CELEBRATING 50 YEARS ON A SINGLE PODIUM

Okay, I know churches don’t have podiums for their music directors, but Rick Gremlitz at First Parish Church (UCC) in our town does conduct with a short white baton. What’s amazing is that he’s been doing this, in that venue, for a half century.

Among other things, the house of worship – serving the oldest congregation in the state – has its Belknap concert series where world-renowned organists perform on a remarkable hybrid organ. Parts of it are historic, as it Hastings and Hutchins, and part are state-of-the-art electronics, probably installed during Rick’s tenure. Any doubts in my mind about the sound itself vanished when bete-noir Cameron Carpenter did one unforgettable, amazing workout on the machine one afternoon a few years ago. It survived. The audience was left in a swoon.

Look, I’m a purist and lean toward the E. Power Biggs line of thinking that contrasts sharply with the Virgil Fox excesses that Rick adores. He addresses the man as the great Virgil Fox. I forgive him. We all have our icons.

So be it.

In his ministry, Rick’s led a number of Handel Messiah performances in the sanctuary. Last year it became an open sing with prepared soloists and two guest conductors. Seated between two seasoned voices, I discovered that the choruses are easier than they sound, not that I was anywhere near perfect. It was a most exhilarating event.

Today, though, Rick’s acclaimed friend Hector Olivera returns to the console, with a twist.

An ecumenical community choir, including yours truly, has been rehearsing to join in the performance.

We’ll be performing the world premiere of an anthem composed by Kevin Siegfried for the occasion, and we’ve been rehearsing weekly since mid-September at the Methodist church. How can you possibly keep something like this a surprise?

We’ll see. It’s still a special occasion. And, I might add, one of the joys of living in a relatively small community.

I’m hoping it comes off well. Especially if I don’t miss a cue while we’re singing.

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COMMEMORATING 250 YEARS IN THE QUAKER MEETINGHOUSE

Dover Friends Meeting where I worship is the fifth oldest congregation in the state – and the first that was not part of the governmentally sponsored parishes that are now affiliated with today’s United Church of Christ.

Our meetinghouse – the third we’ve had, in fact – is the oldest house of worship in the city, and this year marks the 250th anniversary of its construction.

It went up on a single day in 1768, much like an Amish barn raising in our own time. There were likely 150 men and boys at work on the construction itself, plus an equal number of women and girls preparing food and the like.

To commemorate the occasion, we’re holding an open house at 2 p.m. There will be tours, a reading of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “How the Quaker Women Came to Dover” (his parents were married in the meetinghouse), presentations of activities we’re involved in, light refreshments and conversation, and a closing concert by musically talented members and the audience.

All are welcome.

TAKE A SELFIE WITH WILLIAM PENN

If the weather is fair, Dover’s annual Apple Harvest Day today will attract a crowd twice the size of the city’s population to the downtown.

Since there are no commercial orchards within the city limits, I’ve always been baffled by the festival’s name, but it does come a week ahead of the Columbus Day holiday, when most of the other communities in the state host end-of-the-season blowouts. It’s nice to beat the competition.

For several years now, Dover Friends Meeting has been among the nonprofit organizations that have participated. Our canopied booth offers a meet-and-greet opportunity to let people know that Quakers do indeed still exist and to invite folks to join us in reflective worship on Sunday mornings.

We’ve heard that as a nonprofit, we need to make 17 positive impressions, on average, before anyone responds, so we’re not discouraged if people don’t show up in our meetinghouse later.

It’s a two-way street, frankly. Answering questions can be a big way of getting a clearer view of the way others see us.

I was startled, for example, when one woman asked if you have to be a protester to be a Quaker. (Answer: No!)

And when some confuse us with the celibate Shakers, we now respond, “Shakers made beautiful furniture. Quakers make trouble.”

And last year, many folks told us how much they appreciate our “Love Thy Neighbor, No Exceptions” banner across the front of our building.

This year we’re setting out to have fun. Period.

You know, take a selfie of yourself standing with William Penn. Well, someone dressed as a not-too-accurate impersonator. Or you can make your own real Quaker rolled oats using one grain, a hammer, and an anvil. (Watch your thumb, please!)

Or here, have an oatmeal cookie or take a recipe for granola.

That sort of thing.

We’ll still have a bowl of water out for passing dogs and, as a new touch, a small changing station for parents or grandparents with infants.

It’s still a work in progress. Will probably always be, I hope.

TEN MINUSES FROM A SHORT SUMMER

Anyone else felt pretty AWOL all summer?

  1. My daily schedule’s been way out of whack: I’ve been awaking around 3 a.m. most days, doing a half-hour of Spanish study online, and launching into some compulsive writing and revision. That’s led to a deep afternoon nap, which makes sense on very hot days, but even so, my evenings are rarely in alignments with others’. It’s like I’ve become a hermit.
  2. I missed a whole week of July: Yes, when I sat down to write some checks and realized the next day I was a whole week behind, I was shocked. How’d that happen?
  3. I skipped a whole month in my journaling: That was the real shocker. Opening my journal in early August to catch up, I had to look twice to confirm that my last previous entry had been in mid-June. It’s not like nothing was happening in my life, either.
  4. Didn’t get to the marketing drive: From a practical point of view, the thing I should have been doing for the past nine months is pushing my new novel into readers’ awareness. Instead, I was compulsively revising and drafting new material while the inspiration was still percolating madly. (What would you do?)
  5. Block party nearly didn’t happen for the first time in 18 years: The neighbors behind us always have a boffo block party, and we’re included. This year, however, it almost never happened. First, the event got postponed from the usual time in late June or early July. Good reasons, I’d say – one family was off in Mexico, the grandparents’ of another family weren’t coming as usual, all but one of the kids who had grown up with the party were now off in college and the exception had a full slate of alternatives – that sort of thing. And then August got just as crazy. Somehow, on short notice, it happened on the penultimate Saturday of the month. Was there even a collector’s poster by the resident graphic designer? I was beginning to wonder if we’d be trying to catch up with it with their annual Soupa in November.
  6. No hiking in the mountains or swimming in the ocean: I mean, we’re so close, but now that I have the yearlong pass to the Dover indoor pool, I have less motivation to drive an hour or so away to hit the water or trails. Not if I’m engaged in other stuff, especially.
  7. We didn’t do much grilling: Summer typically means dining in what I’ve called our Smoking Garden, but I didn’t even get the strings of lights up overhead till early July rather than the beginning of May. When we have grilled, the food’s come indoors for the meal more often than stayed on the table outside. We’re not blaming all of it on the bugs, either.
  8. So much for getting together: Had hoped to spend some time with three guys, especially. It just didn’t happen. Mea culpa. They’re all fascinating. Part of it was that out-of-whack schedule.
  9. Too many weeds proliferated: Anyone else garden? Were they worse than usual this year?
  10. Lost some of my favorite lifeguards: Look, there’s no escaping the reality that America’s graying. Some days it seems like there’s no one under 40 about in the nation. One of my principal connections with living, breathing youth has been at the indoor pool, where I’m trusting my life to their abilities. Keeping them from getting bored on the job’s been a pleasant challenge, but now the majority of them have graduated from high school and are off to college. Premed or the like for most. Did I mention they’re smart, even when they try to pretend otherwise? Seems like we should have had a party, but I don’t think they even had one for themselves. Best wishes, all the same.

TEN PLUSES FROM A SHORT SUMMER

In our part of the world, it’s been a short summer. That is, it’s felt even shorter than usual.

Normally, our summer doesn’t kick in until the Fourth of July, and that was the case this year. We had an uncommonly dry June and some oppressively hot, humid days in July. OK, it’s global warming, we know that much – the climatic instability shift that’s no longer deniable to anyone who’s been paying attention to reality. That’s left August, which included a very dark, rainy week.

So here we are, in what’s officially the final three weeks – usually some of our best, if we can get outdoors to engage in them. That is, if you don’t have kids in school. (Unofficially, of course, the whole thing ends on Labor Day weekend.)

Here are 10 highlights from my Summer of 2018:

 

  1. The princess brigade: In the past year, a family from South Dakota has moved in down the street, and their two daughters have become good friends with another girl a few doors the other side of us. So all summer, they’ve been traipsing up and down our sidewalk, one house to the other. As their vacation wore on, they got inventive. One day, I heard the doorbell buzz, went to open the door, nobody was there, but a little bouquet was on the steps along with a note. Later, they were back again, saying I was the only one who responded. That was the beginning of similar exchanges, including cookies or brownies from us some days or having them pick blueberries on another. They’ve definitely brightened our summer.
  2. Our student from China: For one month, we hosted a Chinese college student who had an internship at the Children’s Museum. He could walk to work. It was a delightful experience for all. By the way, he insists my fried rice is better than the version at the Chinese restaurant downtown. We’re hoping to repeat the experience next year.
  3. Blueberry bonanza: We weren’t alone. Others reported gangbusters of blueberries. In our case, a new way of covering them with protective netting helped, too – the squirrels and birds didn’t scarf off with the harvest before we could get our share.
  4. Productive drafting: I thought I was done revising my novels, that I could move into the next stage of supporting their publication. But then I made the mistake of opening an unfinished manuscript, one based on a character who appears in one of the novels, and felt an obsessive need to delve deeper into an understanding of her motivations and experiences. Let me say simply the venture took me into shady sides of my own emotions, and while I doubt I’ll ever release this work for publication, its pages do contain what I feel is some of my finest writing. I’m still not finished, but at least I’ve come to a place where I can take a breather. When I return to the file, the labor will be in smaller, less demanding portions.
  5. Overdue framing: There’s a backlog of household projects to get to – there always is, if you live in an old home like ours – but I did finally get around to framing and hanging a number of pictures. Some, like the icons my wife brought back from Macedonia and Crete, still need a place on a suitable wall – something that’s in surprisingly short supply in our abode. But it is a break in an emotional ice jam on my part. Maybe scraping and painting the hallways will be next? Going through my surviving artwork from high school was also an illuminating experience. I did that?
  6. A dear friend’s memoir: I felt honored to be asked if I’d take a look at her document but then put it aside until I could give it full attention. It was worth it. While we’ve known each other 30 years now, we always lived at a distance – the closest being an hour away and then five-plus hours and now several thousand miles. Still, having the opportunity to reconnect this way was a deep blessing and added greatly to my perspective, especially as details of her remarkable life fell into place here.
  7. Ambience of New England Yearly Meeting: At this year’s sessions, some of us were carrying an awareness of our week together as being worship, not just in the Quaker business sessions but in our time of meals and chance conversations and even contradancing or the raucous coffee house evening as well. Instead of ending each of our business sessions with the traditional shaking of hands, our presiding clerk held back until the end of the final one, giving the action extra poignancy. If Western Christianity has nothing like the Eastern Orthodox Holy Week, where every day from Palm Sunday through Pascha (or Easter) has its intense liturgy, it is possible to realize how unique Quaker yearly meeting stands to that in its own way. In fact, our minuting of the sessions can be seen as writing the liturgy as we go rather than following an existing text – immersion liturgy, as one Friend quipped. Oh, yes, and reconnecting with special Friends was also personally renewing.
  8. Our firewood stack: The delivery came less than a week after I ordered it, rather than a month or two later. Stacking the two cords in a pile to stay up at least a year for further seasoning is always hard toil for an office-type dude like me, but it also has a puzzle-solving aspect of fitting the pieces together. It’s done now, went faster than expected, actually, and I’m proud of how it looks. Will have even more satisfaction sitting beside the flames in our Jotul on a cold winter day.
  9. Jenny Thompson outdoor pool: The indoor swimming pool always closes for annual maintenance the last two weeks of August, and those of us who have passes get to use the outdoor pool then without having to pay extra. The extra length of the lanes – 50 meters instead of 25 yards – can be a killer (my half-mile means eight laps outdoors rather than 18 indoors), but there’s something invigorating about being out in that late summer air, the wind rippling through the warning banners over each end of the pool, and the brilliant sunlight everywhere. On the backstroke, especially, counting the contrails of jetliners descending for Logan International Airport in Boston to our southwest or watching for bald eagles soaring off over the Cocheco River can add to my delight.
  10. Greek festival: Dover’s Greek Orthodox church hosts its festival every Labor Day weekend, its welcome to the entire community. Unlike many similar events elsewhere, ours does not charge an entry, so the music and dancing are essentially free. OK, you can buy raffle tickets or a full meal and drinks as a means of supporting the fundraiser. Me? The old-time Quakers wouldn’t have had music, much less dancing or games of chance, but I love the contrast. (By the way, I learned only after the fact that Portsmouth’s Greek festival had returned in July after a hiatus last year. Oh, my, speaking of contrast.)

A FLICK OF THE LEO MANE

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. This shift in my wilderness destinations, from mountains to ocean. When did that happen?
  2. The ripening of peaches spurs trips to our favorite pick-your-own orchard a half-hour to our north. More trips will follow for apples.
  3. Maybe I really am an “advocate of living-up-the-world-in-your-own-village,” as one comment chimed.
  4. I do like the concept of transitioning, rather than progressing, with all of its assumptions.
  5. Overheard at Walden Pond: “No, they won’t even get in a car anymore. They ride their bikes everywhere.”
  6. The Wiggly Bridge for hikers beside the York River. One way to get over high tide.
  7. Home Depot workers call their pesticide section the Wall of Death.
  8. So many field notes from spiritual aspiration and practice springing from a muse of fire. The one that’s sometimes scorched me.
  9. My life as a failure. There’s no autobiographical novel to be written on my last 30 years.
  10. A bumper sticker I’d like to create: I’D RATHER BE READING.

~*~

Downtown venting, here In Dover.
Downtown venting, here In Dover.

 

WAY BEHIND IN THE YARD AND HOUSEWORK

In the cardio aftermath, I was generally laying low, apart from my immersion in some serious revisions of my previously published novels.

And then? I looked at the window and saw an outburst of green – on the trees, especially. I had a sharp sense of having lost a big chunk of time.

We had some hard storms this winter, and some major branches came down from our trees. We were lucky they missed hitting roofs, cars, or outdoor furniture.

Still, it’s meant a lot of cleanup, and there’s more work to be done with a chainsaw.

The gardens, too, are behind schedule. I never got to the beach to collect seaweed, back before the seasonal out-of-town parking ban kicked in. Hauling those buckets and extracting the collected bags from the car trunk takes exertion, beyond what’s considered safe during recovery. I mean, I’d hate to take a nitroglycerin pill at the beach while working alone.

Nor did I get to some interior painting and picture-framing, as planned this winter. Some? There’s a lot.

We are watching some big changes downtown, especially where the city is carving away a hillside to extend our riverfront park and open space for new housing as well as open direct access to a hilltop park above, which is also being expanded and developed. This development, which crept up on me while I was recovering and not heading down that way to the indoor pool, will greatly enhance the central focus of the city.

Downtown is also undergoing the razing of an old retail block to make room for a five-story retail and worker housing structure. It will also eliminate what’s been an annoying traffic obstruction.

Glad I’m back in action. Wonder what else I’ve been missing.

Me at the compost bin at the far corner of our lot. Every year I empty the finished compost, which gets worked into the garden beds, and reload it with more leaves and the like to start over. Producing a full bin of compost takes at least five times that volume of raw material.