Tag Archives: ASU

“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.

The gifts of writing

1979: Marbo Caves, Guam.

It has been a lot of years — more than 30 — since I have submitted a freelance article to an editor. The last time I did, as a senior year college student at the University of Guam, my approach was very different.

I typed my story, which was about an education program on the Northern Marianas island of Rota, on a manual typewriter. (I typed it several times, in fact, because I was unwilling to submit it with even a single typo or blot of Wite-Out.) I dropped my finished article in the mail at the campus post office. Several weeks later, when it was published in the Islander magazine section of the Pacific Daily News, I was overcome to see my words, and my name, in print.

For the past 21 years, as the editor of Raising Arizona Kids magazine, I have been on the other side of that experience. I’m the one who creates opportunities for writers, the one who makes decisions about whether something is worthy of pubication, the one who nurtures and encourages writers but also reluctantly wields the power to crush their confidence. So I approached my recent independent freelance assignment — a story about EthiopiaStudio, a design studio for sixth-year architecture students at ASU — with a great deal of reverence and care.

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Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

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A comedy of errors that didn’t go wrong

I was running late for a lunch, so I called my friend and left a message on her voicemail to let her know I was on my way. When I arrived at the restaurant, already five minutes late, I couldn’t find a parking place. By the time  I finally discovered the underground parking garage two blocks away, parked my car and walked to the restaurant, I was 10 minutes late.

Whew. Sure glad I called to let her know, I thought.

I ran up the stairs and told the hostess that I was there to meet a friend. “We don’t have anyone waiting,” she said, then offered to seat me.

I was surprised to learn that I was there first, but followed the hostess to a table and ordered an iced tea. While I waited, I checked my email and texted my cousin’s daughter, a student at ASU. By 12:15 I was starting to get worried. So I also texted my friend: “Fearing I got my signals crossed. We still on for today?”

No response.

At 12:30 a very patient waiter came to ask me if I was “still okay.” At that point, I figured I was on my own for lunch. So I ordered a wrap to go, tipped him heavily and headed back to the office.

Just as I was about to pull into our parking garage, I received a call from my friend. “Hey, what happened?” she asked.

“Um…I’m not sure,” I said. “Did I get the time wrong? I was there for 45 minutes and then figured I must have messed up so I’m headed back to work.”

“You were there?” she said. “So was I! Where were you?”

Turns out I was sitting indoors and she was sitting outdoors on the patio. Both of us had told the hostess we were waiting for someone and neither of us was told that someone was waiting for us.

“I tried to reach you on your cell phone,” I said. “Did you get my message?

She’d left her office without her cell phone.

When we figured out what happened, my friend laughed. “Guess it wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “I had a lovely lunch by myself and actually got a lot of things done. So I guess I should thank you!”

We’re going to try again next week. Same time, same place. With cell phones.

Like grandfather, like grandchildren

The last time I sat in the kitchen at MaryAnn Ortiz Lieb‘s house was a joyous occasion. Her lovely and accomplished daughter, Juliann, had just graduated from Xavier College Preparatory. MaryAnn and her husband Bobby had gathered friends and family around them to celebrate.

Herb Lieb.

Also at the kitchen table that day was Bobby’s 90-year-old father, Herb Lieb. I hadn’t seen him in awhile. Though he moved more slowly and seemed a bit more frail than I remembered, his gift for conversation was very much intact. So was his sense of humor. He kept me in stitches as he shared his stories and made me feel like I was the most important person in the room.

I saw that same spirit Sunday, under very different circumstances, as I listened to Herb’s four grandchildren eulogize their “Papa,” who died last Thursday at age 91, following a long illness.

MaryAnn’s son Sean was just an infant when she and I decided to start Raising Arizona Kids magazine nearly 22 years ago. Now he’s a student athlete, a football player at the University of Arizona. Sean hadn’t slept in days, but you wouldn’t know it as he stood at the podium at Sinai Mortuary in Phoenix. He stood tall, strong and model handsome, with curly dark locks of hair tumbling over his forehead. He hesitated just a moment before diving confidently into his remarks.

“If my Papa were here,” he said, “he’d never let me into this place with my hair looking like this.”

From that moment, which gave us all some much-needed comic relief, Sean moved into much more difficult material, explaining how he and his cousin Jeffrey had spent an entire night with their grandfather while he was in hospice care in the hours before his death. Throughout the night, Sean said, he and Jeffrey tried to say or do something to get a reaction from their semi-conscious grandfather. They played a DVD of a roast that had been held in Herb’s honor. They read aloud a letter they’d found from an old girlfriend of Herb’s. It was one part desperation, one part mischief. They were two young men craving one last moment of connection with a man whose love, support and guidance — though sometimes unconventional — left indelible marks and cherished memories.

Juliann, who is now a freshman at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, took a similar approach, starting out with a funny story describing her grandfather, a notorious ladies’ man, approaching her at her bat mitzvah to introduce her to “your future step-grandmother.”

Herb loved to kid around but his jokes never crossed the line into hurtful. He could be fiesty and difficult when his independence was threatened but he always came around and admitted when someone else was right. Herb inspired Julian to choose her own path, no matter what. So she concluded by reading the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” which she felt perfectly summed up her grandfather’s life.

Jeffrey, a student at Paradise Valley Community College, and his sister Stephanie (the oldest of the grandchildren), who works in the office of the Phoenix City Council, also spoke eloquently, honestly and with tremendous poise as they shared funny stories and choked back tears. Stephanie recounted the day she took her Papa to lunch to take his mind off a recent (and unwelcome) move into an assisted living facility.

As they left the lobby, where a number of the residents were hanging out, pursing typical retirement home activities,  Stephanie could tell her grandfather was distraught. When they got into the elevator, she turned to him and asked, “What’s wrong, Papa?” To which then-90-year-old Herb exclaimed in dismay, “These people are so old!”

Herb was a World War II veteran who stormed the beaches at Normandy and willingly shared his story with many young people — including my own two sons, each of whom wrote reports after interviewing him for high school history classes. He was a successful and respected businessman in the Phoenix community. Most important, he was a devoted grandfather to these four remarkable young people — each of whom exhibits Herb’s natural gifts for social poise, telling a good story, looking at life through the lens of reality, fighting hard for what matters and building a network of true and loyal friends. And, perhaps his best legacy of all, they have his mischievous, but always well-intentioned, sense of humor and fun.

The cousins at a happier time (from left): Juliann, Jeffrey, Sean and Stephanie Lieb.

Celebrating my birthday at Camp Fair

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited, at first, to realize that Camp Fair was going to fall on my birthday this year. Birthdays are supposed to be about taking it easy, doing what you want to do and being with the people you want to be with.

Well, except for the “taking it easy” part, I got just that — and more — by celebrating my birthday at Camp Fair this year.

I had my husband there telling me how proud  he is of this annual event, which we’ve now put on for eight consecutive years. I had a phone call from my 25-year-old son Andy, who was at work himself but had 20 minutes between interviewing governors attending the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C. (My 23-year-old son David, who also lives and works in D.C., was en route to New York City. He called a bit later in the day.)

Andrea and Ava ham it up with maginfying glasses at the Imagine That! camp exhibit.

My second cousin’s daughter Andrea (I call her my niece because it’s less complicated) came up from ASU with her roommate, Ava. Unbeknownst to me, the girls had stopped at my house on the way, where they left my favorite Dairy Queen ice cream cake in the freezer before they stopped by Camp Fair to visit, bring gifts and whisk me away for a quick lunch.

I had my whole Raising Arizona Kids family around me, with hugs and well wishes (and a very funny “old lady” card from Operations Director Debbie Davis, who is just a few months younger than I am). I even had joyful reunions with two former staff members — Mary Kay Post and Nancie Schauder, both of whom came to help out. (Nancie, who teaches in a developmental preschool, always volunteers to staff our resource table for special needs camps. Because she had brain surgery — brain surgery! — in December, we weren’t sure she’d be able to make it this year. But there she was, beaming as always and proclaiming that she’d never felt better in her life.)

I had a conversation with Chris Cameron at Camp Ocean Pines that fed my soul in ways only another writer could understand. He said he’d been following my stories about Ethiopia and was moved by the honesty and emotion of my writing. (He’s been to Africa a few times himself, so he understands how powerful and life-changing that experience can be.) He also told me he gets lots of parenting magazines from all over the country and feels ours does the best job of providing consistent, high-quality content. Another wonderful gift!

I saw many longtime friends, including Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Maria del Mar Verdin, who comes to every Camp Fair and had her daughter Katie with her this year. Maria told me she never makes her children’s summer plans until she attends our Camp Fair. Talk about making my day!

"Aunt" Karen and Ace, who plays lacrosse with the Desert Sitx program.

And then there was the unexpected visit from two of my “forever friends” — Tony Jenkins and his daughter, Ace — who came by with a colorful, homemade card (the best kind!) and a gift bag full of what they know is my absolute, all-time favorite food: peanut butter.

I first met Tony and his wife Darlene when our sons were friends in middle school. All four boys eventually became high school football teammates, so we spent a lot of time together on the bleachers at games. When Ace was born, I made them promise to share her with me because I knew I would never have a daughter of my own. I have enjoyed being a surrogate aunt to this bright and loving child, who always forgives me when I let too many months lapse between our visits.

Dan Friedman posted some great photos on our Facebook page throughout the day. Here are some of my Camp Fair memories:

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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.

Girls just gotta have fun

In the 24 years I’ve been parenting two sons and the 21 I’ve been building a business, I’ve had (and seen) a lot of different experiences with “raising Arizona kids.” But there was always one experience I felt had been denied: the chance to feel a mother-daughter bond.

For the last five months, I’ve been blessed with even that.

My pretend niece Andrea (20) with my real niece Mandy (10) at one of Mandy

My husband and I welcomed my second cousin Sheryl’s daughter to our home this semester as she took a brave step in self-growth. Andrea, who grew up in Erie, Pa. and had never lived anywhere else, decided to transfer to ASU. She’d fallen in love with Arizona after a couple of week-long visits to “Aunt Karen’s.”

Though I worried a bit beforehand about how this arrangement would work out, I can honestly say her presence in our home — and in my life — has been tranformational.

With Andrea, I have had the best of a mother-daughter relationship because it came without the complicated layers and threads that bind real mothers and daughters. I could enjoy this young woman without a cloud of history — parenting through divorce, fighting through the teenage years or worrying when she stayed out too late. With this daughter-who-is-not-my-daughter I could truly be myself, without the second guessing and self-censorship that often comes with navigating tricky parent-child boundaries.

Best of all, I could laugh with someone who really “gets” me. After a lifetime with two brothers, a husband and two sons, that daily, joyful dose of female companionship in my home was exquisite.

Last week, Andrea wrapped up her finals, achieving a 4.0 GPA despite a tough course load that included organic chemistry. Courtney, her “best friend since first grade,” flew out from Erie to spend a few days with us before both girls flew home yesterday.

I got 24 text messages from Andrea yesterday and sent as many myself. It’s a girl thing.

Andrea worked with me at Camp Fair in February...

...where she got to meet a new friend of the reptilian variety.

Bonding with cousin David and "Uncle Dan" on the beach in Santa Barbara.

Hiking with Jess, a friend from ASU, in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Tubing down the Salt River with lifelong friend Courtney.

Saying goodbye to my girls before we left for the airport yesterday morning. Andrea would want me to add that it was very early and "I'm not a morning person."