So maybe it’s time to define “bad weather” :)

distant photo of volcano overlooking Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island.
Monte Brazil, a local park, picnic place, ancient volcano, military barracks, shooting range, and landmark for Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO City, the biggest town on the island, etc. covered by clouds and fog. Not visible in the clouds is the ancient whale-watching hut where sentries would alert the population to launch whale hunters.

I’m feeling pretty guilty.

Obviously I stay in pretty close touch with old friends and comrades around the world. We share news, complaints, miseries, old age stories, memories, and of course, weather reports. Followers know that I have survived and loved winters in International Falls Minnesota, Iron Mountain, Marquette, and Ginn Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and operated snow plow businesses as a troll in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Loved nearly every minute of it!

So I’m guilty of looking out at the mountains in front of and behind my house here and seeing nothing but clouds. Stinging rains, high winds, and weather to challenge even the most cheerful soul.

So I really feel guilty after several calls from friends in Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. Reports of 10 inches of wet snow in one day, 30 inches of snow in one day, and reports of 70 inches of snow in one day. I feel bad. (Remember I plowed for years, most of my friends are the same age as I am —old!— and I’m not there to help them.

So I feel guilty about looking out my window at the green grass (yes, it needs cutting again) and the cattle lazily munching in the fields amidst downpours. When I drive, my Michelin tires bit the cobblestones perfectly, no skidding, spinning, shoveling and towing.

I feel guilty. But then, we all make our choices. While I wish I could help these friends and hundreds more, I can sympathize, listen, and feel bad for them. Then I can go look out the window at the blue ocean and have some fresh bread, a glass of local wine, and some local cheese.

I amy be guilty, but I’m not stupid!!!!

Out the window today … bad weather leads to great memories

My truck and plow outside my snow-covered driveway in snowy Michigan, years before I retired to the Azores.
Memories of Michigan, I plowed snow for many years in lower Michigan for a company, The Neighbors. I enjoyed the early mornings, the often-near-zero-visibility storms, and clearing friend’s drives between shopping centers and gas stations and churches.

There is a big difference in “getting ready for winter” in my old life and my new life. For many years, my company The Neighbors would prepare by closing contract agreements, greasing the Boss 8-foot poly blade, tune the engine, and load tow ropes and salt (for those less fortunate and having no four-wheel-drive or less experience driving on snow). Great times, getting up at 2 in the morning, checking web cams, making phone calls and coffee, checking numerous reports, kissing the sleeping girls, and hitting the road. Really great times!

Retired life is different. We really miss the snow, never gets cold enough on Terceira. That’s just as well, because the narrow, twisting roads (often cobblestone) and hills would be a nightmare to drive and plow. Driveways here often have a 40-degree slant, put ice on that and, well…..

Here we have about a month of “fall,” plenty of time to put away the lawn furniture, stack more firewood, stake out the young avocado tree, and prepare a soft bed in the garage for the neighborhood kittens. Of course, bracing for the cold winds of winter also require several additional bottles of aguardente, the local version of brandy, perfect for fighting off chills. Needless to say, most of us also stow the beach bags and umbrellas, although we have many acquaintances who religiously take a constitutional morning swim to stay fit. (We know them; we don’t join them:)

So the seasonal changes, the memories and photos, they all remind me about retired life in the Azores. Some memories are happy, some sad. All reinforce my prevailing attitude…it is what it is. Enjoy it!

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 🙂

Summer here is a time to make new friends…and we love it

Atop the Serra da Cume with a family stationed at Lajes 45 years ago. Had a wonderful meeting and some great memories:)
Grinning atop the Serra da Cume (545 meters or 1,788 feet) with new acquaintances from Texas. He was stationed here 45 years ago, his daughter was born on the base 45 years ago, and they brought her to celebrate on her birthday. The hospital is gone, but the base provided a tour, and we were fortunate to be able to show them some of the island which he and his wife remembered. Not enough time with these great folks; hoping they return soon.

It must be the air here.
Or the fresh breeze?
Or the great food (and wine!)
Or perhaps the often-immediate realization that my wife is a warm, compassionate, intelligent person with knowledge of many parts of the world, many cultures, and respects and learns from all of them? (I already know those things:))

But this summer, like many others for past years, we’ve been honored to meet some great new friends visiting Terceira. Couples from France, Great Britain, the U.S. (this time Texas); all interested in visiting the island, learning more about it, and seeing more of the scenery, tasting the great food, and meeting the people we live with every day.

One family from Texas had sent a letter to our friends here asking if we could help arrange a tour of Lajes Field on a specific date, when his daughter was born on the base decades before. We were honored to help them connect with a base official who arranged the tour, and then we met them the next morning and took them to some of the places they remembered around the island from years ago. We had a wonderful day, learned that his career as an Air Force officer paralleled mine in many ways, and everyone seemed to enjoy the day, several meals, and sights together.

Like almost everything else, summer here is a “good news, bad news” situation. Summer brings tourists, more traffic “jams” with an abundance of rental cars, more crowded restaurants with more limited table reservations, and of course more people on the beaches and at the natural swimming pools. Summer also means festivals in each village, street bullfights, folklore groups, and evening promenades along the beaches. That increased activity also brings many single people, couples, and families from around the world, and all of them are potential friends.

We enjoy it; we remember it, and we love it. Padre Candido (the priest and family friend who married us) admonished us to “share everything.” Don’t know if he envisioned us sharing this magnificent island, culture and people, but it’s working for us!

Let us know if you’re coming over:)

Everyone asks “What do they do for fun on the island?”

So I’ll try to concisely summarize what our relaxation includes. It’s not easy, often because in other countries (even parts of mainland Portugal) many folks can’t relate to the island “definition for fun.” Even after being stationed here and visiting for more than 25 years, it took me about four years to adapt, and I’m still working on it:)

Festivals: Every village in the summer hosts a festival. Local bands play old songs and march to new songs, very accomplished guitar players regale us with tunes from their forefathers day, dancers dress in the attire of our neighbor’s great great grandparents, then dance up and down the street; every age group, from little children through young couples, local merchants and retirees. (During large festivals, the parade route takes about four hours…that demonstrates the fortitude, dedication and energy of these people)! Here in Terceira we are honored to have a group I personally have enjoyed through many free concerts, FadoLado was the winner this year of Portugal’s Got Talent, they are from the same town where we usually go the beach, and the group and their backup musicians often provide free concerts for everyone on the island. In this photo, male singers from our nearby village of Fonte do Bastardo join them for fun, bantering, and wonderful sounds.

Men and Woman singing on stage at night festival in city square of Praia da Vitoria
Our wonderful neighbor’s brother-in-law joins FadoLado at Praia Fest 2022 in the city square. He’s the one on the mike at the moment (lighting was tough at best:))

Major festivals (Praia and Angra do Heroismo) are only once a year. Each other village prepares, spruces up everything in each town square, and has their own festival, local bands, singers, plenty of food and drink, local handicrafts, etc. Nearly every weekend in summer months you can just drive until you find the next festival. Driving around is fun — the entire island can be visited in about an hour — just about the same time it takes to park and walk in a town with a festival:) Terceira is growing more popular, and as always, it’s a two-edged sword… stronger economy, new neighbors and ideas, but traffic and parking get more challenging each year.

My plan was to list a little about each form of entertainment, village bullfights, arena bullfights, cultural demonstrations from islanders and other nations, etc. Decided I can’t do it in one post, it is too long and detailed. Just tune in again, see more, and check back. Meanwhile, I’m heading to the beach…after I mow the lawn:)

Sometimes it takes a while, but Dreams do come True!

Friends and wife enjoying a great lunch on the Veranda with a sunny day, cool breeze blowing.
Great friends, great view, great breeze, and a great retirement home. I’ve dreamt of this for nearly 25 years…and here it is!

Giving up is too easy. I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised to have a vision, work hard, be patient, and you’ll achieve it.

While I haven’t yet achieved every dream I had, many have come using this formula; vision, hard work, and patience (definitely not my forte!). But then again, when something you’ve dreamed off does come true, it’s great to relish it.

So after retiring from the U.S. government, years in the military, travelling around the world many times, settling in one sub-tropical island with a loving wife and family, the “retirement dream” began to appear on the horizon. First finding land with a dream ocean view just a few meters from family. Then finding the best builder on the island, developing a floor plan and seeing it constructed with extraordinary quality, then moving everything we own halfway across the ocean. “The Dream” was moving closer on the horizon. We could see it now while having breakfast in our new kitchen. It was close, just not quite there yet. Wonderful family, great friends living around the island, even a visit from a few in the states, but….

The girls met at a party in Angra do Heroismo. I think it was a Halloween Party, or something similar in the Portuguese culture. They got to know each other better over months and “dragged” husbands along for a lunch. We all it off perfectly; both couples had lived and worked in similar places around the world. Both couples boasted fabulous daughters. Over the course of a year or two, we all became great friends. So, back to the dream…

Great house, great weather, great food (and wine), and great cool breeze blowing over the great ocean view. Great wife (a.k.a. partner, cook, friend, and supporter). It all came together last week. For me, personally, the dream came true.

So, while not pontificating or preaching, I once again defer to the lessons of my childhood. Have a vision, work hard, and eventually dreams come true. Those of you who know me will attest that as I publish this, a million sarcastic straight lines are screaming to get to the keyboard. But I can’t be sarcastic (gasp…you say?) about a dream this old and this much effort. I can only be thankful and honored that I have been blessed with this magnificent event in my life.

Keep working toward your vision, or enjoy your achievements!

Retirement Revelation: Friends really make a difference.

I’m a pretty antisocial character. Seriously. But over the years I have learned how important it is to make the effort to understand ‘if and how’ other people perceive me; this often results in lasting friendships which follow me from every corner of the Earth.

Fortunately.

Traveller lowering the rigged sailboat into the water after a winter dry-dock.
Watching a friend lower his sailboat into Praia Bay for the summer. Glenn had spent hours cleaning, painting, grinding, sanding, and preparing his boat for the summer, then the Praia Da Vitoria Marina team lowered it into the water and he motored off to his slip.

For instance, we had dinner with our sailor friends the other day, along with another couple who are visiting them. Had a wonderful time, shared a lot of history, stories, and wine. Turns out this other couple is also contemplating buying a small place here on the island, after many visits. We all got along famously and hope to see each other more. In fact, we offered to help them find a place and help them settle in amongst the challenges of finding and buying a place here.

I also learned another joy of meeting some new folks, especially a couple who speaks English. This is the sheer joy (and embarrassment) of telling tales of when the warden and I met, where, how, dates, weddings, honeymoon, etc. Maybe I’m getting old (no doubt) but I get more and more personal comfort in hearing her re-tell some of these legends. Even the embarrassing ones:)

As I settle into my fourth year here, I make more friends. While I was down ill last year, several shooting club buddies have taken to stopping by the house to see how I’m doing, offer ideas, suggestions, alcohol, and encouragement. One of the more familiar Portuguese phrases I’ve mastered is “if I can do anything to help, just call on me!” I always echo the sentiment (“Igualmente”) and we continue to check on each other.

Another friend, an ex-pat couple who settled here after numerous U.S. Government-assignments here over the years, are frequent dinner companions, concert companions, and coffee meetings where we DO solve the problems of the world. We often only meet once or twice a month …. based on how many world problem solutions we have developed:)

So yes, I am an anti-social type (evidenced by the fact that I only meet for coffee or drinks every few weeks, as opposed to many friends who meet virtually daily to walk, work out, drink, and support local cafe owners:))

So what have I learned, Dorothy? I have learned that I must make an effort, move out of my own comfort zone, to make and keep friends as I age into retirement. I call my old work associates, I use social media (not a lot) to keep up , comment on their progress and challenges, and offer some free (worth-what-you-pay) advice on my success and failures to solve similar situations.

I expect these thoughts are common-sense for most people, but I’m antisocial, so it’s taken me more time to learn and value friends and the minimal efforts I’ve made to meet and keep friends. I guess friends and family are critical to successful retirement!

Having said that, I’m off to Bela’s to meet some friends and have a coffee!

Back in Time …. But no DeLorean for me today. :)

Sunlit view of palm trees in park between apartment and Praia Bay festival ground and Praia Marina.
View from a friend’s rental apartment overlooking Praia Bay, furnished with the same government-provided furnishings I spent half my life living on. Still, a great view right across from the Praia Fest concert tents!

Flashbacks. A cinema phenomenon and usually a filmmaker’s staple for storytelling.

Over the past 40+ years of living around the world, in government quarters and off-base communities, I enjoyed support from each base housing office. (In all honesty, one facet of my job was to lead the American’s Community Relations programs, I almost always elected to live “off-base” in the local community to get to learn more and meet more residents). Success is apparent every Christmas when we enjoy holiday greetings and family updates from every continent.

Today I helped clean up and take photos for neighbors who have an apartment to rent to Americans in nearby Praia da Vitoria. These photos help the Lajes Air Base Housing Office show incoming airmen what life may be like while stationed here for a year or two. My friend’s recent apartment upgrades caused a little more construction dust than anticipated, so I pitched in to get ready and shoot the photos. Brought back MANY memories.

Over the years, two events people rarely think about is moving into and out of apartments, houses, rooms, etc. The good news is the enormous opportunities to meet new folks. The bad news is that all are subject to inspections, from Cherry Lane (married housing at MSU) to on and off-base furnished houses in Germany, San Antonio Texas, Montgomery Alabama, Arkansas, Honduras, Japan, Korea, and Portugal. Since each housing office is staffed by local residents, the “inspection” is sometimes influenced when a friend or relative of the inspector has cleaned the property. So if you’re a tight-fisted American officer or student, you learn to be VERY critical of your own cleaning procedures before the inspectors arrive. For me, probably the toughest was at Yakota AB in Japan … right Marie? 🙂

My most recent “Back in Time” experience was kind of fun. I helped move around the same “Thomasville” government-supplied furniture (sofa, chair, “occasional tables” — vis-a-vis Colonel Jimmy Bittles from the UK — bed, two dressers, dining table and chairs, some lamps with 110-volt plugs and adapters, etc.) with dark semi-polished tops (which fit any decor and show every scratch and streak) and unfinished bottoms of trim panels, drawers, etc. For me for many years, in other words, home!

Apparently cleaning is like falling off a bike … you never forget. Tall guy gets the tough jobs … wiping down the ceiling molding, taking globes off the light fixtures and cleaning them (good news, the traditional “Leatherman” tool has been upgraded in the past 40 years but is still vital!) and of course, I get to lift the sofa and bed.

At my age and station in life, retirement offers me many things besides memories, so while I have them, I enjoy them. Taking photos and helping out in the apartment brought back many memories, helped some neighbors, and perhaps helped some airman coming to live on the island. I think that’s all we can ask for, so I enjoy it.

Memories, to me, are the same as traveling “Back in Time.” Some good, some bad. Some great, some horrible. But memories, just the same. I try to enjoy the good ones, occasionally reach out to friends who share the memories (good and bad), and try to survive the horrible ones … at least, wake up.

Now, if I could just find a DeLorean here, it would be perfect for an island in the Atlantic; that stainless steel body should never rust. I’ll keep an eye on the used car market here! 🙂

Island Life…Location is everything!

Spring weather in Terceira; wild crazy 47-know winds and then sunshine and glistening seas. Warm sun and then clouds scurrying about from one end of the island to another!

The month of May has been truly bizarre — weather-wise — and it’s not unique. Sun in the early morning, rain (while the sun is out) mid-morning, rain and massive winds by noon, sun by afternoon (honey, want to cut the grass?) and then massive winds.

What do we make of this? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Life on Terceira is unexpected, changes immediately, and presents challenges to be overcome daily. So when you retire here, take it in stride. Learn to capitalize on whatever nature presents!

Sunrise is for breakfast, shining through windows on breakfast, winds at noon shaking windows and scaring neighborhood kittens, and crops and grass growing at seemingly miraculous rates, only to be harvested (fresh salad!) and mowed often. Of course, sitting on the veranda watching clouds, rainbows, sailing ships, and running cattle are part of the fascination.

My point is simple. Do your homework. Be flexible, patient and tolerant. And remember that the weather is unpredictable, but the friends and family you elected to retire with are always there…so enjoy them and show them that they are important, not the weather!

Retire with a purpose, and be dedicated to that purpose, weather (or other environmental factors) be damned.

In the words of wisdom from my dear departed mother….Be Happy! 🙂

Images of a Springtime walk with a truly wonderful girl :)

Drawing by Nadia of Tio (Uncle) Rick and 5-year-old Nadia walking in the park after Easter dinner.
Nadia (five years old) made this drawing capturing our walk after Easter Dinner in 2022. The Sun and the Rainbow indicate it was a warm spring day. We chased ducks, raced each other on her new bike (with training wheels) and talked about a lot of things (mostly she talked and I listened). Wonderful day with family!

Some people look at a map of Terceira and ask “What is there to do on the island?” I often note that there is always a lot to do (dishes, grass, washing the car, etc.) and spending time with friends and family. For instance, past Easters we my family would gather at my sister’s house, everyone would bring several dishes (with food in them:)), my daughters would play together, we would walk after eating too much, and we would usually have an Easter egg Hunt and later, egg fights. Then we would say goodbye and often not see each other until next Easter. I really loved those Easters.

Easter this year started with an early morning shooting competition; postponed to Easter because of several postponements due to high winds and bad weather at the range. Good times, friendly competition, and great friends. Then off to a more traditional Easter, traditional for island life. We dined on soup, cod fish, ribs, and great desserts and wine. Then we walked to the garden and park, Nadia got out her new bike with training wheels, and we walked, chatted, gossiped, complained, predicted the future, and walked some more. I lamented not bringing a camera, and when we walked back to the apartment, Nadia composed this artistic masterpiece. Very perceptive, she caught my gray beard, my white hair, a duck that we chased, and many hearts to represent how much I love her. (She did also use some artistic license to draw in a six-pack abdomen like her father has… I actually sport more of a keg:))

So yes, living on the island I miss my little girls and my family. Sometimes a lot. But living in many corners of our fabulous world, I have always adapted. I often hope that my children, family, and friends know how important they are to me. But I labor continually to adapt to my current environment and enjoy memories of other times. Family and friends here make that adaptation much more enjoyable.

Nothing to “wax eloquent” about…just love this island:)

Waves as big as a house and winds blowing the photographer away...a fabulous spring day on Terceira!
Waves taller than a house and winds blowing the photographer away…a fabulous spring day on Terceira! It’s one of those “no picture can do it justice” but it’s the kind of weather that I always think of when someone asks “What do you love about the island!”

Sunday afternoon. I learned from the Internet that today is “Siblings Day,” and I definitely miss my siblings, scattered from San Diego to Cincinnati to Kalamazoo, MI. I feel we’ve drifted apart, as much with time as with my decision to move to the island. I learned from my older sister when I retired that many in my family had never been too pleased when I traveled around the globe with the military and retired to my wife’s homeland. A connection between our physical distance and our familial distance is purely anecdotal; don’t know what it is for certain, but it is what it is. We keep in touch is the best I can say.

So after days of high winds and rain (great, the grass is again green and tall!) we enjoyed a typical Azorean Sunday. Palm Sunday. Lunch with family, after which they invited us for a drive to the north side of the island to Biscoitos. About 12 miles away. The sun came out, but the winds were still in the 30-45 knot range:) I love the wind here…it makes you stand up taller, face Mother Nature on her terms, and teaches you humility when you succumb to whatever you can’t triumph over.

Just a few kilometers east of Biscoitos, there is a trail we have often walked, from the higher fields to the ocean at the foot of some cliffs…I estimate the cliffs to be about 400 meters, about 1/4 mile straight down. So we parked about half-way down to shoot this photo. Everyone stayed in the car but me. I love the wind, the salt spray as waves were thrown against the cliffs and spray washed over the trail, the car, and the camera. After several perfunctory cautions about safety, I did have to sit on the stone wall to hold the camera against the winds. It was exhilarating, to say the least!

After stopping at a cafe for a coffee and a pastry, we continued to circumnavigate the island toward the western shore, where the winds were not as high, the seas were not as high, and the sun shone warmer. We headed home…back to reality. We did rinse the salt off the car, an electric Mazda.

So on my little family excursion Sunday, I learned (or re-learned) a few things about myself. In today’s world, missing one’s siblings is honestly depressing. Being treated as a sibling by in-laws is truly uplifting. Finding a challenge and succeeding is good “Chicken Soup” for the soul. While not exactly up to the old standards of riding motorcycles in the Sahara or in a blizzard in the French Alps, standing up against a strong wind to get an “almost perfect” photo to share gives me a sense of accomplishment. And most importantly, I am reminded that every now and then, you have to seek out something which requires fortitude, gives you great enjoyment, and live it up!

Island life goes on … with neighbors helping neighbors

Busy month for news and ‘discussions’ around the kitchen. War and the possible threat of cyber warfare affecting banks and stores, news stories about evacuations of our neighboring island due to volcanic tremors on Sao Jorge, and ever-rising prices. So naturally, we’re trying to adjust and support those we can.

Paulo is a neighbor successful in building up vegetable gardens and he is helping us out with a new one.
Paulo is a proven gardener and is helping us get a better vegetable garden going in our small backyard. He is a hard worker, needed some additional money, and as food prices rise here, we decided that we would all benefit. I feel bad not helping him, but he asked to be left alone, so I honor his request. Instead, I take photos and blog:)

The island does business differently, and adjustment I still have not marshalled and don’t know if I ever will. So when we decided it was time to cut down on grass-cutting (yeah!) and make sure we have fresher herbs and kitchen fare, my darling went to work. For more dirt, she called the lady where she gets eggs; their friend dropped off about 4 cubic meters of good earth for about $30.

We had met Paulo about a year ago and he seemed a hard worker adept at gardens, both flower and vegetable. First decent weather we had, he came over on his scooter, surveyed our plans, the dirt, seeds, and gave us a list of what he wanted to do the job. He’s been out there since 8 a.m. moving dirt, making a fence, and moving flowers to another part of the yard.

Meanwhile, for lunch, we’re having freshly-caught fish from a relative. I sharpened their kitchen knives for them, and they wanted to give something back, so they dropped off the fresh Pargo. Needless to say, my wonderful wife (the “boss” in English, the “Chef” in Portuguese, and “the Chef” in English) whistled up a great lunch. (Hey c’mon, I can do more than blog, I also cut up the fish, the onions, carrots, and helped with the potatoes (which we also got from a neighbor for whom I sharpened some farm and yard tools). Against this backdrop of activity, we waved and hollered to our farmer friends who were in the field below our yard milking cows:)

Our neighbor (who ran down to his brother’s house to borrow a rake for Paulo) also mentioned that the local news was that many homes near the now-downsized Air Force base was opening many homes used for housing American families when I was stationed at the base for use by both Ukrainian refugee families and families evacuated from the nearby island. So we’re making calls to see if we can help with that “resettlement” effort in any way.

Retired life on an island doesn’t seem to be very dull lately. Recent winter days of rain and wind (lots of both) encourage lounging, setting by the wood stove, and reading or watching TV (American, Portuguese, French, German, and some Swedish — that one needs subtitles). We still miss being near DC sometimes, miss the great restaurants, daughters and old friends. I have also been very active lately in supporting some old colleagues at Department of Interior with some computer and database assistance. We also offer our meager assistance and moral support to friends here facing cancer, heart problems, and ‘age-related’ injuries.

So, as I’ve said many times, retiring to an island in the Atlantic is not retiring to a paradise. We’ve consciously traded some problems (traffic and parking here are a lot easier; helping daughters deal with relationships and professional advancement) etc. But here the weather is tough, world issues directly impact family and friends here, and preparing to proactively face new challenges remains a high priority. Don’t be fooled. If you move to an island, prepare to face a different lifestyle, different problems, and continue to “feed” your support structure. I predict that if you do that, you’ll have a magnificent, satisfying experience!!!

Gone, but never forgotten — One less phone call to make this November

Life can be so confusing; not because I’m retired, not because I’m on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, and not because, as I age, I “anticipate” more of “those calls” or messages. Last night, my world changed forever, and I never saw it coming.

Paul died! Got a short note from his wonderful wife stating very simply that he had a quick illness and passed. He and I spoke by phone about every three months, mostly to joke, reminisce, and catch up. I know he had a few health challenges, but he was getting past them and starting to enjoy his retirement.

Paul and I met by accident, he was a Booth Newspaper IT computer instructor and I was an Internet Services Manager. Over lunches and shared meetings, we learned that we were both stationed at K.I.Sawyer AFB just months apart. As veterans of K.I., we migrated to mutual memories, mutual suffering (in job tasks), and spent some time toasting those memories. Liberator Gin from Detroit became our “go to” drink, but we demonstrated flexibility and adaptability when Liberator wasn’t available:)

Paul was amazing. The most tolerant, unselfish, patient IT Instructor I have ever worked with. ( I know it’s a poorly worded sentence, but Paul would agree with me… “only time it’s a problem is if they don’t know what you’re trying to say!”) Paul and I helped each other through some significant challenges, grew to know each other better, and learned more about each other.

Paul was a rated pilot, a licensed drone driver, a dedicated husband, and a magnificent friend. One example; when my dearest family friend in Grand Rapids, Mary Jane Dockeray, needed some help at Blandford Nature Center, Paul gave up his retirement and went over to help her build the center stronger. He helped me take care of my mom’s best friend even though I was a long way away.

The man was a genius. He knew what made people tick. He knew what made computer hardware tick. He knew what made computer applications tick. And he willingly and magnanimously shared those innate abilities with anyone who wanted to know more about how to grow with computers and their jobs. Paul had more patience than any other person I’ve ever known. “Because it’s important for them,” he would explain.

Our veteran background became a focal point as we piloted a newspaper program to help local veterans honor their family members every year on Veteran’s Day. Three things I could count on during every November 11 Veterans Day. One was a request for some help writing a column or speech for old bosses to honor those who served. Two is some time to remember those who I served with in many corners of the globe. Three was the annual phone call from Paul with a reminder that “I wanted to call and wish my best surviving veteran a good Veterans Day. (At that time, some people didn’t understand the difference between “Veterans Day” and “Memorial Day,” when Americans honor those who gave their lives for America.) No matter where either of us was in the world or in our lives, Paul and I shared a phone call and a drink…”Here’s to you, my favorite surviving veteran.” That call was as much a part of my November as Thanksgiving. Maybe more so:)

It’s March 2022. Already my November has deteriorated. Flight schedules and family events have now changed. Pandemic be damned, November scheduling will now include flights back to the states (maybe to Michigan), a stop for a bottle of Liberator Gin, and a toast to Paul. I am sure my family understands. Paul always pledged to help my daughter if she ever needed it. When she went to college, our disaster plan included a meeting place for us near campus, and if I didn’t show, an expedient route to Paul’s place for safety and security until I could arrive. Paul was like that. I learned over the years that you could count on Paul.

I cannot fathom, as I write this, what it will be like to not be able to check in on Paul. Likewise, I have even less comprehension to know how Paul’s wonderful wife can cope with this turn of events. (In keeping with Paul’s never-ending ‘glass is half full’ attitude, I won’t call this a tragedy, Paul would always claim something as a ‘teaching moment,’ but I have reached out to tell her I can help if she asks. Beyond that, I follow Paul’s lead…be there if you’re needed.

Paul, you’re needed. I’ll just look to the stars when I need you. Instead of a phone call in November to “honor us living Veterans,” I’ll be looking up and toasting. I know of no other way than that to honor a great man.

Embracing Retirement

Vizinha sorting shirts, ties, etc.
Vizinha sorts remnants of “the old days,”
shirts, slacks, ties, etc.

Another gray, windy, rainy day at Casa Da Sonhos, so it’s time to tackle yet another retirement task. Years after the paperwork, the move, the cleanups, the cleaning (perhaps I should say Cleaning ad Infinitum) etc., I’ve tackled one of the final tasks.

The End of an Era.

Final admission to myself that I won’t be going back to the office soon. Final admission that the life of this retired guy on the island of Terceira is getting healthier, exercising more, losing weight (nearly a hundred pounds) and ‘living the good life.’

Yes, I cleaned out the closet.

Colorful shirts, ties, and old uniforms from days as a warrior, bureaucrat, IT geek, nerd, motorcycle guru, photo freak, and hiker/camper. They have all moved on to new homes in the neighborhood, some destined for folks we know, some who need colorful scraps for sewing projects, and probably some for oil cloths in the workshop. Most still have their final dry cleaning tags in them. Many have memories; this is the tie I wore on my first interview at the newspaper, this is the shirt and tie I wore to my niece’s wedding, this is the coat and tie I wore to my daughter’s graduation. All great memories. All a patchwork of great times in a busy, varied career.

Now that chapter has closed. I don’t need souvenirs, just memories, good and bad. The closet is now better prepared for my new life. Retirement. I have a suit and tie for weddings, one for funerals, and a standby outfit for the unknown. (For decades, I kept a suit and tie in a locker at work or a Class A uniform for when I’d get calls to meet a plane, brief a general, etc. Now, i keep one more handy that fits, more as homage to those days which helped me advance in my chosen career). And of course, the closet is well-stocked with sandals, shorts, and swimming trunks.

Just to make me feel better about the shift, the warden has agreed to a few “lightly-worn” outfits to visit the tailor in Lajes, shorten the pants, take in the shirts to reduce that ‘tent’ effect, etc. Never know when we’ll be called upon to represent our country, impress a neighbor or elected official, or otherwise be “socially acceptable.”

But mostly it’s another step toward embracing a new lifestyle in a distant land. With a little luck, I’ll still occasionally bump into some of these good old duds, smile at the Azorean wearing them, wish a “Boa Dia,” and compliment him on his attire:)

Hope it serves him as well as it did me…it got me to this retired life.

A New Slant on “For Whom the Bells Toll”

Home on Terceira from teh belltwoer of the Matriz da Praia where we were married.
Home on Terceira from the belltower of the Matriz da Praia where we were married.

Despite a gray February morning, we climbed the steps to the top of the bell tower in Praia Da Vitoria’s Matriz da Praia, the church where we said vows nearly 30 years ago. A tour from our friend Lugerio showed us rarely-seen glimpses of the church, built in 1456 and destroyed and rebuilt through numerous earthquakes. This morning we saw the priestly robes that were worn in the 1700s.

Matriz da Praia holds many fond memories for both of us. Sofia was raised less than 5 minutes walk from the church. Her father (my Sogro) served masses and instructed decades of catechism students. Presided over by family friend the honorable Padre Candido, Sofia has been to many marriages, baptisms, and funerals over the years here.

Not earth-shattering (vis a vis the many earthquakes which shook the church) but still fond memories and a new opportunity even though we’ve walked through these aisles hundreds of times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like being happy in retirement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it snow…some things the Azores can’t provide!

After months, and only weeks from returning home, Mother Nature provides us with a winter tableau, a beautiful snow storm, closures, traffic snarls, winds, power outages...ahhhh, good to see and then fly home:)
After months, and only weeks from returning home, Mother Nature provides us with a winter tableau, a beautiful snow storm, closures, traffic snarls, winds, power outages…ahhhh, good to see and then fly home:)

After a Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s, we waken to a blizzard, limited visibility, and serious snowfall. Blowing winds (nothing like in the Azores) and the park across the street looking tranquil, untouched, and downright pleasant.

It was so chilly out, I even put on shoes and socks, instead of my usual barefoot or sandals. Not sure if it’s old age, thinner blood, or old age, but it was good to listen to the snow crunch under foot and try to remember how to shield the camera under my coat:)

So I’d say the trip back to Virginia for the holidays is complete…and I must be correct (gasp) because after breakfast, the warden says “Lt’s start working on the suitcases.”

Home, here we come (COVID permitting!)

Resisting Holiday Temptations … tough no matter where you are:)

Bakery goodies provide color and temptations for the holidays. Yum!
We’ve visited bakeries around the world and nothing beats the end of year Holidays for goodies. Doctors and Personal Trainers must hate the holidays:)

Holiday travel, quality time with the family, visits with old friends (by phone and video this year), and of course shopping, coffee, holiday cheer; all of these (and more) equal many temptations. Nothing graphically depicts all of these temptations than a visit to a neighborhood bakery.

Over my many years, I have visited bakeries, backerei, paterisseria, paderia, on nearly every continent. The holidays bring out the professionalism, creativity, and literally generations of skill preparing tasty — albeit somewhat less healthy — treats.

Holiday joy also comes in many colors. Chriskindlesmarkts, snowfall in the mountains, ships decorated with holiday patterns, Christmas trees, wood stove fires, wrapping paper under the tree, these are all wonderfully colorful. Colorful scarves, hats, socks, they all liven up whatever holiday you are celebrating.

Retirement can mean fun travel to see loved ones and enjoy the holidays together. It also means plenty of excitement, some opportunities to put on a little extra weight, and colorful excitement. Which also means enjoy it while you can; and then get ready to go home and enjoy more exercise, more healthy diet, and tranquility.

Enjoy!!!