Category Archives: Small world stories

Father’s Day and finding my way

Where's Karen? I'm in there to the right of the tall guy in the blue shirt (my son David), in this picture I took reflecting off The Bean In Chicago earlier this month.

My husband was suffering from allergies (or a cold, we weren’t sure which) yesterday, so his Father’s Day was spent quietly. We opted out of our Sunday routine — which typically involves a hike or long bike ride — in favor of lazily lounging around. Dan’s only goal for the day was to make some progress toward finishing the third book in Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy.

Both of our sons called in — Andy from Washington, D.C. and David from his new home in Chicago — to enjoy catching up with their dad. All three of the men in my family are extremely knowledgeable about politics and government (which I am not), so I enjoy listening to Dan’s side of the conversation from my perch at the kitchen island, knowing that this is a special bond they share (along with a love of all things sports). My conversations with our sons typically take a different tack. I ask about household/daily life stuff and girlfriends. I share news about extended family members — their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Quiet Sundays give me a chance to make some small amount of progress toward catching up and getting organized for the week ahead. I spent several hours sifting through emails, writing to-do lists and tending to naggy, small tasks that always seem insurmountable when you’re in the midst of a busy work day. And with no small amount of initial hesitation, I dove back into my Ethiopia notes.

My motivation was an email I received from a mother in New Mexico. She has written a book, Finding Aster, about her own Ethiopia adoption journey. I found out about her because of all the Google alerts I have set up related to international adoption — part of my continued research for the story that began when I first met adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley in the spring of 2009 and which, I hope, will find its own book form if I just keep taking small steps to make it happen.

When I found out about Dina McQueen’s book, I subscribed to her related blog. Anyone who writes a blog knows how exciting it is to find out that someone has subscribed to it. Every time I get a message that someone has subscribed to my blog, I click through to find out who that person is. Dina apparently does the same. She found me, found Raising Arizona Kids and wondered, no doubt, about my interest in her adoption story.

She called my office while I was in Chicago helping David settle into his new apartment earlier this month. So she followed up with an email:

When I called your magazine to inquire, I was told about your interest in Ethiopia, which led me to your feature article on your 2010 trip to Ethiopia. Which led me to the remarkable story you wrote about accompanying Brian and Keri to Addis Ababa as they met their two new children. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I was quite moved. Especially as I learned how much some adoptive parents are doing to support their children’s homeland. And how ‘stuck’ I sometimes feel without the resources to do more.

What I can do, however, is share my story and my platform with others who may be able to help me get out there and speak. My mission, basically, is to encourage adoption as a viable and vital way to grow a family. Concern about the environment and women’s health, as well, of course, as the massive issue of parentless children world-wide fuels my passion to keep on connecting with others.

I have ordered a copy of Dina’s book and I look forward to reading it. One of the reviews I read particularly intrigued me. The reviewer said that Finding Aster could truly be called Finding Dina, because of the magnitude of personal growth the author underwent during her journey to become a parent.

With Keri deGuzman as we checked in for our flight to Ethiopia last July. We were both wearing T-shirts promoting Acacia Village, an orphanage the deGuzmans support in Addis Ababa. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Personal growth — and continued striving for it — is intrinsic to my ongoing connection to the deGuzman family and their continued commitment to the many children who remain orphaned in Ethiopia. It is time to stop hiding behind my fears of being inadequate to the task of telling their evolving story.

Finding Aster may well help me get back to the task of finding myself.

Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”

The more things change…

In April of 1990, we published our second edition of Raising Arizona Kids. The members of our staff (all six of us) were young mothers. We wanted to do everything right. For us, that meant being responsive to what we were being told was a looming environmental crisis.

We printed our fledgling magazine on recycled paper. And we planned our second issue around the concept of parenting with environmental sensitivity.

Our cover story that month was “The Dirty Diaper Debate.” It offered sobering statistics (“18 billion diapers…are thrown in the trash each year”) and talked about options including cloth diapers and biodegradable disposables. Hard to believe — 21 years and at least 378 billion disposable diapers later — but the Arizona Legislature that year was actually considering a law to ban the use of non-biodegradable diapers. Clearly, it wasn’t widely supported.

Another story, “I Can Recycle This!” offered environmental tips for parents and described a Phoenix Clean & Beautiful mascot named Recyclesaurus, who was then conducting school visits. (I’m happy to report that a “Recycle with Recyclesaurus” program still visits preschool and early elementary classrooms, though under the auspices of the renamed Keep Phoenix Beautiful.)

My family didn’t have curbside recycling back in 1990. Now we do. So I guess that’s progress. But I don’t get the sense that disposable diapers are any less popular than they were in 1990. I get discouraged when I buy Costco toilet paper in bulk (hoping to avoid excessive packaging), only to find that both the package and the individual rolls are wrapped in plastic. And while I finally developed the self-discipline to carry cloth bags into the grocery store, I’m as guilty as anyone about using too many plastic water bottles, though I do reuse them several times before I recycle them.

I worry that our focus on the environment goes in and out of fashion depending on whatever else is grabbing our collective imagination and attention. Especially when I go back 21 years to find that nothing much has changed.

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P.S. Some RAK “small world” trivia: The baby on our cover in April 1990 was Colleen Burns, then 11 months old. Her mom, family law attorney Annette Burns, was interviewed by Vicki Louk Balint for our January 2011 article and podcast on “Why divorce attorneys stay married.”

Our story about Recyclesaurus was written by former RAK staff writer and editor Lisa Sorg-Friedman, whose husband, Daniel Friedman, took the cover photo of Colleen. After many years with the magazine, Lisa eventually moved in other career directions. Dan left professional photography for several years to pursue public school teaching but is now back on our staff as a writer and photographer.

Small world stories: the intern and the summer job

Interns Patrick O'Connor and Veronica Jones at our May 2011 cover shoot.

When we interviewed him for a graphic design internship, Patrick O’Connor told us that he is often “quiet, initially.” When he started working with us last month, he proved to be just that. Hardworking, talented, eager to learn the ropes — and quiet.

So when he spoke up during an impromptu meeting I called in the art department Monday morning, I paid attention.

“I made it into the magazine,” he said. Quietly.

I looked at him, puzzled. He showed me a page in the June 2009 issue of our magazine. A page that included an ad for Hubbard Sports Camp.

“That’s me,” he said, pointing to the tall guy in the back.

Patrick is a 2005 graduate of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. He’s a December 2010 graduate of the University of Arizona, with a BFA in studio art and visual communications design. And during the summer of 2008 he was a counselor at Hubbard Sports Camp, where he coached a variety of sports for kids ages 4½-13.

Patrick clearly has a love of sports. While he was at UofA, he worked as a freelance videographer for Tucson’s Fox 11. He shot footage of football, basketball and soccer at three Tucson high schools. He also shot video for the UofA’s football team for both practices and games.

Patrick is juggling two internships these days. He spends the mornings with us and the afternoons at Tempe-based Boon, which designs and markets innovative products and gear for babies.

This capable young man, who favors plaid, button-down shirts and clean, fresh graphic design, is quietly securing  his place in a successful future.

Photos at top and bottom by RAK staff photographer Daniel Friedman.

Special thanks to Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams for enhancing the photo (circle) so we could see Patrick’s face in the group photo from the ad.

An unexpectedly nostalgic afternoon

Heading home. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to share this picture. It was taken sometime in the middle of the night as an Ethiopian Airlines jet sped across the Atlantic Ocean in a hurry to reunite a family.

And for many years to come, I imagine, that family will introduce me with this story: “Solomon fell asleep on her lap on the way home and she didn’t move for eight hours! She didn’t even have her seat reclined, so she was sitting straight up the whole time!”

I don’t remember being a bit uncomfortable. As an empty nest mom of two grown sons, what I remember was the sheer bliss of holding a sleeping baby. I was somewhat wistful, in fact, when Solomon, then just 8 months old, finally woke up and went back to his parents, Brian and Keri deGuzman. I knew my moment was over. Soon we would land in Washington, D.C. This child and his sister Tesfanesh, just a few weeks younger, would be surrounded by two other siblings, two grandparents and a family friend, all of whom couldn’t wait to meet them.

That was a defining moment in my Ethiopian journey. From that point on, I knew, my claim to some sort of connection with these children was something I’d have to work hard to maintain. And after what I’d experienced with their family — 14 months of waiting, a trip to a land far away — I didn’t think I could bear that.

I don’t always see the deGuzman children as much as I’d like, but I do make an effort to connect every few weeks. I had hoped to meet with Keri this Friday, but she had other plans. So when I heard she was bringing 4-year-old Jesmina and now-15-month-old Solomon by our building today, I grabbed Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist and we went upstairs to visit.

Jesmina was getting her tightly curled hair washed, combed out and braided at Hairloks by Arlette Natural Hair Care Salon. (In the “small world” department, multimedia journalist Vicki Balint did a piece with the salon’s owner, Arlette Pender, on the challenges of styling African-American hair. The video went viral on YouTube and has been seen by more than 17,300 viewers.)

Keri has learned to do Jesmina’s hair herself, but periodically brings her to the salon, where her daughter will take any amount of pulling and tugging required of a comb-out without a whimper.

Keri had Solomon with her today, too. He spent quite awhile pretending he didn’t remember me but coyly watched and smiled. When Keri, Solomon, Mala and I walked outside for a bit, Keri could tell he’d warmed up to me and handed him over. “You can take him for a walk,” she said, knowing that was exactly what I wanted to do.

Mala and I walked him right down to our office, where he held court as the rest of us oohed and ahhed over him. We gave him some water, a cracker and a piece of cheese. When we showed him a copy of the December magazine cover that features his whole family, he pointed straight at Brian and said “Da, da!”

Mala was the one who noticed he looked sleepy. So I took him outside and walked him around our courtyard, finally stopping by the fountain, swaying and humming as he slowly settled down, rubbing his fist up and down against my stomach, then dropped his head onto my shoulder and fell sound asleep.

When Keri came by about half an hour later to retrieve him, this is what she found.

Enjoying a repeat moment I never expected to have. Photo by Mala Blomquist.

Small world stories – weekend edition

On Friday night, I went to the movies with my cousin’s daughter Andrea, a junior at ASU. We went to see “No Strings Attached” at Harkins Scottsdale Fashion Square. It’s not like I was expecting it to be a great movie (although the characters were very endearing). But I think Natalie Portman is a wonderful actress and I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Ashton Kutcher ever since my sons and I started watching (and laughing hysterically at) “That 70s Show.”

But that’s not why I wanted to see the movie. I wanted to see it because Greta Gerwig, the actress who plays Patrice, best friend to Portman’s character Emma, is a Sacramento, Calif. native who went to school with my son Andy’s girlfriend.

On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I went to my niece Mandy’s soccer game at Pecos Park in Ahwatukee. We’ve followed her Ladybugs club team for the last couple of years, astonished each time by the growing confidence and skills that we see in Mandy and her teammates. The girls won their game handily (3-0) and afterward, we went to lunch with Mandy, my brother Bob, my sister-in-law Judy and my 14-year-old nephew Ben.

Ten-year-old Phoenix dancer Kendall Glover.

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, Mandy told us that Kendall Glover, who is competing in the finals for the CBS Show “Live to Dance” goes to her school. And that Paula Abdul showed up at a school assembly to surprise Kendall with the good news. And that Paula gave Mandy a hug!

On Sunday morning, I saw an email from someone I’ve never met before. Somehow this mom heard about my trip to Ethiopia last summer with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman. She was writing to ask if I had any pictures of the Soddo orphanage we visited.

“My daughter was in that orphanage last year and I was hoping that you would have pictures that I could get,” she wrote. “I know you can’t show pictures of the kids but was wondering if you have any of just the orphanage itself?”

I was happy to send her the link to a post I wrote on July 30, which shows several pictures of the orphanage. The children are no longer living in this facility; they’ve been relocated to a temporary building pending construction of a new orphanage at Wolaitta Village. A project that was designed by graduate students of the EthiopiaStudio project at ASU’s School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture.

Small world indeed.

Small world stories – hoops, timing and URLs

Thanks to the office flood, it’s been awhile since we’ve had regular editorial meetings. But my team is tightly knit and, not surprisingly, pretty adept at communication.

So while we haven’t had storytime at RAK in weeks, I am still the delighted recipient of “small world” stories I love to share.

Ann Meyers Drysdale with her son D.J. and daughter Drew.

Hoops connection

Our production manager, Tina Gerami, is married to Essex Bennett, a Valley educator who is working with the Phoenix Suns basketball camps at Thunderbird High School this week. Yesterday, he got to hear a presentation from guest speaker Ann Meyers Drysdale, who is featured on our July cover and profiled in “A Conversation with…” multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.

After her speech, Essex approached her to say his wife works at RAK and that he really enjoyed reading the article about her. “She said she was really pleased with the article,” Essex reported. He then made another connection: Ann’s son D.J. is working at the camp with him!

Timing is everything

I heard from Calendar & Directory Editor Mala Blomquist last Friday, after her appearance on Arizona Midday on 12 News.

“So I am in the green room talking to this really nice lady named Karen when she asks me what I do,” Mala said. “When I tell her, she says, ‘Wait a minute — two people from your magazine were at my house this week!’ Turns out she is the next RAK Mompreneur! Karen said that staff photographer Dan Friedman was a hoot and that editorial intern Brooke Mortensen [who wrote the story], could not have been more lovely!”

A URL by any other name…

Our July magazine has a story about a precautionary step prospective parents in the digital age may want to take before naming their baby. Some experts at a social media conference recommended that you Google the first and last name before wrapping your heart around it.

“Ha!” wrote staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint when she saw it. “I had to laugh at that story. Robert [her 19-year-old son] Googled his name before he wrote his first story for Raising Arizona Kids, when he was deciding whether to be Robert Balint or Robert T. Balint. Turns out there is a hungarian PORN STAR named Robert Balint!”

Obviously, Robert put in the T.