Tag Archives: office flooding

A “snow day” at RAK

When I got to work Thursday morning I could tell it was going to be one of “those” days.

Sadie Smeck, our editorial intern, couldn’t get onto the Internet. Then Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist couldn’t access any of our internal network drives. Then Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb called in from a meeting to say she couldn’t access her email.

Deep breath.

I called Leon Hauck, who does our IT troubleshooting and he said he’d be over within the hour.

We all looked at each other, baffled. What could we do now? Our email was down, we couldn’t get on the Internet and we couldn’t access any of our network files. (Our website, which is hosted in “the cloud,” was fine.)

I did the only thing I could think to do. I declared a snow day.

Never mind that it was 97 degrees before we even got to work, or that it was expected to top out at 111. We were stuck. We couldn’t engage in our typical routines. We needed to think outside the box.

A momentous anniversary arrived this month with little fanfare. It’s now been a year since “The Great Office Flood of 2010,” when we were forced to evacuate our office for three months as we dried out from a burst pipe in the suite overhead. When we were finally able to move back in, we were so focused on getting back to the business of running the business that we let many non-essential tasks fall by the wayside.

That included the unpacking of dozens of boxes and the sorting through piles of flood-damaged items we just never seemed able to find the time (or mental energy) to examine.

It didn’t really bother me until Mala told me that someone  had come to our office one day and asked if we were moving. And that made me realize that we were still operating in kind of a triage mentality. We never really settled back into our space. It was almost like we didn’t trust the fact that we were staying.

Sadie finds nails and hooks for awards plaques.

Our “snow day” was a first step toward rectifying that situation. I ran around the office and announced that were were going to use this “found” time to tackle the boxes and piles, get rid of things we didn’t need, get ourselves organized. Mala, Solvay and Sadie quickly embraced my plan. Mala grabbed a big box and started filling it with papers for the recycle bin. I dumped a pile of awards, plaques and  framed photos on the floor and Sadie and Solvay started mounting them on the walls. Then I dragged 22 years worth of hastily packed RAK history — much of it brittle, stained and rippled by water damage — into the hallway so I could organize it by year.

Snow days are gifts. Moments when time stands still. Times when small moments matter, and memories are rediscovered.

Sadie offers support as Solvay prepares to pound a nail into the wall.

I heard Sadie, who will be a junior in college this fall, talking to 12-year-old Solvay in a nurturing and affirming manner born of their unexpected camaraderie.

“You have a good eye, Solvay!” she said as they decided where to pound nails and place plaques. I heard Solvay talking to Sadie about last year’s flood. “I really learned a lot about the magazine’s history when the flood happened,” she said, a positive memory of a time filled with frantic packing and unpacking, but also with staff members sharing stories about our past.

Snow days are gifts. Moments when overwhelming tasks, like tackling this pile in the corner of my office…

…yield unexpected, and joyful, surprises. Like this picture I found of my two sons, now grown, who were helping me staff a Raising Arizona Kids booth at a big community event so very long ago.

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 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

Ethiopia: a tentative timetable for travel

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine launched a new website. You can now find this post here.

The benefits of free labor

A sweet and incredibly bright young woman will be at my house for a couple of hours today, cheerfully doing anything I ask her to do. Yesterday, I had a talented college graduate and aspiring journalist here for five full hours, eagerly embracing any assignment I threw at her and then asking for more.

These women are unpaid interns. And I couldn’t manage without them.

Emma Zang-Schwartz took part in the "Locks of Love" program, allowing staff photographer Dan Friedman to document the before and after for one of his daily "DYK?" stories at raisingarizonakids.com.

Emma Zang-Schwartz is a senior at nearby Chaparral High School and will be the editor of the school’s glossy magazine during the upcoming school year. Since she started with us last spring, she has been my right hand with website tasks and something of an archiving wizard. I was delighted when she told me she plans to continue her internship throughout her senior year.

Brooke Mortensen is a graduate of Central Washington University, a recent transplant to Arizona who has taken over our RAK Community blog and helps me populate some of our other online features. She’s also written a story for our upcoming August issue.

Raising Arizona Kids has a long history of working with interns. Some have come to us through formal programs at ASU and various community colleges. Others have simply dropped into my lap through referrals from educators or friends. We got two great graphic arts interns through The Art Institute of Phoenix. (One of them, Michelle-Renee Adams, is now our Art Director.)

In some cases, our interns are the children of staff members. Vicki Louk Balint‘s son Robert has written for both the magazine and our Sports Roundtable blog. (This week he followed his mom’s footsteps and went multimedia. Watch his video essay on high school football’s “Big Man” competition.)

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist enlisted her daughters’ help at a very young age. Solvay, now 11, has spent part of several summers shredding documents and stuffing envelopes with her big sister. As Mylan entered high school, she moved into writing and website administration.

In most cases, internships are mutually beneficial. I get free labor; interns get experience in the workings of a monthly publication and daily online “eZine.”

Brooke Mortensen proofreads pages at my kitchen island. (We are still working out of my home because of a June 2 flooding incident at our Scottsdale office.)

I’m a huge fan of unpaid internships. When someone is willing to come to a job and be held accountable to a schedule and job description — even when they’re not being paid — it shows a lot about their character and drive.

It also gives them great real-world experience they carry with them into future careers. One of our interns, a college graduate, parlayed her experience with us into a paid internship at O magazine. Another is now working as a multimedia journalist for a TV station in Las Vegas. And I recently got an email from yet another former intern who is working for a PR firm in Los Angeles.

My own son Andy did a full-semester unpaid internship at a newspaper in Washington, D.C. when he was a junior in college. Shortly after graduating, he landed a full-time position there. (He is now a writer for POLITICO.) My son David did volunteer work for the John Kerry presidential campaign in the summer of 2004. A few years later, he ended up with a paid summer job with the Arizona Democratic Party. He now works as a researcher for the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., where he shares an apartment with Andy.

I couldn’t have predicted what any of my former interns (or my sons, for that matter) would be doing now. But I certainly could have predicted that they’d be doing something productive and meaningful. For young people, internships are a good investment in the future.

And for the people who supervise them, interns are often a source of unexpected gifts and surprisingly rewarding relationships.

TOMORROW: How an intern helped me remember a turning point in my own career.

Sydney Lakin, who recently graduated from Chaparral High School, served as editor of the school magazine. She interned with us for a year and before she left (to devote her afternoons to the high school track team) she had the foresight (and class!) to recruit Emma to take her place. Sydney will be attending New York University this fall.

When she first started her intership with us, I doubt that current Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams (far right) expected she'd meet both a governor and a professional basketball player. From left: then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, me, Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash and Michelle (Fall 2008).

Sara Stroupe (left) interned with us before heading off to O magazine. Monica Lang (right), was another Art Institute of Phoenix intern who ended up assuming the role of Art Director and recruited Michelle. In the middle is former employee Desiree Patterson and her daughter, Olivia (June 2005).

One of my favorite photos of Solvay (left) and Mylan Blomquist (in a May 2005 photo) with their mom, Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist.