Category Archives: Our Town

Welcome II

I have decided to add to this web site my short stories I’ve written so far.   Looking for lots of feedback here, people — mainly, would you buy this or short stories like this? Why or why not?


Chinese Language Attracts Younger Fans in Small U.S. Town

Xinhua News Agency’s Houston Bureau learned of a primary school in Stafford, Texas, that begins teaching a Chinese language in kindergarten to enthusiastic pupils, and assigned me to do the English version of the story which ran Feb. 10, 2012.  As I only know one word in Chinese — Xinhua — I was suitably impressed with these remarkable children, their teacher and the school administrator who spearheaded the program.

HOUSTON, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) — Six-year-old Derrick Hill is eager to learn new words in Chinese during his dual language course at a primary school in Texas state. The Hispanic-origin boy now starts teaching his mom and dad Chinese at home.

Hill is not the only pupil fascinated by the Chinese language at Stafford Primary School, which is the only school in Texas offering English-Chinese dual language classes to kindergarten and first-grade pupils.

As the world becomes more integrated and China emerges as an economic powerhouse, Stafford Primary, the small town elementary school is ambitious to envisage its pupils a brighter future by teaching them one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

“Bilingual education starts here,” said Kim Vu, 43, principal of Stafford Primary School, who spearheaded the dual language classes in 2010 and implemented it last year.


Dionysus Theatre, my new job (and honor)

Have I mentioned that I am employed?  By angels?

No kidding.  After a year and a half of unemployment, religiously sending out hundreds of resumes that seem to have all turned into smoke signals and evaporated,  I am proud to announce that I am a working gal again, albeit on a part-tine basis.

For a small part of the week, I get to publicize and get news out about one of the truly great theaters in the world, Dionysus Theatre in Houston, Tx., the only theater in the Lone Star State that includes actors with disabilities alongside able-bodied actors.

There is no need to “spin” anything.  The truth of this little theater and its mission of inclusion, that it takes people with visible and hidden disabilities from the shadows to the spotlight –where they shine — makes this job a privilege.

I’ve only done publicity on one show so far, and already this is my favorite job of my entire life.  Thank you, all those people in my former job who decided that I was to be included in the 200 people laid off in March 2009, for making this possible.   Really.

These are the most talented people I’ve ever had the joy of working with.  Under the guidance of Deb Nowinski, who founded the theater 12 years ago, the best is brought forward in her actors and in her staff and in her audiences.  It’s amazing to watch this theater’s motto come to life:  “Saving Lives One Act at a Time.”

Next up is a “sampler” of what Dionysus Theatre does, a free meet-and-greet beginning at 7 p.m. at the Joe Frank Theater (space Dionysus Theatre rents from the Jewish Community Center, 5601 S. Braeswood. The casts of the past four productions that constituted the main theater’s, youth theater’s and touring troupe’s 12th season, will offer highlights from each show that paid homage to communities of differences — the autistic in Autistic License, the deaf in Children of a Lesser God, developmentally disabled in “The Boys Next Door” and the foibles of childhood in the musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

I hope everyone who is interested in entertainment, education, inclusion  and just having a good time on a Thursday evening will come out on Sept. 2 and meet this inspiring group of actors, directors and supporters, old and new.

I am working with angels.  I never really believed in angels before, but I have to now that I’m actually seeing them on a fairly regular basis.  Head angel is Deb, a fiery red-head who turns disabled people from introverted, shy people who have learned to stay in the margins of life, into stars. She’s a miracle worker.

This company will again drum up support during its 4th gala for supporters on Cct. 16 at the Mariott Hotel in Houston.  Come eat, bid on fantastic prizes at the silent and live auctions, and have a good time while supporting this excellent nonprofit theater.

The gala’s theme will be “Building on a Dream” to note that this theater company is looking for a permanent home.  Renting from the JCC is great, but Dionysus — a god who had a clubbed foot, did you know that? — needs his own digs.

Anybody have a theater for sale — or space that would lend itself to being built out as a theater — in Houston?

Another anti-war blog

On this anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, it’s a pair of eyes I remember.  Aged, greyish white eyes without pupils, unnerving to view.  From their side, they had seen nothing since the old woman who possessed them was a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

She was walking in a field just outside Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, when the bomb fell. The blast was the last vision  she saw on this earth.

She was my landlady in the mid-1970s in Japan, where I was stationed with the U.S. Navy in Yokosuka and assigned to the public affairs office to write press releases for the base newspaper, Pacific Stars and Stripes, the Far East Network broadcast services and All Hands magazine.

She asked me to call her “Mama-san,” as she thought that would be easier for me, since her real name was unpronounceable to Americans she met.

She rented to me and to Americans before me a home in Zushi with a thatched roof, tatami mat floors and rice-paper walls that overlooked the Sea of Japan.  It has always remained my favorite of all the houses and apartments I have called home.

I asked her why, given her blindness from the bomb, she didn’t resent Americans and why she liked to rent to us.. She said we were friendly and laughed a lot.

She also liked the fact that we supplied the arms umbrella agreement to defend Japan in the event of its attack, the Status of Armed Forces Agreement.

Mama-san was a very practical lady.

She clearly remembered that blast, the screams of the dying, the smells of decay from too many corpses and animals for the small remaining workforce to burn quickly enough.  She didn’t talk about the days afterward, a newly blind orphan finding her way among the bodies and flattened buildings.

She believed, like the pilot of the Enola Gay that dropped the bomb, Floyd Tibbets, and his bombadier that day, that the atomic bomb that had also helped to end the war.

Japan’s major fleets and its airforce had been defeated, its military down to sending small children to pilot kamakaze flights, their feet strapped to books to enable them to reach the aircraft’s pedals, but I’ll take Mama-san’s word..

It seems a moot point when visiting the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, which catalogs the bombing second by second, minute by minute, then the hideous horror in the day-by-day aftermath.

Samples of radiated skin from the days that followed are under glasss, day 1, day 2, day 3, etc., are carefully preserved, alongside curled school books still bound with the belt of a child who was toting them. 

Then there’s the ouline of a family literally burned onto a wall, a husband and wife apparently trying to shield a baby when they were incinerated on the spot.  The outline, like chalk that surrounds a corpse at a murder scene, was the only trace left of them.

Mama-san’s entire family — her parents and siblings — all died in the blast.

In the 1970s when I knew her, just more than 30 years since the mushroom cloud rose over her childhood home, she told me she was glad the U.S. picked up the tab for Japan’s defense.  Her taxes, she said, included only a few dollars for defense compared with what U.S. citizens paid to keep Japan a less-than-desirable target again.

She was glad that Japan, under the terms of the treaty, would not build more than a token military.

I would gladly pay, if I could, to keep such a horror from happening, as would anyone who has ever visited Hiroshima, where all the businesses, streets and infrastructure — everything — are less than 70 years old.

Except for the burned-out shell of the building in the blast’s epicenter and a few old-timers of Hiroshima’s civilian population, people who still have sores that have never healed and never will, and radiated ground that left succeeding generations in ill health, everything is relatively and uncomfortably new.

War is hell, somebody said.

Despite  her practicality and her smiles as she sightlessly served me tea in flowing robes that hid her burned body, Mama-san knows that to be a true assessment.

Stardom does not fall lightly

It’s been a bleak week, still no job, IRS audit and now, Texas Workforce Commission has my unemployment checks on hold, asking me to call them at a special number where no one answers. (I know, because I’ve hit redial several thousand times today since 8 a.m. I know the sound of the busy signal better than the beat of my own heart. I think it’s B-flat).

So imagine my surprise when I took a break from redialing to give my poor numb finger a rest, and checked my e-mail to find that I am a blogging star!

While I may have only a modest 60-something visitors as my high point since March (apprently, a lot of ya’ll liked the vitriolic Piece of Cake and depair-driven Bulgaria or Jacksonville the best), one of those visitors is Jacob Peebles, the main man behind a web site for freelance writers, Get Freelance Journalistm Jobs, or

He quotes me on that site from when I started this blog in March aboutwhat I intended to do on it:

“My favorite blog right now — and the bane of my existence — is my new blog, Betty Martin, Writer. As planned, it is to have Our Town features about Houston, as well as things about writing and media, plus remedies for all of mankind’s problems, Betty Lou Saves the World.”

I couldn’t be more thrilled about being a Featured Blogger if the New York Times sent me roses. Well, not much more delighted,  anyway.

And all Jacob Peebles asked in return was that I post his web site address — somewhere on my page.

Hey, Mr. Peebles. does this work for you?

As for fame, I would like to thank all the little people in life who have made this possible, beginning with the dear Hearst Corporation and the Houston Chronicle, without whose layoffs the page “betty martin, writer” could never have happened, much less risen to such acclaim.

And of course, no awards speech would be complete without giving tribute to my mom — and God. My mom has always been steadfast in her love and hope for me. The Almighty, not so much.

But I thank you. Thank you all. You have shown, through your visits and kind comments that even a gal raised near Denver Harbor, then Telephone Road, then Reed Road, then getting expelled from colleges across the state, then in the Navy in Japan and Hawaii and Italy, then winning awards at newspapers and magazines across the United States until Hearst decides to cut 200 people last March, can make good.

God Bless America!

Ode to the CPA

When dinossaurs and I ran around Texas college campuses in granny dresses and fringed leather vests, searching for meaning behind the words of Vonnegut , Lennon and Dylan, my nightmare was that one day, I’d wake up to find myself in suburbia with the average 2.3 children,  member of a civic association and married to a certified public accountant.

Forty years later, 2009 happened.  The year’s horrible events so far have quickly put things into perspective.  I am now fully aware that being a middle-class American — even a calculator-pushing accountant —  isn’t the worst of all possible outcomes.  In fact, a former and current CPA, along with my supportive former coworkers, have been my lifelines as I continue my freelance work and search fof a real job.

Let us review: 

January:  2009 — or as I now call it, the Cursed Year from Hell –begins.

February:  I turned 60, an event that all by itself is proof of life’s injustices.

Mid-March:  My cat, Elmo, dies after 16 years as my foot-warmer and best feline friend, leaving me haunted and reaching down to pet thin air.   One week later, my wheelchair-bound mama gets an intestinal ailment and is rushed to the hospital, the first of three home-hospital-nursing home cycles. 

March 24:  “Black Tuesday”:  I ‘m called into an office and told that I am  laid off from the Houston Chronicle, along with 200 other loyal, dedicated, brilliant reporters, editors, clerks, pressmen and other jobs that enhanced the sixth largest newspaper in the U.S..  It isn’t our fault, the human resources counselor says, but  due to the economy, drops in circulation and advertising. 

April: Spent in shock and anger (see entry for March 24) except for a photographer friend and former CPA who sets up this blog for me and single-handedly forces me to start freelancing as a writer/reporter for hire.  My sisters, who worship at the alter of Martha Stewart, tell me now — at the very moment I have lost my job, income and identity —  that I am doomed to a failed life of chaos  as long as I remain a messy housekeeper. We part ways in a manner that a sit-down over vodka sodas, even with Joni Mitchell on the stereo, won’t fix.

May:   I continue to send out resumes and samples of my work — news and feature stories published under my byline — like little messages in bottles tossed onto the ocean, with as much result.   I also learn that journalism has changed to “citizen journalists” who write for peanuts from all over the world, even places where peanuts make up major banquets. 

June:   Just as I am thinking that life cannot possibly get any worse, I receive a letter from  IRS, informing me that I owe back taxes for the past three years.  It seems that I wasn’t supposed to use the E-Z form, the only one I know how to use, because it didn’t include spaces for me to declare the pittance–per-month royalties from a 1/36th interest in an oil and gas well (a bequest from a great-aunt who mistakenly thought she was spreading joy with this gift)

It was at this point that my photographer-former accountant friend suggested I find a current CPA, and so I discovered the world of Maximilano Jambrina on Westcott Avenue,.  I simply asked them to help me fill out the more-complex tax form — the 1040A, but instead, they made magic.

They re-submitted all three years of my taxes, actually itemizing things, a feat I had never accomplished in this lifetime so far..

In what has been the first damn good thing to happen so far this year, they told me that I don’t owe the IRS money, they now — as accountant Brandon-something figured — will be sending me a check for a hefty chunk of change, more than my freelance career has provided thus far.

I now love CPAs..  I wouldn’t mind waking up and finding out I was married to the entire team at that firm. Especially  Maximilano Jambrina, the most gorgeous CPA, with the sexiest accent in the entire world.  (He can make “Thank you for your business” sound like pillow talk).

Brandon also told me that if I did have to move to Bulgaria or somewhere where living is inexpensive,  there could be tax breaks ahead on my U.S. returns.

Isn’t that cute?

I never would have guessed that the one bright spot of 2009 — so far — would be brought by CPAs, a much more creative, imaginative bunch of folks — artists, even, with beautiful souls beneath those button-down shirts — than I would ever have guessed.

Love and peace to you, too,  guys!

It Came From… Home

We were wrong in the ’50s. It wouldn’t come from the Black Lagoon or Outer Space, although it would be coated in slime.

The menace taking over the world and terrifying the bejeezus out of everybody is the hate-monger with a gun. 

Lately, it seems like we have more than our share on our blue planet.

Not that our world wasn’t scary enough already,  just from its hate-mongering leaders.

But while we were waiting to see if Dear Leader Kim Jong Il will really set off his promised nukes, or if the Iranian guy will keep office for four more years, Abdulhakim Muhammad, a home-grown convert to Islam, shot up a stateside recruiting station on June 1.

Nine days later, James von Brunn, a senior citizen of 88 and a convicted felon who had already served time for hate crimes, declared open warfare at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.

What I’d like to know  is where — when — why — how did these shooters certify to purchase and carry deadly weapons?  What gun salesman looked into the faces of these guys and said, Ok, I think we can simply skip the background check or waiting period here.

I’d like to know the same thing about Scott Roeder, who shot and killed Dr. George Tiller in a Lutheran church two weeks ago.  Or Richard Poplawski, 22, the guy with the high-powered rifle who shot three Pittsburgh police officers to death in April.

How did these guys get such weapons when they, like Brunn, were being watched for posting and spewing racial calls for murder on web sites for stupid white supremacists — people who, in my opinion, have good reason to lack self-esteem.

 The Anti-Defamation League has said that Poplawski believed Jews ran the world and that President Obama was going to enact stricter gun control — laws that would, heaven forbid, take the handguns, rifles and assault weaponry from the hands of the people like him.

His actions took the gun — and the life — away from 23-year-old William Andrew Long, an Army private who was visiting the recuiting station after just completing his basic training.

People may acknowledge the white supremacist crowd for the terrorists they are, just as many believe the more radical proponents of Islam are similar nut jobs.  Why, then, are we so blithely content with them that we keep giving these people guns?

We don’t need to wait for Dr. X, the Blob, the Invisible Man or other creature bearing warnings from six decades ago — films made after the atom bomb radiated Hiroshima.  Those celluloid warnings were a reaction against the consequences of playing with weapons we don’t understand, which seems to be everything from a .22 Saturday Night Special to the people-vaporizing, skin-shredding, city-nullifying mushroom cloud.

Were they alive to tell the tale, I’m sure the 16,000 Americans shot by other Americans each year would understand perfectly the need for more gun restrictions.  At least as far as keeping them out of the hands of hate-sliming crazy people.

We as a people in this country keep sending our quarters and dimes to what we’ve made into one of the biggest lobbies in the land, the National Rifle Association.

‘Cause after all,  we’re the good guys.