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!

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

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

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

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.

Important Safety Tip…when you wake to a cruise ship in the harbor, DON’T plan on visiting the market in Praia da Vitoria!

So we woke this morning to a visit from the Ventura Cruise Ship docked in the port just below our place. It dwarfs the usual container ships and regional cruise ships. This one is out of England, has been at sea for a month, and is on their way home.

So the moral of this story is “Pay attention to your surroundings and use your head!” She says “let’s go down and visit the Electric Company’s office, get our account for the new house changed, and pick up some bread from Luis at the city Market. (Luis has known Sofia her whole life and treats us like family when we stop). So we zip downtown, split a café and sanduíche mista (ham and cheese on fresh bread) and then drive over to main street to visit the market.

Ship in the harbor…main street…didn’t put those two things together. Buses everywhere, cops giving parking tickets, literally hundreds of Brits taking photos of everything, hitting all the tourist shops, carriage tours, island tours, wine sales, little Azores souvenir stands … you name it. So I drop the missus (the cop understood me when I explained we weren’t stopping) and then circled the block…no small task on one-way cobblestone streets. But I did manage to find my bride coming back out of the market with fresh bread and fresh bananas and get her back into the truck — all without losing too much of my patience:)

So I need to heed my own advice…when you’re retired and not in a genuine rush to make an appointment, deadline or get to work…pay attention to your environment. A huge ship brings tourists…they help all our neighbor’s with livelihood and they help spread the word about how wonderful our island is. They also come ashore quickly and go everywhere. So give them a wide berth on days when the ships are in. And help them enjoy as well:)

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!

Whatever you do, embrace the differences

Seven minutes ago, I turned a year older. Not at all what I expected when I was younger, not even what I expected ten years ago. But here I am, and believe me, there are many differences. If you’re not willing to adapt, to embrace those changes, I expect you will not be happy…in retirement…in a new land…with new new traditions and expectations.

Some of the changes are noticeable. Yesterday in my home of Michigan the temperatures were record-setting minus 25 and snow. I miss that a lot. Yesterday temperatures in my back yard were 60 degrees, the sun was out, and I was helping cook fish and clean house (not my favorite, but hell, I can survive anything:)) Today I helped a good friend (the best man at my last wedding) celebrate his birthday by climbing a mountain…and he’s older than I am. We had a wonderful time.

Some changes are more subtle. They sing “Happy Birthday” differently. They have major traffic problems (10 cars waiting to yield in a traffic circle) and we’re never sure if Paderia Juncal will have fresh buns or not after lunch. (They did today, and very few things in life are better than buns just out of the oven, buttered, with Sao Jorge cheese)!

As I age, flexibility is less my forté (so I’m told:)) But I am slowly – and sometimes painfully- learning to embrace differences. According to Darwin, if I don’t, I won’t survive. So I shall. Happy Birthday to me, or Feliz Aniversario and Muitos Parabems. The words to the song might be different, but the thought is still the same!

A warm fire in the wind and rain…

All four seasons in every day…that’s what residents say…

Winter time on Terceira is always challenging. Last week high winds (can’t tell you how high, still working on getting my weather observation system up and running…the company’s web site is not authorized for viewing in Europe yet). Some mornings clouds hang low over the mountain behind us, so low we can’t see the wind turbines. Hours later the sun shines down on Praia and the white buildings look like jewels against the blue waters of the bay. Sometimes we walk along the beautiful new boardwalk along the bay’s shoreline, and the water is smooth as glass, or surfers are out playing in the Sea State 3 and 4 conditions. Still, the daily temps are around 16 °C (about 60° F) during the day and chilly when sun sets. The decision to build in a wood stove was smart…not cold without it (vis à vis Michigan and Minnesota) but pleasant, comfortable, and romantic. Plus splitting and carrying wood makes me feel useful.

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!

Mom lied…there is no justice!!!

Talk about unfair…after we make the break for the island life in the Azores, all of my friends in D.C. get a Christmas vacation as the government closes down yet again…and I have to work harder than ever. Still assembling furniture,putting up our Container Store closet (it looks great, BTW) and of course, hanging holly, curtains, wreaths, lights, etc. Just not fair!!!

The good news is that this Christmas season is so wonderful for Sofia. Sisters gathered in the kitchen with daughters, nieces, and neighbors creating “out-of-this-world” aromas, and of course sharing some of the local cuisine, wines, songs, and memories of Christmases past…I love hearing her laugh.

So I’m still not enjoying dependable Internet (next install dates comes up late December, and hoping for the best). Meantime, I don’t post much, but rest assured, all ye who visit, our wishes are with you for a wonderful season, and prayers for health, prosperity, and a return to work soon for my government brethern (and sisters:))

Anxious – First Daughter Coming to Visit

Several years of work, packing, unpacking, camping in apartments and a brand new house with no furnishings, unpacking furnishing, painting, planting…all coming to a head tomorrow when one daughter arrives to see our new domicile. We’ve unpacked everything, put up curtains, planted grass, washed the driveway and truck, everything we can think of to her that we’re home and we want her and her sister to feel at home here also…forever. So the planner in me goes over the list again…clean sheets, favorite drinks, mom’s got the favorite menu ready…let’s hope she feels comfortable. And of course, part of me is also watching faces, listening to voices, planning on what we can do to better prepare for the next daughter’s visit:)

Thanksgiving…an American tradition which surpasses borders

We enjoyed a wonderful traditional meal with our new friends in a foreign land. Just as Pilgrims and natives sat and broke bread (allegedly), we visited with friends, drank local wine, feasted  on turkey, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and passed hours with local residents, residents of distant lands, discussed freedom, the American dream, adjusting to challenges in local conditions (methinks the Pilgrims didn’t complain about various government bureaucracies) and reminisced about previous holidays. All in all, no football, no parades, but wonderful memories. Thanks to all friends and best wished, old friends and new.

No photos for this one…none could portray the warmth around the table:)

Halloween on Terceira

Last day of October, daughters are in the states making final adjustments to their costumes and party plans, and there is some Trick or Treat activity on the streets of Praia. Actually more emphasis on the holiday on November 1, which is a Portuguese kind of combination of Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. It’s called Dia do Pao Por Deus…The  Day of Bread for God.

So on a sunny Halloween morning, Rick and Sofia head for the beach, run, and go swimming before we start. The water was wonderful, the sun warming, and we got to meet up with several great friends!

Halloween 2018
Not at all chilly….yet:)

Sometimes the Rat Race is too much or one rat

Last week has been full of ups and downs: ups. the house is finished, the government paperwork is finished, and now it’s in the bank’s hands. The downs, still NO news on our container which got held up on mainland during a port strike and now has to find a new way to the island. Platinum Movers has assured us they are working on it, but still no container. Residency, citizenship, or in any other words, any program for Rick to stay longer than 90 days is on bureaucratic hold…my FBI check is older than 180 days and has to be redone…with fingerprints, of course. But we’ve been working every day on the house, specifically the weeds and rocks in the yard…so I expect my fingerprints are in Portugal and the FBI is still in the U.S. We’ll see, but we’ll have a great looking yard:)

Meanwhile, my multi-talented wife foiled at least one bureaucratic obstacle…we were told I had to present an authenticated birth certificate from Michigan (we got it after $95) and then my darling bride remember I had to present one to the same government 26 years ago for a wedding license…one phone call and that was solved. She is SOOOO smart:) Sadly, after our short glee, she made me go back to removing weeds and rocks… justice:)

Windy day at the Beach below Sonho da Praia

After a few days of chilly rain and high winds (interesting timing, a hurricane passed 200 miles south of here as Hurricane Michael hit Virginia) a regatta of small sail boats from several islands met here for races while we were swimming at the beach.  Peaceful, serene, and beautiful. Guess I”ll have to take up sailing:)

Praia Regatta 2018
Multi-island regatta in the bay below the house today.

Balance – The Impatient Person’s Guide to Life After the Rat Race

We all know life has it’s “ups” and “downs.” For those of you who don’t know me, patience is NOT my forte. But as I’ve left The Rat Race behind, I find I have more time to contemplate life — as fewer people are counting on me to accomplish things in timelines controlled by yet others. With  very few exceptions (the wife, the warden, etc.) I control my timelines, deadlines, and that makes Life After The Rat Race more tolerable.

Today an apt illustration revealed itself to me — balance is everything.

Today our side of Terceira started with a windy, cold, rainy day. I say “our side” because, as I have known for years here, the south side of the island can be perfectly sunny and warm while the east side (where I’m writing this) is windy and downright chilly. I awoke to a “yucky day.”

We spent the day running errands, getting to know the new roads, traffic laws, vehicle, etc. and then we drove to the Serra Do Cume, a high mountain above our place. Wet cobblestones and ancient potholes made me really appreciate the new truck, and the high mountain road (singular, there is only one) looking out over green fields hedged by stone walls and cows and burros grazing was tranquil. Peaceful. Idyllic. (Forgive my style, Vince….:) and I thought “this is what life is like after The Rat Race. The warden (wonderful wife) sitting next to me agreed:)

Then it hit me. No, not lightening. Not a falling rock. The realization that I needed balance. The sun poked through and a rainbow arched out of the sky. We actually saw several on our drive. We’ve seen many rainbows in our lives, personally I’ve enjoyed rainbows on nearly every continent in nearly every environment. But this wasn’t just “a rainbow,” this was an enchanting rainbow.  This rainbow I could reach out and touch. This rainbow was a perfect arch, with a perfect spectrum of colors, and perfect density, right outside my windshield. I didn’t even pull over to take a photo or video…none would do it justice. Digits can’t capture the magic of this rainbow. This rainbow brought a feeling of grace.

The balance I realized is that rainy wet weather, high winds, cobblestone mountain roads with one lane and potholes, are sometimes not very inviting, but the same crummy weather brings rainbows.

Life after The Rat Race is gratifying. You get some things and you lose some things. But to balance the gains and losses takes time, patience, and introspection. When you think about what you left behind, remember, one of the things you have gained is the time to think about what you left behind…and time is truly one of the gifts we have to cherish!

Bullfights – Azorean pastime and a great way to meet folks and learn the culture…and drink

We’ve been here about a month now, and we’ve gone to about a dozen street fights with friends and family. Every village has at least one a year, and many have more. They stop traffic, turn a bull out with a rope on it for about 20 minutes, put it away, drink for 15 minutes, and then get out another one of four bulls.

We were invited to watch from a friend’s house this week, and happened to be next tot eh video camera. Run this one up to about 45 minutes, and you’ll see Sofia and I. It’s a riot to watch the bull, the crowd, and hear the stories. Had a lot of fun.

Check out this video 45 minutes into to it.

Posted by Sonho da Praia on Sunday, October 7, 2018