November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks

As a Christian, I am mindful of being thankful for all I have, the way things were, they way they might have been and a forgiving God.

[My parents, Louise & Elton Ritchey]

From the time Mama came to my bedroom in the morning announcing, Time to get up! until I fell alseep on our couch and heard, Go to bed, Mary Lou, my days as a child were safe and warm with no added stress, except for school studies. It wasn't like I had any regular chores to do (I did have to keep my room cleaned up.) or places to be, except for school or church. My mom simply thought a person should not sleep their days away. I wasn't enrolled in other activities like dance or gymnastics to occupy my time. I made up games to play by myself or went outside and found other friends to play with. I led a rather carefree existance with no regularly scheduled activites other than being a kid. I am thankful for my mother who, daily, made sure I got up, dressed and encouraged me to find activites to do on my own.

My daddy had already lit the space heater in my bedroom by the time I woke up on cold days. As I placed my feet on the area rug next to my bed, the room and wood floor felt warm. (I would love to have those wood floors in my house today. There was not enough appreciation of those floors on my part back then. ) Putting on a robe, I'd go into the warm, cozy kitchen. If I didn't have anything on my feet, mom scowled and said, you go get some socks on those feet. This floor is cold, for she thought a child could catch a cold from walking barefoot on winter cold floors. One was never to argue with Mama either, because...well, it just never crossed my mind to argue with her. She was right and that as that. My daddy did his best to make all of us comfortable on chilly mornings adjusting heaters. He made sure all the space heaters were lit and warming the rooms even before we got out of bed. I am thankful my mama and daddy loved and cared enough for me and my brothers to get up earlier than anyone to warm up our house. 

As I grew up, mornings at my house were always spent in the kitchen at the breakfast table. Only on Saturday mornings could my brother and I turn on the TV in the living room before breakfast. Not on school days or church mornings were we allowed to watch TV because my mother implied that we didn't need to be distracted. Now, I think it was a brilliant plan for our family's day to start off together around the breakfast table. There was not a time I can recall eating breakfast in front of the television in our living room. At my house, one always ate breakfast, every morning, in the dining room. That was an unspoken rule and not the exception. Some of my favorite memories are sitting around the table, with my brothers and daddy, enjoying a hot breakfast on cold winter mornings. Mama, wearing her apron over her houserobe, was typically in the kitchen cooking breakfast and serving her family.  We'd sit down to either eggs with bacon or sausage, perhaps hotcakes (as we called them) or oatmeal with toast. If we had biscuits, they were PIllsbury canned bisuits from the grocery store. Most of the time there was orange juice, not freshly squeezed, but like the bisuits from the grocery store, the juice was canned Texsun brand or a frozen tube of orange concentrate Mom mixed with water. The tartness of that orange juice made my cheeks cave in.  Sometimes, I'd get to have hot chocolate with my breakfast, but if I had a score throat, Mom let me sip a little cup of coffee. Such a funny thought to let a child sip hot coffee for a sore throat, not because she thought it would bring healing, but for the warmth and soothing powers the hot coffee offered at the moment. That's a good memory! I feel safe and warm just reminiscing about that little dining room on a brisk, chilly moring. My mom was an unintentional role model for me to observe serving the needs of family or guests in our home. She simply did what came naturally to her. I am so thankful for those mornings spent around the breakfast table and the love my mother gave me.

My daddy did a lot of renovating to that old 1940's house from the time we moved in, around 1957, until I went off to college in 1970 and probably some after that. Basically a two-bedroom house, with one small bath (with a wonderful claw-foot tub), a nice sized kitchen with only a breakfast booth to eat our meals and a screened-in back porch with a little room off to side was what our family of 5 shared. I can remember moving during the summer to our new home. We loved it! It was old and needed a lot of work, but my daddy was an expert in carpentry, house painting and anything else it took to make our house more functional for our family. The kitchen table was moved out to the screened back porch as there was no other place for it inside of the house. The kitchen had a booth much like a diner and we had to add an extra chair at the end to fit us all around it. So, most of our meals were eaten at the table on the back porch. However, that meant every bowl of food or dish had to be taken from the kitchen around through the back door and out on the porch. Most of the time we filled our plates from the pots on the stove and it accomplished the need for a place to eat. But Mama wanted a place inside of the house to eat our meals. Daddy removed the breakfast nook, cut a door to the porch for our new dining room and replaced the porch screens with walls and windows in no time. Our dining room would serve to be the hub of our home for many years to come. Daddy also remodeled the extra little room on the back porch to be a third bedroom complete with a window, closet and interior door. It became one of my two brothers' bedroom at different times and later a place where my children would sleep in the baby crib Mama put in just for them.

One summer, while Mama and I were at the church camp, Daddy took vacation days to tear out the old fireplace which was of no use anymore. He also took off the cool front porch I would use as my stage or doll house when I was younger. The living room was extended out several feet, a new front porch with ground-level cement sidewalks were also added to the front of the house.  My daddy did all the work himself except for some help from his buddies with the fireplace demo. There wasn't a room inside or out of that house my daddy didn't work on. He was our plumber, painter, carpenter, roofer and car mechanic. My daddy was not shy to show his affection for us and often, I was kissed good bye before I left for school with goodnight hugs at bedtime. He also showed his love for us by providing and maintaining our house. I am thankful that my daddy had the talent and skills to make our house a comfortable home not just because he could, but because he loved us.

As I remember my childhood, my parents, our old house, their sacrifices and work done just so my brothers and I would have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, I am very thankful.  I am thankful for God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who have been with me from the day I was born caring, loving and making the ultimate sacrifice for my sins. I am thankful that God chose to place me in such a loving enviornment with parents who worked hard and raised us to love Jesus. I am thankful to give thanks for all of this and much, much more this Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Thanksgiving! 2015

August 25, 2015

School Days, School Days by Mary Lou Martin: Grandmother & Professional

Now that I have been retired for 8 years, I believe I am still a morning person, but not one that jumps out of bed, showers, dresses and heads outside into the world. My style is more of a slide out of bed, amble to the kitchen in my pj's, get a cup of coffee (Hooray for Kuerig!) and slip out on the patio to sit and watch the day come to life. Yesterday, I also looked at all of the back to school pictures on Facebook posted by friends and relatives. My favorites of course, were the pictures of my grandchildren. Today, my blog is featuring our four grandchildren, the loves of mine and Kim's lives.

It was the first day of school for our district and many colleges across Texas. My middle granddaughter, Olivia, attended her first day of public school kindergarten. Looking so much like her daddy, her first day pictures show an excited little blonde, backpack ready girl who was going to have a wonderful day meeting new friends and loving her teacher. Olivia is a lover of people, a doer of something all the time, a reader, bike rider, gymnast, funny, sweet child and a friend. She is very intelligent and as a friend of mine once said, "I am not bias at all. I am a professional". After 30 years teaching, 3 years substitute teaching and a tester for the advanced placement team these past 7 years, I do consider myself an expert on the subject of intelligent 5 year olds. Olivia's command of words stands out as she uses words above the normal 5 year old vocabulary. My stamp of approval on a smart little girl with a bright future goes to Olivia Kathryn Martin with no bias whatsoever.  

Our oldest grandchild, Aidan, began 7th grade yesterday. He has grown taller this year, confident in his abilities and has the most handsome smile. (Okay, that may be a grandmother bias.) I looked at his first day picture on Facebook with pride as I saw my soon to be teenage grandson. At 12 years old, he has ditched the traditional backpack for a more sophisticated  messenger bag. He stands straight appearing calm, ready to take on the middle school life with cool breezy ability. Aidan also enjoys wearing a small brimmed hat and pushed up sleeves as he hones his trumpet player fashion style. I like that about Aidan. He has a way of hanging unassumingly slightly under the radar, going about in his own unique way. Though he didn't have his trumpet in the picture, he'll be carrying it to school each day, blasting out musical notes in band. Perhaps we see a future jazz musician in Aidan. He also plays soccer stretching those long legs to the goal, kicking the ball in to score with the cool and calm of a pro. Appearing very skilled and confident on the field he doesn't ever appear rattled in a soccer game, only focused. He enjoys soccer banter with his dad about the professional soccer teams they follow. The Martin Family all share a love for our home town baseball team, the Houston Astros. Aidan, an avid fan, has memorized facts I could never remember about the players and the game. He is an intelligent individual who excels not only in sports and music, but also in academics. Aidan is tenderhearted and loves his family very much. He and his sister, Regan, have a sibling closeness that will last a lifetime.It is my pleasure to observe Aidan and all that he will accomplish. Aidan Kelly Martin will excel at whatever he chooses to do in this life.  I know this because as I mentioned above, I am a professional. 

Next, our granddaughter, Regan has graced us with her presence for one decade now. At a mere 10 years old, our slim brunette beauty displays a bubbly, interesting personality that everyone loves. Our talented young girl who starts 5th grade this year, loves to dance, sing, do gymnastics and have fun. From the time she was a toddler with a paci in her mouth, Regan has smiled at a pretty shoe. Her cute sense of style makes her all the more adorable. I love her artsy side too because we can share arts and craft time when she visits, painting, drawing and cutting up creatively. As a kindergartener, Regan was tested for the Gifted and Talented program. She's a smart confident little girl and got into the program. With a flare for the dramatic, Regan has appeared in at least three musicals. When one director asked if she could turn cartwheels across the stage and without hesitation she flipped across a long stage in front of full audiences. Regan sings with her school honor choir and loves being part of a group. She excitedly explained to me through Facetime, that her choir teacher this year announced an opportunity to audition for a big chorus who would perform in San Antonio should they make the cut. We are pulling for our Regan to make the chorus. Regan loves adventure and takes it on with the zeal of an explorer out to discover a new world. Regan Karina Martin is a problem solver, friend, singer and intelligent individual. I know because, as you've read, I am a professional. As a 5th grader, Regan will lead and be an exemplary role model to the younger kids in her school.

Lastly, the youngest of the Martin grands, at 2 years old, did not start school, but returned to her babysitter. She is, nonetheless, as smart and outgoing as the rest of our grandchildren with a uniqueness of her own. Penelope Louise Martin is simply waiting her turn and taking it all in, learning as she goes. Recently we were in Abilene for a visit and I had the privilege to have some alone time outside with our Penny Lou. She enjoys swinging in their backyard and I pushed her as we sang together, "...seesaw, Margery doll, Seesaw, Margery doll." Back and forth she went on reciting the nursery rhyme to the exact tune I sang, matching tones and words. I do believe Penelope will be a singer and musician one day. She exhibits some mean 2 year old technology skills navigating an iPad.  Her ability to think for herself is evident when watching her complete puzzles, play games and stand her ground on what she does not want to do or eat. We witness her love for her sister as she calls "EE-ah'! Short for "Olivia". Penelope doesn't give her love way for free. One has to prove worthy of her affection, but once earned, she'll return again and again delighting her recipients. Our hearts swelled when we heard Penelope call to us, "Daddy" for "Big Daddy" or "Mama" for "Mama Lou". We'll take it and know the rest of our names will come through in time. Penelope Louise Martin has learned so much in the brief 2 years she has been on this earth. I expect by the time we see her next, she will have learned much more because she exhibits high intelligence. Of course, I should know because as an unbias grandmother, I am also a professional. 

January 21, 2015

Gray Days, Yard Work and a Whole Lot of Hope

     What a wet foggy morning it is! The temp is only about 58 degrees, the sun is hiding somewhere in the mist and everything outside is wet. Too yucky to do anything outside! I look out from my breakfast table window onto my backyard. Past the patio table I see all the brush that Kim cleaned out of the back jungle just before he had to return to work. There it lays on the grass…trashing up the backyard. The jungle still isn’t under control though it was beginning to take on a cleaner look. Lots of tall, out of control wild trees had grown up throughout the summer months like Jack’s beanstalk. If my back wasn’t in such bad shape I’d get out there and at least move the brush to the side of the road. Then, the city guys could haul it off for us.
     Then, standing at my kitchen sink, I look out the window and see overgrown bushes obstructing my view of the street and neighborhood. I enjoy watching the little kids walking home from school or keeping an eye out for anything interesting going on in the streets. Now, all I see is an occasional brown bird or lizard in the branches of the green leaves outside my window. I just realized that the leaves on those bushes never turn brown. I supposed that should be a glimmer of hope to know there is still life out there.
     Ever since we moved into this house about 11 years ago, the yard has been a trial for us to maintain. It is a large corner lot and very pretty when it is trimmed and mowed. There used to be 21 trees on this lot, but with hurricanes, bugs, and the occasional roots just letting go, we might have about 11 trees left. Previous owners had planted several bushes and scrubs on the grounds showing their love of yard work. Kim, not a fan of yard work, but wanting to save money, immediately vetoed the use of the lawn service the previous owner had offered. At first, Kim did a pretty decent job of keeping the grass mowed. That was until he began to have some health issues.  Then, job requirements were taking up a lot of his time and in general, he was not able to keep up with the always growing grass. One day Kim hired a yard crew to catch up in the overgrown yard. They were so quick and neat, edging the sidewalks, trimming below the tree trunks and clearing the clippings from sight. Even the jungle which was not part of the deal, looked better. Also, it wasn’t as costly as Kim had thought. It was worth it just to get it done neatly and spare Kim the trouble. Even with Kim’s health problems under control, he has continued to hire a crew to work in our yard. 
     Now in the winter months the yard is somewhat dormant, while it waits for spring. The yard guys are not coming since there is virtually no grass to cut. The grass is brownish in color and the weeds miraculously show themselves by turning very brown in contrast to the green bushes they once entangled. There is still much more lovely green color than one would expect in January. The birds that have flown here from the colder winter temperatures up north, will gather here and there to nibble the red berries clustered in the plants. A fun sight to see is when the blackbirds or robins are returning home up north and they stop over in our yards to eat. The chirping birds fill the lawns like traveling companions stopping at a diner along their journey. 
     Even though my yard is a trashcan of dead weeds and leaves now, it still has much to offer. The squirrels while in a sleepy mode, appear to enjoy running about gathering the nuts or seeds they can find. For now their dinner is visible, unhidden in the spaces where once leaves had covered their food. The birds and squirrels make a fuss high in the branches above my cats walking out into the back jungle on expedition. Being just far enough from city noises, my neighborhood is normally quiet with only the occasional sounds of playing children. But on a damp, foggy day like today, even the sounds of the nearby school are abnormally silent as I’m sure the children are inside reading and working math problems. Life goes on.
     One of these days soon, I’m sure that Kim will find the time to get in the yard and complete his job. I hope he can do that before the new spring foliage begins to sprout making the task more difficult. However, even if the dead weeds, branches and grass doesn’t get cleaned up anytime soon, it’ll be okay. These gray gloomy sort of days gives me a chance to reflect on life. It’s in these times I think about life, loved ones who are gone and I’m reminded of a great day of redemption to come. God in his glory and Christ on the throne are looking out for us all. The Holy Spirit living inside of us gives me hope of a brighter day. The Spirit through God has it all under control even in a gloomy world of brown and gray.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24 NIV)