Tag Archives: disaster recovery

Ethiopia – Craving reconnection

Everyone kept asking me how the babies were doing. I was running out of answers because I hadn’t seen them.

August in my household was a fun but flurried month of arrivals and departures. We welcomed both of our grown sons home for separate visits from Washington, D.C.. and reveled in the chance to catch up with their friends who stopped by to visit. We helped my cousin’s daughter from Pennsylvania get settled at ASU. We hosted family gatherings so everyone could  spend time together.

Assessing the damange following our second flood.

Work was busy, too. We were still upacking and resettling after our two-month evacuation following The Great Office Flood of 2010. Then we experienced a second, though smaller, flood on Aug. 17. This time, thankfully, just our conference room was affected when refuse water from the hair salon above us rained down for several hours.  (Note to self: Next time we move, make sure the business above us is not so water-dependent.)

My Ethiopia experience was feeling increasingly distant and I was not finding the time I’d hoped to spend sifting through notes and recorded conversations in an effort to document more of that journey. I knew the deGuzmans were busy, too, adjusting to life with four children under the age of 4, getting the older two back into a preschool routine and hosting their own friends and family members who wanted to meet the babies.

Then, in yet another instance of “small world” coincidences and surprising connections that have entered my life since I first met Brian and Keri deGuzman in March 2009, I got an email from Keri.

She’d just run across the book Both Ends Burning: My Story of Adopting Three Children from Haiti, by Craig Juntunen of Scottsdale and wanted to make sure I knew about it. Keri was excited about the book because it paints a positive picture of international adoption.

Raising Arizona Kids ran an article about the Juntunens last December and mentioned the book. Scottsdale writer Sue Breding is still following their story; she is writing a “one year later” update for this December’s magazine and is planning a trip to Haiti with Kathy Juntunen at some point early next year.

Solomon deGuzman.

When I wrote back to share that coincidence with Keri, we made plans to get together. I told her I needed a “baby fix.” Time, like the now quick-crawling Solomon, was getting away from me.

Next: Pictures from my visit and an update on the babies.

Day 56 after the office flood – so much stuff!

The crew from ABSOLUT Restoration unloaded dozens of additional boxes yesterday, piling them high in the hallways as Leon Hauck from Fulcrum Enterprises darted around the office reestablishing our computer network.

The phones started ringing. Deliveries started arriving. Our postal carrier brought in the mail. Shortly after noon, our wi-fi was working.

Normalcy is a beautiful thing.

We worked all day unpacking what we could, wondering as we went along how we’ve managed to accumulate so much stuff. (Somehow we managed just fine during the 56 days we had to run our business without it.) It seemed like the pile of boxes was growing exponentially, despite our best efforts to keep up.

I started out being very meticulous about unpacking my own boxes — trying to weed out and throw away papers I no longer need. I found one full box of proofreading pages from 2004. That was embarrassing.

I’m urging everyone to take advantage of this enforced opportunity to sort and toss. Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams made a trip to the recycle bin with boxes of old magazines she had collected for design inspiration. I set up a box in one of our empty offices marked “Donate to Goodwill.” In that same room  is a veritable grave yard of unneeded office chairs, most of which have long outlived their usefulness and aesthetic value.

I know the window of opportunity is small. We have deadlines looming for our September magazine. At some point, we’ll have to stop the sorting, cram everything back into drawers and cabinets and move on with our real work.

The story of the Great Office Flood of 2010 — which left our staff “homeless” for 56 days — is coming to a close. It made for a difficult, stressful summer. But it also left us with a greater sense of appreciation for structure, routine and the ability to simply walk down the hall to consult with colleagues.

Day 55 after the office flood – moving back in

The truck from ABSOLUT Restoration arrived about 4pm yesterday.

After 55 days of disruption and dislocation, Raising Arizona Kids is back in its rightful home.

We’re not fully functional — computers and phones will be set up later today and we’ve got a mess of unpacking and sorting and organizing ahead of us — but our desks and chairs, computers and files are now back where they belong.

Well, most of them. Some items, too damaged by the June 2nd office flood (caused by a burst pipe in the suite above us) will not be coming back. We have a lot of work ahead figuring out what must be replaced and working with insurance companies to find out how to do that.

We also have dozens of boxes of company history and mementoes that have no financial value but will have to be assessed; much has been ruined or rendered unreadable by water and will have to be discarded.

This has been a trying time for all of us. I am really proud of the fact that my staff kept the core business on track despite the difficulties of working and communicating with each other during the past two months.

We’ve all experienced the invasion of work into our home lives. My living room has been our warehouse, with boxes of magazines piled around my front door. Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb has been making phone calls and writing contracts from my kitchen counter — and her own. Production Manager Tina Gerami has been hauling her files back and forth in a huge satchel.

The really stressful part fell to Operations Director Debbie Davis. She’s the one who has been negotiating with our property manager and two insurance companies. She’s the one who had to coordinate the move back — and set it up in such a way that we were “down” for the least amount of time. A lot of this was orchestrated while I was away in Ethiopia.

Yesterday, with the help of Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist, her daughter Solvay, Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams and Intern Emma Zang-Schwartz, I got everything we’d hastily moved to my house on June 2nd back into our now dry, newly recarpeted office. At about 4pm, ABSOUT Restoration showed up with a truck full of items they’d moved off-site and began the process of moving it all back in. They didn’t leave until 8:30pm and will be back again today with the last load.

Maintaining a sense of humor has been important to all of us the past 55 days.

My husband didn’t skip a beat when he realized everyone would be working out of our home during the two weeks I was away. Though he typically left the house before everyone arrived, Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist was surprised when she showed up to work one morning and Dan answered the door.

“What are you doing here?” she joked.

When I posted something on our Facebook about ABSOLUT coming in to pack us out, Assistant Editor Mary Holden suggested that another kind of Absolut might be in order.

We never fell that far. But late yesterday afternoon, when the unpacking team arrived and we realized we still had several hours to go, Mala, Solvay and I decided we were done. Some sort of escape was needed.

So we piled in my car and headed for Yogurt Builderz on Scottsdale Road. There, with large cups of fat-free frozen yogurt piled high and a dazzling array of toppings awaiting us — candies and nuts, sprinkles, chunks of brownies, round dabs of cookie dough, cubes of cheesecake and all sorts of enticing, fresh fruit — we found solace.

Day 23 after the flood: Who let the cat out?

The Alpha Male of RAK's temporary home office.

When we had to evacuate our office June 2 and move everything we could to my house, I knew there would be additional challenges to getting each day’s tasks accomplished.

But this is one I didn’t count on.

This morning, I was sitting on my living room couch trying to process our last three movie sneak preview giveaways so I could get the winners’ tickets in the mail. One of our two cats (who has the unfortunately neglectful name of “Katt” because we couldn’t think of anything else that really fits him) plopped himself right smack dab in the middle of my collection of tickets, envelopes and stamps. He wouldn’t budge.

When Production Manager Tina Gerami was in the (home) office with me yesterday, this increasingly emboldened feline was jumping all over her stuff, too.

The first two weeks after the flood, as my house filled with extra bodies, extra stuff and the related chaos, our cats stayed pretty much out of sight.

But Katt, a portly orange tabby, has decided it’s time to reassert his authority as the Alpha Male around here. He does that by throwing his considerable girth onto any work space you need and any pile of papers you are trying to sort or read.

I wonder if the insurance company would reimburse us for “unanticipated costs of doing business” due to inefficiencies caused by Katt?

All over my pile of tickets to a movie sneak preview for "Despicable Me."

Aw, c'mon. The stamps too?

Day 22 after the flood: Ready to leave limbo

It’s been more than three weeks since we unknowingly angered the water gods. More than three weeks since we sloshed through water rescuing our computers and files. More than three weeks since a restoration company packed out most of our belonging and trucked them to a warehouse somewhere in town.

More than three weeks since The Great Office Flood of 2010. We’re now officially tired of being in limbo.

At first it was fun — something of an adventure. From the moment we discovered our office was under water (a pipe burst in the suite above us), we were brave explorers forging new paths to productivity against challenges that were novel and tangible. In a way, the flood shook us out of a deep funk. The last two years have been a long, slow march through the backlash of recession. It is infinitely more galvanizing to have a single, large obstacle than it is to have a thousand small, slow, cumulatively discouraging ones.

It was exciting and affirming to see the vigor with which my staff embraced the challenge of producing a magazine in the midst of such disruption. We all felt a huge sense of accomplishment when the July issue went in the mail this week — exactly on time.

But now our situation is starting to feel a bit frustrating.

Continue reading

An apology to editors and environmentalists everywhere

Yesterday I decided I was finally losing it. The commotion in my house was at an all-time high. My doorbell rang constantly and so did my cell phone. My brain circuits were so overloaded that when Editorial Intern Brooke Mortensen asked what she could do to help, my first response was, “I don’t know!”

For the most part, I’ve been proud of myself the last two weeks, since The Great Office Flood of 2010.

I approached this new challenge with a sense of adventure. I tried to remain flexible. I focused on what needed to be done instead of how I felt about it. And I kept pushing my limits (and the length of the business day) longer and farther and until finally, over the weekend, I collapsed into a cozy papsan chair in our guest room on Sunday afternoon and decided all I could do for the next two hours was stare at the ceiling.

My body had given out.

But it wasn’t until yesterday that I started to seriously worry about my mind. I went in to do our daily website updates and discovered that for more than a week I’d been promoting a May 28 Phoenix Mercury game. (Web visitors clearly excused my error because they entered the contest — which is actually for the June 18 game — anyway.) Though it was Tuesday, I thought it was Wednesday so I went onto our Facebook to announce that one of our contests — for Sesame Street Live tickets — was ending at 5pm. (It’s actually ending at 5pm today, so if you read this and want to enter, do so here.)

As en editor, I hate making sloppy mistakes like that. But something’s going to give when you’ve lost the security of your everyday routine and instead have nine people in and out of your house all day, nonstop UPS and Federal Express deliveries, cooking projects going on in the kitchen (for upcoming RAK Recipes features), photo shoots going on in your back yard (for upcoming “How-To’s Day” features) going on in your back yard, a blueline proof showing up from the printer, a realtor dropping by to pick up copies of Schools, etc. and a repairman fixing a running toilet in the back bedroom. (Hey, if I have to work at home, I’ certainly going to take advantage and schedule some of these nagging projects!)

So I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

I’m also trying to forgive my temporary lowered standards in regard to environmental issues. I’m running my home air conditioning at full tilt. I’m burning up gas making multiple trips to the office each day for things I need to pick up or people I need to meet as the reconstruction of our space continues. (Yesterday they replaced the linoleum!) And I’m going through flats of plastic water bottles like they were, well, water. As someone who typically carries a refillable stainless-steel water bottle and encourages the practice of “reuse, reduce, recycle” this troubles me greatly.

But as I keep saying to myself: something’s got to give. After a better night’s sleep I’m convinced it’s not going to be my sanity.

Rising to the surface

We’re all a bit wigged out by the “Twilight Zone” aspects of various water-related things that have been happening in our lives since June 2, when we discovered it was raining in our office.

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist discovered that her family’s garbage disposal had died. When her husband Evan (an IT expert who runs our website) replaced it, he forgot to punch the hole out where the dishwasher drains, so their dishwasher filled with water. (At that point, Mala says, “We decided to go to Lake Pleasant to make peace with the water gods.”)

Operations Director Debbie Davis had a flooding issue in her downtown Phoenix condo. (She also had a dead battery while her car was parked at my house.) “When it rains, it pours,” said Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb.

We’ve all been talking in water metaphors.

After hastily evacuating of our office with only what we could carry in our cars, we feel like we’re working without an anchor. We’re up you-know-what’s creek without a paddle. We’re drowning in the details related to damage assessment, construction repairs and insurance claims.

As a Pisces, I feel like a fish out of water.

Debbie came to work yesterday with a theory. Water symbolizes change, she suggested. Movement, renewal, cleansing.

I believe she’s right. In many ways, the Great Office Flood of 2010 has become a demarcation point in the history of Raising Arizona Kids — an event that forced us to realize how much we care about our work, our company and the community of people that has come together to form the RAK family.

We’ve had a couple of other “fish or cut bait” moments in our 21-year history.

The first, ironically, had to do with running the business out of my house (which we’re doing now, until we can get back into our office suite). A 1995 story in the business section of the Arizona Republic got some of my elderly neighbors in a snit. Misunderstanding the descriptions in the story, they mistakenly concluded that I was running an operation with 30-some employees out of my home. In fact, the only time I regularly had more than one other person in my home was on Fridays, when we held staff meetings complete with kids, babysitters and snacks. It could have been a play group.

My neighbors (who had my home phone number) didn’t bother to call me to investigate. Instead they called the zoning commission, which sent a guy to my front door threatening to shut down my business.

The fallout forced a premature move from a home-based business to an office-based one. It forced the borrowing of money for phones, computers and operating expenses and created a downward financial spiral from which it took us many years to recover.

The second incident came shortly after that and was, in many ways, even more frightening. MaryAnn, whose gifts as an ethical, well-connected and widely respected sales professional have consistently guaranteed our financial survival, became gravely ill. I’ll never forget the day the call came to our office. MaryAnn had collapsed to the ground while dropping her children at school one morning. She was in the hospital.

Over the course of several days and many tests, we learned that she had a rare and life-threatening case of Valley Fever. For weeks, she was unable to work. As I worried about her and her family, I couldn’t help envisioning this whole business we’d built together collapsing around my feet.

MaryAnn eventually recovered. We survived that scare and we adjusted to the demands of  overhead and a larger budget.

So the Great Office Flood of 2010 is our company’s third potentially catastrophic event. They say “third time’s a charm.” From the way my staff has responded, I can already tell we’ll float through this one just fine.

Day 10 after the flood – hitting the wall

Yesterday I finally hit the wall. I haven’t been sleeping much. I haven’t been eating much. I haven’t been doing much of anything except troubleshooting the thousands of small challenges that arise when you’re forced to evacuate your work space in a matter of hours.

After so many days of feeling like I was capably “on it” — adrenaline is a powerful stimulant — I was spent. My mind was fuzzy and the shadows of depression were creeping in, threatening to overpower the optimism and confidence that sheer determination had, so far, held at bay.

I was finally feeling completely, utterly, hopelessly overwhelmed. Everything inside of me was screaming, “Go back to bed!” But I couldn’t.

I had work to do, and others were counting on me to do it. Daily website updates to make. An eBlast to send for our marketing director. Payroll to review. One last round of proofreading on the July magazine, which had to go to the printer no matter what. (We’d used up two days of grace time the company generously extended after hearing about our dilemma.)

I wanted to post in my blog, and read the new posts from our other bloggers. I felt compelled to neaten my house and do the dishes before staff members arrived to work there.

And I had to meet the construction guys at the office at 8am.

So I felt rushed. And I hate feeling rushed. At 7:55am, and with most of my “must do” tasks still only half done, I threw on a pair of shorts and a wrinkled blouse, grabbed my belongings and bolted out the door.

I was on the phone with another member of my staff when I pulled into the parking garage of our building. We couldn’t resolve the problem we were discussing and I could feel my back stiffening. I saw all the construction guys standing outside waiting for me, and I lost it. “I can’t talk right now!” I snapped, hanging up the phone.

And then more frustration: I was told our carpeting would be cleaned, but not replaced. I knew my staff would never have it. No one who saw our office the way it looked the day of the flood would feel good about living and working on that carpeting eight or more hours a day.

The professionals involved in this process of getting us back into our space — the insurance adjuster, the restoration companies, the contractors, the landlord — were having discussions about our space, our home, without me, making decisions that will affect our future there without consulting me. Like a child with no say in adult matters, I seethed with the rage of disempowerment.

But these guys were just there to do a job. And I didn’t have time to untangle the lines of communication. So off I went to Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams’ new apartment in northeast Scottsdale, where — amid boxes she hasn’t had time to unpack since moving there the end of May — we wrapped up production on the July magazine.

Before I left my house that morning, I grabbed two books I wanted to show Michelle. They are children’s books about Ethiopia, written by an author, Jane Kurtz, who grew up in that country, the daughter of missionaries. I connected with Jane after she saw a blog I wrote about getting the shots I need for my upcoming trip to Ethiopia. I immediately went online and ordered each of the children’s books she’s written about the country.

Two have arrived — Only a Pigeon (by Jane and Christopher Kurtz, illustrated by E.B. Lewis) and Pulling the Lion’s Tail (by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Floyd Cooper).

The books’ illustrations are captivating and I knew Michelle would appreciate the skill underlying their beauty.

I told Michelle how I’d taken the books to bed with me when I couldn’t sleep the night before, savoring their simple but profound stories and soothing pastels. I turned the pages slowly, like a child just learning to read. It took me a full hour to get through the slender picture books. The experience was enormously comforting.

Michelle told me that she, too, likes to read children’s books when she is under stress. And suddenly, I felt better.

We can’t control what life hands to us. We can only learn from it. I have learned many valuable lessons from the events of the last 10 days: That I am more resilient and tenacious than I may have thought. That I will fight with everything inside me to save what I cherish. That I have a strong support system in my staff, my family and friends.

And that I can’t run on adrenaline forever. It is up to me to honor my limits and find some peace so I can recharge my energy. For me, that means making time for quiet, making time for processing through writing and allowing myself a mental escape into whatever soothes me — children’s literature, nature, exercise or just a nap.

Day 9 after the flood: I think I can

In some ways, it feels like I’m running a bed-and-breakfast. I get up each morning and walk through the house to tidy up. I wipe splashes on the mirrors and sinks in the bathrooms and make sure there are fresh towels and enough toilet paper. I do my breakfast dishes and wipe the kitchen counter. I check the refrigerator to make sure there are enough cold water bottles.

Production Manager Tina Gerami proofs ads on my kitchen counter.

Sometimes I pull out turkey and cheese so my harried guests can make sandwiches for lunch. None of us wants to take the time to go out  — there’s too much to do. Yesterday afternoon, when I sensed patience and energy waning, I pulled out the big guns: a bag of Reese’s Pieces I grabbed while running errands that morning. Chocolate, especially with peanut butter, always works miracles.

After eight days of 40 machines running 24/7 to suck the water out of our office walls, ceilings and floors, the place has been declared dry. Today I will meet the contractor to find out what has to be rebuilt, and how long that will take.

One of my favorite books from childhood is The Little Engine that Could. Many times in the last 21 years, I have forced its message — “I think I can, I think I can” — into my head during challenging times.  I have often (never more than this week) looked at a small wooden train I keep in my home office to remind me to just keep moving forward: “Puff, puff, chug, chug….”

When Calendar & Directories Editor appeared on Arizona Midday recently, she talked about how we were coping with the devastation at our office following the June 2 flood.

“We’re managing,” Mala said. “We’ve always been the little magazine that could.”

Day 7 after the flood: Traveling light

One of the things I love about taking a trip is the way it forces you to simplify your life. Especially with all the extra charges now for baggage, you plan very carefully before you leave. If you forget something, you adapt. You buy a replacement or you make do without. You let go. You’re far from home and you can’t do anything about it, so why let the lack of some thing ruin your fun?

When our office flooded exactly a week ago today, we had just a few hours to grab what we thought we’d need to remain functional for up to 30 days. It’s amazing how quickly you can prioritize when you have that kind of deadline. For the most part, we all did a great job of identifying essential files, folders and office supplies. We pulled out enough computer towers (those that hadn’t gotten wet) from which we could access data and software we need to reestablish our workflow.

And yet, as we get back to business this week in the make-shift office that my home has become, we keep stumbling on unanticipated roadblocks. So we adapt. Or make do without. Or let go.

Editorial Intern Brooke Mortensen, a recent college grad, proofreads the July issue page proofs in my kitchen.

For the most part, business is going on as usual. Our July magazine goes to print this week, so proofreading is high on the agenda. Assistant Editor and copyreader extraordinare Mary L. Holden has been out of town, so Writer Mary Ann Bashaw volunteered to read a set of page proofs. (She returned them yesterday with some very astute comments, so I suspect she’ll be drafted for this role more frequently). One of our two amazing interns, Brooke Mortensen, stepped in as well, reading pages under the bright skylight in my kitchen.

Production Manager Tina Gerami, who was working at my house, conferred frequently with Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams, who was working from her home and found herself hamstrung because some of the graphics she needed couldn’t be retrieved from a backup drive. IT consultant Leon Hauck of Fulcrum Enterprises in Phoenix spent a good part of his day troubleshooting that problem with Michelle and she now has everything she needs.

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist and her daughter Solvay (11), stuff bags we'll be distributing at this Sunday's Arizona Diamondbacks game.

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist showed up yesterday afternoon with her (wonderfully helpful!) 11-year-old daughter Solvay and their family’s chihuahua Bonnie, who often accompanies Mala to work. (As you’ll see below, Bonnie figured out who is in charge in this house and quickly cozied up to the boss.)

I have created an office for myself on the coffee table in my living room. I find it exhilarating to deal with only the five piles of “to do” tasks that can fit on that space instead of the dozens of piles I had amassed in the RAK office — endless and overwhelming minutia that the perfectionist in me would not allow the practical in me to dispense with. Hundreds of those decisions have now been removed, along with everything else in my office, to a warehouse for flood-damage assessment.

Bonnie, the Blomquists' chihuahua and our office mascot, cozies up to the boss.

I like traveling light. I like this simpler life. I like the sense of keen focus that has come to the surface after months and years of feeling anxious and chronically overwhelmed.

Keeping my priorities this sharply outlined in my mind will become more difficult, of course, once I can stop blaming the flood for everything I don’t get done. It’s up to me to learn to let go of what I can, even when I’m not being forced to.