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When Mark Valente first saw Beaver Island, Michigan he was instantly compelled. Taken with the island’s untouched wilderness and the close-to-the-earth lifestyle its inhabitants enjoyed, he moved there permanently in 1975 and made his living trapping animals, raising foxes and doing auto-body work. Years later, his girlfriend and now business partner, Chicagoan Laura Green joined him. In the intervening years, Mark’s business had changed. He’d begun to sell furs at auction and had purchased a 1940‘s fur sewing machine on ebay. The machine arrived without instructions, so he tinkered with it, then started designing his own patterns for mittens, hats and scarves. Eventually Valente began selling his pieces at a local artesian market, but when Green arrived, the two took Valente’s wares to a national market, creating FlattailFurs on Etsy. Now the couple sell not only winter gear, but jewelry and accessories made from feathers collected from the guinea fowl, pea fowl, and chickens they raise. Our Town spoke with Valente and Green about the whole endeavor.

Our Town You either trap or raise the animals used in your products as well as create and sell your products. What’s it like to take part in all aspects of the process?
Mark Valente Very satisfying.  I started out trapping because I enjoyed being in the woods and working with the animals.  When I starting creating and sewing, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  The more I created, the more ideas came to me for creating new and different items.  With the beaver we use practically every part of the animal for something.  We use the teeth for jewelry, the feet for jewelry and backscratchers, the tails are used to embellish other products and used for coin purses, the bones are used in jewelry, the meat is nutritious and what's not eaten by humans is processed into food for the fox that we raise.  It's just a really good feeling to be able to take something from the land and create.

OT What would you say to someone who objects to fur on ethical grounds?
Laura Green I guess we would say that thankfully we are living in the United States of America and thankfully they aren't being forced to purchase something that goes against their morals. Animal husbandry, trapping in particular, is one of the cornerstones of this nation.  It was the early fur trappers who discovered new territory.  Both of us feel this way of life has an authenticity that neither of us could find in the city.  On the island, you can't just go out and set traps and expect success.  You have to learn about the animal, its habits, its life, how the overall population is faring.  It not only takes skill to trap an animal successfully and humanely, but wisdom to know when to trap and when not to.  When you are successful trapping, the job doesn't end there.  You now are on a time table to process the animal properly so that every part you intend to use does not go to waste.  In terms of the animals we raise, again you need to learn about the animal, it's needs, nutrition, even behavior.  If you do not properly care for an animal then that neglect will show up physically. We love what we do and we bend over backwards to make sure all of our "critters," as we call them, have the best care.

OT Winters are long where you live. How do you get through?
MV The same as in the summer only we wear more clothes. There is always something to fix, feed, take care of, or walk.  Not to mention winter is trapping season and the time of year to practice product development.  We get to mess around with new ideas and get everything stocked up for the store to sell in the summer months.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

Tony-nominated actress Kate Baldwin has no idea who I am. Not surprising; we’ve never officially met. Yet at Broadway-bound Big Fish’s Chicago opening, watching her command the hushed theater, I awakened to a sense of deja vu. Baldwin’s easy power was no surprise given her talent, but a feat given her role. A musical adaptation of the 2003 film, Big Fish is a play about men: boyhood dreams, adult male disappointments and triumphs, but mostly father/son dynamics. Through exuberant dance and about ten too many go-nowhere songs, the show explores the life of enigmatic Edward Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz). A traveling salesman whose tall tales sometimes obscure his actual achievements, Edward has a strained relationship with his son, Will (Bobby Steggert). Years after a falling out, the two must come to terms with each other as Edward struggles with cancer.

But back to my deja vu. There's a perfectly logical explanation for it. I spent my formative years watching Kate Baldwin. We both attended the same small, Wisconsin high school--a phrase evoking wandering cows and football heroes, but Shorewood High School was known for its drama department which functioned like a professional repertory. Each season Shorewood put up 3-4 shows culminating in a much anticipated musical. And we aren’t talking a sloppy line of off-key Von Trapps done up in gingham with a math teacher recruited to play Mother Superior. Perhaps because our football team was on a ten year losing streak (sorry to bring it up, Brian Wallace), or maybe because the drama teacher put the fear of God into anyone within a ten mile radius, SHS drama had both the funds and the determination to pull off Broadway caliber shows. Or at least touring production caliber. Or at least in my eyes.

Kate was about five grades ahead of me, so while I dutifully memorized lines for a Dr Seuss Sneetch skit or auditioned to play a cheerleader who learns smart kids are cool, over at the high school, the lucky, older kids tap danced down 42nd Street or sang about greased lightning or smacked down a Sondheim interval. Right at the center of all that jazz was Kate Baldwin.

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Lindsay Ribar

With Buffy the Vampire Slayer long off the air, feminist fans of paranormal romance have had it rough. Enter novelist and agent Lindsay Ribar. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Wishing, introduces Margo, an ambitious, down-to-earth heroine and Oliver, her gender-bending genie love interest. Ribar’s conceit may be fantastical, but her execution is both realistic and utterly engaging. She spoke with Our Town about the popularity of paranormal romance, offered tips for writers and kept it classy on the subject of Twilight.

Our Town What makes a book YA?
Lindsay Ribar The answer seems to change on a daily basis, especially since it's still considered an up-and-coming genre.  A few years ago, I might have said that YA novels have more simplistic story lines than adult ones, or that they involve a coming-of-age element, or that the voice seems younger and/or tamer.  But none of those things is universally true. Not even close.  So I'll say that YA novels need to have a teenaged protagonist. 

OT To what do you attribute our current cultural interest in paranormal romance?
LR If we're talking specifically about YA paranormal romance, I think it has a lot to do with magnifying (and entertainmentifying) the feelings of otherness that a lot of people have in their teen years.  You know: in reality, we think things like "I'm fatter than everyone else" or "I'm nerdier than everyone else" or "I don't like the music that everyone else wants me to like," but in PNR stories, those things become "I have magical powers that I must keep secret" or, well, "My genie boyfriend is being hunted by his evil genie ex-boyfriend and nobody understands how I feel."  Everything is bigger; everything is life-or-death.  But that's on a metaphorical level.  On a literal level, I think it's just really fun to read about magic.

OT I loved that you commented on the popularity of paranormal romance in your book. Why did you make that choice?
LR Mostly because I wanted to ground The Art of Wishing in the real world-- and if you're a teenager (or anyone else, for that matter) in the real world today, you're going to have an awareness of all those stories.  Margo, my narrator, has probably seen at least one Twilight movie (likely against her will), and she's probably read Cassandra Clare and seen True Blood on TV.  So she has that context-- and the fact that she comments on being "one of those girls" is just taking that context one step further, into the land of self-awareness.

OT How did define the rules of the world you created--in terms of how magic works, etc?
LR My version of genie mythology grew around the first draft of The Art of Wishing, mostly because there were certain things I wanted to do with Oliver, my genie character, and I could only do them if the rules of his magic meshed with the rules of his personality in a certain way.  (For example, genies must truthfully answer all questions posed by their masters, and there are painful consequences if they don't.  It takes a very specific sort of personality not to resent a rule like that.  And Oliver doesn't resent it.  He doesn't even mind, and even likes it sometimes. What does that say about him?) Once I had the groundwork of the mythology, I used a little method called Taking Advantage Of My Friends. I'd literally sit people down, lay out the rules of the magic I was writing about, and ask them to poke logic-holes in it, whereupon I would fill said logic-holes with more rules.  It was really fun -- or, I should say, it is really fun, since I'm still doing it with books two and three. 

OT Writing The Art of Wishing, did you outline? How much did you know about your plot when you began?
LR Before I started writing, I mapped out the first few chapters of the book in my head -- right up to the point where Margo and Oliver, my narrator and my genie, meet for the first time.  The story was going to be about their relationship, so I figured as long as I could get them into the same room, I'd be golden from that point on, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I'm definitely one of those "characters first, plot later" writers, so I pretty much made up the story as I went along.  I knew certain midpoints that I wanted to hit, and I knew how I wanted it to end, but I didn't know how I'd get there.  There's definitely something exciting about not knowing what's happening until your characters know -- but it also means there are a lot of wrong turns along the way.


April's Honest Parent: Carrie Kaufman

My great parenting strength: Listening. I treat my kids like people who have a lot to learn, not children who should not be heard.
My greatest parenting weakness: I give in too much. I wish I was a little more strict and disciplined.

When it comes to parenting, I would rather not admit:
I do tell them to shut up sometimes.

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
Oddly, being a mom made me feel more feminine.

How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?


Describe your worst moment as a parent.

After the split, I was heartbroken and couldn't stop crying. I cried in front of the girls. They were only four and they didn't understand.

Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on?
Cleaning my house. I'm a single mom.

How has having kid/s affected your sex life?
That's a complicated one, since for me sex involves dating and dating involves time coordination. I don't bring someone home unless I'm serious, so that involves even more coordination. Would I have a girlfriend if I didn't have kids? Perhaps. But I wouldn't be happy with a woman who doesn't like kids, whether I had them or not.

How have you grown as a person since becoming a parent?
I've become more patient and a better planner.

If someone gave you a letter grade for your current parenting, what would it be? 
I just asked my mother and she said A+.

What quality in yourself do you fear is most likely to lead to failure as a parent?

My lack of regularity and discipline. I'm very loosey-goosey. I've been trying to teach one of my daughters to play guitar off and on for over a year, and we can't seem to get a regular time. Unless I have a deadline, I'm toast. (By the way, I don't think this will lead to failure. That's pretty drastic. I just fear it will lead to my kids not having the discipline when they grow up.)

Enough with the snow! Only dogs like it. And not even all dogs. (Photo by Patty Michels)

It’s the second weekend in April and snow is in the forecast. I don’t know about you, but after a winter spent looking at pictures of Jon Hamm’s penis and somehow ruining my Iphone by sweating on it--the two are unrelated-- I’m ready to leave the house. Here are my six suggestions for things to do this weekend that will make you forget global warming.

1. Get free cookies
This week, Insomnia Cookies opened its first Chicago location in Lincoln Park. In honor of this, they are offering a free cookie to all customers who present their free cookie coupons, valid through April 15. For more information and to receive your free cookie coupon, visit the Insomnia Cookies Facebook page.

2. See Fleetwood Mac
The legendary British/American rock band plays Sat. Apr. 13, 8 p.m. at The United Center. Call 455-4500 for tickets.

3. Celebrate National Tom Hanks Day
This event benefits the actor’s favorite charity, Lifeline Energy. Admission to Headquarters on Saturday April 13 at noon is free, but a five dollar donation gets you a raffle ticket. And maybe the chance to kiss a mermaid.

Temple of Boobs: An Indiana Jones Burlesque offers up an all female burlesque parody of the "Indiana Jones" adventure flicks in which a sacred statue -- and the reputation of a dishonored village goddess -- are at stake. Fri., Apr. 12 at 10:30 p.m. Gorilla Tango Theatre

5. Attend an Art Opening
Chicago artist Chai Wolfman’s Meditation Lights opens at Bloom Yoga Studio. The event begins at 8 p.m Friday April 12. The artist says she’s inspired by “the architecture and noise of an urban environment and the comforting aspects of domestic life.”

When I googled 'Wrigleyville Cubs,' this came up, so this is what you get.
6. See the Cubs play the Giants at 1:20 p.m. April 14th. Just leave me out of it.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


Whether working as a trader or a reporter for the FOX Business Network, Chicago born Sandra Smith has always known how to set a goal and achieve it. For years, she split her time reporting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the New York Stock Exchange. However in a few weeks she’ll be living full time in Chicago. She spoke with Our Town about her experiences as a woman in the financial industry, her leap to reporting and how running track and trading aren’t as different as one might think.

Our Town What led you to become a trader?
Sandra Smith Early exposure to the financial industry and an aptitude for math. I worked for my father, then a floor trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when I was in high school and college and got a head start understanding the ins and outs of trading. While studying at LSU, I excelled in mathematics and found I had a true calling for working in finance. After graduating, I worked to become officially licensed as a professional trader. The transition was a natural and smooth one. 
OT As a woman, what's your experience as a trader been like?
SS In what has traditionally been a very male dominated environment, I have always felt very comfortable sitting on a trade desk or walking on a trading floor. When my dad introduced me to the financial markets at an early age, he never made a distinction between male or female, it was always about knowing your stuff. Math, charts, history of the markets, etc. For the same reason I loved running track at LSU, I love trading: nothing is subjective. In track there is a start line and a finish line. Whoever gets there first, wins. In trading, whoever buys and sells at the best price wins. Male or female. 

OT Speaking of running, what role have sports played in your career?
SS Running track at LSU was instrumental in pushing me to test my limits. As an athlete one must set goals, work toward them, and when reached, strive to push past them. There were races in college when I shocked myself at what my body was capable of doing, the speed at which I was able to run. Because of that, I never rule anything out in my career. You never know how far you can go until you push yourself.  

OT Any advice for other women interested in going into trading?
SS The industry has changed significantly in recent years, but the basics are still the same.  Do your homework, know your goals, and find an edge. But edges don't last very long. Be willing to adapt to the environment. 
OT What was it like to make the leap from trading to reporting?
SS It was a huge decision and not an easy one. I was experiencing a lot of success. But the opportunity to become a television business journalist [allowed me] to leverage everything I had learned and the contacts I had developed for the benefit of a larger audience. I was able to bring something very different to the table: real world experience.

OT What's the biggest misconception people have about reporting?
SS That we are reading a teleprompter. Like trading, I am required to use my expertise to analyze and react to quick moving markets and news in real-time. 

OT What's next for you?
SS I dream big. Stay tuned. 

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Photo by Keith Griffith

April's Hot Writer:
Alicia Eler

My genre: I am a writer, art critic and curator, focusing on visual art.

My literary influences:
Federico García Lorca, Joan Didion, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas (who shot Warhol, naturally), Ariel Levy, Susan Sontag, José Esteban Muñoz

My favorite art critics: Lori Waxman, Jerry Saltz, Kyle Chayka, Jason Foumberg, Jillian Steinhauer, Hrag Vartanian, Daniel Quiles

My favorite artists:
Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Peregrine Honig, Maurizio Cattelan, Paul Chan, Rochelle Feinstein, David Ford, Cory Arcangel, Luana Perilli, Martha Rosler, Will Cotton

My favorite literary quote: "Words are loaded pistols." —Jean-Paul Sartre.

My favorite books of all time: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Wayside School Is Falling Down by Louis Sachar, Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, Female Chauvanist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy, On Photography by Susan Sontag, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz

I’m currently reading: Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion. I’m re-reading the titular essay, which provides an honest, if rather depressing, look at the drugged out hippie movement in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district of the late 1960s.

My guilty pleasure book:
I enjoy reading books about astrology and psychic abilities. Most recently, I read The Only Astrology Book You Will Ever Need and The Idiot's Guide to Being Psychic.

I can’t write without: Coffee, preferably in the form of a soy latte.

Worst line I ever wrote: “How many times do I have to tell you that I am a twin?”

Brief Bio: Alicia Eler is a writer, art critic and curator whose projects focus on American pop and consumer culture, social networked identities, and the history of queer aesthetics. Her recent reviews examine our modern perception of the natural world. Alicia is currently the Chicago correspondent for Hyperallergic and, visual art researcher for the Chicago Artists’ Resource, and writer and editor for the blog. In Spring 2013, she will curate four shows with ACRE Exhibitions & Residency. Her writing has been published in Art21, Art Papers, RAW Vision Magazine (UK), Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Flavorpill, ReadWriteWeb and Time Out Chicago. She holds a BA in Art History from Oberlin College.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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On December 7th,  2009, Saya Hillman sent out the following email: “As you may know, I try to do things that scare and challenge me. I’ve come up with my next stupid, er, amazing, idea, and guess what?  It involves you! Here’s the gist: A group of fun people, many of whom don’t know each other, with no dance skills, will work with a choreographer over a few months to learn dance routines to popular songs, culminating in a performance for friends in a theater.” Voila, Dance Experiment was born. Our Town spoke with Hillman about facing one’s fears.

Our Town So you came up with this great idea. How did you execute it?
Saya Hillman I hired a choreographer [and pretended I knew what I was talking about during the interview].  I rented out a dance studio [and pretended I knew the answers to questions about mirrors, dimensions, and floor types].  I scoured the city for a performance venue [and pretended I knew the meanings of words such as "proscenium" and "thrust"].  Seventeen non-dancers rehearsed for four hours a week, for three months.  And in April 2010, we performed in front of three hundred and fifty people. But that wasn’t the end. Inquiry after inquiry about Dance Experiment Two came pouring in. What I thought would be a one-time adventure turned into what I imagine to be life-long friendships [and some love-ships], and another branch of Mac ‘n Cheese Productions

OT What sort of people do you find Dance Experiment attracts?
SH People going through a transition (divorce, new job, new city, friends moving away/getting married/having kids) People who feel stagnant, have the same routine, the same friends, the same day in and day out. People willing to be open to the unknown and to challenge. One of my favorite aspects of FE though is that it's attractive to people of all ages, races, jobs, locations, marital status, economic status -- universally loved!
OT How do you go about finding an instructor?
SH I have to turn down instructor-hopefuls -- as far as teaching gigs go, this is a great position! The instructors are given complete autonomy to choose songs, routines, games, styles, and thus can really let their creativity shine. It's pretty awesome to see your creations come to life on a stage like the Park West, in front of 700+. They also have an opportunity to make not only the income that I pay them, but supplemental income from their students, as students hire them for private rehearsals and/or continued classes post-Fear Experiment. Not to mention their students support them via attending the instructors' shows and recommending that their companies hire them! Working with the participants is also a favorite aspect for instructors, as they're people who don't want to do their art-form for a living, they're just doing it to have fun, to play, to laugh, to stretch themselves. There's no fighting for stage time or trying to impress the teacher. It's pure love and fun.
OT Why require participants to sign up alone?
SH When you do something with people you know, you often don't leave their sides nor are you pushed to challenge yourself. It also levels the playing field -- you don't need to be nervous about not knowing anyone, because no one knows anyone! This element gives people courage to sign up.

OT Why is it important to face your fears?
SH I always say embrace your suckage. Turn negatives into positives. It's quite the source of empowerment when you're able to overcome a fear, especially when you make the conscious choice to do so. If you spend your life being scared and standing on the sidelines, you'll never truly live. I would much rather try and fail, then stay still and never progress.

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