieinces growing up in the US and eventually becoming part of the federal government. I can’t relate to the stories my wife and her family tell about growing up in schools and local governments controlled by a dictator. So I try to not judge how this culture reacts to government decisions, procedures, and such things. Like many ex-pats, I sometimes have to bite my tongue and not compare my adopted residence to cultures I’ve lived in around the world. Sometimes, I bite my tongue till it hurts:)

So you have to balance the warmth of neighbors supporting us, accepting us into their families, beautiful scenery, great wine, good prices, etc., and try to decide when some things should be accepted, some suggestion might help, or just bite your tongue.

Then again, every now and again, you get a wonderful surprise letter or card from a dear friend!

Christmas / Natal Peace

This year Christmas was slightly more challenging for us, our first Christmas away from our youngest daughter and, sadly, yet another away from our distant eldest daughter. So with Christmas carols playing, many family dinners, lunches, and several coffees and drinking with our close ex-pat friends, we celebrated quietly.

We retirees in the middle of the Atlantic often celebrate with a very short Christmas list…we largely have amassed just about everything we need to enjoy life here. Friends dropped off team, chocolates from Belgium, and of course, no holiday is complete without massive baking undertakings in the kitchen.

Friends and family around the world, through holiday communications, ask what we’re doing for the holidays. Simple:

  • We have traded crowds and mall shopping-madness for peace and simplicity. No major crowds (except the grocery store).
  • While we miss family and friends of the last 30 years in the U.S., we celebrate the love and company of family here, with friends from Sweden, Norway, mainland, the nearby island of Sao Miguel, and the U.S. who now live or visit here. (I learned decades ago while living around the globe to enjoy every minute with friends and family, enjoy memories, communicate often, and be thankful for said friends and family). I know there is never enough time together, so cherish what you have and be thankful for it.
  • We take the excuse to increase our process to check in on more distant family, freinds who have good news and sad, and to “touch base” with old and new relationships.

So if you wonder what retired holiday life is like on Terceira, it is exactly what you would expect. Some frustrations, some challenges, but mostly peace and tranquility. We watch the world news with some trepidation and some joy … while the world seems to have significant challenges from mankind, our little piece of the world is largely quiet, with Christmas lights, Christmas carols, coffee, tea, and holiday spirit(s).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year wherever you are. Enjoy!

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! 🙂

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:)

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😊!

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.

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:)