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Can a person deduct library fines as a child care expense? Asking for a friend

I ran the river trail this morning at dawn (which is not as early as it sounds, please hold your applause). A mallard honked at me, a squirrel scolded. I was otherwise alone, dodging icy patches and thinking about how each day now, until June, will be longer than the day before it, a miracle of earth’s tilt I only try to understand.

(Two days ago: “It’s because the sun starts to move back north, really slowly,” I told the kindergartner. “But the sun doesn’t move. The earth moves,” she said. And my index finger moved in front of my mouth like a harmonica while I thought. “Yes. Snack? Is it snack time?”)

Anyway, I’m grateful, is what I’m trying to say. Extra sunlight, little snow, and a book deadline all landing sweetly in January.

A week or so ago, this was not the case: Dave was in Dallas for an ill-advised week-long work thing; Louisa was puking. I was trying to write a sermon for Jan. 3 and 4; somehow I racked up $2.60 in library fines, completely out of character. “My life is falling apart,” I whined (with self-awareness).

“I think library fines mean you’re doing all right, relatively speaking,” a friend said. I have kind friends.

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Anyhow. As I finish the last edits on The Year of Small Things and perfect the yearlong elevator pitch for the book that I’ll have to give between now and its release (early 2017), I wanted to share some truths about writing a book you may not have considered:

  1. The number of singy-song movies you can tolerate your children watching increases the closer you get to deadline.
  2. You will incur massive amounts of library-fine debt over said sing-songy movies.
  3. You will become so tired of defending your theses that by the end of the book, your left eye will twitch when you hear key phrases or words such as “the,” “is,” and “and.”
  4. You will rob Peter (the savings account) to pay Paul (child care). Then you’ll spend 10 minutes on the Goog’ looking for the origin of that saying.
  5. You will do the math and realize that you worked the last 18 months on a book for less than ha’penny an hour.
  6. Because you hate math anyway, you’re OK with this.
  7. You’ll start to doubt all your prior convictions, such as “I hate listy blogs,” “Berry Kix are for kids,” and “Brownies are a ‘sometimes’ food.”
  8. Your fears vacillate between this being the last book you’ll ever write and this being simply the first book you’ll ever write.
  9. When a financial planner asks if you plan to “go back to work” when the youngest is in school, you choke on your gum.
  10. You’ll overhear your oldest telling her friend that “My mom writes books,” and you’ll wonder how on earth you pulled this off.

Coming later in January: No more list posts, thoughts on writing a book that new monastics will read, and more. But first ……. I go back to my writerly cave.

Giveaway: ‘Between Midnight and Dawn’

I’ve lived most of the last year (or maybe my whole life) in my head, and now a small part of it’s about to be out of my hands — it’s less than a month to my book deadline, friends. I may survive, if only I can get a couple more chapters (and a sermon) out of my fingertips … while children run fevers, wake up with crusty eyes, and generally ruin all child-care plans I have for December. Not that I’m watching the calendar while breathing in and out of paper bags.

So, my friends, it’s time I thank you for hanging in there with me during my radio silence. Giveaway time, book people!

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This one’s a special book for me. Not only is it the book that my co-author Sarah Arthur miraculously birthed while also working on our book (classic overachiever), but it’s also one I suggested a couple favorites for (The Secret Garden and Parables from Nature for the win!).

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, & Eastertide was released by Paraclete Press just a couple weeks ago — this is a banquet for book-lovers. The collection’s full of a beautifully curated selection of poetry, fiction, and prayers from the classics to the contemporary, including fellow Redbud Writers Guild ladies (pro tip: never miss Kate James’ blog).

Between Midnight and Dawn also completes Sarah’s trilogy of literary guides to prayer. (Don’t miss Advent’s Light Upon Lightand At The Still Point for Ordinary Time.)

TO ENTER: Simply comment here on this blog post with the title and author of the last good book you’ve read- fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. I’ll pick a name at random and contact the winner on January 6. Good luck and happy reading!

My white kids with their backpacks

Catholic grade school, mid 1990s. We were prepping for a field trip to a metro art museum: stay with your chaperone; be on your best behavior. And “When you see black people,” the teacher said to a sea of thirty white kids, “you just treat them like anyone else. Just say ‘hello’ if they say hello.”

I remember this because it was weird to me then, two years into living in the rural community. Sure, diversity in that rural area meant you might meet a Lutheran or a Baptist; someone whose ancestors disembarked at Ellis Island from England instead of Germany like so many of us with weird consonant-heavy last names painted on the sides of barns.

I want this to be a totally weird story for my kids, too. I want to someday tell my kids this story and have them go, “I can’t believe that happened.” So to do that, we’ve gotta seek to put ourselves in positions where we may or may not be the only white Christians from middle-class backgrounds in the room, right?

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This isn’t an easy thing to write about, talk about, or live out — especially with kids who right now are more concerned about their Christmas lists (already) than their perspectives on diversity.

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Ten things not to say to a writer as deadline approaches

(I promise this will be the only post I’ll ever use that horrid “ten things” gimmick — until the next book, of course. I know, it makes me vom, too.)

Friends, I’m in the thick of it: writing, writing, wordy word words. The first six chapters of our book has been sent to the editor; we’re rounding out the rest for a January deadline.

And the dishes keep piling, the kids need picked up from school. I’m still volunteering, still working at church, still preaching. We’re reading “The Wind in the Willows” at bedtime; the shower needs a cleaning and so does my hair. The once-golden leaves are past that pretty point; now they’re just dead and brown in the grass and I need to rake. And I have to put them in bags, and I just cannot.

I spend almost all day in prayer and writing things in my mind. And picking up socks from the kitchen floor. I sleep a comatose nine hours a night: my brain is so full. My soul, too.

And people keep asking me questions. And my wrist hurts only when I hold it in the position as if I’m deleting something and still, the questions. Mercy, people.

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It’d be all out of context, this future-knowing stuff

 

 

Louisa was hiding under a blanket on the couch. “Where’s my Weezy? Where’s Weezy?” I called from the kitchen. She giggled. I came in and tickled the foot that was sticking out. I scooped her up: “Weeza!” And in a moment, looking into her eyes, I remembered how impossible this moment seemed four years ago. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been lovely to have this snapshot then? Wouldn’t I have slept better? My God …”

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The three thousand who learn somewhere else, and we who live here anyway

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I lugged a ladder around my house Monday morning, spraying vinegar water on the windows and wiping them clean with newspaper. It was the Sunday paper, and that matters because it wasn’t just the paper in my hands that left its ink on my fingers. I kept the front section on the front stoop under a cup of tea. I wasn’t ready to let those pages go.

Those stories, that topic: Schools of Choice. Here she goes, Dave said as I read through the stories with a pen on Sunday. Here I go.

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Take me out for a cup of tea and we’ll dissect the gaps and flaws in the reporting, the story that wasn’t, the story that should’ve been. Take me out for dinner and dessert and we can talk about the war in my soul over participating in Schools of Choice and living in Lansing. Stay for a weekend and we can maybe start to talk about what’s right for your family (and for good measure, maybe start praying about next year now).

Come move into my neighborhood and we can start to do something about these things here, though.

And maybe most of those filling-out-school-application-level choices should happen around dinner tables or coffee tables with your most trusted people.

Because there is no right answer: there isn’t. There’s only what God’s doing in your life and how you’re responding to that. But, so as not to let you off the hook: know that your choices — they have implications. Lansing know this. Lansing lost 3,171 of us to the Schools of Choice program. It has 11,525 left. That’s a big number.

This matters. This hurts someone. Lansing is not the blameless victim, either. This is complex. Let’s get tea.

So … come to my church (or go to yours); worship with me (or your community) and then — then we might get a hint of what we’re to do about the tension between living in a place and really wanting to be in this place all the way: work, play, worship, school.

I chose (with my church family, my real family, and my prayers) to enroll my kids in a suburban district’s schools. Why? In a few seconds: Sycamore Elementary offers a balanced calendar (I love the stress-and-rest rhythm; it mimics Sabbath rest). Its superintendent is a dynamic leader. Everyone’s warm, quick to communicate: teachers, secretaries, principals. My kids know what’s expected of them and they feel challenged academically. The student body’s diverse and economically equivalent to my neighborhood (free- and reduced-price-lunch-eligible students’ figures are about the same as the school across the street from us).

But I can still lament that the school district in which I reside — the one from which I took about $15,000 in per-pupil grants — isn’t all these things I care about. (And I can lament that I’m not there anyway. Much dying to my own privileged ideas can still be done.)

We got this broken-urban-schools thing, friends, because of all the big reasons: suburbs were born; people fled city districts to escape “city problems.” Those who stayed aged or didn’t have as many children, or their children moved out. Those who stayed were often poor.

(And … schools of choice programs often mimic previous generations’ city-flight patterns, I’d wager. Maybe the schools-of-choice program was the grace that let me move into this adorable, affordable, established city neighborhood? Again, let’s get tea. This isn’t prescriptive.)

The only prescriptive, must-do from this whole holy disdain: be as much as you can where you are, and watch for God. Then join Him there.

 

Maybe this moment is merely a bench along the path where I rest my disdain, my frustration, my lamentations before rising to ask some tough questions. What are we doing about it? What are we who live here going to do about it? Are we just going to leave, or is there something we can do? How far will our lamenting carry us?

How’s your neighborhood school? If you don’t know, find out. Start there. How can we learn to love these schools – not love “on” them like they were mission cases, but really know them and advocate for them? How can we, church? I’m asking because I don’t yet know all the way and I’m asking you to join me in figuring it out.

We’re all figuring it out: my teacher friends. My school psychologist friend. My pastor friend, my author friend. Their new monastic friends in Durham, N.C. My other pastor friend. My priest friend. My social work friends and my jobless friends and my journalist husband.

Our common ground is lament: Our crying to God in anger and despair: our complaints. Then our impatience as we wait for a response.

And we trust one’s coming, because this Guy comes through. We can trust This Guy, this God character.

And of course, God’s already at work here. When we show up, we’re just participating in what He’s already doing. The neighbors of what is now Mt. Hope STEAM Magnet School in the Lansing Public School District have pulled weeds, bought basketball hoop nets, and mentored kids for years.

When Sycamore Creek moved into the vacant church building across Mount Hope Avenue and asked to meet the school’s principal, we were only joining those small efforts. A few of us on staff toured the fourth- through sixth-grade school last month. We met the principal, an energetic and passionate woman named Liz Jones. She’s dynamic. She’s struck me as a connector in the Malcom Gladwell meaning of the word, talking about partnerships. Our church is probably going to partner with the school this fall for a one-day service opportunity, and a few of us are pursuing some mentorship stuff, too.

It’s a small thing (hey, that’d make a great book idea – oh wait, that’s in the works).  But it’s something, and who knows what that something will lead to. (Man, we Christians love that theme, don’t we.)

Maybe we start small because we don’t know what else to do and doing nothing is scarier. Me.

***

Local folks & the interested: the Lansing State Journal links: (1, 2, 3, 4).

Disclaimer: my husband works at the LSJ, and my opinions aren’t necessarily his. He has no public opinion. #journalismethics

The refugee images that won’t let us go

This morning, Louisa stood by our gnome, Christopher Robin, and smiled for a photograph. She held her lunchbox and wore her monkey backpack, all ready for the first day of day care. Her knobby knees, her cheese-ball grin: she’s so 3.

She’s not a baby. She’s a little person.

I held my cousin’s third baby last week, sweet baby Cora. For two hours I held that squirming, sleepy baby on my shoulder and in my arms. Her elbows and knees poked from beneath the gauzy blanket in the same way Louisa’s did from my belly. I didn’t want to let her go: all the warm fuzzy hormonal feelings flooded over me in a way they never did when I had my own babies, thanks to depression and sleep deprivation. (Plus, it’s compelling being an honorary aunt.) Sweet baby.

Memories of the first weeks of Louisa’s life came back, in and out with the news last week: refugees. Refugees, and a two-year-old drowned, washed up on a Turkish beach, and I cried more over that story than I have over news stories ever. I cried because the boy’s body reminded me of Louisa’s knobby knees, and because just two years on earth isn’t enough, and he spent his years in a dangerous place.

 

Oh, sweet baby.

It’s horrific, and holding a baby in my arms who is just as loved as the Syrian baby in his or her mother’s arms tonight, right now — it’s too much. God, it’s too much.

I cried, too, because it’s a home they were after: a safe place. Oh, sweet baby.

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