Keri, and the next great adventure – #4

I stumbled into the first great adventure of my life and it looks like I’ve stumbled into the next one.

About a year ago, we ran a contest to choose a cover mom for the May edition of Raising Arizona Kids magazine. More than 130 moms submitted photos and essays about motherhood. We read many heartfelt stories; choosing just one mom for the cover was tough. But once we’d narrowed the field to 20, I sent around a memo asking everyone on my team and everyone at Vestar (which provided prizes for the contest through Desert Ridge Marketplace and Tempe Marketplace) to pick their favorite. By then, the winner was obvious.

Keri deGuzman waited a long time to be a mom. So long, she wrote, that whenever she heard the word “mamma” from her 14-month-old son or “I love you mommy” from her 26-month-old daughter, it brought a profound sense of joy.

Both of Keri’s children were adopted from Ethiopia. She and her husband, Brian, a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center, traveled 8,935 miles to become parents — not once, but twice.

The deGuzman family one year ago: Musse, Brian, Jesmina and Keri. Photo courtesy of the deGuzmans.

Jesmina was born on Nov. 22, 2006 and placed in their arms on July 2, 2007. Musse was born on Nov. 22, 2007 and placed in their arms on April 26, 2008. “Yes, you read it correctly,” she wrote. “Both were born on the same day, one year apart to the day. Truly a miracle and what a blessing!”

I rarely accompany my creative team when they are out on a photo shoot. I trust them implicitly and figure they don’t need the boss lurking about while they do their work. But this time I asked to go along. I justified it by saying I could pick up some “color” — the word we in the print media use to describe interesting details for a story. Honestly, I was just curious.

What compels a couple to make that kind of journey to build a family? What kinds of challenges did they face along the way? What is involved — legally, logistically, emotionally and spiritually — in the process of international adoption?

Jesmina, Brian, Musse and Keri deGuzman the day of our photo shoot at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

When we first arrived at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park for an early morning photo shoot, photographer Daniel Friedman and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams were busy setting up the shot, so I took advantage of the moment to strike up a conversation with Keri and ask some of my questions. I found her captivating — spilling over with happiness, boundlessly enthusiastic about being a mom, completely open about her experience and passionately articulate about the plight of orphaned children in Ethiopia.

After the photos were taken, Jesmina and Musse needed to burn off some energy on the play equipment so Brian supervised the kids while I resumed my conversation with Keri. I learned that she and Brian had become involved in raising money to build Acacia Village, an ambitious project situated on 10,000 square meters of land west of Addis Ababa. The biggest undertaking yet by Christian World Foundation (a non-profit organization established to support humanitarian projects around the world and, in part, Christian World Adoption, through which the deGuzmans adopted their children) Acacia Village will encompass a variety of buildings, including housing for orphans, classrooms and a healthcare clinic for women and children.

Keri, Jesmina and Musse in a photo taken (on a different day, in studio) for our May 2009 cover. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

When they adopted Jesmina, “we truly thought we would go get our baby, make a donation [to the foundation] and walk away,” Keri confided. But witnessing the hardships faced by children in this desperately poor and underdeveloped nation rocked their world. So much so that Keri now spends nearly every spare moment volunteering her time, her energy and her family’s resources to make sure Acacia Village becomes a reality.

Before we left the park, Keri told me that she and Brian had decided to adopt two more children from Ethiopia. My recollection of what followed is murky. I must have said something about wishing I could visit Africa some day or what an amazing experience it would be to see them welcome these two new children into their family.

“Why don’t you come with us?” Keri said. I could tell she really meant it.

And I really meant it when I said I would. So now I wait, as they are waiting, for word that it is time to travel to Ethiopia. — Karen

On Jan. 2 of this new decade, I launched a project called “1,000 People to Thank Before I Die.” It is my version of a “bucket list” — an attempt to acknowledge the people who have guided and influenced my life before I lose the opportunity to do so — and was inspired by the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die.

Marilee, the reason I went to Guam – #3

We were roommates during junior year at the University of Arizona — two young women from very different backgrounds thrust together by the whims of a college admissions office. For at least one of us, that random assignment set the course for everything that would follow.

Marilee was pretty, petite and seemed very sophisticated to me. Her long, blonde hair hung straight and shiny to the middle of her back. She had wide blue eyes and thick lashes that curled up toward her brow. Her skin was flawless.

The daughter of a successful car dealer, she’d grown up in a large house in the town of Brighton, Mich., west of Detroit. Her childhood experiences included travel, expensive dinners at the country club and a motor home her family drove to the lakeside cottage where they spent much of the summer. As soon as she could drive, she had her own car (a new one, of course). Her parents were paying her tuition and living expenses. Her life seemed easy, stable and enviably secure.

Next to her, I felt like the gawky, unattractive poor relative. I was a head taller, heavier and uncomfortable in my own (often blemished) skin. I was on scholarship, work/study and student loans. My only mode of transportation was a bicycle. I didn’t take my first plane trip until the age of 19. My childhood was spent in six different cities in four different states. My family had recently moved to Phoenix, which meant I’d lost the security of a comfortable community to which I could someday return.

Even temperamentally, Marilee and I were very different. I was serious, studious, prone to keeping to myself. She was restless, social, someone who enjoyed parties and going out. I’m not sure why we became good friends, but we did. Maybe because I wanted to be more like her; I saw her as brave and daring in ways I was not. (Now that I am older I recognize that some of her ways — smoking, for example, and eating habits that veered perilously close to an eating disorder — were not examples to admire.)

Perhaps most exotic about Marilee was the fact that she had a boyfriend who was traveling somewhere in South America. Though I don’t remember how she met him (I think he may have been a friend from home), the fact that she had this long-distance romance in her life — with a guy who seemed to be quite an adventurer — intrigued me.

One day, Marilee told me that her boyfriend was moving to Guam, and that he wanted her to go with him.

She thought he was crazy. I thought it sounded wonderful. I offered to help her do some research so that she had some information to shore up her pitch to her family. I went to the university library and pulled everything I could find about Guam.

There wasn’t much, which worried her — and enthralled me.

I was a journalism major and someone who wanted to spend her life telling stories. A place about which little was documented seemed rich with opportunity for someone like me. So I did what I could to shore up Marilee’s confidence.

Then she asked me to go with her. When she pitched the concept to her parents, she used the fact that I would be with her to win them over.

To be an entrepreneur, I’ve often heard, is to be an inherent risk-taker. I think of myself an inherent risk-follower. Marilee and I did move to Guam, and so did her boyfriend. They didn’t like it as much as they’d expected and they quickly transferred to the University of Hawaii. I had spent every bit of my savings to get out there and had no financial safety net to give me options.

When Marilee and her boyfriend left the island, I was stuck. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thanks to Marilee, I took the biggest risk of my life. When it didn’t work out the way I’d expected, I had to make it work. Which I did. And that ended up being the greatest gift of my lifetime: the certainty that, no matter what happens, I can get through it. — Karen

On Jan. 2 of this new decade, I launched a project called “1,000 People to Thank Before I Die.” It is my version of a “bucket list” — an attempt to acknowledge the people who have guided and influenced my life before I lose the opportunity to do so — and was inspired by the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die.

Debbie, the reason I can now focus on what I love – #2

It was the culmination of two years of tiny, incremental steps — of conflicting emotions, of learning to let go, of recognizing my own limitations and finding ways to compensate for them, of doing what I knew in my heart was best for my “baby.”

Isn’t that what mothers do? We spend a couple of decades nurturing, feeding, supporting, losing sleep in worry, loving with an ache that is both exquisite and unbearable. And then, because it’s what is right, we step away.

I took one of those steps yesterday, the first business day of this new decade. And my “baby,” the magazine that grew up with me and my now-adult sons, is taking its first bold steps away from me.

At our staff meeting yesterday, I made an announcement. It wasn’t a great surprise to anyone who has seen me laying the groundwork. But I felt it was time for the demarcation — a formal declaration that we have crossed a line and won’t be going back.

“As of today,” I told my staff, “I am no longer the person running the business side of Raising Arizona Kids.”

My voice was shaking. Though I am confident about this new direction, it’s hard to admit you can’t do it all. Wearing the many hats required of a full-time editor and publisher is exhausting. For 20 years I have been in triage — always making tough decisions about which aspects of my job would get my full attention.

I have loved running my business. For someone who played “office” as a little girl instead of “house,” it has been the culmination of a dream. But I had other dreams when I first got into this — dreams that have gone unfulfilled as I’ve done what mothers do when raising their children: make time for everyone but themselves and their own creative fulfillment.

So I have turned over the business operations to longtime staffer Debbie Davis. And Debbie, who has run our circulation department since the fall of 2000, is turning over her duties to Community Relations Manager Katie Charland. The shift will create more time for me to focus on what I love best: content development for the magazine and

It’s been two years since I first brought Debbie into the process of business and financial operations for Raising Arizona Kids. We started out gradually, working together on budgets and tracking. Debbie has a long career history in publishing, a good head for business and better business instincts than mine. I am not sure we would have survived the difficult economic downturn in 2009 were it not for her perspective and foresight.

Bit by bit, I taught Debbie what I’d learned in 20 years of making decisions, making discoveries and making plenty of downright disastrous mistakes. Sometimes it was really painful for me; it is easy to feel vulnerable and defensive about something as laden with emotion as money (or lack thereof). Sometimes I’d find myself feeling territorial as she gently probed for explanations or reasons. When she sensed my back was up, she backed off. We waited for another day.

Ultimately, I had to accept two things in order to make this work: (1) that Debbie was not judging anything I’d done and in fact was full of admiration for self-taught systems I’d created from years of trial-and-error and (2) that you must embrace the fear of letting someone in if you want the relief of letting go.

A few days ago I stared a list of “1,000 people to thank before I die.” Today, I’m adding Debbie to that list. Thanks to her patience, her perseverance and her sincere desire to improve the quality and stability of both my life and my business, I am looking forward to new adventures. — Karen

Pat, whose gift made me look at my true motives – #1

On my birthday several years ago, I received a tiny paperback book from my friend Pat. On the first day of this new year, I picked it up, as I have done the first day of every new year since she gave it to me, and turned its pages back to the beginning.

The book is Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much by Anne Wilson Schaef. I have read it almost every day for so long that its pages are crackling and falling out. Some of the entries are highlighted and flagged with sticky notes. Some of the passages I’ve read hundreds of times. But I will keep reading it until I get it right.

It’s a book for workaholic women and its messages often parallel the mantras of a 12-step program for alcoholics. Though I find the comparison unsettling (both my father and grandfather struggled with alcoholism and the scars on each subsequent generation were painfully apparent) I recognize its inherent truthfulness in my life.

I am chronically overwhelmed — a situation that I realize, as I get older, is largely of my own making. I must keep busy. I can’t sit still. From the earliest days of our marriage, my husband has teased me about being “super KB.” My sons and I joke about the epitaph I insist will someday adorn my tombstone: “She got a lot done.”

I am also a self-flagellating perfectionist. No matter how hard I try, I’m never happy with the results of my own efforts. I’m always focused on what I could and should be doing instead of what I’ve done. I often see the glass half empty and blame myself for the void. If only I were more organized, more efficient, smarter, more perceptive, more articulate. If only I had tried harder. If only I had more hours in the day.

Which is why I appreciate this tiny book. Sometimes its inspirational quotes and meditations feel like they were written just for me. Here are some I’ve highlighted:

January 7: Part of the crazy thinking of addictions is that we will be safe if we can just get everything in order, everything in place, and keep it that way.

April 30: We may be surrounded by people all day long but our single-minded dedication to our work isolates us.

May 2: …women who do too much seem to vacillate between exaggerating our competence and feeling that we are worthless and totally incompetent.

May 16: Most women who do too much have great difficulty asking for help.

June 10: Sometimes, when I take stock, I only look at what isn’t done. I also need to look at what I have, what’s been done, and what’s being done.

When I’m really being honest with myself, I recognize that I use my “busy-ness” to justify many undesirable and unhealthy habits. I find myself avoiding free time, friend time, follow-your-dreams time. The perfectionist in me worries that I won’t get those right, either.

So today, on this second day of the year 2010, I am making a very public commitment to myself. I am taking on a “follow-your-dreams time” project that has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time.

When my husband and I first received the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die as a Christmas gift several years ago, it got me thinking about all the things I want to do before I die — and all the people I want to thank for the profound ways they have influenced my life.

So this, my first “thank you,” is to my friend Pat, who knew me well enough to present a tiny book of meditations to me with her love, her empathy and her forgiveness.

My own scorpion tale

A scorpion I found in my home.

A scorpion I found in my home.

Today we’re trying something brand new. From 2 to 3pm, Raising Arizona Kids is hosting its first-ever live chat on Twitter. To ask questions or follow the discussion, which includes expert feedback from Michelle Ruha, M.D., Banner Good Samaritan’s resident scorpion and rattlesnake specialist, follow @RAKMagazine and @BannerGoodSam, or type #newtoAZ into Twitter search.

Be sure to check out Vicki Balint’s blog, Small Change Mom, for important facts you need to know about life with scorpions and links to related videos, local resources and more.

I had my own scary experience with a scorpion sting about a year ago. And it happened at work, not home.

It was 4pm and I had just wrapped up a phone interview for a story. Needing to stretch my legs, I stood up and started down the hall to check in with my editorial team.I was vaguely aware of some minor pain in right arch of my foot. I chalked it up to a muscle cramp and didn’t give it another thought.

For the next hour, I sat at my desk going over budgets and logging bills. The cramp in my foot seemed a bit worse. I started wondering what I’d done to injure my foot. When my brother was in town from Seattle a week earlier, we did several hikes up Piestewa Peak. During one hike, I’d badly rolled my right ankle. Was it possible that I was just now experiencing the symptoms of a sprain? Maybe I’d misstepped in my flip-flops and re-injured it without realizing.

By 5:15, the cramp was getting worse and, even more weird, it seemed to be spreading. Now I really felt like I’d badly sprained my ankle. My whole foot was hurting and felt swollen, even though I could see that it was not. I needed to get home. When I stood up, I gasped. I couldn’t put any weight on my foot without experiencing tremendous pain. I hopped around the office on my left leg, turning off lights and setting the alarm.

Driving home, I almost had to pull of the road. Every time I put my foot on the gas pedal I felt like screaming. What was going on? Finally I turned onto the quiet street that leads to my neighborhood. I pulled my right leg up onto the seat, hoping that changing positions would offer some relief. Somehow I managed to finish the drive home using my left foot to control both pedals.

I hopped into my house and went straight to the freezer. Wrapping ice around my foot didn’t help. I tried a heating pad. That didn’t help. I sat on the edge of the sink in the bathroom and soaked my foot. No better. I dried it off and tried massaging my arch, thinking I could stop the spasm. By now, I was writhing in pain. No position I put myself in seemed to help. I was shaky and nauseous.

I called my husband, who was at a client’s. For the first time in our marriage, I said, “I need you to come home. NOW!” I started thinking about the emergency room. This was stupid! I sure didn’t want to spend Friday night in the emergency room for what had to be a weird delayed reaction to a simple sprain.

By the time Dan got home, I was sobbing and scared. The pain had spread to my calf and my mind was racing with all sorts of possibilities. Could I have a renegade blood clot that was heading for my heart or lungs?

As Dan drove me to the hospital, I did some yoga breathing, trying to calm my shaky, twitching body. I must be in some serious state of panic, I told myself. This is not like me! What is going on? We got to the hospital and took the clipboard from the sign-in desk. I started to fill in my information but my hands were shaky and my body was twitching uncontrollably. Dan had to finish the paperwork for me. Silently, I chastised myself for being such a weenie. Get ahold of yourself! I thought.

I apologized to the nurse who took me back to a bed. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said. “I feel stupid for even being here!” She was amazing. “You are in pain,” she said calmly. “That’s why we’re here. Don’t waste any energy worrying about it. If it’s nothing, that’s a good thing.”

When I explained my situation to the ER nurse who examined me, he said he’d talk to the doctor and schedule an x-ray. Little did I know (until he told me later), but he went straight to the doctor and said something was up–“she looks like she’s completely hyped up on too much caffeine.” The doctor quickly arrived, asked me some questions and looked at my foot. She shined a light in my eyes. She shined a light in my mouth, then beckoned my husband to take a look. “See her tongue?” she said. He nodded. I looked at him, puzzled. “It’s jumping around,” he said. I couldn’t feel it.

“I’m 99 percent sure you’ve been stung by a scorpion,” the doctor said. WHAT?? My husband has been stung by a scorpion. There was no mistaking that experience. I think the whole neighborhood heard him shout. He described it as feeling like “someone had driven a nail through my heel.” How could I be stung by a scorpion and have no recollection of a sting? No sign of it on my foot? The doctor told me that everyone reacts differently to scorpion stings. Most adults experience intense pain at the site of the sting, some swelling, some numbness. I was clearly having a “neurological reaction,” something she sees more often in children than adults, she said. “It may last as long as six hours or more. We want to watch you.”

By then I was ready to believe her. The whole right side of my body was heaving and jumping uncontrollably. My jaw was chattering. Even the left side of my body was starting to react. I suddenly had tremendous empathy for people like Michael J. Fox, who suffer from uncontrollable spasms generated by Parkinson’s disease. It’s awful to watch your body doing things you don’t want it to do and can’t do anything to stop.

They put me on an IV drip with morphine and Benadryl. Within half an hour, I was much calmer. By the time they released me, at about 9:30pm, I could move my toes and foot without pain. I managed to walk out of the hospital on my own. “Do I get some sort of badge?” I asked the nurse who’d first assessed me. “You know, ‘scorpion sting survivor’ or something like that?” He smiled. They see people like me all the time. To them, my experience was very routine.

To me, though, it was a complete eye-opener. I’m always careful about watching for scorpions. We often see them in our home. But I never thought about encountering one at work. And I certainly never run around the office bare-footed! Just goes to show, you can’t fool Mother Nature. Somehow, this tiny creature managed to crawl onto my foot while I was deep in thought. I didn’t notice when it stung me. The aftermath, however, made me appreciate, once again, how little control we really have over the events of our lives. Things can changed in a heartbeat. And the next, despite a splitting headache and a morphine/Benadryl hangover, I was feeling awfully lucky.

The true meaning of social media

book3d-150x150Though we visited many beautiful beaches on our recent family vacation, I didn’t take any mind-candy beach books with me. I was on a mission to finish The Social Media Bible, an 819-page (including indexes) how-to book that came highly recommended by a consultant I’ve hired to help me wrap my head around the new realm of social media.

I am fasicinated by all the new high-tech tools that have become available in the last year. I see tremendous potential in harnessing them to enhance our efforts to build a community of thoughtful parents who appreciate and contribute to the content we’ve always provided through Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

But it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed by it all. Which tools are right for my business (and my own personal boundaries?) How do I participate in this next level of collaboration and information-sharing and still get my day-to-day work done? One webinar I listened to recommended that businesses owners spend six hours a day nurturing social media efforts. Are they kidding?

So I opened The Social Media Bible hoping for clarity. I got that–and more. I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to short-cut the learning curve and start developing a meaningful strategy for themselves.

During my trip, I had the book with me at an airport when I was approached by a business traveler. He asked me several questions about it and then asked if he could use his iPhone to photograph the cover so he could remember the title and buy a copy for himself.

On a hunch, and because I like to hear stories from others about my own company, I wrote to author Lon Safko and told him that story. I was astonished when, only a few hours later, I got a personal reply.

“That short story really made me emotional,” he wrote. “When you work as hard as I did on that project, it really does my heart good to hear that it is helping people. My biggest motivation is to help others. May I use this? I think it’s a great social media story in itself. A book on social media, causing perfect strangers to meet and become social, while using the iPhone social media technology to capture the image of the seed of the conversation. Wow…”

One of the themes Lon and co-author David K. Brake hammer on throughout the book is that social media campaigns only work when they are authentic. Talk about practicing what you preach! I was pretty wowed myself when I saw his name in my in-box.

I heard that Lon is speaking at 6pm this Friday at the Barnes and Noble store at 1758 S. Val Vista Dr. in Mesa. I plan to be in the audience.

Eight movies in four days? Yep. (With apologies to Vicki Balint)

Flying to London is easy: the British Air flight leaves Phoenix in the evening. You get your dinner, you watch a movie, you go to sleep. You wake up a few hours later and you’re almost there.

The 10-hour trip  home, however, is not the same story. You leave about 2:30pm. You eat “lunch” at what is about 4:30 England time. You watch a movie. You watch a movie. You watch a movie. I actually watched four movies during my recent flight home. I’ve been so jetlagged all this week (and home alone because my husband stayed to visit friends in Scotland) that I’ve watched four more movies in the odd hours when I should have been sleeping.

When I saw Vicki Balint’s blog post on “Three movies in one weekend? Yep…” my competitive streak came out. So here you go, in the order I viewed them. The chick flick theme will become painfully clear — I was trying really hard to avoid movies I thought my husband would eventually want to watch with me.

ghosts-of-girlfriends-pastNumber 1: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” starring Matthew McConaughy, Jennifer Garner and Michael Douglas. I know! Totally fluffy, uninspired redo of the overdone Scrooge theme. But I find it fun to watch McConaughy and Garner in almost anything they do. Maybe it’s the dimples.

knowing-the-movieNumber 2:Knowing.” Nicholas Cage stars in this sci-fi flick that starts out strong, with spooky but somewhere-in-the-realm-of-acceptable plausibility and then has you shaking your head in disbelief. I’m a sucker for stories about the supernatural, so I was all over this one until the end, when all I could think was, “Are you kidding me?!”

love-in-the-time-of-choleraNumber 3: “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Got about halfway through this one before I gave up out of sheer boredom. Poorly scripted, poorly acted, lots of gratuitous nudity, some really stomach-curdling “mama’s boy” scenes and no great insights (which is what I was seeking in the first place) about that period of history.

is-anybody-thereNumber 4:Is Anybody There?” starring Michael Caine. I will confess that this was the last one I watched on the flight home and I did nod off a couple of times (it was about 2am London time when I got to this movie). But I will rent it and watch it again. It’s a lovely story about an aging magician whose senility forces him into an elder care home operated by a compassionate mom, her conflicted husband and an initially resentful young son. Honest and endearing with no sugar coating.

daughter-from-danangNumber 5: Daughter from Danang.” Oh, my gosh. This one will rip your heart out. I found it by accident through the prompts on my Netflix account and it was waiting for me in the mail when I got home. It’s a PBS “American Experience” documentary about one of the Vietnam children airlifted out of the country and brought to the U.S., where she was adopted by a single mom in a conservative southern state who named her “Heidi” and told her to “never tell anyone where you were born.” That’s just a tiny piece of what is a compelling, painfully honest story that reunites Heidi (birth name “Hiep”) with her birth mom 22 years after the Vietnam War — to very surprising and unsettling results.

miracle-at-st-anaNumber 6:Miracle at St. Ana.” I tried twice to watch this one. I’m a huge fan of WWII stories and a strong want-to-believer of miracles. So maybe my expectations were too high. The visuals were stunning (and sometimes shocking) but I found the story rambling, disjointed, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying.

seven-poundsNumber 7:Seven Pounds,” starring Will Smith. I really wanted to see this one when it came out in theaters but never did. I think Will Smith is incredibly talented (and easy on the eyes) and the trailers for this film really piqued my curiosity. The extreme-self-sacrifice theme is a little hard to swallow and I’m sure my husband would have been rolling his eyes (or leaving the room to watch sports on the other TV) if he’d been watching it with me. But I loved the chemistry between the main characters (Ben/Tim) and Emily and I was definitely wiping my eyes at the end.

nights-in-rodantheNumber 8:Nights in Rodanthe,” starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Okay, okay. Totally implausible premise, completely schmaltzy love story but a good lesson, nevertheless, that it’s never too late to find your passion. Hopefully you don’t have to break up your marriage to get there. And I really think they should have edited out the last scene and ended at the horses.

Back on the grid

Andy (24), Dave (22), Dan and me during our recent travels.

You know you’ve been neglecting your blog when you can’t remember how to log in.

It’s been weeks since I’ve had a minute to think about writing. My family went on vacation recently and I was out of town for 11 days. That may not seem like such a big deal, but you have to put it in perspective: There was only one other time in the 20 years since I started the magazine that I have taken off that much consecutive time in one chunk.

The preparation that goes into leaving a business when you’re the owner is mind-boggling. In the early days, when we had no centralized office and all of the editorial and administrative work was on my shoulders, I would be up all night for days in a row before I could leave. When I’d reach our destination (back then it was usually “grandma’s house”) I would go to my room and sleep for two days. I’m sure my extended family thought it was a bit strange (or even rude) but I was simply exhausted and in desperate need of some quiet time to regenerate.

Before this trip, I’m happy to say, I didn’t pull any all-nighters. But there were weeks of long days and copious “to do” lists leading up to our departure date. Thankfully, Raising Arizona Kids is in a better, stronger place these days. I have an incredible staff of professionals who approach their work with a great sense of ownership of the end product. They have my back. Which is why I was able to spend 11 bilssful days with my family — exploring new places, eating new foods, sharing stories and laughing until my face hurt.

Pensive pedaling (Loop 2)

Our son Andy was interviewed on CNN this morning. Part of his job as a reporter for Politico is to appear on occasional news interviews to comment on stories he’s written or what he’s hearing from his sources.

It’s totally amazing to his father and me that he is doing this stuff. Dan and I watched him as we ate our pancakes and then, fortified by carbohydrates and parental pride, we donned our biking gear and headed out to enjoy the glorious morning.

Given the pleasant (under 100 degrees) temperature, we decided to do one of our longer loops. So we started out toward the 32nd Street entrance to the paved, multi-use path that meanders through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve just south of Shea Boulevard in north Phoenix. The path connects with Dreamy Draw Park before running down a hill, up a ramp and across a bridge over the freeway to quiet neighborhood streets behind The Pointe Hilton Resort at Squaw Peak.

When Dan and I returned to Phoenix after three years in grad school in Cleveland, we rented a townhouse at The Pointe’s Tapatio Cliffs location off Seventh Street in North Phoenix. Andy was born a month later, at 3 a.m. on July 17, in the middle of a monsoon storm.

My first few weeks as a new mom became infinitely more enjoyable when I discovered a neighbor who had an infant daughter. We started taking walks together each morning, pushing our strollers around the hilly neighborhood, often ending up at her house or mine for a shared lunch. One morning, Dawn stopped by the house for some reason I can’t remember. Dan was getting ready for work. Andy was in a walker seat — safe, I thought, because he hadn’t fully mastered the skill of propelling it forward.

Suddenly I heard a sickening crash. The seat, and my baby, were at the bottom of a dramatic (but not-kid-friendly) fireplace pit in the living room. Dan came running out of the bedroom, furious.

How lucky I was that morning! Andy’s head hit a carpeted step — not the Saltillo-tiled fireplace. My son was scared, but unhurt. My husband was angry about my carelessness but he got over it. What a difference a  few inches makes. I could be coping with a brain-damaged young adult right now instead of beaming at the promising, articulate young man I watch on TV.

Near 16th Street and Northern we turn onto the canal path heading southeast. Crossing 18th Street, we pass a young couple out jogging, pushing a young child in a stroller. As we approach the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, I remember one of the defining moments in my decision to choose as my life partner this man who now pedals beside me.

We were young, single, working professionals — both employed as reporters for the Arizona Republic. But I didn’t really know Dan Barr until I happened (completely at random) to move into the same north Phoenix apartment complex in which he lived. We had the same odd schedule — Sundays and Mondays off — so we often bumped into each other at the laundry room or by the pool. Eventually we started hanging out together — going on bike rides, going for walks, hiking (what was then called) Squaw Peak. One day, we took the bike path past the Arizona Biltmore. It was a hot day, we’d ridden lots of miles and we were both sweaty, dehydrated and cranky.

Before I knew it, Dan had jumped off his bike and was pushing it along the sidewalk toward the resort’s spacious pool. Always a stickler for rules, I followed behind him, lecturing all the way. “What are you doing? We can’t go in there!” But he kept going, and so did I. We both ended up in the pool–fully clothed–laughing and splashing and daring the universe to deny us the moment.

You have to maneuver a bit to get past traffic at 40th Street but we were soon safely past it and heading into a breeze as the canal path continued on through Arcadia. Just past the Arizona Falls at 56nd Street and Indian School, I suggest a pit stop at the nearby park. I wash my hands and return to my bike to find Dan thumbing a response on his BlackBerry. I give him The Look. If you live with someone who has a BlackBerry, you know that look.

This is the place on our loop where I always get tired and Dan seems to find his second wind. As he charges ahead of me I settle into a slower, methodical pace. The wind always seems to kick up at this point along the path and the scenery is not interesting enough to be distracting. I never mind riding hills; I choose that challenge. But riding into the wind, which I don’t choose, makes me depressed and mad. It feels like a personal affront.

I pass a homeless man at the side of the path, his bike nearly covered by an avalanche of personal belongings rummaged during his travels. I stop feeling sorry for myself.

My brother Ron, who lives in Seattle, decided to ride his bike to Phoenix. He took more than a month off work and slogged an average of 75 miles a day, pitching a tent most nights and cooking his own dinner. I made him call me every couple of days so I could track his progress on the map and insisted that he call when he got close to the Phoenix city limits. When he finally did, my other brother Bob, my two sons and I grabbed the videocamera, piled into the car and drove north to find him. We followed him from Cave Creek Road eventually south on Tatum Boulevard — giggling, awed and taking lots of pictures as we tried to comprehend the distance he’d just traveled on the strength of his own two legs. When he got to our circular driveway, he rode past a finish line the boys and I had hastily thrown together, went into the house and promptly ate almost a whole pan of brownies.

My brother was sweaty, stained and terribly thin that day. His bike panniers were bulging with supplies and he had camping equipment and bicycle repair equipment carefully anchored to every available space. I wonder how many times, during the six weeks it took him to ride his bike to Phoenix, otherwise well-meaning people mistook him for a homeless guy.

We turn north with six miles to go to get home. I am flooded with memories and eager to write them down. My legs reflect the urgency and before I know it I’m well ahead of Dan. As I pull into our driveway and put my bike away, I see him pedal past our house. I know exactly what he is doing: putting in the extra few hundred yards he needs to round off the ride to an even 24 miles. I’m intensely competitive about stuff like that but today I let it go. The words are screaming in my head.

Read “Pensive pedaling (Loop 1)”

Oceanic breathing

I sit naked under a thin paper gown, my legs hanging over the end of the examining table. It is the day of my annual skin cancer check and I am waiting for my dermatologist. It has been six years since my melanoma diagnosis. I’m at the cautiously optimistic stage — what the nurse describes as a “graduate” when she confirms that I’m no longer required to show up for twice-a-year whole-body-checks.

A spot on my right leg is bothering me. It is unevenly shaped and the center is lighter than the outer edges. It reminds me of the one I finally paid attention to six years ago — the one on my right shoulder, where I now bear a half-inch scar. The one that nagged at me, forcing my gaze to its location, until I finally made an appointment to see my doctor. She agreed that it looked suspicious and immediately did a biopsy. I knew it wasn’t good when she personally called me at home the next day.

Today, as I sit waiting, I know my doctor thinks I’m needlessly worrying. But she’s honored my request to cut off this unusual mole and send it to the lab. “Better safe than sorry,” she told me.

The area is itchy and raised from the topical anesthetic. A circle has been drawn around the mole, which will soon be gone, no longer able to taunt me.

I remember to take a few yoga breaths — the deep, soothing ujjayi breaths that instructors always describe as “oceanic.” I started taking yoga classes eight years ago in an attempt to manage the crushing and competing pressures of running a business and raising a family. When I first learned this breathing technique, it immediately felt familiar. Lips softly pressed closed. Tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth. The breaths must almost fight the false obstruction but the effort forces the body to relax, to concentrate on that simply movement. Air in, air out. Slowly. Audibly. Like the waves of the ocean pushing purposefully toward the shore, then easing back to the depths.

Newly certified divers Jack Sigrah and Karen Davis. Photo by Ron Strong originally appeared in the Pacific Daily News on March 13, 1978.

Newly certified divers Jack Sigrah and Karen Davis. Photo by Ron Strong originally appeared in the Pacific Daily News on March 13, 1978.

The first time I felt myself breathe like this I had a regulator in my mouth. Then a student at the University of Guam, I had signed up for a scuba diving class with Jack Sigrah, a Palauan friend I met at school. (As the only blond non-Micronesian student in the dorms, I had no difficulty attracting curiosity, attention and eventually some wonderful friendships.)

I will never forget the first time I went underwater with an air tank on my back. It was at once frightening, exhiliarating and strangely calming. When your field of vision is limited by the mask on your face and your very life depends on good equipment, you quickly focus on living in the moment. Everything else drifts away. You may be diving with a team or just one buddy, but you are completely alone and at peace with the universe. Your body is weightless, free, rocking with the gentle drifts of the underlying tide. All you see is a kaleidoscopic display of colors and motion . All you hear is your own breathing.

When our diving instructors wrote a story about safe scuba diving for the Pacific Daily News, they asked Jack and me to pose for pictures. “Safe diving saves lives,” the headline read. As I sit on this medical boat on a sea of uncertainty, I hope regular check-ups do, too.

Ready for whatever the day's dive will bring.

Ready for whatever the day's dive will bring.