First Christmas in New Hampshire

Winter this year in NH, as in coastal ME last year, started with a bang. Snow before Thanksgiving is never welcome. We had about a foot of wet heavy stuff. The lake was ice-covered by then.

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December brought a crazy mixture of temperatures. We had 10 deg nights, snow flurries, and then a week later 55 deg days and heavy rain. By Christmas, most snow had disappeared, and some lawns were looking suspiciously green – enough to make you think April had arrived! Cruel! In the last few days of December, temperatures dropped, and now the lake is solid ice again after 10 deg nights and 20 deg days. Next week is forecast to bring 5 deg night and 15 deg days. January is our coldest month. DSC_0128         

 

 

IMG_0057  Our church’s Christmas Fair and Tea started December off well. Marian helped make wreaths, and then managed a table during the Fair. I spent the afternoon in the kitchen sink, trying to keep up with the steady stream of people who preferred eating to shopping! We spent one happy morning helping to decorate the church for Christmas, and a weekend decorating our own “new” home for our first Christmas here. DSC_0120 2

 

And so Christmas came! Dave & Xin decided to come up from Brooklyn, but could not leave until mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve. I feared it might take them hours to clear the city, but in fact they were here comfortably by mid-evening. It was dry and mild, and Marian and I enjoyed our first Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at our new church home in Gilmanton. By 9pm we were ready to start on our traditional Christmas Eve feast: many cheeses, sausage rolls, mince pies, Christmas cake… with several good wines and beers to accompany. All very Brit stuff! We slid into bed at 1am and slept soundly.DSC_0121 copy 2

DSC_0122 2  Nobody stirred early on Christmas Day, but the dogs finally made it clear that they wanted to eat! So we drifted into two days of gift-giving, reading (always plenty of books among our family’s gifts!), and eating as we felt moved. DSC_0126A turkey was roasted, and two friends from church joined us for a plentiful feast late on Christmas afternoon. Dave and Xin and their dog left on Saturday afternoon, and Marian and I shed a silent tear as we remarked on how quiet the house now was!

After what seemed like a week of Saturdays, Sunday came, and I preached while our Pastor took a well-earned after-Christmas vacation. Sunday evening a church family hosted the annual choir party, we greeted our friends once more, and endured the infamous “Yankee Swap.” By Tuesday it was time to join the work party to take down the Christmas decorations at the church.

Now it’s New Year’s Eve, and January 2015 lies before us. Paul has started a new carpentry project. The church Nominating Committee is recruiting people to serve in the coming year. It looks as though Marian and I will both find ourselves busy on committees. We’re already planning a short visit to Long Island and Brooklyn later in January! But it’s been a good “first Christmas” here, and we are thankful.

 

New Old Church

Finding a new church is a little more difficult for a “pastoral” family in retirement than for most people. It’s expected (required in some traditions) that a retired pastor find a new church that is “far away” from his/her old one. So it’s common to learn that “retired pastor X” from New York has moved to the Berkshires, the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, maybe even the “north country” – the Adirondacks, New Hampshire, Maine. We have done our share of such wanderings in the past two years, from Long Island (where we couldn’t stay) to Midcoast Maine last winter, and now to the Lakes region of New Hampshire this spring.

Along the way we have visited quite a number of churches! Some have been big, some small, some very small indeed… Even the “biggest and best” have not felt like home to us for various reasons. The “reasons” for a pastoral family are untypical. It’s not just a matter of “church shopping” until we find “one we like” or where “we feel comfortable” – because this is not all about us. We cannot simply choose a church based on “what suits us.” The Church is bigger than us, and we have to be welcomed, chosen, called, invited, found useful; we have to sense that “this is a community where we can worship and serve.”  And of course we bring “our baggage:” our own history of worshipping and serving. Every pastor, and spouse, has a strongly felt set of expectations about “how to do church.” So this odd mixture of specific expectations, and a need to serve and not simply be served, shapes our search for a new church that we can call home.

After retirement, we worshipped and served happily with the Lutherans on Long Island, but after moving from NY we reverted to our Congregational tradition. Last winter we attended a large Congregational church in Maine; now after three months in New Hampshire we have attended three different churches here. It has been an eye-opening experience. Rural churches, like their communities, have been hollowed out in the past decades, and many villages and churches now close to disappearing after centuries of existence. One church had ten people in its Sunday service, up from five a year ago…

So we are grateful to God that we sense we may now have found a Christian community where we will “fit.” It bears the name “Community Church,” and it has a strong community presence; its traditions are Congregational. Worship there was a delight to us, and we shall see where we can serve – a start tomorrow at a midweek food program. Pray for us that we may be a blessing here, and well as be able to receive the spiritual nurture we need.

Wanderings, often in desert places, are part of the experience of all God’s people. How blessed, then, to arrive at an oasis with green pastures and still waters.

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Bit By Bit

As the summer deepens, we settle in a little more each week. Bit by bit, our lakeside cottage feels more like home.

80 degree weather, often with low humidity, makes it easy to enjoy summer in this part of New Hampshire. Evening thunderstorms on humid days are spectacular, with lighting crossing the sky from one end of the lake to the other. The hanging plants are doing well, but we are still trying to decide on the ideal spot for a beautiful blue hydrangea – a gift from visiting friends.

Most of the house is furnished and decorated now, but there are still rooms to paint, window rods to be mounted, and more bookshelf space to be created. And slowly we are getting through the long list of “things you just gotta do” in the first three months after a move – not just unpacking the boxes and finding a home for everything, but getting new drivers’ licenses, having the vehicles registered and inspected (only batting one for three on the last one so far… NH auto inspections are tough!). Finding new physicians, and going through all the tests they demand of new patients, has filled many days. Mercifully we are all well, but that has to be proved and documented to the satisfaction of our new PCP! Health insurance can present problems when moving to a new state.

As July progresses, we have more visitors coming, and then (we hope) a week or two clear to get our RV out and take a trip back to Belfast, ME – to see how it looks in the summer after the long winter we enjoyed/endured there (see A Maine Winter), and to pick up a couple of items we left behind at our rented cottage in May! Good friends from Long Island will also be in ME, so we hope to visit them too.

Day by day, we are “getting there” emotionally and physically. It takes time to grieve and heal any loss, and retiring and leaving so many friends behind on Long Island left a hole in our lives that is still not filled – and in some ways never will be. But bit by bit, we are getting to where we believe God wants us to be now.DSC_0024

Busy Days

We spent last weekend on Long Island, staying with good friends. The main aim was to be part of a wedding on Sunday 6/7. But we also fitted in a dinner at our favorite restaurant with 6 friends, a lunch by our host for 6 other friends, a barbecue with 3 friends… after all that we needed a day of rest! While I visited two other friends, Marian rested, and later that day we attended the rehearsal dinner/BBQ for the wedding party. Sunday morning we took our host friends to the church we attended before leaving LI, and in the afternoon were part of the lovely wedding of a beautiful young woman we had known since she was a teenager. What a joy, on a perfect summer afternoon in June!

Back on Monday to our now “real world” in NH, we were awoken today by heavy equipment in our front yard as our septic system remediation began! Now we have an expensive large hole where our front lawn was. Tomorrow new leach-field chambers will be installed, and by Friday it will all be be graded and re-seeded! We made a trip to Concord to purchase a new stairlift that will take Marian to the second floor of our home, after she has managed a month of laborious stair-climbing. She is delighted, and only sorry that it will take another week for the lift to be installed!

Meanwhile more boxes have been emptied, and the (back) lawn needs mowing again. We expect our first guests this weekend, and have been working to make the walk-out basement level and its “spare room” ready. Today’s investment was in a dehumidifier! We are delighted to have guests coming, which will next week include our older son and his woman-partner coming up from Brooklyn. A little more shopping for extra storage units has allowed Marian to get her sewing area on the second floor ready for use.

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Hanging flower baskets now adorn the deck. We have had a couple of 80deg days, and soon it will be the “official” start of summer, which in this area seems to be on schedule with the weather (unlike Long Island, where Memorial Day really does seem to start the summer!) A busy week or so, but much accomplished, and a real feeling of being “at home” has crept into our lives.

We are very grateful.