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Friday
Mar272015

Art imitates books or why Don Juan is a square

You heard it here first. DON JUAN, the most notorious womanizer in the history of Western Civilization (not even Tom Jones on his best day is a close second), is a square.

Let me 'splain.

Or better yet take a look:

I work at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr. I'm heading up a committee as part of the centennial celebration for a community engagement art project called Bears & Squares. While I am good at project management, I am not exactly known for my visual artistry. I must say that as a former schoolteacher, I can do a heck of a bulletin board. Since I have been asking students, faculty, staff, and alumni to do a Centennial Square, I thought I'd try my hand at it myself. 

Basically, this is a 10 x 10 gessoed panel that I decoupaged with my book cover, tea-stained pages from the book, coffee-stained paper doilies, and little stencils.

Here's the impetus behind my design. You may know that Don Juan or Don Giovanni as he is known in the opera world is a Spanish libertine. Don Giovanni, Mozart's most acclaimed opera, is set in Seville. So, I stained one of the doiles black to look like a mantilla. Then I added some bric-a-brac which reminded me of a wrought-iron Spanish balcony:

There's a famous balcony scene in Don Giovanni, which inspired my little bric-a-brac, which is supposed to be used for scrapbooking, I think.Then I added some eighth notes since there's tons of musical references in DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA.

It was great fun to do. Very cathartic. Months of stress melted away as I placed the elements on the prepared square and eventually stood back to admire my artistry. It I plan to do squares for each of my books and then display them at home or in my office.

So, that's the story of how DON JUAN became a square. You know what that means, don't you? Tom Jones is destined to become a square, too, which I'm certain legions of fans would say is inconceivable.

 

Sunday
Mar222015

I've flipped for "Flea Market Flip"

Because I am such a fan of story and storytelling, I came late in life to watching reality shows like the ones on HGTV. My very favorite is "Flea Market Flip." Love, love, love it.

When I used to teach school and had my summers off, I did a little flipping myself. I got some furniture from Bill's Aunt Ruthie. Since it had good bones but the finish was a little tired. I decided to flip the whole schmeer and use it in my living room.

 

So, I started with this dresser, which is kiddie-sized. For all the pieces in this collection, I added a few layers of paint (red and green) before painting it cream-colored and then sanded it down for a distressed look. Then I stenciled, antiqued, and painted a varnish on it.

I use this as an end table in my living room. We don't use the checkerboard on it, but we could. It is functional. Usually there is a little lamp on it and Bill's iPad.

The other end table is useful, but I didn't take enough time and care to prepare the surface before painting. So, I learned a lot with that particular piece. Take the finish down to the most primitive state you can before repainting.

I haven't done any furniture since I pursued writing as a hobby, so I vicariously flip by watching "Flea Market Flip." I am preparing for a burst of refinishing, collecting ideas.

The flippers on "Flea" are ingenious. Just look what one team did with mason jars:

This is my absolute favorite flip I have ever seen on the show. One team took six mason jars and turned it into a lighting fixture. Just love it.

Here are the before and after photos of the project from the HGTV site:

And here is the lighting fixture one resourceful flipping team made from it:

'

There lots of inspiration on HGTV. Lots to learn. I plan on upping my game, learning more, and also adding 8 extra hours to my day by not sleeping. Only nine years until retirement!

Saturday
Mar142015

More Boo-boo than Yogi (but I'm trying)

 

"Project Yoga Richmond 1" by Eli Christman - https://www.flickr.com/photos/gammaman/7170043719/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Project_Yoga_Richmond_1.jpg#/media/File:Project_Yoga_Richmond_1.jpg

True confessions. In my 20s, I was bored to death with the idea of starting a yoga practice. Exercise was supposed to make your heart pound. Get you good and sweaty, until all you wanted to do was douse your head and chest with water to cool down. So, I jogged. I did aerobics. I did step aerobics. Still no yoga.

I regret that I didn't give yoga another try in my 30s after I gave birth. But I was trying to get that maternity body back in shape. So I did fitness walking and enjoyed it immensely.

In the meantime, I developed arthritis in my back and my knees. I dislocated my right shoulder and my rotator cuff has lingering damage since I tumbled off a ladder while painting a set.

Last year, my physical therapist offered a few yoga sessions while she was on winter break at our local Curves. I didn't perform very well since I wasn't fluent with the various movements--up dog, down dog, tree pose, triangle pose, child's pose. More Boo-boo Bear than Yogi, but I tried.

Later that year, I visited my daughter in Vermont and she introduced me to Lesley Fightmaster's yoga videos on YouTube. The fact that I could do a yoga routine when it suited my schedule and not have to run out to a class was so convenient, there were absolutely no barriers to participation. So shortly before the new year, I began my first serious yoga practice.

At the risk of exposing myself as the only woman in American waiting until midlife to embark on a yoga practice, I have gained so much value out of yoga that it was worth embarrassing myself to share the video I started with:

 

Don't be put off by the oxymoronic vibe of Fightmaster and yoga. Lesley's a kind and patient tutor if you don't mind her getting a little New Agey on you.

I have grown so much by doing this yoga routine 3 to 4x a week. More flexibility, more confidence, more strength in my back (for carrying groceries), and have become more in touch with my body. Truth is that my middle aged body and I had gotten out of touch kind of like a pair of close friends from high school who are no longer BFFs. Yoga is bringing me back into a necessary understanding of what my body can and can't do and what I need to encourage it to do more of.

Why not give it a try? You have nothing to lose but a little of your pride until you know what you are doing and all to gain by becoming reacquainted with your body. I can *almost* touch my knee to my nose, and it makes me feel 20 years younger.

Saturday
Feb072015

Learning to Let Go of My Mistakes with an Online Game

When I was 20, I landed a leading role with a community theater group. On opening night, near the close of the second act, I couldn’t find the slit in the drop curtain through which I supposed to emerge, to belt out my final, gut-wrenching number. After what seemed like hours of searching, I stumbled through the black glittering morass and finished the show, though I was convinced the audience was laughing at me. Despite the healthy applause. Despite several great reviews.

For years after, I was haunted by frequent thoughts and even nightmares about 1,200 people snickering at my clumsy entrance on a night when I needed to be perfect. All while getting my first high school teaching job, getting married, and starting a family. 

I was a normal young woman in every other respect. Sure, I had my ups and downs and emotional trials. I suffered a bout of depression after miscarrying my first child, but it’s not like I had ever been diagnosed with extreme mental illness like paranoia. Then again, I'd never told my therapist that I routinely chewed on every mistake I’d made as an adult. I thought everyone held onto them to the extent that I did. I was soon to learn that I was consumed with guilt about nearly inconsequential things far longer than was reasonable or constructive—certainly eons longer than men.

“They asked men and women what was the worst professional mistake they'd ever made and how long they dwelled on it,” said Mary Beth, my first and best professional mentor, who hired me when I was 38-years-old. She’d become a senior college administrator at a time when it was a white man’s province, especially in private higher education. She regularly read books for professional development, including one about women competing with men. “Men said they felt bad about their mistakes for three days. Women said they felt intense guilt about their mistakes for three months,” she concluded.

Men didn’t feel equally guilty as women for as long as women? This was a revelation to me. In fact, the news was so hard for me to process, it took nearly twenty more years to assimilate it. 

But I get it now. I have tangible proof that holding onto your mistakes interferes with your ability to do your next task at work, even in life—thanks to about 50 little lavender, hot pink, and neon green trains.

This Lumosity game is supposed to improve your ability to divide your attention but offers other value-add for me

About two years ago, feeling blindsided by menopausal mental fog, I subscribed to an online brain game service and started cognitive workouts regularly. One of their newer games called “Train of Thought” intrigued me, partly because I’d become a daily commuter on Amtrak and because I became really good at "Train," quickly maxing out at Level 14.

The way the game works is that I have to switch tracks so that a certain color train enters the station with the matching color. The better I do, the faster the trains come at me, and the higher the level I obtain. However, if I make a mistake with one train, I need to forget about it instantaneously to send the next train into the correct color-coded station or I’ll compound the situation and wind up with a string of misses and a crummy score.

Every day I ride Amtrak with a smart young woman who betters me in many ways. At age 30, she is fitter, faster, more athletic, and more tech- and social media savvy than me. I shared “Train of Thought” with her and, because she outshines me frequently, she thought she could whoop my ass at this game, too.

Within a couple of tries, I expected that she’d beat my top score—sending 46 out 50 trains to the right stations. After playing a few times, she gave up on the game because she couldn’t beat me.

“Please don’t think about the trains you messed up. Just concentrate on getting the next train right. Keep trying. Don't give up,” I coached, to no avail.

That may be a lesson she’ll have to learn over time like I did, though I’m hopeful it won’t take her decades like it did me. I care about her and want her to reach her potential and realize all the wonderful things she is capable of. 

I have a 26-year-old daughter, a college graduate now living on her own. Like my commuting friend and how many other talented young women, she can become consumed with what she did wrong rather than celebrating and building on what she did right.

Dwelling on your mistakes is a personally and professionally crippling habit of mind. It may take therapy, a book, or even an online brain game to help women and men learn that life lesson, but it’s one we need to learn, one that I learned at 56-years-young, and one that can never be learned too late.  

Saturday
Sep202014

Don't arm teachers, for god's sake!

Recently the local news did a story on a bill in the Pennsylvania Senate that would allow local school districts to decide whether teachers and other staff should be allowed to carry a weapon for protection.

This is a dangerous and ill-conceived idea. Why so many people think that the answer to ending school shootings is to provide more guns absolutely confounds me.

I taught in private and public schools for 10 years. I experienced many joys during my teaching career, no doubt. But some of my most profound professional disappointments also occurred during the years I taught school as well. That includes moments when I became unhinged, if I am being completely honest.

For the love of everything sacred, don't arm teachers. More guns means more senseless shootings, not less.

For one thing, what does the teacher do with her gun all day. Go through the school day packing? Lock it in her desk drawer? Use it as a starting pistol at track practice?

Teaching middle schoolers can be uncommonly stressful, for another. Students can enrage you. Parents, sometimes stressed beyond their limits, can insult you and reproach you when you least expect it, storming into your classroom when their child doesn't get the lead in the school play. Colleagues can undermine you and make you angry.  

More guns make for a more dangerous working environment, not a safer one.

If you must have guns on school premises, leave them in the hands of trained law-enforcement professionals and keep them out of the hands of classroom teachers.

If this movement to have more guns on school premises isn't the greatest recruiting message for Mennonite-run schools such as Lancaster Mennonite (the Mennonites are a peace-loving faith), for whom guns and armed officers would be anathema, then I don't know what is.