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

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Smoking Poet Talks to Authors - You?

One of our readers' favorite features—as well as ours!—is our author interviews. In 2013, we plan to expand on this feature and offer more interviews, introducing our readers to talented authors.
Perhaps you have a favorite author and you want to know more about that author. Or, maybe you've never heard of a new rising star in the literary world, and we can introduce you to new reading pleasure. Our interviews are with both established and new authors of note. Browse our current issue or our archived issues to find more author interviews.
To be featured in our author interviews, The Smoking Poet requires a review copy of the most recent book by the author. A Q&A interview will cost 200.00, to be paid through PayPal prior to the interview being emailed to you. A book review will be added at no cost.
Please note that placing an author interview in The Smoking Poet does not guarantee a positive book review. We write our reviews with as an objective perspective as possible, and it is based on the reviewer's opinion only, not the publication's.
An author interview will appear in The Smoking Poet within TWO issues from the time of receipt of payment and review copy of the book. The Smoking Poet is a quarterly publication, but we add in reviews throughout the season of the issue.
To help get the good word to more readers, we use social media, including our fan book on Facebook and Twitter. We also use platforms at Redroom and LinkedIn and various other sites to promote our publication. Editor-in-Chief Zinta Aistars posts her book reviews at Zinta Reviews and Amazon and Goodreads.
To learn more about our author interviews or to request a mailing address for your review copy, contact .
Previous feature authors and artists have included Aberjhani, Jeff Abshear, Sherry Ackerman, Viestarts Aistars, Katie Alvord, Shaindel Beers, Eleanor Bennett, Olga Bonfiglio, Traci Brimhall, Kate Buckley, Derick Burleson, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Rick Chambers, Kurt Cobb, Tish Cohen, William Doreski, Michael Dunn, Stuart Dybek, Pamela Erens, Judith Fein, Holly Friesen, Ed Gray (jikiwe), Michael Loyd Gray, Gail Griffin, Hedy Habra, Ladislav Hanka, Deborah Henry, Jeanne Hess, Conrad Hilberry, Ingrid Hill, Laura Kasischke, Jen Knox, Kip Kreiling, Dorianne Laux, Paul Levinson, Margo McCafferty, Daiva Markelis, Lori A. May, Sue Miller, Agate Nesaule, Nicolette Hahn Niman, Harry Owen, Marge Piercy, Ed Rode, Jothy Rosenberg, Russell Rowland, Tom Rudd, Sniedze Rungis, James Sanford, Laimdota Sele, David Small, Dominic Smith, Brent Spink, t. kilgore splake, Joannie Stangeland, Lynn Stegner, Diane Seuss, Marjory Heath Wentworth, Lori Williams, and a long, lustrous list of talented writers and poets.
Upcoming author interviews:
Juris Jurjevics, author of Red Flags and The Trudeau Vector
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of The Watch

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kids help kids through WAR International crayon collection

by Zinta Aistars for, Advance News
November 16, 2012

They are called the Fantastic 5s. Twenty-three children, all 5 years old, attend Laura Crump's class at Cross Creek Charter Academy, 7701 Kalamazoo Ave. SE in Byron Center, and they are busy learning, broken crayons in hand.

Like most children, the Fantastic 5s like to color. But they learn even more when they give their crayons away.

Outside of the classroom door is a large bin. As the kids come into class, they drop crayons in. Broken or worn down to stubs – it doesn't matter, in they go. All colors. When the bin is full, another group of students, 23 sixth-graders taught by Yesenia Baker, collect the bin and take the crayons to another classroom to strip off the paper labels and sort them by color.

Piles and piles of sorted crayons eventually make their way to ...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON MLIVE.COM to learn more about the kids and more about Women at Risk, or WAR, International, an organization helping women and children at risk across the globe, and fighting human trafficking. It's important.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Believing in pockets of green champions

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media (Grand Rapids, MI)
November 15, 2012

Brett Little (Photography by Adam Bird,

"Brett Little, administrative director of Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, doesn't just think green at work. He also made sure he lived in a green home, and spends his days making intentional choices with reducing his carbon footprint in mind." 

Order up a coffee at Starbucks and you might expect a shot of cream. But a shot of green? Exactly what Brett Little got in his mug. A college kid working on his associate's degree at Baker College in Flint, he was making a buck as a barista, but he was also getting some education – from that same mug.
"We were using organic milk, soy milk, Fair Trades," he says. "So I started to wonder. You could say an awareness was born. That's how I learned about climate change." He helped develop a recycling program, reduced water and electricity usage, and used green cleaning methods at the Starbucks branch.
One heck of a cup of coffee. While Little was ...


(I love doing these green stories. Brett is one of the good guys in my book. We need many, many, many more like him.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Drum roll: The Smoking Poet's Fall/Winter 2012-13 Issue #23!

Off the Bus by Jeff Abshear
"Words that turn the page to flame."

If ever there has been a test of my love for The Smoking Poet, these past few months have been that test. The intended fall issue of 2012 has become a two-season issue of fall and winter. In August, as we neared the fall issue deadline, I started my own business, a writing and editing service called Z Word, LLC, also the "mother ship" of The Smoking Poet. After nearly seven years of publication, I was making this thing legit.
Good, right? Smoking hot, even! Only the work started to pour in faster than I would have ever expected. To add to the fun, I also became a news reporter for a local paper. That, along with writing for various magazines, ad agencies and non-profit and profit organizations, editing manuscripts, I soon found myself working seven days a week, often 10, even 12, sometimes even more hours in a day.
Good, right?
You bet. It's a wonderful problem to have. I am having the time of my life! Only guess what got bumped to the back burner? You got it: The Smoking Poet. Relying on myself and only myself to get the bills paid, I had to put deadlines first. After all, this magazine is in my expense column, not income. Every month, I pay fees to keep it online, for web hosting, and you'd be surprised how many hours go into reading submissions and creating a website and all the work that goes between.
Should I let this sweet thing die? I've asked myself that question before. Yet I keep coming back to it. Why? You. You, the readers, you, the writers, you, the supporters of the arts.
If any of you find it in your heart—and wallet—to spare even a few dollars to donate to this ongoing effort to showcase the finest in literature and visual arts, we at The Smoking Poet would greatly, oh greatly appreciate it. My new business accountant would also stop looking at me like I've lost my mind, too.
But even if you are just one of our silent fans, know that you are appreciated, too. As we publish a new issue, we watch those hits to our site soar, and that tells us that you appreciate our efforts, too. It's not easy being a creative artist. But it is necessary to many of us.
I hope you enjoy the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, novel excerpt and book reviews in this issue. Our poetry editor, Joannie Stangeland, has even added a piece about making wine—because we all know poetry goes well with a glass of wine.
Spend some time getting to know our feature authors: Jeanne Hess, Hedy Habra, Deborah Henry, and our feature artist, Jeff Abshear, whose work graces our pages. Stop by A Good Cause and find out why it is. You'll find surprising and thoughtful insights there about atheism and Christianity, and a pharmacist creating cosmetics.  
Let's keep writing, shall we? Let's keep the arts flowing. We add so much color to this otherwise gray world.
With a good word,
Zinta Aistars

Monday, November 05, 2012

Taking the moment, mastering time

by Zinta Aistars

Rolling out of bed with a shiver, I check my schedule on my phone calendar on my way downstairs to the kitchen. I have a couple of hours. But the day is exceedingly full, including a trip south into Kalamazoo, to collect a couple of new assignments at the college, later a trip north to the 'burb of Wyoming, to attend a city council meeting. Between, I have to finish an article, deadline tomorrow noon, and schedule three interviews and photo shoots for this week's news stories in Advance, a local paper for which I am now, among my many other gigs, a news reporter. And I have to prepare for a business trip cross-state end of this week.

Was life supposed to get any less busy as a freelancer? Quite the opposite. It's Monday morning, however, and as humming as this schedule is, I am feeling the blessing. I am in the beginning of my fourth month as creative director, writer/editor for my own business, Z Word, LLC, and I am working at it seven days a week, often late into the night, and boy howdy, am I enjoying it! It's Monday, and I love my job.

That's everything. Almost. The rest, I have to work to preserve in my life. I am also in my eighth month of living on this 10-acre old farm in southwest Michigan, and I have now experienced all four seasons. I don't want to miss any of that. With my calendar full like this, I sometimes come up for air and realize I haven't ventured outside yet. I am leaning over my keyboard, cranking out sometimes five articles per day, old chow pup curled up at my feet (how he loves that I now work from home!), and I will suddenly remember that I have to look UP, I have to look OUT, I have to stretch my bones and work some muscle other than the one inside my skull.

There's a deep frost out there this Monday morning. I laugh, yes, out loud, when I realize how I look to no one's eyes as I head out back, chow pup beside me again, camera in hand, taking in the beauty of this transitional season. I am in my blue bath robe and brown fuzzy socks and blue woolen scarf and brown coat and clogs. I must be a sight.

But that is part of my job of living here, one of the greater parts. I live as I live, I move as I move, I dress as I must, swiping my yet uncombed white hair from my sleepy eyes. It is early morning, and I don't have to think about how I present myself to the public eye. That will come later, when I head into town. Here, I am the queen of my own domain. No offices, no cubicles, no office politics, no balderdash, no masks to wear.

Priceless, truly. I can't imagine ever going back to the corporate life. To an office or, worse, a cube, on display but closed off from the real world. The real one ... the one I see around me now. My clogs crunching frosted grass and white-rimmed fallen leaves. The tree branches bare and fingering the blue-white sky. The tall weeds in the back field turned to crystal. This may not have the Technicolor glory of early fall, or the deep white shimmering snow of winter, or the bright fresh green of spring, or the leafiness of summer, but it is nonetheless a beautiful time of nature turning its clock.

And I'm not driving down the interstate on a Monday morning commute, missing it.

The pond has a fine, thin sheen of new ice along its edges. The swarms of red koi have sunk to the warmer depths of the spring-fed body of water, and the turtles, too, have dug deep in the cooling and thickening mud. I sense winter coming, my breath turning to white steam in the chill of this air, and my heart beats a little faster. I found Z Acres in deep winter. I fell in love with this place in white snow. I signed the papers on the dotted line, sitting inside this bright red and white kitchen, and then I walked out into the lavender evening just as a gentle snow began to fall.

This is the time for my energy to peak. The crisp air brings me new energy. I have learned so much in these passing seasons, about Z Acres, about me, about starting my own business and being ... free.

I am still on that learning curve, surely, about how to manage my time, organize all that I need to do, and some things have suffered in the process. My literary magazine, The Smoking Poet, is a month behind schedule, and that makes my heart ache. Must ... get ... that ... done. But the paying work comes first, I have to keep up with the bills, and the night hours are just so long. More aching, when I realize I haven't worked on my own creative writing in weeks. My hope to start my mornings that way has given at the push of work assignments.

I will keep learning. Learn how to manage my time better, what goes where, in what spot, and how to make it all come together. After all, the bounty fallen on my head is a great problem to have! I am grateful, oh I am grateful, and I remind myself daily to give thanks.

This year, 2012, has been my threshold year, brimming with blessing, and that is something I will never take for granted. I have felt the divine push and nudge, moving me along, sometimes at dizzying speed, but it has all come to good.

So I will keep working. I will keep finding moments between. I will keep walking my grounds, wrapped in bathrobe and scarf and coat, if I must, if it helps me steal a moment more to enjoy the beauty of this place. My little corner of heaven. I won't ever forget what got me here, and how, and that I couldn't have done it on my own steam. Someone's been watching out for me, and I nod my head in silent thank you.

I took leaps, and nets appeared. I have learned to trust in that. Take those leaps for the right reasons, and I will be caught. So I walk the perimeter of the pond, watching the ice forming, and I check on the five tiny pine trees I planted along the northeast border a couple days ago, and I stand a moment longer to watch the sun kiss the frosted landscape and make it glow.

I have to get to work now. Roll up my sleeves. Taking a moment to breathe, see, feel, acknowledge, however, is as needed as anything else I will accomplish today.

Friday, November 02, 2012

How a Kalamazoo pharmacist becomes a creator of cosmetics

by Zinta Aistars
Published by Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
November 1, 2012

Christine Arseneau of Tina's Pharm (Photo by Erik Holladay)

When a woman loses the child she is carrying, the hit to her heart and health is difficult enough. For Christine Arseneau, the pain did not end there. Shortly after her miscarriage two years ago, doctors noted an odd fluctuation in her hormonal levels. Further tests revealed that some of the placenta cells had developed into a type of cancer called gestational trophoblastic disease, or GTD.

What good can possibly come from that?

Good things did. Arseneau went through 12 weeks of chemotherapy, and in the process, as one door closed behind her, she began to detect ...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE on SECOND WAVE to learn how Christine's experience turned cosmetic and why that is so important to women everywhere. What you put on your body, Tina says, may be even more important than what you put in your body.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Making your dwelling well

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media (Grand Rapids, MI)
November 1, 2012

Photography for the article by Adam Bird

Understanding houses as interconnected systems is a new way of thinking for those in the construction industry. When the housing market took a steep and long dip in 2008 and in the years following, many in the construction industry were forced to reinvent themselves. In so doing, a green building industry was born. 

 A sick home? We think of good health when we speak of living organisms, but when David Anderson, VP of Dwelltech Solutions talks about houses, he talks of them as living systems.

"A house is a system," says Anderson. "Water usage, electric, gas, and heating -- it all works together."

Understanding houses as interconnected systems is a new way of thinking for those in the construction industry. When the housing market took a steep and long dip in 2008 and in the years following, many in the construction industry were forced to reinvent themselves. In so doing, a green building industry was born.

"We have nine employees at our Grand Rapids and Holland locations," says Anderson, "and the majority of us are from the traditional construction trades. Now, I see us morphing the other way, back into ...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ABOUT DWELLTECH SOLUTIONS and WELLHOME and what I found out when I had an energy audit done by WellHome at my century-old farmhouse at Z Acres.