Tag Archives: Phoenix

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.

Make my day: feedback from a recent contest winner

This was the first thing I saw on my email this morning — a good way to start the day!

Dena Hahlen of Phoenix won a set of tickets to Sea Life Arizona during a recent contest we hosted online. She sent this picture with the following message:

“My family and I would like to thank you for the tickets we won to Sea Life Arizona. It was truly amazing looking and touching the sea life. My children and grandchildren and one of my childcare children loved it.”

An older, wiser mom

My son Andy’s birthday is today. He’s 26 years old. The number makes me gasp.

My thoughts are pulled back to the weeks surrounding his birth. The mystery, the worry, the pain — and the utter joy. And the vague recollection of a newspaper article that appeared when he was just five weeks old.

Before I got married, went to graduate school and had my son, I was a bureau chief for the Arizona Republic. A lot of the reporters and photographers still knew me. So when they needed a photograph of a new mom with her baby for a story they were planning to run, they called me.

Photographer Michael Ging came out to the little condo my husband and I were renting in north Phoenix and took a bunch of pictures. When the story appeared in the paper on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 1985, it included this photo, which will always be a cherished favorite:

Photo by Michael Ging.

I must have read the article, but I was probably so excited about the picture — or so overwhelmed by my role as a new mom — that I didn’t remember what it was about. When memories of  the photo surfaced today, I decided to revisit the story.

So I went to my three-ring binder labeled “1985” and pulled out the yellowed clipping.

“A Different Kind of Parental Guidance,” by then Republic staffer Linda Helser, was about a resource for older first-time moms. It described a fabricated character named Rosalie, who had her first baby at 35. This professional wonder had graduated magna cum laude, enjoyed yearly promotions at her job and had married a successful guy with whom she took European vacations.

The arrival of her baby completely threw her for a loop.

“In Phoenix, there are many more older women having babies today, and they probably know less about infant care than even the young ones,” Helser quoted a local parenting expert as saying. The story described how these older, better-resourced moms were seeking parenting education with the same kind of vigor with which they’d pursued education and career training.

I was 29. Raising Arizona Kids wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. But something about that newspaper article must have stuck in the back recesses of my mind. Because four years and one more son later, I was planning the launch of the Valley’s first monthly magazine for families. By then, I’d realized what Helser’s story meant by “mothers who are wise enough to admit they don’t know it all.”

Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”

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.

Continue reading

Small world stories: the intern and the summer job

Interns Patrick O'Connor and Veronica Jones at our May 2011 cover shoot.

When we interviewed him for a graphic design internship, Patrick O’Connor told us that he is often “quiet, initially.” When he started working with us last month, he proved to be just that. Hardworking, talented, eager to learn the ropes — and quiet.

So when he spoke up during an impromptu meeting I called in the art department Monday morning, I paid attention.

“I made it into the magazine,” he said. Quietly.

I looked at him, puzzled. He showed me a page in the June 2009 issue of our magazine. A page that included an ad for Hubbard Sports Camp.

“That’s me,” he said, pointing to the tall guy in the back.

Patrick is a 2005 graduate of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. He’s a December 2010 graduate of the University of Arizona, with a BFA in studio art and visual communications design. And during the summer of 2008 he was a counselor at Hubbard Sports Camp, where he coached a variety of sports for kids ages 4½-13.

Patrick clearly has a love of sports. While he was at UofA, he worked as a freelance videographer for Tucson’s Fox 11. He shot footage of football, basketball and soccer at three Tucson high schools. He also shot video for the UofA’s football team for both practices and games.

Patrick is juggling two internships these days. He spends the mornings with us and the afternoons at Tempe-based Boon, which designs and markets innovative products and gear for babies.

This capable young man, who favors plaid, button-down shirts and clean, fresh graphic design, is quietly securing  his place in a successful future.

Photos at top and bottom by RAK staff photographer Daniel Friedman.

Special thanks to Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams for enhancing the photo (circle) so we could see Patrick’s face in the group photo from the ad.

No such thing as a bad friend

I recently spent some time with a friend I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. She has two sons, close in age to my own. When all four boys were small, the six of us spent quite a bit of time together.

She was the consummate organizer — always quick to suggest a new hiking trail, a field trip, an adventure. I was the overwhelmed small business owner and full-time mom who gratefully followed her lead, knowing my sons would never have slept under the stars on the balcony of a mountain cabin or hiked with llamas or rafted down the Colorado River if it weren’t for her.

As the boys grew, they pursued different interests, found different friends, grew in different directions. Though their tight connections unraveled, my friend and I stayed close.

But when her family moved to Portland, the frequency of our visits dropped dramatically. Sometimes I’d only see her once a year, when she came back during the winter holidays.

In December 2009 , I was getting ready to start up Piestewa Peak with my husband and my brother, who was visiting from Seattle. I turned around, and there was my friend. We hugged and made enthusiastic exclamations about how we should get together. I promised to call.

I never did. And I felt so guilty about it that I let many more months pile up, until it felt like the tie had perhaps been severed for good.

But I mourned the loss of this special friend, to whom I’d often confided my deepest thoughts and feelings, knowing that she would always be straight with me in her response. So on her birthday last week, I sent her an email. I told her that I missed her and that every time I was hiking in the desert, I thought of her.

Much to my delight, she responded immediately. Better yet, she was here in town! We made plans to get together for a hike.

When I met her at the trailhead, it was as if no time at all had passed. My sense of comfort with her was intact, untainted by the lapse of time. For the next hour and a half, we caught up on each other’s lives as we made a wide loop through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

When it was time to go, I told her how glad I was to have had the time with her. I apologized for the fact that my self-absorbed distractions made me such a bad friend.

Her reassurance was immediate. “I stopped judging friendships a long time ago,” she said. “When we cross paths, we cross paths. When we don’t, we don’t.”

She knows that real friendships have no room for societal conventions, unrealistic expectations or guilt. Real friendships just are.

Pet peeves about press releases – #2

When you are writing a press release, watch your words. They can do just as much to harm your case as they can to help it. Your goal is to be persuasive, not annoying. Here are some classic mistakes:

Too many words. If you can’t explain your story idea or request for coverage in less than one page, you’ve already lost me. I have to look at hundreds of these requests each week. I can’t afford the time to linger.

Subjective words. I think it can be assumed that if you are sending the press release you believe the source/subject/story to be important/valid/meaningful. So just give me the facts and let me decide for myself. Language that is gushingly enthusiastic or accompanied by numerous exclamation points is a red flag. It means the real message isn’t interesting on its own.

Words that promise more than they can (or should) deliver. In a recent example we received, a private school promised to teach 2-year-olds to read. Aside from the sad, developmentally insensitive aspects of that (so now even a 2-year-old has to feel academic pressure?) it smacks of luring parents with the false premise that their offspring will become super-achievers if they just cough up the tuition each month.

No “who,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “why” words. You’d be surprised how many press releases we get that are missing one or more of these essential elements.

Words like “famous” and “celebrated.” If the person you are promoting is already getting that much attention, especially in the national arena, they certainly don’t need anything from me. Double demerits if you apply those words to someone I’ve never heard of before.

The words “must have.” If the moms and dads who read our magazine really had all the “must have” stuff that is routinely mailed to our office or described in emails stuffing my in-box, they could audition for one of those “hoarder” reality shows.

Insincere words. One press pitch that started out, “I hope you are having a great Wednesday.” Um, no you don’t.

Insulting words. I seriously got one story pitch that started out like this: “I am not sure if you are currently working on anything specific at the moment….” Are you kidding me? Like there is ever a moment when we are not working on something? Maybe I should try sitting around twiddling my thumbs to see what it’s like.

Out of touch words. These typically accompany those “blanket the universe” releases that don’t bother to consider the specific needs (or climatic conditions) of a particular media outlet. A release I got for a brand of children’s boots from Australia started like this: “As the winter months are rapidly approaching, it is time to bundle our little ones up in all their winter gear.” I got that one last summer–when it was 110 degrees in Phoenix.

Tomorrow: The ones who get it right.

When life and work merge

When my father died in the summer of 1991, I was already immersed in grief, editing a story for that year’s August magazine by a mother who had lost her baby daughter to a congenital heart condition.

Our circumstances were vastly different; my father’s death, though premature at age 67, came at the end of a life.  Her daughter, who died before her second birthday, was just getting started. My father’s death was sudden and completely unexpected; the result of a malignancy he had told no one about. Her daughter’s death was long, slow and painful — a roller coaster ride of hope-inspiring surgeries and nauseating plunges into despair.

I remember reading her story over and over, awed by the juxtaposition of these two unrelated events in my life. I was consumed by my own grief, yet somehow found it comforting to read about hers. As she described her feelings I found affirmation for mine. And I understood what she had told me when she asked to write her story in the first place: She wanted others who were grieving to know “you’re not the only one who feels this way.”

This week, once again, life and work have merged.

Amid meals, hikes, visits with family members and numerous trips to the airport, I have been editing another story about loss: Phoenix writer Mary Ann Bashaw’s second installment in our 2011 series on “Finding Purpose in Grief.”

The series debuts this month with a story about Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., a grief counselor and founder of the Phoenix-based MISS Foundation, who lost her own baby daughter, Cheyenne, in 1994. The February article focuses on a new Valley program created to support parents who face the excruciating challenge of seeing a pregnancy through despite the knowledge that their child will not survive. The goal of the Comfort and Resource Enhancement (CARE) Program  is, according to Mary Ann’s story, to “reduce the family’s suffering through a loving and sensitive, but realistic, approach to this complex journey.”

As I was reading MaryAnn’s story early Wednesday morning, I received an email from my mom, who was sharing sad news from her husband’s side of the family. An eagerly anticipated great-grandchild was expected this Christmas season.  A routine medical exam was scheduled after the mother’s due date passed. When doctors could not find a heartbeat, a Cesarean surgery followed. A stillborn child, a beautiful baby boy, was delivered.