Category Archives: Raising Arizona Kids staff members

The restorative power of painting poppies

The months from November through February are always a long slog for our small staff.

As if the challenges of publishing monthly magazine and daily online content are not enough, we add two huge projects to the mix: our annual Schools, etc. education guide and our annual Camp Fair AZ, held the end of each February. We sandwich them around the busiest season of the year: the winter holidays.

It’s exhausting, overwhelming and yet, when it ends, immensely satisfying.

The Phoenix Herpetological Society brought a gentle female alligator named Tuesday to Camp Fair AZ.

Our 2012 Camp Fair AZ ended Sunday afternoon. The two-day event was a filled with smiles, wide eyes and great information.  There were welcoming hugs from longtime vendors who have become friends — some who have attended every one of the nine years we’ve put on the event. There were wide eyes from children amazed to see a live alligator at Tesseract School Shea Campus on Saturday and a flying (remote-control) fish at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School on Sunday. There were grateful parents who swooped in and spent an hour or so collecting brochures and asking questions. As they thanked us warmly on the way out, we all felt every bit of the extra work was worth it.

When we were packing up to leave on Sunday afternoon, one of the vendors said to me, “Well, at least now you can take a break!” If only. My staff had to hit the ground running on Monday, with deadlines looming for our April magazine.

So it probably wasn’t the best time for me to plan my own birthday party and expect them to come. But that’s exactly what I did.

A few weeks earlier, on a Sunday afternoon when I was feeling particularly exhausted and ineffective, I honored a whisper of yearning and signed myself up for a “Van Gogh Vino” painting class at Carrie Curran Art Studio in Scottsdale. Carrie started to program to allow non-artists like me to experience the joy of completing a painting. She and her staff provide smocks and supplies, then walk participants through the process in gentle, manageable steps.

My version of Van Gogh's "Starry Nights."

I found the process transformative. For three hours, all I had to do was focus on my canvas. There was no room in Carrie’s bright, colorful studio for stress and worry. My completed painting didn’t look exactly like Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights” but it wasn’t bad. I was hooked. And eager to share my experience with others.

My birthday falls near Camp Fair ever year. This year, I decided to celebrate it at Carrie’s studio. With my staff. Two days after Camp Fair and in the middle of a busy deadline week.

It was probably crazy. The worst possible time. Everyone was feeling behind in their respective workloads and I was planning a party?

Still, we assembled at Carrie’s studio yesterday morning. Fortified by bagels and fruit, salads and amazing peanut butter brownies provided by Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist, we painted. And laughed. And enjoyed each other’s company.

As I was filling my plate, I said to staff photographer/writer Dan Friedman that I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to hold a party. He agreed that there is never a “good” time when everyone is busy and time stretched so thin. “But think about it,” he said. “If everyone waited until the ‘perfect’ time to do anything — especially to have a baby — it would never happen.” So true.

Sometimes when you least have the time is when you most need to take it — to recharge your energy, replenish your spirit and regain your perspective. For two and a half glorious hours yesterday, that’s exactly what the RAK family did.

Carrie taught us that there is a bit of an artist in everyone.

An operose project

I am a longtime subscriber to Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day. This was the definition that popped into my in-box yesterday morning:

operose \OP-uh-rohs\, adjective:

1. Done with or involving much labor.
2. Industrious, as a person.

It’s not a commonly used word. In my 30-plus years as an editor I’ve never run across it. The contextual examples Dictionary.com provided were from writers of a different era: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Though not the final version of our 2012 cover, here's an idea of what it will look like. The book will be mailed to subscribers in January.

But the arrival of this word into my consciousness couldn’t have been more timely. My tiny team wrapped up production on our annual Schools, etc. education guide at nearly 10pm the night before (after several “near 10pm” days at the office last week). We were almost too exhausted to be happy that it was done.

For Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist, this marathon of a project has consumed most of her attention (and many of her weekends) since early October. She is one of the most industrious (diligent, hard-working) people I know, especially when it comes to this project. She is dogged (having or showing tenacity and grim persistence) in her pursuit of data. She is meticulous (showing great attention to detail; very careful and precise) about factchecking the information and crosschecking it every way she can.

For her, it is a project “involving much labor.” And truly a labor of love.

Thinking “different” on the day Steve Jobs died

Through no one’s fault but my own, I lost a month’s worth of work and email. I am typically very compulsive about weekly backups on my laptop. But in early September I found myself distracted by company in town, a busier-than-usual social life and beautiful, cooler weather in which to pursue adventures on my bicycle instead of my keyboard.

I’d look at the backup drive as I headed out the door and think, “tomorrow.”

Then Steve Jobs died. And on the same day, so did my MacBook Pro. My co-worker, Mala Blomquist, called the loss an empathetic death by a loyal machine in mourning for its founder.

My laptop did, after all, take a rather startling and dramatic leap from a high place, landing on a hard, stone floor in exactly the right position to completely destroy its hard drive.

The guys at MacMedia in Scottsdale quickly replaced the drive, but the possibility of full data recovery looked bleak. So I had them restore my world to Sept. 5, and have spent the last week trying to recreate what has happened since then.

In a way, the fact that this all took place on the day we lost a visionary and legendary corporate leader has helped me keep my perspective. I kept finding myself thinking, “What would Steve Jobs do?”

I knew he wouldn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself. Losing a bit of data would be nothing but a minor annoyance to someone who didn’t let pancreatic cancer dilute his creativity or drive.

I figured Steve Jobs would see my dilemma as an opportunity. A chance to “think different.”

So I challenged myself to do the same. Most importantly, I decided I was not going to panic. Mala noticed the difference. “You’re handling this a lot better than the last time,” she said. (That would be the time I spilled a whole cup of coffee on my keyboard, ruining another hard drive after a period of lapsed backups.)

I decided to look for the advantages of my situation. Instead of berating myself for my stupidity/carelessness/lack of responsibility, I decided to pat myself on the back for resourceful efforts I came up with to get around the situation. It became a game: If I no longer have [whatever], where could I find it? You’d be surprised to realize how much of your life is out there floating around. I recovered a precious recent photo of my two grown sons because I’d uploaded it to my Facebook. My art director had copies of several documents I thought I’d lost. Other staff members searched their outgoing email and resent requests they’d made in recent weeks.

In losing copious notes on my “to do” list, I had a chance to rebuild my work strategy based on true priorities instead compulsively tended minutia.

I’ve dropped some balls in the last week.  I’m sure there are more out there waiting to fall. But guess what? All those horrible consequences that perfectionists like me worry will result when we’re not 100% on our game? Didn’t happen.

As my friend and colleague Vicki Balint always says, “If nobody got cancer and nobody died, it’s been a good week.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go run a backup.

Inspiration from a former co-worker

Nancie's team, the Schauderifics.

Nancie Schauder’s name first appeared on our staff roster 20 years ago, in October 1991. She was, as I later wrote, “one of those gifts that popped out of nowhere in the early days of our magazine’s history.”

Nancie was a vital member of our advertising sales staff for nearly 10 years, before she left the magazine to return to her true calling: teaching a developmental preschool class in the Cave Creek Unified School District.

I have seen Nancie only sporadically since then, but always find her presence inspiring. She is the consummate optimist, smiling and hopeful through anything life throws her way — including her mother’s slow death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and her own battles with medical challenges and injuries.

In March of 2010 Nancie developed blinding headaches that found no relief in pain medication. There were other puzzling symptoms, but there was no immediate diagnosis.  Nine months later she underwent brain surgery for something I’d never heard of: Chiari malformation.

The definition, according to the Arizona Syringomyelia and Chiari Support Group, is a “malformation…characterized by a downward displacement of the lower part of the brain into the cervical spinal canal.” Part of her brain had moved into her spinal canal, blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

Symptoms, according to the support group brochure, include debilitating headaches, nystagmus (involuntary eye motion), difficult swallowing, vomiting and “positional pain” exacerbated by heavy lifting.

Two months after surgeons sawed open her skull, Nancie volunteered at our annual Camp Fair, where she stood behind a table of brochures about special needs camps and answered questions from parents. It’s something she’s done for us often over the years since she left — a way to show that, no matter what else is going on in her life, she still cares about the people she met through Raising Arizona Kids and she still believes in our mission to support families with information and resources.

Participants at Saturday's Walk to Conquer Chiari.

Yesterday, Nancie’s friends and family members made an early morning show of support for her. With hundreds of others, we enjoyed a pleasant one-mile “Walk to Conquer Chiari” through picturesque Anthem Community Park. September is Chiari & Syringomyelia Awareness Month.

Until I arrived, I didn’t realize that Chairi malformation and syringomyelia (another chronic disorder involving the spinal cord) affected such a diverse age group or manifested in so many different ways. Participants with Chiari wore purple beads to designate themselves from the rest of us; one was a young child dancing through bubbles,  one was a teenager confined to a wheelchair.

Former NFL kicker Chris Dugan ended his remarks chanting, "We will win!"

Nancie was lucky. She had one brain surgery which, thankfully, has alleviated most of her symptoms. Former NFL kicker Chris Dugan, whose opening remarks launched the walk, told us he has undergone 43.

Learn more

Arizona Syringomyelia and Ciari Support Group
Kathi Hall: 602-504-0883
Shelly Norris: 480-893-3951
Email: azsyringochiari@cox.net
azsyringochiari.blogspot.com

American Syringomyelia & Chiari Alliance Project
asap.org

Conquer Chiari
conquerchiari.org

Renae Hoffman and Karen Cournoyer LeClerc with Nancie Schauder (right), wearing their "Schauderific" ball caps.

After the walk: Former RAK Operations Director Debbie Davis, RAK Account Senior Executive Susie Drake and Nancie, who was on the phone making last-minute arrangements for a beautiful brunch she hosted for her team.

One "walker" participated by riding on her dad's shoulders.

The Phoenix Suns Gorilla made an appearance.

A patient entertainer

Ellington King (10) of Phoenix shows us part of an IV while his child life specialist, Sarah Maurer, watches. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

He’d just had his spleen removed and he was still a bit woozy from the anesthesia. But 10-year-old Ellington King was game when child life specialist Sarah Maurer asked him, and his mom, if we could stop by to visit.

I was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital with RAK staff photographer Dan Friedman,  shadowing Sarah and trying to get a sense of what her life is like now that she is no longer a patient, but a patient advocate. Her story is the first is a series of magazine articles I plan to write in coming months that revisit the stories of children and families we’ve featured in the past. (“Sarah’s Story: 1993, 2008 and today.” is in our September 2011 magazine.)

Sarah was a cancer patient at Phoenix Children’s when she appeared on our cover in 1993. She was a college student when she was featured again in a 25-year-anniversary story we wrote about the hospital in 2008.

And now she is a child life specialist at the hospital that saved her life.

Sarah sat near Ellington’s bed and talked with him just as she would if our entourage, which included two members of the hospital’s public relations office, hadn’t been there.

“Any surprises?” she asked Ellington, referring to his surgery.

“Yeah,” he said. “All of you!” We laughed, eager to hear more from this bright, engaging fifth grader.

Sarah handed him a laminated, handmade flip book, something she and other child life specialists use to prepare children for surgeries. The book shows pictures of the various places and pieces of equipment that are involved. She asked Ellington to describe his experience.

This child needed no props to launch his monologue.

“I’m knocked out, havin’ a great time, sleepin’, dreamin’ about hamburgers and French fries all the time,” he said.

“Because you couldn’t eat anything all day, right?” Sarah prompted.

“Then I wake up, I say, ‘I got my spleen out!’ then I come back here and get knocked out again.” (Meaning he fell back asleep again, tired from the medicine, Sarah explained.)

Being on anesthesia “just reminds me of the ‘forget me’ stick from Megaminds,” he said, and more laughter erupted.

As we looked at the pictures, Ellington showed a clear grasp of all the work Sarah had done to prepare him. As he explained how an IV is used to administer medicine, he looked at Dan. “You might want to get a picture of this,” he said.

Ellington, who told us he’s been in the hospital “hundreds of millions of times,” has a condition called spherocytosis. His mom, Cheerve, told us it affects him much like sickle cell anemia would, though “he is not as severe.” Her son also has asthma.

There was nothing in Ellington’s demeanor that would indicate he was in any discomfort or pain. Still, he told Sarah, “I was just crying here a little while ago, I was hurting so bad.”

“Did you tell someone, so they could give you some medicine for the pain?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “They did give me pain medicine, right here, in the IV.”

“What else can you do to help the pain?” she prompted.

“Pray and breathe,” he responded.

Sarah liked both of those suggestions and reminded him that there are things she can bring to help: bubbles to focus his breathing, play-doh or squeezy balls to work out stress.

I asked Ellington if everything he’s learned and all the time he’s spent in the hospital had him thinking about a career in medicine.

“No!”  he said emphatically. “I really just want to be in basketball. But now that my spleen is out, I’m totally playing football. Knocking everybody down.”

“I’m kinda thinking maybe comedy?” I said.

“Oh yes. I’m thinking of being a comedian, too,” Ellington said. “Or an actor. I’m acting right now because I really feel like just passing out.”

Before we left, I asked Cheerve if he’s always like this — or if the pain medications were contributing to the entertainment factor of her son’s comments.

“He’s always like this,” she told me. So if comedy (or acting) is in his future, he’s clearly got what it takes.

A welcome “thank you,” just for doing our job

Friday afternoons are typically very quiet at our office. For those of us who crave uninterrupted time to check things off our respective “to do” lists, it’s the best time of the week.

The cookie bouquet.

Last Friday, there was an unexpected bit of activity in our front reception area as a smiling gentleman arrived with a huge bouquet…of cookies!

The four of us who have offices closest to the front door emerged from the fog of concentration with puzzled expressions on our faces. As we looked at the man, the obvious question on our faces, he answered with a pronouncement: “Delivery. For Karen Barr.”

The custom bouquet, by Cookies in Bloom, was sent to us by Danielle Wurth of Wurth Organizing. It was her way of saying thanks for a RAK Mompreneur feature Dan Friedman wrote for our Monday, Aug. 8 online edition. I’d met Danielle at Arizona Moms Night Out, an event we co-hosted with Scottsdale Moms Blog in late July. I remember pulling Dan aside later, giving him Danielle’s card, and suggesting she might be a good person to profile in the weekly column featuring Arizona moms who run their own businesses.

One of the cookies at the front of the bouquet was made up to look like the cover of our magazine, with “RAISING ARIZONA KIDS” at the top and a pretty good imitation of me (delightfully unwrinkled and perfectly coiffed) underneath.

You’d be surprised to know how many of our stories get absolutely no response at all (good, bad or indifferent) from their subjects. So Danielle’s thoughtful gesture was completely unexpected.

We don’t expect to be appreciated for simply doing our jobs, of course. But it’s kind of nice when someone makes the time and effort to say thanks. Especially in such a creative (and tasty) way.

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist offered to take a picture of me holding the bouquet. So this one is for my mom, who subscribes to this blog and always appreciates any glimpse into my day-to-day life.

Everybody dance now!

Kendall Glover teaches dance lessons at The Salvation Army day camp in Chandler. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

It was staff multimedia journalist Vicki Balint’s idea, not mine. But I promised to be a good sport.

We were at The Salvation Army day camp in Chandler to interview Kendall Glover, the 11-year-old hometown dance sensation who placed second in the finals of a national competition for the CBS program “Live to Dance.”

My 11-year-old niece, Mandy, was there to help me with the interview. She attends the same school as Kendall, is in the same grade and almost shares the same birthday. (Kendall’s is Aug. 2; Mandy’s is Aug. 3.)

We talked to Kendall about all sorts of things, including the role she will play July 30 in the FOX 10 Dance Day benefit to raise money for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Participants will dance most of the day away at Jobing.com Arena, earning the money that was pledged on their behalf as they enjoy entertainment (hometown celebrity and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will be performing) and the chance to hang out real dancers like Kendall Glover.

Kendall said the great thing about the event is that you don’t have to be a dancer to enjoy it. I am definitely not a dancer and neither is Mandy, though she’s a heck of a good soccer player. But with some urging from Vicki, who was there with her video camera, Mandy and I agreed to give it a shot.

Kendall patiently taught us some moves. We did okay, but not as well as the kids from The Salvation Army Camp. You’ll see them dancing with Kendall after our (blessedly short) appearance.

If we could do it, so can you. Register here to create a team for Dance Day.

Sparks will be flying at dance fundraiser

Jordin Sparks

Phoenix Children’s Hospital broke the news last week that hometown celebrity and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will be the featured performer at the FOX 10 Dance Day fundraiser on Saturday, July 30.

When I heard the news, I decided it was time to unleash some sparks of my own. I’ve spent some time with another hometown sensation who will be at the event. Kendall Glover is 11 years old (for a few more weeks anyway), she has been performing since she was 4, she came in second in a nationally televised dance contest (“Live to Dance”) and I had the privilege of interviewing her last month — along with my 11-year-old niece Mandy — after she finished teaching a dance class for her volunteer job at The Salvation Army day camp in Chandler.

We had RAK staff photographer Daniel Friedman with us (all photos from here forward are his) and multimedia journalist Vicki Balint, who handled the audio and video.

Kendall gives dance instructions (Mandy and I are watching in the top right corner).

Kendall was fulfilling a volunteer commitment required of her participation in the National Charity League. But it looked like more fun than work as she taught the kids — eight girls, two boys and two additional volunteers — a dance sequence similar to one she performed on Just Dance Kids for Nintendo Wii.

Mandy and I are preparing a story about our interview with Kendall for the magazine’s September performing arts issue. But because we knew the Dance Day event was on the horizon, we also asked Kendall to talk about that.

Listen to our mini-podcast.

Recording our interview with Kendall, and with help from Vicki Balint.

Dance Day takes place from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, July 30 at Jobing.com Arena. It’s a brand new event designed to be fun for families and friends to do together. You can create your own team and dance all day (get all the sign-up details here). Need an extra incentive to get involved? Jordin Sparks will hold a “meet and greet” with the event’s top fundraiser.

Kendall Glover.

Don’t want to dance? You can also have fun watching. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids ages 12 and younger. Click here for more information. Proceeds benefit patients at Phoenix Children’s.

Kendall promised us that you don’t have to be a dancer to have a great time at the event. “It doesn’t matter how you dance or how you look, it’s just about what you love to do,” she says.

Tomorrow: Kendall teaches Mandy and me a few moves.

Two non-dancers learn from the pro.

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.

A celebration of cancer survivors

Sometimes a big cake isn’t about birthdays or graduations or weddings. Sometimes it’s about surviving — and celebrating life.

Sometimes your best friend joins you for an arts and crafts project. You have so much fun you almost forget that you are stringing Beads of Courage. But you never forget that your friend stood by you, even when you were the sickest you have ever been in your whole life.

Sometimes the doctor who helped you beat back your cancer has other talents you never knew about.

Sometimes you don’t feel that great on the day of the party but you come anyway. It’s how you say to your cancer, “I will not let you stop me and I will be back again for next year’s party without this mask and IV pole!”

Sometimes the child life specialist who patiently explained scary stuff to you and made you laugh, even when you were hurting, gets a chance to sign your “autograph hound” for graduation.

Sometimes a whole room of people who don’t really know each other feel united by a shared, and very joyful, milestone. One more year, and my child is still here.

Sometimes even a kid who is fighting cancer will fight for a piece of cake before it is served.

Sometimes she’ll get it. And sometimes, she’ll even get seconds.

Photos and memories from the Sunday, June 5 Cancer Survivors Day event I attended at Cardon Children’s Medical Center with RAK health editor and multimedia journalist Vicki Balint.


Watch Vicki’s video.