COVID-19 Chronicles: The One With The Community College

As you all know, this year has been a special one. Over here in Portugal, we are encouraged to not leave our houses too much. And with me being an introvert, I have no problem with this whatsoever. At this point in time, I only have a high school diploma (with honors 😉). So I decided to take advantage of this time to complete an accelerated/compressed Associates Degree in Arts program at a community college back in the states. And it’s s t r e s s f u l.

How does it work?

Well, to put it simply, an Associates Degree requires 60 credits. Usually, you can complete these credits through 16-week courses over the span of 2 years (2 spring semesters, 2 summer semesters, and 2 fall semesters). That’s the norm.

I’m doing it in half the time.

I need to take the equivalent of 60 credits through 4-week courses over the span of 1 year (1 spring semester, 1 summer semester, and 1 fall semester). They recommend that I take the required courses during the spring and fall semester (where the 4-week courses are offered), meaning that I would be getting 51/60 credits out of the way before the summer semester. In the summer semester, I can take the remaining 9 credits with any course I want. They just have to be in a different format (meaning that they are a different length or are taken face-to-face). As of October 2nd, I am 26% of the way through. Due to COVID-19, the courses are favoring digital copies over physical copies of books. All of my books have been digital so far. I still use notebooks to take notes of points, phrases, and words that I think are important.

Here are some of the materials I use to take notes

Also posted on my personal blog:

COVID-19 Chronicles: The One With The Face Masks

Boy oh boy have we had a time trying to get these face masks! It was definitely an adventure. We ordered the masks sometime early March and they ended up coming in late April. Anyway, many people are out there wondering what kind of masks are the best to use during this pandemic. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), the best masks to use are the ones that have a filtering respirator (i.e. N95 or FFP2 or FFP3 standard or equivalent). They are used to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne particles. The ones we bought are fantastic but unfortunately are sold out. Here are some links for masks that have a good rating and seem like a good buy:



Face shields (for those of you who want to got the extra mile)

The ultimate COVID-19 weapon

Es a Lisboa que eu amo

Next stop… Lisbon!

oq7HUkwor “Leeesh-Boa” if the idea is to pronounce it as the natives do… still working on that!

We arrived via very economical (about $20) train from the Algarve.  The city of the 7 hills is just phenomenal.  Trolleys, Trams, Trains and Tiles… Fado, Pasteis, Cobblestone for miles… where do I even being with this city?  I loved it from the first time I laid eyes on it many years ago.  Got reacquainted last summer with Mari, so I was excited to introduce Juan.  No time for sight seeing this trip though–“vamos a lo que venimos” or let’s get down to business!

We met with the English cong here in Lisbon to go out in the ministry.  Our service partner was an awesome sis who is actually from Charlotte and serving the for 3 years.  She was awesome, by the way, and was so encouraging (check out her interview).  She equipped us with a short “we’re looking for foreigners” introduction, and off we went.  The english handle all non-established languages.  Again, the challenge and joy of just not knowing who you will meet.  Juan ended up nodding and smiling in Bengali (he became quite proficient and is well on his way to nod/smile fluency!) We met folks from everywhere.  It was one of the most interesting service days I’ve had… ever.

From here, we boarded the train to Sintra to meet the girls.

I do need to mention a side point here… we did not feel any significance until later.  We stopped for a quick bite before meeting the English group.  We randomly selected a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a side street near the hall.  We sat down to eat and conversed in our usual mix of Spanglish. Everyone else in the place were local Portuguese from the surrounding neighborhood.  The wife/owner of the restaurant began serving us and then all of a sudden asked… “you speak Spanish?” (in Spanish). We were surprised and said we did.  She was from Argentina and married to a local Portuguese man.  This was the 2nd Latino to identify themselves to us during the trip.  We had a very nice conversation.  Who knows…maybe we’ll get to make the return visit!

Later in the day, we followed our ears to a South American Flute band in the Plaza dos Restauradores.  More Latin Americans… then we heard of Latin Restaurants, and other indications of Spanish culture (read Latino immigrants).  All of this with no Spanish Group?

At the end of the day, could we see ourselves here?  Yes, for sure.  It’s a busy city but a beautiful and welcoming one.

The VISA process


Start this process 6 to 7 months ahead of your desired move date…

Passports (3 weeks normal processing time)

If you do not have a current passport, you will need to begin with the process of securing one.  If your current passport will expire in the next 6 months, renew the passport BEFORE beginning the visa application process.  This will be a requirement for most countries when applying for a visa. Since the visa will occupy a page in your passport, you will want the expiration date to be at least a year in the future anyway. You may want to request additional pages to be added to your passport upfront for 2 reasons… 1: each round trip back home to the US will mean 2 stamps in your passport, and 2.  hello… living in Europe will facilitate travel to UK, Ireland, and African and Asian countries… each trip will be 2 stamps!

FBI Certificate/Background check (90 to 120 days = 13 – 16 week processing time)

This is required not just for Portugal, but for many countries.  The process takes 3 to 4 months, so do not leave this until the last minute!!!!!  It WILL hold up your VISA. You will need to complete this step before beginning the VISA application since the certificate is a required piece of the application process. How do you apply for the certificate? Here is the link to the FBI website:

You will need to begin with getting fingerprinted.  We did a websearch and found that our city-county sheriff’s department provides the service for $20. The advantage in seeking this service from a local law enforcement office versus a consumer agency, is they already have the forms required by the FBI.  We went to the Fingerprint office, filled out a form, paid the fee and had the prints in about an hour.

Next, the form. It’s a 1 page form you can download from the link above.  Submit the form, your fingerprint cards, and a credit card form (also download via the link) by mail.  The FBI site will show current processing time.  Add to this estimate time for postal mail.  There is no way to expedite this process, so please begin early.

Next up… the actual visa application…. see part 2 of this post…

“I didn’t get where I am today without knowing the Algarve when I see it”

(from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin — BBC1 TV series)

On our day off, we decided to further explore the Algarve. Gorgeous right?  These are from Portimão and Lagos.

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“Oh Algarve! Oh Algarve!”

We used to listen to this folkloric song as kids! So, I was ecstatic to finally see it with my own eyes.

Oh Algarve“…That’s how we felt as soon as we arrived in Portimão, located on the Southern coast of Portugal.  The Algarve is just stunning.  Happily, this was our chosen starting point on our trip since we had friends move there about 5 years ago!  (bodes well)

For lodgings here, we booked a room at Made Inn for a whopping $28/night (via–see my comments on this site here).  Going in we thought this would be a nightmare. This has to be too good to be true at that price. Happily, this little hotel turned out to be a gem of a find.  Breakfast was included, and the room was clean (like clinically) and gorgeous.  Front desk was friendly and helpful.  We ate twice in the Café de Brazil around the corner–a recommendation from said friendly and helpful front desk staff.

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Bright and early, we were off to the meet the group.  We were going out in English with a sister that we connected with through the Branch.  We walked 5 minutes to the local hall, and she picked us up there.  A few minutes later, we were at the English Group.  Mostly from the UK, the friends were hospitable and warm.  We took the opportunity to start our interviews (click here to read them) while enjoying an upbuilding morning in the Field.  Householders were of varied nationalities with English as a first or second language.  We could see the needs of the field clearly, and wondered if we could help!

Following service, we met up with our old friend we’d met at the Berlin International Convention in 2009.  It was such a pleasure to see each other again after so many years.  She had lots of helpful counsel for us (click here to read her interview) as she gave us the tour of one of the local beach areas.  “This would be your territory” she said:

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We thought… we can handle that!


And so…it begins.

The search for a new place to serve…


The “interviews” for a new home began in earnest with Portugal.

This was a 3rd visit for me, and 1st for Juan.  Mari had already cast her vote after our mommy-daughter trip last summer. I did love Portugal as a vacation spot, and cultural roots do run deep. However, vacationing in hotels, taking pictures of monuments and chatting it up with tourists is a very different animal from leaving home, family, friends, congregation and country to live as an expat Needgreater there. I needed to look at this country with different eyes. Juan needed to really get to know both the place and the needs in the preaching work. He also had to consider the spiritual implications for his family, safety, economic stability and many, many, many other moving parts.



We had our short list of candidates: Ecuador, Portugal, Bolivia were at the top. Dominican Republic and Panama were already approved since we’d either already lived there or vacationed there frequently as “locals”… *Read: seen “the good, the bad, and the ugly” and still loved it!

So, 2016 was set for the first “interview” with… Ecuador. We have friends serving there happily, and after the experiences in our monthly broadcasting…. We decided to go there first.

However, one of our dearest friends decided to move to Portugal in September of 2015. Since our interview process requires “talking to people already successfully accomplishing the goal you have,” the opportunity for an onsite visit with a new Needgreater in Portugal was just too great to pass up. So, we revised our schedule to visit Portugal first. A flash sale from Aer Lingus decided the date for October 2015.

And so, it begins.







The decision is made,
     Rida–no more wasting time
The clock is ticking,
     Mari’s made up her mind
The countdown begins,
     Juan says “que show” …
Veloz Needgreaters,
     oh the places you’ll go!