Category Archives: How-To’s

Newly Unemployed? Five Steps to Put you on the Road to a New Job or Career


By West Michigan Works!

It’s no secret that job loss is stressful. Losing your income, daily routine and professional identity can lead to feelings of anger, fear and grief. Coping with these emotions can make searching for a new job overwhelming. There are things you can do to help stay positive and keep moving forward.

Start by organizing what you need to do into easy-to-follow steps. Focus on one step at time. Every time you complete a step, check it off your list. Eventually your list will no longer seem so overwhelming! The checklist below can help you get started.

Register with the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). You can register for unemployment and update your records all online. Visit the Michigan Web Account Manager (MiWAM) to set up an account and file your claim.

Create a Pure Michigan Talent Connect (PMTC) account. PMTC is an online portal where you can search for jobs and upload your resume so employers can find you. Get started at

Visit a Michigan Works! service center. Once you file for unemployment, you will need to register for work in person at a service center. Michigan Works! staff can help you through the process. The service center in Ottawa County is located at 121 Clover St, Holland, MI 49423. Visit the West Michigan Works! website to find other locations in our region.

Talk to a service center staff member. They can tell you what free services you are eligible for. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for employment preparation, career planning or scholarships for career training or on-the-job training.

Connect online. Follow the Michigan Works! Facebook page in your county to stay up-to-date on employers that are hiring and other resources for job seekers. Update your PMTC profile at least once every 30 days. This ensures your information will continue to be seen by employers.

Remember to stay positive, take it one step at a time and use the many resources available to job seekers. West Michigan Works! offers a variety of free services to help you develop a plan and take your next step to a new career!

Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Employment Expertise: How to Deal with Negative Coworkers

By West Michigan Works!


‘Tis the season for office parties and coffee breaks over holiday treats. While many enjoy these opportunities for more casual office interactions, it can also open the door to negative conversations and gossip.

According to a survey from Fierce, four out of five employees surveyed work, or have worked, with someone who is negative. Use these tips to keep the negativity to a minimum:

The Gossip
If you talk to someone who makes outrageous claims, you can politely challenge the information by asking “Is that a fact?” Or, “Did someone tell you?” These questions will make it clear that you only want to talk about factual things. Hopefully they’ll leave the gossip out of future conversations.

The “Venter”
This is the person who always needs to “vent” about something. Their conversations quickly turn from positive to negative. You can easily leave the conversation before things get out-of-hand by saying “I have to get back to my to-do list.” Or, “I need to finish a few things before the day’s over.”

The Negative Nancy
Sometimes you can’t avoid working with your negative co-workers. If a conversation starts to turn negative, you can quickly change the direction by saying “There’s too much negativity these days. Let’s focus on the positive.” While this person may not like the redirect, it will help alleviate the uncomfortable position of listening to their toxic conversation.

While you’re sharing a mug of hot chocolate at your company holiday party, make sure you do your part to shift negative conversations to positive ones. If the conversation swings back to negativity, stay but don’t contribute or politely excuse yourself.

Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Hoist the Stars and Stripes! — and be sure to follow flag etiquette


By Kelly Taylor, WKTV


Old Glory is displayed practically everywhere on Independence Day, but did you know one cannot simply hoist up the flag? There’s a certain way to do it, and there many, many rules to follow.


We thus take this occasion to review the rules of displaying the United States flag, under Chapter 1 of U.S. Code: Title 4 — Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the States. As with any U.S. Code, things can get mighty confusing, so we’ve abridged the rules here, in no particular order:

  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
  • When flown at half-staff, the flag should first be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position.
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the field of stars should be in the uppermost corner and to the observer’s left.
  • No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America.
  • The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is used.
  • When displayed on an automobile, the staff should be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
  • The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding or drapery.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled or damaged.
  • The flag should never be displayed with the field of stars down, except as a distress signal.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor or water.
  • The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Fun fact:

The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, a lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.


If you’d like to see a cool, historical progression of flag designs over the years, go here.


Employment Expertise: Job Search Buzzwords — Soft Skills

By West Michigan Works!

Editor’s Note: This is week four of our five week series on job search buzzwords.

What are soft skills?

Dictionary definition: personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Our definition: desirable qualities that you can’t learn in a classroom.

How do I show an employer I have soft skills?

Soft skills are important to your success as an employee. They’re the qualities you’ve learned through life experiences. Employers value these skills as much, or more, than the specific teachable abilities you need to perform a job like welding or programming (hard skills).

Examples of soft skills include:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Patience
  • Time management

During a job interview, employers may ask you situational questions like: Give an example of a time when you had a conflict with a team member?

Your response is a perfect opportunity to showcase your soft skills:

  • You spoke rationally with the coworker about the problem (illustrates good communication skills).
  • You changed a process in your daily routine to help make theirs a little easier (highlights your flexibility).
  • You value harmony in your team because you know you’ll be more efficient if everyone is getting along (shows you’re a team player).

Employers want to know they’re hiring a person who will do their job well but also has the ability to work with other team members, is reliable and represents the company well.

Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Employment Expertise: Job Search Buzzwords — LinkedIn


By West Michigan Works!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is week four of our five-week series on job search buzzwords.


What is LinkedIn?


Dictionary definition: a business and employment-oriented social networking service that operates via websites.

Our definition: a networking tool that acts as part resume, portfolio, letters of reference and social media. The social media aspect allows you to highlight your personality as well as your professional experience.

How do I make LinkedIn work for me?

Your LinkedIn profile should represent how you want to be seen by your network and potential employers. All of the topics discussed in our job search buzzwords series can help you build your profile:

  • Use the site to network with trusted contacts.
  • Strengthen your brand by including personal information you wouldn’t include on a resume.
  • Use your elevator speech as your headline or in the summary section.

With this knowledge and the five tips below, you will be on your way to creating a strong presence on LinkedIn.

  • Stay up to date. Be sure to include your most recent positions, responsibilities and accomplishments.
  • Get personal. You should always be professional. However, LinkedIn is a great way to let your network and potential employers understand you better. Include volunteer experience, interests and causes you are passionate about.
  • Give. LinkedIn allows you to write recommendations for others in your network as well as endorse them for skills. Start endorsing, and they may endorse you back.
  • Engage. The site allows you to follow posts about business-related topics or posts from different industries and companies. Read, share and comment on posts that interest you.
  • Make sure your profile is error free. In addition to proofing for typos, spelling or grammatical mistakes, make sure your information is correct and accurately portrays your accomplishments. Do not exaggerate.

Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.


Employment Expertise: Job Search Buzzword — ‘Personal Branding’


By West Michigan Works!


This is week two of a five-week series on job search buzzwords.


What is a personal brand?


Dictionary definition: the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.


Our definition: how you present yourself online and offline to others and, for job seekers, to potential employers.


Companies use brands to help consumers identify their merchandise. For example, we immediately connect the Coca-Cola logo and Nike swoosh to soda and athletic shoes. But it’s much more than a logo. It represents the feelings, expectations and value we associate with a specific company or product.


A brand can also apply to a person. Your personal brand includes your experience, skills, interests, online presence and relationships. Creating a strong personal brand can help you stand out from the crowd.


How do I create a strong personal brand?


Understand yourself.


What value do you offer? What are you passionate about? What are your strengths and weaknesses? When you reveal your authentic self to potential employers it shows them that you are more than your skills and experience. Your unique personality will help recruiters understand how you fit with the company’s culture.


Create an online presence.


Promote your brand online with positive, professional posts. If you don’t already have one, create a LinkedIn profile. You can include personal information such as causes you are passionate about and share posts on topics you are interested in. You’ll be seen as an individual instead of another resume in a large pile.




Last week’s article explained how to network. If you have done the work to understand your true self, networking is a way to share it with the world. Be personable and easy to relate to. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable – people like to connect with other real people. Finally, be consistent.  Stay true to your brand so that people remember who you are, what you stand for and what value you offer.


Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Blandford Nature Center kicks off summer activities with Farm Day Open House May 27

By Blandford Nature Center


Summer is knocking on our door, and Blandford Nature Center seems as busy as ever. As we close out the end of the school year, prepare for Summer Day Camps, and develop our Community Programs for the upcoming months, we have many openings for volunteers to come out during this busy, sunny season. Check out the Volunteer Opportunities below to get a sneak peek of all the things happening around Blandford!

Farm Day Open House

When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, May 27


Don’t miss this family friendly event down on the farm! Meet the goats, chickens, and pigs; say ‘hi’ to your local farmers; check out our plant sale; listen to a story; and play some games. This is a great option for a Memorial Day ‘stay-cation’.


Volunteer for this Event

Longest Day 5K

2017 marks the 6th year of Blandford Nature Center’s fundraising trail run/walk! Join us for an evening of fitness, food, and fun. Run or walk the trails through Blandford’s property. Afterwards, celebrate the summer solstice with us at our Summer Celebration!

  • Where: Blandford Farm
  • When: 4-9 p.m. on Friday, June 23

Volunteer for this Event

Spring Planting Days

As the temperatures rise and the sun shines brighter, Blandford is preparing to take on a few landscaping projects in the various gardens and green spaces around BNC. We need help planting.

We’ll be making several trips to buy/collect native plants from local nurseries so there will be a variety of days available for planting. Please specify a time frame during that day’s open hours so we can plan accordingly.

  • Where: Blandford Nature Center
  • When: Various dates

Volunteer for this Event

Eco-Stewardship Work Days

Eco-Stewardship work focuses on habitat restoration, trail restoration, stream clean-up and removal of invasive species on several sections of our 264-acre site.

  • Where: Blandford Nature Center
  • When: Various dates

Volunteer for this Event

Farm Work Days

NEW THIS YEAR! Perfect for volunteers who want to get their veggies on and hands dirty. Currently offered once a month with the potential to add more days as the season becomes busier.

  • Where: Blandford Farm
  • When: Various dates

Volunteer for this Event


Blandford Nature Center is located at 1715 Hillburn Ave. NW in Grand Rapids. For more info, call 616.735.6240.


All registration fees and donations will be used to further Blandford Nature Center’s mission to engage and empower our community through enriching experiences in nature.

Employment Expertise: Job search buzzword — ‘Networking’


By West Michigan Works!

If you’ve job searched for more than a day, there are a handful of words you’ve probably heard over and over:

  • Network. 

  • Personal brand. 

  • Elevator speech. 

  • LinkedIn. 

  • Soft Skills.

What do these words actually mean? How do you do them well?

Welcome to our five-part series, Job Search Buzzwords. We’ll explain these terms in an easy way to understand. And, give you practical ways to start putting these words into actions.

Job Search Buzzword: Networking — What is it?

Dictionary definition: interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.

Our definition: Getting to know other people in the community so you can help them and they can help you.

How to do it?

Forget the phrase networking. Instead think relationship maintenance. 
Networking is about meeting people you want to share ideas and resources with and are genuinely interested in staying connected. Networking is a way of thinking and not a “thing” you do once a month.

Networking is natural.
 When was the last time someone you knew asked you for a restaurant recommendation? Or asked for your thoughts on a problem they had with a project? This is networking in action! You develop relationships with people. And, they trust what you share because you have a relationship with them.

Attend events that make sense for you.
 Don’t go to every networking event planned. You’ll wear yourself out. Instead go to the events with interesting speakers or people attending.

Prepare before you go.

  • Decide your goal for going before you step in the door: do you want to meet with three people, meet a specific person, or find someone you can help.
  • Avoid awkward conversations. Have a few conversation starters in mind: ‘How did you hear about this event?’ ‘Have you ever been before?’ ‘Hi, I don’t know too many people here, so I wanted to introduce myself. I’m [name].’

People are busy. The next day, send a quick email to remind them of you and your conversation. Make sure to send them any articles, videos, project examples you promised.

Maintain the relationships. 
After you send your follow-up email, connect to them on LinkedIn. Do they tweet? Follow them on Twitter. Monitor your social media feeds and comment on their posts sometimes. Email them once in a while to check-in. And keep an eye out for them at future networking events.

Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Employment Expertise: Five Tips for the Mature Job Seeker

By West Michigan Works!

Are you over 50 and back in the job market for the first time in years? Do you think your age will make it harder to find a new job?

It’s true; hiring managers can make generalizations about mature job seekers. They may worry that you are not up to speed with the latest technology. They might also assume you are overqualified and will demand a higher salary.

There are ways to overcome these barriers. Here are five tips to help you get back in the workforce:

  • Consider training to update your skills. Is there new technology used in your line of work? Would you like to break into a new field? Use this time to get the training you need to land your next job.
  • Refresh your resume. To prevent broadcasting your age, don’t include graduation dates or experience dating more than 10-15 years. Focus only on skills that relate to the job you are applying for.
  • Stay up-to-date with technology. You will need to be comfortable searching the web for jobs and applying online. A strong LinkedIn profile can show potential employers you are comfortable with technology.
  • Network. Connect with friends, former colleagues and supervisors first. Let them know you are looking for a new position and ask them for advice and referrals.
  • Highlight your strengths. Older employees can bring a high level of professionalism, strong problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence to a position. This can make you a valuable member of any team.

Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Changing careers? Here’s how to find a job that’s right for you


By West Michigan Works!


Did you know that the average person will change careers five to seven times in a lifetime? Not just a new job, but a completely new field. For example, leaving a marketing position for accounting or moving from manufacturing to retail.


Why do workers change careers so often? Sometimes it has to do with frustration in a current job. Other times, a business closure or downsizing forces a move. A lifestyle change can leave workers needing more time at home or a larger salary. As workers mature, they better understand their talents and interests.


Whatever the reason, multiple career changes is the norm in today’s workforce. So, how can you do it successfully?


Understand yourself. Take time for self-reflection. What are your passions, strengths and weaknesses? Not sure where to begin? Consider taking a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment, to get started.


Find the right fit. Once you understand your skills and personal preferences, start exploring your options. There are many good career exploration sites online like Pure Michigan Talent Connect. Their Career Explorer page has tools that match your interests and skills with the best career for you.


Prepare. Research the position you want to transition into. Are your current skills transferable? Do you need additional training or education? Consider volunteering in the field. You can gain knowledge and make connections.


Network.  Speaking of connections, do you know anyone who is already working in the field? Would they be willing to provide a reference, or do they know of current job openings? Join a professional network in the field and attend local networking events. Prepare a strong elevator speech to let your new connections know why you want a new career.


Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

The Interview: more answers to common questions


By West Michigan Works!


Editor’s Note: This is the final in a four-part series about how to answer common interview questions.


The interview is a time for you to make yourself stand out from other candidates. Asking thoughtful questions during the interview can set you apart just as much, if not more, than how you answer questions. Questions are the best way to show your interest in the company, demonstrate confidence and highlight your qualifications.


The key to asking good questions is the same as answering them. Do your homework before the interview. Practice and be prepared. Here are some recommendations to get you started.

  1. Ask a question that shows you have done your research. Address one of the company’s core values or goals and ask how the position you are interviewing for connects to it. For example, “Your core value of sustainability and reducing environmental impact is something I believe strongly in. How does this position contribute to this value, especially in day-to-day work?”
  2. Ask questions to learn more about the company culture. A question like, “What do you enjoy most about working here?” is an opportunity to see a more personal aspect of the company. If the interviewer struggles to find an answer, it may be a red flag.
  3. “What skills and experience does the ideal candidate for this position need?” If the interviewer mentions a skill that you haven’t addressed yet, here’s your chance to provide an example.
  4. Finally, the following questions can help you determine is the job is a good fit for you:
  • “Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position?”
  • “What are the top challenges this position faces?”
  • “How do you define success for this position?”

Come prepared with at least four questions to ensure you have something to ask at the end of the interview.


Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.

Your Community in Action: Financial health in the new year


By ASCET Community Action Agency


Data from 2012 indicates that 60% of Michigan residents don’t have an emergency fund. What happens when their car breaks down or a family member gets sick? How do they find the money for these unplanned expenses?


Living pay check to pay check is stressful; it can feel like you will never catch up. Many people find money management training helps. With the right tools and dedication, it is possible to save up for that rainy day!


January is a great time to set goals for the upcoming year. If financial health is one of your New Year’s resolutions, there are many programs in Kent County that can help. For example, MSU Extension offers the Money Management Series. Money Management is a Personal Financial Education Program that gives participants information and tools to manage their finances, achieve goals and increase their financial stability. In this series, you will learn the following skills:

  • Making Money Decisions
  • Creating & Managing Spending Plans
  • The Importance of Saving & Investing
  • Credit Card Use & Paying Off Debt

After taking financial classes through MSU Extension, 84% of participants reported keeping track of spending and income as well as saving money regularly.  Are you ready to meet that New Year’s resolution of better financial health? The next series begins on February 8 in Grand Rapids!


Pre-registration is required. Learn more about the program and how to register online here.  


Your Community in Action! is provided by ASCET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit


The Interview: More answers to common questions


By West Michigan Works!


Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series about how to answer common interview questions.


After the interviewer asks you a couple questions to get to know you a little better (see our first article for tips), they might move to questions about why you are a good fit for the job.


Here are a few common questions and strong answers to help you prepare for your next interview:

  • Why should we hire you?
    • Be concise and confident.
    • Focus on telling them why your experience will benefit their organization.
    • Avoid talking about what you’ll get out of the job.
    • Tell them what you will do in the first 30, 60 or 90 days.
  • Why do you want this job?
    • Be specific. What are the aspects of the job that excite you?
    • Do your research. What is it about their company that makes you want to work for them over their competitors?
  • How do you handle stress and pressure?
    • Give an example of a professional situation when you handled the stress well.
    • Don’t tell them you never feel stressed. Everyone does!
    • Talk about ways you manage stress or pressure. Ex: to-do lists, going on a walk at lunch, morning meetings with your team.

Tell us on Facebook: how are your interviews going? What questions are employers asking you?


Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit or your local Service Center.


Locally-produced sewing craft show back for 2nd season on WKTV

OnPoint focuses on host Nancy M. Roelfsema’s “Learning to Quilt” lessons. (Supplied)

By Thomas Hegewald



When OnPoint Tutorials, Tips & Tours debuted in 2015, the production team had no idea what the audience reaction would be to the show. While the team pledged to focus on all things creative, they didn’t know they would create a following which would look forward to a new tutorial, tip or tour every week.


From the start they have endeavored to demonstrate host lessons to a broader audience. By showcasing these lessons, the show has created a large “classroom” for viewers and novice quilters alike. OnPoint will complete these lessons in the course of the second season along with showcasing other crafts.


The OnPoint production team includes team Bill Roelfsema, Gina Greenlee, Karen Giles, Nancy Roelfsema, Athina Morehouse, Michelle Sheler, Eric Sheler, and Thomas Hegewald.


The OnPoint production team includes team, from left to right, Bill Roelfsema, Gina Greenlee, Karen Giles, Nancy Roelfsema, Athina Morehouse, Michelle Sheler, Eric Sheler and Thomas Hegewald. (Supplied)

Each month the production team records a number of segments for a half hour program. In addition to providing viewers with step-by-step tutorials on a particular technique, they also feature helpful tips and an insider’s view of local trade shows, quilt stores, quilt guilds and artist’s studios.


For this, the second season, they’ve produced additional episodes featuring demonstrations that were recorded in October at the 2016 Quilts on the Grand Show held at the DeltaPlex.


Season 2 of OnPoint Tutorials, Tips & Tours debuted last week on WKTV and will continue weekly with initial broadcasts on Monday at 6 p.m., with an encore broadcast on Friday at 10:30 a.m.


For more information on OnPoint, visit or on FaceBook at OnPoint.


Metro Health Village: Go the extra mile for better health

metro-health-a-great-place-to-walkWalking is as simple as it gets for a gentle, low-impact exercise that just about anyone can enjoy. In fact, walking can help prevent and improve many common health issues like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression, to name a few. All you need is a good, supportive pair of walking shoes and a safe place to walk, like Metro Health Village, 5900 Byron Center Avenue in Wyoming.


Metro Health Village has a number of walking routes and even a bike trail — all perfect for an afternoon stroll with the kids or a quick, weeknight workout. Download a Walking/Bike Route map here.


Need a little push to get started? Check out the Couch to 5K Training Program. Even if you’re not looking to set any world records, this program will have you up and active in no time!


Motivation is key when starting a new physical activity. Here are some ideas to help you stay focused and interested every day:

  • Wear a pedometer. Increase your steps a little every day until you reach the recommended 10,000 steps a day.
  • Get a walking partner – a friend, spouse, child, even the dog!
  • Sign up for a race or charity walk like the Metro Way 5K & Family Fun Run or the American Heart Association Heart Walk. An upcoming event gives you a goal to reach.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park farther from the door when running errands.
  • Plan a walking meeting at work.

Walking Safety Tips

Above all, it’s important to stay safe, no matter where or when you walk.

  • Walk with a buddy whenever possible.
  • Carry your name, address and a friend or relative’s phone number in your shoe or pocket.
  • Wear a medical bracelet if you have diabetes, an allergy or other condition.
  • Carry a cell phone, and let someone know you’re walking routes.
  • Avoid deserted or unlit streets, especially after dark.
  • Do not use headsets that prevent you from hearing traffic.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk; if there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic.
  • Stand clear of buses, hedges, parked cars or other obstacles before crossing so drivers can see you.
  • Cross streets at marked crosswalks or intersections, if possible.


Metro Health offers ideas for going green in your daily life

Courtesy of Metro Health

Incorporating green living practices into your daily life may be easier (and more fun) than you think. Here are just a few of Metro Health’s favorite ideas:

  • Go Vegetarian Once a Week (Meatless Mondays)
    One less meat-based meal a week helps the planet and your diet. For example: It requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. You will also also save some trees. For each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rain forest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed. Find some meatless recipes featured by our Farm Markets and learn how to make your favorite recipes more heart healthy.
  • Rethink Bottled Water
    Nearly 90% of plastic water bottles are not recycled, instead taking thousands of years to decompose. Buy a reusable container and fill it with tap water, a great choice for the environment, your wallet and possibly your health. The EPA’s standards for tap water are more stringent than the FDA’s standards for bottled water.
  • Make a Rain Barrel
    Do your part to conserve water by taking a Rain Barrel Workshop. Rain barrels are effective in storm water usage and water quality. They can even help lower your water bill during those long, hot summer months.
  • Buy Local
    Consider the amount of pollution created to get your food from the farm to your table. Whenever possible, buy from local farmers or farmers’ markets, supporting your local economy and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas created when products are flown or trucked in. Click here to learn about the Metro Health Farm Markets.
  • Plant a Garden
    Planting a garden is a great way to enjoy fresh produce at home! We are proud to supply our Metro Café with fresh produce and herbs from the Metro Health Garden. We also partner with the United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) and the City of Wyoming to provide a Community Garden in a neighborhood where there is great need and limited access to healthy food. Watch for information about our gardens and tips on making your own garden come to life.
  • Community Clean-Up Day
    Metro Health Village is home to a number of walking and biking trails and Frog Hollow Park, making it a great escape for the whole family. So every spring, we host a day to spruce up Metro Health Village, making it ready for another season of family fun. Please join us – this may be the most fun you ever had picking up trash! (High school students can also earn Community Service Hours by participating.) Check Metro Health’s Live Healthy Calendar to learn more.

‘Día de los Muertos: Build an Altar’ deadline is Oct. 19


Want to honor a deceased loved one — a person or a pet? Consider building an altar at the Grand Rapids Main Public Library for Día de los Muertos.


Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is celebrated in Mexico between October 31st and November 2nd to remember deceased loved ones and honor them. Contrary to U.S. funerals, which are mainly somber affairs, Day of the Dead is a festive occasion and colorful holiday—a celebration of lives who have passed on.


Building an altar is an integral part of celebrating the holiday. Traditionally, families will build altars in their homes during the weeks leading up to November 1st. These are often quite beautiful creations, constructed with love and care.


There are no hard and fast rules about how the altar should be made; just create it from your heart. Make something that looks attractive and is meaningful to you. Altars are also meant to welcome returning spirits, so they include both personalized and traditional elements—including several dating to the Aztecs—that will guide an honoree on his journey from the land of the dead.


day-of-the-dead-altars-300x265Whether simple or sophisticated, Day of the Dead altars and ofrenda all contain certain basic elements in common. Here are the ofrendas that you will typically see on a Día de los Muertos altar:

  • Candles – Candles are lit to welcome the spirits back to their altars.
  • Marigolds – These yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasúchitl, symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also help lead the dead back to their altars. Marigold petals may also be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or even sprinkled along a path from the altar to the front door, so that the spirit may find her way inside.
  • Incense – Most commonly, copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico. The scent is also said to guide the spirits back to their altars.
  • Salt – represents the continuance of life.
  • Photo of the deceased – A framed photo of the dead person to whom the altar is dedicated, usually positioned in a prime spot on the altar.
  • Pan de muerto – Also known as “bread of the dead”, pan de muerto is a symbol of the departed.
  • Sugar skulls – As symbols of death and the afterlife, sugar skulls are not only given as gifts to the living during Day of the Dead, they are also placed as offerings on the altar.
  • Fresh fruit – whatever is in season—oranges, bananas, etc.

dayofthedeadaltar-1-283x300If you’re interested, please download an application today (aplicación en español). Altars can be built on October 26 and will be on display from October 27 to November 1 at the Grand Rapids Public Library Main Branch, 111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI.


Deadline for reserving space is Wednesday, October 19 at 6:00pm.


Downtown Market has classic comfort food classes to warm body and soul

Thanksgiving should be a time for fun family feasts, but even thinking about putting it all together can be enormously stressful.

Perhaps this is the first time you’re preparing the feast. Or maybe baking the perfect turkey has always eluded you. Whatever the stressor, Grand Rapids Downtown Market has cooking classes that will help you master the art of Thanksgiving meal making.


Here are just a few classes to help you out.


turkey-basicsTurkey Basics

Wednesday, November 2 from 6-8:30pm


In this class, you’ll learn some tricks to make the holiday a lot easier: how to properly brine, carve and roast a turkey; master gravy for those super creamy mashed potatoes; cook classic cranberry chutney; and prepare an easy stuffing that’s not soggy or boring.


Click here to learn more and to register.


autumn-nightsAutumn Nights East Coast vs. West Coast

Friday, November 4 from 6-8:30pm


There are not too many better rivalries than East Coast vs. West Coast. In this class, you’ll decide which coast you like the best by creating culinary classics that represent both sides. You’ll make classic chowders, roasted chicken with salsa verde or orange harvest topping, and see if Washington apple pie can win out over Boston cream pie.


Click here to learn more and to register.


beyond-the-pieThanksgiving Cocktails and Desserts: Beyond The Pie

Wednesday, November 16 from 6-8:30pm


Celebrate the indulgences of Thanksgiving with two favorite excesses: cocktails and desserts. In this class, you will make the best hot buttered rum batter this land has seen, shake an entire egg in a New York Flip cocktail (it tastes amazing), and learn how to make a cranberry walnut pear tart.


Click here to learn more and to register.


pie-crustPie Crust to be Thankful For

Monday, November 21 from 6-8:30pm


Learn how to master an easy-to-make pie crust! You’ll roll, mix and stretch for a beautiful custard pie, blue ribbon pecan pie and an award-winning apple pie. You will head home with three full pies to share with your loved ones.


Click here to learn more and to register.



Plugging back into real life

nature-laptop-outside-macbook By: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder


Have you ever stopped to think about how ‘plugged in’ we are as a society that everyday life events are missed right in front of us? I’ve passed countless people looking at their phones instead of paying attention to their surroundings. I’ve seen the videos of people too immersed in their phones to notice they’re about to walk into traffic or take an unplanned dip into a pool; things that are blatantly obvious if only their eyes were watching life instead of watching their phone.


One time while sitting at a restaurant, I overheard a father telling his teenage son that if he continued to stare at his phone instead of being a part of the dinner conversations, than he would be left at home during the next night out. We are now so plugged in that my 5-year-old niece recently noticed a landline phone for the first time and asked what it was. She lives in a world where there are only cell phones!


social-networks-time-spentTechnology is a great tool that can oftentimes be misused or abused. Facebook, like the internet as a whole, is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family but it can quickly turn into a time suck. On average most people send about 50 minutes a day on Facebook alone. Add in other social media outlets and that number quickly climbs to over 2 to 3 hours, depending on age.


Have you seen the video on YouTube where a young girl goes through her day without a cell phone only to notice the abundance of phones around her? The video currently has over 49 million views and gives a perfect example of what we actually notice when we look up from our mobile devices. The simple act of enjoying life has been pushed aside with distractions of the virtual world.


So, what are we to do?


Well, we could organize burn parties and destroy all the technology! Okay… maybe that is a bit extreme, and bad for the environment, but we can add minor changes in our days. Type in a quick google search and there are many articles out there that discuss just this idea. However, I’ve already done the homework and condensed them down. Below are some of my favorites:


1.) Digital Diet: Specifically a social media diet. FOMO – The Fear Of Missing Out – is real thanks to a constant influx of social media. Turn off alerts on your phone to help limit the amount of time you’re online or delete the App entirely. On top of quieting your alters, try limiting the amount of posts you make. If you usually post multiple times per day, maybe tone it down to one or two. Facebook started as a way to stay in contact with family and friends, not to be a digital diary to spew your innermost thoughts. Well, at least in my opinion is isn’t.


2.) Chose a day to limit technology: Tech free Sunday? Mellow Monday? I’ve done this in the past and found Sunday works best for me. I enjoy morning coffee while reading an actual, physical newspaper. Afternoons are filled with family games or maybe a hike at a local park. Chose a day that works best for you even if you can set aside only part of the day. I have found my productivity to expand exponentially on my technological days off.


3.) Device hub: New house rule, no phone in the bedroom. It sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Try it and you might just thank me. Studies have found that consuming technology up to, or in, bed is bad. You sleep better when you back away from the tech world. Try and give the digital world up at least 30 minutes before bed. It’s a great way to reconnect with a loved one at the end of the day. I’ve tried it myself with my husband and we found it mutually beneficial and enjoyable as we both clearly have each other’s attention and focus. Your loved ones deserve your attention at the end of the day, not your phone.


no cell phone4.) Eat without electronics: It sounds like such a simple concept, to eat a meal without a phone check, but people struggle with it all the time. No email, no social media, and no taking a picture of your meal and posting it online. Just eating and being mindful of what you’re eating. Same goes when you’re with friends. We all have that one friend who can’t make it 10 minutes without looking at their phone for some reason or another. Heck, unfortunately it seems this behavior is becoming the norm instead of the exception.


I have one friends that is really good about being in the moment. If we are out grabbing a coffee or getting a meal, she often shuts her phone off. Yes, she turns her phone completely off! It was shocking the first time I saw her do it but quickly realized how important it was that she was giving me all of her attention. When’s the last time you’ve had that with someone?


5.) Make it simple: So, you can’t make it through a stop light without checking the phone? Take the necessary steps to make it more difficult to reach the phone during the car ride. For me, my phone goes in my purse which goes in the backseat of the car. The gentlemen reading this probably don’t have a purse, but a briefcase works the same was as does putting the phone in the center console. Out of reach, out of mind.


With the phone out of reach, I’m more mindful of my surroundings, like the soccer mom in the van coming across the lane because she’s busy texting and driving.


6.) Inform others: Let others in your life know you are cutting back. Don’t send me a message on Facebook if you need my immediate attention, call or text me. If you don’t have my number, maybe we should work on becoming better friends first. Are you planning on not answering your phone during certain hours? Make it known! I do this with my best friend who happens to love the idea. When my friends is working third shift, she can can keep me updated about her day while knowing that I’m not being disturbed by alerts. Thank goodness for the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature on my phone. I keep it on daily from 11pm to 9am.


gertrude stein quoteGive a few of these ideas a try over the next week or two and see how it goes. You might discover how much you’re truly plugged in without realizing it. Disconnecting will give you something real back into your life. Disengaging from technology might take the stress down a little bit as you’re able to better concentrate on the task at hand. Whatever it is that you find, I hope you find a little bit of ‘real’ that you may have been missing in the digital world.


Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West Michigan area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

No need to raise a stink — the bugs are already here

Meet Mr. Stinky, the source of all this brouhaha

The stink bugs are coming! The stink bugs are coming! (Oh, wait. They’re already here.)


Well, just don’t you panic — it’s that time of year (you know, like shedding season for Fluffy and Fido), when the little buggers look for a warm place to hibernate for winter — in your home. Can you blame them?


Wait! Who? What?

Specifically, it’s the brown marmorated stink bugs that are raising such a stink in lower Michigan. Remember last fall, when we were asked to report any sightings of these guys in our homes? Yeah, me neither, but apparently Michigan residents were asked to report sightings, and apparently there were enough sightings to warrant an official decree: marmorated stink bugs are well-established as a nuisance pest in homes in the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.


It makes sense when you think about it. The little guys want to stay warm during the cold months and don’t worry, they promise to leave in the spring if they can find their way back out. If they do make it back out, they’ll look for plants to eat and lay their eggs outside.


Seriously, there is no cause for worry. They are not nesting, laying eggs or feeding on you, your pets or anything in your house. I repeat: They are harmless to pets and humans. They just want a warm place to rest their sweet little mandibles.


Who ARE these guys, anyway?

The brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys (Hempitera: Pentatohalyomorpha_halysmidae), is an invasive insect native to Japan and Asia. It was first discovered in Michigan in 2011. Since then they have been slowly spreading throughout the state. In addition to causing damage to plants and fruit, the little stinkers are a major nuisance because adult stink bugs often seek shelter inside houses and other buildings in the fall. Once inside, they congregate almost anywhere. Although they will not cause structural damage or reproduce in homes or bite people or pets, and although they are not known to transmit disease or cause physical harm, the insect produces a pungent, malodorous chemical and when handling the bug, the odor is transferred readily.


Oh, my! What should I do?

  1. Don’t panic. We said that upfront, but it bears repeating.
  2. Look for gaps around window air conditioners or holes in window screens and block them off — these little stinkers love these easy access points.
  3. The easiest, non-toxic way to dispose of them is with a couple inches of soapy water in a bucket — the soap prevents them from escaping the water. Yup, just sweep ’em into the bucket and they will drown in the soapy water, which you can then dump outside. Or you can do the same with a Shop-Vac — add the soapy water to the canister before vacuuming them up with the Shop-Vac. (You may want to use an old, junker vacuum for this purpose because the bugs may live up to their name and “stink up” your vacuum.)
  4. Report how many you’ve seen at a given location using the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network. If you have trouble entering the information on the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website, leave a message for Julianna Wilson via email at or by phone at 517.432.4766 with your name, address (or nearest crossroads), the date you saw them, and how many you have seen.


The map above shows where reports have been made to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network of brown marmorated stink bugs in the Lower Peninsula since Sept. 25, 2015.


(Call me crazy, but I posit that if these guys didn’t go around stinking things up, nobody would have been the wiser.)




Farm Market Recipe of the Week: Mixed Grill with Balsamic-Mustard Vegetables

Mixed GrillMixed Grill with Balsamic-Mustard Vegetables


Makes: 4 servings
Active Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes




1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces beef tenderloin or petite filet
2 ears corn, husked and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
2 portobello mushroom caps
2 medium bell peppers, cut lengthwise into 6 pieces
2 medium zucchini, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices
1 eggplant, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices
1 medium red onion, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
8 ounces Italian pork sausage




1. Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot, mustard, pepper and salt in a large bowl. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade in a small bowl. Brush beef with 1 tablespoon of
the remaining marinade. Add corn, mushroom caps, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and onion to the large bowl and toss to combine. Let stand at room
temperature, stirring the vegetables once or twice, for 1 hour. Or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high.
3. Grill the beef and sausage, turning once halfway through, until the beef is cooked to your liking, 12 to 14 minutes for medium, and the sausage registers an
internal temperature of 165 °F, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a clean cutting board.
4. Grill the vegetables until tender and lightly charred, turning once or twice, 8 to 10 minutes total.
5. Slice the beef, sausage and mushroom caps. Arrange on a platter with the vegetables. Drizzle with the reserved marinade or serve it on the side.


Make Ahead Tip:
Marinate beef and vegetables in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.


Nutritional Information


Serving size: 3 oz. meat & 2 1/2 cups vegetables
Per serving: 488 calories; 32 g fat(7 g sat); 6 g fiber; 29 g carbohydrates; 22 g protein; 109 mcg folate; 50 mg cholesterol; 15 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 2263 IU vitamin A; 101 mg vitamin C; 53 mg calcium; 3 mg iron; 695 mg sodium; 1131 mg potassium

Farm Market Recipe of the Week: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato & Avocado Sandwiches

Bacon, Lettuce, Avacado, Tomato SandwichBacon, Lettuce, Tomato & Avocado Sandwiches


Makes: 2 sandwiches
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes


4 slices center-cut bacon, halved
1/2 ripe medium avocado
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon finely grated or minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
4 slices wheat bread
1 small tomato, cut into 4 slices
2 romaine leaves
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts




1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, turning once, until crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
2. Meanwhile, mash avocado in a medium bowl. Stir in basil, mayonnaise, garlic, salt and pepper. Toast bread.
3. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the avocado mixture on 2 slices of toast. Top each with 4 pieces of bacon, 2 tomato slices, a lettuce leaf, 1/4 cup sprouts and the remaining toast.


Nutritional Information


Per serving (1 sandwich): 345 calories; 16 g fat(3 g sat); 10 g fiber; 37 g carbohydrates; 15 g protein; 60 mcg folate; 15 mg cholesterol; 2 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 1065 IU vitamin A; 13 mg vitamin C; 21 mg calcium; 2 mg iron; 542 mg sodium; 452 mg potassium


Recipe from

Farm Market Recipe of the Week: Blueberry Maple Muffins

Blueberry Maple MuffinsBlueberry-Maple Muffins
Makes: 12 muffins
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour




1/3 cup whole flaxseeds
1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup nonfat buttermilk, (see Tip)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar




1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.
2. Grind flaxseeds in a spice mill (such as a clean coffee grinder) or dry blender. Transfer to a large bowl. Add whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking
powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; whisk to blend. Whisk eggs and maple syrup in a medium bowl until smooth. Add buttermilk, oil, orange zest,
orange juice and vanilla; whisk until blended.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients with a rubber spatula just until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Scoop the batter into the
prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with sugar.
4. Bake the muffins until the tops are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly, 15 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool slightly.


Tips & Notes


No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make “sour milk”: mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.


Nutritional Information


Per muffin: 208 calories; 8 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 36 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrates; 6 g protein; 3 g fiber; 184 mg sodium; 149 mg potassium.

How one man ruined America* and left us with millions of worms in his wake

Well, hello there!
*Or at least part of America, including Michigan.


By Victoria Mullen



The gypsy moth has been the bane of the northeastern and Midwestern U.S. (and Canada) for nigh on over a century now.


Originally introduced to the U.S. as a possible alternative to the finicky silkworm (which favors only mulberry leaves), the hardy gypsy moth has a voracious appetite for oak trees as well as several species of trees of shrubs, including (in alphabetical order): apple, aspen, basswood, birch, hawthorns, poplar, speckled alder (not to be confused with pickled herring), sweet gum and willow, to name a few. Older larvae feed on Atlantic white cypress, cottonwood, hemlock, pine and spruce. All told, these things will eat more than 300 different species of trees.


Before getting too far into the meat of the matter — which is, admittedly, overwhelming — there are some things we can do, and I won’t leave you high and dry. You’ll find tips at the end of this essay.


A single gypsy moth caterpillar can consume 11 square feet of vegetation during its lifetime; the presence of millions of caterpillars can defoliate 13 million acres of trees in the United States in just one season.


Normally, nature’s creatures keep each other in check. So, what accounts for the millions of trees that are decimated each year by gypsy moth larvae? As with most unnatural disasters, this one arose out of human greed and error — a failed attempt to cultivate a silk industry in America. We should know better.


Here, then, is the sordid tale of an enterprise gone very, very wrong.


The man also had a beard

Picture, if you will, a Frenchman in the mid-1800s.

A man with a moustache. A man with an entrepreneurial spirit. A man who saw an opportunity and without an iota of thought for the future, just went for it.


That man was Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, an artist and astronomer who showed real talent in those fields. Some examples of his work are shown here (also scroll down).


Originally from Aisne, France, Trouvelot and his family were forced to flee Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état in 1852. They settled in Medford, Massachusetts at 27 Myrtle St., where our proud, little breadwinner supported himself and his family as an artist and astronomer, painting lovely pictures of the planets as he saw them. We can only assume his renderings were the result of a creative eye and not mind-altering substances.


Jupiter as Étienne Léopold Trouvelot saw it. Trouvelot was an artist and astronomer who should have stuck to sketching and star gazing

A pause here to reflect: I personally know dozens of artists would would kill to have the opportunity to make a living with their art. But it just wasn’t enough for Trouvelot.


No, sirree.


Indeed, one day, during one of his random, no doubt fitful, musings, the Frenchman decided, “Eureka! I shall study Entomology!” (from Greek ἔντομον, entomon “insect”; and -λογία, -logia)—the scientific study of insects, a branch of zoology.


Only he likely decided this in French.


And on that fateful day, life as all future inhabitants of the northeastern and Midwestern US of A would come to know it, was forever altered.


Planet Mars by Trouvelot

Actually, this should come as no surprise. Trouvelot’s interest coincided with a nineteenth-century fad—raising silkworms to become rich beyond belief. After all, silk had been a symbol of great wealth for centuries.


Several kinds of wild silk, which are produced by caterpillars other than the mulberry silkworm, have been known and used in China, South Asia, and Europe since ancient times. First developed in ancient China, the earliest example of silk fabric dates from 3630 BC.


At its zenith, the silk trade reached as far as the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe and North Africa. So extensive was this trade that the major routes between Europe and Asia came to be known as the Silk Road.


Silk route

In ancient times, silk from China was an incredibly profitable and desirable luxury item. People from Persia and many other civilizations benefited mightily from its trade.


Fast-forward to the mid-1860s, in Medford, Massachusetts…

…where our anti-hero, Trouvelot, had became utterly fixated on the biology and culture of worms — silkworms, specifically — because what man in his right mind would ignore an opportunity to become richer than his wildest dreams?


To his credit, Trouvelot was meticulous with his research comparing the qualities of silk produced by a variety of native North American silkworms. After a time, he  concluded that Antheraea Polyphemus (NOT a gypsy moth) showed the greatest possibilities for commercial silk production. This species occurs throughout the United States and southern Canada, feeds on several hardwood species, and is reported to produce a very high-quality silk.


Courtesy of Purdue University
All fine and dandy. But our guy was obsessed. For eight years, from 1860 until at least 1868, Trouvelot developed techniques for mass rearing A. Polyphemus. Seriously, I can think of so many other, vastly more interesting things to pursue for one year, let alone eight.


Experiments rearing larvae on cut foliage were “meh” at best; these things preferred living saplings. At the peak of his operation, our guy had more than a million larvae under culture in a five-acre wooded area behind his house. I can’t begin to imagine how he managed to cover the entire area with nets, but that he did, to discourage birds from feeding upon his little darlings.


“The first year I found only two caterpillars.”


Not content to limit his experiments to species native to North America, in the late 1860s, Trouvelot brought home a shipment of live gypsy moth eggs upon his return from a trip to Europe. His plan was to crossbreed gypsy moths with a silk-producing North American species to develop a strain resistant to the protozoan disease, Nosema bombycis, which had decimated the silk industry in much of Europe.


He soon learned that the species were incompatible for breeding. Nonetheless, he kept a few gypsy moths in a room in his house. As souvenirs, perhaps?


Who can say?


And he continued researching. He fed his caterpillars. He nurtured them. He raised them as his very own. And he watched in awe as they cycled through the egg/larvae/pupae/moth stages. These little buggers ate anything. And, they produced silk, dammit!


Then, Mr. Trouvelot had the unmitigated gall to write about it.


gypsy moth
Female on the prowl

“In 1860, after having tested the qualities of the cocoons of the different species of the American silk worms,” he wrote, “I endeavored to accumulate a large number of the cocoons of the Polyphemus moth, for the future propagation of this species. At first the undertaking seemed very simple; but who will ever know the difficulties, the hardships and discouragements which I encountered.”


Poor Trouvelot! One could almost feel sorry for him. The first year, he found just two insects, one half dead and the other still in its cocoon, refusing to emerge.


“Imagine my anxiety; it was a year lost,” lamented Trouvelot in his journal.


Indeed. But our anti-hero was tenacious if nothing else, and he wasn’t about to let the little matter of the absence of insects to derail his mission. And so, the second year, he found a dozen worms and studied them further to learn more about their habits. His patience was rewarded.


“It is astonishing how rapidly the larva grows, and one who has no experience in the matter could hardly believe what an amount of food is devoured by these little creatures.”


“A pair of these insects came out of the cocoon at the proper time, and I obtained from their union three hundred fecundated eggs,” he crowed.

female gypsy moth
Female gypsy moth


This went on for a few more years, as our dear Frenchman became expert in cultivating his little pretties. He describes his efforts in detail in his treatise, The American Silk Worm.


About the gypsy moth, he made this astute observation:


“What a destruction of leaves this single species of insect could make if only a one-hundredth part of the eggs laid came to maturity! A few years would be sufficient for the propagation of a number large enough to devour all the leaves of our forests.”




As Murphy’s Law is wont to dictate, in 1868 or 1869, several of Trouvelot’s gypsy moths — not content within the confines of four walls and probably feeling neglected (really, who could blame them?) — escaped the room in which he kept them. It is written that he was quite upset about the incident and it is thought that he “publicly” announced it, having become “all too aware” of the danger of a species like this run amok.

Gypsy moth pupae (ugh… I can’t even…)


Soon after his experiment, Trouvelot gave up on the worms, returned to art and astronomy and by 1882, had gone back to France. Shortly thereafter, his old neighborhood suffered an enormous gypsy moth infestation. Residents were at first intrigued, but that was short-lived.


And just as Mr. Trouvelot had postulated, the gypsy moth became one of the most destructive pests of trees and shrubs to ever be introduced into the United States. Since 1970, gypsy moths have defoliated more than 75 million acres in the United States.


So, here we are, more than 100 years later, still dealing with this foppish mess.

It’s now up to us to help prevent the further spread of this destructive pest, and this includes inspecting and removing gypsy moth egg masses from household goods before moving from an infested to a non-infested area.


Caterpillars on the side of a shed
Frass (i.e., caterpillar poop) on a picnic table
Caterpillars on a garden gnome
These creatures have absolutely no redeeming qualities, especially at the pupae stage.


And these things are everywhere, from the undercarriages of campers and cars to mailboxes, to the siding of houses and the surfaces of rocks. Even innocent garden gnomes and picnic tables. You name it, and they are likely to be there.


On the plus side, they’re not fond of American holly, American sycamore, ash trees, balsam fir, black walnut, butternut, catalpa, cedar, cucumber trees, flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, rhododendron shrubs and tulip-trees, so be sure to plant plenty of these, BUT the worms will make an exception when densities are very high.


Is all hope lost? Well, maybe a goodly portion of hope is forever gone, but I offer you here, at no extra charge, a handy-dandy little guide:


Tan, fuzzy-wuzzy egg mass
Gypsy Moths, in a nutshell

Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Established in Michigan (unfortunately)


First, is it a Gypsy moth? These are the telltale signs:

  • The nasty little caterpillars emerge from tan, fuzzy egg masses in April and feed on leaves through late June
  • Caterpillars are hairy, with a yellow and black head and 5 pairs of blue spots, followed by 6 pairs of red spots. They fancy themselves fashionable; they are not.
  • Mature caterpillars are 1.5 to 2 inches in length. They start out tiny and molt several times. Each time they molt, their appetite increases exponentially.
  • Leaf debris and small, round frass (i.e., insect larvae excrement) found under trees are indications of gypsy moth infestation. Apparently the mention of “excrement” is off-putting to civilians, so “frass” it is.
  • Male moths’ wings have a wavy pattern of brown to dark brown and span 1.5 inches.
  • Female moths are larger than males and do not fly. Wings are white to cream with wavy black markings
  • These guys do not pitch tents. Thank goodness for small favors. That is the domain of the tent caterpillar, an altogether different pest.
gypsy moth (2)
A gypsy moth caterpillar who fancies himself fashionable



  • Gypsy moths most often feed on the leaves of oak and aspen but can also be found on hundreds of other plant species.


Native Range:

  • Europe and Asia


U.S. Distribution:

  • Northeastern U.S. west to Minnesota


Local Concern:

  • Gypsy moth caterpillars defoliate trees, leaving trees vulnerable to diseases and other pests, which may lead to tree mortality.
  • During large outbreaks, debris and frass (again, excrement) from feeding caterpillars can be disruptive to outdoor activities. Those strange messes you’ve seen on picnic tables and had no clue as to what they were? Now you know.


Hitching a ride in an undercarriage of a vehicle
Pathways of Spread:

  • Though female moths do not fly, small caterpillars can be blown by the wind to other trees.
  • Gypsy moth egg masses and pupae can be unknowingly transported on firewood, vehicles and recreational gear.


Short distance dispersal of this species happens by way of “ballooning”—where caterpillars are windblown and dispersed (think: hot air ballooning). Humans unwittingly transport egg-laden materials as females will lay their egg masses anywhere, including on man-made objects such as vehicles.


The City of Wyoming is doing something about it. Get involved!

The city is surveying neighborhoods for the presence of gypsy moths and their larva. Formal gypsy moth assessments take place in the fall to determine if the following spring will provide the best opportunity for treatment. Go here to learn about Wyoming’s suppression efforts and to complete a survey — the city wants to know where you see ’em. Plus, here’s a map where suppression efforts are in progress. More info here, too.


Check under your eaves
There are several techniques you can use to help suppress this pest. Below are some articles that will help you understand the gypsy moth, its treatment and what we can use to minimize this pest on our property.


Direct any questions about the City of Wyoming Gypsy moth Suppression Program to Kelli VandenBerg at 616.530.7296.


As of May 26, The City of Wyoming concluded its 2016 aerial spraying to suppress Gypsy Moth Larvae in selected areas.



Farm Market Recipe of the Week: Watermelon Fruit Pizza

Watermelon Fruit PizzaMakes: 8 servings
Serving Size: 2 slices
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes




1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large round slices watermelon (about 1 inch thick), cut from the center of the melon 2/3 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup halved blackberries
2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves




1. Combine yogurt, honey and vanilla in a small bowl.
2. Spread 1/4 cup yogurt mixture over each slice of watermelon. Cut each slice into 8 wedges. Top with strawberries, blackberries and mint.


Nutritional Information


Per serving: 64 calories; 1 g fat (0 g sat, 0 g mono); 1 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrates; 1 g added sugars; 12 g total sugars; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber; 13 mg sodium; 237 mg potassium.

Farm Market Recipe of the Week: Barbecue Pulled Chicken

BBQ Pulled ChickenWith July 4th right around the corner, light up a new barbecue pulled chicken recipe to melt everyone’s taste buds.


Makes: 8 servings
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 5-1/2 hours




1 8-ounce can reduced-sodium tomato sauce
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sweet or smoked paprika
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced




1. Stir tomato sauce, chiles, vinegar, honey, paprika, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, ground chipotle and salt in a 6-quart slow cooker until smooth. Add chicken, onion and garlic; stir to combine.


2. Put the lid on and cook on low until the chicken can be pulled apart, about 5 hours.


3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and shred with a fork. Return the chicken to the sauce, stir well and serve.




Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.


For easy cleanup, try a slow-cooker liner. These heat-resistant, disposable liners fit neatly inside the insert and help prevent food from sticking to the bottom and sides of your slow cooker.


Nutritional Information


364 calories; 13 g fat (3 g sat, 5 g mono); 93 mg cholesterol; 32 g carbohydrates; 4 g added sugars; 30 g protein; 4 g fiber; 477 mg sodium; 547 mg potassium.

‘Kids Simmer Camp’ stirs up kids’ imaginations and cooking skills

simmer camp 5By Downtown Market


Kids Simmer Camp, for ages 6-11, is a great way to get your kids excited about preparing meals. Fun and educational, these three-day camps explore adventurous weekly themes. From discoveries in the Greenhouse to hands-on cooking in the Teaching Kitchen, “Simmer” Camp cultivates growth and bakes up excitement. Each activity and recipe will pair with the inspiring weekly theme and stimulate inventive imagination and creativity.


Everything needed for class is provided: ingredients, the aprons, and the fun! If you shop prior to class and need to put any perishable food purchases in the cooler, please let the sous chef know on your way into class.


If your child has an allergy, simply indicate during the registration process if there are any dietary restrictions that our chef should be aware of. We will make the appropriate accommodations to ensure an excellent culinary experience.


Please include ages on registration so our chef can prepare ahead for all ages.


These classes fill quickly.


simmer camp 2


Week 1: Baking 101-Oven Science
June 28, 29, and 30, 10a-2p • $125

From savory to sweet, to sneaking in a few secret ingredients, kids will learn the science behind baking, and how to incorporate greenhouse fresh ingredients into their baked goods.


This week’s kids’ creations include:

Buttermilk biscuits, homemade baked chicken tenders, nutty chocolate chip quinoa cupcakes, mini seasonal fruit tarts, savory supper pie, black bean brownies, pizza with vegetable pizza sauce, and monkey bread.


Week 2: Roadtrip USA
July 12, 13, and 14, 10a-2p • $125

From the Southwest, to Creole country, to New England, and back, kids will take a culinary road trip throughout the US!


simmer camp 4This week’s kids’ creations include:

Mexican enchiladas, southwestern slaw, Tex-Mex style chocolate pudding, hopping John rice and beans, pimento cheese spread, lemon parfaits, New England crab cakes, rhubarb tea, and hasty pudding.

Kids will also learn about water resources, plant adaptation, rice farming, food preservation, and other important agricultural facts from around the country.



Week 3: SOLD OUT!



Week 4: Movie Meal Mayhem
July 26, 27, and 28, 10a-2p • $125

Ever wondered how to make a real Ratatouille or what would happen if Minecraft food was served at your dinner table? What would happen if food took over Grand Rapids like it does in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? Join us as we explore the food, farming, and environment related to these popular movies.


This week’s kids’ creations include:

Sausage meatballs, giant pancakes, peach sauce, fresh fruit juice, pixelated fruits and veggies with homemade sauces and dips, vegetable ratatouille, French chocolate mousse, and homemade bread sticks.


simmer camp 3

Week 5: Modern City Homesteading
July 19, 20, and 21, 10a-2p • $125

Kids will learn the ten basic concepts of urban homesteading and align them with practical skills, such as growing potted plants, making sauces from scratch, designing your own reusable snack sack, and using dry ice to create a fun dessert. Kids will also learn about rain barrels and worm bins (vermiculture) and how they add value to any urban yard.


This week’s kids’ creations include:

Cucumber salad, black bean quesadillas, banana pudding vegetable pancakes with homemade ketchup, carrot slaw, ice cream, deviled eggs, seasonal veggie soup and homemade soft pretzels with honey mustard dip.


Questions?  Email or call 616.805.5308 ext 217.

On the Shelf: A selection of gardening guides just for Michigan

TheBountifulContainer72By Laura Nawrot

Grand Rapids Main Library


The growing season can start just about anytime in Michigan, so if you haven’t planted yet, it’s probably not too late. There are plenty of bargain plants and pots galore at the usual places, and several books are available to help you get growing.


If you have a small space on a patio or deck, just want to plant a few tomatoes or start a salad garden, McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey will walk you through all the steps to an abundant container garden in no time.


If you have a larger area and want to make the most of your plantings, Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte is the book for you. Louise tells you what to plant where to make the most of beneficial relationships between plants. As the title suggests, carrots love tomatoes and grow very well when planted beside each other. This book also includes which plants naturally repel pests to help keep your garden chemical free. Find out more about which plants get along and which ones don’t in this easy to read selection.


Not sure what you should be doing in the garden in Michigan? Not to worry. There are several books available that focus just on growing in this area. Month-by-Month Gardening in Michigan by James A. Fizzle is packed with beautiful photos and illustrations, offering specific advice for every month of the year designed to make your gardening successful year round.


Michigan Gardener’s Guide by Marty Hair, Laura Coit, and Tim Boland is written by popular gardening experts who offer easy to use advice on how to grow and care for specific varieties of Michigan’s best plants. This book is divided into sections for each of the different types of plants; annuals, perennials, trees, etc. complete with full color illustrations. Best of all, chapter two tells you how to use the book without insulting your intelligence.


Perennials for Michigan by Nancy Szerlag & Alison Beck garners rave reviews from customers on who insist the authors definitely know what they are talking about. This book is very well organized and easy to use, contains beautiful photos and practical advice on which plants to select for your gardening interests and growing zone; low maintenance, fine-textured, color variations and native plants. Included in this selection is a quick reference guide to the plants plus a chapter on recommended gardens to visit in Michigan. For color that returns year after year, this is the guide to choose.


On the Shelf book reviews are provided by Grand Rapids Public Library. For more suggestions, activities and programs, click here.


Wyoming KDL Vegan Cooking Demo Draws a Crowd

Vegan1By: Carrie Bistline


Youth Librarian and workshop presenter Kristen “Kris” Siegel demonstrated how to cook easy, delectable vegan comfort foods this past weekend, proving that opting for vegan does not equate a sacrifice for the palate. The spread included demos and taste samples for brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert, using a multiple-table spread spanning half the width of the Wyoming KDL community room.


“I’m a vegan for animal rights, environmental and health reasons,” said Kris, who has been vegan since 2009. She admitted to the audience that switching to vegan wasn’t easy, initially. It took practice, preparation, trials and errors and a great deal of help from her ever-growing collection of vegan cookbooks. She’s found a routine, formed her own adaptations, and she’s willing to share her tips for cooking vegan with all who seek the knowledge.


Being a taste-tester myself of each of the samples, I’d say it is absolutely time for Kris to write her own cookbook. Who knew the secret ingredient in Tofu Scramble was the sulfury-smelling black salt? Or that pulverized cashews could replace cheese for a creamy, comfort-food pasta? Or that nutritional yeast can be substituted for cheese in thousands of recipes, including Vegan Basil Pasta?

Vegan Pesto
Vegan Pesto


But wait, did I mention there was dessert? A 95-calorie serving of Genius Chocolate-Chip Blondies, created with the unlikely combo of a 15-ounce can of white beans and peanut butter, among other ingredients.


After successfully entrancing us with the kind of spell only expertly prepared comfort food can induce, Kris sent us on our way with an impressive list of her favorite Vegan resources in Grand Rapids (email Kris Siegel at for a copy), a brochure highlighting her favorite vegan cookbooks (circulated by KDL!) and eight pages of vegan honorable mention comfort food recipes. The recipes included her own addendums with tips on substitutions and meal leftover uses.


While the Wyoming KDL Vegan Cooking Demo left vegans, omnivores and multi-faceted dabbler like me, dazzled and impressed, Kris finds a comfort of her own in her vegan venture. “It makes me feel like I’m in alignment with my beliefs,” she said.


The workshop was not only impressive and educational, but also incredibly genuine.


Next up for Wyoming KDL: Parent and Child Yoga. Visit the KDL Events Website for more info on upcoming events.


Carrie Bistline is a freelance writer, blogger and marketer with an MFA in Creative Writing. She divides her free time amongst family, work, sports and Jane Austen, and uses what’s left to chip away at her every-growing bucket list. 

Wyoming KDL to Host Vegan Cooking Demo and Tasting

Wyoming LibraryBy: Carrie Bistline

The Wyoming Branch of the Kent District Library will host a vegan cooking demo and tasting workshop this Saturday, February 27, 2016, at 2 PM.

According to the KDL website event description, it is possible to embrace—or dabble in, if you’re like me—veganism, without forgoing “comfort foods like macaroni, pesto and chocolate cake,” and bacon. Ok, maybe I added bacon to the lineup. (But PETA says there really is vegan bacon!)

Why vegan? Aside from the animal activist portion (disclaimer: this is in no way a statement for/against/towards animal activism), you may be surprised by the health benefits spelled out in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition like “a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.”

The “Vegan-ize Your Favorite Comfort Food” event at Wyoming KDL promises an entertaining and informative Saturday afternoon to all who join, from the devout vegans to the skeptic foodies with one toe testing the waters.

VeganMaybe you’ll leave a born-again vegan. Or maybe you’ll go grill a steak. Either way, you’ll go home with a few party-pleaser recipes and the kind of satisfaction only learning new things can bring. Take it from a professional dabbler.

Carrie Bistline is a freelance writer, blogger and marketer with an MFA in Creative Writing. She divides her free time amongst family, work, sports and Jane Austen, and uses what’s left to chip away at her every-growing bucket list. 

How to Avoid Flu Like the Plague

August 29, 2013, Atlanta, GA - Chris Summerrow (left), Director of Business and Continuity Management, UPS, speaks with Dr. Ali Khan, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, in the Emergency Operations Center at the CDC.

By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (with a little help from Victoria Mullen)


Hey! Happy New Year, Grand Rapids! We start out the year by making it onto yet another top-20 list, but this one’s nothing to brag about. According to the Huffington Post, Grand Rapids ranked 19th among the 20 cities most likely to experience the worst cold and flu season in 2016.


Great job, guys. Way to go. (Well, at least we weren’t #1 but still, among millions of cities, coming in at 19th?)


Both dreaded and dreadful, flu season can begin as early as October, but most of the time it peaks between December and February. Sometimes it can last as late as May. That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say, and they’re the experts.

flu don't touch your face
Wash your hands!


Suffice it to say that the exact timing and duration of each flu season varies. About half of the U.S. population gets a flu shot each year, but those nasty little viruses can still pack a punch. Flu is responsible for nearly 17 million lost workdays and costs the U.S. more than $87 billion annually. Tens of thousands of people get sick enough to be hospitalized, and thousands die from flu-related illnesses each year in the U.S.


Children are the most likely to become infected with flu, and children younger than five years of age are among those who are at high risk of serious flu complications.


Think about that the next time you go to hug your sweet little petri dish.

How to spread the flu

It’s easy! Just cough, sneeze or merely talk, and those nasty viruses will spread through itty-bitty, teeny-tiny little droplets. Flu also spreads when people touch something with the virus on it and then touch their nose, mouth or eyes.


Here’s the thing: if you’re infected with flu, you can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. That’s right, you can spread the flu to someone else before you even know you’re sick (in addition to doing so while you are sick).


Young children, people who are very ill and those with severely compromised immune systems can infect others for longer than 5-7 days.

We needn’t go this far… unless there’s a pandemic.
Symptoms of the flu

How do you know you have the flu? Uh, you’ll feel lousy. Specifically, you may have:


– Fever or feeling feverish (note that not everyone with flu will have a fever)

– Chills

– Cough

– Sore throat

– Runny or stuffy nose

– Muscle or body aches

– Headache

– Fatigue

– Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than in adults


Most people will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some may develop complications (such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and even deadly.


The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

Emergency_roomWhen to go to the emergency room:

In children

– Fast breathing or trouble breathing

– Bluish skin color

– Not drinking enough fluids

– Not waking up or not interacting

– Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

– Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

– Fever with a rash


In adults

– Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

– Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

– Sudden dizziness

– Confusion

– Severe or persistent vomiting

– Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough


In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

– Being unable to eat

– Has trouble breathing

– Has no tears when crying

– Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Isn’t it pretty? Looks like an art project, but it’s not.
The best way to prevent flu

Get your annual flu shot every fall, say the CDC. Their statistics show that during the 2012-2013 flu season, an estimated 45 percent of the U.S. population got vaccinated and helped to prevent an estimated 6.6 million flu-related illnesses, 3.2 million flu-related mediation visits and 79,000 hospitalizations. (How they came up with these numbers is a mystery, but there you have it.)


People at high risk (such as children younger than 2 years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, people who have medical conditions) or are very sick (such as those hospitalized because of flu) should get antiviral drugs


The flu vaccine protects against several different flu viruses, providing protection all season long. Flu viruses can change from season to season and immunity declines over time so it is important to get vaccinated each year.


CDC plays a major role in deciding which flu viruses the annual flu vaccine will protect against, so be nice to them.

cover your coughHow to protect yourself from the flu:
  • Stay away from sick people (not a problem for introverts) and don’t be offended when they stay away from you when you’re sick (tit for tat)
  • Wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs
  • If you or your kid is sick with flu, stay home from work or school at least 24 hours after the fever is gone to prevent spreading flu to others (one exception: you may go out to get medical care or for necessities but keep your distance from others). No cheating: The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth (germs love to spread this way)
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs (such as doorknobs, phones, and computer keyboards/iPads, you get the idea)
  • If you begin to feel sick while at work, go home as soon as possible
  • Follow public health advice, which may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures. (I would think that if we ever reach this point, it wouldn’t hurt to wear a necklace of garlic.)
swine-kissFun Fact:

The title of ‘peak month of flu activity’ is bestowed upon the month with the highest percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza virus infection. February is typically the top peak month, so happy birthday out there to all you Aquarians!


For more information, visit, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Seize the Day During Ugly Sweater Season!

Ugly SweaterBy: Mike DeWitt

December is finally here and soon we will be swept into a swirling snow globe of love, laughter, family, and magic. This is the month where all of those traits culminate in the greatest get-together that planet Earth offers us: ugly sweater parties. ’Tis the season indeed!

Ugly sweaters are a paradox: the uglier they are, the more beautiful they become. There is really no such thing as an “ugly” sweater this time of year. The more neutral and seemingly normal your sweater is, the less attention you will receive. Not receiving attention at an ugly sweater party is just un-American.

If you want to be the beautiful swan at the party, make sure you’re willing to go all in. Fortune favors the bold.

If you’re worried about where your sweater currently resides in relation to what else the world has to offer, let me introduce you to the Ugly Sweater Spectrum (USS). The USS is on an easy-to-follow 10-point scale ranging from -5 to 5. A score that approaches the fringe on either end of the spectrum is more desired. Remember, with an ugly sweater party you need something that stands out and says “look at me!” That can be acquired through something truly awful or ingeniously crafted. On both ends of the spectrum, it’s a perfectly crafted cocktail of both.

Let’s take a dive into the collage and barrage of color and Christmas:

5-USSUSS Scale: 5

Who needs a sweater when you can have a suit?

This is cool. You are cool, and don’t you dare let anyone else tell you otherwise. When it comes to ugly sweaters, you’re all in. A trip to Goodwill wasn’t enough. No, you needed a full suit and a matching tie to boot.

Yes, the suit is ugly, but yet it emanates cool from its very core. Like that guy in college who you KNOW spent hours perfectly crafting his messy hair. Is it perfect, or is it a mess? It’s perfectly messed up, and it’s the style of greatness all of us mortals wish we could achieve.

This suit makes you the focus of every person at the party. Instagram was made specifically for you in this suit. Enjoy the moment, it’s all downhill from here.

4-USSUSS Scale: 4

Remember, an ugly sweater party isn’t solely about being ugly, it’s about standing out. This sweater is inherently unique in its take on Christmas. First off, cats aren’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “Santa” and “North Pole”, yet here we have a cat as the main character on a gorgeous light blue backdrop we call a sweater.

Not only is it a cat, but it’s an evil cat SHOOTING LASER BEAMS OUT OF ITS EYES AND DESTROYING THE NORTH POLE! The elf running away in horror is just icing on the cake as the North Pole goes up in flames behind him. This isn’t ugly. This is genius. This is a sweater you’d wear at least a handful of times during the Christmas season. The colors  are simple and work together seamlessly to make it easy on the eyes. It’s a work of art, and showing up to a party wearing this sweater instantly makes you a hit no matter the audience.


2-USSUSS Scale: 3

Will Smith is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and has been around for what seems like an eternity. While Will Smith in his current state is a credible and immensely successful actor, nothing quite touches on cool like young Will Smith.

The ’90s Will Smith was royalty. The man was a Prince for goodness sake! Bel-Air became a monarchy simply because he decided to show up. Throw in retro phones and cassettes littering the background, and this sweater is a winner no matter what the time of year. The only thing making this a Christmas-themed sweater and not everyday attire is the Santa hat.

3-USSUSS Scale: 2

A 2 on the scale is right at that threshold of standing out and falling back into the abyss. Five years ago this sweater wouldn’t even be in the conversation. Five years from now it might fall back to the wayside because that’s the way pop culture goes. But right now, this sweater has power because Game of Thrones has a stronger touch than Midas.

Is the sweater ugly? No. Is it particularly cool? No, but Game of Thrones goes a long way. Trust me.

There is irony in wearing this sweater as winter is already here. Because of that, those who don’t know Game of Thrones might get a slight chuckle. However, those who are in the loop will be filled with instant envy that they didn’t find the sweater first. You will be asked no fewer than 15 times where you bought said sweater. Honestly, just purchase a handful of them and bring them to the party with you. They’ll sell and you’ll walk home with some extra cash.

2-USSUSS Scale: 1

College apparel can never be ugly. A college campus is the one place you can dress as crazy as you like, and as long as it’s school colors it will be deemed “school spirit.” Both of these sweaters could be worn to football games. Now that I think about it, I’ve seen both of these worn at football games!

The sweaters are unique enough because they are more of a novelty than anything. They sway towards the cool side because school spirit is always cool on game day. However, don’t expect to turn any heads or make many waves at your ugly sweater party wearing one of these. The best you can hope for is a “Go Blue” or “Go Green, Go White”, and that’s not a bad consolation prize.

1-USSUSS Scale: 0

This is not an ugly sweater, nor is it particularly cool or interesting. This sweater screams, “I bought this for one reason, and it was solely to have a sweater to wear to this party.” You thought, maybe this sweater is ugly enough, but you toed too close to the line of normality to make any true statement with your attire.

This sweater can be worn once a year, yet it is not memorable. You and your attempt to be ugly and cute will be easily forgotten. Better luck next year.

2-USSUSS Scale: -1

Diving into the negative numbers, especially towards the end of the spectrum, signals a dive for the worst. These sweaters don’t fit the typical definition of cool or hip. These sweaters are going to make you the Belle of the Ball the crazier they become, but if you swing for the fences and miss, prepare for a long evening. Creativity is appreciated.

Scoring a 1 or a -1 is weak. It shows a lack of risk and confidence in yourself. Standing out isn’t important, you’d rather slink into the shadows. This sweater is ugly because there is too much going on, it’s really that simple. What makes this choice even worse is it’s a sweater that was probably purchased for $40 simply to wear to an ugly sweater party. Buying an ugly sweater because it’s aware that its ugly is bad form. Don’t show up giving 50 percent.

-2-USSUSS Scale: -2

This is why ugly sweater parties were created! This right here is a work of art. It is a sweater with no attempt at being ugly. In fact, it was probably purchased as a nice, thoughtful gift. It’s not as crazy as some of the sweaters coming up next, but it’s an original. It’s like watching grainy videos of the first Super Bowl. Was the product as good as it is now? Of course not, but without it there is no foundation to build on. Sweaters like this set the stage for our annual ugly sweater parties. It’s a classic.

-3-USSUSS Scale: -3

We have finally reached the section where truly being ugly can only be captured with imagination and creativity. You can’t buy this kind of awful in a store, it can only be created with hard work and desire.

One second you notice the tinsel and ornaments hanging off a forest green sweater, and then the sweater magically transforms into a Christmas tree with a star on top! Sheer genius! A sweater like this, while beautiful in its own right, cannot be placed on the positive end of the spectrum because it can only be used once. A perfectly good forest green sweater was sacrificed in order to create this tinsel tree of holiday perfection.

Bonus points for creating an ugly piece of clothing while staying within the spectrum of cute. That is flawless execution. Bravo!

-4-USSUSS Scale: -4

Welcome to the deep end. Make sure to dive in headfirst.

This young lady decided a sweater wasn’t enough to satisfy her style. No, a full dress was needed to truly incorporate all of the awful she could get her hands on.

Where do you even start? The long sleeves throw off the feel of a dress that is already riding above the knee. That sweater-dress is odd enough without the add-ons that it could probably win some awards as a standalone. Throw in Psy from Gangnam Style sporting a Santa outfit and the design takes a turn for the worst. The Santa and snowflakes are so distracting that it takes a minute to register that there is no hint of pattern used to spell “Gangnam Style.” Four colors were chosen (red, white, blue, and green) and placed onto the sweater-dress with no rhyme or reason. For all the work put into this, it comes across as a serious oversight.

This sweater-dress is mission accomplished at an ugly sweater party. You will never be forgotten.

-5-USSUSS Scale: -5

We have reached the opposite end of the spectrum to find the greatest holiday sweater of all time. This is USS Hall-of-Fame worthy. You may look at this and think, “He didn’t have a good idea so he just cut a sweater and things fell into place”, but you would be dead wrong. More planning went into the making of this piece of art than went into the Sistine Chapel.

The face of Rudolph had to be perfectly groomed so it was on scale with the nose, eyes, and antlers. But before the grooming could begin, the entire plan had to be mapped out around the nose. Something like that doesn’t fall into place. Extensive man hours were needed to pull off that feat.

While your eyes are naturally drawn to the beautiful red-nosed Rudolph–don’t be ashamed, beautiful works of art are meant to be enjoyed–the perfect cut in the sweater is equally impressive. The sweater has been modified to reveal enough skin to show off Rudolph while also keeping every unnecessary inch of the body kept under wraps. Take a quick glance at the arm sleeve on the right arm. Like men lost at sea eating every part of the fish they catch, this man has wasted no part of the sweater that didn’t need to be.

You, sir, are an American hero and will never be forgotten. Merry Christmas to you!

Techie Gifts for the Holidays

giftsBy: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

Whenever the gift giving season comes around I’m at a loss for ideas on what to ask for and, more importantly, what to give. Every year it never seems to fail.

Sure, I can ask/give the mundane gift card to a various store, restaurant or iTunes. I mean, that’s easy, right? Do gift cards really say “Happy Holidays”? Okay, maybe they do, but only because it is already literally written on the plastic card!

Technology is always a great gift idea, and it also happens to be my forte. So, without further ado, here is a quick and simple gift guide to five holiday gadgets–in no particular order–anyone could use!

1. A Streaming Media Player.

If you’re still watching Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime on your computer or a tablet, it’s time to upgrade to a media player. There are several options available in a variety of price ranges. As I’m partial to Apple products, I can’t help but speak to my love affair with Apple TV ™. With the release of the 4th version just in time for the holiday season, it’s worth the trip to wander yourself up to a local retailer for a looky look.

Apple TV 4th GenI currently have 3 Apple TV’s in my home and have been using them for several years now. I love the ability to access TV, movies, and stream music directly from Apple as well as watch Netflix, Hulu, and sample other channels. An entry-level device starts at just $69 while the new models start at $149. However, if you’re dead set against anything Apple, make sure to check out either Roku or Chromecast as both give similar options.

2. SmartWatch

Now, before you start telling me there is no way you’re going to buy an Apple Watch, take a deep breath and let me calm your fears, I don’t blame you. I don’t have one most likely for the same reason you don’t, I’m not about to spend $350 for a watch. (Disclaimer, if you do have an Apple Watch let me know, I’d love to talk to you.)

SmartWatchAny who… there are plenty of other options out there for you. Fitbit and Pebble both have reasonable options for SmartWatches. If you want something to help track you in the health and fitness area, a Fitbit Charge or Charge HR are great options that connect to your smartphone. Interested in just the smarter part of the smartwatch? Take a look at Pebble. Pebble allows you to receive technology notifications and music right on your wrist at a much more reasonable cost.

3. Say Cheese!

Now that most smartphones have cameras that can rival most point and shoot cameras, there are a slew of accessories to further enhance your smartphone camera’s possibilities. Olloclip has a nice 4-in-1 lens kit that can slip right over your phone. The lens hug the camera giving the option of a Fisheye, 2 Macro’s, and a wide-angle shot. Brilliant!! If you’re more the adventure type, a quick look over at Optrix gives you lenses, cases, and mounts for the phone.

OlloClip Lense4. Play that Funky Music Caucasian Youthful Male.

Remember the BoomBoxes of the 1980’s? They were HUGE, literally. Those large musical boxes have disappeared from our shoulders and have now been replaced with something that can easily fit into a backpack or purse. Portable speakers come in all sorts of shapes, colors and size. In fact you can even find some that are waterproof in case you want to bring the beat into the shower.

5. Super Sleek Storage

It is probably one thing that is over looked because it is more practical than fun, extra storage for your digital device. Maybe it’s a new, larger hybrid hard drive for your son or daughter. It could be an external hard drive case for your sister who has been working on a genealogy of your family. Maybe it’s just something as simple as a USB 3.0 32GB Flash Drive for the kid’s school projects. It doesn’t matter the reason or for who, sometimes the gift has to be about need instead of a want.

I could easily list many other gift options, but if you didn’t know where to start, hopefully I’ve provided a clearer path to set you out on your shopping journey. Good luck!

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West MI area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Chin Up! It’s the Holidays: A Depressive’s Guide to Surviving the Ho-Ho-Ho

12-federico-castellon-remorse-1940By Victoria Mullen


Does the holiday season weigh heavily upon your tender psyche? Depression get you down? Cold comfort in knowing that there are millions of people like you out there, right? No safety in numbers with this thing.


Many familiar with depression will agree: Sunny days are the worst. Yeah, sure, birds are chirping, kids are playing, and in the summer, you can hear the drone of lawnmowers in the distance. But with sunny days come obligations. You’re expected to be productive and enjoy the day. Let’s be real: Birds poop on your car, kids are loud and annoying, and freshly cut grass unleashes your hay fever. Yes, sunny days put a lot of pressure on a person.


Conversely, cold, rainy or snowy days are the best because you have a good excuse to stay in bed and cuddle up under the covers with cats sleeping by your feet. But someone has to feed them, and guess what? That someone is you. Only under threat of feline mutiny or family banishment will you venture out to the store to get cat food and holiday gifts, and that’s pure torture because the holiday season brings those awful chipper, happy people out in droves. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to bitch-slap the next beaming face.



It could be that you have a perfectly fine, supportive family. I know I do. They’re great folks. But in the throes of depression, it’s hard to see or appreciate that. And if you don’t have family or friends close by, the loneliness can be unbearable.


Depression is a many-faceted beast, and this article isn’t meant to be a cure-all. What we can offer here are some tips to help get you through the endless drudge of holiday parties, workplace gatherings and caroling, depression be damned. Twenty-five tips, one per day–think of it as a sort of depression advent calendar. If I had the energy, I’d paint a lovely picture for each day. Instead, Federico Castellon has captured the feelings of depression admirably. Learn more about the artist here.


  1. Keep it real. Don’t compare your holidays to those portrayed in overly cheerful greeting cards; that’s just not reality. Greeting card companies have to make money somehow, and their business model requires selling never-ending tidings of joy. But you’re smart, and you know better. Life is not a bowl of cherries. And that’s OK.
  2. Do something different. Don’t settle for being a sheep in the herd. Break out from the bahs. Who says you have to make an eight-course dinner for 15 family members? That’s the greeting card industry brainwashing you. Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant instead–yes, let someone else do the cooking. Spend Christmas day at the moviesFederico_Castellon,_Self_Portrait_with_H,_1942. Skip the traditional gift-giving and donate the money to a charity. Screw those greeting cards. What a bunch of hooey!
  3. Reach out to friends and family. People who care about you want to know when you’re having a tough time. Your instinct may be to isolate yourself, but resist the urge to do so. At least keep in touch by phone. A friendly, empathic voice can work wonders. (Admittedly, I have a tough time with this one, but it is highly recommended anyway.)
  4. Life isn’t perfect, and that’s OK. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild, but don’t automatically anticipate disaster. Take the holidays as they come. The greeting card industry has bestowed special powers upon some perfectly ordinary days to make a few fast bucks. It means nothing! Surely you can see through all that. (I’m not being paranoid. Am I? Wait.)
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Now, here’s a cliche for you! But, guess what–it’s good advice. Don’t feel obligated to compete with that idiot down the street. You know the one: Decorations up the wazoo, holiday music blasting at all hours of the day and night. The one whose house sticks out like a sore thumb with all those stinking–er, blinking–lights. Sure, he’s crazy, but don’t let him get to you. (That’s exactly what he wants.) Instead, think of how high his electric bill will be. On another note, so what if you don’t crack open that box of St. Nicholas figurines your grandma left you in her will. Yes, you promised her you’d display them proudly each year. But, guess what? They’re nice and cozy tucked in their box down in thcastellon.maskofthereddeathe basement (or up in the attic), and they won’t mind waiting another year. Seriously.
  6. Help someone less fortunate than you. Maybe your life seems crappy, but just remember that someone always has it worse than you. That is not to discount what you’re feeling, but making a difference in someone else’s life can make you feel better about yourself. It takes your mind off its focus on you.
  7. Don’t stress over seeing Uncle Bob (or other annoying family member). Don’t want to see him (or her)? Then don’t. Just don’t go there. Why put up with the stress of seeing someone you don’t like? Life’s too short. Go to the movies instead.
  8. Ask for help. But be specific. Need help cooking or shopping? Ask a friend or family member. Tell them what sort of help you need. People aren’t mind readers, you know. We’re not that highly evolved yet.
  9. Some things are beyond your control. Do Dad and Uncle Frank always fight over who gets to carve the turkey? Remember, it’s them, not you. First things first: If you can safely take away the sharp fork and carving knife, then do so. Next, go to another room, sit down and breathe deeply. Don’t worry. They’ll work it out. They always do, right? It’s impossible to control every situation or person (nor would you want to). Your own reaction–now that’s something you can control.
  10. Create new family traditions. Maybe finding the pickle in the Christmas tree has reached its expiration date. It’s not fun anymore, is it? If you don’t enjoy the ritual, why keep doing it? ‘Tis the season to create a new one. As an example, my ex-husband and I used to celebrate LEON (NOEL, spelled backwards–we’re clever folk). Worked for us. Tfc-12-the-dark-angelshe kids, not so much. After years of therapy, they’re fine–proof positive that kids can bounce back from just about anything. (Your healthcare insurance may provide coverage for just such an emergency. Read the fine print.)
  11. Celebrate the memory of loved ones. Holidays can be tough when you’re reminded of someone who isn’t around anymore, but think of it as an opportunity to celebrate them in spirit. Toast grandma. Bring her photo with you when you go out to dinner at her favorite restaurant. Prop her photo up against the salt shaker, facing you. She’ll be smiling down upon you, that’s for sure. (Well, at least from across the table.)
  12. Be picky. Don’t get overwhelmed by weeks and weeks of holiday festivities. Think about which parties you really want to attend. You don’t have to go to them all. Postscript: If you haven’t been invited to any parties, throw one for yourself and Puff. Living well is the best revenge. (Besides, who needs those people anyway?)
  13. Leave when you want. If that means stopping in for just a few minutes to say hello, then so be it. Giving yourself permission to leave at any time helps curb the anxiety.Castellon
  14. Safety in numbers. Arrange to arrive and leave with a friend, and that office party won’t seem so utterly awful. Having an ally and an escape plan can make all the difference.
  15. The ‘perfect gift’ is a myth. Don’t stress over finding the best gift ever. If you don’t know what to get someone, get a gift certificate. That’s what those things are for. The greeting card industry got one thing right.
  16. Shop online. One of my all-time favorite sports, shopping online is a godsend for people with depression. You don’t have to fight the crowds or waste time finding a parking spot. Best of all, you don’t have to put up with rude people and loud, smelly toddlers.
  17. Follow thy budget. Know how much you have to spend before starting to shop. And stick to it. Nothing is more depressing than overspending.
  18. Your normal routine is your best friend. Now is not the time to stay out late at parties or pull an all-nighter cooking or wrapping presents. The psyche can be a fragile thing. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Somehow that analogy fits here. I just know it.castellon_hilda_thefloweredhat
  19. Exercise. If you’re like me, then you hate even the thought of exercising. Unfortunately, exercise is often the best way to banish anxiety or depression, at least for a while. Walk instead of driving. Take a few extra laps around the mall (assuming anxiety doesn’t prevent you from getting there). Chase the cats around your apartment. Be creative!
  20. Eat sensibly. Ha! Easier said than done, but it’s worth striving for anyway. All those holiday treats may be tempting, but overloading on sugar won’t help your mood, and you’ll only hate yourself more if you pack on the pounds. Having said that, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve just raided and emptied the cookie jar. Just get back on track tomorrow. Or wait until Lent (assuming you’re Catholic). That’s what Lent is for.
  21. Holiday substances won’t lift your spirits. People over-imbibe during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you should. Alcohol is itself a depressant and drinking too much will make you feel worse. And it may not be safe if you’re taking antidepressant meds. Just don’t go there. (If you do, certainly don’t drive.)
  22. Sun lamps are golden. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) plagues millions of people during the shorter winter days. Consider getting a sun lamp. It could improve your mood.1
  23. Don’t miss your meds. Do not miss your meds. Do NOT miss your meds. If you’re like me and take antidepressant or bipolar meds–or both–don’t miss doses. Sure, it’s tempting, but that’s just another place you shouldn’t go. (Trust me on this one.) While you’re at it, make sure your refills are up to date, too. Now is not the time to run out.
  24. Have extra sessions with your therapist (if you see one). The holiday season is tough on people. (Now, there’s a “duh” statement, if I ever saw one. But I wrote it, and I stand by it.)
  25. Be kind to yourself. ‘Tis the season we dwell on our imperfections, mistakes, things we’re not proud of. Guess what? You’re human. Cut yourself some slack. Kindness and forgiveness goes a long way. Don’t forget to save some for yourself.

When all else fails, here’s the Suicide Hotline number: 1.800.SUICIDE (1.800.784.2433). I’ve called it myself. That’s what it’s there for.

Images copyright Federico Castellón (1914-1971).