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.