Tag Archives: email

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.

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Inspiration from an author’s real-life fairy tale

My mom introduced me to Jean M. Auel‘s Earth’s Children series of historical fiction. She and I both have enjoyed reading the first five of Auel’s novels. So when I saw a story about Auel in Thurday’s Arizona Republic, and realized the sixth and final novel in the series is out, I couldn’t wait to call my mom.

I had other family news to share (my son David just accepted a new job!), so that of course came first. And she had to get to an appointment, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to talk. But just before we said goodbye, I started jumping up and down, finally remembering that I’d wanted to tell her  The Land of Painted Caves is out.

I love Auel’s stories, which are based in the European continent during the Ice Age. Her heroine, Ayla, is independent, resilient and resourceful. The series begins when she is a young child who is separated from her family, and her tribe, during a terrible earthquake. Her journey to survival and self-discovery is filled with adventure and fascinating, detailed descriptions that illustrate the tasks Earth’s earliest human beings had to perform simply to exist.

Auel did a staggering amount of research to bring a sense of authenticity to her writing. Getting inside the heads of characters from more than 25,000 years ago couldn’t have been easy.

But it’s Auel herself who captivates my imagination. She was 44 when she published the first book in her series. She had never written a book before that. As she promotes her sixth book, traveling around the country to speak and autograph copies, she is 75.

When I read Randy Cordova’s interview, I was enchanted by the audacity of Auel’s creative effort. She writes for herself, doesn’t worry how her books will be received and doesn’t bother with blogging, email, social media or “building a platform” for selling her books, which is what all the industry experts say you need to do. As I struggle in my own writing to bring dimension to characters who are living, breathing and actually telling me their stories, I am awed by the leap of faith and courage her effort required.

Her story is itself a fairy tale — of the very best kind.

Two months down, 10 to go

Usually when I get an email that starts with the word “congratulations,” I quickly hit “delete.” I sure it’s some bogus message designed to make me think I’ve won something I haven’t so someone can try to sell me something I don’t need and never wanted.

But this time the praise came from WordPress. Though it felt like a much-needed pat on the back for me alone, it was actually addressed to “the thousands of you who are still going strong with Post a Day and Post a Week.”

It’s been 59 days since I took the 2011 Post a Day Challenge. Two months down, 10 to go.

Blogging daily isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright excruciating. Often I find myself wondering why I took on this challenge, especially when I spend so many other hours in my day staring at a computer screen. Or when I can’t think of anything to write about. Or when I’d rather be doing anything else — including working on taxes, doing laundry or cleaning the cat litter box — instead of sitting down to that blank screen.

I’ve learned some things along the way, though, that make it a bit easier. I’ve learned that writing a daily blog means thinking about topics 24/7. It means scribbling notes or writing myself emails when a thought surfaces, even if I’m not sure where it might go.

It means finding themes to which you can return. Sometimes I write about what’s going on at work. Sometimes I revisit my  trip to Ethiopia last summer or my father’s unpublished book, or movies I’ve seen, or books on my nightstand.

It means finding a time of day for writing that works for my life. I started out thinking I needed to write in the early morning hours, when I am least fatigued and my thoughts are most clear. I’ve found, instead, that I do better at night when I don’t face the pressure of preparing for the day ahead.

I’ve learned that you have to give up something to honor a daily writing commitment. I used to spend my evenings catching up on the newspaper, working crossword puzzles or watching my favorite TV shows. I don’t spend much time doing any of that these days.

But I’ve learned that you gain something, too, by writing daily. On the days I’m least satisfied with my writing I still feel a sense of accomplishment because I didn’t give up. And on the best days, the days that I sit down with no inspiration at all but end up with words and phrases that help me understand something better, I feel a sense of internal validation that is far more satisfying than a spike in blog stats or a kind comment from a reader.

So this is how it feels about hitting the two-month mark. It feels like I’m running my first marathon and somehow, miraculously, I’m still keeping up with the elite runners at the front of the pack. I’m gasping and stumbling but every once in awhile I get a sense of what it feels like to be “in the zone.” It comes at unexpected moments and is completely beyond my control. But the knowledge that it’s out there waiting — maybe just around the next bend in the road — makes the sweat and toil of the daily workout completely worth it.

Close encounters of the javelina (and hilarious) kind

At about 4:30pm Saturday, my husband and I decided to go for a bike ride. Nearly halfway through a 12-mile loop we like to do, my back tire went flat. So Dan rode on ahead to get the car while I started walking.

As I reached a busy four-way stop near the east end of Camelback Mountain, I looked across the street and saw two javelinas rooting around in a wash. I was so surprised to see them that I almost forgot I had a camera in my phone. And as I was fumbling around with my phone, I definitely forgot there were cars in the street. Before I knew it, two lanes of traffic had come to a complete dead stop, with puzzled drivers watching the crazy bike lady in the middle of the street trying to get a picture of the javelinas.

A mom in an SUV rolled down her window, looking at me quizzically. “They’re javelinas!” I shouted. “It’s a real treat to see them!” Another cyclist rode past me saying, “What the…?” He pulled a quick U-turn and followed along as I carefully tried to get closer for a photo.

An older woman in the passenger seat of one car rolled down her window and glared at me. “You know they’re mean, don’t you? They’re vicious!” she lectured.

“I know. I’ll be careful,” I said obediently.

Heading for the storm drain.

The two javelinas got tired of all the attention and disappeared into a storm drain. I ran across the street, assuming they would emerge at the other end. But they were too smart for me. Once they were sure I was out of the way, they came out from the end they’d entered, scampered off through a hedge of oleander and were soon out of sight. I couldn’t wait to share the good fortune of my sighting, so I quickly emailed a photo to my sons in Washington, D.C., then posted it on my Facebook page.

My husband’s 71-year-old aunt has more Facebook friends than I do but spends most of her time playing Farmville, from what we can tell. So I guess she should be forgiven for not understanding that the comment she posted under my javelina picture really belonged  in my photo album, where I’ve uploaded some family pictures. Here’s what she wrote:

“Love the picture. Connie sure looks good. Oh when I look at Dan’s eyes they sure look like his Dad, but his face looks like his Aunt Marilyn.”

Saving the mail

As I was driving to an appointment in central Phoenix this afternoon, I listened to an NPR interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

Daum’ column yesterday, “In Praise of Snail Mail” was written in response to a recent announcement by the U.S. Post Office that it plans to close or consolidate as many as 2,000 branches. “As the Postal Service continues its slow fade into history, something will be missing,” Daum fervently believes.

In the radio interview, she talks about her love of handwritten notes, paper and stationery stores, wax seals and even traditional holiday letters, saying electronic cards, email and Facebook just can’t compete with the real thing. She describes the delighted sense of anticipation she once felt as she bounded down to the front lobby of her Manhattan apartment building to meet her postal carrier, with whom she was on a first-name basis.

Mail, real mail, and the people who deliver it, are important to the fabric of life and the weaving together of communities, she believes. I agree with her.

One of the people who emailed during the show shared a story about his mother saving every letter he’d ever written to her — for 30 years. He described how meaningful it was to him to be able to reread those letters, which he describes as the “life journal I never kept.”

My mother saved every letter I wrote home too, from the time I first went away to college at the University of Arizona, through four years I lived on Guam and for three years I was a newlywed grad student in Cleveland. Envelopes, too. Rereading them is like stepping back into my young adult head, and a chance to remember the events, angst and boundless optimism of that time. (Misplaced or not, my confidence in the future was evident in the large round letters of my cursive, the many exclamation points and the bright green or purple ink I’d often use.)

Now I’m the mother of two grown sons who occasionally send emails with small details of their lives. I copy and paste them into a Word document, hoping they will someday enjoy reading them. And I wonder if it will be the same experience, minus the faded envelopes and the innocent, hope-filled handwriting.

Time for climbing trees

This morning, after I checked my email, looked at my personal Facebook page, looked at the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Facebook page, perused the latest postings on the RAKmagazine Twitter account and logged some tweets in my personal Twitter account, I sat down on the couch to read the morning papers. My husband and I get both the Arizona Republic and the New York Times. (We used to get the East Valley Tribune before they stopped delivering to our area. Now, sadly, they’re not publishing at all.)

I don’t always make it through both papers but I try to at least scan the headlines. Today I was struck by the irony on the two front pages.

If your kids are awake, they’re probably online, warned a headline in the center of the Times. Thanks to remarkable multitasking abilities, children ages 8 to 18 are packing up to 11 hours a day of media activity into their daily routines, according to the story. “The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

Then I turned to the Republic, where I saw that More K-12 classes [have been] approved for online instruction. So now, in addition to “every waking minute” outside of school, children can spend even more of their day staring at a screen?

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I love the efficiencies of today’s electronic devices. I can get a lot more done in the same eight-hour work day than I used to be able to do. But every time I’ve upgraded my personal technology arsenal — from pager to cell phone, from cell phone to iPhone, from one email account to several, from no social media to Twitter and Facebook — I pay a price. These tools allow me to do more in a day, so I feel compelled to do more. And my internal expectations, instead of shrinking, are growing exponentially.

Online learning serves a great need in today’s society and Arizona has many fine schools that specialize in it. Many of these “virtual” schools (which we list in our 2010 Schools, etc. guide to education) are already free, public charter schools.

Increasing access to online learning within our regular public school districts has me feeling a bit uncomfortable. What is the effect to a child’s imagination and inherent need for contact with the natural world when even school time is spent online?

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a career educator. Piya Jacob is the founder and director of Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley, a small private school my own two sons attended during grades K-3.

Piya described a conversation she’d had with two parents who were debating whether they should enroll their child as a kindergarten or first-grade student. The mom was leaning toward a kindergarten start; the dad insisted the child was academically ready for first grade.

“What is the goal?” Piya gently prodded. “Is the goal to get this child to into the work world that much more quickly? Because we all have plenty of time to work. We have such precious little time to be children.”

In another story, she described a parent a who was watching students during independent reading time. One child (perhaps her own? I don’t remember) finished reading a book, then ran outside to climb a tree. “Why do you allow them to climb trees during reading time?” this parent asked Piya. “Why don’t you make them read more books?”

“Because,” Piya replied. “They need to climb trees.”