Mother Nature’s Teardrops

I’m depressed …

Because of this relentless, obstinate, continuous rain.

Today marks the tenth consecutive day that rain – mist, fog, drizzle, downpours – is omnipresent across the Iberia peninsula … hovering intransigent, dismal, and unmoving.

The damp is everywhere, manifest in mold and mildew seeping through our walls. Swollen doorknobs and jambs pregnant with moisture protrude, disabling the opening and closure of doors, even as legs and arms broken decades ago remind us that they’re still hurting. Walls without windows to open (even in this weather) are wet. Clothing refuses to dry; umbrellas become the rite of passage.

Anyone who believes that the rain in Spain “stays mainly in the plain” obviously hasn’t been here in a while. Including the weather forecasters: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, day after day! The rain is everywhere, crossing closed borders between Portugal and Spain.

Alas, whether vestige or herald, brief glimmers of sunlight hardly hint of days filled with cheery sunshine and overall brightness.

Perhaps it’s a government conspiracy, forcing us to stay inside, alone with our families, as the sun flees from new, more contagious variants of the virus?

More probably, it’s just the weather, whither here or there. After all, doesn’t everyone complain about the weather? Everywhere? It’s far better than complaining about people or politics! I’m beginning to feel sorry for the cows and sheep in the meadows, with nowhere to run or hide from these bloody torrential buckets and lingering, lackluster leftovers that won’t lift. With heavy heart, I hurt for those who are ailing (physically, mentally, or emotionally).

And me?

I just want to curl up and wait for it all to end: Covid. Unreasonable politics. Fearsome fulcrums of flooding, earthquakes, foolhardiness the world over.

But I can’t; I’m a pastor. It’s my responsibility to minister, lifting the downtrodden with words which belay belief. Not today, though. Instead, I will count my blessings:

• I have a roof (in fact, several) over my head.

• For a 72-year-old, I enjoy relatively good health.

• I love and am loved.

• There’s food in our fridge and freezer, even if we can’t go out to eat. In the pantry, there’s food for our furry family, too.

• We can stay busy – even entertained – at home. There are people to talk to, messages to share, films to watch, books to read, writing to ponder, floors and furniture to clean, food to be prepared, repairs to be made, problems to be fixed, dogs to fed and walked.

Which brings us outside as toys, yet again, of the weather.

Let’s think of Mother Nature crying, shedding tears for how we have hurt her. Let’s be grateful for all that we have, instead of what we’re wanting. Let’s appreciate the beauty cast even in the gray. Let’s hope, once again, that tomorrow will be better. Let’s promise to do one thing – whatever – to make it a bit brighter.

A wise man once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” to which he added, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Days of drizzle, countless clouds, nightfalls of rain.

Blessed be!

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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Health Care Providers


Reminiscing about our first three years living in Portugal after relocating from the USA, I remember when we went to see a doctor for the first time.


No, nothing was wrong; our health, thankfully, was fine. But we had just about exhausted our medicines and needed to renew and refill our prescriptions.
Which meant a visit to the doctor.

Consulting friends and acquaintances associated with us through the local online expat groups, a variety of suggestions and referrals were offered. Basically, they came down to these two:


(1) Find an English-speaking “private” doctor through our insurance plan, pay for his/her time and services (“quite reasonable,” we were told), and leave with the needed prescriptions to take to our local farmácia; or


(2) Begin using the Portuguese health system by visiting our town’s “Centro de Saúde,” where our primary physician would be located, and explain that we would pay directly for the services we needed now.


Of course, everything would rely on Google Translate, since the number of Portuguese words we knew – and could pronounce – back then only had expanded from five to nearly ten. Plus, we are Americans who, unlike our EU brethren that arrive in another Schengen nation with health cards and coverage from their homelands, we only had emergency medical coverage through our travel insurance. And, although we had been here for a month already with residency visas affixed to our passports, it would be another 20 days until our SEF appointment, when (hopefully!) our residency visa and required paperwork would provide us with proper permits—at least for a year, to begin with. This residency, in turn, would enable us to register for the needed number to avail ourselves of the low-cost Portuguese health care system … even if we were to pay out of pocket or be covered by our private health care insurance.


Since I was retired and not earning income from either the USA or Portugal, I didn’t need to register, first, at the Castelo Branco Social Security office before requesting my health care number; later, Russ would learn, that – since he was working remotely with USA-based clients – he should have registered at Social Security and, then, sought his health care number.


We decided to take our chances, first, and visit our village health center. Armed with a print out of the Google-translated document explaining (in Portuguese) who we are and why we were there – along with our NIF documents, passports and visas, medical records, and empty prescription pill bottles – I ventured a try during a day and time the sign posted on its door said the health center would be open.


Only a nurse was there that day.


Using her best ten words of English interspersed with Portuguese, which I responded to with my only ten words of Portuguese interspersed with Spanish, I understood that she was telling me to come back the following Tuesday, after 10:00 AM, when the doctor would be there.


Unfortunately, the following Tuesday was one of those holidays to which the Portuguese people are entitled and they take quite seriously. So, of course, the health center was closed.


Attempting again two weeks later, we entered the health center to find a raucous group: people of all ages and medical conditions standing in the entry way or sitting in the waiting room, expecting to be seen by the doctor or nurse. The administrative assistant had taken a break to get some coffee from a café down the road a bit; we’d have to wait to talk with her before we could proceed any further.


Despite our introductory letter translated into Google’s best Brazilian Portuguese, the keeper of the files and records was at a total loss as to what to do and how to process us … after all, we didn’t have those specific numbers her computer program required to grant us access to the sanctum sanctorum. After discussing our situation with other patients waiting to register for the doctor (or nurse), she picked up the phone and dialed someone somewhere … raising her voice with each question she asked and every answer she gave.

After hearing her say, “Tá bem, tá bem, obrigada, obrigada, ciao,” she turned to me and managed to explain that we needed to go to the regional medical center in Alcains – about a 15-minute drive – at 15:00 and ask for Sandra, who had been made aware of our circumstances.


Sandra knew exactly who we were and why we were there. But figuring out which boxes to tick and how to input our personal information was a challenge that required 40 minutes and the help of three other people seated with her in the reception area. Finally, the printer spat out two pieces of paper from which she cut off the bottoms, stamped each with a seal, and signed them. “That will be nine euros,” she said, about US $10, “€4.50 each for the doctor’s consultation.”


She also gave us forms whose many boxes were populated with numbers now.


“The next time,” she explained, “You will go to your own health center in Lousa and show them these papers. They will now have the information they need to serve you there.”

“Muito obrigados!” we replied, effusive in our gratitude.


The doctor, who had been sitting there throughout the entire episode, motioned us to follow her back to her office. Seated behind her desk, she entered some information into a computer and gathered each of our medicines needing refills. Click, click, click. Out from the printer came official forms containing our prescriptions … along with the maximum amount we could be charged for each.


We left the Alcains medical center and headed for the pharmacy.


All told, we had prescriptions for 20 mg Cectoconazol (30 g) cream with three refills; fifty-six, 20 mg Omeprazol capsules (sold over-the-counter without a prescription in the USA), also with three refills; 120, 1 mg Alprazolam (generic Xanax) pills sold in “blister” packs, requiring a new prescription to refill; a blister pack of 60, 15 mg Meloxicam pills; and another blister pack of 60 pills combining two separate prescriptions – 20 mgs + 15 mgs of Olmesartan medoxomilo + Hidroclororotiazida (one for high blood pressure, the other a diuretic) — also with three refills.


The combined cost for all these 13 boxes of medicines, some of which will last us for six months?


Fifty-one euros.


Less than US $60.00.


And that’s without insurance, co-payments, or deductibles.


The same supply of pharmaceuticals – even with Medicare or health insurance – would easily cost us hundreds of dollars more (at least) in the USA. Because Portugal and Spain subsidize their health care, taking a major burden of their people: citizens and residents.


Believe it or not, the same Portuguese prescriptions cost even less in Spain!

Exceptional, low-cost health care is yet another reason why we do so love Iberia.


It’s patience that we still need to develop.

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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Nursery Rhyme Conspiracies

As we grow older, we subconsciously return to the years of our youth and adolescence, remembering – in dreams as well as when awake – the words of songs, TV tunes, and even advertising jingles from back in the day … nonetheless, we can’t remember where we left our spectacles, why we went to a room in the house, or what we were saying.

Lately, I have been awakening from fitful night sleeps with nursery rhymes running through my mind.

Have you ever revisited them and wondered — whatever was their genesis, meaning, and purpose — how they may have affected our later lives? I believe I may have put my finger on the primal source of our fears and frustrations, anxieties, neuroses and psychoses—sadistic or masochistic.

Maybe it’s my own paranoia, but I’ve come to suspect that nursery rhymes are nowhere nearly as benign as Mother Goose and her ilk would have us believe!

Consider, if you will:

“Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, had a wife but couldn’t keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell. And there he kept her very well.”

Peter, Peter may well have been the first real vegan, an organic and sustainable living diehard. But why couldn’t he keep his wife? Was it something that he did or didn’t do (perhaps he couldn’t satisfy her?) or something which was her responsibility, not his? The plot thickens in the second verse, where we learn Peter had another wife and that he didn’t love her.

In terms of double names, another nursery rhyme speaks quite negatively of women. Is this how women would like to be described—or your wife, daughter, sister, friend?

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary.” And then, out of nowhere, Mary is asked, “How does your garden grow?” She answers: “With silver bells and cockleshells. And pretty maids all in a row.” Contrarian, indeed! (Not to mention sexist.)

If there ever was a case to be made for women’s health, reproductive rights, and the potential for child abuse, it dates back to that old woman who lived in a shoe:

“She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread; Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”

Maybe, in fact, Old Mother Hubbard was really that old lady living in a shoe? Talk about problems. And we blame the dog, not her, for being misanthropic:

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, to give her poor doggie a bone; When she came there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none. She went to the baker to buy him some bread; when she came back, the dog was dead! She went to the undertakers to buy him a coffin; when she came back, the dog was laughing.

Cupboards and pantries bring up the matter of eating disorders. Along with bulimia and anorexia, who ever would want to eat something less savory or nourishing than this:

“Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old; Some like it hot, some like it cold, Some like it in the pot, nine days old.”

Evidently, expiration and use dates didn’t exist back in the day when children would pair up and clap their hands to the rhyme. Talk about bad influences! Is it any wonder that some youngsters reject proper table manners, with Jack Horner as their example?

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner, eating his Christmas pie; he put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said, “What a good boy am I!”

Why was that poor child eating in the corner, in the first place … especially during Christmas? We’ve all heard of holiday fruit cake and even plum pudding; but a plum in a Christmas pie? Give me a break, please: What a self-serving egotist Jack Horner must have been, anyway!

And the discipline – punishments! – doled out by these sing-song voices and verses …

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey; there came a big spider, who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Poor little Miss Muffet. Not only did she have to eat while sitting on a tuffet, but her food sounds rather unpalatable. Then a spider (a big one at that) decides to sit down beside her. It’s truly frightening, I daresay.

Spiders figure prominently into nursery rhymes. Remember this one? It gives me the heebie-jeebies just imagining:

The itsy-bitsy spider went up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

Ugh!

Of course, spiders aren’t the only creatures and critters whose plight incites fear and terror. Consider mice:

Three blind mice, three blind mice. See how they run, see how they run! They all ran after the farmer’s wife. She cut off their tails with a carving knife. Did ever you see such a sight in your life as three blind mice?

Danger lurks in harm’s way amid many nursery rhymes. There’s the tale of those mischievous siblings who made it to the top of the hill, only to roll all the way back down: 

Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

Falling down and breaking more than a crown is the lot of Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And then there are those nursery rhymes that, seemingly, make no sense whatsoever … unless they’re coded chatter messages to co-conspirators:

Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon; the little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.

There are lots more cases to be made against nursery rhymes and their nightmarish world to which children are subjected. As is the case, as well, with our favorite fables and fairy tales. Woe to Hansel & Gretel! The trials and tribulations of three little pigs against the voracious wolf.

Just thinking about these nuggets of childhood innocence devoured by such demons sends shivers and goosebumps up and down my spine!

January, First: Second Time

Since 2020 has been such a bummer, with restrictions on movements and gatherings continuing today into 2021, we aren’t able to host our annual Open House get-together with family, friends, and neighbors. So, I will make do by reminiscing — and sharing — last year’s “festa” and hoping that this new year will be a time of recovery for all!

Feliz ano novo.

The day dawned delightful during my early morning walk with the dogs, providing Portugal’s blue and bright skies amid a string of belle weather days. Already the sun was beginning to rise earlier … with the roosters advancing their “wake-up” calls, while the town’s bells never missed a beat.

With the help of Facebook to prod people with props and reminders, we had decided to continue our annual tradition of celebrating the New Year with an open house. Last year, we combined the open house with a house-warming, as it was our first, full year of living in Portugal (and Spain), and we’d finally finished furnishing and making needed improvements.

An open house wasn’t that difficult to describe to those who spoke Portuguese: we explained that we invited guests to visit, at their convenience, between certain times … “stay as long or as little as you can,” we clarified. A house-warming, however? It simply didn’t translate.

Along with wines and beers, a variety of cheeses and appetizers are joining our fulsome-food buffet: Pisto, a vegetarian dish I’d learned to prepare from my grandmother in Spain more than 50 years ago (though I’m told the Portuguese people are familiar with it, too); the quintessential American mac-and-cheese, embellished by Russ but done Martha Stewart’s way; a new twist on my annual pot of beans and franks—beans and chourizo; meatballs served in a special, Piri-Piri sauce; and a heaping bowl of home-made Potato Salad. Plus all the little “side dishes” and samplers, of course.

Together, they offer an aromatic stew of smells, coalescing to greet our guests: friends, old and new.Side by side, the crockpots seem like similes – or metaphors? – for our lives: One, a humble slow cooker with but three basic settings (high, medium, low) purchased from Lidl for 20 euros; the other an oversize, state-of-the-art gizmo with settings and options galore.

Kind of hokey, huh?

Apart from four of us from the USA, most of those coming had moved to Portugal from elsewhere, becoming friends (first) online or meeting at gatherings with friends of other friends. Altogether, about two dozen are expected.

Our Portuguese friends and neighbors were grateful for the invitation, but felt some hesitation – perhaps reticence – about entering houses other than their own to share food and festivities. These bountiful and gracious people, often poor in pocket but rich in heart and spirit, would knock on our door, dropping off baskets of vegetables and fruits from their family quintas throughout the year.

No longer are we those “strange Americans” living among them … by now, they had adopted us. We’ve become their strange Americans!

Despite my limited language skills last year, I felt confident enough to do the honors by introducing friends and neighbors in Portuguese:

• Ele é o nosso amigo/Ela é a nossa amiga (He/she is our friend);
• Eles são os nossos amigos (They’re our friends);
• Ela é a nossa vizinha (She is our neighbor);
• Eles são os nossos vizinhos (They are our neighbors); and even
• Ela é a dona do mercado na esquina (She owns the market on the corner).

This year, my vocabulary and ability to use it have expanded.

Since January 1, 2019, we have dealt with Portuguese contractors on home repairs and remodeling. We’ve traveled and got lost around the roundabouts—asking directions and, finally, finding our way. Processing down the street with our neighbors, we mourned the passing of people we knew, and participated in our village’s ferias by placing flower petals along the street. We made purchases – major and minor – and financial decisions, dealing with salespeople and bankers. We suffered medical exams with doctors and staff who didn’t speak English, answering their questions as best we could. And we responded to the dictates of government bureaucracy, as well as those of big business: Freguesias, Cámaras, Centros da Saúde, Segurança Social, IMT, SEF, NHS, MEO, EDP. We began weekly Portuguese for Foreigners classes, applying our lessons about contractions (no, na, nos, nas) to others: do, da, das, dos; pelo, pela, pelos, pelas. While sitting on the “throne,” we read Portuguese advertisements of all shapes and sizes, newspaper stories and obituaries, and children’s books. We figured out the meanings of various signs lit on the motorways

.Last year, we could ask and answer simple questions; now, we are able to ask natives to speak more slowly—to repeat or explain what we don’t understand. Nonetheless, we can engage in limited conversations and dialogues … even if our accents still are awful and it’s all in the present tense. Our Portuguese pronunciation often falters, but we have learned to say “shkola” (escola), “shkreetorio” (escritorio), and “shkadera” (escadera), although we’re still at a loss about blending the end of some words with the beginning of others.

We have even begun to punctuate our conversations with typical pause phrases in Portuguese: “tá bem,” “pois, pois,” “pronto,” “é que …?” as well as to interject common rejoinders: “Tudo bem?” and “Não faz mal,” especially.

Language like this from our Portuguese textbook no longer is quite so intimidating: O Fernando é elecricista e trabalha por conta própia. Ele é casado e tem tres filhos. Os filhos são ainda muito jovens e por isso não andam na escola. A mulher do Fernando, a Ines, fica em casa com os meninos e prepara o jantar para o Fernando. Ele não almoça em casa, porque mora longe. Ele apanha o autocarro e chega a casa sempre cansado.

Still, there are many challenges ahead!

Our New Year’s resolutions include learning to correctly respond to the divisions of the day, so we know when it’s proper to say “Bom dia,” “Boa tarde,” or “Boa noite.”

Apparently, during mornings – until lunch – it’s “bom dia” … but, after eating lunch (13H-14H for the Portuguese), it becomes “boa tarde.” As for evening, there’s still some disagreement over whether “boa noite” is best said after eating dinner (jantar) … or after the skies turn dark and stars can be seen. And, what does one say – if anything – following that curious extra meal of the day: “lanche”?

Another resolution is to memorize our fiscal numbers (os números contribuientes), although our “números utentes” already are a forgotten cause.

We are so thankful for all of you, people who understand … people who care and share … people who love to live and live to love … people who follow those impossible dreams.

This is what the good life is about.

Good people. Good times. Good places. Good feelings.

Feeling good, knowing that you’re in a good place now.

We are. And we hope you are, too.

Happy New Year!

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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