Tag Archives: Raising Arizona Kids magazine

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.

Father’s Day and finding my way

Where's Karen? I'm in there to the right of the tall guy in the blue shirt (my son David), in this picture I took reflecting off The Bean In Chicago earlier this month.

My husband was suffering from allergies (or a cold, we weren’t sure which) yesterday, so his Father’s Day was spent quietly. We opted out of our Sunday routine — which typically involves a hike or long bike ride — in favor of lazily lounging around. Dan’s only goal for the day was to make some progress toward finishing the third book in Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy.

Both of our sons called in — Andy from Washington, D.C. and David from his new home in Chicago — to enjoy catching up with their dad. All three of the men in my family are extremely knowledgeable about politics and government (which I am not), so I enjoy listening to Dan’s side of the conversation from my perch at the kitchen island, knowing that this is a special bond they share (along with a love of all things sports). My conversations with our sons typically take a different tack. I ask about household/daily life stuff and girlfriends. I share news about extended family members — their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Quiet Sundays give me a chance to make some small amount of progress toward catching up and getting organized for the week ahead. I spent several hours sifting through emails, writing to-do lists and tending to naggy, small tasks that always seem insurmountable when you’re in the midst of a busy work day. And with no small amount of initial hesitation, I dove back into my Ethiopia notes.

My motivation was an email I received from a mother in New Mexico. She has written a book, Finding Aster, about her own Ethiopia adoption journey. I found out about her because of all the Google alerts I have set up related to international adoption — part of my continued research for the story that began when I first met adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley in the spring of 2009 and which, I hope, will find its own book form if I just keep taking small steps to make it happen.

When I found out about Dina McQueen’s book, I subscribed to her related blog. Anyone who writes a blog knows how exciting it is to find out that someone has subscribed to it. Every time I get a message that someone has subscribed to my blog, I click through to find out who that person is. Dina apparently does the same. She found me, found Raising Arizona Kids and wondered, no doubt, about my interest in her adoption story.

She called my office while I was in Chicago helping David settle into his new apartment earlier this month. So she followed up with an email:

When I called your magazine to inquire, I was told about your interest in Ethiopia, which led me to your feature article on your 2010 trip to Ethiopia. Which led me to the remarkable story you wrote about accompanying Brian and Keri to Addis Ababa as they met their two new children. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I was quite moved. Especially as I learned how much some adoptive parents are doing to support their children’s homeland. And how ‘stuck’ I sometimes feel without the resources to do more.

What I can do, however, is share my story and my platform with others who may be able to help me get out there and speak. My mission, basically, is to encourage adoption as a viable and vital way to grow a family. Concern about the environment and women’s health, as well, of course, as the massive issue of parentless children world-wide fuels my passion to keep on connecting with others.

I have ordered a copy of Dina’s book and I look forward to reading it. One of the reviews I read particularly intrigued me. The reviewer said that Finding Aster could truly be called Finding Dina, because of the magnitude of personal growth the author underwent during her journey to become a parent.

With Keri deGuzman as we checked in for our flight to Ethiopia last July. We were both wearing T-shirts promoting Acacia Village, an orphanage the deGuzmans support in Addis Ababa. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Personal growth — and continued striving for it — is intrinsic to my ongoing connection to the deGuzman family and their continued commitment to the many children who remain orphaned in Ethiopia. It is time to stop hiding behind my fears of being inadequate to the task of telling their evolving story.

Finding Aster may well help me get back to the task of finding myself.

Superheroes who are headed to see “Thor”

I’ve been frustrated with my blog lately. No time, no energy and an aggravating problem with the RSS feed that is preventing it from even showing up on our website’s main blogs page. I’ve got IT people working on that.

But today I am back. Ever since my post about “My life with superheroes,” I’ve been eager to share some of the cute pictures I’ve been getting from readers.

We asked families to send us pictures of the superheroes in their family for a chance to win tickets to a Saturday sneak preview screening of “Thor.” In the epic adventure, “The God of Thunder” discovers what it really means to be a hero.

The contest ended Wednesday and the complete list of winners is here. These are my favorite pictures:

Abigail Bayless Feldman of Phoenix, who is 7 now, but was 4 when this picture was taken.

Josh Hall of Mesa, who is 4. This was at his (rock star?) superhero birthday party.

Five-year-old Keagan Lewis of Phoenix.

Trinidad Jimenez, 12, of Phoenix.

Jonathan Wenzel of Surprise, now 4, was 2 in this Halloween photograph.

Eight-year-old Lucas Lundstrom, aka Batman.

When your eyes see something that’s not there

We generate two covers for our magazine each month: one that has a preprinted mailing label (for our subscribers) and one that is absent the mailing label (for our bulk distribution to hospitals, museums, etc.) Except for the label, the covers are pretty much the same.

Our proofreaders are given both covers to check. We have at least six proofreaders look at each issue, including me.

Apparently all six of us were stricken with some sort of bizarre, but temporary, blind spot. Because our April issue made it past each of us with nobody noticing a glaring error.

April is our summer day camps issue — an idea Raising Arizona Kids pioneered 22 years ago — so we’re pretty proud of it. We’ve watched lots of copycat efforts follow in its wake but I can say with great certainty that nobody take the time or care our staff puts into researching and fact-checking this annual directory, the Valley’s most comprehensive and unbiased (i.e. no one has to pay to be listed).

So you’d think we’d notice that something as important as our summer day camp directory wasn’t mentioned on the cover,  right?

But we missed it. Every one of us. Thankfully our printer didn’t miss it, and called the office to let us know so we could correct it before it was too late.

I wondered if there is a word for this phenomenon. How could six people all miss the same thing? I found the word “scotoma,” which is defined on WebMD as “an isolated area…within the visual field, in which vision is absent or depressed.”

But the only word I could find that defines “seeing something that’s not there” was “hallucination.” Needless to say, our collective embarrassment will likely prevent a recurrence.

Ethiopia is calling

Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgi and his guests (from left): Haddush Halefom (who oversees the Acacia Village project for Christian World Adoption), me, Zerihun Beyene (who works for Christian World Adoption), Brian deGuzman, M.D. and Keri deGuzman. Photo courtesy of the president's office.

I had a dream that I was back at the palace in Addis Ababa, sitting in the office of Girma Wolde-Giorgi, the president of Ethiopia. I was waiting for the president to enter his spacious office so I could interview him for a story.

I saw the same high ceilings, the same heavy curtains, the same bronze cowboy statue on the massive desk — the very statue that intrigued me when I was in President Girma’s office last July, during my trip with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman.

At the time, I found it ironic. There I was in Africa, thousands of miles from home. And yet what drew my attention was a cowboy, that classic icon of the American Southwest.

I didn’t ask President Girma how a cowboy statue found its way to his desk. Our meeting that day was about the deGuzmans, who were in Ethiopia to welcome two babies into their family. They were invited to meet the president because of their involvement with Acacia Village, a home where 250 children can be nurtured, healed and transitioned into adoptive families. President Girma serves as honorary chairman of the board for Acacia Village, a project of Christian World Foundation.

In my dream, I was waiting in his office by myself, tending to unfinished business. I woke up before I found out what that business was.

A few days later, someone else told me about a dream she’d had. In her dream, I was staying at a beach house in California. The deGuzman family—Brian, Keri and their four beautiful children—had come to visit me. And so had my staff at Raising Arizona Kids magazine. I was fixing lunch for everyone. It was some sort of special occasion.

Ethiopia is calling to me in every way it can. In my own dreams and even in the dreams of someone who is close to me, I am reminded that there is work to be done, stories still to tell.

I have lost some ground in the last few months. The period between November and the end of February is always the busiest and most stressful for my small staff. It begins with research and fact checking for our 128-page Schools, etc. guide to education, which mostly happens in November. December brings double-issue production deadlines for the book and our January magazine.
The holidays throw us all off our game, as various staff members take vacation time to be with family and friends. And then, once we return to work in January, we’re back on deadlines for February, March and the last weeks of planning for our annual Camp Fair.

I knew that I would make little headway with my Ethiopia writing during this time, so I made a conscious, proactive decision to ride it out without punishing myself (too much).

But now it is time to get back on track. After this week, when the April magazine goes to press, I must recommit my time and attention to this story, which has gotten under my skin, dominating my conscious thoughts and seeping into subconscious ones, too.

Watching the clock for Camp Fair 2011

I went to bed Monday night feeling both relieved and guilty.

Relieved because it wouldn’t be me sleeping fitfully, waking up every hour to glance in panic at the alarm clock, fearful that I’d slept through the alarm.

Guilty because I foisted responsibility for an early morning obligation onto Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist. Not that the ever-gracious Mala would ever complain about that.

So while I’m still snug in my warm bed Monday morning, Mala will be be on the freeway, headed from her northwest Phoenix home to the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA, where she’ll do 6am and 7am interviews about our upcoming Camp Fair with a news crew from 3TV’s Good Morning Arizona. At 8am, she’ll be with the crew at Hubbard Family Sports Camp at the Phoenix Swim Club. And at 9am she’ll do one last interview at the Arizona Science Center.

At each stop, Mala will share information and pictures about some of the 60-plus camps that will be attending Camp Fair.

3TV and Your Life A- Z are co-sponsoring this year’s event, our 8th, which will be held at Tesseract School Shea Campus from 10am-3pm on Saturday, Feb. 26. (That’s also my birthday, but don’t tell anyone.) Other sponsors include Kids Consortium, CIGNA Healthcare and of course Tesseract. It would be impossible for us to put on this event together, which is free to the public, without their support.

So as I went to bed Monday night, I was feeling relieved, guilty — and grateful. For Mala’s willingness to do the 3TV interviews, for sponsors and vendors who are participating in this year’s Camp Fair despite a challenging economy and for the fact that I’ll be watching the clock from the comfort of my home, jumping out of bed only to make sure I don’t miss Mala on TV.

They always come back

I got an email from Stage Mom blogger and longtime magazine contributor Lynn Trimble today. She asked me a question about something she was working on and then added:

P.S. LIZABETH LEAVES FOR NYC ON THURSDAY!!!!!!!!! (I wonder if she’ll ever come back!!)

I knew she was kidding — kind of. I remember well the competing emotions she will be feeling as her youngest heads out into the big world on her own. Elation, pride and excitement of course. But always that twinge of sadness that comes with knowing that nothing will ever be the same as it was.

Lynn and Lizabeth at a "Say It with Flowers" fundraiser for the ALS Assocation that our staff attended in 2004.

I remember a song we moms used to sing with our kids at preschool: “My mommy comes back/She always comes back/She always comes back to get me…”

It was meant to allay the fears of little ones who often became anxious and clingy when it was time for Mommy to say goodbye.

Now some of these kids are saying goodbye and it’s the moms who are feeling anxious and clingy. As one who has been there, I can vouch for the fact that grown children “always come back,” too. Not for long, sometimes, and not always easily or comfortably. But enough to let you know that you still matter in their lives.

People who make mundane tasks fun

I always look forward to collecting proofreading pages from Mary Ann Bashaw, who does double duty as a writer and copy editor for Raising Arizona Kids.

Mary Ann is one of those people who makes everything feel like a celebration. She is positive, joyful and often quite funny. Never do I appreciate those qualities more than when we are slogging through the proofreading process and making final corrections to each month’s magazine.

Mary Ann often draws smiley faces on articles she likes, or adds comments in support of other staff members whose efforts she admires. “Applause!! Applause!!” she wrote on one occasion.

At the end of Brittney Walker’s upcoming article on co-sleeping, Mary Ann wrote, “EXCELLENT ARTICLE! Always a hot topic.” She also praised Brittney for a “good hook” leading readers into the article.

When she read  next month’s Health Matters article on cradle cap, Mary Ann shared the fact that her now-college-age daughter Claire had cradle cap as an infant “and look at her blond mane now!”

And on Lynn Trimble’s upcoming article about “Naming Your Baby,” Mary Ann noticed that her younger daughter’s name, “Hannah,” had dropped off the list of Top 20 baby names in Arizona. “She’ll be glad to know that!” she noted, clearly in tune with her independent, one-of-a-kind daughter.

When my sons were growing up, I tried to point out people who made an effort not just to do their jobs but to enjoy them — whatever those jobs might be. In the often mundane realm of proofreading, Mary Ann is  one of the best examples I know.

Stepping up to the “post a day” challenge

It’s Day 5 of the WordPress Post a Day Challenge. The enormity of what I’ve undertaken is starting to sink in.

On Jan. 1, when I first signed up for this, I was home. The holidays were effectively over. My sons, who live and work in Washington, D.C., had been and gone. My brother from Seattle and my mom and her husband (who live in Green Valley, Ariz.) also had returned home. The house was empty. The refrigerator was full of leftovers, meaning no need to cook or plan meals. My typically overloaded email inbox was eerily empty.

Conditions, in other words, were perfect. And remained so for the next two days.

I reveled in the down time, taking hours to reflect upon, write and rework my first four posts (“When life and work merge,” “No more excuses,” “Fighting doubt and personal demons” and “A part of me you’ve never known”).

These topics were deeply personal. Delving into them was therapeutic — initially distressing but ultimately calming. For three days I quietly rediscovered who I am without the stress, responsibility and distractions of running a small business.

And then I returned to work on Tuesday. The bubble of writing bliss burst with an audible pop.

No matter how much I lectured myself as I prepared for work yesterday morning — trying to compartmentalize and keep things in perspective — I couldn’t escape a stifling sense of gloom.

When you run a small, chronically under-resourced company, time is your enemy. The “to do” list grows exponentially with each conversation you have. The moments where you feel like you’ve “got a handle on it” are rare. Frustration and fear of failure are common companions. For small media companies like Raising Arizona Kids, creating content in the digital world is an endless task with fleeting successes. It’s like trying to appease “the beast who can’t be fed” (my husband’s phrase).

So there is already enough pressure. Why would I undertake the additional task of trying to write a blog post each day? Where, in the endless drain on my time and energy, will I find the resolve? Am I setting myself up for disappointment and failure?

I’ve thought of myself as a writer for as long as I can remember, pretty much since the first time I experienced the joy of reading. But with few deviations, my life and career choices have kept me on the fringes of a writer’s life. This year I’ve drawn a line in the sand. To be a writer you have to write. So I’m taking this challenge personally.

A part of me you have never known

When my father started sending me the draft chapters of his book, I was not receptive.

It was January of 1988. I had a 2½-year-old, a 6-month-old and a lot of frustration about giving up my professional identify as a journalist and MBA to be a stay-at-home mom. I loved my sons to distraction but felt trapped, unable to bear the thought of leaving them to someone else’s care so I could go back to work but overwhelmed by the monotony of diapers and daytime soaps.

Dad with his first grandson, Andrew, on July 17, 1985. He never saw David, who was born two years later.

I was also angry at my dad, who had fled Arizona shortly before my parents’ divorce was official, leaving me to accompany my mom to court for the final decree. He drove across the country to establish a new life in Florida and when my son David was born, in 1987, he couldn’t be bothered to come back to Arizona to visit his new grandson. That was my take, anyway. And it hurt. So when the thick manilla envelopes began to arrive in the mail, I was disdainful.

“If you will hunt in the closet for a dog-eared three-ring binder and file these dog-eared pages as I send them to you, I will be grateful,” my dad wrote in his distinctive cursive on the lined pages of steno pad. “And of course, you are the one I want to keep them.”

Why me?  Because I was the one who wasn’t “working”? Or because he thought that I would appreciate (as a former journalist) the honor he’d bestowed upon me as keeper of the pages?

Was he expecting me to read them? What did he want from me? Affirmation? Support? An editor’s critique? Whatever it was, I didn’t have it in me to ask or cooperate.

I saved his drafts and revisions. But I didn’t read them and I never commented on them. It was my silent protest, the only way I knew to hurt him as much as he’d hurt me with his self-centered pursuits and seeming indifference to the important events and challenges of my life.

He never asked me what I thought, never made any demands. He just kept sending revisions. And I kept ignoring them. Right up until a few days before Father’s Day of 1991, when my guilt finally got the better of me.

I remember sitting in the kitchen at my sons’ school, scribbling a letter to my dad as I waited for the boys to end their day. I apologized for being so selfish, explaining how consumed I was with motherhood and the demands of running Raising Arizona Kids magazine, which I’d launched a year earlier. I felt hopeful, excited, confident that my dad would forgive me and we’d find a way to reconnect.

I never got around to sending the letter. And before Father’s Day arrived, my father was dead.

More than 22 years later, I see all of this so differently. I know for myself how easy it is to disappoint adult children, how excruciating it is to undergo the scrutiny of their judgmental clarity.

And as I now struggle to write a book of my own, I also have a greater understanding of how complex and overpowering that process is; how much thought and how many revisions it takes. I understand what my dad wrote in one letter, when he said it was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” I see how it consumes you, fights for space in your head, screams for attention when other priorities get in the way.

“It will acquaint all of you with a part of me you’ve never known,” my father wrote hopefully in that Jan. 10, 1988 letter. Tucked with it in the manilla envelope were 40-some pages of the novel that was his lifelong dream.

Its title: Redemption.