Category Archives: Camp Fair

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.


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.

The best kind of tribute to the best kind of mom

I wasn’t expecting to hear from my sister-in-law until some time next week. So I was surprised to learn that she was waiting for me to pick up one of our office lines.

Judy is in Wisconsin. She flew there on Wednesday, on the most difficult of journeys, after learning that her beloved mother, Evelyn (Lynn) Milas, had died last Saturday at the age of 85. Her husband (my brother Bob) and their children, 14-year-old Ben and 11-year-old Mandy, followed a day later.

When I picked up the phone, I was trying to anticipate the reason for Judy’s call. “Are you okay?” I blurted. She must have heard the concern in my voice, because she immediately laughed.

“We’re fine,” she said. And then she explained her dilemma.

Former Maggie's Place staff member Dayna Pizzigoni laughs with baby MacKenzie. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One of the charities that Judy, her sister and two brothers have designated on their mother’s behalf is Phoenix-based Maggie’s Place, a nonprofit organization that creates homelike communities for young women who are pregnant, alone or homeless and in need of support. Following Catholic social teaching, the organization welcomes women who intend to keep and parent their children as well as those who decide to place their babies with adoptive families. Judy wrote a story about Maggie’s Place for our November 2009 magazine.

“Maggie’s Place: Building Communities of Hope,” became much more than a writing assignment to Judy. She was profoundly moved by the time she spent in the Maggie’s Place communities, listening to the women’s stories, absorbing the atmosphere of love and caring, seeing for herself the deep commitment and spiritual strength of the staff.

Judy was calling from an Office Max in Grafton, Wis. She was picking up the programs for her mother’s Memorial Mass on Saturday and decided to make some copies of her article so that friends and relatives of her mother who were unfamiliar with Maggie’s Place would know more about it.

But the staff at Office Max wouldn’t make copies of copyrighted material (as they certainly shouldn’t) without the written permission of the publisher. That would be me.

“I told them it’s a good thing my sister-in-law is the publisher!” Judy said jokingly, her voice sounding cheerful and strong. I could tell she was okay.

I quickly scribbled a note to Carrie Chronis at the Office Max, attached my business card (a requirement for authenticity) and faxed it off with a hand-drawn heart and smiley face for Judy.

When Judy first told me that she and her siblings had designated Maggie’s Place for donations on their mother’s behalf, it felt like exactly the right thing to do. Judy’s mother was loving, compassionate and devoutly Catholic. It seems only fitting that the grief of  losing the best kind of mom should be channeled toward a positive new start for one who’s just getting started.

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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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.

Monkey business and many caps

When my sons were small I loved reading the book Caps for Sale with them. The story, about a peddlar whose inventory of caps is stolen by some mischievous monkeys while he naps under a tree,  is a wonderful bit of silliness that’s fun to read out loud.

But it also has a great message about the futility of “best laid plans” and trying to “get all your ducks in a row.” It’s a message that bears repeating for people like me, who torture themselves with unrealistic expectations and the resulting frustration of realizing you can’t control as much as you’d like.

The weary peddlar wasn’t having a great day. No one wanted to buy his caps. He was hungry but he didn’t have any money to buy food. So he walked into the countryside, found a big, shady tree and decided to rest for a bit.

First, he checked the caps that were stacked high on top of his head: “…his own checked cap, then the gray caps, then the brown caps, then the blue caps, then the red caps on the very top.” (My fellow control freaks will note the color-coordinated inventory system, the systematic procedures and the fulfillment of duty before giving oneself a break.)

But he did eventually fall asleep. And as he slept, all of his caps (except his own checked cap) were stolen by a band of monkeys. When he woke up and saw them in the branches above him, each monkey wearing one of his caps, he asked to get them back. When nothing happened, he demanded, shook his hands and stamped his feet. The monkeys didn’t relinquish the caps.

Finally, in sheer exasperation, he threw his own cap to the ground, begrudgingly accepting the fact that he couldn’t control the outcome. And guess what? The monkeys mimicked his action. All the caps rained down at the peddlar’s feet.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to be organized, on top of things, prepared and prescient, you have to give in to forces you can’t control.

We had a crazy day at work today. With April issue deadlines looming and Camp Fair happening this Saturday, we were all wearing too many caps. We were rushing and distracted. Some of us were tired; some were battling colds and flu.

That’s always when things don’t go right. Our Internet connection was exasperatingly sluggish. A backup toner cartridge for the color printer exploded, spreading yellow fairy dust everywhere and blocking our efforts to print materials we need to have on Saturday. While I was juggling payroll and HTML code I managed to send out an eLetter with an incorrect link to our Mother’s Day Cover Mom contest. (Here’s the correct link.)

Operations Director Debbie Davis, who’s wearing more caps than anyone these days as she also coordinates Camp Fair, finally came to me at 7:30pm and said, “I think it’s time to call it a day.”

So we threw our many caps on the ground, laughed about our frustrating day and headed home.