Thursday, February 27, 2014

How sweet it is at The Cupcake Zoo

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
February 27, 2014

Lindsey Pimpileo and Cupcake (Photo by Erik Holladay)

Lindsey Pompileo caught the cupcake food trend right in time. Now her business, The Cupcake Zoo, is rising like heated batter in the oven. Zinta Aistars reports on how it all came to be.

Photo by Erik Holladay
When Lindsey Pompileo was a girl, she didn't have an Easy-Bake Oven. She didn’t want one. She wasn’t interested in baking, and as she grew up, the running joke among family and friends was that Pompileo burned everything in the kitchen. 

Today, all Pompileo has to do is post a photo of her newest cupcake on the website of The Cupcake Zoo or its Facebook page, and her baked treats disappear from the shelf within hours. With an average of 10,000 "likes" and "shares" of cupcake photos on Facebook per week, her business page has been closed down more than once for "suspicious activity."

Pompileo smiles. "That happened three times this month. Facebook doesn’t seem to know what to do with that much activity."

She knows what to do. She goes back to baking. 

Pompileo’s original store is located at 110 N. Farmer St. in her native Otsego, where she opened for business in 2010, but she is planning to open a much-anticipated second location at 117 E. South St. in Kalamazoo (Michigan) in early spring. 

Her inspiration? "I suppose it was being around so many amazing chefs among the Millennium Group." 

Pompileo ponders the turn in her path from non-baker to star baker. She worked as a server and bartender in some of the restaurants owned by the Millennium Restaurant Group for many years, rubbing elbows with top chefs, absorbing culinary knowledge, and developing a palate for quality foods. 

"I developed an obsession for good food," she says. "Especially pastries."

Pompileo baked cupcakes and other sweet treats in her home, but it wasn’t until life slammed her to the wall that she considered turning her new passion into a career. Her fork in the road opened on a Valentine’s Day that was anything but sweet ...


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Oar: A Journey with Alzheimer's (Interviewing Marie Bahlke)

by Zinta Aistars
Aired on WMUK 102.1 FM radio
February 18, 2014

Marie Bahlke at WMUK
Once or twice a month, I have the pleasure of interviewing authors and artists on WMUK's Arts and More program. WMUK 102.1 FM is the Kalamazoo, Michigan, NPR affiliate station, and the Arts and More program is produced by Rebecca Thiele. Tune in on your radio dial if  you live in the area ... or listen online to the complete interview.

Kalamazoo, Michigan, resident Marie Bahlke started writing poetry in her 70s and she just celebrated her 94th birthday. Her book One Oar follows her husband's life from the time he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease until Bahlke is left a widow.
Bahlke says her husband didn’t like the fact that she was writing because he felt it took her even further from him. But Bahlke was encouraged to take time for herself by her husband’s doctor. She says she’s never regretted it, writing was like therapy for her in that difficult time.
Bahlke says, since writing the book, relatives and friends of people with Alzheimer’s disease have reached out to her. Though she wrote the poems for herself, she says she’s glad that they touch others too. 

Bahlke says she and her husband were married right after World War II ended and had a baby almost immediately—though not earlier than they were supposed to. While Bahlke was pregnant they moved into student housing at the University of Minnesota, where her husband worked to finish up his graduate degree.
Bahlke says they had no running water. Her husband had to carry cream cans full of water across the road every day. Bahlke says they had their daughter, Susie, nine months and three days after they were married. It was a tough time.
“How our marriage lasted, I don’t know,” says Bahlke.
Now Bahlke has ...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Women's Lifestyle: Story of a Survivor

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Women's Lifestyle Magazine
February 2014

Ashley Heitzman
When Ashley Heitzman, 19, felt light-headed in her dormitory shower at Aquinas College, she nearly fainted. She called out to her roommates for help, and they assisted her to the couch. Heitzman’s friends called campus safety patrol to be safe. They told Heitzman to drink some water, as she was no doubt dehydrated on that warm day.
Although it was probably nothing, Heitzman made a call the next day to the campus doctor to check on what had caused her nearly fainting the day before. A certified physician assistant was on call that day at the Aquinas health center. She did an examination on the sophomore and detected a heart murmur.
“I was confused,” recalled Heitzman. “How could there be something wrong with my heart? I felt fine!”
When Heitzman underwent an electrocardiogram (EKG) later at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, however, she was diagnosed with atrial septal defect, a congenital heart defect commonly known as a hole in the heart. An opening in the dividing wall between the upper filling chambers of the heart, or atria, had caused Heitzman’s weakness.
“At 33 millimeters, the doctors told me it was among the largest such holes that they’d ever seen,” said Heitzman.
Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, an interventional cardiologist, and Dr. Marcus Haw, a congenital heart surgeon, immediately scheduled Heitzman for surgery at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The first surgery didn’t go as well as hoped, as the hole in Heitzman’s heart proved too large to close without open-heart surgery. A week after her first surgery, Heitzman was back in the operating room.
“Dr. Vettukattil was so nice,” said Heitzman. “He held my hand and asked me ...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Advocate: Building a Legacy of Health

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Women's Lifestyle Magazine
February 2014 Grand Rapids, MI

Kay Rose

Growing up, Kay Rose watched her mother’s health habits, and now her two teenage sons are watching hers.
“I lost my mother when I was 23,” said Rose. “But I watched her struggle with health problems most of my life.
My mom suffered a stroke when she was in her 40s, and I was only 3 or 4 years old at that time. I grew up with the knowledge that my mom was a stroke survivor.”
Rose’s mother suffered recurrences of mini-strokes and ultimately had to have bypass surgery.
“She never woke up from surgery,” Rose said, her voice catching. “She had a fatal stroke on the operating table.”
Rose’s own health habits have become a part of her daily routine. She knows her habits, from what goes on her plate to her workouts, have a big effect on her health as well as the health of her growing boys.
Rose began her career as an administrative associate at American Heart Association in Grand Rapids last April. She has been volunteering for the Go Red For Women campaign for five years. Prior to her job at AHA, she worked at Weight Watchers, where she learned what a difference a few changes to her daily habits could make on her overall health.
“I’d been overweight all of my life by about 50 pounds or so,” she said. “My cholesterol numbers were elevated, but when I got to about age 40, my blood pressure started creeping up, too. I had had readings of ...

Thursday, February 06, 2014

A bike, 1,655 miles, 200 birds, one man's 12-month adventure

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
February 6, 2014

Josh Haas riding in Barry County (Photo by Erik Holladay

When Josh Haas sets a goal, he doesn't settle for the little stuff. In 2013, he decided to travel across Barry County, Michigan, on his bike as he spotted birds. Zinta Aistars talks to Haas about how that turned out. 

Josh Haas keeps New Year’s resolutions. That alone is worthy of applause. His resolution for the year 2013 was so unique, however, that he is now speaking all over Southwest Michigan about it--and the response has been enthusiastic.

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m., Josh Haas will be speaking about his year-long adventure spotting 200 birds while riding a bike over one year’s time throughout Barry County. The free presentation will include videos of his journey and take place at Binder Park Zoo, 7400 Division Drive in Battle Creek.      

"My wife Kara worked at Kalamazoo Nature Center as public programs and exhibits director, and I volunteered there once a week," says Haas. "That’s how I got interested in birds, especially raptors."

Raptors are birds of prey that hunt and feed on other animals, and Haas became so fascinated with the hawks and eagles that he began to photograph them. He is today, along with his father, Dave Haas, owner of a nature photography business called Glances at Nature.       

"I’d dabbled in photography even as a kid," Haas says, "but I got serious about it when I got into birding." One interest spawned the other, he says. Aside from his daytime job as a manager at the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in Battle Creek, he and his father have built their photography business not only on selling their photography, but also by offering classes and workshops along with individual lessons. 

"I’m a goal-oriented person, and at the beginning of 2013, I thought about what kind of goal to set that would include fitness without using fossil fuels--and birds."

Haas is a biker, riding various types of bicycles on different types of terrain, and it seemed a logical pairing to combine riding his bike and spotting birds. He called his journey The BIGBY, an abbreviation-acronym of The Big Green Big Year.  Traveling inside the boundaries of Barry County, where he lives on 12 acres with wife and daughter, Haas planned to spot 200 birds over the year. 

"I looked at yearly records for Barry County, and I looked at other inland counties," Haas says. "Most record around 190 birds spotted in a year. Places like Allegan County, closer to the Lake, might record 240 or 250, but farther inland, the water birds fall off. Breaking 200 anywhere inland is hard to do."

It started as a one-man journey. One man and his bike, a pair of binoculars, and an iPhone in his pocket for snapping a quick photo when a bird came into view. Haas, who is also the president of Battle Creek Brigham Audubon, used a website called eBird to track and record his sightings.      

"It’s a worldwide database for birds," Haas says. "That was the first way that I found birds. You can zero in on areas where alerts of sightings have been posted. The second way was to ...


Monday, February 03, 2014

What I Want Instead

by Zinta Aistars
Published in GERM Magazine
February 2014

Why would they be surprised that I fell in love with a chain saw? Instead of dolls when I was little, instead of pink and frilly ruffles and bows, instead of flouncy dresses and stick-thin high heels, instead of giggly small talk, instead of nodding prettily to everything the cute boy says, with a seductive whisk of my hand to toss my long blonde hair over my shoulder, just so, just so that it catches the light and maybe blinds him into worship.
I don’t collect boys. I don’t collect anything. Collecting things, that’s like holding onto the past. I don’t live in the past. There’s too much muck there, and I have worked too hard and too long to get the muck off my boots. I leave pinning butterflies to corkboards to others, scientists or sociopaths, doesn’t matter, not my business, no more than I want anyone paying business to mine.Jeune_fille_aux_champs_(Evariste_Carpentier)
I’ve been called a tomboy, and I shrug that off, but I will tell you now: I don’t appreciate that tag. I mean, think about it. Why give a girl a special name for liking a chain saw more than a bow in her hair? A girl can be one or the other, or neither, or both. If she wants to saw down trees in high heels and mini skirt, well, more power tool to her.
So I climb trees, and I have since I was a kid. Scraped knees don’t scare me, didn’t then, don’t now. When I was a kid, I’d sit in the highest branches of an oak tree across the street from our house, swinging my legs beneath me, singing at the top of my lungs. Scared the squirrels, no doubt, but I had all this music in me I just had to get out.
Now when I get that chain saw humming, I hum along, too. It’s satisfying work. Not just sawing up chunks for the wood stove, piling them up neat as a stack of Lincoln Logs in the wood bin, but pruning the tree of what is healthy and what is not, shaping it up to be at its best, keeping it clean of pestilence and disease.
My mama didn’t even know what an arborist is when I told her that’s my life ambition. Her face kind of squinched up, her eyebrows doing a curl that arched over her squinched eyes going dark.
An arbor-what? But why? She wanted to know. When I tried to explain, I ...