Tag Archives: Arizona

“Tipping the Scales” – an award-winning look at childhood obesity by a team of ASU student journalists

I was at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Friday morning to be interviewed for a video presentation that I probably shouldn’t describe — I think it’s a surprise for the person I was there to talk about.

At the end of the interview, I learned that the young woman asking the questions, senior Lisa Blanco, was part of a team of students who earned “best student documentary” in the 2012 Broadcast Education Association’s Festival of Media Arts competition, an international exhibition of award-wining faculty and student works.

ASU announced the award in February. The actual presentation was made at an award ceremony earlier this month at the BEA annual convention in Las Vegas.

Blanco co-produced the documentary, called “Tipping the Scales,” with Arielle Horsch, Samantha Lloyd and Angela Ortega. The 27-minute video tackles a tricky topic: childhood obesity.

I spent part of my Saturday afternoon watching the documentary. It is a sensitive, thoughtful and sometimes painfully honest look at the many factors that figure into our country’s childhood obesity epidemic.

The documentary also points to solutions, following the founder of an innovative exercise program and profiling a family that has made conscious choices to adapt a healthier lifestyle.

Childhood obesity is a much-reported topic, which makes the challenge of relating the story in a fresh and meaningful way all the more daunting. It is clear that this film’s young producers spent an incredible amount of time reporting their story and working together to find creative and impactful ways to tell it.

Who do you trust with your child? – Part 1

James Motz and his daughter Lillian (then 3) in a photo that ran in our April 2010 magazine. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

What do you think when you see this picture? A proud, loving father. A caring, protective father. A guy who would do anything to keep his precious daughter safe.

That’s what James Motz of Surprise thought he was doing when he went to extraordinary lengths — near superhuman lengths, some would say — to make sure his baby girl would be in safe hands once he and his wife returned to work following her birth.

They had looked at some child care centers as they considered their options.  They interviewed some nannies. Nothing felt right. Then some family members came to mind. The husband had lost his job; the couple had declared bankruptcy and were losing their home. Maybe, James thought, he could do something to help them that would also solve his own dilemma. Who better than family to love and care for his daughter?

He found his brother-in-law a job. He hired his sister-in-law to take care of then 3-month-old Lillian. He even bought a house for the couple. It was just down the street from his own. It was a spec home and it wasn’t cheap. But James was 24 and making $350,000 a year. To him, it was an investment well worth making.

Phoenix writer Mary L. Holden won an Arizona Press Club award for writing the story of what happened next — and what happens all to often in what should be a safe and trusting environment.

Before she was 5 months old, Lily was in the hospital, a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Her dad’s confidence that he could protect her was shaken, too.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child advocates around the state have chosen to commemorate it by launching a new awareness campaign to help parents choose safe caregivers.

“Who Do You Trust With Your Child?” is a joint effort involving the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the Arizona Coordinated Prevention Campaign, Childhelp, Southwest Human Development, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Prevent Child Abuse, among others.

A dedicated website at childhelp.org/mychild directs parents to resources. A hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) is operated by trained staff who can answer questions about safe caregivers and make referrals to specific resources.

“Unsafe caregivers are often someone we know,” says Mark Klym, MPA, program coordinator for the division of Children Youth and Families at DES.

Next: Why James suspected his daughter was being abused. 

The enduring appeal of Lyle

The hardcover picture book is yellowed with age. Its corners are ragged and worn. It has survived endless cycles of packing, moving, unpacking — always managing to survive the sorting and purging process that accompanies such transitions.

I don’t remember when I received my copy of The House on East 88th Street. I don’t remember who gave it to me, or why that person chose this particular book. I don’t know if it was a Christmas gift or a birthday gift. It may just be that it was “the” new children’s book that year and someone wanted me to have it.

The story, written by Bernard Waber, was copyrighted in 1962. I would have been 6 years old, and newly enamored of the privilege of owning a book. I proudly printed my first name on the inside cover with a pencil — slow, careful, blocky letters reflecting my earnest desire to get it right.

I loved that book. I’m not sure why. It’s kind of a goofy story about a family that moves into a house in New York City and finds a crocodile in the bathtub of their new home.

I didn’t visit New York City until I was 25. I don’t particularly like crocodiles. Yet the story got under my skin and stayed there.

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to revisit the story in the company of two young children I borrow from friends when I’m missing little-kid time. The renowned Childsplay professional theater company is performing a holiday version of “Lyle the Crocodile” at Tempe Center for the Arts through Dec. 24.

The characters of Lyle ( Adam Hostler) and Joshua Primm (Colin Ross) made an appearance at "Lyle's Pajama Party," which preceded the Dec 3 production of Childsplay's "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts. The play continues through Dec. 24.

As the curtain rose on a scene of the street outside the recreated brownstone house, my 4-year-old companion cried out, “How did they get that building up there?” His sense of awe continued throughout most of the performance (except for a brief bit of time at the end of Act I when he drifted off to sleep, worn out from “Lyle’s Pajama Party,” which we attended earlier that afternoon). His 5-year-old sister sat on the edge of her seat during both acts, glancing at me periodically to share a wide-eyed smile.

The musical is enchanting, particularly a scene that recreates the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center. The character of Lyle (played by Adam Hostler) doesn’t utter a word but communicates with great effectiveness through innocent, eager-to-please expressions and “many good tricks” he performs throughout the play. (Juggling, dancing and — most amazing to me — double-rope jump-roping while carrying a crocodile tail!)

It wasn’t until the end of the play that it suddenly occurred to me why I’ve always loved this story. My family moved a lot when I was growing up. Like Joshua Primm in the story, my brothers and I faced many anxious transitions into new cities, new schools, new friendships.

Like Lyle, I chose a strategy of frantic performance to prove my worth in each new community. I wasn’t as talented as he is but I made up for it with hard work, good grades, dutiful behavior and a conscientious attempt to read the landscape and react in ways I hoped would help me gain acceptance.

For today’s generation of children, there is a strong but subtle message in “Lyle the Crocodile” about accepting each others’ differences — and not making judgments until you really know someone. For today’s generation of parents (and grandparents!) there is nostalgia, clever dialog, inspired choreography, uplifting music and the chance to experience the magic of Christmas in New York City.

In our PJs at "Lyle's Pajama Party" earlier this month with my young companions. Photo and accessories provided by Childsplay.

Happy times and high stakes

Musse and Jesmina deGuzman blow on kazoos during the pajama parade at "Lyle's Pajama Party," held before Childsplay's Sunday afternoon performance of "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Warm flannel pajamas and cozy slippers on a brisk December afternoon. Pizza and pretzels, cookies and lemonade. Face painters, costumed characters, crafts. The giddy abandon of parading around a place more typically associated with culture and refinement while blowing on kazoos.

A play based on a favorite childhood book. A cast of characters clearly devoted to the excellence of their craft. And the company of two young children who have become very dear to me in the two and a half years I have known their family.

A few blocks away, a group of graduate design students near the end of a semester-long project. As I sit with two wide-eyed children in a darkened theater at Tempe Center for the Arts, these students prepare for a performance of their own. Their final review is Tuesday and the stakes are high. Not just for them, though this project will likely be part of any future career-related discussions and job interviews. More pressing than that are thoughts of a trusting, grateful  community in a remote Ethiopian village where a lot of people are counting on them.

Their task: designing a campus where 2,500 children — some who walk to school each day from up to 10 kilometers away — will be educated. The process has been exhilarating, agonizing, exhausting. The hard work and long hours have been full of frustrating uncertainty, conflicting opinions and the challenges of team dynamics. The determination to persist came from a place of higher accountability than grades or degrees. Unlike most graduate-level design studios, where final plans remain theoretical, these plans will be used to build a school.

A school that the parents of my two young theater companions have pledged to build.

Phoenix architect Jack DeBartolo 3 AIA, an adjunct professor at The Design School at ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, leads a discussion with graduate architecture students at EthiopiaStudio 2.0.

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.

Now we are 2

A Sesame Street-theme cake for Tesfanesh and Solomon, now 2.

Tesfanesh and Solomon deGuzman — the children I first met as babies in Ethiopia — are 2 years old. They shared a birthday party Saturday with their older brother Musse (who turns 4 this week) at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. Big sister Jesmina (yet another November birthday!) enjoyed her party at a different location the night before.

Musse's party included a Captain America cake and an actual Captain America character.

The train park was filled with families celebrating birthdays Saturday. Balloons were tied to nearly every picnic table; all the ramadas were full. Gifts and pizza and cake covered every surface. Children ran in and out of giant inflatables rented for the occasion. The miniature train ran around its track nonstop, its horn tooting a friendly warning as it reached pedestrian pathways. The passengers’ smiling faces and waving hands added a sense of shared community to the festivities.

It was a day of milestones; none more remarkable to me than the fact that this was the very park in which I first met the deGuzman family more than 2½ years ago. The place where I first started learning about the arduous process of international adoption. The place where I shared a secret yearning to see Africa and Keri deGuzman said, “Come with us!” The place where a story began and a friendship was formed — both of which have changed my life in ways I could never have predicted and continue to discover.

The babies (they will always be “the babies” to me) are happy and thriving. I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but when I do, I thrill to their ready acceptance and recognition. It’s as though they know we are linked in some inextricable way, simply because I was in the room during those first few magical moments they spent in their parents’ arms. The day they became part of a family.

Jesmina had a cowgirl/boy-theme party Friday at Pump It Up in Scottsdale.

Brian and Keri deGuzman have a way of building family around them. With their own closest relatives living in far-flung parts of the U.S. (and abroad), they have created a family around them in Arizona. As four birthdays were celebrated in less than 24 hours, there were smiles and hugs among those of us who have found ourselves pulled into this loving and welcoming circle.

Even in the midst of this joyful flurry of activities, I could see that Keri had other children on her mind. She and Brian remain very much involved in projects to benefit the children in Ethiopia who will never ride a miniature train, never receive a pile of brightly wrapped packages, never taste a birthday cake and never know the security of a true family.

As the party was ending, I heard Keri talking with another mother who expressed interest in helping with fundraising efforts for the construction of Shebraber School in a remote village southwest of Addis Ababa. As they talked, I could picture the graduate architecture students who are part of EthiopiaStudio 2.0 at The Design School at Arizona State University  who were no doubt working that very moment on plans for the school, which Brian and Keri have pledged to build.

The students, under the guidance of Phoenix architect and ASU adjunct professor Jack DeBartolo 3, AIA, are giving a presentation Wednesday — a trial run, of sorts, for their final presentation in December. Like me, they took a chance, followed a yearning and found themselves drawn into a new level of awareness from which they will never return.

RELATED WRITING

Other blog posts about Ethiopia and the deGuzmans’ adoption story.

Sharing an Extraordinary Experience (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

An Ethiopia Adoption Story (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

Changing by Design (PHOENIX magazine, August 2011)

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.