Immersion…understanding the past wherever I am seems to help me adjust

Sometimes your parents were right…mom and dad always told me to “play to your strengths.” One of mine is history, so whenever I travel, I try to learn more about what happened in the past to better understand people and culture. It’s proven helpful in my past and led to some small triumphs in business, government, and romantic situations in Europe, the orient, Africa, central America, and especially in my new, retired residence in Terceira.

A group of “American” and “Azorean” friends spent a day in the city of Angra do Heroismo at the museum, which I hadn’t visited for about 20 years. We wandered through professionally-styled exhibits about the past 600 years on our island; I learned new things and many of the folks who’ve lived here their whole lives learned some new things as well. After a great lunch at Chico’s (yes, we did get to know the local cuisine and help the wine economy as well) the warden and I had dinner with friends from the states who’ve retired here, as well as a wonderful Portuguese couple (he’s an artist and historian) who know a lot of the island history as well. We talked well into the night, learning more about each other, the language (I’m slower than most) the culture, our personal histories, our likes and dislikes. We made plans to spend more time together and to visit some sites near our new home which may have evidence of residents here well before what has been recorded.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed in a new place, or even underwhemled, play to your strengths. Be brave enough to go to a sports field, automotive collection, even the local taxi stand where the drivers just talk while queued up, and offer to buy a cup of coffee. For many of them, it’s a distraction; for you, it might be following age-old advice from your parents…which I never did when I was a kid:)

the choir loft of the church, now the Museu do Angra do Heroismo
The “gang” taking a quick rest touring the Museu do Angra do Heroismo, an old church and convent on the Placa Velho (old main square). A wonderful day of history and new friends.

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!

Happy Carnival; Mardi Gras;

No matter what it’s called, enjoy with friends and family!

Not sure of the story, or the Freguesia they’re from, or even what some of the jokes or songs were about, but the audience enjoyed their work and enjoyed it together!

Many people ask what do you do for fun on the island. During the first week of March, on Terceira we do the same thing most Christian cultures do…we gather with friends & family and enjoy Carnival … as only the Azores can!

Preparing for Ash Wednesday and Lent, much of the Christian world has parades, dances, (some drinking) and especially laughter, merriment, and a joy and respect for life. On Terceira, I have enjoyed parades through main streets, poetry, concerts, comedies, and each Freguesia (village) around the island hosts many “Dança”

We get together with friends and travel the few kilometers to each Freguesia’s “Casa do Povo” (House of the People — or Community Center) where volunteer community groups from all over the island perform. (Last night in Juncal we watched about 60 Americans from Cambridge, MA, with roots on the island return to perform). It’s amazing; powerful, fun, and inspiring. For a few hours, many (not all) put up their cell phones, sit with grandparents, little children, teens, young parents — all to sit tightly packed in folding chairs and watch performances.

I sat through many (some funny, some musical, some ‘less than appealing to me’ ) and tried to find a way to describe them, both literally and figuratively.

Figuratively, I find them inspiring. Positive. Empowering. Old people, youngsters, lawyers, farmers, school teachers, bartenders…everyone is sitting there laugh, humming, swaying, dancing, and enjoying.

Literally, I had more challenge to describe it. Late last night (very very late) I hit on it…it’s vaudeville! I wasn’t sure, so I checked with my buddy Julian: Wikipedia says: vaudeville is a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation. It was originally a kind of dramatic composition or light poetry, usually a comedy, interspersed with songs or ballets.

On Terceira, each 45-minute performance is a volunteer group, often from the same village, who sing, dance, make their costumes (very elaborate and refined) and ignore stage fright aside to harmonize, recite, dance, tell jokes, and often memorize 45 minutes of dialog, to the enjoyment of friends and strangers.

These folks have fun, work hard, learn and pass on skills, thoughts, humor, love, and community. Personally, I’m not sure what the ancients had in mind for Carnival, but in my teeny weeny mind, this is a major part of it. And it’s a part of a different culture that I’m really enjoying!

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!


The Grass is Always Greener…

The Grass is Always Green…After it Rains:)


Winter in Porto Martins means a lot of wind, a lot of rain, and a lot of mowing the grass. It’s cool, I love cutting grass, and that’s a good thing. I usually get up before the sun, get some work done on the computer, then when the warden gets up, we have breakfast, watch the news from the states, look out the windows, and plan our day.

Little did I realize that my day includes mowing that beautiful green grass at least once a week! Nearly every day this week, I’ve woken to beautiful sunny days, and by the time we’re working on lunch, it’s raining, visibility is down to about 2 kilometers, and we’re feeling sorry for the birds, the cows, and the neighborhood cats…all outside in the rain.

I am reminded of my first year in Germany where the weather statistically was worse than Pittsburgh, then the worst flying weather in the U.S. Everyone said “You have to live with rain and snow.” I did. My parents would always remind us kids that our native Michigan tribes learned to live with nature — and rain and snow are natural. So I’m not having much trouble adapting to the weather in the Acores…just mowing the grass all the time:)

So if anyone asks me what I’m doing with my retirement, I can honestly say I’m spending much of it with nature; walking the beaches, hiking in the mountains, and of course, cutting the grass.

Homesick – but surrounded by supportive friends and family

Moshe and Urso (the bear) on a cake to celebrate a third birthday.

So today, after a great day shooting with friends in the rifle range in the old volcano crater in Monte Brasil, we were invited to help the warden’s wonderful niece celebrate her daughter’s third birthday. Friends and family gathered, ate (a lot), and sang happy birthday.

Then we sat around and reminisced about many things, including the family’s visit to America for Christmas many winters ago in Michigan- and especially the shovelling snow, frozen lakes, and tobogganing.

Everyone laughed a lot (the Christmas visit to the states was the first and last time most of these folks had seen snow; the tales of shovelling, Christmas traditions, blizzards, and very very cold weather brought gasps of disbelief and reassurances – and laughter.

Surrounded by my “Portuguese Support Group” was comforting, but also made me very homesick. Born and raised in the snows of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, here they complain of cold when the rain brings clouds down from the nearby mountain peaks. For me, “cold” brings fond memories of a youth in minus-65 degree (f) weather on the banks of the Rat Root River with a wood stove and an outhouse.

Tonight emphasised a valuable coping skill I strongly recommend… Remember everything is relative, and you can’t step in the same river twice! Your life has changed, and you need to smile and remember your choices, value friends and family who can help you adjust, and enjoy tomorrow. Remembering the past is healthy (until you can no longer remember it:) – I dread that day) but when you move or retire, value tomorrow and the people who you are with now!

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!

Walking for your health…and pure joy!

The waterfront in Porto Martins, Terceira on a fall day. The “mountain” is Capitao (Captain’s Mountain) and is the view from our front door, directly behind the mountain in this view. If you have to take a pleasant healthy walk every day, this is a perfect place to do it!

Even on bad weather days on Terceira, there is something about a long, leisurely walk holding your wife’s hand that is amazing. A few short . kilometers down the hill from our Casa da Sonho, we’re in Porto Martins, one of the most revered natural swimming pools on the island. Waves crashing (but not too much – this isn’t the north side of the island) and wind whipping. Warm sun, and each house you pass or person you meet says Boa Dia, we wave, catch up on jobs, children, honey-do projects….this is the life!

Phase Two Begins … arrived safe and sound

We’re home. Bumper was a great traveler; rough skies, and some long lines for a very very thorough TSA team in Boston Logan, but we made it. 26 years and 10 days…:)  Already missing some friends and family. Now to get to work. House is almost complete,  and there’s a lot to do when you start a new life. We’ve spent decades learning what you need to do and mostly how to prioritize it, but now we have to find the energy, money, and compromise decisions to get ‘er done!  Stay tuned,

Seems pretty selfish to get up in the morning and not worry about the job, the mission, the  team. Seems like I’m always forgetting something that needs to done at work. Instead I get to focus on my family, my self, and how to take care of us. Strange, but I’ll adjust…I always have.