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Archive for March, 2009

 Erika Dreifus

Writing expert Erika Dreifus kindly invited me to write a guest blog entitled, “Writing Your Family History: Five Hints.”  Erika’s blog Practicing Writer and her newsletter  are incredible resources for writers. When I need some advice, I always turn to her list of resources. I hope you will check it out.

 

My mother, a professional photographer, and I compiled a collection of paired poems and photographs documenting our family’s emigration from southern Italy to New Jersey. These pieces are based on visits to the town where our family originated, oral histories collected with Americans and Italians, historical documents and cultural history about the towns and time periods involved. What we created contains an emotional truth and some facts, but the stories mostly contain facts as we experienced them or as they were told to us. We continue to translate the experiences in the form of our art.

 

Here are some of those poems published (sadly without the photographs):

 

Poem “Question of Return” in Lumina.

Poems “Spring Pool Water,” “Noisier Than the Milk,” and “Statue of Liberty, 1890 Spiralbridge.

Poem “Teresa serves dinner at 20:00” in Conte: An Online Journal of Narrative Writing.

 

My personalized wedding poem company, Word Arrangement and this blog grew out of these experiences. I enjoyed collecting oral histories and translating them into poems and found a way to continue with this interest. Through wedding poems, I am lucky enough to be able to hear other people’s stories. I particularly enjoy hearing love stories!

 

If you are interested in learning more on the subject of Writing Family History and you are in the Ann Arbor area, here are two upcoming opportunities:

 

I am presenting a workshop entitled, “Writing Your Family History” at the Ann Arbor Book Festival on Friday, May 15th from 10 – 11 am.

Here is the program description: Researching and writing your family history doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In this session, learn tips on how to gather information and brainstorm ideas before translating the stories and research into a form that you can share with family members.

 

 

I will also be teaching a related one session class through the Ann Arbor Rec & Ed the evening of May 7:

Here is the class description:

Preserve Family History

Don’t let the intimate stories of your unique family history pass on with loved ones. Learn how to collect these special stories from your family. Discover how to get started and complete an interview. Develop a better understanding of how to craft the questions, answer questions and what to do with the final product. 1 class.

5/7

6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)

 

 

An essay of mine about writing about your family history was published in the Canadian geneology magazine Family Chronicle last summer. Thanks to the Anglo-Celtic Connections Blog for the shout-out!

 

 

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zingermans-bacon-table

I am now a Zingerman’s convert. I resisted for a while (if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I generally avoid agreeing with crowds), but after eating bacon-enhanced food for two hours at today’s Bacon & Brunch with Ari Weinzweig, I’m in with Zingerman’s.

 

The brunch and Ari’s talk on bacon, was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor Book Festival. In May, Ari will be on a panel with other foodie authors discussing his book, Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of pork bellies, hush puppies, rock’n’roll music and bacon fat mayonnaise.

 

The meal started out with Zingerman’s Bakehouse Bacon-Cheddar Scones and American Fried Bread. The bread was fried in, you guessed it, bacon fat. I have never eaten a more luscious piece of fried bread in my life. (My fiancé noticed a few people at the end looking in the baskets for more bread and snatching an extra piece or two.)

 

We were then treated to South Carolina Gold Rice Grits and Bits Waffle and Hangtown Fry (eggs with bacon and oysters mixed in) with Bacon Hash. The hash was particularly smooth and bursting with flavor. The waffles had crispy bacon bits on top. The bacon fat, which was the base for most of what we ate this morning, absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients and allows them to blossom.

 

zingermans-main-dish

 

Don’t fret, vegetarians. There was a tofu bacon option for you. The kind man sitting next to me let me take a picture of his dish:

 

zingermans-veggy-plate

 

Then we had a bacon tasting. Now, I might not have found a physician in Ann Arbor yet, but I’m sure she wouldn’t have approved of a plate of bacon. Still, this morning was like a bacon holiday, so who was I to resist? Here is the plate that Ari talked us through eating:

 

zingermans-bacon-tasting3 

 

 

I had no idea that there were so many different kinds of bacon. I know that my father likes thicker slices of bacon and I tend to buy the less smoky organic bacon at Trader Joe’s. Ari talked about customers who know about different kinds of cheeses and wines, but have a hard time describing their favorite bacon. He suggested buying a variety of types of bacon and serving them at home to guests. (Is it too late to change our wedding menu to include more bacon?)

 

My favorite was Benton’s. It is the second to the last one on the plate. It originates in eastern Tennessee and is dry cured and smoked over hickory.

 

We ended with Buttermilk Biscuits with Chocolate-Bacon Gravy. My goodness, these were delicious. While I tried to hold back and not finish each plate offered, I wanted to lick this plate clean. The sweet-savory flavors shut off all my other senses so I could focus on the striking taste. It reminded me of the sweet-sour combination of a sea salt caramel, only chocolate was involved.

 

zingermans-dessert

 

Throughout the meal, Ari shared his expertise with bacon. He shared some personal stories along the way. Ari grew up in a Kosher household and remembers eating fairly unremarkable beef bacon as a child. Most of the food that he sells at Zingerman’s is something he discovered, rather than something he grew up with.

 

About bacon’s importance, Ari stressed, “bacon is to North American cooking what olive oil is to Mediterranean food.” According to his research, bacon has been big since the beginning in America. It crosses almost all ethnic and cultural (although not religious) lines. The Europeans brought bacon with them and even influenced the Native American cooking. In the South, he said, you will almost always find a jar of bacon fat by the stove (not refrigerated) and it would be eaten in all seasons.

 

Zingerman’s kindly shared recipes from the upcoming book. I know I can’t wait until the book comes out to read more.

 

Hope to see you at the Ann Arbor Book Festival in May! I’ll be presenting at the Writer’s Conference (Writing Your Family History)  And let me know if you need a brunch date at Zingerman’s. After my fiancé and I fast for a few days, we’ll be ready for more.  

 

Ari and Kathy Robenalt, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Book Festival

Thanks to the Ann Arbor Chronicle for sharing this article.

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If you are looking to take classes this spring, I hope you’ll consider the classes I’m offering through Rec & Ed this April and May:

 

Intensive Italian for Travelers

Writing for Special Occasions

Preserve Family History

 

 

I think you’ll be *particularly* interested in Writing for Special Occasions. I’ll be sharing some secrets I’ve learned as a Personalized Wedding Poet.

 

For more information, here is the link to the catalogue.

You can register here.

 

Here are the details:

 

Writing For Special Occasions

Have you ever been asked to write a speech or poem for a special occasion? Do you enjoy expressing your own thoughts in a blank card presented to someone special? Get your creative juices flowing. Explore different forms of poetry and brainstorm ideas. The instructor will guide you in a workshop session to edit and perfect your work. 2 classes.

4/21 – 4/28

6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)

 

Preserve Family History

Don’t let the intimate stories of your unique family history pass on with loved ones. Learn how to collect these special stories from your family. Discover how to get started and complete an interview. Develop a better understanding of how to craft the questions, answer questions and what to do with the final product. 1 class.

5/7

6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)

 

Intensive Italian for Travelers (Level 1)

4/20 – 5/13 (Monday/Wednesday)

10:00 – 11:30 am

(Page 21, Spring 2009 catalogue)

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WordArrangement wants to hear from you. What was the best wedding you ever attended? What was the wonderful detail that stole your heart?

Here are some of my favorite memories from recent years:

I was a bridesmaid for my friend Robin. Standing so close to her while she said her vows was a beautiful thing. I loved being able to see her face while she looked lovingly at her new husband.

At my friends Christa and Jas’ wedding, they had a webcam broadcasting the wedding to his family in Europe. Technology was able to make two worlds one.

Jennie and Matt said their vows in unison. Their “togetherness” was unforgetable. They never stopped looking at each other.

 

Here are Adam Furgang’s thoughts:

The best wedding I was ever at, other than my own of course, was my old bosses wedding. It was held at the Oheka Castle on Long Island.

I have never been to a nicer wedding and eaten so well. There was a lobster bar, a sushi bar, drink bar, tai bar, and just about every bar you can think of. The grounds were so beautiful too.

I was also at a beautiful wedding in Washington DC that took place at the Mayflower Hotel. That was where Eliot Spitzer took his “lady of the night” before he was ousted from office. For all I know I may have stayed in the same room he did. That place was beautiful too, as was the wedding.

 

Here are Elizabeth Schaar Bergan’s thoughts:

The best wedding I attended (aside from my own, LOL) was Kim White Garcia’s wedding at Airlie in Warrenton, VA. Not only was it a complete fairytale,  BUT she flew in the singer Jeffrey Gains as a suprise to her husband. He sang “In Your Eyes” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. It was like a dream.

Here are Ann Keeler Evans’ thoughts:

Mine was the best! Was it the flower fairies or the dancer? Never sure. The 14 bands? The art work that everyone donated? Amazing. I sure do love making ritual. But the evening wedding along a swedish lake during long swedish night season and the procession through a small mexican town following huge bride and groom dolls were pretty great as well!

 

Here are Celia Milton’s thoughts:

 

Boy,Chloe, that is such a hard one to pick (since I have about 300 to pick from, lol…..) . One recent one stands out in my mind; a wedding in a raw prison, on a damp winter night in Jersey.

Six of us, thoroughly frisked, metal detected, x-rayed and patted down entered through the reels of thorned wire and electrified gates. The backdrop, the ceremony space, was the visiting room. Paintings of tropical landscapes, contributed by other inmates, adorned the walls between the notices of “the rules for visitation”.

I performed the ceremony joining these two amazing partners, with an fellow inmate taking Polaroids of the service, we signed the license and put our coats to leave, but before we die, the groom had us all join hands so he could lead us in a prayer service, asking Jesus, to, among other things, lead me back to the parway. All the miles of tuille, champagne toasts, pasta stations, string quartets…..nothing compares to the emotion &love that I felt in that gritty room.

Please use the comments section to share your thoughts.

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Susan FrankeI was impressed when I saw Susan Franke at the Brides-to-Be bridal show at Weber’s this winter. Among the tanning salons and DJs, here was someone interested in helping a couple plan for a healthy financial future. She shared her table with mortgage broker Emily Elliot.

 

Most of us bristle when we hear the words “financial” or “wealth.” We don’t want to talk about money, seem greedy or cheap. Susan helps couples to break down these barriers and make financial discussions simply practical and useful. Especially in this financial environment, who can afford not to plan for the immediate and distant future?

 

Susan reaches out to couples in many ways. For example, she works with social worker Mary Stevens from Life Cycles, to offer premarital financial counseling. Susan will help the couple to coordinate their assets and goals. Each couple has a unique situation. For example, some couples might be starting a second marriage and will have to consider the financial needs not only of each other, but also their children.

 

Susan asks couples to begin the financial conversation by asking them to share, in front of each other, how money was handled in their family when they were growing up (if there was a joint account, separate accounts, pooled money, etc.) Usually, this varies with each person and family. In this non-threatening approach, each person can describe what his or her expectations and experiences might have been. Since Susan is neutral in these situations, she can help them to understand how their financial decisions might be based on their early socializations. Transparency is really the key.

 

She offers suggestions rather than recommendations. For example, usually one person makes more than the other. A couple can decide to split costs 50/50 or based on percentages. They can decide to have money on the side, or not. Susan helps the couple to tease out what each scenario would look like and come up with their own plan.

 

More marriages dissolve because of financial problems rather than infidelity. Susan’s goal is to make sure couples share goals and that they don’t break up over money. There is no right way to manage your money, she stressed. Every couple has to find their own answers.

 

Couples should consider scenarios before they arise. For example, she helps the couple to consider current or future children’s needs and a family’s religious beliefs that might affect their financial decisions.

 

Unfortunately, many of us have debt. She reminds couples that education loans are your own responsibility. Other debt, such as credit card debt, can be more haunting after someone passes, and she suggested life insurance to help pay off debt to protect the partner in that situation.

 

A wedding can place a considerable financial strain on a couple. She helps a couple consider cost-effective options, in the event that they don’t want to plan an elaborate wedding. There are traditions, but no rules, regarding how a wedding should be.

 

Sometimes family members or friends will offer to help with a wedding or other bills. She noted that if people help you, sometimes they think they are entitled in some way to have a say in what you’ve done or how you will pay them back. She suggests that if you borrow money from a friend or family member, that you do so in the most professional of ways. Create a promissory note (you can find them easily online) and make a plan about how the money will be repaid and used.

 

I asked Susan if men and women have different financial needs. Women tend to live longer than men and still, in some situations, make less than their male counterparts. Therefore, women should generally be more aggressive in saving for retirement. For example, men are encouraged to put 10% of their income towards savings and women are encouraged to put 15% of their income towards savings.

 

Not everyone has a financial advisor like Susan. When someone should consider finding one? Susan said that it really depends on your comfort level. You can do it yourself by reading available documents in print and online, but often time and expertise is an issue. This is the same with almost anything. For example, you could learn how to change the oil in your car or you could hire someone to do it. It depends on how much time you have to devote to learning about it.

 

If you do decide to do it yourself, she suggests reading Smart Money Magazine. She is a member of AAII, the American Association of Individual Investors, and they produce great magazines and have online non-trade resources.

 

She is national and offers a complementary consultation to couples. Her goal is to help people build their wealth in a planned way. She does financial advising, taxes, budgeting, insurances, estates, etc. A comprehensive planner will encourage you to address all aspects of your planning.

 

In a booklet that Susan shared with me, entitled, “Getting Married” produced by Mainstay Investments, there is a list of “Post Weddings To-Do’s”. Here are some highlights:

 

*Update beneficiaries on your insurance policies, bank accounts, 401(k) plan, and other retirement plans.

*Name changes on credit cards, Social Security, driver’s license, passports, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.

*Get on the same financial page about budgeting, debt, and your financial goals.

*Do you need life insurance or more life insurance?

*Do you want to consolidate bank accounts?
*Whose health care provides better coverage?

*Do you need to update your auto insurance? What about your homeowners insurance?

*What additional expenses do you need to budget for? (mortgage, student loans, credit card debt, etc.)

 

Phew. That’s a lot to think about. If you are interested in having a free consultation, contact Susan Franke here.

 

 

 

For more information on Susan, here is a quick bio that highlights only a few of her many experiences:

 

Raymond James & Associates, at 350 South Main Street, in Ann Arbor, has been Susan’s employer since September of 2003.  Susan participates in the Calvert Funds Advisor Finder program for socially responsible investors as well as the Savingforcollege.com website as an area resource in college funding through the use of 529 plans.

 

After receiving an AB degree in Speech Science from the University of Michigan Susan furthered her education with graduate level coursework in the MBA program at Eastern Michigan University. 

 

Her community involvement includes volunteering as a financial education counselor at The Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan, among a long list of other things.

 

A quick summary of what Susan does for her clients:

Retirement and Distribution Planning

Understand your strategy for building financial independence

Understand your strategy for drawing down on it/spending it,

And making it last!

 

Investment/Portfolio Strategies

                        Careful Planning and investment decisions

                        Invest assets in a diversified portfolio

 

Estate Planning

Plan the distribution of wealth during your life so you gain better control over your assets while living

Plan the distribution of wealth at death so you have peace of mind that after your death your assets are properly distributed and cared for

 

Tax Strategies

                        Reduction of taxes during earning years

                        More income during retirement years

 

Long-term Care Planning

                        Protecting your wealth and lifestyle

Ensure that you have a plan in place to fund the best available care if you need to stay in a nursing home or require care in your home

 

Life Insurance Planning

                        Taking care of your family if you lose your life prematurely

 

Disability Insurance Planning

                        Taking care of your family if you are unable to work

 

Accumulation Goals

                        Emergency cash reserves

                        Travel

                        Education funding

 

Cash Flow

                        Spending plan

                       

 

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When I first moved to Michigan, I wanted to find the Italian / Italian-American community. We had dinner at Paesano’s , bought the Italian Tribune and even drove around Clinton Township looking for restaurants and specialty shops. I wanted to know where to celebrate the Festa Della Donna (International Women’s Day on March 8), buy San Giuseppe pastries in March, eat good pizza, etc. I had trouble finding a local place that felt like home.

 

My friend KC, a poet and UM MFA alum, told me to try Silvio’s Pizzeria. She said Silvio was great and the pizza incredible.

 

Incredible pizza out here in the Midwest? Hmmm. Even though I was searching, I didn’t really expect to find it.

 

My fiancé and I finally went in one evening. The small restaurant, whose back wall is covered with children’s drawings, is in a small mall complex near UM. There are no windows, but there are framed pictures from Italy. The pizzas are listed as organic and the pastries in the refrigerated display case look fresh and sweet. We shared a wonderful pizza with a crisp and thin crust. For someone who is overly critical, even I was immediately taken by the pizza.

 

I asked to speak with Silvio. He came out, probably curious about an American stranger coming in speaking in Italian. I told him that I was searching for the Italian community. He thought for a minute and then scribbled down the email address of his friend Silvia. Silvia and I started emailing and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

Last night I celebrated Festa della Donna with a roomful of women and Silvio at his pizzeria.  Festa della Donna is an international holiday. In Italy, the men traditionally give women (friends, family and even strangers on the street) stems of mimosa, a yellow flower. The women are honored on this day and tend to go out to celebrate in the evenings.

 

At Silvio’s, we sat around in a circle – Italians, Italian Americans and American alike. We brought our own wine and Silvio brought out trays of food for two hours. We started with trays of bruschette, followed by an enormous bowl of two kinds of pasta, followed by pizza, followed by two cakes, including a traditional yellow cake made to look like the yellow flower, mimosa.

 

No one was able to find mimosa in town and Silvia bought yellow daffodils to put on the cake.

 

Silvia with the mimosa cake

 

My favorite dish was the pizza with scamorza cheese and truffle oil. Scamorza is my favorite cheese (it is a smokey, medium hard cheese.) I have to find out where to buy it. I should have eaten less of the bruschette with Silvio’s homemade prosciutto on it so I could have tried more pizzas. I brought home more than half of my pasta since I couldn’t finish it. Knowing how much food there was, the waitress brought everyone plastic take-away containers.

 

At the end of the evening, I was happy to have not only found the Italian community, but to have shared laughs with new friends.

 

Silvio himself

 

The highlight of my Italian Festa della Donna came at home. My fiancé opened the door for me and there on the dining room table was a vase with a picture of mimosa. As there was no mimosa to be found in the town, he found a way to still celebrate.

 

Home is home.

 

mimosa

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BravoBrideI first came across BravoBride in a New York Times article . It is an online marketplace *just* for weddings. Perfect. I’ve been scouring the website weekly since I learned about it. Everything from dresses and diamond rings to favors are for sale, used and new.

 

Why pay full price in this economy?

 

Founder and recent bride Susan Alexander Shapiro tells us more.

 

 

***

Susan Alexander Shapiro, founder BravoBrideHow did you come up with the idea for Bravobride?

 

I got married this past July 4th and when I was planning the wedding I found it frustrating to pay for expensive wedding items that I’d use once and only for a few hours.  I looked on Craigslist and Ebay but there wasn’t anything focused on just the bridal industry.

 

What is/was the most “out there” item for sale on your site? What is the most common item for sale?

 

We have a pair of ‘wedding boots’ on the site that are really unique. Our most popular items are definitely wedding dresses.

 

How is your site different from Craig’s List or other similar lists?

What sets me apart is that you won’t find fish tanks and bicycles on the site, we only focus on wedding products. Craigslist and Ebay are probably my biggest competitors but you have to search through so many things on Craigslist to find what you are looking for and it’s only for certain regions. Our site is nationwide and we have an advanced search so you can quickly find what you are looking for. The site is also broken down into different categories, such as dresses, jewelry, items for the ceremony and reception and more. Unlike Ebay is completely free to list items and there’s never a sale upon commission. There are a few other sites that that sell used wedding dresses but we are the only site that doesn’t charge a listing fee or take a commission upon sale.

 

What can the “unbride” find on your website?

 

The “unbride” can find everything from non-traditional wedding items, like these blue shoes to a Guide for the Groom book so you’re soon-to-be husband can help with the wedding planning.

 

What guarantee does a bride have that the product advertised is indeed what the seller says it is? In particular, I’m thinking about the rings and the more expensive items?

 

That’s a good question. Like Craigslist, we follow the buyer beware rule. We can not offer a guarantee since we are only connecting the buyers and seller and don’t stock actual merchandise. For more expensive items you may want to deal only locally or use a payment service where your transaction can be protected.

 

It is wonderful that you support the Go Red campaign. How did that relationship begin?

 

I wanted to support a cause that was for women since our site is geared towards brides. The Go Red campaign is near and dear to me because both of my Grandmother’s had heart disease and if effects more woman than cancer.

 

What was the best part of your own wedding?

 

Honestly the whole day was wonderful but I think the ceremony was the most special part. My husband’s aunt married us and they meant a lot to me.

 

 

***

Read a little more about the history of BravoBride here. You’ll get to see Susan’s husband Mark, too.

 

Have you bought something on BravoBride? Tell your story here.

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