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….

Time Marches On; Family and Friends are on loan:)

Funeria Livre
Register of guests saying Adeus to a great friend.

 

 

Funeral Mass at Matriz da Praia
Final Mass on the same altar where we were married; my father-in-law helped serve mass there for decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some college classes continue to reaffirm life; My Michigan State University Anthropology 101 class taught “How a culture handles death tells us a great deal about  that culture.” This week this was reaffirmed by the culture in my adopted home…a great man lost his battle with cancer, and my friends and family banded together to say farewell to him in the style he lived…with love, support, and great food!

Traditions here are different; they don’t embalm, schedule, and arrange things well in advance. When the call came that his breathing was changing, we took the lunch out of oven and rushed to the hospital. (After months of expectations and seeing him suffer, it was with mixed emotions; but it is always painful). Procedurally they selected a casket, dressed him in his vestments as a lay minister, and friends and family stayed with him until midnight, then returned the next morning, had a mass at 2 p.m.  and buried him with his first wife in the same grave we wash weekly.

Tough times call for tough measures, and many friends came out, not only to pay last respects to a long-time friend and neighbor, but to bring food, comfort, and hundreds of stories about Tony to his grieving family. We knew he was a great friend to many; I for one had no idea how many.

I met many friends again, some I hadn’t seen since our wedding many years ago. Some we see nearly every week; family we see nearly every day. We all had our thoughts and prayers, but we all had each other for support. That’s the way he raised his family, and that’s the way every family here is raised. So embracing a new culture isn’t always hard, its sometimes extremely comforting in tough times.

We all miss him already; but he taught us all to move on with our lives, help each other, and remember him. Hell, I miss him already!

Older, yes…but wiser? Not So Much:(

Today it hit…not just a Storm, Intermittent Sunshine, Rainbows galore. “It” was the big Sixty-Five (65) years of age.

Friends from all over the world sent notes, congratulations, missals, messages, jokes, more jokes, jokes in German, Portuguese, French, English. Even heard from an old friend now in Nigeria.  Two things transcend all these languages:
1.  the numerals 6 and 5. 65.
2.  the label “old.”

Guess now I must be officially old. I have many great friends and colleagues who far surpass that age. I am often prone to quote Indiana Jones and quip “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” I contend — and almost everyone who knows my history — I have a LOT of miles on me:)

To celebrate, my darling wife (she points out that she is now 56 and I’m 65, and our actual birth years perfectly coincide with our ages) graciously took me to dinner at Buzios in Porto Martins. Now just a stone’s throw from our place, it was also the location of our very first date years (and years) ago. We had a wonderful dinner. I didn’t eat as much…I’m older now:)

Wiser? Guessing not. I opted to wear a white shirt and ordered Vinho Tinto (red wine) and pasta with shrimp and tomato sauce. So, no, not the wisest thing I’ve ever done. Kind of messy, and I’m hoping the stains come out of the shirt.

So older, yes. Wiser? Not so much! But feeling full:)

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!

Sub-tropical Climate — A serio?

Val's Tree in Storm
Dear Friends visiting fell in love with this lone pine tree in Porto Martins. I think of her every time I drive or run past:)

So when I tell friends I’ve “retired to an island” they invariably hear I’m “living on a tropical island” and conjure up images of sun, sand, beaches, and delectable adult beverages topped by little umbrellas. Not always true of Terceira.

Winter here is usually days of high winds and constant rain…punctuated occasionally by rainbows as the sun breaks through for a moment or two. My greatest dichotomy? Sun is out, so wash the truck. Soon as I’m finished washing the truck or mowing the grass, rain starts. Go inside, check wind strength on the meter, and start a fire in the stove, then read or watch TV.  Often mix a drink:) Tough life, huh?

Either way, a bad day on Terceira with family and friends is better than a good day in DC traffic. Mostly!

Terceira is categorized as a sub-tropical island, but sometimes the umbrellas are over head, buffeted by high winds … and sometimes they are in the drinks! Cheers.

Home to a healthier lifestyle

Porto Marints waves
So if walking each day is better for your heart and brain…nothing more refreshing than a stroll against the wind!

So cardiologists and medical experts seem to agree with my wife, and she is not making those big bucks. Since I got back to the island, appeared after quarantine, and returned to her kitchen, she thinks eating fish, fruit, veggies, and walking every day will make me live longer. So I’ve “volunteered” to live longer…strengthening my heart, my mind, and my legs with morning walks.

Honestly, I can’t complain (that doesn’t mean I don’t!) when morning walks along the coast feature friendly greetings, occasionally warm greetings from puppies also out walking, a coffee at one end or the other, and best of all, wild wind and waves. Recently a storm brought waves crashing over the breakwalls, over the sidewalks, roads, and yes, even the occasional pedestrian. It was AWESOME! Anyone can walk in the sun, but a 40-knot wind and 4-meter waves…that’s for me.

So you see, not only do I have a better lifestyle, a longer lease on life (Covid permitting) and some delicious seafood and fresh fruits and veggies for lunch (still have to have some red wine with lunch!) I also increase the expectation that medical visits will decrease and I’ll meet more friendly folks on walks.

Now, if I could just convince her and the doctors that Gin is a clear liquid and also healthy…:) Meantime, see you at the beach.

Cultural Assimilation … trying hard:)

Clothes on line
Darn the bad luck…The boss doesn’t want me to hang clothes:(

I do try. Honest. I try to eat the local dishes, speak and write the local dialect, even work around the house to clean and shine the way she and her family have done it for generations. But I’m so disappointed…she doesn’t like the way I put clothes on the line. So she asked me to not help her hang clothes.

Oh darn, I guess I’ll never get the hang of it….pun intended. So if you see her hanging clothes and need to see me…I’m inside drinking a beer:) Or putting the clothes into the dryer!

 

Getting Reacquainted with an Adopted Home

Interior Matriz da Praia
Visiting Matriz da Praia, the church where Sofia and I got married

Returning at Christmas (Natal) in Praia da Vitoria, some things haven’t changed since 1679, other things are amazingly different. The church is still beautiful, intricate, very hallowed. It’s also empty, as are the streets. Few pedestrians on the fussgangerzone (Pedestrian zone) and they are mostly wearing masks. Traditional warm greetings of Boas Festas (literally Good Celebration) are now largely replaced by a semi-curt nod; only the eyes if you’re close enough to see them relay warmth. Largely the wonderment of the season is replaced by the trepidation of “What’s tomorrow bringing?” When family gathers (many times, but only up to 10 at a time) discussions of “What’s happening in America?” and “What do you hear of things on mainland Portugal?”

One of the first stops on returning the island is always Matriz da Praia where we married many many many years ago. A visit to the cemitario to pay respects to friends, family and always Padre Candido, the wonderful priest who married us (and baptized Sofia, and confirmed, etc…). For me, I guess it’s a way of re-establishing my roots in my adopted home; it always works to get my mind back into island life.

And it helps get ready for this weird Christmas season…the knowledge that each of the generations before have not had Covid, but they have all faced challenges and triumphed. As will we!!!!

Boas Festas, Feliz Natal, Frohe Weinachten, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, adn Be Safe!

 

Took 13 months, but I’m Baaack:)

Pandemmic Look
Staying away from barbers for more than a year

Wanted to spend some time with my offspring in the states. Left two days before Thanksgiving…2019. Had wonderful holidays, did some travelling (never enough), visited friends and made planes to visit more, then the world changed and we found ourselves “locked down” in the States.  So we adjusted; got a couple of part-time jobs, got an apartment in Alexandria, and spent most of our time watching Netflix from the comfort of our little futon. Occasionally I would help out in my old office in the Department of the Interior, go grocery shopping with one daughter, meander up the liquor store, and wait for the world to change back. Making calls, video chats, Zoom meetings, and the like…some local, and some long distance!

So it was a different Rat Race, but we evolved until we could return to our island paradise, family, friends (all wearing masks now)! So we’re back in Porto Martins, sitting on our couch, wearing masks, watching Netflix, occasionally going grocery shopping, and calling friends and family to see how everyone how everyone is weathering….still some calls are local and some are long distance.

Saved considerable amounts of money on this lockdown…since I’m High-Risk for the virus, I didn’t want to risk exposure to a barber when they did open things up. Some say “it’s the real you” and others say “Arghhhh, get a haircut!” Maybe when things settle down after the vaccines are out:)

Back into the race….but the rules are different:)

Anyone been tracking progress knows that we came back to America to visit family and friends, ended up getting caught in Virginia during lock down, and until the world is safer, we’re not going back to the island. Good friends and a good reputation got both of us our old jobs back, and we’re “settled” in with some camping gear we left in storage for family and what we could bring in our three suitcases. Now we’re working part-time, watching Netflix, and waiting for the situation to change. We know some people who have made it back to the island, some who were turned around at the airport. We’re in good shape, got jobs and friends, a nearby liquor store, and some work to keep our minds busy. So yes, we’re back into the “rat race,” the rules are changing almost on a daily basis, but it’s a much slower race!

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!

Missing the Rat Race?

Scenery shot of area north of Biscoiitos
Scenery shot of area north of Biscoiitos

Hard to believe that we’d miss traffic jams and tall, cold buildings when we can look out the window every day and see this serene, pastoral setting. But a taste of the Rat Race reminds you how good it is to be away from it:)

Merry Christmas to All

We’re travelling to be with family. Our house in the Azores has had some horrendous winds and cold temperatures, but family and friends watching over it have kept it safe and keep us updated. We have resigned ourselves to not having a white Christmas or a file in our favorite wood stove this year, but we’re with family and friends, missing home and other family, but all are happy and safe. Hope you are as well. If not, please contact me and let’s see what we can do to make your Holiday Season happier and safer. We’re here for you, no matter where we are and where you are:) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Overwatch

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

Drinking with new friends

Sofia nad Christina join ladies at Porto Martins Senior's Support activity
Sofia and Christina join ladies at Porto Martins Senior’s Support activity

So if you’re looking to find something to keep you busy, help your adopted community, and meet some great folks, look into joining the local neighbors who gather every Tuesday to make and serve lunch for area seniors.

Sofia and Christine (neighbor ahd childhood BFF) join local ladies, share recipes and family stories each week, while whipping up some truly delectable dishes. Meanwhile, a local bus picks up about 25 seniors, brings them to the Casa da Povo, where everyone enjoys updates, cards, crafts, and memories.

It’s refreshing and invigorating. Astonishment abounds.  One gentleman who was older than 80 excused himself from the table to answer his cell phone. I was astonished because he grew up in the days of horse and donkey carts, cars, airplanes, wars, wired telephones phones, television, and now mobile phones. Amazing!!

Equally amazing is how the Casa da Povo still is a center of village activity, bullfights and celebrations, concerts, dances, and religious observances still provide so much social structure to this island with one movie theater and no malls.

I only hope I can enjoy as much at that age.

 

“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

Home…

Moving, visiting, or returning; I always visit the library!

Sofia on steps to her old school, now the Praia Public Library
My darling returns to her roots…we visit the Praia da Vitoria Public Library…in the same building where she attended first through third grade…up these same stone steps!

Wherever I go, I strive to learn more about the local culture, and one of the best places is always the local library. I always meet the librarians; they have a broad spectrum of resources, they are friendly, smart, and helpful. (See Janie, I do like librarians:))

In our new home, the library also happens to be in the same building where my darling bride attended school nearly half a century ago — I was starting high school then:) She remembers walking up these same steps. We also learned the librarian attended the same school when she was that age. Small world:)

Take it from me, if you travel, move, retire, adopt a different culture, or just plain want to relax and learn at your own pace (no homework!) get a library card…I always have and always will. You learn more, meet some amazing people, and it doesn’t cost a thing!

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.

Traveling mainland Portugal lately … a little of everything

Lisboa Caparica Praia with people everywhere
Lisboa Caparica Praia – the beaches outside Lisbon are busy, hot, and have great surf. Every kind of people, young, old, gorgeous, friendly, and of many nationalities…just one of the many attractions after a short drive…traffic permitting:)

Seems like forever since I wrote, sorry. Traveled with family to mainland, just for a short trip off island. Stayed at a friend’s apartment, rented a car, and had a great time. Never enough time to see everything you want; visited shops, fantastic bakeries, beaches, landmarks, and malls.

The one greatest thing about retiring outside the U.S.A. is the unbelievable diversity. I was never raised as a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy, and traveling in mainland emphasizes that every minute. Of course, they have meat and potatoes, but also every manner of fish, cous cous, rice, pastries, and candies. One of our best meals was fire-roasted pork ribs and potatoes in a little out of the way restaurant near Sintra, run for decades by an magnificent lady called Alice — thus I dubbed it “Alice’s Restaurant.” So we sat at the Group W Bench and chatted with Alice about her history, the good times and bad, how she had stayed with the business so long, etc. (Officer Obie was long gone by then:)) She was wonderful, the food was wonderful, and there is no way I could find this place again without GPS. But I will try, believe me!

For a history buff, Lisboa has a lot. I have visited many times and only scratched the surface. I’ll keep going back as long as I can. One trek I still want to make is to walk over the Roman aqueduct built in the 1600s. You can walk from one end to the other, and it completely bisects the town so the view must be awesome. It’s not a “ruin,” it’s in perfect shape, so the folks who built it really knew what they were doing! Not to mention museums, cathedrals, gardens, narrow streets and stairways, and of course, the warm reception from nearly everyone.

So please put Lisbon on your list. It’s awesome, fun, crowded, and warm. I think you can’t help but love it. See you there!