Tag Archives: Tesseract School

The restorative power of painting poppies

The months from November through February are always a long slog for our small staff.

As if the challenges of publishing monthly magazine and daily online content are not enough, we add two huge projects to the mix: our annual Schools, etc. education guide and our annual Camp Fair AZ, held the end of each February. We sandwich them around the busiest season of the year: the winter holidays.

It’s exhausting, overwhelming and yet, when it ends, immensely satisfying.

The Phoenix Herpetological Society brought a gentle female alligator named Tuesday to Camp Fair AZ.

Our 2012 Camp Fair AZ ended Sunday afternoon. The two-day event was a filled with smiles, wide eyes and great information.  There were welcoming hugs from longtime vendors who have become friends — some who have attended every one of the nine years we’ve put on the event. There were wide eyes from children amazed to see a live alligator at Tesseract School Shea Campus on Saturday and a flying (remote-control) fish at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School on Sunday. There were grateful parents who swooped in and spent an hour or so collecting brochures and asking questions. As they thanked us warmly on the way out, we all felt every bit of the extra work was worth it.

When we were packing up to leave on Sunday afternoon, one of the vendors said to me, “Well, at least now you can take a break!” If only. My staff had to hit the ground running on Monday, with deadlines looming for our April magazine.

So it probably wasn’t the best time for me to plan my own birthday party and expect them to come. But that’s exactly what I did.

A few weeks earlier, on a Sunday afternoon when I was feeling particularly exhausted and ineffective, I honored a whisper of yearning and signed myself up for a “Van Gogh Vino” painting class at Carrie Curran Art Studio in Scottsdale. Carrie started to program to allow non-artists like me to experience the joy of completing a painting. She and her staff provide smocks and supplies, then walk participants through the process in gentle, manageable steps.

My version of Van Gogh's "Starry Nights."

I found the process transformative. For three hours, all I had to do was focus on my canvas. There was no room in Carrie’s bright, colorful studio for stress and worry. My completed painting didn’t look exactly like Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights” but it wasn’t bad. I was hooked. And eager to share my experience with others.

My birthday falls near Camp Fair ever year. This year, I decided to celebrate it at Carrie’s studio. With my staff. Two days after Camp Fair and in the middle of a busy deadline week.

It was probably crazy. The worst possible time. Everyone was feeling behind in their respective workloads and I was planning a party?

Still, we assembled at Carrie’s studio yesterday morning. Fortified by bagels and fruit, salads and amazing peanut butter brownies provided by Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist, we painted. And laughed. And enjoyed each other’s company.

As I was filling my plate, I said to staff photographer/writer Dan Friedman that I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to hold a party. He agreed that there is never a “good” time when everyone is busy and time stretched so thin. “But think about it,” he said. “If everyone waited until the ‘perfect’ time to do anything — especially to have a baby — it would never happen.” So true.

Sometimes when you least have the time is when you most need to take it — to recharge your energy, replenish your spirit and regain your perspective. For two and a half glorious hours yesterday, that’s exactly what the RAK family did.

Carrie taught us that there is a bit of an artist in everyone.

Inspiration from a former co-worker

Nancie's team, the Schauderifics.

Nancie Schauder’s name first appeared on our staff roster 20 years ago, in October 1991. She was, as I later wrote, “one of those gifts that popped out of nowhere in the early days of our magazine’s history.”

Nancie was a vital member of our advertising sales staff for nearly 10 years, before she left the magazine to return to her true calling: teaching a developmental preschool class in the Cave Creek Unified School District.

I have seen Nancie only sporadically since then, but always find her presence inspiring. She is the consummate optimist, smiling and hopeful through anything life throws her way — including her mother’s slow death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and her own battles with medical challenges and injuries.

In March of 2010 Nancie developed blinding headaches that found no relief in pain medication. There were other puzzling symptoms, but there was no immediate diagnosis.  Nine months later she underwent brain surgery for something I’d never heard of: Chiari malformation.

The definition, according to the Arizona Syringomyelia and Chiari Support Group, is a “malformation…characterized by a downward displacement of the lower part of the brain into the cervical spinal canal.” Part of her brain had moved into her spinal canal, blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

Symptoms, according to the support group brochure, include debilitating headaches, nystagmus (involuntary eye motion), difficult swallowing, vomiting and “positional pain” exacerbated by heavy lifting.

Two months after surgeons sawed open her skull, Nancie volunteered at our annual Camp Fair, where she stood behind a table of brochures about special needs camps and answered questions from parents. It’s something she’s done for us often over the years since she left — a way to show that, no matter what else is going on in her life, she still cares about the people she met through Raising Arizona Kids and she still believes in our mission to support families with information and resources.

Participants at Saturday's Walk to Conquer Chiari.

Yesterday, Nancie’s friends and family members made an early morning show of support for her. With hundreds of others, we enjoyed a pleasant one-mile “Walk to Conquer Chiari” through picturesque Anthem Community Park. September is Chiari & Syringomyelia Awareness Month.

Until I arrived, I didn’t realize that Chairi malformation and syringomyelia (another chronic disorder involving the spinal cord) affected such a diverse age group or manifested in so many different ways. Participants with Chiari wore purple beads to designate themselves from the rest of us; one was a young child dancing through bubbles,  one was a teenager confined to a wheelchair.

Former NFL kicker Chris Dugan ended his remarks chanting, "We will win!"

Nancie was lucky. She had one brain surgery which, thankfully, has alleviated most of her symptoms. Former NFL kicker Chris Dugan, whose opening remarks launched the walk, told us he has undergone 43.

Learn more

Arizona Syringomyelia and Ciari Support Group
Kathi Hall: 602-504-0883
Shelly Norris: 480-893-3951
Email: azsyringochiari@cox.net
azsyringochiari.blogspot.com

American Syringomyelia & Chiari Alliance Project
asap.org

Conquer Chiari
conquerchiari.org

Renae Hoffman and Karen Cournoyer LeClerc with Nancie Schauder (right), wearing their "Schauderific" ball caps.

After the walk: Former RAK Operations Director Debbie Davis, RAK Account Senior Executive Susie Drake and Nancie, who was on the phone making last-minute arrangements for a beautiful brunch she hosted for her team.

One "walker" participated by riding on her dad's shoulders.

The Phoenix Suns Gorilla made an appearance.

Set-up? Check.

The signs are posted. The pipe-and-draping is up. The tables are covered in Cub Scout colors of navy, gold and white, with two chairs neatly placed behind each one. Some yummy-looking breakfast pastries are waiting for exhibitors and staff who will begin showing up as early as 7:30am.

We got the gymnasium at Tesseract School Shea Campus ready for Camp Fair 2011 in just about two hours. Not bad, considering we had 72 tables to set up and hundreds of items to get in their right places.

It started when the truck from Party People showed up, its muscled workmen casually offloading thousands of pounds worth of tables, chairs and metal pipes.

Sean Lieb helps his mom, MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb, straighten a table. That's Catherine Griffiths in the back.

Several members of our staff were in the gymnasium to carry the tables and chairs to their correct positions — including Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb and her son Sean, who were there despite exhaustion and grief from the most difficult of weeks for their family. MaryAnn’s father-in-law, Herb Lieb, died Thursday night at the age of 91. Services will be Sunday.

We all tried to tell MaryAnn she didn’t need to come, but I understand why she did. Work is relief, sometimes, when life is overwhelming. So we hugged her hard and hugged Sean, too, and we all got busy.

Taylor Thompson, a freshman at Tesseract, and Mala Blomquist.

Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist and Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also helped with set-up. Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams and Production Manager Tina Gerami fielded phone calls at the office so the rest of us could be away.

We had help from the staff (and even a student) at Tesseract. Taylor Thompson got a hug from Mala after she patiently helped arrange tablecloths.

Tesseract’s Scott Salk (who has a very important job Saturday morning, because he’s bringing the coffee!) pulled hundreds of water bottles off of flats from Costco and put them in the refrigerator to chill.

But the real hero of the day was Derek Scoble, who took a day off work to help his fiancee, Operations Director and Camp Fair coordinator Debbie Davis, with all the “day before” preparations. (Derek asked Debbie to marry him over the winter holidays,  much to our staff’s united support and delight.) He helped with the morning Costco run, then loaded dozens of boxes into his truck, unloaded them at Tesseract, hauled tables all over the gymnasium and then methodically worked the room, making sure everything was lined up perfectly because he knows that the woman he loves likes things to be just so.

When we realized we were done setting up, we paused and looked around. “It’s so quiet!” Debbie said, knowing that we’d be shouting to hear each other over the noise of the crowd tomorrow.

Ready for Camp Fair, with thanks to the Emmas

We have two wonderful interns from Chaparral High School: Emma Zang-Schwartz (left), who is the editor of the school newspaper and typically helps in our editorial department, and Emma Nyren, who assists our advertising and circulation departments.

When they’re not around, we call them “the Emmas,” or “Emma squared.” It’s done quite affectionately, and gratefully. I don’t know what we’d do without their help.

Thanks to “the Emmas,” hundreds of bags are stuffed and ready for families who will be coming to Camp Fair 2011 this Saturday (10am to 3pm at Tesseract School Shea Campus).

Several of us will spend much of Friday hauling these boxes (and many, many more) to Tesseract’s gymnasium. We’ll set up tables, chairs and pipe-and-draping. We’ll get everything organized for the next morning. Then we’ll drag ourselves home exhausted, sleeping fitfully as we think of last-minute details.

Come Saturday, all the work and preparations will be forgotten, replaced by excitement for the day ahead. Camp Fair is more than an opportunity for families to learn about summer camps; it’s a chance for us to reconnect with old friends, many of whom have come for each of the eight years we’ve coordinated this event. We’re ready, and we can’t wait.

A history of Camp Fair

Entry point for our first Camp Fair, held at All Saints' Episcopal Day School in Phoenix.

In February 2004, our magazine was about to enter its 15th year of publication. Our cover mom that month was Yen-Li Chen-Zhang, a former Ballet Arizona principal dancer who was operating her own ballet school in Chandler. (It recently celebrated its 10th year.)

My son Andy was a freshman in college; my son David a junior in high school. My husband and I spent a lot of time at football and lacrosse fields.

Our February 2004 cover, featuring Yen-Li Chen-Zhang and her then 5-year-old daughter, Emily Zhang.

It was a big year for news. A report was issued saying the Bush administration misled Americans about the so-called “imminent danger” posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. A New York court found Martha Stewart guilty of lying to federal investigators. Kmart announced that it was acquiring Sears. Captain Kangaroo died. Hurricanes killed 2,000 people in Haiti (and we thought that was bad).

Blockbuster movies that year included “Shrek 2,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Meet the Fockers,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “I, Robot” and “Ocean’s Twelve.”

Greasepaint Scottsdale Youtheatre was among our first Camp Fair exhibitors.

2004 was also the first year that Raising Arizona Kids organized a Camp Fair. It was Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb’s suggestion. A similar event had been held for several years at the Judson School in Paradise Valley, an elite private boarding school that closed in 2000 and is now the site of multi-million dollar homes. (Interestingly, if you Google “Judson School” you can find entries that indicate it’s still accepting students.)

MaryAnn thought we should take over the event. I thought she was crazy. We were understaffed and overwhelmed as it was; how were we going to coordinate something on that scale?

But anyone who knows MaryAnn knows she doesn’t hear the word “no.” So we took a deep breath, dove in headfirst and organized our first Camp Fair.

Another cute character from Greasepaint Scottsdale Youtheatre.

It was held at All Saints Episcopal Day School that first year, and for four more years to follow. Three years ago, we moved it to the Tesseract School, which had just opened a middle and upper school campus at 40th St. & Shea and had a beautiful, bigger gymnasium to accommodate our growing roster of participating camps, some of which came from as far away as Minnesota.

This year’s event will be held from 10am-3pm Saturday, Feb. 26. (Did I mention that’s my birthday?) It will again be at Tesseract. Our entire staff will be there, as will more than 65 camps. Some are overnight camps; some are day camps located throughout Maricopa Count. For parents looking to fill their children’s summer months with meaningful activities, there is no better place to get started making memories.

RAK staff members Tina Gerami (left) and Mala Blomquist set up for Camp Fair 2004. They haven't changed a bit in eight years!

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.