Monday, December 31, 2012

Seeing 2012 Out and Inviting 2013 In

by Zinta Aistars

Throughout the year, I've been told that the glow of my life in 2012 shines through me. That I emanate the peace and contentment of where I am now in my life. Well, of course it does.

Who we are, what is inside us, and ultimately what we decide to keep around us, will color the moments of our every day. 2012 has been the best year of my life.

Not perfect, mind you. The best. Perfection is not something I worship or even wish to attain. Indeed, I think perfection highly overrated. It is the imperfections in our lives, after all, that keep us from becoming complacent. It is the imperfections in the people close to us that endear them to us and that challenge us to achieve our own best. It is our own imperfections that make us strive to achieve a higher level of excellence.

Yet I would be hard put to say what is missing from my life now. Happiness is, in great part, recognizing the time to say: "Enough." I have enough. And I most assuredly do.

The year is ending far from where it began, and not only in measure of time. After all, in time, a year is not much. Then again, it can be forever, and one year can change everything. I began the year content enough, eh, with several frustrations bristling and itching beneath my skin. Yet it was in December 2011 that I found that magical place one calls Home, and so I began the year knowing that great things were soon to happen. I circled this place I've come to call Z Acres, a secluded 10-acre farm with woods and rolling land and pond and fields to plant, with a history that dates back to 1832, and by March 23, 2012, I was ready to take key in hand. I unlocked the door that day as owner and stepped into my own little slice of heaven.

I did all of that on a great leap of faith. And there, exactly there, is what transformed not only this one year, but my life as it stands. I finally learned of what and how to let go and what and how to take firmly in hand. I learned how to step off the cliff and unfold my wings into soaring flight.

I learned that when you make a decision to do something that may verge on crazy if measured by convention, if you do it for the right reasons, a net will appear. The right reasons ... because it is the right thing to do ... and because you are following your bliss.

I've taken leaps based on those two reasons more than once in 2012. When I bought Z Acres, I kept my old house as rental property, and I did it while changing jobs ... that is, going out on my own, starting a business as Z Word, LLC, a writing and editing service. It was a tremendous risk, but I knew it was one I wanted and needed to take. I was declaring my independence on all sides, and it could either result in quick ruin ... or set me on the road to freedom.

I'm still smiling. The road has been lit for me at every turn. Lanterns lit by my strengthening faith and my flexing muscle of letting go of all that could hold me back. Dare I say ... it's been stunningly easy?

Yes and no. It has taken a lifetime of paying dues and learning lessons to get to this point. So no, not entirely easy. School for this has consisted of broken dreams, broken hearts, broken promises, broken wings. And yet, stunningly easy when the right moment arrived. All that I had built to this point, the jobs well done, the circle of family and friends to give support, the deadlines met, the reputation built, the demons conquered, the skills honed, the lessons learned ... all had brought me to this point, to this place in my life, when the puzzle pieces could all fall neatly into place ... and create a wonderful life, a dream at long last come true. And the freedom to fully express it.

My son and his lady Dawn

My son and my daughter on her wedding day

My daughter and her new husband
Home found, business open, what else? In 2012, I've witnessed my children each find their true loves. People who stand by them and support them, loving them for who they are and just as they are, and there for them through thick and thin. What greater joy can a mother know?

Mom and Dad, still together after 62 years
I have had the time to spend with my elderly parents, and now that I, too, have hair grown white with a life fully lived, we understand each other well, and reach compromise where we differ. One learns to accept family differences with time, and that is a great blessing. Where I chafed and bristled in youth, I now find acceptance. Life has taken its cycles nearly full turn, and now I am blessed to often provide the helping hand and care that they once gave me in my younger years. Just as it should be. Each and every time I see the two of them, my mother and my father, I feel the blessing.

Z Acres
A great part of living at Z Acres is enjoying immensely the peace and the solitude this place provides me. Ah, the quiet ... the serenity of the morning, when I start my day, faithful old chow pup walking beside me, as we daily walk the grounds, the wooded paths, the edge of the pond, the trail through the fields, up to the Cottage on the Hill, and that serenity pours over me like warm honey. And yet, when I do wish for company, I have but to look across the table to meet kind eyes.

My faithful old chow pup, Guinnez
This is life of balance. All good things in measure. Even as I have enjoyed my best year ever in all respects, I'm sure I won't be rolling in monetary wealth in the years to come, but who needs it when you already have everything? My goal is to achieve, not endless growth, but sustainability. Paying off the mortgage, pay the regular bills of maintenance, and that's all I need in the years to come.

I already heat mostly by dead wood I gather on the property, I plan to expand my vegetable garden in the coming summer to twice what it was in this first year, and I hope to bring four or five chickens to the farm in spring to provide a constant flow of fresh eggs. Since I no longer commute to work, only venture out for the occasional work assignment interview, my use of a car is minimal.

And so on. I compost, I recycle, I live a minimalist life, donating or selling belongings that no longer fit into my life. My little red farmhouse is small, just enough and no more, yet big enough that I could host a Christmas gathering in 2012 for a dozen dear people.

So I look back, and I am pleased. I am rich with blessing. And now I look forward to 2013, ready. I realize that most of my hopes and wishes in this new year are for my children, closer to the beginnings of their great journeys, making the decisions that will mold their lives to come. I wish them continued love and support  in their primary relationships. I wish them wisely chosen dreams and the courage to pursue them ... following their bliss and doing it for the right reasons ... and the wisdom of knowing what to pursue and what to let go.

I wish us all love. That heart warmth that keeps us tied together, into a supporting net of our own, catching those among us who may slip and fall, while giving others of us a place from which to climb. Family is about that: sharing our ups and downs, the good and the bad, and sustaining hope when one of us loses the strength to maintain it.

These are the things that have brought me to this contentment: faith, family, friends, and following my bliss in my work. These are the things that will keep me on course in 2013.

I wish you all a happy new year. I wish you all ... enough. I wish you all to find Home, that place that holds us, where we can send down deep roots, giving us the ability to reach as high as we have the courage to reach. I do think the world, after all, the world that we knew ... ended in 2012, and we now stand on a springboard to an era of enlightenment.

Welcome to 2013.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Holiday Wish

by Zinta Aistars

Sweet moments running through my mind all day of Christmases past, present and future.

The meaning of this holiday has often been lost and perhaps never yet fully understood, the Christian roots grafted on over the centuries, not at all based on fact (some experts say Christ was actually born in July), and in recent decades have been lost in a pursuit of gifts, Christ faded farther and farther into the distance as Santa Claus has become ever more prominent. 

Yet whatever those roots may or may not be, Christmas was surely meant to be a celebration of Love. 

Love for a higher power because we are not that, only an extension of the divine. 

Love for one another, beginning with our own families, because it is within our families that we first learn about love, and from there, extend it to others. 

Love, perhaps at its best, when offered to a stranger. 

To love without guarantee, without return, without knowing, without judging, without attachment. 

To love across lines of politics, races, genders, ethnicity, choices of lifestyle. 

To love so profoundly that we no longer talk of taking up arms, but instead open ours to one another. 

Simply to love, knowing that we are all, every one of us, with fault. 

And loving anyway. 

In the spirit of Love, wishing a merry Christmas to all of you, family, friends, friends yet to be. 

May the Spirit touch you and move you.

Christmas at Z Acres

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Like so many of us ...

by Zinta Aistars

Guinnez at the Z Acres pond, reflecting

... I, too, have been immersed in the recent tragedy of the many lives lost in the Connecticut elementary school, so many of which were very young children: 20 children, 6 adults.

Initially, I was glued to watching news on CNN, the one station that I thought most sensitive to this kind of news story, and the one station that held back naming names when the incorrect one was being bandied about, and held back on spreading yet unconfirmed news. They have done an outstanding job, and today have spent time sharing stories of the lives lost, as requested by those families, naming their names, and talking to medical experts about how to handle the days to come.

Yet, at some point, the mind and heart become overfull, and I felt the need to turn off the news and restore some measure of peace. On this rainy, warm December morning, I felt the need to get away from the news and go outdoors ... wander the fields, breathe in the fresh country air, feel that rain on my upturned face.

The old chow pup and I walked about, without any special goal in mind, and just enjoyed. I listened to the welcome silence. He wandered, nose to ground, examining the stories of the previous night, forever unknowable to me, the human.

We made our way up through the woods, to the Cottage on the Hill. There are times to be in the midst of things. There are times to distance ourselves from the noise, and seek solitude, and silence, and stillness.

Guinnez pawed at the door of the nightstand in the cottage. He knew ... there was a box of pup treats in there, and he always gets one, or three, when we go up the hill. He hopped up on the bed and snuggled up beside me as I settled in to read a book, and as he napped, his fur slightly damp against my leg, I listened to the patter of the rain on the wooden roof.

It should be snowing ...

But it wasn't. It was raining. And the rain was a steady thrumming on the roof, as if a thousand upon thousand mouse feet, scrambling across the shingles. For a while, instead of reading, I looked up and listened, and I watched the rain streak in winding rivulets down the window panes. Outside, the bare limbs of the leafless trees made sharp silhouettes against the gray sky.

Some untimed time later, we made our way down the hill again, and made a detour in our path to go by the pond. The koi were up again, interrupted in their winter hibernation at the depths of the spring-fed pond, to swarm at its surface, looking for bugs to nibble. Ah, this disorderly winter.

Their swimming movements, and the last raindrops, made ripples in the surface of the pond, circles spreading and expanding and overlapping each other, blending into larger circles. Guinnez lapped at the cold water and I watched the fish.

He lay down in the wet grass while I gathered up a few pine cones beneath the old pines. These would do for kindling, and when we would return to the red farmhouse, I planned to start a fire in the wood stove. Even though it is a Sunday, there is work to be done, pending deadlines, and I would settle in by the lit-up Christmas tree and do more writing.

It's a good life. Not a day passes that I don't count this blessing. To be here, in the midst of this beauty in any season, this place that embraces with sanity when the world out there bristles with the repercussions of insanity.

We must find our way back to serenity. Step back from the noise until we can hear our own heartbeats again. Until what is buried deep in those murky ponds surfaces again, flashes just beneath the surface, and is released ... safely, acknowledged, processed, released.

I have not given up hope. I won't give it up. Nothing will change until we change. I firmly believe pain escalates until it gets our attention, and until we give it its due, learn the lesson and make the change that pain demands.

We have some great changes to make, and we all know it. There are times to seek solitude, and a quiet meditation, but there are times, too, that we must come together as a community. Not to point fingers in blame, but to talk about solutions that we can accomplish together.

I would like to see treatment for mental health issues become more easily accessible, and the stigma for seeking that care removed, especially for the male gender. It takes courage and strength to seek out help.

I would like to see gun control. Take the politics (and the lobbyists) out of that discussion. Put the human beings in. We regulate most everything else, why not guns? What possible use is there for assault weapons? Journalist Nicholas Kristof has written an excellent column about this that should give us all pause for serious thought.

Our conversations should center instead on community-building. On decreasing the exposure we have in our everyday lives to violence. Movies, video games ... and we really think our youth won't be desensitized to the idea of picking up weapons and pointing them at others?

These should be the beginnings of many extended conversations. Just the beginnings. Let us honor the losses, and then let's make the changes. Until we change, nothing around us will. It would make a profound Christmas gift to humankind.

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
~Martin Luther King Jr

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Two consumed by fire set the community alight

Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media

Michelle Johnson (Photo by Erik Holladay at

Two consumed by fire set the community alight

It takes Fuel to feed Fire. Denise Miller and Michelle Johnson have worked out what's needed to keep the nonprofit Fire going. They talk to Zinta Aistars about what's at the heart of the many works they do across Kalamazoo.

Denise Miller and Michelle Johnson do far more than just nurture the arts in Kalamazoo. These two are on Fire. That's, Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, located in an old firehouse at 1249 Portage Road, with a reach that embraces the greater community and beyond, and beyond, and beyond.

Michelle Johnson is not kidding when, with a grin and a shrug, she says of their collaboration, "I've been known to do the laundry."  What Johnson and Miller do is a laundry list of good deeds and efforts, organizations branching off businesses, nonprofits paralleling profitable endeavors.
Fire is: art gallery, poetry showcase, Creative Justice Press, culinary arts program, catering service, WFCR radio, Youth Creative Productions. Spitfire Improv, Readers' Theater, and Poet's Society are coming soon. Their focus is on ...

Read the full article at SW Michigan's Second Wave.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Opening of Doors at Z Acres

Photography by Zinta Aistars



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cottage on the Hill: Featured on Tiny House Blog!

by Zinta Aistars
Published on Tiny House Blog, Nov. 26, 2012

I’ve long enjoyed Tiny House Blog, admiring the philosophy and the tiny houses featured on this popular site about living simply and small. In March 2012, I moved to a 100+ year old farmhouse in southwest Michigan on 10 acres, my dream come true, sweeter still because it had a tiny cottage on a wooded hill.

This fall, I weatherized the cottage, added a small deck, an outhouse, painted it inside, furnished it, creating a writer’s retreat. With its quirky angles and mismatched windows, it’s been likened to a place from a Tim Burton movie, or from Dr. Seuss. No two windows match, each are at a different height. It’s approximately 120 sq. feet on the main floor, 80 sq. feet on the upper floor...

Visit TINY HOUSE BLOG to read the rest of this story and view photos of my own Cottage on the Hill, on Z Acres, now available as a writer's and artist's retreat.

Learn more about visiting and staying at the Cottage on the Hill.

Cottage on the Hill on a foggy November morning