Monday, June 30, 2014

Sports medicine team keeps a young gymnast vaulting

Chloe - Osteochondritis Dissecans of Elbow 

by Zinta Aistars
Chloe Uson

What Shane Uson saw when Matthew Axtman, DO, an orthopaedic sports medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, showed him x-ray images of his daughter Chloe’s elbow looked like fragments of floating bone. It was a scary image.

“Chloe was 11 years old when problems with her elbow first started,” Shane Uson says. “That was three years ago. She’s a gymnast, and at one point the pain in her elbow was bad enough that she couldn’t bring her hands to her shoulders.”

Shane Uson is the owner of Grand Rapids Gymnastics (GRG), a recreational and competitive gymnastics and activity center for boys and girls, from toddlers through high school. He kept a close eye on his daughter, as he does with all the young gymnasts at GRG, and when Chloe could no longer straighten her arm after a practice session, he knew this wasn’t just a passing pain associated with exercise.

“I heard a clicking and popping sound,” he says. “I took Chloe to another medical facility, and they did an MRI and took some x-rays, but weeks went by and nothing happened. I had to finally call to ask if I could get the test results.”

Uson was told his daughter’s painful elbow was “normal” for a young gymnast, but when the pain persisted, he sought out a second opinion. Uson called a clinical athletic trainer and the manager of the sports medicine program at ...

Chloe with her father, Shane, gym owner

Friday, June 20, 2014

Welcome Home: Creating a rain garden

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Welcome Home magazine
Summer 2014 Issue

We live in a sloped and graded world. Rooftops on houses are pitched, sidewalks are sloped, while landscaping is graded to allow rainwater to follow gravity away from building foundations. No one wants a leaky basement or a mushy lawn. In the minds of builders and engineers, all that sloping and grading made sense. 

In recent years, homeowners and builders are taking another look at what happens to rainwater runoff.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 70 percent of all water pollution is caused by rainwater runoff. The water that runs off rooftops and lawns carries sediment, oils, road salt, trash, bacteria, along with pesticides sprayed on lawns and various toxic chemicals from building materials and automobiles, and even heat.

“Runoff can create flooding, and it adds pollutants to our streams and lakes and eventually larger bodies of water,” says Dave Wendling, president of the nonprofit organization, the Kalamazoo Area Chapter of Wild Ones (KAWO). KAWO is part of a national movement for natural landscaping using native plants.

Rain gardens, Wendling says, can be an easy and attractive solution to rainwater runoff. A retired physician, Wendling lives on 15 acres near Texas Township, where he grows native plants—plants that grew in the area prior to European settlement—and maintains a rain garden.

“A rain garden can be as meticulous or as casual as you like,” he says. “Look for a natural low spot in your yard, maybe an area leading from your down spout, where water naturally tends to pool.”

Rain gardens, he explains, are shallow depressions surrounded by a berm with loose soil and plants, preferably native, which collect and help water to soak into the ground rather than run off. The soil works as a filter that cleans harmful sediment from the water as it seeps into the ground.

Nicole Craig, a consultant for Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner Pat Crowley, has been working with the commissioner’s office for several years. “We’re interested in promoting ways to capture and clean rain and stormwater in Kalamazoo,” she says. “It’s much more economical to prevent the problems caused by runoff than to try to repair the damage to water systems later.”

Rain gardens, Craig says, are an excellent way to prevent that kind of damage. The Drain Commissioner’s office, along with Kalamazoo County Land Bank Authority, Kalamazoo County Foundation, and several other area organizations and landscaping businesses, have been working across the county to  help homeowners and businesses construct rain gardens.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to build rain gardens,” says Craig. For the most part, she says, “there are no zoning issues in the Kalamazoo city code on constructing these gardens, as long as you keep them about 10 feet away from your foundation and consider underground utilities wherever you dig. If you want to plant on that portion of turf between the sidewalk and the street, however, a permit may be required. Check with the Kalamazoo County Road Commission or whoever owns that curb lawn.”

Actual installation of a rain garden need not take long, says Kelly Jordan, landscape designer at Murray Landscaping. Most requests for these gardens come from residential areas where houses are built close together and puddles develop between houses.

“Evaluate the area where you want your garden,” says Jordan. “You will want to plant different kinds of plants for sunny or shady areas. You’ll want to determine how fast the area drains, how long it will hold water—the soil type—and gauge its slope. If you mostly just want it to be functional, you can place stones and a tree in that area. If beauty is your goal, you can fill it with flowers and ferns.”

The typical rain garden, Jordan says, spans about 10 feet by 20 feet and is between 4 to 8 inches deep. A rain garden in sandy soils should be approximately 20 percent of the size of the drainage area, 30 percent for silty or loamy soils, and 60 percent in clay soils.

Ruth Caputo, a retired chemist, a master gardener and chair of KAWO, lives in a high-end Portage development. While she needed to fill out a couple of applications with the city government for her rain garden in a yard of wood and grassland, her neighbors have been pleased with the results.

“There’s a cultural shift in how people are seeing yards,” she says. They appreciate the added benefit of the birds and butterflies attracted to the garden.

“Before I put in the rain garden, water gathered there naturally,” she says. “I planted native shrubs around the area with a native grass mix. Native plants are always best, because they have a longer root system that helps water drain into the soil. They also resist drought and other climate changes.”

Caputo welcomes questions about building rain gardens at

Helpful links to learn more about rain gardens:

Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner’s Office

Kalamazoo Area Chapter of Wild Ones

Build Your Own Rain Garden

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dream Big, Start Small says 'Your child deserves pre-K'

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
June 19, 2014

Because it's critical to reach children as early a possible if they are to be ready for school there is a new initiative called Dream Big, Start Small. Zinta Aistars has the story.

Jacque Eatmon, Great Start Collaborative coordinator, has seen many changes over her 35 or so years working in the organization.

"Up until a couple years ago, early childhood programs were seen as just babysitting," she says. "It used to fall under human services, but finally was moved to education, and that made a great difference in federal, state and local funding."

Great Start is a statewide initiative to foster school readiness and life success for children ages birth to five. The local Great Start Collaborative is one of 55 such networks, a coordinated system of community resources tying together all Michigan counties. The Great Start system is funded by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, a public corporation formed in 2005. 

"Our goal is to give all Kalamazoo County children the social, emotional, physical and intellectual foundation they need to be successful in life," Eatmon says. 

Easier said than done, Eatmon admits. "It can be a little like trying to eradicate poverty," she says with a laugh. Or creating world peace. 

Forming a collaborative, Eatmon says, meant bringing many different organizations, businesses, schools, nonprofits, hospitals, churches, insurance companies, parents to one table to create one cohesive system of family support, parenting leadership, pediatric and family health, social and emotional health, and child care with early education. 

"What we had was a lot of silos," Eatmon says. "What we had to do is to try to get everyone out of their lane and talking to each other. We needed to move everyone from just networking into a real collaborative."

The result was that Kalamazoo County Ready 4s, Kalamazoo RESA’s Head Start and Great Start Readiness programs, the Great Start Collaborative, all nine Kalamazoo County school districts and the kindergarten-readiness component of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo are now collaborating as Kalamazoo County Pre-K. Dream Big, Start Small is the collaborative’s call to action.

"We had all these great programs, but parents were getting overwhelmed and confused by all of it," Eatmon explains. "It wasn’t always convenient for parents, and too often the kids were dropping out."

The state budget has dedicated less and less funding over the past five years to support child care quality, Eatmon says, even as 98 percent of Michigan kindergarten teachers, according to a 2009 survey conducted by Lake Research Partners, say it is important for Michigan to make a significant investment in early childhood supports and services. 

A child’s most rapid brain development occurs before age 5, and early educational efforts have shown dramatic outcomes in later years. Nearly as many of those teachers have urged the establishment of a community entity--such as Great Start Collaborative--that focuses on the needs of children ages birth to 5. 

"We started by sending out a survey to all the Kalamazoo school superintendents just to define what it means to be ready for kindergarten," she says. "A big part of our collaborative was the parents. More than any one thing, it was the communication piece with parents and between all of us that was missing."

Eatmon and the people around the table opened their ears to parents. One message that came through was that ...


Playground outside K-RESA

Monday, June 16, 2014

Z Acres Photography on Exhibit at Studio Grill

All photography copyright 2013/2014 by Zinta Aistars

If you are in Kalamazoo (Michigan) in June through the end of July, stop by Studio Grill (next door to Michigan News Agency) at 312 W. Michigan Ave., enjoy breakfast or lunch ... and while you are savoring your meal, enjoy the photography of Zinta Aistars on display, scenes from Z Acres. All photos (approx. 60, all high resolution) are for sale: $30 unframed; $35 framed. 

Studio Grill was voted to have Michigan's #1 best burger

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Farm fresh art and artisan foods in Fennville

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
June 12, 2014

Dawn Soltysiak in her studio

An art gallery and specialty grocery store in downtown Fennville, is part of the creative package that Dawn Soltysiak offers. At her farm, her kiln is solar powered and there's more space for other artists' works. Zinta Aistars has the story.

Far, far into the green and open country, where the road winds into what the uninitiated call "middle of nowhere" but the initiated term "ahhhhhhh, bliss," is a large red barn and an old yellow house. On the house, just above the curved red brick stairs leading to the wrap-around porch, is the name of the farm: Fernwood. It dates back to 1891.

Dawn Soltysiak has lived on the 32-acre farm at 6322 113th Avenue in Fennville with her husband Rob for 14 years. They are not alone. On the farm with them are 115 chickens, one llama, several peacocks, two sheepdogs, a herd of Scottish Highland cattle, a horse, ducks and bees in hives. 

Inside the big red barn, its side decorated with an assortment of shiny hubcaps and a sign that states "Barn Goddess Parking Only," is more treasure. Soltysiak is not only barn goddess, but also resident artist at Khnemu Studio, housed in the barn along with a shop selling the work of 25 southwest Michigan potters and artists. The studio is named for Khnemu, the god of creation, arts and craft, and fertility in Egyptian mythology.

"I got scared when I saw the listing for this place," says Soltysiak, sitting on her porch with sheep dog Samson leaning into her. She’s wearing denim cover-all shorts and a blue bandana to match, two long braids hanging over her shoulders. "Scared because that’s how much I wanted it. It wasn’t anything like this back then. No plantings, nothing for the animals … but I could see its potential."

Her eye was trained for it. Soltysiak, a Rockford native, worked as a real estate agent in greater Grand Rapids for 12 years, the last year overlapping her move to Fernwood Farm. 

"Pottery, I did that always," Soltysiak says. "It’s how I kept my sanity. But once we moved here, a year later, I walked away from real estate totally. I haven’t kept up my license. I don’t want a back door. Was it scary? Sure. And it’s ten times harder to start your own business than you think, but it’s worked. People give up too easily."

Soltysiak has not only not given up; she’s expanding. In May 2014, she opened an extension of Fernwood Farm and Khnemu Studio in the form of an art gallery and specialty grocery store in downtown Fennville, at 120 Main Street, a couple doors down from the popular restaurant, Salt of the Earth. The new shop is called, aptly,Fernwood 1891.

"I didn’t really dream about opening a shop," Soltysiak says. "It was just something always there, in the back of my mind, something I kept thinking about. When the previous tenant of the space moved out, I immediately moved in."

The grand opening, with its ribbon-cutting ceremony, pottery-making demonstrations, music and food, was a grand success, bringing in about 200 people and double the sales Soltysiak had dared hoped to make.

"We pulled it all together by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin," Soltysiak says with a laugh. "We had old timey music, and people brought along their own instruments and jammed. Family and friends helped with the food, and we had tents out back for the overflow. There was a synergy of people inviting other people."

Keeping that synergy going between Khnemu Studio and Fernwood 1891, Soltysiak employs five people at the shop, and all five are makers. "I call them makers, not artists," says Soltysiak. "Fernwood 1891 is a makers market, makers of things. The potters who work there do so in exchange for kiln time at the studio. My assistant, Erica Shirey, works for pay, but all the others are exchange situations."

Soltysiak walks her farm to show off the ...


Monday, June 02, 2014

The Smoking Poet Summer 2014 Issue #26 with special announcement

"Guardian of Glenaraha" by Linda Rzoska, our feature artist

The last word …
It’s time. With this 26th issue of The Smoking Poet, founded in 2006, I am closing shop on this wonderful literary endeavor. Yes. It is time. And I don’t doubt that is at least in part why it has taken me so long to get this final issue ready for publication. The other part—that’s the main reason why the doors are closing.
About two and a half years ago, I left “corporate America,” that world of long commutes, endless meetings and office politics to open my own business, Z Word, LLC, as a full-time writer and editor. I worked for some great institutions, true, but I longed to be on my own. At the same time, I made the move to my dream home: a 10-acre farm in southwest Michigan. It’s a life I’d been longing for since I was a girl, and at last, it’s mine.
What I quickly learned (unsurprised) about this new life is that the work never stops. Thankfully, I don’t want it to. The farm requires attention on a daily basis, including the flock of chickens I raise that keeps expanding. The writing and editing work occupies the full week, with the rare day off, but since it’s work I adore, and never two days the same, I’m happy to say that Friday brings no special bliss, while Monday morning is not without it.
The Smoking Poet was one part of this life that has become increasingly difficult to keep up. Through some interactions with writers and readers, I was surprised to learn that some out there think there’s a board of people running this magazine, at very least a panel of editors. There seemed to also be a perception that the magazine is funded by some, I don’t know, magical funding, the backing of a university or other large institution. In truth, it is funded by my own wallet. It always has been. And it’s not cheap.
TSP is just Joannie Stangeland, my poetry editor, bless her poetic heart, and me. Occasionally, I had college interns helping in the process, some truly wonderful young people with great ideas and work ethic. Tim Bazzett came on recently with his colorful book reviews. All did the work on a voluntary basis.
After struggling to find the time and allocate the funds when paychecks were no longer predictable, I finally realized I could do this no more. And there’s a third reason: after years of making time and financial sacrifices to showcase other writers and artists, I want to take the time to focus on my own writing and art. That, and this glorious farm.
And so, it’s time. Not an easy statement to make. I have been dawdling and dragging my heels and rethinking and debating. Finally, I ran out of arguments. Perhaps it’s someone else’s turn to take up the spotlight and shine it on the worthy work of others.
Thank you, ever so much, to Joannie for your years of hard and elegant work. Thank you, Tim. Thank you to all the many, many, many writers and artists who have graced these pages through 26 issues.
Thank you to those of you who have made this final issue so beautiful: feature artist Linda Lee Rzoska, authors Bruce Mills and Kristi Petersen Schoonover, and a line-up of spectacular writers and poets. Book reviews will be posted throughout the coming weeks, so do keep visiting our last issue for news … while it remains online.
Thank you to all you who read these good works. I will miss you.

With a good last word,
Zinta Aistars

Founder and editor-on-chief