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

“Happy wife, Happy life…” so the saying goes. Happy wife has more flowers around the house…

Ladies cleaning up after planting new flower bed.
The warden and her friend clean up after we put in a flower bed lining the walkway between our front door and the front gate at Casa Da Sonhos. So when you come visit, you’ll be greeted by beauty, warmth, and love.

Thank goodness, we have more flowers, a new flower bed on each side of the front walkway, and a more difficult lawn mowing job…do you detect just a little sarcasm?

Things here on the island run slow. Very slow. Sofia planned the flower beds last January, we ordered the cement borders from mainland, they arrived in August, and we planted them yesterday. Our wonderful neighbor helped, and we spent most of the day working on flower beds in our yard, in the street in front of our house (a turn-around overlooking the bay and a popular place for tourists) and in Christina’s yard.

One stereotype for retirees is “working in the garden.” I wasn’t expecting that to be part of my retirement. Hmmmmm, expectations and life don’t always balance out, right? But…. Happy wife, Happy life:)

Traditions at Casa da Sonhos

Like our family, Casa da Sonhos is a mix of traditions from the US and Portugal. Many of the homes here, some dating back hundreds of years, boast hand-painted tiles by the door with the name of the family living there. Our hand-painted tile (made by one of the oldest tile painters in Praia da Vitoria) was embedded into the wall by an excellent craftsman and friend, Domingos;  it’s literally the last thing we needed to complete construction on Casa Da Sonhos (still have things to add, but home construction is complete now!)

Another tradition is the morning coffee, hand-ground by the grinder my father used when I was born (long, long time ago:). This grinder has travelled the world and is now still grinding beans into a fresh cup of joe very morning. One of my earliest memories is this grinder sitting on the old blue kitchen cabinet which moved with my family from Ada to Iron Mountain, Mansfield, and many points in between. Now it sits in the kitchen window in Porto Martins, Azores and reminds me each time of mom and dad.

Friend Domingos putting up our traditional Azorean Tile nameplate

Sofia and Rick by new Azorean nameplate at front door
Sofia nad Rick showing of the final element of home construction, the traditional hand-painted tile nameplate embedded into the house by the front door. It identifies the residents for hundreds of years, and will also remind us of our names as we get old and forget:)


Coffee grinder in kitchen
My father’s coffee grinder still making our morning cup of coffee

Terceira – sharing fresh ingredients makes several families happy:)

Cows in field beyond yard, displaying a FRESH pitcher of milk.
Fresh milk from our neighbor’s cows…and Sofia made her famous Sweet Rice to lower back down to the farmer while he finished milking chores for the day:)

Neighbors and sharing are truly a way of life here. Latest example involved our neighboring field, where we’ve gotten to know the farmers, the cows, and enjoy one of the farmer’s serenading the cows with hymns while he’s milking them…rain or shine.

Today Sofia said Hi (Actually she said ‘Ola’) to the brothers and offered them some of her favorite dessert here…fresh Arroz Doce, or Sweet Rice. While I am not crazy about it, many people in her family beg her to make some for family picnics, gatherings, etc.

So she lowered a pitcher, Jose sent up fresh milk (I mean right from the cow fresh!) and she fired up the Bimby, made a batch of Arroz Doce, and lowered it down the wall to the field below where Jose, and his brother Manuel, were just taking the cows home.

Sofia handing off some Sweet Rice to the farmer who gave her the milk.
Sweet Rice or Arroz Doce is a very popular, easy to make dessert here, and can be used for bartering for many things on Terceira.
Our neighbor taking his fresh Sweet Rice out of the basket made with the fresh milk his cows provided.
A hook up, lowering fresh Sweet Rice to a happy farmer who just milked his cows and gave the warm milk to Sofia to cook the Arroz Doce in the Bimby.
After a hard day of making milk for Sweet Rice dessert, the cows head home for the night.
Heading home after a hard day making milk in the fields next door to Casa da Sonhos.

Praia Festas…Let the Good Times Roll!

Float during Praia Fest Opening 2019
One of the majestic floats during Praia Festas 2019 Opening parade

This is the beginning night of Praia Festas, when thousands of Azoreans, European, American and Canadians converge in our happy little burg. Nightly parades, concerts, restaurants from all regions, large quantities of wine, gin, caipirinhas, and other adult beverages, and friends and family for one glorious week.

We started the evening with a Mexican dinner for neighbors. Our patio with a great view, flawless weather (slight breeze, sunlight, mid-80’s temperatures) and Sofia’s fantastic enchiladas, tacos, real American sour cream (thank you Nancy and Glenn), margaritas, Sangria, and fantastic tart (obrigada Lucia). Lots of food prep and cleaning (well, nothing’s perfect) and our fabulous neighbor Cristina’s help, everyone had a great time.

For me, after the margaritas ran dry, I resorted to my favorite Gin and Tonic with one GIANT ice cube which lasted all night (thank you Bill!).

Then we all went down to the festivals, crowds, parades, music, and floats. You can imagine, parking was a nightmare, but we had a great spot reserved for us (obrigado Jose Luis) and by the time we got home, we were dragging, happy, and slept well.

My darling wife wanted to come back to her home, have fun with her family, go swimming nearly every day and have coffee with her father, and enjoy the bullfights and festivals. She designed a house to facilitate large dinner gatherings, and have a magnificent view of the ocean and the town where she grew up. There have been many trials and tribulations (and more to come I’m sure) but last night, it all worked. Missing my girls, but still have a wonderful family night on the island. Muito Obrigada!!!

Gin and Tonic
Gin and Tonic with one GIANT ice cube!
Mexican Dinner
Mexican Dinner at Casa da Sonhos:)

First guests at Casa da Sonhos

First US visitors spent a week seeing the sites
Visiting from the states for their first overseas travel, our dear friends spent a week touring our island and got home safe and sound with many many many photos. What a joy and great memories!

Like nearly everything, retiring overseas has it’s pros and cons. Visiting family and friends often means living out of a suitcase, this time for a month. We visited several old towns, family, friends, neighbors, loved ones acquaintances, and business associates. Some of the “pros” included watching a daughter graduate and meeting her friends, spending some quality time with another daughter, and getting to try several exciting new rental cars. Some of the “cons” include never enough time with everyone, never enough time to add another name to the list of visits, bad Internet connections, spending too much money, and sleeping on several different floors, beds, couches, and air mattresses.

But this trip also brought home with us a couple of friends who we’ve travelled with, ridden motorcycles with, camped with, drunk with, and worried with. Though they never had travelled outside the North American continent, they had pledged to come see our retired life on the island, and they did! We had a wonderful time showing them around, they tried new foods, made new friends, and made us very very happy. They braved days of air travel, TSA lines (Boston…arghhh) and they rode in boats, trains, and numerous cars and trucks. We laughed, cried, and can’t wait to see them again.

We’ve decided that travel back home is great, memories are great, Kodak moments are great…but the best thing by far is realizing how many friends and family are supporting you, even with an ocean or two between you and them! The only thanks they want is for us to be happy and that’s pretty invaluable!

“Visiting” homes…you can’t step in the same river twice, but seeing friends and family is great…so is coming home!

Living overseas offers a unique opportunity to return to where friends and family live, catch up on the good and bad news of everyone’s live, share news of the new life you have, and then COME HOME:) Even with mostly rain in the U.S., we made new friends, saw our daughters grow and excel, hug and kissed dozens of great folks, and then survive several flights, airports, and we’re home, enjoying a great view, a visit from some great friends, and the joys of unpacking.

Coming home always gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I succeeded in pushing myself, affecting lives (hopefully positive) and returning to a refreshed outlook on life.

Travelling is great fun; coming home is greater:)

You’re always welcome to visit…but better call first:)

Neighbor’s alarm system!

We love it when folks come over to visit…nearly every day now. We’re the last house on the left…and to get to us, you have to go past our buddy (I haven’t had the guts to pet him yet, but he does seem to not get SO upset when we come to visit).
Like most folks here, we have an alarm system, we have some cameras, we have some locks, and we have some other protective measures. Not really needed here, we always feel very safe and secure. We have walls around each house, but they’re more for neighbors to lean on and talk (vis a vis Tim Allen’s show “Tool Time”) than for security. (Generations of tradition were when courting, a guy could come lean on the wall and talk to a girl, but there better ALWAYS be a wall between you! In my youth here, I learned that hard way…there is always a watchful maternal eye on you while you’re leaning on the wall). In my day I have lived inside compounds with concertina, barbed wire, glass shards, electric fences, and armed guards. Never, ever, have I felt more secure than I do with my buddy barking when anyone moves on our street.
So always feel welcome, but as you drive down the road listening to the many barking dogs, remember we have our canine companion keeping an eye out for us. Call first…just to be on the safe side:)

More high winds…it’s beautiful!

Moon over Praia Bay Lighthouse -After a hard day of mowing the grass, battling with computers, washing the dishes...this is better than "Miller Time"
After a hard day of mowing the grass, battling with computers, washing the dishes…this is better than “Miller Time”

Sometimes I have to stop and think…or go walking along the boardwalk with my lady in the moonlight.

When anyone asked me about retirement before I came over here, I’d tell them “Not less problems, just different problems.” I was right. But since I’m a “glass is half empty” kind of guy, I never mentioned “but the rewards are better.”

Different problems. Health insurance isn’t what we thought. More bureaucracy than we ever dreamed possible. Never enough money. Different cultural expectations…traditionally you say to everyone who walks into a shop while you’re in there or they think I’m a stuck up American, little things like that.

But the rewards. Besides gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, winds whipping your wheelbarrow across the back yard (yes, darling, I’ll go move it back after I finish this post!), and the invigorating howl of winds, you get fresh fish for lunch, watch the donkeys on the mountaintop graze, go shopping with your neighbor, and a fresh ham and cheese sandwich and shot of coffee for breakfast.

So I admonish anyone thinking about retiring, moving your family, traveling to a new place…keep things in perspective but be realistic…not no problems, just different problems…and better rewards!

Fresh — the food, the weather, the air…just about everything:)

Lunch - Chuscharro, red and white wine, fresh bread, fabulous company and a great view.
Lunch – Chuscharro, red and white wine, fresh bread, fabulous company and a great view…it’s worth all of the adjustments!
Organic soup fixins .. organic goes without saying. Carrots and broccoli picked about 15 minutes ago up the road in Fonte Bastardo.
Organic soup fixins .. organic goes without saying. Carrots and broccoli picked about 15 minutes ago up the road in Fonte Bastardo.

So sometimes people ask if we miss the fast food in the states. I say “not too much.” The other day the warden leaves me to work on the computer, takes off to get some fresh food for lunch (braving high winds and horizontal rain) and comes home with the lunch above. Everything cost about 10 euros ($12) and was good for about three great meals, my favorite soup (sopa da ceunora – carrot soup). Leisurely lunch, sun comes out, watch last night’s NBC Evening News, and then take a quick walk (before the rain comes back!). Not sure it gets much better than this!!!

One of the finer things in life

A European island has some challenges, some frustrations, and some of the finest traditions I know…a cup of coffee is one of them. Now trust me, NO ONE enjoys a drink or three, some “adult beverages,” a great wine with dinner (as well as before and after), and some just plain hard-charging Aguar Dente (Portuguese drink, often homemade, clear, high-proof, different flavors, similar I think to Brazilian Cachaca) … well, you get the idea. But no matter what the weather, with or without a meal, meeting an old friend, lover, American or not, NOTHING compares to sharing a cup of coffee. I think NOTHING! It can take anywhere from a few minutes break from work to an hour-long conversation, rendez-vous, or a quick respite from pouring rain.

My experience is that many of my friends from Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, France, or Portugal who visit the U.S.A. usually complain, when they return to their respective homeland, that many Americans don’t understand what a cup of coffee does for your mental well-being. And retiring here, I can’t disagree … it is a wonderful tradition.

Try it…and if you like, give me a call and tell me where and when…I’ll be there!


Here’s the biggest reason why…

Many friends and acquaintances usually immediately ask why we’re leaving the U.S. behind for a tiny island where my wife was born and raised. We both miss being able to “run down the street” in northern Virginia to buy something, walk among national landmarks, and have a tough time deciding what type of food we want for dinner.

Today, as we’re dashing out for a loaf of fresh bread through the pouring rain and strong winds, we stopped to drop off some bread for the neighbor and ask if she needed us to pick up anything while we’re out. My wife made an observation that perfectly answer the question most ask:

Here’s why we’re here now:

“When we left the island for the United States more than 25 years ago, if someone would have said to me that in 26 years, I’d be living across the street from my sister and next door to my best friend from middle school in a new home with a fantastic view, I would have said you’re crazy.”

Then she smiled:)

That smile is why we’re here now!

No bull–actually four Bulls and Thousands of Neighbors

Picturesque village of Porto Martins, just down the hill from our new house, had a Bull Fight the other day. It Takes A Village…to have a great bullfight, great weather, warm ocean breeze, courageous young fools trying to outmaneuver a young bull, very large quantities of beer, lots of great conversation…just plain fun. For centuries, each village raises their money, hires four bulls (selecting the most entertaining ones is a special event in the mountains days before) and then everyone gathers for a few hours. As one new friend on the beach warned me the day before…be most careful of the fifth bull!” I didn’t know there were five….no, the doctor explained, the fifth bull is the invitation to dinner and drinking with all of the great food, delicacies, and of course wine, beer and Aguar Dente (homemade moonshine). Since you know I always listen to the doctor, I had to try out a little of everything. My favorite is a clear liquid diet…aguar dente:)

The entire village of Porto Martins (and many others) turn out for good times and watching daredevils try to outmaneuver the bulls

First Video Effort of Casa Reibeling & Environs

Here’s my first effort at posting a video – epic fail. It shows the house, pans a 270-degree loop, and shows Sofia in front and the painter painting the air conditioner housing in the back. I’ll get better, so stay tuned. Big inspection next week and we heard that our container has been unloaded in Liexoes, a major port in northern Portugal.

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