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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.

Photographing grieving fathers

A guest blog by Raising Arizona Kids staff photographer Dan Friedman

For our June issue, I photographed four dads who had lost children for Mary Ann Bashaw’s story, “Fathers Reflect on Grief.” I wasn’t sure how the four dads would react to me tracking them down by email and telephone to make arrangements to take their pictures. Maybe they wouldn’t even want their pictures taken.

Support from the MISS Foundation has helped these dads cope with their grief. They understand that sharing their stories can be beneficial to others who are struggling with loss — or know someone who is.

With each of the dads, the grief was palpable. These photo sessions were different from any others I have done for the magazine, where the subjects often want the publicity an article with photos will bring them.

Being the photographer for Raising Arizona Kids involves traveling around the Valley taking pictures of people I am meeting for the first time, intruding on their lives for a few minutes and then leaving with an image that hopefully makes sense to our readers and helps me keep my job.

I chat with people to put them at ease while I set up my lights or look around their house for a suitable spot to take a picture. But this was different. I wondered what I would say to the four guys whose children died. Telling them I’m sorry about their loss seemed ill-suited to the situation. Who was I to tell them I was sorry? I was just there to take a picture that would appeal to our readers.

I settled on telling them I appreciated their taking the time to share their stories with our readers, who would be surely benefit. This seemed the most accurate and genuine.

The first dad I photographed was Jimmy Carrauthers. He is also a photographer, so it was easy to talk about photography with him while I was setting up lights. While I was checking my exposure, his phone rang so I have this photo of him holding the photo of his late stepson, Edwin, while he is talking on the phone. Sometimes the emotional moments I hope to capture are interrupted with mundane moments.

Jacob Christen Blain’s son Leo died when he was just eight days old. Jacob preferred to meet at his workplace, which meant the setting was not as personal a space in which to photograph him. I had to find a way to remove the setting. A large stucco wall worked out the best. Ironically, the stark background tells the story because Leo died so young and there aren’t dozens of photos or personal effects to include in the photograph.

Two of the houses I went to for the story were full of photographs. Photos are so ubiquitous in our culture, whether printed or electronic, that our memories are tied up in them. But for Jimmy, his tattoo was obviously the best way to tell his story. The illustration of his stepson is now a permanent part of his body.

Mark Eide had a giant photo of his family on vacation in Hawaii above his mantle. It includes his son Zack and daughter Katie, who died in a car accident in 2009. There many smaller photos around the house and on the memorial Facebook pages for Katie and Zack. The urns with their ashes were on a table nearby but I could hardly bring myself to look at, much less photograph, them.

Jason Freiwald had a life-size photo of his son Braden as well as dozens of other photos around the house but this one was his favorite. It made it easier for me since I needed to have some variety in my pictures to illustrate the story. If I were in Jason’s place could I look at a life-size photo of my dead child? I was amazed how composed and comfortable all four dads were to work with. I don’t know how they did it. But that is what I was photographing, four dads being composed and comfortable about sharing their loss. — Dan Friedman

The June story about grieving fathers was third in a four-part series we are running this year called “Finding Purpose in Grief.” Following are links to all three stories; the fourthwill be published in November. — Karen

The MISS Foundation Offers a Light at the End of Life’s Darkest Tunnel

When Birth and Death Merge

“Fathers Reflect on Grief”

Make my day: feedback

I was out of town most of the weekend, so I missed Saturday’s cover shoot with our 2011 Mother’s Day Cover Mom Contest winner. I’m eager to hear about it from Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams and Photographer Daniel Friedman when I get back to work on Monday.

Michelle notified our winner (whose name shall remain a secret until our May issue comes out). My job was to contact the two moms who were the runners up. They both wrote fabulous, heartfelt essays about their commitment to raising children who respect and protect our environment. So I felt very apologetic as I wrote to tell them they almost won.

“Your essay was a runner-up for our cover mom contest,” I wrote to each of the moms. “So while I’m sorry that you and your [son/daughter] won’t be on our cover, you will be receiving a gift certificate from Desert Ridge Marketplace/Tempe Marketplace.”

I wasn’t sure what kind of response to expect, but the messages that quickly came back were gracious and completely appreciative.

From Karen O’Regan of Clarkdale, adoptive mother of 12-year-old David:

Thanks so much!  I’m so pleased!!!  It is very exciting to be a runner-up! I have been a subscriber for years and appreciate your magazine. I especially appreciated the recent articles on adoption and handling grief.

From Molly Costa of Phoenix, mother of 1-year-old Keira:

How fun, that is so exciting we are a runner-up! I saw the [Facebook] post about the contest and figured, why not? It came at a perfect time because I’m just experiencing all of these “firsts” with my daughter and her enjoyment of nature and being outside. It is the best — amazing at what your kids teach you, right?

We give away a lot of great stuff each year — from cover opportunities to trips to tickets to new movies and live performances. We don’t always hear back from the people who win. So it’s very gratifying when we do. Shortly after I received those lovely messages from Karen and Molly, I heard from a mom whose family won tickets to the “Born To Be Wild 3D” movie sneak preview Saturday morning at the AMC Desert Ridge IMAX. (It opens to the public April 8.)

From Dana MacComb of Phoenix:

We had a great time! The movie was moving and lovely. We felt like we were right next to the animals.  I cried almost the entire time, very moving.  All of us agreed that it was a great family event.

And it was a great email weekend.

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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Social media schizophrenia

I struggle a lot with how much I should merge my work and personal lives in the realm of social media. My ambivalence is reflected in the ebbs and flows of my participation. Sometimes I get really excited and follow, post or comment frequently; sometimes the whole thing feels like one more ridiculously unnecessary thing I have to do, and I boycott — sometimes for weeks at a time — in rebellion.

When I first started a Facebook page under my own name I decided it was going to be very much a personal endeavor — a way to keep in touch with friends for whom I have great affection but rare face-to-face interaction. I was going to keep my list of friends small and manageable. I was going to keep work — and professional networking — out of it.

Then I saw that my husband had four times as many friends as I did, many of whom are colleagues and clients. I started feeling frantic about my lack of popularity. So I shamelessly mined his list, sending friend requests to some of the people on his list who know me, too, and should therefore consider being my “friends.”

I feared that I was missing the boat, failing to take advantage of the organic process of building a community by sharing a bit of what you think and who you are and what you find interesting.

I initially got started on Twitter as an experiment. I wanted to learn what it was all about so I could figure out how to use it use it in my job. When Raising Arizona Kids hired a social media consultant to jumpstart the magazine’s presence on Twitter, I started focusing my attention there, working to build our list of followers and develop a valuable and reliable source of information for them. My personal Twitter account foundered, a neglected sibling in my attentions.

And then there are my blogs. Yes, I have two. I had this idea that I could post about goings-on “Behind the ‘Zine” for work and write more reflectively in my personal quest to be “Making Sense of the Pieces.” But when I started ramping up the frequency of my posts for “Behind the ‘Zine,” (especially after I decided to accept the Post a Day Challenge), I essentially choked the life out of my personal blog. It’s hard enough to find time to write one post a day, let alone two, when you work full time.

But it’s also becoming increasingly more difficult to separate the work from the personal. My work pretty much is my life. Much of my identify and personal growth is wrapped up in my experiences heading a magazine. And now that my two sons are grown, gone and fully self-sufficient, even my time outside of work is largely spent on independent writing projects that have spun off of interests and passions I am now able to pursue.

Intentionally or not, I’ve blurred the lines I’d hoped to draw in my social media presence. There is no logical way to keep these two sides of my life separate. And thankfully, most of the contacts I make through my work are really amazing people with whom I’d welcome a friendship, if only we all had 48 hours in a day.

Making something on the Internet disappear

Here’s an interesting twist on the warning that “once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.”

That’s something parents typically tell high school or college students who are posting pictures on Facebook that a future employer might use to judge their character. It’s not something you usually think about in terms of what a mother might say or write about her own child.

At 6pm Monday, well after our office had closed, I got an email from a woman we interviewed five years ago for a story about a behavioral disorder her son was experiencing. She had just published a book on the topic, so of course she was perfectly happy to talk with us about the topic, knowing that our article would help publicize her book.

Her son is now 16. She describes him as a “successful, well-adjusted student and athlete.” And therein lies the problem.

“When one Googles his name for sports-related information,” she wrote, “this article pops up. As you can imagine, it is uncomfortable for my son. I do not think it is fair that this information is under [his] name. Those years are behind him and I do not want his name featured on Google connected with [this behavior disorder].

“Would you please ‘kill’ this story so that it is no longer on Google? I have requested this of other articles and they were very understanding of my son’s privacy. Any help you can provide would be very appreciated. As a parenting magazine, I am sure you understand my dilemma. Please remove this story/kill the story and remove it from Google immediately.”

I absolute understand this woman’s desire to protect her son. I Googled her son’s name and quickly identified the problem. Page 1 lists his various athletic accomplishments. At the top of Page 2 is a link to our story.

But I had to think about her request for awhile. We published the story on this particular behavior disorder because we knew it would provide hope and guidance to other parents who found themselves in this mother’s situation. If we killed the story, that value was gone forever.

And, I have to admit, her request kind of got my back up. She wrote a book about it. Now she’s upset with us?

I had a meeting out of the office on Tuesday morning. Before I even got to work, the mom had called our office, repeating her demand to Operations Director Debbie Davis, who happened to answer the phone. So while I was thinking about what to do (between 6pm Monday and Tuesday morning, mind you), she’d gotten increasingly agitated about the situation and eager to see it resolved.

I’m guessing the real problem is that her son is upset with her. But that’s between them. Debbie and I talked about it and decided the right thing to do was to respect the son’s interests and protect him from embarrassment. So we killed the story, which is no longer accessible from our website.

But that doesn’t really solve the mother’s problem. We can block access from our site but we can’t control Google. For that battle, she’s on her own.

Close encounters of the javelina (and hilarious) kind

At about 4:30pm Saturday, my husband and I decided to go for a bike ride. Nearly halfway through a 12-mile loop we like to do, my back tire went flat. So Dan rode on ahead to get the car while I started walking.

As I reached a busy four-way stop near the east end of Camelback Mountain, I looked across the street and saw two javelinas rooting around in a wash. I was so surprised to see them that I almost forgot I had a camera in my phone. And as I was fumbling around with my phone, I definitely forgot there were cars in the street. Before I knew it, two lanes of traffic had come to a complete dead stop, with puzzled drivers watching the crazy bike lady in the middle of the street trying to get a picture of the javelinas.

A mom in an SUV rolled down her window, looking at me quizzically. “They’re javelinas!” I shouted. “It’s a real treat to see them!” Another cyclist rode past me saying, “What the…?” He pulled a quick U-turn and followed along as I carefully tried to get closer for a photo.

An older woman in the passenger seat of one car rolled down her window and glared at me. “You know they’re mean, don’t you? They’re vicious!” she lectured.

“I know. I’ll be careful,” I said obediently.

Heading for the storm drain.

The two javelinas got tired of all the attention and disappeared into a storm drain. I ran across the street, assuming they would emerge at the other end. But they were too smart for me. Once they were sure I was out of the way, they came out from the end they’d entered, scampered off through a hedge of oleander and were soon out of sight. I couldn’t wait to share the good fortune of my sighting, so I quickly emailed a photo to my sons in Washington, D.C., then posted it on my Facebook page.

My husband’s 71-year-old aunt has more Facebook friends than I do but spends most of her time playing Farmville, from what we can tell. So I guess she should be forgiven for not understanding that the comment she posted under my javelina picture really belonged  in my photo album, where I’ve uploaded some family pictures. Here’s what she wrote:

“Love the picture. Connie sure looks good. Oh when I look at Dan’s eyes they sure look like his Dad, but his face looks like his Aunt Marilyn.”

Saving the mail

As I was driving to an appointment in central Phoenix this afternoon, I listened to an NPR interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

Daum’ column yesterday, “In Praise of Snail Mail” was written in response to a recent announcement by the U.S. Post Office that it plans to close or consolidate as many as 2,000 branches. “As the Postal Service continues its slow fade into history, something will be missing,” Daum fervently believes.

In the radio interview, she talks about her love of handwritten notes, paper and stationery stores, wax seals and even traditional holiday letters, saying electronic cards, email and Facebook just can’t compete with the real thing. She describes the delighted sense of anticipation she once felt as she bounded down to the front lobby of her Manhattan apartment building to meet her postal carrier, with whom she was on a first-name basis.

Mail, real mail, and the people who deliver it, are important to the fabric of life and the weaving together of communities, she believes. I agree with her.

One of the people who emailed during the show shared a story about his mother saving every letter he’d ever written to her — for 30 years. He described how meaningful it was to him to be able to reread those letters, which he describes as the “life journal I never kept.”

My mother saved every letter I wrote home too, from the time I first went away to college at the University of Arizona, through four years I lived on Guam and for three years I was a newlywed grad student in Cleveland. Envelopes, too. Rereading them is like stepping back into my young adult head, and a chance to remember the events, angst and boundless optimism of that time. (Misplaced or not, my confidence in the future was evident in the large round letters of my cursive, the many exclamation points and the bright green or purple ink I’d often use.)

Now I’m the mother of two grown sons who occasionally send emails with small details of their lives. I copy and paste them into a Word document, hoping they will someday enjoy reading them. And I wonder if it will be the same experience, minus the faded envelopes and the innocent, hope-filled handwriting.

New tools, old tactics

We’ve been putting on an annual Camp Fair for seven years—this year’s event, on Feb. 26 (my birthday), will be our eighth.

It’s an incredible amount of work to organize these events. It takes a lot of planning, organization, attention to detail and a heartfelt commitment to making it a good experience for everyone who exhibits, and everyone who attends.

To keep the event free to the public, we charge a fee to exhibitors to pay for publicity, rental equipment and various other expenses. So we were flabbergasted when, at one of our early Camp Fair events, we had some interlopers.

Several companies tried to sneak in that year to distribute their flyers—and even copies of a competing magazine!—at our event.

Why would anyone think that was okay?

Today I went up on our Facebook page to post a new message and found that someone had beat me to it. Someone with a competing publication had posted a message promoting their company. I couldn’t believe it—and of course immediately removed it.

We are blessed to live in a day and age when we have many wonderful tools for communicating and connecting. But now the intrusive distraction of door-to-door salesmen has morphed into annoying, unsolicited phone calls, which have morphed into aggravating and time-consuming email spam, which has now morphed into hijacking Facebook accounts. A few people always have to ruin it for the rest of us.

Technology evolves. Apparently, human behavior doesn’t.

A chance to play Santa

Except for a brief moment of restful regrouping during the Thanksgiving weekend, my staff has been working around the clock for weeks. It’s “that time of year” for us, an annual marathon that tests our energy, our stamina, our resilience and our shared sense of humor.

Double-issue deadline time.

Our 132-page 2011 Schools, etc. book went to the printer last week. Last night, at about 8pm, I signed off on the January magazine and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams sent the files off to the printer.

Every year we wonder why we pack this double whammy into the weeks leading up to an already hectic holiday season. We talk about scheduling the book at a different time of year but we keep coming back to the same conclusion: Parents need it in January.

January is when many of the Valley’s private schools hold open houses; for the most popular schools, registration may reach capacity soon into the new year. Even public school districts with rolling open-enrollment periods may fill to capacity well before the start of the new school year.

So we bite the bullet, resign ourselves to some late nights (for Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist a lot of late nights) and somehow we always manage to get it done.

After weeks of intense, single focus, I woke up this morning with an almost childlike sense of possibilities. No proofreading today! No frantic, last-minute fact-checking! The excited feeling actually lasted a few seconds before I realized how many other things I’ve let slide the last few weeks. Emails that need responses, articles to be assigned, planning to do.

Before I get mired in all of that, I plan to spend some time playing Santa. We have been running all sorts of promotions on our website lately. Tickets to live events and movie sneak previews, new-release CDs and DVDs. We recently closed five of those contests, whose winners must be notified today.

I like doing that myself. It’s fun to send someone a message that says, “Guess what? You won!” It does my heart good when I get an excited response (“No way — that’s awesome!” or “My kids will be so excited!”).

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