Saturday, February 28, 2015

Between the Lines: Challenging Amazon

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m., on WMUK 102.1 FM, southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Jerry Dennis.

Dissatisfaction can lead to positive change. When Michigan nature writer Jerry Dennis became frustrated with online bookseller Amazon over its treatment of authors, he sat down with his wife, graphic designer Gail Dennis, and artist Glenn Wolff, to brainstorm.

“We hate bullies,” Dennis writes in his blog. “I was one of 600 authors who signed a full-page letter in the New York Times protesting Amazon’s strong-arm business tactics. As a Macmillan author, I had watched the buy buttons on four of my books, and every other Macmillan title, disappear from Amazon’s website in 2010, when the publisher refused to buckle in to Amazon’s unreasonable price demands. Not long after that, Amazon put a stranglehold on small literary publisher Melville House and nearly drove the house out of business. They used the same tactic this year against the large publishing group Hachette. Jeff Bezos’ oft-quoted statement ‘that Amazon should approach small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle’ sends shivers down our spines. Maybe publishing a book or two a year that the Bully can’t touch will be satisfying, like slinging pebbles at his forehead.”

The result was Big Maple Press, named after a tree on the Dennis property and devoted to selling books only through independent booksellers. The press opened its doors in 2014 and has thus far printed or reprinted special editions of several of his books, including The Bird in the Waterfall: Exploring the Amazing World of Water, originally published by HarperCollins.

Dennis says being a nature writer goes hand-in-hand with being an environmentalist. Although he also writes poetry and fiction, Dennis is most comfortable writing nonfiction on environmental themes.

He was chosen as Kalamazoo Public Library’s 2015 Reading Together author for his memoir The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas about a six-week journey through all five Great Lakes as a crew member aboard a schooner. It is also a discussion of Michigan’s use—and misuse —of its water resources. Dennis will ...





Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seniors are Clicking Their Heels Together: There’s No Place Like Home

by Zinta Aistars
Published at Golden Slippers Network
February 22, 2015

In the classic movie, Wizard of Oz, Dorothy clicks together the heels of her ruby red shoes and wishes herself home. In real life, most seniors make that same fervent wish. 

“There’s no place like home,” says Kristin Kolasa, owner and founder of Kindred Spirits Senior Care. “That’s where people want to stay. Home is their place of comfort.” 

Kindred Spirits Senior Care was established in 2011, Kolasa explains, in Northville, Michigan, covering Oakland and Wayne counties. Kolasa had long worked in health care, but when she and her mother Renee helped care for an elderly friend, something clicked. And it wasn’t her red shoes. 

“When Richard passed away, my mother made a comment at his funeral that stuck with me,” she says. “She said, ‘I felt like Richard and I were kindred spirits.’” 

Kindred Spirits—the name fit the concept Kolasa had for what is now a business with 40 employees, offering in-home services to help seniors live at home safely and comfortably: dressing assistance; bathing and showering; meal preparation; light housekeeping; errands and shopping; accompanied doctor visits; transportation, and more. 

“Most importantly, we provide companionship,” Kolasa says. “For medical needs, many of our staff are CNAs [certified nursing assistants], and when needed, we offer hospice support, too.” 

Working with a family begins with a free consultation.  

“We spend a lot of time up front talking with the family about their needs,” says Kolasa. “We’re not a bull in a china shop, taking over. We talk to the family to find out what they need from us. We do with them rather than for them.” 

An elderly client was an example of Kindred Spirits staff making a difference in the life of a senior who felt like no one was listening to him. In his early 80s, he had no family left, and he lived in senior housing. 

“He was an agitated and disengaged man,” says Stacey Tardich, director of community outreach at Kindred Spirits. “He wouldn’t participate in any of the activities at the facility.” 

Kindred Spirits staff helped him shower, shave, change the batteries in his hearing aids (one reason he spoke so loudly), and dress. A new cushion on his wheelchair eliminated his pressure wounds. “We put a cover over his catheter that was hanging from his wheelchair to restore his dignity,” Tardich says. “And we accompanied him to his doctor visits to make sure he understood his doctor’s directions and expressed his needs to his doctor.” 

Perhaps most important of all was that ...

See the full article at GOLDEN SLIPPERS NETWORK.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Between the Lines: Literary Citizenship

by Zinta Aistars

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m., on WMUK 102.1 FM, southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Lori A. May.

Lori May

When Lori May moved from her native Canada to Detroit she became keenly aware of her need to be involved in her new literary community. May takes the responsibility of being what she calls a "literary citizen" seriously. In fact, during her years living in Detroit (she now resides in the Pacific Northwest), May wrote The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life (Bloomsbury, 2015), exploring what it means to be a literary citizen.
“It’s the buzzword right now,” says May. “But literary citizenship goes back centuries to Walt Whitman, the people’s poet, and probably before that. Literary citizenship is how writers and readers engage in the community to the betterment of the community.”
Credit Bloomsbury Press
May says that engagement can happen in several ways. Writers can mentor other writers. Writers and readers can review books as a way of supporting and promoting literature, especially new literature by unknown writers. Local academics can hold literary events. And everyone can shop for books at their independent bookseller.
Even if there isn't an independent bookstore in a 50-mile radius, May says, “That’s the wonderful thing about the Internet. You can shop independent booksellers’ websites. Most offer shipping across the country, and many across the world, so you can still support the independent bookseller.”
May says, “Readers can be the best literary citizens in waiting. It is the reader excited about a literary discovery who ...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Between the Lines: Poetry in Collision

by Zinta Aistars

Between the Lines is a weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m., on WMUK 102.1 FM, southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Elizabeth Kerlikowske.

Retirement, Elizabeth Kerlikowske says with a grin, has her busier than ever, deep in art projects and encouraging other artists. A retired professor of English at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek (Michigan), Kerlikowske served 25 years as president of Friends of Poetry in Kalamazoo.

“It all started 35 years ago with Martha Moffit,” says Kerlikowske. “She saw poems on buses on a visit to New York and came home to start Friends of Poetry.”
The nonprofit supports and promotes poetry, sponsoring various literary events, workshops, and annual contests such as Poems That Ate Our Ears (open to all Michigan students, K-12) and Artifactory (open to anyone).
“Artifactory is the collision of poetry and artifacts,” she says. “It’s our ninth annual collision, and we had more entries than ever. People write about mastodon bones, old radios, celery, of course, and Lady Justice. She’s a big statue holding a sword next to the neon One-Hour Valet sign, and I was thinking if those two had a relationship after the museum closed, that would be great.”
Elizabeth Kerlikowske
Elizabeth Kerlikowske
Credit Zinta Aistars
Contestants choose a Kalamazoo artifact that fascinates them at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and write a poem about it, or about a museum experience. Winners are published in a chapbook. Retired museum curator Tom Dietz provides historical commentary and winning poems are read at an event held at the museum.
Kerlikowske says, “A shout-out to Allegan High School students and their teacher Nancy Hascall for bringing them out to the museum for inspiration.” She says that's how new poetry fans are created.
Recently, Friends of Poetry has added yet another facet to its support of poetry ...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Revisiting my interview with Philip Levine

by Zinta Aistars

Revisiting my interview with recent U.S. poet laureate Philip Levine from 2012 for WMUK's Arts and More program. Levine, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in poetry, has passed away at age 87.

Philip Levine, the most recent poet laureate, was born in Detroit. Some of his most famous poems are about his time working for General Motors, a job he says he didn't like very much.
Levine recently ended his term as the 18th U.S. poet laureate. He says the poet laureate position is honorary. Levine says many people think he has to help them with their poetry, but he was not obligated to do so because he did not actually work for the U.S. government. Poet laureates are appointed by the Library of Congress, but have few, if any, obligations in that position.
Many poet laureates have chosen to do a project, but Levine says he was more interested in reading to groups like labor unions and OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration). Levine says he didn’t have a project, but he did ask poets he knew to send him the ‘ugliest poems,’ which he put into an anthology. Levine tried to get the Library of Congress to publish it, but they said they would do nothing of the kind.

To find out more about poet laureate Philip Levine and his work, and to read the complete article at WMUK, click the play button to hear his interview with WMUK’s Zinta Aistars.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Between the Lines: The Poetry of Place

by Zinta Aistars

Between the Lines is a weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m., on WMUK 102.1 FM, southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Hedy Habra.

Hedy Habra 

Hedy Habra’s poetry reflects the war in her family's native Lebanon, the loss of her home in the Middle East, and creating a new home in Michigan, where Habra has lived well over two decades.

Tea in Heliopolis was published by Press 53 in 2013, earning the 2014 USA Best Book Award in the category of poetry. Habra’s story collection, Flying Carpets (Interlink Publishing, 2013), was a finalist in the category of fiction/short story. She has also written a book of literary criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa.
An instructor of Spanish literature at Western Michigan University, Habra writes in French, English and Spanish. She says writing with different cultural perspectives and in different languages presents challenges but also adds new layers of meaning.
Credit Hedy Habra
Habra says when you not only speak but live in different cultures, “It is impossible to reproduce the original poem when translating. There are different facets of my personality that come out if the language in which I am writing. It can be as if different writers are writing … but also an advantage as it also a means of reconciling all those facets of my identity.”
Habra is not just an artist of words, though. She has long been interested in painting, inheriting that passion and gift from her mother. Several poems in Tea in Heliopolis allude to her mother’s paintings, and the book's cover features one of Habra’s own paintings. But in her forthcoming poetry collection Under Brushstrokes she takes the next step ...

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Amateur Skateboarder Continues to Pursue his Passion

by Zinta Aistars

A health care story I wrote about a young man named Danger ...

Auttiesh Danger lives up to his name. He’s been an amateur skateboarder since 2000, and nothing gets in his way—not even a serious back injury.

“When my brother and I were kids, about 11 or 12 years old, we nagged our mom to order a pizza,” says Danger. “They had a giveaway with the pizza: a disk of video games. One of the games was all about skateboarding, and I saw how cool it was.”

Most video game players stick with the video, but Danger wanted to try the real thing.

“I got a Michigan-made skateboard, and I got super hyped. I fell a lot at first, but getting hurt only got me more obsessed. I lived in a kind of rough area of Grand Rapids back then, and some of my friends got in trouble. They got incarcerated, but I just stayed on my skateboard, and it kept me out of trouble.”


Years later, Danger, now age 27, is one of the area’s top skateboarders, winning awards for his skill on the board.
“Skateboarding is an art,” he says. “Pure art. No rules, no coach, no team. It’s solely you out there, yet at the same time, skateboarding really connects you to people. Other skateboarders become like extended family.”

Danger moved from Grand Rapids to its outskirts, Forest Hills, with his family, but he also started traveling to participate in various skateboarding contests. As his skill increased, he gained sponsors, and skateboard park owners allowed him to skate for free so as to inspire other skaters.

“When I was about 20, I was taking part in a Halloween skating contest,” Danger recalls. “We were all dressed up in costumes, and the contest was for the best trick. I was skating gap and grind, and when I went up on the ledge, my feet slipped and I ...


Friday, February 06, 2015

Bee Man, Bee Artists

By Zinta Aistars
Published in BeLight
Kalamazoo College newsletter
February 2015

An example of honeycomb and etching by Ladislav Hanka ’75 and his bees.

Ladislav Hanka ’75 has a mind that buzzes with constant activity, always attracted to the sweetness of an idea with a twist. His degree is in biology, and his love of the natural world is evident in his art. His etchings, prints, and drawings illustrate the intricacies and mystery of nature: craggy trees, elegant fish, round-bellied frogs, fierce raptors and delicate song birds, dank mushrooms, the occasional napping old dog.
So the idea of combining living bees and his etchings seemed, well, natural. He saw it as collaboration.
Some five years ago, a friend had given him a box of bees.
“There was a little bit of sugar water in there, something like mosquito netting, and the bees were climbing around inside the box,” Hanka says. “And I thought, so cute! Like having a puppy!” He laughs. “Suddenly, I was a parent. It was on that level of forethought that I became a beekeeper.”
Where the idea came from to place his etchings inside the beehives, among the living bees, Hanka can’t say.
“Who knows where ideas come from,” he shrugs. “You wake up some night, and there it is. It seems such a simple idea, too, but I’d never seen anyone do it. So I put the etching in after soaking the paper in hot beeswax, brushing it on, and the bees seem to like that paper. Typically, they start on the chunks of old, recycled beeswax and avoid the lines of the etching. Perhaps it’s the flavor? Or the waxy aromatic paper?  Otherwise they tend to chew up and destroy any foreign substance intruding on their hives. Then again, they may just be critics.” Hanka grins.
Standing in his studio, a building he constructed where the garage once stood at his residence in Kalamazoo, just a few blocks from Kalamazoo College, he leans in close to take a look at his etchings. He has them lined up in a row on a small ledge along the end wall. The etchings closely match what he exhibited in ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
ArtPrize is an annual art competition judged both by popular vote and a jury. This past summer more than 1,500 artists from across the world exhibited their work in and around downtown Grand Rapids. Hanka’s panoramic etching in ArtPrize 2011 won the Curator’s Choice award and was purchased by the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection.
The co-artist shows some the collaborative works.
Hanka’s 2014 ArtPrize entry, “Great Wall of Bees: Intelligence of the Beehive,” is his third since the competition’s inception. Contained inside a glass case along the length of a wall just inside the entrance of the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), live bees buzzed and danced and chewed over three rows of Hanka’s etchings—detailed images of toads, salmon, trees, insects, birds—building honeycomb along the curves of his lines, indeed in surprising collaboration.
Great Wall of Bees was collaborative art and environmental message. In a description of his work on the ArtPrize website, he wrote:
“The additions bees make to the etchings are as inevitably elegant as the gently curving veils of honeycomb you find hanging from the domed ceilings within a bee tree. There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive. You learn to respect that and care about these highly evolved creatures, which brings me inescapably around to bees being in trouble—not just here but worldwide.
“The cause of bee die-offs is hardly a mystery. It’s much like ...

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Miracle After the Miracle

by Zinta Aistars

Ashley Ruhlig shares how she beat the odds, had a baby, and survived serious complications from her congenital heart defect.

Ashley and her family
When Ashley Ruhlig was born, she was diagnosed with tricuspid atresia, a congenital heart defect in which the tricuspid valve between the heart’s two chambers isn’t properly formed.
Blood is not able to flow freely between the heart and the lungs with this condition, so the lungs are not able to supply the body with the oxygen it needs to survive.
Twenty-eight years later, Ashley is married to her love, Mark, and they are raising Lucy, born on March 10, 2014, in the pretty lakeshore town of Ludington.
She’s feeling great.
The chances of this scenario, Ashley now realizes, were slim to none.
A heart defect like Ashley’s put her at high risk for pregnancy. Although she had a life-saving Fontan procedure performed when she was an infant, Ashley’s doctors had cautioned her to consider motherhood very carefully.
Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, chief pediatric cardiologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, explains the Fontan procedure: “Ashley has hypoplastic right heart syndrome, the opposite side of the heart as most such patients. The Fontan procedure is done after a heart catheterization. It’s the third stage of a procedure to build a connection between the right ventricle to the lung and the pulmonary artery.”
Pregnancy and going into labor, Dr. Vettukattil says, were indeed very risky for someone with Ashley’s heart defect.
And still, following her heart, Ashley and her husband, Mark, decided to try for a baby.
“I prayed a lot,” says Ashley, who works as a church secretary. “I had my annual checkup a couple months before we started to try, and I asked my doctor, Dr. Helayne Sherman, if I went ahead, what I could expect. She explained all my options and my risks to me. In the end, it was my choice.”
When Ashley quickly became pregnant, she felt it was meant to be. Her pregnancy, under the close watch of Dr. Sherman, went smoothly. Two weeks before her due date, Ashley went into labor, and her husband drove her – fast – to Spectrum Health, where Ashley underwent a Cesarean section, which put less stress on her heart than a normal delivery.
“It all went well,” Ashley smiles. “I just had to take some blood pressure medicine when I went home.”
A couple weeks after going home, Ashley was looking forward to an outing with her husband and baby girl. The family went to the grocery store together. As Ashley got out of the car, however, she started to feel odd.
“It was an eerie feeling,” she recalls. “I couldn’t breathe. I thought maybe I was having a panic attack.”
Ashley rested for a moment then tried to return to the car, but the uncomfortable feeling persisted. She was fighting for air, and Mark knew she was in trouble. He rushed her to...

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Between the Lines: Growing Up Radical

by Zinta Aistars

Between the Lines is a weekly show about books and writers on WMUK 102.1 FM radio, southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate station, hosted by Zinta Aistars.

Frida Berrigan with her children

Frida Berrigan is the daughter of political activists Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, a former priest and nun known for their protests against war and nuclear weapons. Those protests often cost them time behind bars, leaving little Frida and her brother, Kalamazoo College alumnus Jerry, in the care of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland.

Now a wife and mother, Berrigan has taken to the picket line herself. She’s written about her unusual growing-up years in It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood.
Many children grow up to reject what their parents stand for. But Berrigan says she took the lessons of her parents to heart as she found her own voice. But she says it wasn’t easy to be a child of parents serving jail terms, although she and her brother never lacked for caring adults to look after them. Still, Berrigan grew up and followed the path they set, in part because now she has children of her own who look to her for moral direction. Berrigan walks the picket lines protesting war, the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, or any act of violence.
Credit OR Books
Berrigan describes visits with her parents in prison for special occasions:
“My mom and dad estimated that they spent 11 years of their 29-year marriage separated by prison. We celebrated birthdays, graduations, and other milestones in prison visiting rooms. A lot of our family communication happened through letters."
Berrigan is married to Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, himself a child of activists. She thinks about their responsibility to ...