Andrea (as close as I’ll come to having a daughter)

It’s simplest to introduce her as my niece. “Second cousin once removed” is too much of a mouthful and leaves people with puzzled expressions of confusion. She is 20 years old, born and raised in western Pennsylvania, the daughter of my second cousin Sheryl. Two summers ago, Andrea and her friend Morgan flew to Arizona to stay with me for a week. For the girls, it was a high school graduation trip. For me, it was a chance to temporarily rejoin the giggly, spur-of-the-moment, life-embracing exhuberance of teenage girls.

Summer 2008: At the Grand Canyon with Andrea (center) and Morgan.

I took them to the Grand Canyon and hot yoga. They took me for a pedicure and a shopping trip. I fell in love with them, and Andrea fell in love with Arizona. A year later, she returned for a second visit with her mom. And then, in January , she transferred to Arizona State University, where she is taking a rigorous course of study she hopes will prepare her for dental school. For this semester, she is living with us in what used to be our son Andy’s bedroom. She calls it the “man cave.” It’s anything but manly now. For the first time in my life as the mother of two sons, lovely, perfume-y scents waft down the hallway and pretty, pastel items have joined the cozy clutter of my household. Several times since Andrea moved in, friends and family members have asked me, “How’s it going?” — usually with concerned looks on their faces. Well, I can honestly say it’s going great. Andrea is, for this short time in my life, the daughter I never had. For someone who also grew up with two brothers, and never experienced the close bonds of sisterhood, this has been nothing short of transformational.

Dressed up for the concert.

Andrea has helped me re-embrace my inner girl. She is the one who introduced me to texting and TLC’s “What Not to Wear” (I’d honestly never seen it before). When we go shopping, she drags me into Victoria’s Secret (I was always too intimidated) and some of the younger-demographic shops, including Tilly’s and her favorite, American Eagle. (I’ve actually bought a few things!) As a mostly-vegetarian eater and an avid student of nutrition, she has me re-examining what I put in my mouth. (I thought I was doing pretty well before, but she showed me how to up my game.) Over spring break, she went with us to visit Dan’s mom in Santa Barbara, Calif. We walked on the beach, groaned about the calories as we shared a piece of peanut butter ice cream pie at Tupelo Junction Cafe and spent an entire afternoon laughing, talking and painting our nails by the pool before we attended a performance at the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra (Dan’s sister Sally, is one of the violinists). On the drive home, we launched what we’re calling “The Great Shred of Spring 2010.” As we debated the rules for this project — which has both fitness and attitude goals — I typed the contract on my laptop. Andrea wants to tone up for swimsuit season; I want to increase my endurance and strength (no amount of toning will make these 54-year-old thighs feel good about a swim suit). We are both working on ridding ourselves of negative thinking and self-deprecation. Our contract spells out the consequences for slipping up: 20 pushups. (I’m not even sure I can do 20 pushups…but I’m quite sure Andrea will make me now that I’ve written something negative about my thighs). Yesterday, when our project began, I woke up to a message on my Facebook: Welcome to the 2010 Shred. Remember those 20 pushups calling your name 🙂 We met for hot yoga at 4, then came home to showers and fruit smoothies and a quick trip to the grocery store, where we stocked up on healthy foods for the rest of the week. At our required daily check-in, we compared notes on how we’d done with our eating and attitudes. This morning, we went for a 7am hike in the misty, aromatic, post-rain calm of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. As I trudged along far behind her, I watched her neon-green shorts in the distance and smiled. I wish this semester could last forever.

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Grandpa Art and the art of finding joy

Arthur and Cleora Smock, my maternal grandparents, on their wedding day: June 4, 1929

My grandfather died in March 1990, just after I started publishing Raising Arizona Kids magazine. It always bothered me that he never saw it. And it always bothered me that just as I was really beginning to understand him, he was gone.

Arthur Smock was a stern, self-disciplined product of his generation. As a young husband and father trying to make a living during the Great Depression, he had to be. He didn’t have the luxury of following his dreams or holding out for career fulfillment. He had to put food on the table.

He ran a small dry-cleaning shop housed in a stand-alone garage just outside the kitchen door of the house in which he and my grandmother raised four daughters. Until he got his business established he’d spend hours going from house to house in his western Pennsylvania community, introducing himself and looking for business. He built a reputation — and a loyal following of customers — because he’d do whatever it took to ensure the highest standards of quality in his work. He worked from just after breakfast until well into the evening. In the summer, deep circles of sweat formed on his shirt as he hovered over hot steaming equipment and irons.

Smock Cleaners.

When I was growing up, I feared my Grandpa Art. Because he worked so hard for everything he owned, he was highly intolerant of curious young minds and the sticky fingers that often accompanied them. My brothers, cousins and I all have clear memories of Grandpa barking, “Get your hands off of that!” When I was older, and working hard to pay for my own things, I understood what he was trying to say: Show respect for the efforts of others.

Grandpa Art was my first and most profound inspiration for the entrepreneurial path I eventually took. He was the one who showed me that hard work and integrity of purpose were the truly essential elements in running a successful business. He taught me things like “the customer’s always right” and “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” But it wasn’t until yesterday that I grasped his greatest legacy.

My grandfather was an amateur photographer. During rare vacations — and later, throughout his retirement — he took hundreds of Kodachrome slides showing spectacular vistas from across the country. When he came to visit us, he’d pull out the projector and regale us with stories of his adventures and the people he’d met along the way.

After he died, my mother edited the collection down to 750 or so slides and wrote notes about the locations, people, dates and events she was able to identify. Then she gave the entire collection to me. For years the slides have been sitting untouched in boxes in my home office — most of them in their original projector carousels.

A rainy weekend offered an opportunity to acquaint myself with the $80 scanner I bought at the beginning of the year. I decided to practice with it by scanning some of my grandfather’s slides.

My grandmother, Cleora Smock, in 1969.

When the first picture popped up on my computer screen, it took my breath away. It was my grandmother, Cleora Wheeling Smock, looking at some kind of brochure or map as she stood beside a towering Narrowleaf Cottonwood during a visit to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico. The year was 1969.

Not much later, she fell victim to the slow decline of Alzheimer’s disease. But that didn’t stop my grandfather — the stern, intolerant guy I feared in childhood — from taking her around the country as he always had, pulling their Airstream trailer behind them, tenderly dressing her when she became unable to do it herself.

On a rainy afternoon more than 40 years after he took this picture, his granddaughter paid attention to the message: No matter how hard you have to work and no matter how difficult the challenges you face, you have to keep doing the things that give you joy. For my grandfather, that meant traveling the country and taking pictures. Even in the midst of my grandmother’s devastating illness and his own sense of helplessness and grief. — Karen

P.S. I managed to scan 150 slides in my grandfather’s collection. Here are some of my favorites:

Bryce Canyon, Utah, 1979. Photo by Arthur Smock.

During retirement, my grandparents caravaned around the country with his two brothers, Homer and Paul, and their wives.

Untitled photo by Arthur Smock. My mother\’s notes indicate this may have been in, or on the way to, the Chricahuas in southern Arizona, in 1979.

Untitled photo by Arthur Smock. This photo of my grandmother in her red coat was taken in 1979, just three years before she died of Alzheimer/’s disease.

Dan, my unflappable husband – #5

He didn’t even flinch. That’s the amazing thing. When I came home that day, I told my husband what had transpired during what should have been an absolutely routine photo shoot. I told him about meeting Keri deGuzman, her husband Brian and their two adorable children, Jesmina and Musse. I told him how Keri and Brian had traveled to Ethiopia to adopt their children, and how they were planning to return to adopt two more. And then I told him they’d invited me to go with them.

He didn’t even flinch. Not then, when I told him I wanted to go to Ethiopia, and not later, when I started dropping hints about how much this was going to cost us. And not this morning, when I woke up to an email from Keri saying, “CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THIS!!!! Here we go………..!!!!!”

All he said, with typical calm, was, “I’m very excited for you.”

I first met Dan when I was 25 — a year older than our son Andrew is now. I had just moved back to Arizona after a four-year stint on the island of Guam, where I had finished my senior year of college and worked as a journalist for the Pacific Daily News. I had just broken up with a Guamanian man who had once asked me to marry him. So when I started my new job at The Arizona Republic, I wasn’t particularly interested in starting a new relationship.

I was still living with my parents after returning from Guam, so I was eager to get my own place. A friend at work was living in an apartment complex near Seventh Street and Bethany Home Road. She liked her apartment well enough, so I decided to move into that same building. Little did I know how momentous that simple decision would prove to be.

The day I moved in, my friend introduced me to Dan Barr, who also worked at the Republic and lived in the same complex. I was happy to make a new friend — especially one who was willing to help me move my boxes up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. We had the same odd days off (Sunday and Monday) so we’d often run into each other at the pool or in the laundry room. Eventually we started going on bike rides, hikes or walks around the neighborhood. Then movies. Then dinner and movies. A year later we were married.

On our way to the wedding reception: April 17, 1982.

How do you recognize the “right” one? I find myself pondering that question as our sons rapidly approach the time in life when they will choose life partners. My marriage did not get off to a particularly dramatic or romantic start. It started quietly, with friendship and shared interests and long conversations. It was comfortable, reassuring, reliable. From the moment we first started “hanging out” together, I knew Dan was a good man — a solid, grounded man who’d grown up in privilege but emerged with humility and great depth of perspective. A man secure enough in himself to allow me to be whatever I wanted to be.

I’m not sure how I knew all of that when I decided to marry Dan; I just did. And though we’ve experienced the ups and downs any honest couple married for almost 28 years would admit to, I have never wavered in my certainty that he was the right choice.

Twenty years ago this month, I was preparing to send my first issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine to the printer. Though our young family had to absorb the cost of that first printing bill (and many others to follow), my husband never flinched. He believed in me, so he believed in my reasons for starting a magazine. Since that time, he has been a source of steadfast support, my biggest fan in any undertaking — no matter how great the cost to our family finances or my emotional reserves.

During a family trip: July 2009.

This morning, as he quietly shares my excitement in the adventures that lie ahead — adventures that I will experience without him — I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this man who so selflessly encourages me to face my fears and follow my dreams. — Karen


On Jan. 2, 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.

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 raisingarizonakids.com.

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.