Make America Normal Again

Since 2016 American lives have been in an upheaval. From the time the current president’s name showed up as a Republican presidential nominee, the idea of Trump being our Commander in Chief was laughable. Until, of course, it became a reality.

Cable News channels rarely viewed on our TV in the past, have made it to the “favorites” list of channels now watched in my house. It is unbelievable the “Breaking News” that seemingly “breaks” literally every minute of every hour, every day. POTUS #45 is known for patting his own back boasting about anything from his inauguration crowds, to the signing of various proclamations as “biggest, hugest, never-before done” while often stating false facts. He has launched insults on leaders of countries, typically not supported by the U. S., to the point of concern that our land could be recipients of weapons of mass destruction. But he is not without insults to allies as well, launching rude remarks toward leaders of England, Canada and especially Mexico. ”Build the wall” an ongoing chant of Trump meant to exclude anyone from coming in…hanging a child’s “keep out” sign on our door signaling others that they are not welcome. Although, his favorite twist of words thrown at our free press, “fake news” and “enemy of the people”, come across to my ears as truly “fake news”. You can fact check Trump to find his venomous spew to be mostly false. http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/

What surprises me as much as our unpresidential president that American citizens who would be aghast at such immature, racist, bigoted, idiotic behavior from anyone, let alone POTUS, appear to attempt to normalize his bullying rhetoric, his insults about important dignitaries, excusing it with,  “but he’s making good changes”…is he? Or they say things like, “I’d vote for Trump over Hillary” and we should all know by now that train pulled out long ago. HE is in Office now and we, the people, must deal with his misconduct and not merely pass it off as his way or try to put blame on anyone else. He has gotten us into a mess and any member of his base or who voted him into Office has got to own up to this travesty. Let me know how your health plan is going.

The man “Tweets” his presidential opinions which then appear as loosely written policy having not gone through proper channels for such and causing major chaos in airports, deportations of non citizens, child abductions on our southern borders and the list goes on. His Tweets on all issues from immigration and the need of “the wall”, to name-calling world leaders can only be compared to that of a middle school boy, although such description is an insult to all middle school boys. This president is an insult to our democracy, a treasonous menace to our country and should be removed from office.

Recently, an article https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/04/04/trump-supporting-friend-this-really-isnt-about-donald-trump/ caught my eye on Facebook. Normally, I don’t put a lot of stock in articles shared on Facebook unless its source is reputable. But this one, an opinion piece for sure, rang close to my personal thoughts about Trump. Source: Stuff That Needs To Be Said is a blog written by John Pavlovitz. His article, however, touched the core of what so much of what I hear and read about the POTUS’ actions, retorts, indecisiveness on extremely important matters, is causing anxiety and disgust on my part with his presidency.

Trump-Supporting Friend—This Really isn’t About Donald Trump
APRIL 4, 2018 / JOHN PAVLOVITZ.
John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina

Another article https://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/07/26/when-your-president-is-a-cancer/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=johnpavlovitz from the same author written a year ago now, still rings true. Trump is a cancer to America. It is disturbing for me to watch him destroy policies, protocol, procedures, diplomacy, care of American people and America’s foreign reputation. Even just as disturbing for me are the people I know personally who will stand up for this administration (or maybe it’s the GOP they stand up for) the politicians he endorses or worse beliefs in his prejudices. As much as I trust my friends, acquaintances or people of influence on Facebook, sometimes their opinions as Republicans are quite unsettling. As a Christian who is Democrat, I find many of their viewpoints to be antiquated held by persons of whom “change” has no meaning.

I’ve read comments by people on social media that seem to convey a lack of empathy for people of color, poverty, mental illness, or women who find themselves pregnant not by choice, immigrants harassed or harmed by evil people in their own countries. Those making remarks, many of whom are Christians, do not appear to remember that the “steadfast love of the Lord…is new every morning”. I do not believe the treatment by our current president and his administration of the “tired and poor” seeking asylum in America is what Jesus would do.

Why are we standing for human abuse on our southern borders? Children, babies are being taken from the only adult safety net they have ever known at the border. Some unjustly as they followed the rules yet were still arrested. Even though others came crossed the border illegally, that should infer their desperation to get their children and selves away from the menacing cartels in their home countries; risking all they have for refuse and safety. Who could blame them? If it were me, I’d do the same thing under such disparaging conditions. Heaven forbid I should ever be in that condition! Why is this president and his base so uncaring and hostile to children and parents fleeing to better lives? Is it their fault they were put in this uncomfortable situation? Uncomfortable may seem a trite term for their horrid dilemma, but thinking about the comforts my own children and grandchildren makes my heart ache for these unfortunate, innocent children. They don’t have the comfortable surroundings of family or home to relax, for there are harmful people threatening to destroy their world. For many the destruction came though murder, deceit and evil empowerment over their lives. Those seeking asylum are not privileged to vacations on a beach or to a leisurely wake-up to breakfast most mornings. In many cases food nourishment throughout their day is limited. Terrifically uncomfortable! I shudder to imagine children and babies crying for the familiar voices of mothers, the touch of loving fathers or the comfort of food in their bellies while falling asleep in a safe place where they can just to be. Yes…I am aware of what some might rebut on this issue claiming, “…the kids in detention centers are being fed well and have a place to sleep”. Perhaps true, however, does that replace being with their parents or family members at such tender ages? It is my guess that given the choice of pizza or family, they’d choose family.

Many American ideals has been upturned over the past year that the mind boggles by all that’s continuing to happen in in the USA. The entirety of Trump’s term in office so far has turned upside down rules of humanity, benefits, and well-being of a nation who once prided themselves on being the “land of the free, home of the brave”. As a grade school student I remember learning that America was referred to as, “the melting pot” because her population was made up of people from all other nations “melting” together as in a “pot”. That would require mixing, blending and melding into one nation. As far as I know, the only true Americans, native to our land, are the American Indians. They are the only true race with the right to claim true citizenship. And look what we did to them. Shameful! All others, our ancestors, came to this country to find freedom, sanctuary, land, homes, opportunity and a safe haven of rest for their families to live out their lives. Of course, history also teaches of wars, unrest, and fighting within borders between brother countrymen. To our shame, have we not evolved very much since the Civil War. Why have we not risen above the ashes of hatred, bigotry and selfishness? It would not appear Americans still have much learn about love and human kindness.

My international travels are extremely limited, but if I were to travel abroad today, I think I would be very careful, guarded even, as to how I represent America in a foreign land. For now, America is in “time out” by other countries as our president has been allowed by Congress to misbehave. He has turned the American dreams of aliens coming to our country into disappointment compounded by mistreatment. As one immigrant advised others coming from Central America seeking asylum only to have her young children taken from her arms and transported thousands of miles away, “don’t come to America”. That’s not the plea written on the base of Lady Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

They are not “Coming to America” anymore with eagerness. Are you happy, Trump? You did this. Your “base” did this to our country. Please, people of reason, Make America Normal Again.

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The Trees Are Alive With the Sound of Music

Maria VanTrapp may have had sounds of music in her hills, but here in my backyard, the trees are alive with the sound of the music of the birds.

Right now I see red birds perched in a tree void of its leaves after winter’s hibernation, creating an artistic picture. A flock of birds playing chase overhead from one tree to another sound like school children laughing while playing a game of “Chase”. Blue jays and doves are also among the mockingbirds flying in and out of the branches singing as they flitter about. Amid the cacophony of chainsaws, lawnmowers, garbage trucks and other neighborhood sounds, the birdies sing loud and joyful.

Yesterday, I removed a small bird feeder from a tall backyard tree to refill it with seeds. My husband hung it up last summer attaching it high onto the trunk as the tree had no sturdy branches from which to hang it. He had to wrap a chain around the trunk in order to hold an old camp lantern hanger we used to hang a large s-hook for the bird-feeder. That worked pretty well for the feeder to hang, but it presented an unforeseen problem. Since there were no long limbs out from the tree trunk, at a height we could reach, the placement proved to be an ideal spot for three hungry, greedy squirrels to fill up on birdseed. The birds were not wanting to share with the squirrels and stayed away. So, I watched those three rodents everyday for about 3 days, clean out the feeder and then lay belly-down on the ground too stuffed to move. They were funny to watch, but I knew if I refilled the bird-feeder they would again empty it leaving none for the birds. After all, I had put the bird-feeder up for the many birds we have in our trees. Until I could decide how to change the location, it remained empty for a season.

As I was not able to easily get the feeder down to refill it, I was determined to try. As I’ve already written, I am short, a bit chubby and even with a ladder, a bit doddery attempting to reach the hanger. With my husband at work, I was determined and managed to climb up just enough to reach the feeder and get it off the hanger. Next, since I barely got the feeder down off the hanger, I opted to hang the feeder from a lower limb. The fragile limb was just out of reach, I thought, for the squirrels. I moved back to the patio by the house and watched one tiny chickadee zip to the feeder like a drive-by pausing for a moment on the tray of seeds. Then, the squirrel noticed the feeder.

Before putting up the bird-feeder last summer I initially read a few online articles about bird-feeders and where best to place them. It also told how to attract the birds. One article said that if you sprinkle a little bird seed on the ground below the feeder, it would attract the birds. So, that is what I did yesterday when I hung the loaded feeder back onto the limb. Sure enough, it got attention, but not from the birds. Instead, a chubby squirrel had found the seed and was scavenging for his breakfast on the ground this morning. Then, the rascal noticed the feeder up above and proceeded to scamper up the trunk and out on the shaky branch where the feeder hung. As I sat quietly watching, I wondered if he would figure out how to get to his booty since the feeder hung away from the tree trunk.

First, you should know that the small feeder has a sort of roof that covers the container and seeds spill out to the tray below the container. The roof covers the seeds and in a small way, is supposed to deter squirrels. Although, that pesky squirrel would not be hampered by the likes of the contraption and continued to study the situation carefully. After much inspection of the hanger and the feeder down below it, he decided to descend the large s-hook from which the cord of the feeder hung. Mind you, the feeder itself was a long stretch from the trunk for a little squirrel to reach. He would not be able to stretch to the feeder while hanging onto the tree trunk. So, as he sat on the limb above the feeder looking down at the s-hook,what he decided to do next was as funny as any slapstick comedy on stage. That critter reached headfirst from the limb holding onto the S-hook while descending the cord to the feeder’s rooftop. Now, completely off the limb, sitting atop the feeder, he had to figure out how to get to the food.

My cat, Homer, and I sat quietly on the patio by the house watching this scene play out. The chubby squirrel, now swaying about on top of the feeder, is peering over the roof’s edge trying to decide how to get to the seed. What would he do? If he put his feet on the seed tray he will surely off-balance it and fall off. However, the squirrel was a determined little fellow for sure, and that was exactly what he did. Grabbing the cord of the feeder hanging from the s-hook, he descended the cord to the feeder’s rooftop. He toppled a bit and almost fell off, but he was able to pull himself back to the roof top avoiding a crash to the ground below. Then, it happened, once too many times of twisting around, peering off the edge and getting off balance, the cord hanging from the hook snapped! Both the feeder along with the squirrel went tumbling to the ground leaving the feeder upside down spilling birdseed on the ground. Fortunately for the squirrel, he was able to run back up the tree trunk to safety. Unfortunately, he was too shaken to get more of his breakfast and left the scene.

Next, I walked out to the tree to look at the condition of the feeder. I saw the squirrel watching me from a safe height in the tree. After picking the thing up, I noticed the cord was torn apart no doubt from the weight of the squirrel. Examining it closer I saw that the cord was attached to a toggle holding the lid on. A knot in the cord under the hole was not allowing the cord to move up or down and the torn end of the cord was too short to tie it to the other end. Try as I did, I could not get the knot up through the hole without cutting the cord. The toggle became useless at that point so I cut it off and threw it away. Eventually, I was able to place the lid back on the feeder and simple tie off the loose ends of the cord leaving a loop to rehang the feeder on the s-hook with the lid simply sitting atop the roof.

This time I relocated the feeder to a different tree away from our mischievous squirrel. That was when I noticed the birds began to sing as if sending messages to each other. I am sure they were saying things like, “Hey, there is food in this tree!” Or “How can we get that food, I want some!” Like I said earlier, I am short and also, a bit chubby with stiff knee joints. So, again, the feeder hangs on a frail limb out of Squirrel’s reach, but a bit too low for the birds to feel safe. While I see birds inspecting the feeder, they have not tried to get any food yet. Perhaps later I can fix that for them.

The upshot of this whole situation is I must get a more squirrel-proof bird-feeder off the ground and under trees if the birds are going to enjoy the food. I suppose that will be another backyard project for another day. I do enjoy the birds and after all, my trees are alive with the sounds of music. Birds’ music, that is.

Drama from Get to Go

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As our busy summer vacation was winding down the drama began. Baseball season was an uproar of excitement as our Houston Astros, on a winning streak, were headed toward the World Series. August is my birthday month and on August 18th Kim took me to see two of my favorite singing groups, “Straight No Chaser” and “Post-Modern Junkbox” at the outdoor Cynthia Woods Pavilion in Houston. What a fun evening sitting in the 3rd row from the front for my early birthday present! My sweet honey is definitely the best! By the time my actual birthday on August 25th got here, the meteorologists on all the TV stations were giving updates on a Hurricane named Harvey that was headed our way. The evening of my birthday Kim rolled the grill under the breezeway between the garage and back door to grill steaks for my birthday dinner while rains started coming down. I told you he was the best.

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My summer home project has been a work in progress since late June. The project involved transforming a bed of plants and weeds…oh, so many weeds…into a seating area paved with decomposed granite (DG). Positioned adjacent to our patio, the area had to be cleared of all the grass, weeds and plants. The job was too overwhelming for me so we paid a teenaged boy to do most of the initial clean out work. Kim cut down three ugly little trees, or maybe they were bushes. Point is, they had to go. Finally, all the weeds and overgrown plants were gone by August and before the storm hit. However, the month we had the patch of land cleared of vegetation, it rained and rained for at least two weeks not allowing the newly exposed soil to sufficiently dry so we could lay the landscape fabric and DG. So much mud! The, sun did eventually turn the mud back into dry dirt and we were able to pull up the last of the stubborn roots, grind the stumps from the three ugly trees and attempt to level the ground as best we could. Then, with wheelbarrows and shovels in hand, we hauled load after load of DG from the place where the huge dump truck rutted up the yard and unloaded it, to spreading and tamping it down over the prepared ground.

By now it is late August and Harvey is barreling down on us. We hastily scrambled to cover the DG we had barely finished spreading just days before. After covering it all with tarps weighted down by bricks, Harvey was downgraded to a Tropical Storm but still as damaging as if it had been a full out hurricane. Even though the wind was not as prominent as past hurricanes, the continuous downpour of rain caused bayous to overflow their banks and rush into homes. We are among those fortunate enough to have not been flooded. The small amount of damage we sustained was a leak around the chiminey which has already been repaired.

Much of  the Houston area to the west and east all the way to Beaumont was flooded by record breaking amounts of rainfall. Many friends’ homes were flooded with anywhere from 2 to 6 feet of water causing devastation and loss. Many of them also lost vehicles. Schools delayed their Fall start dates until after Labor Day including the college where Kim teaches theater. He had already auditioned and cast the first play of the Fall semester and was ready to begin rehearsals.

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A couple we have known for more than 40 years got almost 6 feet of bayou flood water inside their house which their insurance company determined to be totaled. They came to live with us for 2 months along with their sweet little cat. They lost most all of their furniture, TV’s, flooring, walls, but fortunately, had driven their car and truck to higher ground the night before the floods came into their home. They did lose a little sports car that wasn’t running anyway, but was completely submerged under water in their garage. The whole time they were living with us, Kim was trying to get back to teaching and play rehearsals. If you don’t know by now, rehearsals translates to “not being at home”. Kim had his own drama taking place at the college both on and off stage. As soon as the first fall production closed at the college, the following weekend it played in the park. While the play was going on in the park, a Haunted House, sponsored by the college theater department, was going up blocks away in an old house featuring several of the college students as ghouls in the community attraction.

During the weeks to come I was home helping our friends clean up salvaged dishes and their investment of literally thousands of vintage china pieces. The first day we washed dishes I had about six sweet volunteers helping with the task in our backyard. Wash stations with pans of soapy water and rinse water were set up on tables. By the end of the week, my dishwashing help had dwindled to an occasional person here and finally just to me. Dishes strewed out on tarps on the grass after being transported from their house to my garage. Many of the dishes sat in a mucky mire of nastiness in my garage awaiting their turn for a bath. After the first week I lost most of my wash help to get back to their jobs. The sister of the husband had traveled from her Austin home to assist with the cleanup. I was glad to have her help for 2 weeks of this time. Finally, it was down to my friend and I to try to finish the job. We washed, wrapped and packed boxes and  boxes and boxes on top of more boxes, of dishes for almost a month. They rented a couple of storage garages to house the dishes and other salvaged belongings. Then, one day the last box left our garage and I was able to move my car back inside.

A camper our flooded friends had on their property was also totaled and the plan was to replace that camper with a new one to live in on their property. The house had to be stripped of all its walls, appliances and flooring leaving a skeleton standing on bare concrete. After two months of living with us, our friends’ insurance company paid the claim on their destroyed camper and they were able to buy a new one. With Halloween only days away, they got to move back to their neighborhood to live on their property in the new camper.

The college theater’s haunted house ran for three consecutive weekends leading up to Halloween plus Trick or Treat night. As I was passing out candy to costumed kids coming to my door, Kim’s next play at the college was already in rehearsals. At the same time, Halloween night, the Houston Astros were playing Game 6 in the World Series. I passed out Halloween candy wearing my Astros T-shirt and cap while watching the game on TV. Now, as we approach Thanksgiving, Kim’s second play of the semester is in performances for one more weekend. Auditions and rehearsals began this week for the Christmas show. Never a dull moment in theater.

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After our friends were able to move back home, I took a week to clean house putting things back in order. Next, I volunteered to do some research on the play Kim was directing and create lobby displays. A couple of weeks spent working on the displays and I was able to set it up in the lobby by opening day. Whew! By the way, “A Year With Frog and Toad” turned out to be a very cute family musical. Under a bit of stress and “drama” Kim and his students were able to hit their spotlight and entertain with a smile. “The show must go on!”

Recently, I returned to my backyard project. I bought lovely flowers, a few small plants, put them in pots and placed around the chairs on the DG to give it an inviting vibe. The calming scene is being set to invite a person (mostly me) to sit with a drink and read or talk to friends. My old patio umbrella lights have mysteriously disappeared, so I’m using a string of lights Kim bought to use at the haunted house and adding some candlelight for ambiance will make my patio a stress-free zone. Having gone full circle from the time I started the backyard project, through the storm, out of town trips, rains, haunted houses, auditions, rehearsals, plays and props, I’ve returned to my backyard. To top it all off, the Houston Astros beat the LA Dodgers to WIN the World Series! Life is good!

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Post-First 100 Days’ Drama

Seems like it has been a long time since I last wrote anything of substance. This piece likely won’t have a lot of substance, but rather ramblings of words meant to be written and never were.
This will be a slight shift to all-things-dramatic as I write my opinions on current events. Please, do not rebut in a rude manner. As written here, these are my opinions, they do not have to be anyone else’s. I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. My years on this earth and observances of events merit permission to write as does our constitution. My views are my own. It is not my intention to start quarrels or debates. Read it, like it or not, then move on. — MLM

Politics
Can Be Dramatic

When I was growing up in the 50-60’s I remember presidents such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and in later years, Jimmy Carter. They were not all great. You will notice Richard Nixon is on this list and he was a stinker. My parents were Republicans and voted for Nixon. Even at the time, I didn’t like Nixon. He appeared in a bad light on camera and I was never interested in listening to him on TV. “He [Nixon] promised to “bring us together again,” and many Americans, weary after years of antiwar and civil rights protests, were happy to hear of peace returning to their streets”. Nixon  That has a familiar ring now in 2017 with Mr. Trump in the White House.

Even though as a young person, politics didn’t hold my interest, I was attracted to people who showed integrity and respect for the office. JKF had charisma and brighten up the television screen every time he spoke. As any 8 year old could possibly be drawn to a political figure, I was drawn to JFK as a human being. He spoke with honesty and convinced me he could be a modern president with progressive ideas for the good of America. (Much like Barack Obama spoke.) Kennedy was a democrat and of the Catholic faith, two unfavorable attributes of a presidential candidate in my parent’s opinion. They were always quick to say, however, that those candidates were not bad people. “We vote Republican,” they would explain, and “well, he [JFK] is Catholic and a Catholic has never held office before,” as if that was something undesirable. I didn’t understand, but I trusted my parents. They wanted change in light of the situation in Vietnam at the time and for their sons, one of which went to war a few years out of high school graduation in 1960. (As a female, it was not a concern that I could be drafted in those days.) Of course, they also wanted a president who would uphold the virtues of Christ.

My parents were good people, Christians, working class, hard workers who were committed to providing for my brothers and me. My dad often held down extra jobs to supplement the income. My mom stayed at home until I was a sophomore in high school when she went to work in a department store. Soon after she began her job, I learned my mother could do much more than simply sew my dresses, wash clothes, cook and keep a comfortable house for us to live in. She quickly became the department head for the shoes and men’s clothing at the store. Mom was an efficient, competent worker as evidenced when foreign sailors off the ships docked on the Neches River would come to shop. Often, with broken or no English, the men asked for help shopping for clothes or shoes. My mom communicated as best she could and would size them up simply by looking at them. Then, she would fit them in a pair of Levis or boots sending them back to their ship happily carrying their purchases. It makes me laugh to imagine her gesturing and pointing, speaking in English slowly to help them understand. My mom also had to keep records for the departments she was over, taking inventory, balancing expenses, ordering and stocking merchandise. Mom’s job at the store also bought many dresses, towels and sheets for my years in college.

Then, Daddy, a refinery worker, often worked his days off at other people’s houses painting their house exteriors, fixing doors, laying cement or repairing a roof. When Daddy finished his military service following WWII, he rejoined his young family of two who had moved ahead of him to Port Arthur, Texas. Later they moved to Orange, TX, where my other brother and I were born, to find work. He worked on construction sights for much of that time before getting a job with Pure Oil Refinery in Nederland, TX where he would stay on and retire. (Pure Oil changed to Union 76.) Making a final move to Port Neches, TX, Daddy would continue to work construction or house painting, scheduling the jobs around his shifts at the refinery. He even found time to work around our house, fixing plumbing, painting, or even reconfiguring rooms of our house. Once he torn out a fireplace, removed the front porch and extended our whole living room. 

When I reached high school, about the same time Mother went to work in the department store, Daddy trained as an income tax preparer and worked for H & R Block for many tax seasons. My mom and I would smile and tell him how distinguished he looked going to work in his suit and tie, carrying his briefcase. Now as an adult, I realize that Daddy was proud of his accomplishments. He felt he’d come into a better position working in an office, while earning money for us. Daddy was an intelligent man. I often wonder where his career might have taken him had he attended college. That just wasn’t the era in which he grew up to afford college. His family worked hard on an Oklahoma farm. My dad learned what it meant to be responsible for a family as he and his 5 siblings helped with farm chores. As a WWII veteran with a family, he didn’t consider college an option for him and found work that provided the comforts of living for all of us. That is probably why he thought it was important to be able to send his children to college. Both of my parents always thought about family first before themselves. Although, it may sound as if my parents were always working, they always found time to spend with us kids. I never felt deprived or like they weren’t there for me, because they always were.

In my experience, many church-going Christians were of a conservative political viewpoint in the 60’s and like my parents, voted Republican for the most part. The Republicans appeared to boast Christian morals which appealed to the religious groups looking to stay out of war. Although, noble on the outside, on closer scrutiny of some conservatives’ viewpoints, it might reveal a closed-mindedness toward differences in ethnicities or other cultures. It is not my belief that my father was like that when it came to issues of race. My brothers nor I were ever allowed to speak badly of a person just because of their race. In fact I recall a specific time while I was attending college that Daddy told me it was okay to be friends with any person of color. He was worried though about my marrying a person of color because of the problems it could cause for me. He did not say it would be wrong. My parents were fair minded people who would help anyone no matter their race. They were not religiously closed minded and my dad especially could change his mind on a matter if given justifiable cause to do so. In my opinion, it was the Christian, conservative values what spoke to them when it came to politics and choosing presidents. They supported the platforms they felt were best for their family and our faith in God.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president for 8 years of my life from 1953 to 1961. When the presidential election in 1960 came into current news, I recall my surprise that we could have different presidents. Since I was all of 8 years old at the time, having not studied government in school, I just assumed the current president was there until he died. My memories of seeing President Eisenhower (first elected Republican president since 1928) on TV or hearing him speak, while not always understanding his message, I knew he was our president. As a highly experienced military person, he made me feel that we were safe. Or so I thought.

Now, here we are 100 days out from the inauguration of a new president (also running as a Republican) who makes me shutter with uncertainty. Even though, I was not really enamored by any of the presidential candidates running for office in 2016, Trump was the least likely candidate to get my vote. A man of no military or political experience, with the exception of his attending a private military school, announced to run for president of the United States. The absurdity of “The Apprentice“, Donald Trump, as president came across to my ears as a joke. “This won’t ever happen. He can’t possibly survive the election process. Why is he running for president? Is he simply wanting to have more power? He doesn’t have the experience it takes to run our country,” were my thoughts at the time (and still are). Then, as Election Day, November 8, 2016 came and went, my hopes and dreams for the United States were shattered. My reaction as I awoke to the news that Trump had won the presidency, was of deep disappointment. I cried. Cried! At the outcome of an election! I was not a political person, but I became a cable news junky during that election process, drinking in everything anti-Trump that came across written and televised news sources.

 Although, the news media may be exploiting his term with way too much coverage, it is addictive to witness a live drama play out before our very eyes. This scary reality show is unbelievably fascinating especially given the amount of inexperience and unpreparedness in which Trump came into the White House. It’s opening night and Trump doesn’t know his character’s motivation or the lines of the script. He is all improv and that is alarming. Alas, with great disappointment and sadness, I listen or read online as he berates anyone who rejects an idea he has or doesn’t kowtow to his reign of bullying. This president is on Twitter social media like a teenager in angst over his life, for heaven’s sake! Unbelievable! It would seem that we are stuck with this “man-child”, as he has been called, for now until at least 2020. (That is if he isn’t impeached first or quits.) It would also appear that little by little some of his appointees to administrative offices are proving to be dishonest and not anymore fit for their job as Trump is for President.

It is my sincere belief that Trump has no idea what it means to truly work as my parents did for their families. He has no idea of the struggles and sacrifices people like my Mama and Daddy make for their families. Sure, Trump can read about people in poverty and he sees news reports (sometimes unproven or biased sources) and reacts, that is he Tweets. He still doesn’t seem to truly understand the working class when he promotes policies that will benefit the rich even though he makes it sound as if they are in the forefront of his policy making. Trump makes rude, disrespectful comments about other people with whom he disagrees. There is no empathy in his words for others. That is not the model of a president we want our children to admire or other countries to look to for help. He doesn’t appear to consider the other side of any story that doesn’t match his own skewed views on planned parenthood, gun control, or health care. Money is not an object to him. He sees constructing an insanely huge wall as the answer to murders committed in our country by foreign enemies. My older brother has passed away. He was a hunter who owned guns and used them with the respect a weapon deserves. My brother was military serving in the U. S. Army back when the country was involved in Vietnam. He was a man with little patience for people with stupid ideas. Even though he would have been on the side of the 2nd Amendment upholding the right to “bear arms”, he would also be for gun control and advocate any law as for gun safety. My older brother would have called Trump an “idiot”. It’s not my intention to advocate “name-calling”, something our president does on a regular basis, but in the case of Trump, “idiot” pretty much calls it like it is.
Man! I miss my big brother.

Perhaps our lesson to be taken from a Trump presidency is that God wants us to become more patient with the “idiots” of this world. Heaven knows I have been attempting to do just that, but some people make it hard. Christians everywhere appear to be divided about this president. Even as my parents, voting Republicans, were blue-collar workers practicing Christian morals, values and attributes, I would find it hard to imagine they would have voted for the man who has become the 45th president of the United States.

My prayer for all of us at this time is that we will come together as a nation to see the truth for ourselves in regard to the politics of the current administration. Trump was woefully unprepared for this job. He would have quickly fired an employee who projected so little comprehension about one of his businesses had he hired a person like himself. It is my hope that Congress along with people of integrity in the position to make changes, will remain vigilant in keeping watch on Trump, forcing him to be accountable to the nation of people whom he serves. May God bless America and keep us ever mindful that God alone is truly in charge.


Written by Mary Lou Ritchey Martin

May 1, 2017

Back at the BLT

It has been several months since I composed a piece  and posted to this blog I refer to as my “theater blog”. Even though I post to another blog (etxgirl@blogspot.com) I began this theater blog as a sort of Martin Theater Journal written by the wife of a theater instructor. If you scroll back through the archives of this blog, you’ll see some of the fun times our family has experienced through live theater.

Since my husband, Kim, became the drama instructor at Lee College in our hometown of Baytown, TX, another avenue of theater has revealed more to learn about the art form of drama. Kim teaches theater classes, directs not only college aged people, but also includes some who are past college age in his shows. He has directed productions at the college such as Treasure Island complete with a beautifully crafted “ship” at full sail. He directed a musical, The Addam’s Family Musical, which involved the dark, but comedic macabre style of theater. In-between the large productions, Kim brought to Lee College audiences a show about the real life struggle of a woman in a man’s world. Rocket Girl was about Mary Sherman Morgan life as a genius who invented jet fuel for the United States space program during the 1950’s. The college science community seemed to enjoy Lee College’s production and were present to support the arts. Kim also directed the college students in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, which tells the story of Henry Thoreau, a writer and philosopher of his time. Audiences learned about two real people they might not have already known, through a live stage performance.

The Lee College theater department has collaborated with Baytown’s community theater, The Baytown Little Theater, on several of the BLT’s summer musicals. One of those collaborations, Fiddler on the Roof, I wrote about in an earlier post, was a special production for our family when ten Martins, four generations, appeared on the Lee College Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) stage together. It has been mine and Kim’s joy to perform and work with our family over the years. It has been especially fun raising our sons in theater and performing with them on stage. Kim and I have been BLT members participating in all aspects of our community theater for over 40 years. We have served on the board of directors, performed, directed, worked on crews, sold tickets, served refreshments and cleaned up restrooms over the years. The walls of our home display framed posters from past BLT productions that we look on with fondness reading the signatures of those who played with us in and behind the scenes.

Ryan with his cast & crew.

Ryan with his cast & crew.

Ryan, our youngest son, currently works with his dad at Lee College as the PAC production specialist. He recently volunteered his knowledge and experience in theater to direct the Tony Award winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, at the Baytown Little Theater. In their freshly completed new building, many BLT members supported Ryan and did all they could to prepare for the production’s opening night this past weekend. Ryan cast his dad in the lead role of Vanya, making this the second time he has directed his dad. Kim worked very hard to learn the many lines of his character to play the part. Watching my son direct his dad, my husband, in this production has been a delightful added experience to our family journey of theater life.

Each theater experience continues to broaden my understanding and knowledge of what it takes to produce a story on stage. There is nothing quite like a live performance to tell a story whether it be comedy, drama or fantasy, with music or without. The techniques and skills used to bring characters’ tales to life are a learned craft honed with practice. Some individuals appear to have natural talent and will excel in the art of performance or the technical aspects of theater. With every show they work on the theater bug grows within them and they will forever have a love for staged productions. The beauty of community theater is all of its participants are lending a helping hand while evolving into a splendid show for its audiences. As a theater organization we are a community working for a common goal. That goal is to evoke a conscious awareness of life’s lessons, struggles and humor, which are daily shared by all, through the dramatic art of staged productions.

imageVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has added depth to our community theater’s history. The message that the Chekhov named characters teach audiences is that family and those close to you are important when facing certain trials and truths about our lives. It has been another theatrical challenge that by the time VSMS closes this Sunday, and set strike once again renders a blank stage making way for the next show, we will have all grown and learned another valuable lesson.

Thank you, Baytown Little Theater for opening your doors, the minds of your audiences and a community awareness to the dramatic art of theater.

The Addams Family

 

The Addams Family, 2016, Lee College

 
My husband, Kim, instructs and directs theater at Lee College, Baytown. This past weekend he opened and closed a comedy musical, The Addams Family. The show was a success as it was well received by audiences laughing and enjoying the production. It was a lot of hard work and late nights. The students and outside guest cast members, along with the crew, worked as a team to make those many hours of work pay off. I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and everyone involved with the production. 

From lights, to costumes, to backstage crews and on stage actors, it was a group effort. Our son, Ryan, and his wife, Amy, played the lead characters, Gomez and Morticia. It just makes me so happy to hear them singing, watch them dancing and doing what they love together. Kim had students in this production who really shown brightly as they acted and sang. They displayed dramatic growth and maturity throughout the process of this production. 

It brings me great pleasure to see Kim’s theater arts program growing. He was fortunate to team up with the college’s music instrumental and vocal directors who provided vocal coaching and a talented orchestra to accompany the show. The choreographer, a friend of the local community theater, did an excellent job of choreographing the dance numbers into show stopping productions on their own. Another theater friend that goes back to Kim’s early teaching days, designed a beautiful set. Add in a mix of talented cast members who painted and decorated it, the set became the featured backdrop for the Addams Family story.

Kudos to everyone who helped make The Addams Family a success!

What the Martins Do on Summer Vacation

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This summer I worked on the summer musical, Oliver! with the Baytown Little Theater (BLT). Again. Normally, my husband and I, as well as one or more of our sons and/or daughters in law, perform together on stage in the summer musicals. Last summer we even had Kim’s parents and two of our grandchildren on stage with us in Fiddler on the Roof. We had 4 generations of Martins on the same stage. Instead of performing, Kim, who became the technical theater instructor at Lee Community College a year ago, directed the summer musical this year. Our youngest son, Ryan, played the villainous, Bill Sykes, and I played the role of assistant director to my husband. Someone asked if I’d ever been AD before and yes, I have, but not for a production this large. It was exhilarating, fun, hard and exhausting work, but I’d do it again…for Kim.

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Ryan Martin (Bill Sykes) & Jim Wadzinski (Fagin)

A couple of years ago when plans for the 2014 season were first discussed, we thought the BLT would do Man of LaMancha. In fact, Kim had told the Play Reading Committee, for which I am the chairperson; he would be putting in to direct LaMancha. This was before the college employed him. Then, Kim was hired to work with Lee College and suddenly things began to change. The summer he began work with the college was the same summer 10 of the Martins were on stage in the 2013 BLT musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Kim spent the better portion of those summer days planning for his new school year in college and rehearsing the musical in the evenings. He began taking inventory of the different elements of the college theater arts program and thinking in terms of not only what would be good for the community theater, but also for the college theater program. The BLT needed a blockbuster musical the whole family could enjoy in the Lee College Performing Arts Center (PAC). In Kim’s opinion, the play should appeal to all ages and involve kids. Kids! Now don’t get me wrong, I like kids, I have always liked kids, but I’m not as young and energetic as I once was. Then, Kim landed on the idea of directing the musical Annie. Promotion for the musical went out a year in advance and little girls’ mothers began to plan for their little actress to star on our stage. The thought of corralling a bunch of little girls backstage was not my idea of a happy summer. I began to think that Crystal Beach might be the ideal retreat for me to wait out the summer musical storm.

Then, as fate would have it, little girls would not be the stars of the our summer musical. Only months before plans would begin for the play, the Broadway touring company of Annie notified us that the theater’s rights to produce the musical had been retracted. Kim was back to square one trying to come up with a big family pleasing, kid involved summer musical. The idea of producing Oliver! formulated, requests for production was sent to the publisher, accepted and now we had a new play, a different plan. We’d still use some of those same little girls as little orphan boys and the young boy who played the part of Oliver was outstanding.

Auditions for Oliver! were held back in early June. Prior to auditions, I had no intentions to work on the play. Crystal Beach was calling my name even louder. Then, I realized that Kim would work himself to death doing it all and I’d better be involved if I had any hopes of seeing my husband this summer.

After the scripts and music scores came in, I got busy organizing them for distribution. Kim worked up the audition pieces for potential actors to read and sing. We got our choreographer to come up with some audition steps to teach those who would audition. Kim also found an online site, called Virtual Callboard, to organize the cast and crew communications through email and text messaging. The online system came with a bit of a learning curve for Kim and I, but we found the site to be an excellent tool throughout the rehearsal process.

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Me & my shirt design

Before the auditions, I decided we needed our company t-shirt design ready by auditions. I found artwork, designed the shirt, and lastly, placed an initial order of 60 shirts to begin selling as soon as possible. I was pleased that people at the auditions bought t-shirts and the shirt sales continued throughout the show. We managed to sell around 55 of that initial order in addition to about 20 more shirts for our orchestra members. Best thing I’ve ever done at the start of a show!

After all the singing, dancing and reading scenes took place; the show was cast with 50 actors. However, it wasn’t long after the cast list was posted, that we started getting messages that a few had not accepted their role. It is unfortunate that people do that, but they do. So, we offered those roles to willing individuals who where happy for an opportunity to shine on stage. We ended up casting 45 adults and children in the cast. The stage manager, assistant stage manager, technical director, lights, sound, properties and costumes, make up and hair people were ready to start their jobs with the show. Figuring in the stagehands that were brought on to move set pieces and lower drops we had about 65 people total working on and behind stage. Add another 15 musicians plus the orchestra conductor and the number of people involved jumps up to around 80. (It takes a boatload of people to put on a big musical. My list doesn’t even take into account the box office workers and ushers.) We felt excited about our show, Oliver!

Kim with Joe

Kim with Joe

Later, maybe 2 weeks into rehearsals, we would find out that our technical director had bailed on us as well as the person lined up  to lead the make-up crew and an additional light board technician who had only come to one meeting. As luck would have it, we have some pretty awesome, talented people in our lives that were ready and willing to step up to the challenge. Again, the show was none the worse for the replacements, in fact it was better. With those positions covered we were up and running with full rehearsals 4 nights a week plus a Sunday afternoon choreography rehearsal. Four weeks into rehearsals the set and props arrived from The Utah Music and Opera Theater along with their company foreman to oversee the assembly of the massive set. On a single day several men and women volunteered their own time to unload the truck and start work on set construction. Just two weeks away from Opening Night, the cast was finally able to practice on the real set and not tape lines on the stage floor. Our very capable properties leader and her helpers also organized the props making sure every item referenced in the play or needed by an actor was ready. The next major show element to arrive were costumes. We anxiously awaited the arrival of 19 large boxes from UPS to the college on Friday, one week before we opened. Several of us were there to receive and unpack the costumes hanging them by each actor’s name on costume racks. The next day 3 of us met with actors all day to help them try on costumes and make any needed adjustments to allow our period show to look spectacular. Our costumes mistress was the best! That day as we actors drifted in and out trying on costumes, work continued on the main stage assembling the huge set. The college PAC was buzzing with activity to get everything ready for production of Oliver!

On Thursday evening, July 31, our invitational dress rehearsal performed the same as it would for paying customers the next evening. Among the invited guest was the United Way organization giving us an audience of about 200 and the largest turnout for an invitational dress I’d ever seen. What an excellent last rehearsal for our cast and crew! Then, came August 1, Opening Night, complete with champagne for patrons old and new to see the Baytown Little Theater/Lee College’s production of Oliver! The adrenaline was pumping and everyone was anxious. Finally, I took my seat in the audience and Kim stepped out on stage to welcome our patrons to the show. As he concluded his speech, he advised the audience members to sit expectantly on the edge of their seats. Finally, the orchestra began the Act 1 overture and the curtain rose on our 13 little “orphans” ascending the stairs and singing in their angel voices, Food, Glorious Food.

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Our little “Angels”

The second night of performances, a local bank paid for the cast, crew and their guests to enjoy Pirate’s Bay, a water park in town, after the evening show. You haven’t enjoyed a water park until your group has the entire place to themselves from midnight to 2:00 a.m. We brought pizza for everyone and others brought drinks and other snacks. What a blast! We even had our oldest son and his two kids with us too. Our grandkids loved the water park so late at night. The next weekend Kim and I planned the closing cast party. Believe me when I tell you it is not easy to find an affordable venue who will let you party at their establishment after 11:00 until 1:00 in the morning. The local chapter of Optimist graciously allowed us to use their building at a significantly low price and was so generous as to loan us the key ahead of time to set up. I made arrangements with Jason’s Deli to provide a huge amount of food. (It was like feeding an army!) Kim and I planned and gave out personal candy “awards” trying to recognize everyone who had worked so hard on the show.  It was well after 1:00 a.m. before we got to bed that evening, but the party was a success in my book and worth the trouble. Lastly, the final Sunday matinee of Oliver! came and all of our long summer work was coming to an end.

After months of planning, six weeks of rehearsals, one invitational dress, six performances, a water park night and a late night closing party, we have finally closed the show. On the Saturday after closing, a wonderful crew showed up to help reload the magnificent set and props into the 18-wheeler along with the tech guy from Utah. (We love Joe!) Will we work on the summer musical next summer? The answer from me is “no”, but I have been known to change my mind.

The End…for now.