Venturing Out in Oregon’s Phase One

Okay, I did it. I ventured out into the new world of Lincoln County’s Phase One reopening. Parts of my journey were almost normal, parts very much not. Fear of COVID-19 still hovers everywhere.

Post office. Mask on. Rush in, grab my junk mail from the box, rush out.

Out to lunch! First time sitting in a restaurant since March 13. Sitting in my usual section at Off the Hook, just south of the Yaquina Bridge, I could look out the window at the La Quinta hotel across the street and the traffic on 101 and pretend nothing had changed.

I wore my mask in, but of course I couldn’t eat with it on, so I stashed it in my purse. At 11:45, I was the only customer.

The owner, a big guy with curly reddish hair, did all the hosting and serving, no sign of the usual servers. He wore a yellow mask and offered a paper menu that he tore up as soon as I had made my selection. They were still restocking, he explained. Items that he had in stock were highlighted in yellow. No problem. They had my crispy chicken sandwich with fries and iced tea.

He was exceedingly polite. Ma’am this and thank you that. I asked how he was doing in this crazy time. Doing the best we can, he said.

After noon, others arrived. It’s a seat-yourself place, but the owner moved one party, noting the COVID regulations. Have to spread out, he reminded them.

The food was delicious, as was the novel I was reading, Same Sweet Girls by Cassandra King. I drank enough iced tea to keep me awake for days. I ate every bite of French fry, every pickle, and every bit of breading that fell off my chicken.

A nearby TV screen played a Ducks-Beavers baseball game. I thought nothing of it at first, but then thought: wait, the universities are closed, and nobody is playing baseball now. Plus the two Oregon teams only play each other once a year. It’s a big deal and certainly not happening on an ordinary Wednesday in May. This game was a rerun.

It felt great to be out. I admired the neon beer signs on the wall opposite me and the soft country music easing out of the speakers. Maybe it was actually a lot louder; I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids. My hearing aid guy warns that many of his clients have lost hearing aids while putting on or taking off their masks. I wasn’t taking a chance.

I lingered, I read, I sipped tea.

Restroom? I thought about making a pit stop at home, the only facilities guaranteed COVID-free, but doing the math, I could see that all of the restaurant workers were male, and the two female customers had not left their booth, so the restroom was probably clean. I used it, taking my time washing my hands and drying them with the blow dryer.

Next stop, groceries. I’m getting used to the whole thing. The mask, sanitizing my cart, not touching what I don’t intend to buy. Who knew I was such a toucher? J.C. Market is considerably less hectic than Fred Meyer, although more expensive, and prices seem to have gone up. My bill was a shocking $181. I took my time at the store, too, browsing, picking up things I might need and things I definitely needed.

Most of the shoppers and staff were wearing masks. I have noticed the competition for cool masks is ramping up. Just wait till my music mask arrives in the mail. Meanwhile, I didn’t feel like I was suffocating this time.

At the checkstand, my cashier Paula was more relaxed, too. I had brought back the heavy plastic bags they sold me before. You’ll have to load them, she said. Fine. But then a bagger appeared and I let him do it. Soon I was back in the car slathering my hands with sanitizer.

My last stop was Poolside Jan’s, which sells spas and supplies for maintaining them. I needed bromine big-time. The water was starting to smell funky. Were they open? Sort of. A big sign on the door said: STOP. Customers were instructed to telephone and place an order which would be brought out to them. While I was listening to the phone ring, a worker pushed open the heavy door just enough to peek out. A table blocked passage. I told her I needed bromine tablets. Large or small? Large. $61, she said. Ouch. In a minute, she brought me the huge bottle and I passed in my debit card. I waited till she returned with card and receipt, then backed away for me to lean in and grab my bromine, card and receipt. “These are weird times,” she said. “Sure are,” I answered.

Coming out of the parking lot I almost ran head-on into a van coming out of the coffee kiosk across the street. Luckily, the other driver stopped and wound up following me onto southbound 101. At the stoplight, I took off my mask. Done. Whew.

Home. Some blue peeking through the clouds. Trees moving slightly in the breeze. Robin pecking for worms. Annie anxious for her walk as I put everything away.

Now it’s Memorial Day. This weekend, our coastal communities have been deluged with tourists, most of them not wearing masks or keeping their distance. It’s like trying to hold back a tsunami. We are still supposed to social distance, wear masks, and avoid congregating in groups. We are not supposed to travel more than 50 miles from home–all of Oregon big cities are more than 50 miles away–but the visitors are here.

The pandemic is not over. We have done so well up to now in Lincoln County. We have only had nine people testing positive for the virus, nobody dying, largely because the locals have stayed home and the tourists have stayed away. I’m afraid that’s going to change now. I enjoyed my foray into the world, but I will continue to limit my travels. I’ve got food, bromine, dog, guitar, Netflix, and Zoom. I’m staying home.

Have you gone back to normal activities at this point? Please share in the comments.

Blessings for the Old and New at Sacred Heart

Last Friday night, Sacred Heart Church, where I work and worship, celebrated its 125th anniversary. When Catholics started holding Masses here in 1889, Newport, Oregon was a rustic fishing village with muddy streets, horses instead of cars, and open space where stores and condos sit now.

The original church, a tiny box of a building on Olive Street, disintegrated over time, with so many holes in the roof that parishioners tried to get to Mass early so they could find seats that weren’t wet from the area’s persistent rain. That church is long gone. The church building I know was built in 1952, the year I was born, at 10th Street and the Coast Highway. Brick on the outside, wood on the inside, it has weathered well, although sometimes the building cracks and snaps, and the scarred wooden pews creak no matter how hard you try to stay still.
New religious education building

Things change over time. A hall, chapel and vestibule have been added to the original church building, and the construction continues. On Friday night, after a celebratory Mass and dinner, we blessed a brand new religious education building and said goodbye to the falling-down edifice known as the Ministry House.
The new building is state of the art, light, tight, smelling of new carpet and fresh paint. We paid for it with pledge drives, car washes, dinners, and can and bottle collections, along with money from the church budget and the archdiocese. It took a little less than three years from idea to dedication.
Old Ministry House

We’ve been watching the construction for months. Finally our religious education director Sandy Cramer unlocked the doors and we crowded in, admiring the three upstairs rooms and the big room downstairs. Father Brian sprinkled holy water all around to bless the new building. We sang, we prayed, and we listened to the stories of the new building and the old one we could see out the window.

The Ministry House goes back to the early 20th century. It first served as a convent for several groups of nuns. It has been the Knights of Columbus headquarters, a homeless shelter, a retreat house, and a home for children’s religious education classes. Parishioners remember doing lessons with the nuns, playing flashlight tag in the spooky old rooms, singing songs and saying prayers. The Knights remember solemn meetings and raucous poker games.  But like the old church with the leaky roof, the Ministry House can no longer be used. Polluted with mold, mildew and asbestos, it has become so rickety it’s no longer safe. The plan is to salvage as much as possible, then let the folks from the fire station next door burn it down for practice.
We were invited to take a final walk through the old building. The lights were off. The mildew stench made it hard to breathe. Much of the furniture is gone. Yet it felt so homey. The stained glass, the comfortable couches, the bunk beds, and the old-fashioned kitchen reverberated with a century of prayers and laughter, study and meals shared while Jesus looked down from the crucifix. Saying goodbye was bittersweet, but buildings don’t last forever, and the new place will soon fill up with new memories.
Meanwhile, it’s the people who really make up a parish, and they will go on together into the next 125 years. This is my Oregon family, and I’m grateful for every one. God bless Sacred Heart.

Lost an earring, found a new beach hangout

I didn’t expect yesterday to be very exciting. Church. Lunch. Grocery store. Laundry. TV. The usual. But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

When I got home with my groceries, eager to shed my church clothes and sprawl in the sun on the deck with a good book, I discovered one of my earrings was missing. This is not the first time I’ve lost an earring. I don’t have pierced ears. I wear antique clip-on and screw-on earrings, and sometimes they fall off. I have lost and found some earrings three or four times, and I have quite a few single earrings whose mates are gone forever. I especially liked this earring, silver filigree around a shiny amethyst center.

I searched my clothes and my car, traced my steps from the garage. No earring. Dang. It was already 2:30. I had the laundry and other chores to do, and Annie needed a walk. But I wanted my earring back. I changed my clothes, put the dog in the car and we headed back to Newport. First stop, Georgie’s, where my friends and I had enjoyed our usual delicious food and ocean view. Checked the parking lot, the booth where we sat, the restroom. Nope. Next stop, church. Not in the chapel, the music room, the rest room or the sanctuary.

By now, Annie was going nuts, needing to walk. There’s a path through the woods right in the middle of town, and it’s not too far from Sacred Heart Church, so we headed there. It was sunny and smelled like flowers. We jumped over the mud puddles, glad to be out walking. The path ends at a playground and skate park. I thought we’d just go through there and walk back to the church. But Annie had other ideas. She tugged me toward the beach and a new discovery.

For years, I have heard about Jump-Off Joe, a massive rock formation that started falling apart at the turn of the 20th century and is now mostly gone. There are legends about how it got its name, but the most logical and likely explanation is that the rocks blocked the whole beach. People who wanted to get to the other side had to climb up and jump off, so they called it Jump-Off Joe. Read about it and see pictures at http://www.beachconnection.net/vtour_newp28.htm.

But I didn’t know there was an area up above the remnants of Jump-off Joe where people can park and enjoy the beach. The little parking lot off NW 11th Street leads to the concrete remnants of a building that I told myself must have been the natatorium where people came to swim in the early 20th century. But no. It’s the remains of a condo complex that fell victim to the constant erosion in the area. Now it’s a maze of graffiti-covered walls and steps at the edge of a bluff overlooking the rocks on the beach.

Annie and I both enjoyed sniffing around there and standing high above the beach. Judging by the graffiti and the abundance of beer bottles, we might not want to hang around there at night, but what a fun discovery. I know, local friends, I’m a dunce for not knowing about this, but it’s so exciting to find a new spot after almost 18 years here.

Eventually Annie and I wandered back to the car and started toward the J.C. Market. I actually drove past it, weary and thinking nobody’s going to find a tiny earring in a massive grocery store. Did I lose it while picking out potatoes, in the meat section while debating between pork chops and steak, or in the cereal aisle, where I grabbed two boxes of Red Zinger tea? At the cash register? But then I thought, no, they won’t have it, but you’ve got to ask.So I turned around.

At the service counter, I told the clerk I had misplaced an earring. She smiled. “Was it a clip-on?” Yes. I pulled the one out of my pocket and she pulled its twin from a drawer. A customer had found it in the parking lot and turned it in. Thank you, whoever you are.

God is good. I found a new place, and I got my earring back. We got home at 4:30 and took advantage of the sun still shining on the deck. The laundry could wait.

Yes, I could get pierced ears, but then look at all the fun I would miss!

Poets’ Concord: Where Everyone Speaks Poetry


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While the rest of Newport, Oregon celebrated Loyalty Days with a carnival, a race, a parade, the crowning of a festival queen, and a field of flags honoring our veterans, and while freakishly hot weather brought scantily-clad crowds to beaches where it’s usually daring to go without a coat, hat and gloves, approximately 100 of us gathered at the Hallmark Inn and Resort last weekend to talk about poetry.
Poetry? Yes, poetry. Your average American will think you’re strange if you say you like poetry, stranger still if you tell them you’re an actual poet, but not here. The Northwest Poets’ Concord, now in its fifth year, is a wonderful three-day event in which we’re surrounded by our people. These are the kind of folks who spill their coffee or trip on the stairs and say, “Ah, there’s a poem in that.”
We gathered for workshops on performance poetry, sonnets, poems about body parts, poetry and photography, poetry and yoga, poetry and drama, poetry and the blues, and more. When the days’ classes were over, we gathered in the new beachside banquet room below Georgie’s Beachside Grill for open mic sessions where we could hear and cheer each other’s poems. And we stopped at the conference bookstore to buy each other’s books and take a little of the magic home.
Poets usually write in solitude, but for three days in Newport, they’re not alone.
It felt odd to emerge from my final session into the hot afternoon and shop for dinner at the J.C. Market with the tourists buying beer and ice. They didn’t understand that every item that went into the cart could become a poem. Ode to a watermelon. The perfect sonnet about a tomato. Fried chicken blues. You never know.
We’ll soon be planning next year’s Northwest Poets’ Concord. Check out our website at poetsconcord.org and visit our Facebook page, too. And hey, try reading a poem.

Christmas Shopping at Newport’s Bizarre Bazaars

Bazaars are bizarre, at least here on the Oregon coast and probably in every small town in America, and they are happening right now as we scramble to buy Christmas presents before it’s too late. I had this plan on Saturday to do all of my Christmas shopping in one day, plus writing out my cards and decorating the house. I didn’t quite make it. Okay, I barely got started.

But I did shop. I started my Christmas marathon at the cemetery, switching from the blue flowers on my husband’s and in-laws’ niches to the Christmas flowers. That put me right in the middle of where everybody was going that day, between the Farmer’s Market, Pick of the Litter Thrift Store, and the first annual Chocolate Coffee Christmas Classic, not just a bazaar but a “holiday expo” being held at Newport Intermediate School.  Oh, and the Eagle’s Lodge was having a sale, too.
The Farmer’s Market has moved into the big hall at the Lincoln County fairgrounds for the winter (Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Inside, I found the usual conglomeration of handknitted scarves, jewelry, photographs, a lonely author hawking his books, bread, pizza, produce, plants, homemade jam, and miscellaneous art made out of wood, glass, shells, and rocks.
Pick of the Litter, one of the best thrift stores around, supports the Friends of the Lincoln County Animal Shelter. Also at the fairgrounds, it was jammed with people perusing its collection of used clothing, books, CDs, kitchen supplies, and doodads of all sorts. Some were also buying copies of the FOLCAS calendar, featuring local pets. My Annie’s picture is in the upper left-hand corner of November 2013.
The Eagles Lodge sale on Olive Street, held in the dark meeting hall, was more like a garage sale. Paperback books for a quarter, Avon jewels and potions for “best offer,” handmade ornaments and more scarves. Pretty low key.
The star of the day for me was at the Chocolate Coffee Christmas classic. The intermediate school parking lot was jammed with cars as I parked and made my way past the donation station. Proceeds from from the expo benefitted Lincoln County School District’s HELP program for homeless students, the Newport Food Pantry and the Samaritan House homeless shelter.
Picture this: booths offering chocolate samples and coffee everywhere you look, interspersed with other booths offering candles, Christmas tree ornaments with nautical themes, scrapbooks, jewelry, coffee mugs, knitted, crocheted and quilted gifts, goat milk soap, glass floats, pop bottles melted into ashtrays, bright orange OSU and green U of O glass business card holders, photographs of beach scenes and sea birds, fabric angels, tote bags and purses, more ornaments, feather earrings, more jewelry, shoppers in spangled baseball caps, and little old ladies knitting, crocheting, beading, gluegunning,processing Visa cards on cardboard-box tables, urging you to taste, taste, taste and buy, buy, buy. And I did, did, did. My bag got so heavy in the first room I had to take it out to the car before I visited the gymnasium. I think it was the candles embedded with rocks that did me in.
I only hit a small portion of the sales happening that day. I missed Holiday House on the  Bayfront, St. Stephen’s chowder luncheon and sale, the holiday craft sale at the Connie Hansen garden, the 11th Hour Santa Sale in Lincoln City, and the 85th annual Yachats Ladies Club Bazaar. Too much!
Now granted, the people on my Christmas list might not want another handknitted scarf or a melted-bottle ashtray or yet another lighthouse ornament. Too bad. We don’t have a mall. We have bazaars. Wait’ll they see what I got them this year. 
The photo above shows some of my own treasures that came from past bazaars.
(Hey, wondering what to get people? Maybe they’d like to read one of my books: Shoes Full of Sand, Childless by Marriage, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, Freelancing for Newspapers. Peruse my bookstore page at http://www.suelick.com/Products.html. Books are easy to mail and easy to wrap.)

Celebrating the Yaquina Bay Bridge

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Usually what locals want most from driving over the Yaquina Bay Bridge is to get over it quickly. We mutter at tourists who take their time, gawking at the ocean to the west and the bay to the east. Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty, but move along.
Some days it’s so foggy you can’t see anything on either side. Other days, it’s so windy, you’re just trying to stay in your lane. And on other more benevolent days when the sun shines, and you see hills in the distance and sailboats bobbing in the bay, you think, I’m so lucky to live here.
Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 3, the scene on the bridge was different. The people of Newport and surrounding towns turned out en masse—and on foot—to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary. Our art deco masterpiece opened in 1936, part of a chain of bridges by architect Conde McCullough that finally provided a way for people to drive the Oregon Coast without having take a ferry across the waterways.
It really is a beautiful bridge, painted a soft green, its arches swirling into the sky, its pillars artful reminders of an earlier time when life moved more slowly and nobody was tempted to use a cell phone while speeding across the bridge.
The celebration has been going on for a month, with talks, displays in the historical museums, and big banners across the bridge and in front of Newport City Hall. Two friends, Matt Love and Judy Fleagle, published new books about the bridge.
It all crescendoed in yesterday’s festivities. First, everyone was invited to walk across the bridge at noon. The Newport High School Marching Band led the way, followed by pedestrians, a fleet of 1930s-vintage vehicles, and bicycles. Some folks dressed ‘30s-style while most put on their fleece and slickers. Rain was coming. Fortunately, it held off until the bridge had been crossed.
Under the bridge, folks gathered for a community picnic, complete with hot dogs, music, vendors and speeches. What a great feeling when people come together like this. It’s one of the things I love most about living on the Oregon Coast.
My photos were shot while I was driving southbound across the bridge on the way home from church.The next time I cross the bridge, I’ll probably be looking around like a tourist. What’s the rush?
By the way, it’s pronounced Ya-KWIN-na. We former Californians all have to learn that it’s not Spanish. It’s a native American name.