K stands for . . . Keys

Ever lost your keys? Me too. The last time was in Hawaii. I discovered they were missing after we were back on the mainland. Not so easy to go back and look. I think they fell out of my purse in the rental car where I kept pushing my purse under the seat to hide it.

Actually I lose my keys almost every day. I just had to go look for them to write this post. They were in the pocket of the sweatshirt I wore to walk the dog last night, but they could have been in my purse, buried under a pile of mail or still stuck in the front door. Once in a while, I actually hang them on the key rack.

Quick. Don’t look. What keys do you have on your chain? And what would you have to do to replace them? My key chain includes: key to my house, key to Dad’s house, two car keys, my post office box key, a key to the room at the cemetery where Fred’s ashes rest, and three church keys. No, I don’t mean church keys as in can openers for that afternoon beer. I mean actual keys to an actual church.

I work part-time as a music minister at Sacred Heart Church in Newport. I have separate square-topped keys for the chapel where we practice, the little room that holds our sheet music and instruments, and the hallway into the office wing where I make photocopies. I can get into the sanctuary, but I cannot get into the hall because my job doesn’t require me to go there. It’s a shame a church has to be so security conscious, but we have had several burglaries and our pastor is adamant that all doors remain locked unless someone is using them. That means when all the singers have arrived in the chapel, I lock the outside door.

I’m proud of those church keys because they mean I have this great job and people trust me. One of my favorite memories is the night I took my visiting father and brother to the church. Dad was so impressed that I had keys to get in and could take him into the sanctuary. It proved I actually do have a job, something he frequently doubts, and that maybe I actually do something real with my music.

I have other keys. The rack in my kitchen holds a spare house key, the keys to my safe deposit box and a few old keys whose use I no longer recall. Somewhere in the garage, I have more orphaned keys, including an old-fashioned skate key which I used to attach my skates to my worn-out school shoes before playing Roller Derby with my friends. Every key holds a memory of a place I lived or worked, a car I used to drive, a lock I used on a storage shed or a gym locker, or a suitcase that took me far from home.

Actual metal keys are slowing giving way to digital cards like the kind we use at hotels now, but those will never feel the same as that clanging chain of keys that opens all the doors.

K stands for Key.

I’m participating in this month’s A to Z blogging challenge, and K is for Key. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:

A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon
L Unleashed in Oregon
M Unleashed in Oregon
N Childless by Marriage
O Unleashed in Oregon
P Writer Aid
Q Unleashed in Oregon
R Unleashed in Oregon
S Unleashed in Oregon
T Childless by Marriage
U Unleashed in Oregon
W Writer Aid
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Unleashed in Oregon

More than 2000 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. For more information, visit a-to-zchallenge.com You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Come back Monday to find out what L stands for.

Why I Moved to South Beach, Why I Stay

Weekends like this last one prove I’m living in the best place in the world. My days were full of music, poetry, dog snuggles, and blue skies, along with church, a little laundry, grocery-shopping, and house-cleaning.

Yes, blue skies in January on the Oregon Coast. Right now as I write this, I look out my office window and see gold-tipped pine trees stretching into a powder blue sky unmarked by clouds. The alders are still winter-bare, but daffodil bulbs poked their heads above the soil this week, even though the storm season is far from over. From somewhere beyond the yard, I hear doves. Like the rest of the west, we’ve had far less rain than usual this winter, but unlike California and other western states, we have enough water, so that drought is not a problem.
It’s warmer back in California. I see weather reports predicting blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, and I miss those days when I could walk unfettered by heavy coats. But oh it feels good to lie beneath my electric blanket on a cold morning, and I finally have a use for all those sweaters my mother and I knitted over the years. And it feels great to sit in the sun under the Sitka spruce with Annie leaning against me, just enjoying being alive.
Yesterday I was up at 6 a.m. to lead the choirs through two Masses at Sacred Heart Church. It was dark as I showered and dressed and ate a slice of pumpkin bread for my hasty breakfast. But as I drove north on Highway 101, scanning the road for black ice, the sky lit up with pink clouds that turned bright red, a Hallelujah Chorus of a sunrise that made me glad to be here. The red reflected on the ice blue water of the bay and the ocean beyond where crabbers were pulling in their morning catch. After 17 1/2 years, the beauty of this place still amazes me.
More storms will come, weeks of gray skies, gray ocean, gray everything, of winds that tear at the windows and walls and sideways rain that stings like needles, but this is the tradeoff for those red sunrises and rainbow sherbet sunsets, for easy drives on roads without traffic at any time of day.
And for music and poetry. I don’t know whether it’s the ocean setting, the reasonable proximity to universities, or simply the lower cost of living, but this is a world of writers, artists, musicians and dreamers, and that’s a big part of why Fred and I chose to live here when we left San Jose. On any weekend, you can enjoy plays, concerts, art exhibits, readings, or dance performances. You can learn to blow glass floats, make beaded jewelry, or paint with watercolors. The Performing Arts Center and Visual Arts Center in Newport are busy year-round, and other venues to the north and south offer more arts activities.
It’s a place where one can get involved in a big way. A friend and I co-founded the coast branch of Willamette Writers a few years ago. Now I’m on the board of the Northwest Poets’ Concord, which hosts an annual poetry conference in May, and Writers on the Edge, which hosts the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series. I have a critique group which meets on Tuesdays. I have taken workshops, taught workshops, met famous or soon-to-be famous writers, and shared my work at readings, talks and open mics.
This last Saturday, we met for the Nye Beach Writers Series at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Covering the paint-stained tables of the art classroom with red silk tablecloths and battery-powered candles, we welcomed our guest author of the month, R. Gregory Nokes, for a talk about his new book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory. I ran the book table. After intermission, I ran the open mic. I read several of my poems, people loved them, and I felt fabulous.
During the day, I had time to sit out in the sun with Annie, to take a nice long walk, to catch up on email, clean my kitchen, play a little piano, and watch a movie on TV.
Getting up Sunday morning was hard, but then I got to play the piano at church, sing with two wonderful groups of friends, and chat over tea and donuts in-between. Afterward, a quick trip to the store, where I ran into several friends, as usual, a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, more piano, and more time in the sun before heading south to Yachats for the open mic.
Music, poetry and friends came together at the Green Salmon coffee shop, which is not open at night but allows us to use the space. Christmas lights still hung along the ocean-facing windows as we perched in our high wooden chairs. We laughed, we sang along, and we applauded performers taking the stage for the first time and veterans who came to try out new songs or just keep in practice. It was a safe place where people could screw up and nobody minded. “Do-over!” people would shout, and the performer would find the missing words or chords and finish in triumph.
Then it was time to make the long dark drive home, passing only a few cars on the way, keeping a lookout for deer or raccoons crossing the road. Time to light up the pellet stove, snuggle with the dog and fall asleep to dreams of music, blue skies, and words for a new poem.
I awakened to sunshine, blueberry muffins and another day of words, music, dogs and the most beautiful place on earth.
This is why we moved here. Sometimes I get lonely. I miss Fred like crazy, but this is why I stay.
I haven’t posted here lately. I’m working on compiling the previous five years of posts into a “Best of Unleashed” book, which will eventually be available as an e-book. But I will still chime in here, too, because I can’t help myself. If you enjoy reading my blog, please recommend it to your friends. Thanks for coming. Have a beautiful day wherever you are.

Where everybody knows your name

When I lived in San Jose, I rarely met anyone I knew outside of the expected places: work, church, groups I belonged to. When I visit now, I occasionally see people who look like I might know them from somewhere, but I’m not sure. Even if I did know them, it’s unlikely that either of us will acknowledge the other’s existence. That’s life in a big city. With so many people, the odds are good that everyone you meet will be a stranger.

Here in Newport, Oregon, however, it’s a completely different story. It didn’t take long after I started attending Sacred Heart to build a new church family. I soon acquired new writing, music, and yoga friends, too, and I got to know the neighbors right away. When you share a pocket of the forest with just a handful of other families, you talk to each other.

The cool thing about living here or in any small town is that you constantly run into people you know. Yesterday, for example, I went to Rite Aid after Mass to fill a prescription. I met another member of the church choir there, stocking up on bargains for his grandkids. The lady in front of me in line works at the library, and sitting at the blood pressure machine was my neighbor, Bob. Each person had time to stop and talk.

It’s always that way. If I go to lunch, the person seating me knows that I need a large iced tea, stat, and someone I know will be seated at one or more of the tables. At the grocery store, Deb the checker always asks about my dog. If I don’t know somebody, that’s okay, because strangers actually talk to each other here. It’s not for nothing that Newport’s slogan is “The friendliest.”

I like this. It makes me feel that wherever I go, I’m not alone. Of course, it also means everyone knows what I’m up to, but that’s okay. For me, it’s worth losing a little privacy.

Lozenge on my teeth

As I crawl into bed, the wind huffs and puffs against the walls and windows. Outside, the trees bend and dip. Patio furniture scatters like Lego toys. Pine needles turn the street orange. When I turned the TV off, the news was all about snow in Portland. Again. Here on the coast, we have had precipitation in the form of snow, hail, and rain. It has come down in puffs, rocks, needles, sheets, drizzles and gully-washers. The extended forecast? More of the same. It’s enough to make a born-again Oregonian scream, “I want to go home!” I want to make like the Canada Geese and fly south in the fall. But of course, no one can afford to buy a house these days, especially in the Bay Area. So we put on our slickers and waffle-stompers and go on.

One of my jobs is assistant director of the contemporary choir at Sacred Heart Church, over the bridge in Newport. It’s a wonderful brick edifice opened the year I was born, very old-fashioned inside with creaky blond-wood pews, lots of statues and a giant dying Jesus on the cross up front, much like the church I grew up in before it got modernized. The choir sits in chairs on a plywood platform to the right of the altar.

Our director’s husband had open heart surgery last month. I was in charge the whole month of December. However, she was coming back yesterday and wanted to pick out the music, as well as play the piano. Fine. I needed a break. However, she didn’t actually pick out the music until late Saturday night and she was going to be very late on Sunday. She e-mailed the list of songs to the choir, but I was the only one who was online at that point. I had hoped to get to church early and organize the music, but somehow when my alarm rang, I shut it off and went back to sleep, waking up an hour later. It was a miracle that I managed to shower, eat breakfast, dress and be in the car at 9:15.

When I arrived, the choir was in a dither. Although she didn’t have the list of songs, another choir member had already started trying to do the music. There were papers everywhere, and nobody knew what was going on. I was singing the psalm and had not practiced it. Meanwhile there were microphones and music stands to set up. We were still figuring things out as we tumbled out of the chapel into the sanctuary. Father Brian stopped us early in verse two of “We Three Kings”. I thought he had paused to welcome our director back. But no, the number on the board was wrong. He asked us to start the song over from the top so the congregation could sing along. Lord, Lord.

When I went up to the lectern for my solo, I was still sucking a throat lozenge, trying to chase off the gunk in my throat. I had to either get rid of it or sing with this chunk of yellow stuff in my mouth. So there I stood on the altar, biting down, feeling as if the crunching sound was so loud the reader could surely hear it. In fact, it might be going out over the microphone across the whole church. Crunch. Crunch. Swallow. I had pieces of lozenge stuck to my teeth. Picture me clutching my choir book, gazing the over the lector’s shoulder at the sacred words, and trying like crazy to push the sticky lozenge remainders off my teeth with my tongue. There’s a period right after sucking a lozenge when your throat is still adapting to it not being there, and that’s when I took my place at the microphone, nodding at Mary Lee to play the introduction. I had no idea what would come out.

It could have been worse. We got through Mass and even received some applause. After Mass, for the first time since I woke up and saw what time it was, I could finally breathe. I thought my voice had sounded a little raspy, plus this was the psalm with all the place names, like Tarshish and Sheba, but a couple I met during coffee and donuts after Mass gushed over my beautiful voice. “What a gift,” the woman said.

Naturally I decided to ditch everything to become a world-famous singer. Again. But at this point in life, I’ll settle for famous in Newport. That and a maple bar washed down with Ruby Mist tea.

Rain? What rain? Ah, the artist’s ego.

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