See you next time, James

October 12th, 2018 by Karen

A beautiful soul has been missing from the world for two weeks. It was swift, sudden, and a shock. We are all deeply aware that we are never promised tomorrow, but for some reason, our psyches always expect the status quo to remain.

But that never happens.

I first met James at a party. I don’t recall if it was at Affiliate Summit or the Affiliate Marketers Alliance networking dinner that Ian Lee hosted in Vancouver years and years ago. Some details are lost to time, however I can tell you that I was leaning against a hall table at the top of the stairs in a room that was trying to give the impression of an Italian villa with its decorative yellow stucco and fake ficus trees. As a pretty introverted person, I was uncomfortable and considering leaving as I felt like a total impostor as everyone networked around me. I decided to leave and as I turned to go down the stairs, I was greeted by Colin McDougall who I had just met briefly earlier in the day and he said “Oh hey! There’s someone I wanted to introduce you to. This is James.”

A long conversation about affiliate topics and his Shelby Cobra naturally ensued and somewhere I still have a million dollar bill with his face on it that he used as a business card at the time, but during that long conversation, I learned the most important thing about James when I asked him a simple question. I asked him if he was married.

James lit up like the sun. That was when I discovered that there was nothing on this earth that he loved more than Arlene.

Over the years, I saw James frequently at conventions, sometimes with Arlene and sometimes without. We would discuss the occasional industry items, who he was mentoring at the time, my newest clients, but invariably our conversations inexorably turned to family. What their kids were doing, what ours were up to, summer trips, concerns about school. He always asked about Joel, I always asked about Arlene. He invariably lit up, beaming when talking about her. Our conversations always ended the same way. A huge hug and a directive to “take care of the kids, say hi to Joel, and I’ll see you next time.”

James kindly had me on his podcasts numerous times over the years to talk about programs I managed and changes in the industry, and the last two years we had started a kind of tradition where we would discuss Q4 during October. When I spoke with him last, he mentioned that we should be sure to do it again this year. It’s a conversation I’m sad we never got the chance to have.

I will forever appreciate that whenever James wanted to introduce me to someone new at a conference, he did it the same way every time: “This is Karen. She’s awesome.” No preamble, no qualifiers. No matter what sort of self doubt or insecurity I possessed and struggled with, James thought I was awesome and that meant a ton.

My most favorite memory of James occurred on the escalators at Caesar’s Palace during an Affiliate Summit. He was going up, I was going down. Since he was a recent first time grandpa, I asked him how he was enjoying that and he excitedly broke out the pictures. Luckily, the escalators were empty as we both proceeded to walk the wrong direction on our respective escalators for a bit until he finally laughed and told me to meet him at the bottom. He was literally giddy and over the moon. He was always fiercely proud of his grandchildren and children.

I will miss James’ boisterous “Hello!” that seemed to cut through any crowd. I’ll miss his larger than life personality. I’ll miss discussing our families and his parenting advice. I’ll miss his bear hugs and his enormous laugh.

But most of all, I’ll miss watching his face light up whenever he mentioned Arlene.

Because that my friends, at the end of everything, that is the first, the last, and the very best thing I ever learned from James Martell.

He truly loved Arlene.

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Safe Travels, Mr. Porter

July 2nd, 2018 by Karen

I don’t recall the first time Wayne Porter and I met. It may have been one of the calls hosted by Shawn. It may have been on one of the myriad of forums from those early halcyon days in our industry, where everything was new and shiny and unfettered. When collectively we were all taking our fledgling steps down this now 20 year old path.

But I do distinctly remember our first meaningful conversation. Somewhere between New York City and Nova Scotia, in 2004, on a weird leatherette couch in what passed for a nightclub, on board the one and only Affiliate Summit Cruise. Sometime after dinner, but before we all gathered around and learned that Brian was an incredibly talented pianist. Some names I’ve forgotten in the mists of half a lifetime of other data, but Carolyn, Kim, Brad, Declan, and Jeff feature prominently on the dance floor of memory. We all danced crazily for a time, likely to something from the 80s, and then I needed to take a break. My youngest at the time was just a year old and my oldest around four, so between chasing them and the jet lag, I was already exhausted. While the others continued to grace the dance floor, we sat and watched and talked.

And talked and talked and talked. First of course about industry stuff, and then about how we first got into it, and then, both delighted to find the other had a science background, we hit that discipline hard. Conversation ranged from sapphire thin film research, to his medical background, firefighting equipment, molybdenum cruicibles, lanthanum hexaboride cathode emitters, and D&D, which isn’t particularly scientific, but when discussing the possibility of magical fireballs, one bends the rules a bit.

We found many points of commonality…we both enjoyed science fiction and fantasy novels, though he was more well read in the former and I the latter at the time, we discussed stuttering and the frustrations we felt as children and how we coped as adults, and laughed ourselves silly with a discussion of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, which I’m sure puzzled others who joined us during breaks in the dancing.

We also had points of divergence…I am Catholic, he wasn’t religious and was upfront about it. He asked polite, insightful questions, pushing and prodding, but never attacking or hateful. He went down the rabbit hole of botnets and EULAs, privacy and disclosures, long before anyone else was viewing them as a threat and at the time, I was more concerned about fraudulent applications and credit cards. He was a HUGE Quake fan, whereas I played a lot of Warcraft. In the grand scheme of things, these differences are like comparing grains of sand on the beach. Under a microscope, incredibly unique and chemically independent, but held in the palm of your hand, the differences are pretty imperceptible to the eye.

He encouraged me to read more sci-fi (notably Gibson…he was horrified that I had read very little of his work at that point), to start public speaking (which admittedly took me several more years before I took that terrifying first step), and to stop being concerned about what others thought about my hobbies (he was the first professional colleague to know that I was into any of this stuff…heck, half my friends had no idea). It was all very good advice.

Through the years, even though we’ve seen each other very seldom, usually at Affiliate Summit or one of the dinner roasts of friends, we would continue to chat…the occasional flurry on social media, long ICQ chats about Second Life and virtual worlds, bandied latin phrases, and hard core games of Scrabble on whatever platform du-jour we found ourselves on.

Wayne was always one step ahead of everyone on the industry trail (and sometimes several), but he was never unwilling to extend a hand to help someone else. He was very passionate about certain topics (if you’ve ever heard the correlation between tea cups and privacy, you know what I’m talking about) but I never found him unwilling to listen to a different point of view.

In his passing, as an industry, we’ve lost someone who was an industry founder and an unsung guide.

But we’ve lost so much more than that.

We’ve lost someone who showed us collectively how to be a friend, how to face hardship head-on, and how to live life fully.

Goodbye, Wayne. Thank you for always and unrepentantly being you.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat ei.

“Really it is very simple. Be passionate, be as transparent as you can bear and if you a make a mistake- own up to it. You don’t have to bare your soul, just be a human being and respect the pluralistic nature of being human. We can expect nothing more out of each other.”
Wayne Porter

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Yarn and Black Coffee

November 30th, 2016 by Karen

If you’ve never been to Eastern Oregon, then you probably know very little about it. If you’ve just ever passed through, but never stopped, then you’ll likely say it’s a desolate place, full of empty spaces, too much sagebrush, occasional cattle herds, and far fewer people. But for me, the high, dry desert of that corner of Oregon holds something amazing…family.

The history of my family in the area is storied and vast, tied up in the pioneer days of the country, and right around the time Oregon became a state. It’s full of hardship, hard times, and hard work. My ancestors founded towns and built roads. It’s the story of immigrants who came by ships to California and to Ellis Island, by wagon across the plains, by horseback, by train, and by foot. So much of who I am is tied to that pioneer work ethic.

We would visit in the summers and every other Christmas to spend time with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and extended family. Visits in my childhood consisted of a whirlwind of activity. Of feeding sheep and chickens. Of milking cows and giving bottles to bummer calves. Of shearing and hay and dirt and the fair. Trips to town where in the summer we were summarily tossed into the local pool for awhile, and in the winter it was to pop into the Emporium, Kinney and Keele, or D&B and to drive around and look at the Christmas lights, then maybe a stop at Albertson’s for something random…it was always cornstarch or bandaids or karo syrup it seemed. And then we would go to the Argus.

Passing through the doors to the newspaper was like entering another world. It smelled of ink and carbon paper, photo chemicals and freshly brewed coffee. While people outside strolled and smiled in a laid back way, inside that building was a bustling microcosm that was spun and danced, at least in my child-eyes, solely at the direction of my Grandma Chris.

She was five foot nothing on a good day with gray hair that later gave way to white and she was always dressed smartly in a coat and skirt or slacks and flat black shoes. And always the swipe of lipstick. In those doors, she was in charge (unless Fran was around, because technically he was the publisher) and we never could stay long because there was always something happening that needed her attention.

Grandma took her coffee black. So black I think you could strip paint with it. I remade more than one pot of coffee for her because it was too weak for her liking. She ran on the stuff.

She knew everyone and everything about everyone. She remembered the history of buildings and houses and who had lived where and thousands of details about places, events, and people long since past. She was the consummate storyteller, and if you were the subject of the story, you may or may not have appreciated it, but she would get the minutia cringingly correct, every single time.

When she wasn’t at the Argus, she became a teacher. Not in the school sense necessarily, but she taught constantly.

At her knee, I learned to pick straw from wool that my uncles and grandpa had just sheared, how to card it, and finally how to spin it. I learned how to collect eggs carefully so I wouldn’t break them and how to can a wide variety of things. I learned how to make pie crust from scratch and how to knead bread. I learned how to properly stack the woodpile (more than once) and how to change a typewriter ribbon. I learned how to knit, again, and again, and again. I learned not to walk behind horses or cows. I learned not to stay on the party line talking to friends because that was rude. I learned how to watch for black ice on the sidewalks. I learned that the top line of notes in the music book at church was the soprano line and that’s what we sang, but her handbell music was very different. I learned she loved Brigadoon and Big Band music, but not Sinatra. Never Sinatra. I learned that she loved Christmas and always treated each of us grandchildren equally, even though we were plentiful, and we each would receive something handmade from her. I learned that even though they bickered and argued, she loved grandpa unconditionally, probably because he was the only man who dared to stand up to her. I learned that family is everything.

She was the first one to put a book about mythology in my hands. In fact, she put a lot of books in my hands. She’d sit me down in grandpa’s tan leather chair next to the fireplace, hand me a book and just say “Why don’t you read this.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. Read this. And this. And this. I must have read hundreds of books in that chair by the fireplace through the years. History books about Scotland, England, Europe, Egypt, America, the Owyhee, and the Bannock Indian Wars. Books about ghost towns, archaeology, the Nazca lines, burial mounds, settlers the world over, gardening, animals, and roses. Poe, Dickens, Alcott, Keats, Burns, and Tennyson. If it was in print, she was likely to hand it to me to read.

Sometimes, she’d come to the living room with her camera bag slung over her shoulder and say “Let’s go.” She’d bundle me into the car and we’d go bouncing down some dirt road that almost wasn’t a road anymore to some nearly forgotten family cemetery she’d heard about. She taught me how to carefully pull the weeds from the stones and she’d take pictures of each one. I learned how to use charcoal and tracing paper to get a rubbing of the name on stones that were too faded to read and she’d take pictures of those too. She always made sure that I did a really good job on the stones of little ones. We would talk about why sometimes there would be so many in a short span and I learned about typhoid, and cholera, and consumption. I learned sometimes there were stones outside the fence, usually belonging to horse thieves and rustlers, though as a child I didn’t understand what the genteel sounding ‘lady of the night’ on some of them meant. We took photos of those ones too. I wish I knew where all these pictures ended up, but knowing her they’ve been in the safekeeping of a museum or college for some time now.

My other best memories mostly involve the kitchen.

One time she and I worked and toiled for hours and hours making gallons of jars of apricot jam only to have part of the center butcher block in the kitchen collapse right as we finished, breaking half of our work. She and I stood there in shock for a moment and then just started laughing. Grandpa tried to come through the kitchen right afterwards and all he got for his concern about the loud crash was “Dammit Bill, your boots are muddy! Get out!” which was hilarious because the floor was covered in still hot jam and shards of glass. We must have mopped and re-mopped that floor for two days before your shoes wouldn’t stick to it.

Another time my cousin Jen and I decided that we would clean the entire kitchen for her as a surprise for their wedding anniversary. We took everything out of all the cupboards, cleaned the shelves meticulously, then put it all away. In different places, of course. She did thank us graciously for our thoughtfulness, but then we got to help put it all away properly. It took hours and she sat and drank coffee while we did it.

One year at Christmas, I brought all the makings for tamales with us as a surprise for Joel as it’s his family’s Christmas tradition. I was slapping tamales all alone in the kitchen and she came in for another cup of her famously strong coffee. She watched for a few minutes, then sat herself down with me and said “Well, that looks like something my arthritic hands can still do” and between us we made over a hundred tamales and laughed heartily together at family stories she had told before, but were no less funny for the retelling.

As dementia slowly stole her away in her final years, the moments we shared grew fewer, but no less cherished. In my aunt Nancy’s kitchen we sat at a more recent Christmas, just the two of us, me with a skein of yarn crocheting away and her with her coffee. In silence, we watched my cousins and uncles and the great-grandkids outside as they sledded and played in the snow. Then she suddenly grabbed my wrist and said “You’re Leah’s eldest, but I can’t remember your name.” I told her ‘Karen Michelle’ and she sighed “That’s right. I forget too much anymore. I’ve been meaning to tell you, there’s a cupboard on the third floor at the ranch in Jordan Valley. It’s full of all my yarn that I made and fabric that I bought with my egg money. There might be some roving there too for the spinning wheel, but I can’t remember. I may have already spun it. I want you to have it all.”

I didn’t have the heart to remind her that the third story of the ranch house was long gone before I was born and that I had only seen it in pictures and heard her tell stories of the dances held up there and the bats and the squeaky stairs.

She wanted to give me one last gift. How could I tell her no?

I simply squeezed her hand and told her thank you. And she smiled her huge smile at me and drank her coffee.

I miss her terribly already.


Posted in Family | 5 Comments

Of Bee Stings and Highway Robbery

August 19th, 2016 by Karen

I have an allergy.

It’s not small.

It’s not an “allergy du jour”. It isn’t a personal choice. It’s not something that just makes me feel bad and then I get better. It isn’t something to get attention.

In fact, it’s pretty fatal.

I am allergic to bees.

I wasn’t always allergic. I was stung often as a child and never had a reaction until I was about a sixth grader or so and that changed. For the better part of my life now, I have had to carry an emergency bee sting kit. The first one was a little orange box that came with me everywhere. It lived in my backpack all through junior high, high school and college. It contained 4 antihistamines in a blister pack, an alcohol prep pad, a string tourniquet that was green (that stuck in my head) and a loaded syringe. The syringe was a little tricky…the plunger was a set of offset rectangles and you had to uncap the needle, press the plunger until it stopped, rotate the plunger, jab yourself in the leg and depress the plunger again to inject. There was also a second dose in the syringe, but you weren’t supposed to use it unless you needed that much epinephrine all at once. Then, you had 40 minutes or less to get to a hospital.

Thankfully, somewhere along the way, the kit was modified. Gone is the useless tourniquet, the antihistamines and the alcohol pad. The EpiPen is a self contained autoinjecting syringe. You take it out of its plastic case, remove the safety tab and slam it against your thigh. It auto fires, you hold it in place for 10 seconds, and that’s that. It’s an incredible improvement over the former version because you don’t have to think about it at all and it takes just seconds to use. Believe me, when you’re terrified and struggling to breathe, thinking goes right out the window.

Kits typically come in pairs with a tester blank (no needle) so you can practice or show others how to use it. They come in pairs for a damn good reason. Sometimes, a single dose doesn’t work and some severe allergies require two. You take the shot and there’s some relief and then suddenly you’re gasping for air again. There’s ZERO predictability with this. There’s no test. Just sometimes, you need more meds than other times. As my friend Todd says, two is one, one is none.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis aren’t a walk in the park. When I’m stung, it’s as if someone has suddenly set my skin on fire. The sting site burns intensely and swells excruciatingly quickly. (Thankfully, I’ve never been stung in the face or neck, but the prospect scares me terribly.) My chest starts to constrict, I struggle to breath, and I get very, very dizzy and have to sit down to avoid passing out. The best way I can describe this to someone who has no allergies is that it’s like someone is holding your head underwater and you desperately need to take a breath, but instead you’re going to drown and you’re also on fire. The after effects last for days. Sheer exhaustion, the shakes, the nausea. The last time I was stung, it took more than a week before I was really recovered and then I still had a raised rash on my thigh where I was stung that was about the size of a dinner plate for more than two months. After that, it blessedly stopped itching, but then the whole thing became oddly scaly and discolored and lasted for about 6 months. Very unpleasant.

EpiPens are not something you take for fun. It’s not a recreational drug. It makes you feel absolutely AWFUL in about 10 seconds flat. It’s your most stressful day, 5 pots of strong black coffee, and the biggest panic attack ever all rolled into one. You can feel the drug race through your veins. It hits like a freight train. You’re suddenly drenched in sweat, your whole body is shaking, and you just want to throw up everything you’ve ever eaten. These feelings last for hours. It’s horrible, but you’re breathing, so you’re grateful and just head to the hospital for the follow up, because sometimes even two doses isn’t enough.

The last refill, I paid somewhere in the vicinity of $125 out of pocket, or a little more than $60 per injector. Kind of high I thought at the time, since before that, it was around $80 for the pair, but it’s not a choice. I had to have it. You’re supposed to replace your EpiPens every year.

Now, the company that makes the EpiPen, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, has hiked the price to $500 or MORE. This is $250 per injector, more than twice the price I paid for a pair previously. It’s an enormous price increase, and one that thousands of families will struggle to absorb. Mylan has been big on touting that they offer a coupon, but it only reduces the cost to $400. Not much of a savings.

For those families, they will weigh the exorbitant price increase against their personal safety and the safety of their children. Some will decide to take their chances and switch to carrying around just strong antihistamines and hoping that they don’t have a severe reaction. Some will push the limits and not replace their expired EpiPens, hoping that the slow degradation of the drug will provide them at least a little safety. Some will grumble and go ahead and purchase new EpiPens, but not because they support Mylan, but because their allergies are too severe to survive without the refill in their pocket. There will be an uptick in severity of hospital visits and likely an increase in related deaths as well.

Me, well…my EpiPens have expired.

I know they last longer than just a year. I know that they are still usable if the liquid is still clear. I know that they are less effective than they were. I know that I should replace them. It’s Russian Roulette not to.

But summer is almost over and maybe, just maybe they’ll be forced to rethink their pricing in the next month or two.

And then I’ll get my refills.

I know I’m going to need it again someday.

Because it’s not really a choice.

If it were, no one would choose to be allergic.

Posted in Life | 0 Comments

Great Search Discovery Tool for Bloggers – SEMRush

June 1st, 2015 by Karen

Occasionally, I receive products for review or include advertising in my posts, but no one impacts the honesty of my opinion.
Through the 16 (holy crap) years that I’ve been involved with online marketing, I’ve seen a lot of changes. From the dot com bubble, the crash, the recovery, FTC guidelines, tax changes, you name it. The biggest thing though that I’ve seen affect affiliates and bloggers most recently is all the changes in search. You get everything somewhat dialed in and then BAM! You’re hit by whatever Google’s favorite black and white animal du jour happens to be. Yes, it gets rid of a lot of the riff raff, but all too often I see the baby thrown out with the bathwater.

While the only good defense I’ve seen against search algorithm updates is to write good, solid content and keep your nose clean, it’s never a bad idea to keep a steady eye on what your competition is doing as well. There have been many tools for this over the years, but many have fallen by the wayside and the good ol’ Google sandbox is just not what it used to be.

In talking with some other long-time industry friends, one mentioned SEMRush. Now, I’m always skeptical of new tools (The best! The greatest! Better than the competition! Seriously, get new copy.) but this one had me intrigued, mostly because of the data available. Those of you that know me well, know that I’m a data kinda girl and prefer cold, hard numbers to ‘gut feelings’.

You simply enter a domain (yours or a competitor’s) and the search returns a plethora of data points from organic keyword positions, advertising spend, and PLA research to display advertising information, but the best part in my opinion is the keyword research and backlinks sections. What to know what the going rate is for a keyword? No problem! How about who is showing up in organic results for a term? There’s a live updated, exportable list. You can even see backlinks, anchor text, keyword difficulty, indexed pages and so much more.

Best part is the tool has a free version as well as three levels of paid versions for those who need additional data points. The free version lets you do several searches before you have to register, but honestly the amount of data you can uncover is totally worth it. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I was able to uncover in just a short amount of time and I’ll be looking to use it to improve several of my other sites. You should definitely check out the SEMRush tool and let me know what you think!

Posted in Work | 0 Comments

Is it Summer Yet?

April 27th, 2015 by Karen

The sheer amount of stress and physical exhaustion from the past couple of days has about done me in.

I did a ton of volunteer work the past couple of days. Not required work, but just what needed. It was exhausting, but incredibly rewarding for me personally.

It was also a huge, welcome distraction from the crap going on in my life.

Stuff that’s wrong:

  • I’ve had a family member stuck in Nepal after the devastating earthquake.
  • A huge project is due at the end of the week for the middle kiddo and he still needs to finish it up.
  • The jerks at the Modern Language Association decided apparently to change their standards sometime in the past couple of years and only now did I find out about it (despite approximately 12 research papers by my kids, turned in with ‘antiquated’ formatting on their bibliographies and NO feedback from ANY of their teachers). Sorry, but standards should be standards and not something you waffle about and then add italics to down the road.
  • Inconsistent use of a required system at the school for homework assignments. (Sorry, but my kids aren’t the only ones who can’t remember your instructions. Put it in writing.)
  • Failure by one teacher to use said system AT ALL. My 92 year old grandpa uses Facebook. Your ‘too old to figure it out’ excuse is invalid.
  • Both kids having to repeatedly re-do assignments because they failed to follow the unclear, unwritten instructions.
  • The youngest kiddo’s complete and total inability to TURN IN COMPLETED HOMEWORK ON TIME.
  • One of our fences is falling over and it’s the one with the crazy scary German Shepard.
  • Both kids aren’t seeing much playing time in baseball/softball, which in the case of the youngest, severely impacts her ability to pay attention.
  • The oven broiler element fried itself and melted.
  • I have a migraine.
  • Everybody sucks.

Stuff that’s right:

Yep. That’s what I can come up with at the moment.

I’ve found myself increasingly agitated this month and angry. I feel like Bruce Banner. I’m always angry. I just want to be left alone and do my work and have things run smoothly. Instead, I feel like we’re hitting every bump in the road and I’m being poked with a sharp stick nonstop.

Poking a bear doesn’t end well for anyone. Just stop.

Summer just can’t come soon enough.

Posted in Life | 0 Comments

Right hand, left hand

February 18th, 2015 by Karen

ashesToday is Ash Wednesday. It is probably one of my most favorite of the Catholic Holy Days because every year, we get to hear Matthew 6. Something about this particular chapter has always rung with supreme truth for me. It’s a road map for every day living.

Don’t act holier than thou just to attract attention in public.
Give charitably, but do it in secret. No one else needs to know what you do for others.
Pray in the quiet of your heart, privately as a close conversation with a loved one.
Prayer is not for babbling on and on in order to try to sound important or holy.
Forgiveness is a two way street.
Fasting should be done in secret and without complaint.
Worry less about material goods and more about those intangible gifts of the spirit.
You cannot follow both God and money.
Worrying will not prolong your life or bring you material goods.
Concern yourself only with today’s worries, tomorrow will come in its own time.

I’ve always been kind of a wallflower, and maybe that’s why I latched onto this Bible chapter as a child. This is the first time I heard “it’s ok to not be the center of attention”. As a shy kid with a speech impediment, I would much rather quietly observe and participate in activities and that carries through to this day. I still struggle with being noticed…whether it’s speaking in public or receiving a compliment, I often find it very uncomfortable. Also I admit, I worry too much about a vast variety of things and probably too little about some things that should be more cause for concern, but my propensity for worry is something that I recognize as a challenge to undertake. I’m a work in progress.

Now that I’m an adult though, the biggest meaningful part of this excerpt for me concerns charity. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4 My discomfort at being noticed likely dovetails into this a bit, but I truly do prefer to give something to someone quietly, quickly and without recompense. I’ve always found that small things mean so much more than something impersonal. Could I write a check and make a donation somewhere? Sure. However, a loaf of homemade bread will feed someone physically and spiritually today. A couple of bags of hand-me-down clothes will take care of my friends’ child and ease her worry over where she’ll find the budget to buy new things for her growing child. A hand made hat or scarf will keep someone warm, not just today, but next year and the year after that. A cup of coffee bought for the person next in line at the drive-through will brighten their day and hopefully they in turn will pass that joy on to another person in their life. These are things given with thought and with love, privately and without need for fanfare.

Does this mean that charity should never be public? No, of course not. When a community rallies to a cause that is crucial to the well being of the community at large, that camaraderie is important in that it supports all involved. There is nothing wrong with participation…it’s when we twist it to glorify ourselves individually and our individual contributions that we go astray. Charity should be undertaken simply because it is the right thing to do.

Last year, I was blessed to have been able to attend the Bar Mitzvah for the son of a wonderful friend of mine. As someone who had never had the opportunity before, I found the Temple services stunning. Catholic Mass follows so closely to its predecessor (remember, Jesus and the disciples were all Jewish!) that I was nearly brought to tears several times. It was a beautiful experience. During one of the services, the Rabbi brought up the Jewish tradition of tzedakah, the concept that righteousness and fairness is an actual obligation. We are obligated as followers of God to aid those in need, despite our own financial standing, and to do it without being asked. This is why in Luke 21, Christ points out the donation of the Jewish widow at the Temple: “When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

No one asked the widow to donate to the Temple. No one was standing there enforcing a 10% tithe of her income. No one was standing there keeping track of who gave money to the treasury or withholding services if they did not give. Despite her poverty, the widow was still called to donate what she could to help others in the community who were less fortunate. She simply did what she felt was necessary. This is the true meaning of charity; giving what you are called to give in support of those who are in need.

One other aspect of tzedakah that the Rabbi mentioned was that it is also an obligation of the giver to ensure that funds entrusted to an organization for the good of the community are properly managed and spent effectively and wisely. How often do we just give blindly because “eh, it’s for charity” or “it’s a good tax write off”. This sort of blasé indifference is something we all fall into from time to time. It can be a difficult question to ask, but finding out just where your donations are going can be a real surprise. You may find that while you thought a donation was going to feed the poor, it in fact was used to buy a sign. Or that you believed you were helping cancer patients, but in fact you essentially lined the pocket of some CEO. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give at all, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s an admonishment to give fully but that you should do your homework first so what you give is used properly. Being informed makes us all better stewards of the resources available in our communities and ensures that help is given to those who need it most.

On Ash Wednesday, it’s traditional to “give up something for Lent”. I’ve always thought that was rather odd…as kids we were encouraged to give up sweets, or soda, or television, but I never found that spiritually satisfying. How does my giving up chocolate glorify God? (Side note, giving up cake when your birthday always falls during Lent is a real drag. Only made that mistake once.) For the past several years, rather than giving something up and refraining from something, I’ve made the conscious choice to give something UP…to try to do something every day that glorifies God.

I’m not going to tell you what it is; that defeats the purpose. I would however encourage those who are reflecting on this season to find a fulfilling way to mark this period of penitence with something with spiritual meaning.

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Flipping Tables

February 5th, 2015 by Karen

Warning: Rant ahead. You’ve been warned.

I am angry.

No. I am downright furious.

What makes you think that you have any right to demand of me a written permission slip stating that I am an active member of my faith?

Do you come to my house and see that we say grace before our meals?

Or that every day of Advent we read a Bible verse as a family pertaining to the names of Jesus and then discussed what each verse meant and how we can better live our lives as Jesus taught and then decorated our Christmas tree with those names?

Do you know the worry that plagues me every time my children altar serve for you that they won’t make a mistake and you won’t look at them with that horrid thin-lipped cross look you give?

Do you know that my eldest child attended the ‘training’ you gave and immediately afterword informed me that they would no longer altar serve because they felt they wouldn’t be serving the altar anymore but you personally?

Do you even realize that your disapproval has a profound effect on children and can make them fall AWAY from their faith?

Do you know how much it pains me that for the last year and a half I have been physically unable to fully kneel during Mass?

Do you understand what it’s like to live with crippling depression and that sometimes just getting out of bed is a blessing and benediction in and of itself?

Do you know that one of my most prized possessions is an inherited communion set that was brought from Europe when they immigrated and squirreled away by relatives through the years “just in case”?

Do you understand what sort of devotion this taught me from people who once were terrified of openly professing their faith?

Do you have any idea what our school was like just 2 years ago when I had a child that was falling apart at the seams because of a teacher that the administration REFUSED to deal with?

Can you even see the good that our school does now and just how damn hard the parents work to keep it going?

Do you see the amazing things that the current principal has done and how hard she works or are you only capable of criticizing her work?

Do you realize that I finished my 40 “required” volunteer hours in the first 3 weeks of the school year?

Do you have any remote inkling of the kind of financial sacrifice we have made for the last 12 years so our children could have a Catholic education?

I am a baptized Catholic.
I was an altar server for many years and one of the first girls to altar serve at the Cathedral.
I am a confirmed Catholic.
I am a married Catholic.
My children are baptized Catholic.
The eldest is confirmed Catholic.
By the grace of God, I will die Catholic.

At 17, in a town meeting of approximately 100 people at our parish, most of whom I knew as they were Knights of Columbus, I respectfully objected to moving our thriving youth ministry from a useful and large location in the parish hall to a tiny 10×15 room that we would be unable to meet in. I detailed the reasons I thought it should be kept where it was and, if it couldn’t, why the new location was unsuitable. I was told TO MY FACE by our parish priest that because I was a girl and a teenager, my opinion didn’t matter one bit (his exact words) and to sit down. When I took offense, I was SHOUTED AT to get out. Only one adult in the entire meeting came to my defense and I will never forget the look of shame on the faces of the other adults in the room as he chastised them. I was still humiliated.

That was not the last time a priest told me I was worthless because of my sex or my age.
I’m sure it will happen again.

However, I’ve made damn sure that my children know the opposite is true. I am the one in power here. I am the one teaching the next generation of Catholics. I am the one who taught them their prayers at bedtime, the one that listened to them countlessly stumble over the words as they learned the creed, the one that sang “This little light of mine” a billion times in the car until my ears bled. I’m the one that answers the hard questions about death, abortion, and rape. I’m the one who nudges their busy bodies to a modicum of respectfulness in Mass and takes the time to explain why we do the things that we do and the meaning behind each and every little thing in the sanctuary. They see me try to offer up my own faith, such as it is, in the best way that I can.

On the other hand, you speak at them, not to them. You refuse to answer their questions. You demand respect rather than earning it. You talk incessantly of vocation, yet show little of it and never discuss that parenthood is also a vocation.

You want to know why there aren’t enough boys becoming priests? It’s because you belittle their mothers.

News flash. Faith is not a once a week obligation. It is not money in an envelope. It’s not so a bunch of people can come listen to you jabber away about how much the parish needs to donate or how we should come to Mass every week. (Pro tip: That’s called preaching to the choir…the choir is already at Mass. You don’t need to tell them to come.)

You want donations to increase through punishment and punitive measures, but that’s not how donations work. Even the concept of ‘tithing’ 10% is outdated and is an Old Testament obligation under the Laws of Moses. It doesn’t free modern Catholics from the obligation to help the church, but there is no set dollar amount here.

As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15:

For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality. As it is written: “Whoever had much did not have more,and whoever had little did not have less.”

I have nothing left monetary to give you that I haven’t already given to the school. I have also given my time and my talents above and beyond what I have been requested to do. This well is dry and you will have to make do with the blood, sweat and tears I have already given to you.

I’ll fill out your damnable and offensive permission slip because I’m like the woman with ten silver coins who has lost one. I’m going to search and find every last cent I can to care for my family.

I still think you’re a small minded bigoted bureaucrat paper pusher with a Napoleonic ego.

Oh, and since we’re picking nits here, you did promise to be a presence on campus this year.
According to the jr. high student, you’ve been to their classroom once and that was last week. According to the elementary student, you’ve never even been to their classroom.

Might want to take that log out of your eye first there, sport.

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Leap From The Lion’s Head

February 5th, 2015 by Karen

So I’ve started on a new business venture with a friend.

I’ve done this three times already and each time, not only was I personally disappointed, but it affected our family financially and broke my trust.

I’ve been understandably nervous about it, but this time, the pieces just seemed to fall into place. My strengths are their weakness and my weakness is their strength and of course neither of us can do any of what Joel does. It’s a good complimentary set of skills and I think it really helped that we eased into things over the past couple of months. It really set a lot of my fears to rest.

The entire new team attended a conference in January together and we received fantastic feedback and congratulations from friends and colleagues and I think that was the final shot in the arm. I’m super stoked about this upcoming year professionally and I’m actually excited about work every morning again.

Great way to start off the year!

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October 29th, 2014 by Karen

I’m so ridiculously excited! The San Francisco Giants just won the World Series in Game 7 and it was all down to the very last inning. I totally ruined a fingernail chewing on it and it hurts to type, but man oh man did Bumgartner come through in the pitching department!

I knew that Fanatics would have gear pretty soon after the game and they did not disappoint…they already have a bunch of stuff available, including the Locker Room hat and a rather spiffy women’s cut shirt that I’m thinking about getting myself!

giants hatgiants shirt

The pictures will take you straight to the products…and if you’re kind enough to click on them and make any purchase on their site, I’ll get a smidgen back. Don’t feel obligated though!

Now we can start the countdown to Spring Training…

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