Sunday, November 27, 2016

Between the Lines: By Bus, With Chickens

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate



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. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Jan Brett

Author Jan Brett's decorated tour bus
CREDIT PENGUIN-RANDOM HOUSE


As Jan Brett begins her 23-city national tour in a bus decorated front-to-back with her own illustrations, she reflects on what inspires her – and about a surprise guest traveling with her. Alf, one of the roosters that the children’s book author and illustrator raises, will travel with her as Brett meets with fans of all ages. 

“Alf will have a girlfriend with him,” Brett says. “Or wife. They have a nice box they will live in, with a perch in it, and on my day off I put them in a wire pen so that they can get some sun. We took a bunny along another year, because the kids love it!”
Alf, along with a myriad of other creatures, appears throughout Brett’s newest children’s book, Gingerbread Christmas (Putnam, October 2016). It's the story of Gingerbread Baby, who pops out of the oven and brings a gingerbread band to the town Christmas festival. Everyone enjoys the joyful holiday music — until they catch a whiff of the gingerbread smell and realize those musicians are delicious cookies.
Brett has written and illustrated 35 books for kids that have sold more than 40 million copies. She says each book takes about a year of work to create the detailed illustrations that bring it to life.
“When I have an idea, I think about whether it will sustain me for a whole year,” Brett says. “I want to be able to feel like there’s this discovery, this curiosity, there’s learning … all these things are going to build up this momentum.”
Jan Brett
CREDIT PENGUIN-RANDOM HOUSE
Brett's books often feature wildlife she enjoys having at her two-acre home in Norwell, Massachusetts. But she has a special love for chickens and raises exotic breeds that she sells and shows. Brett has about 60 chickens, including Silkies, Buff Brahmas, Cochins, Silver Phoenix, and Polish varieties.
“But my biggest inspiration is ..."




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Between the Lines: A Life of Adventure

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate



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. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Kathleen Stocking


Kathleen Stocking has traveled the world, and dug deep into her own community in Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula for what she calls a "bone- deep" understanding of people. She's written about her discoveries along the way in a trilogy of memoirs. The latest is The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale (Stocking Press, 2016).

“My first book was about my peninsula, the Leelanau Peninsula,” Stocking says. “I was writing then for Detroit Monthly magazine, so a lot of that book was columns published by Detroit Monthly. Then I received several awards and did the next book about my state, Michigan, and a lot of islands, because I was always curious about the offshore islands. Then, with my children being grown, and being very curious about the rest of the world, I accepted a fellowship from the William James Foundation and worked in the prisons of California.”

Stocking says she wanted to understand why so many people in the United States are behind bars. Teaching creative writing inside the prison helped her do that. Stocking relates the stories of inmates, many doing time for murder and other violent crimes. She soon found that the inmates were like anyone else, anywhere. 
Kathleen Stocking in 1975
CREDIT KATHLEEN STOCKING
They broke down in tears speaking of their children and the other loved ones they had left behind. They longed for the simple pleasures of life: a good meal, a long walk in nature. Stocking says writing became the key for many inmates to open up what was locked up inside. Stocking’s stories about working with inmates open her new book of travels beyond her home territory.
“From there, curiosity took me to El Salvador, a couple tours in the Peace Corps, and traveling in between, coming back again and again to the Leelanau Peninsula,” she says. “I just wanted to understand the larger world. I was curious about ... "



Thursday, November 03, 2016

Between the Lines: Working Invisible

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate




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. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Dustin M. Hoffman

Dustin M. Hoffman
CREDIT CARRIE ANN HOFFMAN


He may teach in academia now but for ten years, Dustin M. Hoffman painted houses in Michigan. Hoffman’s story collection, One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist (University of Nebraska Press, 2016) won the 2015 Prairie Schooner Prize for his gritty portrayal of painters, carpenters, roofers, firemen, ice-cream truck drivers, the homeless, and the retired. In short, for the invisible 99 percent. 

“We often come to fiction for escapism,” Hoffman says. “We want to see some kind of life that is more interesting than our own, maybe a little more opulent, or something surreal or fantastic. But I think this is a mistake with many new writers. Readers are actually very interested in this world. There can be escapism in the nine- to-five world as well.”

Hoffman tapped into his years working in construction and house- painting to develop the colorful working-class characters in his sixteen stories.
CREDIT UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS
“It was an interesting time to be working in construction,” Hoffman recalls. “I was doing it right up until 2007, so right up against the housing bubble and the recession. From 2004 to 2006, we couldn’t build houses fast enough. And then, a weird thing happened. Just as I was leaving, those houses went into foreclosure and whole subdivisions would have for sale signs up. And a lot of my friends lost their jobs.”
Hoffman says that experience, “tinged with a sense of guilt as we were building these irresponsible houses,” brought him to the world he wanted to write about. He was fascinated and haunted by the way that line of work burgeoned and then quickly vanished. Hoffman says it brought out vivid aspects of the personalities around him, the bonds between workers, and their intimate conversations. He says they remain invisible to the world because, if they do their work right, they fade into the background. The smooth drywall in a house, the perfect paint job, the expertly shingled roof, are all forgotten when they're done right.
And yet, invisible as that expert touch may be, Hoffman says ...













Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Between the Lines: Of Wine and Murder

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate







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. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Aaron Stander




A glass of Michigan wine, served with murder. The eighth in Aaron Stander‘s Ray Elkins’ Mystery Series, Murder in the Merlot (Writers & Editors, 2016), takes readers to yet another story set in Northern Michigan — this time to the vineyards.
“I started writing this series about 20 years ago but I didn’t publish the first one until maybe 14 years ago,” Stander says. “It was about my experiences up here in Northern Michigan.”
Stander grew up in metro Detroit and later taught in college there, but he moved north to Traverse City in 2000. The area was familiar because of many visits during his youth.
“I needed a protagonist for my first book,” he says. “So this series has been about this local sheriff and it mostly it takes place in Leelanau County. Part of it has to do with place — the lakes up here are just so amazing. So place is always a character. But the series is also about the differences in people and the economics that play such an important part in the sociology of this region.”
CREDIT WRITERS & EDITORS
Along with teaching workshops on crime writing, Stander also hostsMichigan Writers on the Air on Interlochen Public Radio. Any other free time finds him paddling his kayak, where he often muses on plots and other writing ideas. He also builds kayaks, the small, narrow boats pioneered by the Inuit people of the Arctic.
A little-known fact about Stander’s family history is that ...













Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cheers to Local Wines

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Welcome Home magazine
Fall 2016 Issue






Cheers to Local Wines
By Zinta Aistars

For many years, when wine drinkers considered fine wines, thoughts have traveled overseas to Italy or France, or cross-country to the West Coast. Michigan wines, however, are collecting awards and bringing those wine-tasting thoughts back to home shores. Michigan is now the fifth largest state in wine production.

According to Michigan Wines, the official website for the Michigan wine industry, nearly $800 million is added to Michigan’s economic value from the wine industry, adding about 5,000 jobs. Our wine industry accounts for about $42 million in state and local taxes.

Most of Michigan grapes are grown in wineries 25 miles from Lake Michigan. The lake effect adds about four weeks to the growing season, producing a large variety of grapes for reds and whites, dry to sweet, along with fruit for fruit wines.

“We encourage people to explore Michigan wines,” says Dean Bender, co-owner along with Crick Haltom of the Lawton Ridge Winery on Stadium Drive, with vineyards next door in Lawton. “It’s an evolving and fast-improving industry. At our price point of $12 to $19 for a variety of reds and whites, we hold our own with wines from across the world.”

Lawton Ridge Winery opened its doors in 2008 with a production facility and tasting room, but its vineyards are rooted back in the 1980s.

“Up until the 90s, a group of five of us made wine in our garages,” Bender says. “What fruit we didn’t use, we sold to St. Julian until 2007. But then we decided to create our own winery—Lawton Ridge Winery. The convenience of being so close to our vineyards was a real advantage.” 

Lawton Ridge Winery currently sells 14 varieties, red and white, although, Bender says, that number varies each year, depending on what the vineyards produce. Their most popular wine is Two-Handed Red, a blend of three or four grape types, giving the wine a fruity character.

Tempo Vino Winery, downtown Kalamazoo on East Michigan, has their own unique approach—they work with customers to develop each their own wine, including customized labels. The customized wines are especially popular for special occasions such as weddings and anniversaries.

“We opened in 2005, so we are now celebrating our 11th anniversary with lots of wine specials, introducing new wines, and fun events,” says Alex Mantakounis. He co-owns the winery with wife, Irene.

“I was a homebrewer/wine maker as a hobby,” he says. “I met Irene, a chemical engineer, when she was looking to make a career change and she wanted to do something in the wine business. She came across this business plan of the small boutique winery and decided that would be a good fit for us. Since I had experience in fermentation, it seemed the natural thing to do.”

Mantakounis grew up in a wine-loving family. His father was a wine aficionado and collector and owned his own vineyard. Mantakounis squashed his first grapes into juice at age 5, and today, he is a certified somelier (wine steward) and certified beer judge.

“We are the only winery in the area where people can come make their own wine,” Mantakounis says.  “We manage and take care of the wine while it ferments and ages at our store. When it is finished, the customer comes back to bottle it up and take it home.”

 Making your own wine, Mantakounis says, is an easy process. The staff guides the customer throughout the process, helping to select grape types. The first step is the best: sampling ready wines. The winery carries about 25 types.

“By tasting the wines, we narrow down what kinds you like and develop a recipe to suit your tastes. Each batch of wine makes 25 to 30 bottles of wine,” Mantakounis says.

Tempo Vino Winery also offers wine education classes and sponsors events in partnership with other Kalamazoo businesses.

On Sprinkle Road in Portage, The Sangria Shop offers another unique twist on local wines. Frances Vega and Fernando Costas brought their family traditions and heritage from Puerto Rico to Kalamazoo—in the form of Sangria.

“When my wife Frances and I moved here, we were invited to a potluck,” Costas says. “That was something new to us. In Puerto Rico, we have Sangria at all our gatherings, so that’s what we brought to this party. All my friends tend to be beer drinkers, but when they tasted our Sangria, they always asked us to bring more.”

The recipe for the Sangria was Frances Vega’s, a blend of spices and fresh fruits, and sells for about $13 per bottle. There is no comparison, Costas says, to what is sold in supermarkets.

“We do everything by hand,” he says. “We process the fruit by hand, nothing canned, and we try to use fruit from local farmers whenever possible. No preservatives, no sulfites, no artificial flavors. We even make the labels by hand.”

The Sangria Shop opened its doors in 2012 with part-time hours: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with limited hours, although Costas encourages customers to give him a call with a special order. He’s happy to open the doors by appointment.

“Right now I’m working as a chemical engineer at Pfizer,” says Costas, “but I’m hoping to someday make this a full-time job.”

Costas and Vega also sell their Sangria at farmers markets in Portage and Battle Creek. The wine has a shelf life, refrigerated, of up to three months because of the fresh fruit content. Different flavors are released according to season and available fruit. In October through February, The Sangria Shop will stock their popular Ambrosia, similar to a mulled wine and meant to be lightly heated. Other offerings include Fragum, with strawberries; Clasica, with citrus and seasonal fruits; Stone Fruits, with a mix of seasonal summer fruits; Tropical, with pineapple and other tropical fruits; and Wildberry, similar to a blush wine with tart fruits.

Unable to choose? Drop by the tasting rooms of these wineries to tempt your palate, and enjoy the fruits of Michigan.




Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Secret Love and a Love Shared

Published in "In the Key of G"
Fall 2016



By Zinta Aistars





Keith Peterson was enjoying the scenery and the warmth of Julie’s arms wrapped around his waist from behind him on the motorcycle. For a moment, he had allowed his eyes to wander away from the road. One moment was all it took.

“I didn’t see the pickup in front of us stop,” he says. “My brakes locked, and we spun out. I went flying over the handlebars, and Julie fell off the back of the bike.”

Keith and Julie had been dating for a couple of years, but since they worked together at the same bank—Keith headed up the legal department, and Julie managed human resources at National City Bank (now PNC Bank)—they thought it was a good idea to keep their office romance quiet. When friends and colleagues heard about the accident, the jig was up.

“So we got married!” Julie laughs.

Bike riding in the country, however, was only one of their shared passions. There was another, much safer, one—music.

The couple today shares their Portage home with three cats and a still-growing collection of 13,000 music CDs. Several hours a day, Keith sits in a leather chair, centered in the Peterson living room, and listens to music, sometimes with a cat curled in his lap.

While Keith now works at Plunkett Cooney, a legal firm, Julie is regional manager at PNC Bank. Julie became familiar with The Gilmore Keyboard Festival through PNC Bank’s sponsorship of The Gilmore.

“We host clients by taking them to concerts,” she says.

The Petersons donate to The Gilmore in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.

“Donating to the Rising Stars Series is our favorite way of giving,” Keith says. The Rising Stars Series brings outstanding young artists from around the world to Kalamazoo.

“Every year, we choose one young artist to sponsor,” Julie adds. “We have dinner with them, and we talk about everything, not just music. This will be our fourth year sponsoring Rising Stars.”

The Petersons also take advantage of the PNC Bank matching gift program.

“We give the maximum amount to get the highest matching gift,” Keith says. “It’s a wonderful gift to your employees.”

The Petersons make an additional gift to The Gilmore during annual fundraisers. “After all, you need operating funds,” Keith says.

But there’s more. The Petersons have thought into the future. They have added The Gilmore into their will.

“Think of it this way,” Keith says. “You won’t miss the money. But planned giving can be critical to The Gilmore as it grows. It can be the most significant gift of your lifetime.”

Planned giving can be a monetary bequest, a life insurance policy, a donation of property, or a range of other giving options.

“When it comes to giving to the Kalamazoo community, The Gilmore knocks it out of the park,” Keith says. “They bring the world to Kalamazoo. These artists are heavily subsidized by donor gifts. That’s why The Gilmore so appreciates its donors.”


“And why we so appreciate great music,” Julie says. “Our kids say that we’re the only house where the kids have to ask the parents to turn down the music when they come to visit.”






Monday, October 03, 2016

Between the Lines: Kids and Books

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate




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. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Dr. Robert Needlman

Literacy volunteer with a student at Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park, California, in 2015
CREDIT TONY AVELAR / AP PHOTO


Early childhood expert Robert Needlman is a leading pediatrician, professor, and author. He's also the co-founder of Reach Out and Read, a literacy program that helps millions of children grow up loving books. And Needlman is a widely-sought speaker on early learning, literacy, and developmental-behavioral pediatrics.

“Overall, the United States doesn’t do as well as it should,” Needlman says. “The richest and most powerful country around, and we’re not even near the top of the list in terms of literacy.”
Needlman developed the Reach Out and Read program in 1989. It's designed to play a part in regular pediatric care. He works with parents to teach them storytelling skills, and with children to give them foundational language skills. Needlman says learning to read and enjoy books also gives kids living in poverty a better chance at success in school, and improves behavior by giving them the ability to express their thoughts and feelings in more constructive ways.
“It often doesn’t take much,” he says. “Just a little encouragement, a little empowerment, one or two picture books the kids can take home from the doctor’s office, and the parents and kids are off and running, doing wonderful reading aloud. And that’s because it’s ..."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Between the Lines: Writing for Kids

by Zinta Aistars

for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate




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. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Kelly DiPucchio 

Kelly DiPucchio
CREDIT TAYLER STIRRETT



Kelly DiPucchio writes children’s books because she can’t imagine writing anything else. She’s written twenty of them so far and is just getting started. Two of her books, Grace for President and The Sandwich Swap, were New York Times bestsellers. This month, she added a new book to the shelf: Everyone Loves Cupcake.

Grace for President, published in 2008, has taken on new life during the current presidential campaign. It’s a story about a little girl who notices that there are no women on a poster of U.S. presidents. Grace decides to run for president of the student council in her school to help change that.

“Every election, the book has another life added to it,” DiPucchio says. “This year, it’s had all kinds of interest in it. Rutgers University did a program in which they sent out copies to congresswomen and mayors and senators, encouraging them to takeGrace for President out into their communities and read them as part of their ‘Teach a Girl to Lead’ program.”
  DiPucchio’s newest book, Everyone Loves Cupcake, deals with sweeter matters. The character Cupcake is a perfectionist – every sprinkle in place – but finds herself dealing with self-esteem issues.
Although the book deals with some serious ...