Tag Archives: Vicki Louk Balint

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.”


A wonderful civics lesson for all

A huge video monitor was used to share a message of welcome from President Barack Obama.

Twenty people. Nineteen different countries of origin. Anywhere from four to 52 years of time spent living in this country. Working here. Contributing.

The flag of the United States of America. The flag of the Department of Homeland Security. Girl Scouts. Public officials, including former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

The story of a man whose family escaped the wars in Nicaragua when he was just a first grader. A vivid description that captivated each person in the audience, including the very youngest.

The Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem. Trusting, innocent voices singing, “This land is my land, this land is your land….” Knowing it.

Smiles that wouldn’t stop. A baby that wouldn’t stop crying. A videotaped message from the President of the United States.

Hugs. Tears. Handshakes of congratulations. A sunsplashed patio. Fairytale Brownies and lemonade. Goodbyes. Good wishes.

Two of the citizenship candidates who were led to the ceremony by Desert View Learning Center students.

Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley hosted a naturalization ceremony Friday. Because several of our staff members have children who attended the school, its principal, Piya Jacob, invited us to attend. Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, staff photographer Daniel Friedman and I were honored to witness this sacred rite of passage that is something akin to a baptism, a wedding and a graduation all rolled into one.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services typically conducts these ceremonies within the confines of a courtroom. Just recently, the decision was made to offer some of the ceremonies within different venues in the community. Desert View was chosen because one of its parents is an immigration officer.

The students played an active role in the event. Their artwork adorned the programs. They made paper flags of each citizenship candidate’s country of origin. The candidates proudly carried their flags as they were escorted by the third grade class into the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix. (The school rents space from the church.) A Girl Scout troop presented the colors.

The entire student body was seated on the floor at the front of the sanctuary so that each student had a clear view of the ceremony. Many wore red, white and blue. The group sat quietly, respectfully, jumping up only when it was time to sing one of several songs they performed.

Piya, herself a native of India who became a naturalized citizen a number of years ago, was expecting “a wonderful civics lesson for all, and a most heartwarming ceremony.” The actual event surpassed all expectations.

Candidates take the oath of citizenship.

A movie about Mama Rose

It’s a safe bet that a few of the people in the audience at this weekend’s Community Cinema event will be from the staff of Raising Arizona Kids.

The free movie screening — presented by Civic Space Park Collaboration, New Global Citizens & KAET — features the film “Pushing the Elephant,” by Beth Davenport and Elizabeth Mandel.

The film tells the story of a woman who emerged from the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a committed advocate for the rights of women and for forgiveness and reconciliation. It is the story of Rose Mapendo. It is a story we know very well.

Our staff multimedia journalist, Vicki Louk Balint, interviewed “Mama Rose” for our July 2007 magazine and a podcast of their conversation is available on our website.

Mapendo will be attending the screening, which will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at Civic Space Park, 424 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix.

Rose Mapendo and Vicki Balint on the day of the interview.

I heard about the event from our Art Director, Michelle-Renee Adams. She says seating is first come, first served. She plans to arrive early because she doesn’t want to miss it.

Learn more about the film.

View the trailer for the film.

Being prepared for anything

Vicki shoots video of Laurie and Sam in their kitchen.

Laurie Ackerman of Gilbert says she’d “do anything” for Cardon Children’s Medical Center. I’m not sure this was what she had in mind.

Laurie agreed to open her home to us Monday for a RAK Video shoot, part of  our ongoing family health series with Cardon Children’s.  The topic? Being prepared for home emergencies. Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, editorial intern Veronica Jones and I showed up with Cardon Children’s Public Relations Specialist Lindsay Butler Carrillo at about 10. Emergency room physician Joseph Winchell, M.D. (who’d been up all night on a shift!) arrived a bit later. And for the next two hours, we pretty much took over the place.

Sam I am!

Vicki shot some video of Laurie and her 15-month-old son Sam, who then went outside to play in the backyard while Vicki interviewed Winchell. (I can’t even put a complete sentence together when I’ve been up all night but this guy was so articulate you’d think he did video appearances for a living.)

I’ll let you watch the video, scheduled to post Feb. 23, to learn what Winchell told us. What I will share is the reason Laurie Ackerman was so willing to make her home the venue for our shoot.

Sam was born in 2009, just before Thanksgiving. Laurie, who’d suffered from preeclampsia, took her healthy baby home, but by Thanksgiving Day she grew concerned that something was seriously wrong. Her son’s stools were bloody. In fact, he was bleeding. Her doctor told her to watch it for awhile. If it didn’t get better, she was told, take Sam to the emergency room.

Playing with Mom.

That’s how she and Sam ended up at Cardon Children’s, where newborn Sam was admitted for two weeks while he battled a life-threatening blood infection.

Ackerman says the medical staff at Cardon Children’s saved her son’s life. That may be all in a day’s work to a doctor like Winchell, but to Laurie, it was nothing short of miraculous.

Photos (except the one below) by Veronica Jones.

Veronica Jones and Vicki Balint take pictures of a first aid kit at Laurie Ackerman's Gilbert home. Laurie is in the background; Sam was taking a well-deserved nap.

Finding the way to a good night’s sleep

He says it like it’s a joke but it’s not. “We’re really in the hospitality business,” says Michael Eichenberg, RPSGT, manager at Banner Sleep Center on the northwest corner of the Banner Desert/Cardon Children’s Medical Center campus in Mesa, where technicians seek reasons for interrupted sleep.

Eichenberg and others on the Sleep Center team take very seriously their responsibility to help children (and adults) who come through the center feel comfortable about spending a night away from home.

The cozy bedroom in which patients dream the night away while technicians monitor their sleep.

The room in which they sleep is comfortably appointed and decorated in soothing earth tones. The temperature can be controlled to suit each guest’s needs. Children’s books are available for younger visitors; a flat-screen TV offers pre-bedtime entertainment. The room has its own restroom with a shower. In the morning, when the study ends, participants are offered juice and snacks before the drive home.

Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint and I spent some time in this room where visitors sleep the night away, dreaming about answers to chronic sleep deprivation while technicians in a room down the hall watch video feed and squiggly lines on a computer screen, seeking clues to the underlying problem.

It’s called polysomnography–the study of sleep. And the data-rich reports it generates help doctors diagnose conditions that, left untreated, can literally shave years off of a life.

Vicki sets up for the shoot at Banner Sleep Center.

Patients typically are referred to the Sleep Center by their primary care physician. Something comes up during a routine visit–“My child is snoring a lot” or “My child is sleepy and lethargic throughout the day” or even “I don’t understand why my child’s grades are dropping.” If the doctor suspects a relationship to poor sleep, a referral to the Sleep Center is made to determine the cause.

I’m someone who takes my sleep seriously. I get very cranky and unfocused when I suffer periodic bouts of insomnia. (Ask my family or co-workers.) So imagine facing every day with that kind of handicap. You’d never feel like yourself. You’d struggle to do routine tasks–let alone learn new ones. A persistent state of irritability might even make you misbehave. What Michael told me is that people who chronically miss out on the benefits of a full night’s sleep are setting themselves up for stress-related health conditions that can seriously impair their quality of life–and even shorten it.

Michele Dickinson of Maricopa suffers from mild, chronic sleep apnea, so she gets it. Three of her five children, for three different reasons, have been evaluated at Banner’s Sleep Center.

Nathan (7) was a preemie, so he’s had a number of medical issues, some of which affected his sleep. Megan (9) had some issues with her soft palette. Both children’s issues have since resolved; Nathan’s chronic snoring required removal of his adenoids and tonsils.

Lauren shows us how the CPAP headgear is worn.

Lauren (11), has obstructive sleep apnea for which there is not a surgical cure. She was struggling with excessive daytime sleepiness, falling asleep during lessons and had no energy to go outside and play.

Lauren is now sleeping soundly, with the help of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.  The equipment forces air down her throat throughout the night so it can’t constrict and impair her breathing.

She says she doesn’t even notice it. And  ever since she started CPAP therapy, her mom says, she’s a completely different child.

Watch RAK Video to learn more about the Sleep Center and diagnosing sleep disorders. Watch Michael Eichenberg demonstrate how the monitoring equipment is set up and learn more  about how CPAP therapy works.

And watch for Vicki’s related “Health Matters” article in the December print edition of Raising Arizona Kids, which will be out next week. It offers tips to help all families ensure better quality of sleep.

CPAP therapy has given Lauren what many of us take for granted: a good night's sleep.

Many thanks to Dickinson family for driving up from Maricopa to help with our video shoot! Clockwise from top left: mom Michele, Lauren (11), Nathan (7) and Megan (9). Michele homeschools her children, in part because the family's multiple medical issues (which include asthma) require frequent trips to the doctor.

“My Three Sons”…and two surrogate aunts

Max (5) enjoys playing with a helicopter in at "Aunt Vicki's" house.

We’ve been publishing Raising Arizona Kids magazine for 21 years. Since my sons were 2 and 4. Since staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint’s children were 7, 2 and two who were yet to be born.

As one empty nester (me) and one who is a soon-to-be (Vicki’s youngest, Annie, is now a senior at Xavier College Preparatory), we don’t spend much time in the company of preschoolers.  So when we were chatting with colleague Rob Turchick at a social event in late September, we urged him to remember that we’d make good babysitters if he and his wife, Krista, ever needed a break.

Sam (3) plays with a Duplo airplane.

As if the parents of three sons age 5 and younger — plus a newborn daughter! — ever needed a break.

I was on the phone with Rob on Thursday, talking about the possibility of building a podcast studio somewhere in our office. We chatted for a bit and then he paused. “Uh, remember when you said something about watching the boys?” he said. “Well, I’m wondering if I can take you up on it.” Turns out Rob, a audio-video production specialist who runs Mesa-based yipDog Studios, had a video shoot scheduled Friday afternoon. Krista had to be with baby Katy, who was scheduled to undergo a medical procedure.

Rob had already talked to Vicki, who jumped at the chance to take the first shift of what he expected would be a six-hour block of time. I quickly agreed to take second. Then I called Vicki and we decided that we’d do the second shift together, so we could keep the boys at one house (hers) and didn’t have to introduce too many new people or places.

Sam, Max and Vicki on the Balints' backyard patio.

We were both a little nervous, I think, about whether we could handle three active, curious little boys on our own. So Vicki is the real hero in this story because she did that by herself (just fine!) from 1 to 3:30pm. When I finished my last appointment for the day, I sent Vicki a text: “Fresh troops on the way,” I wrote. “I’m headed there now.” She responded: “Ha — they are a blast!”

When I arrived, the boys — Max (5), Sam (3) and Tyler (2) — were engrossed in play. Vicki had Duplo blocks, toy cars and all sorts of other early-Balint-parenting-era toys set up around the room. Tyler was carrying around a measuring tape and a flashlight. The older boys had moved on to something they found infinitely more intriguing: a stash of old CD cases, which they were counting, stacking and dusting.

Yes, dusting. Rob and Krista, you’re definitely doing something right. Max was adamant about wiping dust from the narrow tops of some CD cases that hadn’t been touched in years. Later, Max realized the Balints’ three dogs were shedding (a bit stressed, perhaps?), so he followed them around with a lint roller. When I took Max and Tyler outside, they fought over who got to use a small broom they found on the patio to sweep away pine needles from the trees towering above the house.

Wow. My sons are 23 and 25 and I’ve never heard them fight over sweeping the patio.

When Vicki got a call from her 28-year-old daughter Cory, who is in medical school in the midwest, she popped in her ear buds and carried her iPhone around the backyard, chatting with her daughter as she helped me keep an eye on the boys and used a lopper to clear away some overgrown vegetation at the base of a swing set that hadn’t seen much action in recent years. Talk about multi-tasking!

When we sat on the edge of the pool and kicked our feet in the water for a few minutes, Tyler and I managed to get ourselves so wet that he needed a change of shorts. (Unfortunately, Rob hadn’t packed an extra pair of jeans for me, so I spent the next few hours walking around looking liked I’d wet my pants.)

As we sat on patio chairs enjoying a snack of apple wedges and rainbow-colored goldfish crackers, Max made a solemn pronouncement. “I am being really good today,” he said. “Because I want you to be happy that you stayed with me.”

Getting into carseats for the field trip to Culver's.

Tyler (looking at the prize gallery), Max and Vicki at Culver's in Phoenix.

Awaiting our meals at Culver's.

With two hours left to go, Vicki decided we needed a change of venue. So we piled the boys into car seats in her car and drove them to Culver’s at Camelback Road and Eighth Street. Our first inclination was to go for ice cream. Then we thought it might be more appropriate (and kinder to Rob) to feed them real food first. So we loaded up on the requisite hot dog, chicken strips and grilled cheese sandwich, throwing in some sides of green beans and applesauce to prove we had their nutritional interests at heart.

Tyler took right to the applesauce and wasn’t interested in his grilled cheese. Sam didn’t want the chicken strips so we exhanged his meal with Tyler’s. Max decided he needed half of Sam’s grilled cheese along with his hot dog.

Max tries the green beans at Culver's. He wasn't very enthusiastic about it, but he did make a polite effort.

Max was the only one brave enough to try to the green beans. Sam ate some of his applesauce and then decided it needed some pepper. I was texting my husband to let him know where we were when Vicki started laughing. Sam, who was sitting beside me, was licking the top of the pepper shaker. (Vicki took it up the counter, explaining apologetically that they might want to wash it thoroughly.)

A Culver’s employee came around with ice cream samples and we doled them out to everyone…unintentionally leaving out Tyler. “Hey, did Mom forget you?” the employee said. Vicki beamed (“He thinks Tyler is my son!”) — and promptly told the story to her daughter Annie, who checked in by phone.

As my texting conversation continued, melted ice cream from Sam’s cone dripped down his shirt, onto his shorts and all over the side of the table. Vicki and I decided one thing for sure. We’re grateful that our stints parenting this age group came before the days of cell phones, texting and and social media. Parenting is enough of a blur without all that.

Small world stories – hoops, timing and URLs

Thanks to the office flood, it’s been awhile since we’ve had regular editorial meetings. But my team is tightly knit and, not surprisingly, pretty adept at communication.

So while we haven’t had storytime at RAK in weeks, I am still the delighted recipient of “small world” stories I love to share.

Ann Meyers Drysdale with her son D.J. and daughter Drew.

Hoops connection

Our production manager, Tina Gerami, is married to Essex Bennett, a Valley educator who is working with the Phoenix Suns basketball camps at Thunderbird High School this week. Yesterday, he got to hear a presentation from guest speaker Ann Meyers Drysdale, who is featured on our July cover and profiled in “A Conversation with…” multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.

After her speech, Essex approached her to say his wife works at RAK and that he really enjoyed reading the article about her. “She said she was really pleased with the article,” Essex reported. He then made another connection: Ann’s son D.J. is working at the camp with him!

Timing is everything

I heard from Calendar & Directory Editor Mala Blomquist last Friday, after her appearance on Arizona Midday on 12 News.

“So I am in the green room talking to this really nice lady named Karen when she asks me what I do,” Mala said. “When I tell her, she says, ‘Wait a minute — two people from your magazine were at my house this week!’ Turns out she is the next RAK Mompreneur! Karen said that staff photographer Dan Friedman was a hoot and that editorial intern Brooke Mortensen [who wrote the story], could not have been more lovely!”

A URL by any other name…

Our July magazine has a story about a precautionary step prospective parents in the digital age may want to take before naming their baby. Some experts at a social media conference recommended that you Google the first and last name before wrapping your heart around it.

“Ha!” wrote staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint when she saw it. “I had to laugh at that story. Robert [her 19-year-old son] Googled his name before he wrote his first story for Raising Arizona Kids, when he was deciding whether to be Robert Balint or Robert T. Balint. Turns out there is a hungarian PORN STAR named Robert Balint!”

Obviously, Robert put in the T.