What Susan Learned In the Woods Behind the University

Waiting for the connecting bus
Waiting for the connecting bus

As I began to have confidence in my ability to find my way around Lisbon, I decided to explore. One day I deviated from my habitual bus route to the University for Portuguese language class. It was broad daylight and the campus was crawling with students and faculty. What could possibly go wrong, right?

At the place where I transferred from one bus to another there was another bus with “University” on the marquee. I looked at it day after day, and wondered why there were two different routes to the school. After long deliberation, I decided one morning  to woman up and satisfy my curiosity.

I may or may not have had a few qualms once I was on board. We were driving in a different direction than my usual bus, of course. As I rode through unfamiliar territory I found myself moving into high alert. I wasn’t sure from where I would be exiting along this route. It was taking longer than my normal transportation, and I nearly missed the exit stop for fear of missing the exit stop.

This bus stopped in back of the University building. Between the bus stop and the University there was a beautiful passage through some woods, and I was the only person walking through it. Due to the longer bus ride, I was moving along with what was for me a brisk clip through the rustling leaves.

Past the halfway point, I felt someone touch me on the shoulder. I jumped, turned around and saw a man who looked like he was “challenged.” He  beckoned me to follow him, and followed up the invitation with some gestures that needed no translation. I moved away quickly and repeatedly yelled in both English and Portuguese, “No!!! Não!!!”

I am more of a meanderer than a sprinter, but on that day I might have come in first in a 5K run. I ran straight to the café in the University and got a “bica” (espresso) to calm my nerves that worked so well I nearly fell asleep in class. Looking back, I think that my admirer probably had gotten loose from The Punchy Lands population.

What kind of close calls have you survived? Do you have any advice about exploring? What is the lesson that Susan learned?

The Portugal Years – Year One: Price’s Pensão Residencial

Portuguese Hostel

When you live in a beautiful place with a delightful climate  and if it is in Europe you can depend on having visitors. If you have extra bedrooms as we did in our first home, you never know to whom you may be offering hospitality next.

Portugal fulfills all of those criteria, and the visitors did come. Family members came, friends came and people we’d never met came.  Occasionally, Harry and I considered naming our home Price’s Pensão Residencial (Price’s Hostel).

One of our first visitors was a young woman who had come to Portugal to do some art work for one of the mission organizations. She bunked on a mattress on the floor in one of the spare bedrooms. She did not want to share meals with us – asked us for to a shelf in our refrigerator so she could prepare her own meals.

A distant relative, Les Stouffer, came to visit us during our first year. He was our family’s perpetual bachelor, and had traveled all over the world but had not seen Portugal. He was an outstanding house guest and we enjoyed having him there.

One summer some basketball players came over from the states to do a basketball evangelism thing with the Portuguese teens. They slept on mattresses on the floor and I had to find my robe for the duration of their visit. It was the hottest summer we had while we were there.

One of our favorite visitors was a former student of mine. He was one of those unforgettable students that all teachers have in the course of their careers. He was smart, and had a great sense of humor (without which you really suffered in my classroom).

One Thursday I gave the students a social studies test on material we had spent three days reviewing. This student failed the test miserably. School policy was D and F grades required a parental signature on the offending test within three days.

On Monday afternoon, I got a phone call from his mother. She was greatly distressed, but I could not understand what she was saying. It sounded like, “We studied for the test all weekend.” I was terribly confused myself because I never administered a test to my students on Mondays and I told her so. She insisted.

When I realized she was talking about the social studies test, I tried to explain. She insisted that it was a test he took that day. When she finally heard me say, “He took that test on Thursday,” she still could not take it in. It took several  repetitions for her (and for me)  to understand that her fourth grade son had tried to scam us.

Our Daily Bread (Nosso pão de cada dia) – Part 2

In Portugal, the way to get through the day until lunch (almoço) is that Portugal has what the British call, “elevenses.” In Portugal, it’s “lanche.” Sandwiches, pastries, tea and coffee fill in the gap between breakfast and dinner, which is not served until after one p.m. or 2 p.m.

Back in the day, employers gave employees a two-hour lunch. If a family lived close to where they worked, the wife went home, cooked a hot meal and served it before returning to work. Many of the shops closed right down to give employees a chance to rest (sesta). After the meal, the women got to clean up while the men went to the town square to socialize and drink their brandy and coffee before returning to work.


These meals typically begin with some kind of soup. Each region has its own style of soup, and maybe more than one. The soups with which I am most familiar are these:

Sopa à Portuguesa (which was the only food my children were raised on and Canja, which is chicken soup. The links take you to a little bit of history and the recipes for these soups.

After soup, there may be a meat, sea food or chicken dish with French fries, boiled potatoes or rice, and a salad. Dessert is rare, and is more often fruit than sweets. On special occasions there may be some sweet pudding or cake.

Around 5 or 6  in the afternoon, it’s time for another snack break to hold people over until the evening meal. The evening meal (jantar) is served between 8 and 9 p.m. and is another hearty meal – maybe leftovers from the afternoon meal.

Would you be so stressed out if your days had some leisurely built-in breaks like this?

The Portugal Years – Year One, Language Pitfalls

language puzzles
The Language Puzzle

Learning a new language is fraught with hazards. Not only is it a case of learning what to say, but also what not to say and how to say it (or not.) Your ears are learning to tune in to an unknown audio channel. Your brain is learning how to receive and send.

Then, there is grammatical gender. Nouns, in some languages, are male or female. (German adds a neutral gender.) When you’ve gotten past the obviously gendered nouns, they throw in the word, “photo.” It looks like what you would have every reason to believe is masculine. Nope. It’s from the Greek language so it’s feminine. Once you have all of that figured out you may think, “By George! I think I’ve got it.” That’s a dangerous thought.

Enter:  the idioms. About the time you can translate 60% of what people say, that is the day that something new will come up. You translate it correctly, and you still do not understand what was said.  Word for word you let the phrase roll around in your head while you are trying to make sense of what you heard. Oops. You’ve just tripped over an idiom. Don’t break your head worrying over the words. Just ask the nearest native speaker to explain it.

One member of our team, who shall forever remain nameless, had a real aptitude for language bloopers. I should hand that gutsy person an award. While I was waiting to open my mouth until I could speak Portuguese perfectly, this person just plowed right in. In so doing, this colleague offered an unending source of amusement to both Portuguese and English-speaking people. Following are some of the verbal glitches I remember.

The team had been invited to supper at the home of one of the board members of our group after church one Sunday night. Our hostess gave us a tour of their home. When we got to the kitchen, the unnamed team member wanted to compliment her on her kitchen. What came out of the person’s mouth was not “kitchen” but the slang term for the part of her body on which she sits.

Another time our heroic team member meant to remark on a young woman’s sunburned neck. The remark ended up being about a similar sounding word but meant peach. Not neck.

Then there was the time this person was in a classy restaurant trying to order a bowl of a particular kind of ice cream. Unfortunately, what came out translated to ice cream which had been urinated on.

The classic one, though, happened in a teen Bible study. Our friend’s tongue got  twisted as said friend tried unsuccessfully many times to say the word, “penalized.” I’ll leave you think about that.

Our Georgie Cat

I wrote about my amazingly beautiful and brave cat, George Bailey today over on The Curious Introvert. Come on over and check him out.

The Curious Introvert-Book Reviews and Other Fun Things

A cat community lives in our yard. It started when we got chummy with a neighbor’s cat and slipped her the occasional treat. Those of you who have cat community dependents already know where this is going. Along the way, her human got deeply into meth and neglected this beautiful tortie, who decided her chances were better in our yard.

One day we woke up and realized we had a community of cats.  Some of them had no fear of mankind. But as the generations of cats came and went, fewer trusted those who went on two legs. Until George.

Even as a kitten, George had no fear of people. Twice he jumped through the door behind Molly when she came in for a rest from her labors. The second time he was quite at home.

George began to stalk me when I walked the dogs. He was alongside of…

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Our Daily Bread (Nosso pão de cada dia) Part 1

I always wondered how hard-working Europeans survived on the Continental Breakfast. Coffee and bread just never seemed to last until lunch. And in Portugal, lunch happens somewhere between 1 to 2 p.m.

Papo Seco
Papo Seco

When we lived in Portugal, the first thing we did in the morning was go to the bakery for a fresh supply of papa secos (see photo). We generally bought only enough for a day because they got stale quickly. We tore them apart, buttered them and seldom let them go bad. They were good with jam, cheese or almost anything that invites you to experiment.


Some days we went to a pasteleria – a bakery – for breakfast.

uma bola de berlim
uma bola de berlim

This kind of doughnut always called Harry’s name when we walked into the pasteleria. It is the Portuguese version of a cream filled doughnut. They blame it on Berlin. Very sweet. Like Harry.

Pão de leite
Pão de leite

This was my favorite bakery treat. It’s a rich sweet bread, and I usually asked for it buttered and stuffed with a slice of cheese.

mafra bread
Pão de Mafra

The Pão de Mafra is a a specialty of the village of Mafra. A version of sour dough bread, they use very little yeast and let it go “sour” before they shape it into a long loaf and bake it in a brick oven. It’s heavier than the other breads, but oh so filling. Eat it fresh as it comes out of the oven, or toast it the day after. Use it to sop up your soup if you like – and no one is looking.

Uma bica

What is  bread without coffee? This is a bica – the Portuguese expression of espresso. Strong. Froth on top. And if you do it right, it is sweet enough to keep the dentists in business for a decade. See that spoon? The coffee is strong enough for the spoon to stand up in the cup. Well, okay, I was exaggerating. But not by much 😀 Some like to drink a bica first thing in the morning to shock their brains awake.

Um Galão

For those who prefer a gentler awakening, let me introduce you to the galão, which translates as “gallon.” It holds a bica of coffee in the bottom of a glass that is then filled with hot, foaming milk. Would you call that a latté? Unless you specify otherwise, the coffee may be part coffee and part something like Postum. If you like coffee, you may not like the substitute.

Not a coffee person? Try chá de limão.

Lemon tea
Lemon tea

What do you eat for breakfast? Do you eat breakfast? Would this coffee and bread sort of thing be enough for you till the next meal?

The Portugal Chronicles – The First Spat: Mexican Standoff

Newlyweds can go along for some time on that delightful cloud of perfect bliss. This is especially true if one is adjusting to not just marriage but a whole new culture and life. But, inevitably, there comes a day when perfect bliss becomes, “What? How can you disagree with me on (fill in the blank)?

It might be that one of the pair cooked a meal…say beef tongue… (not smoked) and the other half finds this rare tidbit inedible. The proper way to hang the roll of toilet paper, or the placement of the toilet seat are causes for concern in some families. Should the tube of toothpaste be squeezed in the middle of the tube or from the bottom? It’s shocking, really, the discoveries that newlyweds make. Sooner or later these preferences lead to some intense fellowship. And so we come to the bed sheets.

We were given many pretty sheets for shower and wedding gifts. I enjoyed changing them weekly. Harry was seldom around when these changes took place. One day, however, he happened to be home and offered to help me make the bed. I shook the sheet out with the flowers facing the bottom sheet and noticed that Harry was trying to turn the sheet over. He told me I was doing it wrong.

I informed him that my mother had always put the sheets on print side down. Harry replied that his mother had done it print side up. I told him that  you could see the prints with the flowers facing down when you open the bed. We glared at one another across the bed. Neither of us firstborns was giving an inch. Finally I said, “If you want the sheets to be print side up the way your mother did it, you can have it if you make the bed yourself.”

A couple of years later we were in the states for my sister-in-law’s wedding. While we were there, I happened upon a Dear Abby column. I had had no idea that it was serious enough to write to Abby about it.  Apparently, we were both right. Abby said, “The print side goes up when there are no blankets to cover the print; the print side goes down when the sheet is covered by a blanket.” I was so glad to be able to put that issue to bed.

So, what do you think? Did Harry care enough about it to start making the bed himself?