Sunday Sermon: The Cracked Pot

Reminiscent of the parable about the sower of seeds, the focus in this story is on the water and the vessel rather than the seeds. We learn that, to be fertile, not only must the ground be good and prepared to receive the seeds, but it needs to be nurtured and cultivated, as well. No matter our cracks, faults, or flaws, we all can produce beautiful “flowers” and bountiful “crops.”

“An elderly Chinese man had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck.

“One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

“For a full two years this went on daily, with the man bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

“Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the man one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

“The old man smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

“Each of us has our own unique flaw(s). But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

“So, to all of my crackpot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!”


Without a prescribed religious service or liturgy, People of Faith Online Congregation has no creeds, confessions, or collections … no pulpits, pews, or processionals … no altar calls, prosperity preaching, damnation-orientation, celestial choirs, books that we worship, or “holier-than-thou” critics.

Instead, we’re a home-based, nondenominational online congregation that’s spiritual rather than religious, organic over organizational, personal beyond institutional, here-and-now oriented instead of hereafter.

From Portugal and Spain, we gather online to consider and celebrate the sacred journeys of our lives. All are welcomed, appreciated, and affirmed … no matter where in the world you are located!

Whether you’ve attended church (but feel alienated), or if you’d enjoy meeting other wayfarers seeking this type of progressive spiritual experience, please join us and other progressive people of faith. Here’s the link to our group on Facebook:

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The Americanization of Iberia

Conveniently, we’re eating lunch in the food court at one of Castelo Branco’s largest shopping centers. With a dozen or so eateries in a semi-circle filled abundantly with tables and chairs, eateries abound: churrascarias (bbq), fish, soup and sandwich, Italian (pizza & pasta), kebabs and gyros, burgers, ice cream, pastries, and other desserts.

Our favorite is a Brazilian steak house where, for €4.90 – about $5.50 – you can get a grilled flank steak on a roll with a side salad, bowl of soup, French fries, and your choice of beverage—wine and beer included. Other meals are comparably priced. All are served on real plates and dishes, with flatware and drinking glasses.

But many of the Portuguese we see prefer to eat, instead, at the Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, or McDonalds next door … tapping digital buttons to order food and then waiting for their LED numbers to flash, summoning them to pick up bags with disposable contents.

Meals at these American franchises typically cost more than Portuguese food.

Hamburgers, chicken, pizza, and sandwiches, of course, are international foods, unlimited by American influence. It’s how the food is cooked and served that makes all the difference (along with the type and quality of products used).

Why would anyone want to eat such assembly line food with “paper” plates and plastic utensils, when so much better is available in the very same space?

It got me thinking about the influence America – the USA, in particular – is having on Portugal and Spain in Iberia. Is that still called “imperialism?” Good, bad, or indifferent, the USA has affected Portuguese and Spanish cultures in many ways:

• Language. As American English differs from the British, European Portuguese and Spanish differ from their Brazilian and Hispanic cousins. And American lingo is increasingly taking root in both languages. English – accented by American English, by and large – is mandatory learning in Portuguese schools, from elementary grades through secondary school. English speakers seek to practice their Portuguese; but as soon as we open our mouths with mispronounciation, the Portuguese reply in excellent English. Daily, more American expressions and words are imported, even though native words already exist: “take-away,” and “tênis” (sneakers) … along with many other words of common usage: “marketing,” “workshop,” “brownie,” “cupcake,” “low cost,” “cheap,” “check in,” “designer,” “email,” “blog” “clic(k),” “check up,” and “yummy” are just a few examples, along with the universal gadgets and widgets of technology.

Media. If you watch TV’s The Price Is Right or America’s Got Talent, you’d best take their Spanish and Portuguese equivalents with a large dose of salt! As for cinema, we get first-run American movies here upon release. Soundtracks are hilariously dubbed in Spanish, while shown in their original English with Portuguese subtitles.Heck, there’s even and American music – current and oldies – is quite popular on much Iberian radio … until interrupted periodically by Catholic masses and Hail Marys broadcast in their entirety.

• Money. Plastic seems preferred over cash—especially during the pandemic. Although Americans reach for their credit cards, the Portuguese and Spanish are more likely to use debit cards. The ATM was invented by a Brit (not the Yanks), but their use is everywhere today. In Spain, you can withdraw and deposit money, pay bills and even traffic fines at an ATM. Portugal’s “multibanco” machines do even more! They’re so smart, in fact, that they don’t deem cash withdraws – where we’re assessed fees from both the dispensing and our home banks – as such. (Not so with Spain’s ATMs.)

• Medicine. Although universal health care is the birthright of all Spanish and Portuguese citizens (legal residents in Portugal, as well), locals often opt to supplement their public health care with private coverage. There’s quite a difference (in price!) between the USA’s and Iberian medical plans. While the cheapest and least inclusive health insurance policies can cost thousands of dollars per month in America, comprehensive health care insurance in Portugal runs us about $160 per month (all-inclusive) for two people–one 70+, the other almost 60. Spain, too, offers the option for foreigners residing there to buy into the country’s national insurance or purchase comparable coverage through private market insurers.

• Urbanization. How are you going to keep them down on the farm? The Portuguese lament the loss of their younger, educated population who flee the small villages of their birth to elsewhere … other countries, as well as bigger cities in Portugal, where employment opportunities are more plentiful and the proverbial “rat race” appears to be exciting. Buy, sell, spend, borrow, bigger, better … more! After a while, however, keeping up with the Joãs takes its toll. Like the city mouse and the country mouse, there’s a pronounced distinction between city dwellers and their more provincial relatives, with natives dividing lifestyles as either city or country (campo).  Increasingly, however, the Spanish and Portuguese experience that yearning, “saudade,” to return to their roots … tilling the soil and enjoying a more peaceful, tranquil, less hurried and hectic lifestyle. Wherever the location, however, for those looking to buy or rent property, there’s a local office of the Re/Max, ERA, Century 21, and Keller Williams real estate networks.

• Technology. The globalization of technology certainly can’t be limited to the United States. But silicon valleys across the country are the forbearers and creators of our digital world. The most popular mobile phone in Portugal and Spain? Apple’s iPhone.The preferred computer? Apple’s iMac. The ubiquitous operating systems and tools of computers? Microsoft’s. The go-to search engine? Google. The most popular social media platforms? Facebook and its WhatsApp. The best known computer chips and graphic cards? Intel.

Unfortunately, ignorance and belligerence — byproducts of American polarization — appear to be finding friends in Spain and Portugal. Chanting “freedom,” hundreds of people rallied in Madrid and Lisbon in to protest the mandatory use of facemasks and other restrictions imposed by the governments to contain the coronavirus pandemic. And in Portugal, one of the countries intent on containing and crippling the virus, we are impressed with the fortitude and compassion displayed by the Portuguese people. “It is not perfect here,” states an American expat living in Lisbon. “The police need to enforce mask rules (occasionally meeting violent resistance) in some ethnic ghettos, but the city is trying to increase communications and messaging in those neighborhoods and incidents are rare.” In southern Portugal, “most are following the rules, but still get too close at the grocery, leaning in or reaching around. On the boardwalk, tourists don’t cover when they cough and sneeze.”

American outreach has cribbed many inroads to territories Spanish and Portuguese.

T-shirts glorify alleged American icons and phrases, while shopping carts are filled with brands such as Heinz, Tropicana, Listerine, Johnson & Johnson, Old Spice, Colgate, Oral-B, Coca Cola (and Pepsi), Kellogg’s, Finish, Raid, Vaseline, Woolite, Hellman’s, Vaseline, Dove, Bic, Purina, Pedigree, and Friskies (among others) … outpacing the national ones.

So be it.

But if and when Walmart arrives here, it will be time for us say enough is enough!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Would You Buy This Property?

Would You Even Go to Look at It?

Often, it’s hard to understand the mentality of property agents in Portugal and Spain.

I mean, honestly, what were they thinking?

The photos linked above are actual representations of an actual property listed by an actual property agent and actually sent to me as a possible property in which I might be interested … the agent supposed.


It’s a different world out there selling properties in Portugal and Spain than in the USA and UK. But just as there are good, bad, and indifferent property agents on the west side of the pond, the same holds true for the east side–especially Portugal and Spain.

We have had some excellent agents in both countries who have gone out of their way to understand our needs (and wants), our budget, location, and property condition … they’ve been honest in telling us that, “There’s nothing we have for that price that meets your criteria,” or, “We have a property that might work for you, but it needs some work,” or, “You’re going to have to look outside that area for a place that is everything you want.”

Part of a property agent’s responsibility, we believe, is to advise and counsel clients that — before they can put their property on the market for sale — they need to clean and straighten it up … even to make a few fixes, inexpensive stuff like removing surface mold and adding a lick or two of paint.

Property agents must do more than charge clients a fee for hanging out a “For Sale” sign and listing the property on their websites. They must work with their clients, advising and showing them how to make the most of what they are trying to sell. And then, before clicking on the “Publish” button, they should take appropriate photos that accurately and honestly show the property in its honest but best possible reflection.

Yes, the photoss here are from a lower-priced property (€48K) in a smaller village off the beaten track … but, still, there is no excuse to present it with pictures like these.

Wouldn’t you wonder: If this is what I can see in this property, what about what I can’t see? What’s hiding inside the roof, behind the walls, under the floors?

Too many property listings are simply sloppily slapped together and thrown out there online, hoping that somebody, somewhere, might be interested in taking a closer look.

We’re not. Are you?

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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What Do You Call It?

The Portuguese have a word for it.

English really doesn’t.

You can’t define it; to truly understand its meaning, you’ve got to experience it.

It’s different than depression, distress, disillusionment, discouragement, despair. It’s wistful and wishing for the way things were … and ought to be … but aren’t anymore.

Although “melancholy” probably is its closest cousin in English, it’s much more than that: a longing, yearning, aching void.

It’s the heart swelling up and crying out inside. It’s a lump in the throat … anxiety attacks … a feeling of foreboding … brooding … bleeding internally … unable to heal the hurt.

It’s a slow burn about the utter unfairness of it all … coupled with an irresolute resolve to go on and make it through yet another day–despite the turmoil, trespasses, and travails along the way.

It’s caring so much and coping so continuously that we’re overwhelmed and exhausted, unable to do much more than sigh as we watch the world go by(e).

It’s abject and deject, anguish and agony, feeling victimized and caught up in an elusive web of betrayal beyond our control.

It’s something for which, elsewhere at another time, they’d prescribe mind-numbing drugs, psychotherapy sessions, and therapeutic confinement.

It’s sort of like the Yiddish word “Rachmones,” whose translations – mercy, compassion, empathy, understanding – don’t come close to what we actually feel when recognizing the trait in a kindred spirit: Namaste.

It’s a voice heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

It’s hiding in Anne Frank’s attic, knowing full well what the future holds.

Yet, it is part of the song and dance that are our lives.

The Portuguese sensitize these doldrums and call them “Saudade.”

For me, it’s a dark cloud hovering over us as I await what’s beyond … looking away and staying inside without precious connection to others … hoping it will pass sometime soon.

I feel like a psalmist, pleading with the Almighty to allow me to be joyful, yet unable to understand how and why we’ve become such drained and divided fragments of our fabric.

Then I remember that verse: “ … weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

So be it.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Sermon: WWJD About the LGBT

Driving across town, I passed a corner church near my credit union. A banner on the side of its lawn had “WWJD About the LGBT?” printed on it, inviting all to come and hear the pastor preach.

Curious, I listened to what he had to say.

To sum up his message: Christians should be on the same team–especially those attending his church. All humanity sins and has been separated from God, except for Jesus (who IS God and who wrote the Bible). Don’t doubt that the Bible speaks the authoritative voice of belief. And, while some of the clobber passages in Leviticus no longer apply anymore since Jesus dismissed them, other verses (Old Testament and New) refer to eternal “lifestyle laws” like alcoholism, gambling, promiscuity, men laying with men and/or women with women.

“If you are LGBT, I want you to come to this church!” the pastor urged at the tail end of his sixty minutes. “I want you to get to know us! I want you to come week after week! I want you to get to know the Bible and Jesus! I want you to feel at home and welcomed here, not judged!”

Hmmmmmmm …..

“BUT,” the pastor emphasized, “you can’t be a member of this church. We’ll ask you not to take communion or to participate with us financially. These are things we do as Christians here, as the church … but that doesn’t mean we hate you!”

Yeah, I’d sure feel comfortable at that church. (Not!)

Worship of the mean, old, imaginary, monster God in the sky that millions have feared for millennia hasn’t produced the best life experience or society possible on earth … or even close to it.

I suspect we can do better.

As can God!

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Elbow Kissing

People here take the virus seriously. Very seriously, indeed.

Wherever we go in our Spanish town of Olvera in Andalucía, folks have masks dangling, half-mast, from their ear lobes, ready to pull them up to cover their mouths and noses as soon as the shadows of others are seen approaching.

That’s outside, on the streets.

Elsewhere, the masks are also facial appendages. Little old ladies sit and chat with covered faces, night after night, on benches in the tidy little park at the bottom of Calle Campillos, where Olvera´s former post office had stood, replaced years ago with this quaint oasis in the midst of row houses zig-zagging as they bend and stretch up and down the narrow, steep street.

Across the border in Portugal, little old men sit on knee-high walls surrounding their village churches, pontificating about this or that (as is their nature). It’s difficult enough to understand their dialects under the best of conditions; but, with mouths muffled by máscaras (mascarillas in Spanish), it’s even more challenging to decipher their staccatoed opinions and argumentative crescendos.

Even the youngsters – from toddlers to teens – understand the seriousness of the moment, responding without usual rebellion when told to step back, stay away, come inside, don’t touch, wear their masks.

These are people, entire populations, who barely survived under severe lockdowns for three or more months. They’ve seen death and the toll Coronavirus can take, up-close-and-personal. So, they´re now bound and determined to do whatever they can to ensure they and their communities aren’t again victimized by the virus.

Now, they take Covid-19 damned seriously.

To promote social distancing at restaurants, cafés, and snack bars, Olvera’s local government has granted special dispensations to eating venues and watering holes, allowing them to squat on public space: either grassy land nearby or by cordoning off four or five asphalt parking spots and dedicating them to diners.

After all, this is a café culture where people relish food, drink, and companionship … with wine, coffee, cola, and beer.

Nobody – employees, delivery personnel, clients, customers – enters a shop (large or small) without wearing a mask. Sanitizer is plentiful everywhere. Plastic gloves are often available, sometimes required (in groceries and markets), other times not—but recommended. Cosmetologists and stylists apologize for having to raise prices by fifty cents to pay for the plastic booties and robes clients are required to wear. And, woe to the supermarket customer who dares to inch beyond the designated markers! You may be allowed to put purchases on the conveyor belt … but you’ll be warned to wait until the previous customer has completed paying and packing, before advancing. The one person per elevator (lift) rule is respected, as is a minimum meter distance on escalators. Waiting rooms, as elsewhere, maintain two empty seats between each available one. Spitting on streets is strictly prohibited and enforced by one hundred to one thousand euro fines.

Throughout the Iberia peninsula, Covid-19 isn’t a matter of personal politics or in-your-face freedom fighters; rather, it’s actually about personal hygiene and public welfare: the common good.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that everyone here is a sanitized saint, dutifully and willingly following the new “normal” rules for social interactions. Just the other day, in fact, I observed a woman in one of our favorite supermarkets picking up plastic packages of pastry, squeezing them, and putting them in front of her (masked) nose for a sniff. She picked up and put back at least a half-dozen packages. Not that she was malicious, but simply self-serving and negligent, not thinking about the potential consequences she was causing to others. I caught the eye a store associate and nodded at the woman. Without hesitation, the supermarket employee approached the offender and gave her a lesson she’ll not soon forget about appropriate protocols for grocery shopping.

Nonetheless, such experiences are exceptions to the rule.

By and large, we live among demonstrably caring, emotional and “affectionate” people who share their feelings with hugs, handshakes, and serial kisses on both cheeks. Not now, however. Instead, we poke elbows … laughing about how silly (but serious) such a greeting seems.

Elbow kissing doesn’t come close to sharing a good, hearty hug.

And that’s what really, truly hurts.

No hoax intended!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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American Dogs, Portuguese Cães (A Children’s Story)

Three beloved Miniature Schnauzers – Jax: a white male, Sheba: a black female, and Manny: a silver-gray male – moved with their family from a cold climate in the upper Midwest of the United States to a new home in a small village of central Portugal.

When they finally arrived at their destination after three long airplane flights and almost a full day traveling, all three dogs were insecure. “Where are we?” they wondered. “What happened to the rooms and smells – the world – we loved and lived in for so long?”

Now, they had pet passports that allowed them to travel from country to country throughout the European Union, and licenses which recognized them in their own Portuguese village.

Their human daddies did everything they could to comfort and reassure them. In addition to packing their favorite keepsakes to bring along, the dogs had new beds and bedding, plenty of good food to eat, squeaky toys to play with, and the attention of their two devoted dads.

One day not long after the dogs arrived, their dads fastened leashes onto the dogs’ collars and took them for a long walk around the village. Suddenly, they came across three other dogs in the street.

“Bow-Wow-Wow!” greeted Gonçalo the Galgo.

“Woof, Woof, Woof!” welcomed Pedro the Podengo.

“Bark, Bark, Bark!” began María, mistress of the streets.

But Manny, Sheba, and Jax could not understand a word they were saying, because the other dogs were speaking Portuguese … and the three American dogs had not yet learned that language.

So, they just wagged their tails with excitement.

Later that same day, the American dogs were out on their afternoon walk when the Portuguese dogs came running over to them.

All of the dogs were happy to meet again and discovered that, by listening carefully, they were able to understand the words and the motions shared by each other. It was a common language!

The Portuguese dogs introduced themselves first.

“Boa tarde,” said Gonçalo. “I am a galgo, a dog used for racing and hunting—for only one season … but then I was discarded.” Tears filled Gonçalo’s eyes, as he continued his sad story: “I was starved before hunting, to make me more hungry for the prey.”

Jax, Manny, and Sheba couldn’t imagine a life like that.

Pedro spoke next: “Podengos are even more persecuted than galgos. Curious and clownish, we are very aware of our surroundings and very sensitive to humans. We are wonderful family members! But, like Gonçalo, I came from a breeder who chained me and sold me for sport. I was abused, treated badly, and abandoned because I wouldn’t kill.”

The three American dogs felt very sad for their new friends. Though shaggy and unkempt – their teeth needed cleaning and they all could benefit by baths – the Portuguese dogs were welcoming and outgoing.

“When I was young and just a pretty little puppy, I was a Christmas gift to two little children,” María explained.” She had fond memories of their times together, until she grew bigger and they were older. A few years later, the family moved, leaving María behind–without even a hug good-bye or words of farewell. Closing the door to the house where they lived one last time, they left María on the street. Over the years, she had given birth to many litters of puppies … but no longer could remember what had happened to them or where they went.

Licking their new friends with their tongues to make them feel better, the American dogs said, “Até breve,” because their daddies were ready to return home and the dogs wanted to see the dogs again soon.

Eating dinner in the warmth of their kitchen, the three American dogs talked about their new friends.

“Where do they live?” asked Jax. “Who takes care of them and feeds them?” wondered Sheba. “What do they do during the days and nights, while we’re taking our naps?” Manny inquired.

Eager to learn more about their lives, the American dogs decided to bring bits of their food as treats for their Portuguese amigos.

Early the next morning, right after their breakfast, leashes and collars were put on Jax, Sheba, and Manny. Their dads opened the front door, as the dogs scampered along, tugging at their leashes.

Where were María, Pedro, and Gonçalo?

Turning the corner and walking past the garbage bins (where Manny and Jax lifted their legs), they could hear the voices of their friends coming from farther down the street. But there were other voices, too.

“Olá, amigos,” said Pedro upon seeing his English-speaking friends from America. “I want you to meet Francisco, Ana, Rodrigo, Miguel, Patricia, and Tomás. They live in this village, too!”

“You do? Where?” Sheba and Manny responded immediately. “Why haven’t we seen you before? It’s great to have so many friends!”

Gonçalo explained that the other dogs lived with families in houses and were put outside a few times each day.

“But, but …” the American dogs didn’t know what to ask first.

“Your families don’t walk you with leashes?” Manny wanted to know. “Aren’t you afraid to walk by yourselves with all these cars and trucks on the streets? How do you pick up after yourselves?”

“We don’t!” exclaimed Rodrigo. “Sometimes the rain washes it away. Other times, it just stays here, until it dries up. Often, cars drive over it, pushing it down between the cobble stones. You dogs from America have servants who clean and pick up after you, no?”

Sheba was anxious and wanted her question to be answered: “All those vehicles are going in both directions so fast! Aren’t you afraid?”

“Oh, you get used to it,” Ana and Patricia nodded. “Usually, they’ll slow down if they see you … but sometimes you need to run to a spot in a doorway, against the wall, or between cars, and wait for them to pass.”

Patricia and Ana lived together with the same family. They heard the mother calling their names, so they scampered off. “Adeus,” they said, wishing the newcomers well. Rodrigo, Miguel, Tomás, amd Francisco followed the girls, leaving the Americans with their three first friends.

“Where do you live?” Jax asked María, Pedro, and Gonçalo.

“Right here,” Pedro responded. “We live on the streets.”

“But who takes care of you? Who feeds you? Where do you sleep? What do you drink?” concerned Jax, the eldest dog of his family.

“We can take care of ourselves,” grinned Gonçalo with pride. “The water from the village fountain is always plentiful and quite good.”

“People throw table scraps onto the street for us … pieces of fish, chicken, and even meat,” piped in Pedro. “Cats rip open the plastic trash bags, but we chase them away and find food there, too. Some people are really nice: They buy food for us at the grocery store and put it outside, on the street, for us to eat. That’s really convenient, eating food on the street—right next to where we sleep.”

“Food from the street? Food on the street? That’s where you eat?” asked Manny, trying to imagine eating like that.

The American dogs were on low-fat diets. Yet, compared to their new Portuguese friends, they were very well fed. Their dads mixed together special dry food from bags with moist dog food from cans. Then, tiny pieces of boiled chicken breasts with rice – along with fresh pumpkin or squash – were cooked, pureed, and placed in plastic containers in the freezer or refrigerator … until they were needed. Everything would be mixed together: some of this with some of that. Why, it took almost twenty minutes just for the food to be mixed in their stainless steel bowls, which were picked up and washed as soon as the dogs finished eating their meals.

“You sleep on the street?” Sheba cried, her motherly instincts kicking in. “Aren’t you cold? Or hot in the summers? What about all the bugs, flies, and mosquitoes? Don’t they bite? Won’t you get sick?”

“Não,” answered Pedro, muzzling María. “We watch out for each other. Often, we curl up together to sleep. That’s nice and warm. When it’s not raining, we find a welcome mat to lie on …. if it rains, we will sleep under the parked cars.”

Usually shy, María began to speak:

“You Americans have many questions. We tried, our best, to answer them. Now it’s our turn. Can we ask you some questions?”

“Of course,” echoed Manny, Sheba, and Jax … all at once.

“What are those colorful tags, decorating your necklaces?” she asked. “Do you always wear jewelry like that?”

“Oh, they’re not necklaces,” laughed Sheba, “but collars attached to our leashes. And the tags on them show that we have been vaccinated by the veterinarian against diseases that flies and worms and mosquitoes can spread. Haven’t you had shots to keep you safe, too?”

The Portuguese dogs shook their heads, explaining that they were from the same land and were not bothered by their bites. As foreigners and newcomers to their environment, however, the American dogs would need to be protected from such pests and diseases.

“And we all must be careful to avoid the processionary caterpillars,” warned Gonçalo. “They are dangerous to us all!”

“Hey, don’t those collars and leashes bother you?” María doubted. “How can you run and roam if you’re always attached to them?”

Jax scratched his head before responding, “We can’t. Why would we want to race around town, anyway? We’re perfectly happy walking with our dads. They’re looking for a piece of land now near our house, so that we can run around safely. Before moving here, we always had a yard where we could go outside to play and do … stuff,” he said.

“You mean that you never travel or go anywhere without people?” Pedro wondered. “Like there …” He lifted his leg and pointed his paw toward the snow-capped tops of the distant Serra mountains.

“We’ve traveled a lot with our family,” sniffed Sheba. “But we always go by plane or car, in the back with seat belts. We’ve been on vacation to Porto, we go to the groomer in the big city, and we have a holiday home in Spain, where we know lots of dogs who speak Spanish … a language not unlike Portuguese. Their lives are similar to yours, although more of them walk with leashes held by people now. And snow? We’ve seen lots of it. In fact, we played in the snow quite often. One of the places we lived before moving here was Wisconsin, where there’s so much snow that, sometimes, it’s higher than us!”

“But you can only go where your family takes you,” remarked the Portuguese dogs. “Even in our village, there are so many delightful places to visit, sights to see, and smells to enjoy!”

Like a shadow, a thoughtful silence fell over the dogs for a moment.

“Yes,” Jax admitted. “That is true. But we’d rather be with our family than out and about without them. They take such good care of us. So, seeing and smelling what’s here isn’t that important. We’re happy!”

“Well … since you mention it,” reacted María, “it appears your family does take very good care of you. Maybe too good? Are they feeding you too much? Is that good for your health? And, look at your nails!”

“Our nails?” all three American dogs gasped.

While the Portuguese dogs sorely needed baths and haircuts, their nails were neat and trim. How was that?

“Because of the cobble stone streets in the village,” Pedro explained.

The American dogs had walked only on soft grass, so their nails had to be trimmed by a groomer. They didn’t like that at all! And their wet feet always were wiped off with the towel by the front door.

“What I want to know,” Gonçalo interrupted, “is who will take care of you if your family is gone? When or if your dads aren’t here?”

Suddenly, all of the dogs – Portuguese and American – were sad, as they thought about their lives and the people they loved.

At the end of the week, after several very long conversations where they all learned new languages, the friendly dogs went back again to where they lived. Although the American dogs regretted that they didn’t have the freedom to come and go as the Portuguese dogs did, they truly loved their families and appreciated their comfortable lives.

Waving good-bye to their Portuguese friends until later, the American dogs realized that their lives might be different from how their friends lived, but that they really were not any better than them.

“We are quite fortunate,” they said to each other, as their new friends bounded off down the street after a cat that had come out from under one of the cars.

“Até logo!”

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Months after arriving in Portugal and finishing much of the work on our property in Lousa, Castelo Branco, we decided to take our three dogs with us on a “real” vacation and see some of the sights (and sites) we’d thus far only posted Thumbs Up! *Likes* on Facebook pictures.

Our time away would be short (just six days) and our agenda agreeable: We’d stay somewhere near the beaches north of us, close to the coast, with easy access to Portugal’s convenient train system. From there, we’d take day trips: Monday’s market at Espinho, a gondola ride in Alveiro, the extraordinarily tiled buildings (especially the church) of Ovar, and a day sampling some of Porto’s special deliciousness.

Searching the listings on AirBnB, FlipKey, and TripAdviser, we found what sounded like the perfect place: a “romantic room in a magic place near the beach,” the property touted its “artistic atmosphere.” Offering “lots of privacy,” it was in front of the train station–just ten minutes to Porto!

Amenities included bed linens and bathroom towels, WiFi Internet, a private garden, and a kitchen with fridge, stove, toaster, and kettle. Plus, among the property’s features was its waterfront location!

The sole drawback (for us) was that its one-and-a-half bathrooms would be shared.

The place had been booked continuously, from April through October, according to its hosts. But with a bit of shuffling, six consecutive available days were found. I contacted the property’s lister with a bunch of questions: Would three dogs be acceptable? Was it a non-smoking property? How would sharing the bathroom(s) actually work?

“No problem at all,” she replied. “Just enjoy.”

Before losing our chance at what appeared to be a place ideally suited for us, I confirmed the reservation and paid by credit card.

Hindsight, at best, is 20/20. But using a credit card is paying it forward!

“Don’t you think it’s a little strange that, with all those bookings, there’s not even a single review for this place?” Russ asked me. Not one guest had taken a moment to say something – good, bad, indifferent – about their experience there. Most properties had a fair share of comments. Not this one, though.

That should have been a harbinger.

We packed the car and spent about €50 in tolls and a tank full of gas before pulling up and parking in front of the property.

“Is this it?” I asked, incredulously. There’s always one derelict property surrounded by others in pristine condition.

Ours was the destitute one.

Blue boards tried valiantly to look like a cross-weave pattern through which weeds wound their way up, down, and through the broken wooden remnants. An unlatched double gate, painted the same color blue, was opening and closing on one side, blown by the breeze.

From the exterior, at best it could be thought of as a “beach house” … but the word that stuck in my mind was “ramshackle.” Nowhere to be seen was a beach, let alone the promised waterfront.

Facing the house was the train station. Every ten minutes, sometimes sooner, we’d hear the tick-tick-tick-tick signaling an approaching train, followed by a series of bells, as the guard rails came down. Local commuter trains. Freight trains. Express train service between Porto and Lisbon. All stopped or sped by, clickity-clack, clickity-clack on the tracks, as the transports tooted, honked, squealed, and blared off-key melodies announcing their every approach and departure.

While Russ – with some help from the property agent and her artist – emptied the car and carried in our bags, I walked the dogs.

Our amiable hosts apologized when the bedroom’s inside door knob kept falling off and onto the floor, explaining that the property wasn’t actually theirs—they rented it from the owner, who had been negligent in his responsibilities regarding its upkeep.

Although the description specifically stated that the property’s two-bedroom, one full and one-half bath could accommodate four people, whether that took into account the two caretakers and their bedroom is uncertain.

Especially since the listing began in the singular: “Romantic room … near the beach” and unequivocally stated, “A total of 4 people can sleep here comfortably.”

Romantic room. Not rooms. A total of four people …

Our hosts then told us we would be joined the next day by other guests and their dog. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“If you had told us that earlier, we would have reconsidered …” was all I could muster, as we continued to take stock of the accommodations.

Our bedroom was at the front of the house, directly facing the trains. Mismatched furniture – a small “matrimonial” size bed with a well-worn mattress, throw pillows that felt as though they were filled with rice, two totally incompatible nightstands (one with a tiny lamp sold at most Chinese markets for ten euros), a bookcase, a round table with two chairs in front of the window – could all trace their ancestry to rummage sales or second-hand stores. Neither of the two bath towels on the bed compared to the ones we had bought at thrift shops in the USA for use as packing materials, and later used for the dogs.

An eclectic mix done well can be artistic and even elegant: “shabby chic.” Chic? This place was plain shabby.

If you’re renting this room out to a steady stream of people, how about investing twenty euros on a clothing rack, instead of the over-the-door hanger with five hooks? Isn’t that where bathrobes and towels hang? What about a bureau or chest-of-drawers? Where do people put their other stuff—underwear, socks, bathing gear, bathroom necessities, and collaterals? For that matter, where was a garbage can?

Nowhere near the bedroom, both bathrooms were way down the hall, beyond the kitchen. Add the full one (with shower and tub) and the half bath next door with only a sink and a WC, and you’d have one full and proper working bathroom. Depending on the time of day or night. Painted, one toilet was taped shut; the plastic toilet seat cover on the other wasn’t attached; so, using it was awkward. The sink’s faucets were outdated: scalding hot water came out of one spigot, cold from the other, yielding no comfortable temperature without filling the sink.

Not that it mattered. We had no hot water (in either bathroom) that night. Nor were our hosts around to help us deal with it.

The bathroom was missing a bath mat, an anti-slid mat, and a garbage can. The tub was lined with someone else’s bottles of shampoo and conditioner–more than a dozen of them! Two glass shelves near the sink were full of creams and cosmetics, powders and perfumes. There was no space for anything of the guests, so we schlepped our toiletries back to the bedroom.

Settling down to sleep that night, we were thankful the trains, by then, had stopped. (Two did pass in the middle of the night: at 2:00 and 4:00 AM, but didn’t honor us with their horns). Sleepless noises were constant, however, courtesy of the beach and its breezes: the front gate and shutters banged open and shut … again and again and again.

Itching to bite, one or more mosquitoes whined in my ears throughout the night. I slapped my face but missed the bugger.

The next morning, I went quietly to the kitchen. Sometime during the night or early that morning, someone had left a package of cheese open on a plate with a knife, a half-empty glass and coffee cup next to it. Flies weren’t fickle as they feasted.

Russ saw the upset look on my face when I came back to our room. “Let’s pack,” he implored. “We’re going back home!”

Following a hurried and harried breakfast at a nearby café, we hustled ourselves and the dogs out of there and headed back home.

Spending lazy time in Lousa and visiting nearby points of interest, we relaxed and tinkered together.

Merriam-Webster calls that a “staycation.”

Our credit card company, through which we disputed the charge (and won!), agreed with us, calling it a “sham!” and removing the property from its listings.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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For Better and for Worse …

Partner, mate, significant other, other half (or better) all are words we commonly use to connote a special commitment between two people who have chosen to pursue a life together.

But for those seeking the state’s full and complicit recognition of their relationship, only marriage will do. For better or for worse, it’s a status laden with directives handed down from on high by religious orders, civil authorities, and public policies.

And while marriage is a sacred trust, a “sacrament,” as some churches call it, peculiarities portuguêsas and eccentricities españolas make it a miracle that expat marriages even occur on the Iberia peninsula.

In countries like Spain and Portugal, those wanting to wed have two choices: A Catholic Marriage. Or a civil (secular) one.

Everything else is an afterthought.

To be binding under Portuguese law, if you want to have a “religious” wedding but don’t follow the Catholic faith, you’ll first need to undergo a civil ceremony. Meanwhile, residency restrictions and administrative formalities governing civil ceremonies sway many American expats or foreign nationals to go the route of a religious ceremony in Spain.

To qualify for a civil ceremony, at least one of you must be a Spanish citizen or a legal resident for two years prior to the wedding day. Other options are to get married elsewhere and have your wedding ceremony blessed in Spain … or to cross the border into Gibraltar, where conjugal requirements are less stringent.

Jewish, Islamic, and Protestant wedding ceremonies are legally recognized in Spain; and, unlike Portugal, a civil marriage is not required a priori to one conducted outside the Catholic faith.

The Portugal Civil Registry Code, as does its Spanish counterpart, has specific requirements one must satisfy to be married:

• You must be at least 18-years old—with parental consent, however, you can marry if you’re 16 or 17;

• The bride and groom must not be related;

• You need to request a license from a Civil Registrar Office in Portugal or Spain, and indicate whether the marriage will be performed under civil codes or religious beliefs;

• There’s a waiting period while the announcement of your intention to marry is posted and made available for the public to comment; and

• Portugal wedding ceremonies must be in Portuguese, with at least two witnesses watching (language isn’t an issue in Spain, where only one witness who’s not related is required).

Under U.S. law, diplomats and consular officers are not permitted to perform marriages, nor can they be performed on the premises of U.S. embassies or consulates.

Same-sex marriages have been allowed in Portugal since 2010 and offer equal rights to the couple regarding property, taxes, and inheritance … since 2016, married couples of the same sex can adopt and foster children. (Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, along with its adoption rights.)

While there are no residency requirements to get married in Portugal, one of you must be in the country a minimum of thirty (30) days before notice of your proposed marriage can be given.

The marriage route is long and tedious in both Spain and Portugal, usually taking a minimum of four weeks just to process an application. After you have received approval to get married, the wedding can then be arranged … as long as it takes place within three months.

Documents must be obtained and presented to the Civil Registry where the wedding will occur, as well as taken with you on your wedding day to the place where you will marry. The documents must be original, either endorsed with an Apostille or authenticated by a licensed Notary Public. Official translations undertaken by authorized agencies must accompany all these documents if they’re not in Portuguese or Spanish:

• Certified birth certificates issued within six months;

• Passports (and/or residence permits);

• A “Certificate of No Impediment” (except for British nationals) from the local registry office in your Portuguese town or at an embassy for a civil wedding, or by a parish priest for a Catholic one. This document can’t be issued by the U.S. Embassy, as, “no such document or governmental authority exists to issue it,” explains the U.S. Department of State. “However,” it notes, “you can execute a statement of eligibility to marry at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon before a consular officer and present it to the Civil Registry office.” Similarly, “No document equivalent to Spain’s Fe de Solteria y Vida (Certificate of Existence and Civil Status) exists in the United States.” According to the State Department, “Spanish authorities will accept a sworn statement from a U.S. citizen, affirming that he/she is single and free to marry, executed before a U.S. Consular Officer”;

• Proof of residency, a Spanish town hall certificate attesting that you’ve lived in the area at least two years. Although that isn’t required to marry in Portugal, you should be able to prove that you’ve been in the country at least 30 days prior to the marriage;

• Final divorce papers, if applicable, apostilled and translated into Portuguese or Spanish within the last six months. If your marriage wasn’t canonically annulled, you cannot be married in the Catholic church in either country;

• If applicable, the death certificate of your prior spouse, translated and apostilled within the last six months.

Want to be married in a Roman Catholic church? You also will need to provide official copies of your baptismal certificate.

Legal marriages contracted abroad generally are valid everywhere. Regardless of your residency status, if you’re a “foreigner” in Portugal or Spain, though, remember to register the marriage with the country’s consulate and with the local Civil Registry where you’re now living.

An “interdenominational” pastor, I have been asked to officiate at weddings in Spain and Portugal.

One was a recommitment ceremony celebrating 30 years of marriage; another was a repeat performance of nuptials conducted days earlier in another country. Technically, both of these marriages already had taken place and, therefore, were recognized in Spain and Portugal.

So, there was no question about my pastoral propriety to pronounce the couples lawfully married.

Not that it mattered: It was pure pomp and circumstance for the “newlyweds,” who wanted a ceremony to share their joy with others who couldn’t be present to participate at the first, faraway wedding.

Standing before God as we witnessed and affirmed the sanctity of their marriages, it made no difference what the government thought or said. We were responding to a higher authority, seeking a blessing to live happily ever after.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Channeling Andy Rooney: Breaking Bad for the Greater Good

I’m going to get some flak-back on this post … because I believe that good manners are preferable to bad.

Common courtesy and proper protocols transcend cultures and/or countries. No matter where you are or what language you speak, correct conduct is always appropriate and appreciated.

Why, then, do some people ignore “etiquette,” alienating, antagonizing, or offending others? Is it deliberate or incidental?

As a child, weren’t you taught to cover your mouth when you cough and your nose when you sneeze—especially in public?

Queuing at the supermarket or grocery store, I am shocked by how many people cough or sneeze without covering their faces while standing over food. And by people who work in restaurants, where they cough or sneeze – without covering up – when dispensing beverages or handling food!

It’s a matter of respecting personal places and private spaces.

Whether breaking into line out of turn, cutting someone off on the road, denying right of way to pedestrians at cross walks, or invading those sacrosanct spaces immediately surrounding us, it’s self-serving behavior rather than observing conventions for the greater good.

Some people shower or bathe regularly. Others don’t. Some brush their teeth and practice good personal hygiene. Others don’t. Some people apply deodorant. Others don’t. Some smoke. Others don’t. Some people douse themselves in perfume or cologne. Others don’t.

Whether you do or don’t is your choice. But, please, be considerate of mine.

The same can be said of our pets: If you have dogs and cats, especially, please pick up after them and dispose of their waste. Simply opening the door to let pets roam the streets, do their business outside, and then return home is irresponsible. Your home may be clean, but who wants to step in feces … or have our dogs contaminated by it? Sickening to see and worse to smell, it’s a public health hazard.

Driving aggressively, carelessly, and/or inconsiderately also violates the rules of acceptable behavior. Recklessly speeding down the narrow streets of our villages – especially with a cigarette in one hand and cell phone in the other – makes it harder to stop and control a vehicle if/when something unexpected or unforeseen should be presented. On the other hand, we’ve been taught to drive in the right lane and use the left only for passing. So, why stay in the left lane driving 60 kms/h in a 90 kms/h zone? I’m told there’s no specific law here against tailgating (despite all the warning signs); but please stay off my butt. Planning to exit the roundabout or roadway? Again, you need to be where you belong … rather than drifting across in front of us and nearly causing an accident. That little lever (usually) attached to the left side of your steering wheel? It’s called a directional signal for a purpose: to alert others of the direction you’ll be taking or changing. Use it! And, granted that some parking spaces are smaller or tighter than others—even in public shopping centers. But, that doesn’t give anyone the right to park haphazardly … taking up two or more spots, leaving none for others.

Courtesy extends beyond these spaces, streets, and roadways. It also includes online behavior. Just because you’re virtually anonymous doesn’t entitle you to act aggressively, ugly, snarky and/or petulant. What pleasure do some people derive from being so snooty, anyway?

Finally, here’s a nod to professional responsibility: If you want my business, practice good public relations. Return phone calls or reply to my emails promptly. Show up when you say you will. Charge me what we’ve agreed to. I’ll be appreciative and likely to do repeat business with you, as well as to refer others to your products and services.

Finding fault is distasteful.

Yet being selfish, indignant, and malicious have become increasingly in vogue and accepted … especially when spotlighted daily by the revolting conduct and shameful language of our leaders.

Nonetheless, antagonism and rudeness never are really successful. Except when it comes to breeding. They poison a healthy environment and turn prevailing positive attitudes hostile and rotten.

So, let’s do what we can to make this world better for all!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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