Category Archives: Office flood

A “snow day” at RAK

When I got to work Thursday morning I could tell it was going to be one of “those” days.

Sadie Smeck, our editorial intern, couldn’t get onto the Internet. Then Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist couldn’t access any of our internal network drives. Then Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb called in from a meeting to say she couldn’t access her email.

Deep breath.

I called Leon Hauck, who does our IT troubleshooting and he said he’d be over within the hour.

We all looked at each other, baffled. What could we do now? Our email was down, we couldn’t get on the Internet and we couldn’t access any of our network files. (Our website, which is hosted in “the cloud,” was fine.)

I did the only thing I could think to do. I declared a snow day.

Never mind that it was 97 degrees before we even got to work, or that it was expected to top out at 111. We were stuck. We couldn’t engage in our typical routines. We needed to think outside the box.

A momentous anniversary arrived this month with little fanfare. It’s now been a year since “The Great Office Flood of 2010,” when we were forced to evacuate our office for three months as we dried out from a burst pipe in the suite overhead. When we were finally able to move back in, we were so focused on getting back to the business of running the business that we let many non-essential tasks fall by the wayside.

That included the unpacking of dozens of boxes and the sorting through piles of flood-damaged items we just never seemed able to find the time (or mental energy) to examine.

It didn’t really bother me until Mala told me that someone  had come to our office one day and asked if we were moving. And that made me realize that we were still operating in kind of a triage mentality. We never really settled back into our space. It was almost like we didn’t trust the fact that we were staying.

Sadie finds nails and hooks for awards plaques.

Our “snow day” was a first step toward rectifying that situation. I ran around the office and announced that were were going to use this “found” time to tackle the boxes and piles, get rid of things we didn’t need, get ourselves organized. Mala, Solvay and Sadie quickly embraced my plan. Mala grabbed a big box and started filling it with papers for the recycle bin. I dumped a pile of awards, plaques and  framed photos on the floor and Sadie and Solvay started mounting them on the walls. Then I dragged 22 years worth of hastily packed RAK history — much of it brittle, stained and rippled by water damage — into the hallway so I could organize it by year.

Snow days are gifts. Moments when time stands still. Times when small moments matter, and memories are rediscovered.

Sadie offers support as Solvay prepares to pound a nail into the wall.

I heard Sadie, who will be a junior in college this fall, talking to 12-year-old Solvay in a nurturing and affirming manner born of their unexpected camaraderie.

“You have a good eye, Solvay!” she said as they decided where to pound nails and place plaques. I heard Solvay talking to Sadie about last year’s flood. “I really learned a lot about the magazine’s history when the flood happened,” she said, a positive memory of a time filled with frantic packing and unpacking, but also with staff members sharing stories about our past.

Snow days are gifts. Moments when overwhelming tasks, like tackling this pile in the corner of my office…

…yield unexpected, and joyful, surprises. Like this picture I found of my two sons, now grown, who were helping me staff a Raising Arizona Kids booth at a big community event so very long ago.

How to sell a book: Step 1? Be famous.

In late January I signed up to take a Writer’s Digest webinar called “3 Secrets to Selling Your Nonfiction Book.” A few days after I paid for the session, I was invited to observe an open heart surgery scheduled the same day at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center.

It wasn’t a tough choice. The chance to stand in the operating room watching cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. do a double valve repair and maze procedure on a 60-year-old Valley wife and mom was a once-in-lifetime opportunity and an experience I will never forget. (Find related blog posts here.)

At one point during the six-hour surgery, Brian looked up at me and said, “Bet you thought I was kidding about all this heart surgery stuff!” It was certainly a different look at his life. Six months earlier, I was riding around Ethiopia in a white Toyota Land Cruiser with deGuzman and his wife Keri, who had just adopted their two youngest children. (I wrote about that experience, “An Ethiopian Adoption Story,” for our December magazine.)

I knew the audio transcript of the webinar would be available after the event, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I found time to listen to it.

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Delayed gratification

We aren’t very good at waiting. We want what we want now. Not later.

We seek our news online because we can’t stand waiting even a day to know what’s going on. We “Google it” because our curiosity demands immediate satiation.

Even outside the realm of technology, we are impatient. We can’t stand it when there are three people ahead of us in line at the grocery store. We put too many purchases on credit cards because we’re incapable of waiting to save the money for something we want. We dismiss the efforts of leaders who can’t provide magical fixes to monumental problems.

We’re not satisfied with incremental progress. We want the whole ball of wax — and we want it almost the very moment we can conceptualize it.

My staff had to learn a lesson in patience this past summer, when our office flooded and we spent two months essentially homeless. Just sustaining the core business — publishing a monthly magazine and posting daily website content — became unbelievably challenging. Even now, two months since we moved back into our office, we are still sifting through boxes, rediscovering things that are missing, scrambling to document the financial cost of losses.

In the interest of sheer survival (and sanity), a lot of the “big picture” stuff got shoved by the wayside.

Which is why we are all so delighted about today’s launch of a newly redesigned website. Our brighter, better organized site has been in the back burner for months. It was supposed to happen soon after we adopted our magazine’s new cover design in May. It’s been hard to wait to see it happen.

Credit goes to Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams for the look and to website programmer Evan Blomquist (husband of Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist), who made time outside of his fulltime work for Tempe-based Mindspace to write the new code required to accommodate Michelle’s design. Our staff got together to rethink the way our site was organized and we implemented some changes we think will help visitors more easily navigate our content.

I looked up the phrase “Good things come to those who wait.” No one seems to know where it originated. If we’re not careful, it will disappear from our collective consciousness altogether. We need to relearn patience. Use it or lose it.

Or have it forced upon you.

— Karen

P.S. The first time I pulled up the new site today, the display was a bit garbled. If you visit our site frequently, you may notice the same problem. Clear your cache and try again. And thanks for sharing our journey!

Day 56 after the office flood – so much stuff!

The crew from ABSOLUT Restoration unloaded dozens of additional boxes yesterday, piling them high in the hallways as Leon Hauck from Fulcrum Enterprises darted around the office reestablishing our computer network.

The phones started ringing. Deliveries started arriving. Our postal carrier brought in the mail. Shortly after noon, our wi-fi was working.

Normalcy is a beautiful thing.

We worked all day unpacking what we could, wondering as we went along how we’ve managed to accumulate so much stuff. (Somehow we managed just fine during the 56 days we had to run our business without it.) It seemed like the pile of boxes was growing exponentially, despite our best efforts to keep up.

I started out being very meticulous about unpacking my own boxes — trying to weed out and throw away papers I no longer need. I found one full box of proofreading pages from 2004. That was embarrassing.

I’m urging everyone to take advantage of this enforced opportunity to sort and toss. Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams made a trip to the recycle bin with boxes of old magazines she had collected for design inspiration. I set up a box in one of our empty offices marked “Donate to Goodwill.” In that same room  is a veritable grave yard of unneeded office chairs, most of which have long outlived their usefulness and aesthetic value.

I know the window of opportunity is small. We have deadlines looming for our September magazine. At some point, we’ll have to stop the sorting, cram everything back into drawers and cabinets and move on with our real work.

The story of the Great Office Flood of 2010 — which left our staff “homeless” for 56 days — is coming to a close. It made for a difficult, stressful summer. But it also left us with a greater sense of appreciation for structure, routine and the ability to simply walk down the hall to consult with colleagues.

Day 55 after the office flood – moving back in

The truck from ABSOLUT Restoration arrived about 4pm yesterday.

After 55 days of disruption and dislocation, Raising Arizona Kids is back in its rightful home.

We’re not fully functional — computers and phones will be set up later today and we’ve got a mess of unpacking and sorting and organizing ahead of us — but our desks and chairs, computers and files are now back where they belong.

Well, most of them. Some items, too damaged by the June 2nd office flood (caused by a burst pipe in the suite above us) will not be coming back. We have a lot of work ahead figuring out what must be replaced and working with insurance companies to find out how to do that.

We also have dozens of boxes of company history and mementoes that have no financial value but will have to be assessed; much has been ruined or rendered unreadable by water and will have to be discarded.

This has been a trying time for all of us. I am really proud of the fact that my staff kept the core business on track despite the difficulties of working and communicating with each other during the past two months.

We’ve all experienced the invasion of work into our home lives. My living room has been our warehouse, with boxes of magazines piled around my front door. Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb has been making phone calls and writing contracts from my kitchen counter — and her own. Production Manager Tina Gerami has been hauling her files back and forth in a huge satchel.

The really stressful part fell to Operations Director Debbie Davis. She’s the one who has been negotiating with our property manager and two insurance companies. She’s the one who had to coordinate the move back — and set it up in such a way that we were “down” for the least amount of time. A lot of this was orchestrated while I was away in Ethiopia.

Yesterday, with the help of Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist, her daughter Solvay, Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams and Intern Emma Zang-Schwartz, I got everything we’d hastily moved to my house on June 2nd back into our now dry, newly recarpeted office. At about 4pm, ABSOUT Restoration showed up with a truck full of items they’d moved off-site and began the process of moving it all back in. They didn’t leave until 8:30pm and will be back again today with the last load.

Maintaining a sense of humor has been important to all of us the past 55 days.

My husband didn’t skip a beat when he realized everyone would be working out of our home during the two weeks I was away. Though he typically left the house before everyone arrived, Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist was surprised when she showed up to work one morning and Dan answered the door.

“What are you doing here?” she joked.

When I posted something on our Facebook about ABSOLUT coming in to pack us out, Assistant Editor Mary Holden suggested that another kind of Absolut might be in order.

We never fell that far. But late yesterday afternoon, when the unpacking team arrived and we realized we still had several hours to go, Mala, Solvay and I decided we were done. Some sort of escape was needed.

So we piled in my car and headed for Yogurt Builderz on Scottsdale Road. There, with large cups of fat-free frozen yogurt piled high and a dazzling array of toppings awaiting us — candies and nuts, sprinkles, chunks of brownies, round dabs of cookie dough, cubes of cheesecake and all sorts of enticing, fresh fruit — we found solace.

Day 23 after the flood: Who let the cat out?

The Alpha Male of RAK's temporary home office.

When we had to evacuate our office June 2 and move everything we could to my house, I knew there would be additional challenges to getting each day’s tasks accomplished.

But this is one I didn’t count on.

This morning, I was sitting on my living room couch trying to process our last three movie sneak preview giveaways so I could get the winners’ tickets in the mail. One of our two cats (who has the unfortunately neglectful name of “Katt” because we couldn’t think of anything else that really fits him) plopped himself right smack dab in the middle of my collection of tickets, envelopes and stamps. He wouldn’t budge.

When Production Manager Tina Gerami was in the (home) office with me yesterday, this increasingly emboldened feline was jumping all over her stuff, too.

The first two weeks after the flood, as my house filled with extra bodies, extra stuff and the related chaos, our cats stayed pretty much out of sight.

But Katt, a portly orange tabby, has decided it’s time to reassert his authority as the Alpha Male around here. He does that by throwing his considerable girth onto any work space you need and any pile of papers you are trying to sort or read.

I wonder if the insurance company would reimburse us for “unanticipated costs of doing business” due to inefficiencies caused by Katt?

All over my pile of tickets to a movie sneak preview for "Despicable Me."

Aw, c'mon. The stamps too?

Day 22 after the flood: Ready to leave limbo

It’s been more than three weeks since we unknowingly angered the water gods. More than three weeks since we sloshed through water rescuing our computers and files. More than three weeks since a restoration company packed out most of our belonging and trucked them to a warehouse somewhere in town.

More than three weeks since The Great Office Flood of 2010. We’re now officially tired of being in limbo.

At first it was fun — something of an adventure. From the moment we discovered our office was under water (a pipe burst in the suite above us), we were brave explorers forging new paths to productivity against challenges that were novel and tangible. In a way, the flood shook us out of a deep funk. The last two years have been a long, slow march through the backlash of recession. It is infinitely more galvanizing to have a single, large obstacle than it is to have a thousand small, slow, cumulatively discouraging ones.

It was exciting and affirming to see the vigor with which my staff embraced the challenge of producing a magazine in the midst of such disruption. We all felt a huge sense of accomplishment when the July issue went in the mail this week — exactly on time.

But now our situation is starting to feel a bit frustrating.

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An apology to editors and environmentalists everywhere

Yesterday I decided I was finally losing it. The commotion in my house was at an all-time high. My doorbell rang constantly and so did my cell phone. My brain circuits were so overloaded that when Editorial Intern Brooke Mortensen asked what she could do to help, my first response was, “I don’t know!”

For the most part, I’ve been proud of myself the last two weeks, since The Great Office Flood of 2010.

I approached this new challenge with a sense of adventure. I tried to remain flexible. I focused on what needed to be done instead of how I felt about it. And I kept pushing my limits (and the length of the business day) longer and farther and until finally, over the weekend, I collapsed into a cozy papsan chair in our guest room on Sunday afternoon and decided all I could do for the next two hours was stare at the ceiling.

My body had given out.

But it wasn’t until yesterday that I started to seriously worry about my mind. I went in to do our daily website updates and discovered that for more than a week I’d been promoting a May 28 Phoenix Mercury game. (Web visitors clearly excused my error because they entered the contest — which is actually for the June 18 game — anyway.) Though it was Tuesday, I thought it was Wednesday so I went onto our Facebook to announce that one of our contests — for Sesame Street Live tickets — was ending at 5pm. (It’s actually ending at 5pm today, so if you read this and want to enter, do so here.)

As en editor, I hate making sloppy mistakes like that. But something’s going to give when you’ve lost the security of your everyday routine and instead have nine people in and out of your house all day, nonstop UPS and Federal Express deliveries, cooking projects going on in the kitchen (for upcoming RAK Recipes features), photo shoots going on in your back yard (for upcoming “How-To’s Day” features) going on in your back yard, a blueline proof showing up from the printer, a realtor dropping by to pick up copies of Schools, etc. and a repairman fixing a running toilet in the back bedroom. (Hey, if I have to work at home, I’ certainly going to take advantage and schedule some of these nagging projects!)

So I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

I’m also trying to forgive my temporary lowered standards in regard to environmental issues. I’m running my home air conditioning at full tilt. I’m burning up gas making multiple trips to the office each day for things I need to pick up or people I need to meet as the reconstruction of our space continues. (Yesterday they replaced the linoleum!) And I’m going through flats of plastic water bottles like they were, well, water. As someone who typically carries a refillable stainless-steel water bottle and encourages the practice of “reuse, reduce, recycle” this troubles me greatly.

But as I keep saying to myself: something’s got to give. After a better night’s sleep I’m convinced it’s not going to be my sanity.

Rising to the surface

We’re all a bit wigged out by the “Twilight Zone” aspects of various water-related things that have been happening in our lives since June 2, when we discovered it was raining in our office.

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist discovered that her family’s garbage disposal had died. When her husband Evan (an IT expert who runs our website) replaced it, he forgot to punch the hole out where the dishwasher drains, so their dishwasher filled with water. (At that point, Mala says, “We decided to go to Lake Pleasant to make peace with the water gods.”)

Operations Director Debbie Davis had a flooding issue in her downtown Phoenix condo. (She also had a dead battery while her car was parked at my house.) “When it rains, it pours,” said Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb.

We’ve all been talking in water metaphors.

After hastily evacuating of our office with only what we could carry in our cars, we feel like we’re working without an anchor. We’re up you-know-what’s creek without a paddle. We’re drowning in the details related to damage assessment, construction repairs and insurance claims.

As a Pisces, I feel like a fish out of water.

Debbie came to work yesterday with a theory. Water symbolizes change, she suggested. Movement, renewal, cleansing.

I believe she’s right. In many ways, the Great Office Flood of 2010 has become a demarcation point in the history of Raising Arizona Kids — an event that forced us to realize how much we care about our work, our company and the community of people that has come together to form the RAK family.

We’ve had a couple of other “fish or cut bait” moments in our 21-year history.

The first, ironically, had to do with running the business out of my house (which we’re doing now, until we can get back into our office suite). A 1995 story in the business section of the Arizona Republic got some of my elderly neighbors in a snit. Misunderstanding the descriptions in the story, they mistakenly concluded that I was running an operation with 30-some employees out of my home. In fact, the only time I regularly had more than one other person in my home was on Fridays, when we held staff meetings complete with kids, babysitters and snacks. It could have been a play group.

My neighbors (who had my home phone number) didn’t bother to call me to investigate. Instead they called the zoning commission, which sent a guy to my front door threatening to shut down my business.

The fallout forced a premature move from a home-based business to an office-based one. It forced the borrowing of money for phones, computers and operating expenses and created a downward financial spiral from which it took us many years to recover.

The second incident came shortly after that and was, in many ways, even more frightening. MaryAnn, whose gifts as an ethical, well-connected and widely respected sales professional have consistently guaranteed our financial survival, became gravely ill. I’ll never forget the day the call came to our office. MaryAnn had collapsed to the ground while dropping her children at school one morning. She was in the hospital.

Over the course of several days and many tests, we learned that she had a rare and life-threatening case of Valley Fever. For weeks, she was unable to work. As I worried about her and her family, I couldn’t help envisioning this whole business we’d built together collapsing around my feet.

MaryAnn eventually recovered. We survived that scare and we adjusted to the demands of  overhead and a larger budget.

So the Great Office Flood of 2010 is our company’s third potentially catastrophic event. They say “third time’s a charm.” From the way my staff has responded, I can already tell we’ll float through this one just fine.

Flooding forces a confrontation with fear

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS launched a new website. You now can find this post here.