Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Giving Tuesday, blah blah blah

I'm cynical about this Giving Tuesday stuff.

We only give this one day a year?
For what it's worth, I'm also not a fan of Black Friday or Cyber Monday. I'm okay with Small Business Saturday, but mostly only because some of the people with small businesses around here are my friends.

When you live in a small town you quite often know the people on the other side of the counter, and they you, and if you like their business you want it to stick around.

I recognize the privilege in my constant willingness to ignore Black Friday. The amount of money I'd save isn't worth the hassle to me. That's nice for me. But anyway, I'm cynical about the whole thing.

We usually decorate our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We didn't this year. We had it tentatively scheduled for the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, before the children flew back to their current homes, but my husband wasn't feeling up for it--this knee replacement stuff is hard and painful--and none of the rest of us wanted to proceed without him, so now we're decorating the tree on December 22nd, which is when the children come back (it's so fantastic that they both get to spend Thanksgiving AND Christmas with us still). We are not putting up little wreaths on all the dining room and kitchen windows. My allergies were so bad last year I declared it was time to ban indoor fresh fir, and I haven't yet found a source for fake small wreaths. Not that it matters as the husband isn't yet ambulatory. Likewise the garland on the bannister. Also the outdoor lights. I'll put up the Nativity sets soon, and get out the stockings, but on the whole it's a pared-down Christmas just as it was a pared-down Thanksgiving.

And that's fine. Thanksgiving was lovely. I could wish an easier recovery for my husband, but I'm grateful for, among other things, my work-at-home life that makes it easy for me to care for him. I'm grateful for our full first-floor bathroom that means he can shower without climbing stairs. I'm grateful for a lot of small things, and many big ones.

This morning I packed up bookplates to send out to the schools enrolled in the Appalachian Literacy Initiative. The first set of student-selected books are on their way to the classes, and the second set has been ordered. (We'll be a little quicker next year--we want the first set arriving by the end of October. But this is our pilot year, we're still figuring things out.) We had stickers made that read, "This book is a gift from Appalachian Literacy Initiative, and now belongs to:" and then there's a line for the student to write their name. I got extremely pleased as I went along, because--I need to order more stickers. I got a great deal on them online, and remember wondering how many I should buy, but this was before any of the schools had applied. I was vaguely hoping we'd be able to enroll 20 classrooms--the board thought that was overly optimistic--so I bought 2000 bookplates. In the end we enrolled 28 classrooms from 40 applications. 675 students x 2 books so far = 1350 books. Then 16 classroom books so far x 28 classrooms = 448 books. That's almost 1800 stickers.

1800 books.

To finish out the program for the rest of the year will take another 1686 stickers and books.

I am so loving this math.

I know I keep asking for money on this blog, and here I am doing it again, because after all it is GIVING TUESDAY. I'm practically obligated, right?

Here's the thing: our 501(c)3 status hasn't been granted yet. We registered as a non-profit in the state of Tennessee last March. We created a board, voted and approved our articles of incorporation and other legal bits, and filed for status with the IRS in early June. It was a big honking application and I was proud of completing it. On June 25, I got an official IRS letter saying they'd received my application.

And there we sit. There's no problem of which I am aware. Last week I got a tich frustrated and called the IRS and rattled off all our official numbers, and was told that we had not yet been assigned an agent, which as far as I could tell after further questioning meant that no one had done a damn thing. "It has not yet been 180 days," the IRS agent told me, indignantly.

OK. 180 days will be Christmas, and want I really want this year is tax-exempt status for ALI so we can apply for all these grants I've researched and learned about, and all the corporate-matching funds people offer me, and so I can approach publishers who don't have strong reason to love me (my own publisher, who does, has made a generous donation.) Right at this moment we're having to rely on personal donations--and when we do get our status it will apply retroactively to March 2018, our date of incorporation, so yes, your gifts should be tax-deductible, they just aren't yet--and people have been amazing, I swear they have, and I'm so grateful,

But you know, it's Giving Tuesday. Maybe you'd like to give a book to a kid who's never owned one before. Maybe you are buying books for kids in your own life, whom you love, and while you're at it you'll buy one for this kid--this fourth-grade girl in Leon, West Virginia, or the boy in Berea, Kentucky, who never saw themselves as readers because they honestly had nothing to read. Because their teachers are trying to build classroom libraries from books they find at Goodwill. Because the dollar books from Scholastic Book Fair look like leftovers, and when you're a poor kid you're sick of getting stuck with leftovers all the time.

You've got a thousand places to put your money. I know that. I don't even like Giving Tuesday. But maybe you do. And maybe ALI is something you'd like to support.

If you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, you can mail a check to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at PO Box 3283, Bristol, TN 37625, or click here to purchase books on our wishlist from Parnassus Books, our preferred bookstore. You’ll receive 10% off with the code GIVEREADING, and Parnassus will ship the books to us free of charge. You can also purchase books from our Amazon wishlist by clicking here

Monday, November 19, 2018

Small Thanksgiving

This morning my husband's stress meter was set to Apocalypse even before he stepped on the candy shard. I'd just gotten into the shower when he made a noise like Chewbacca. "I just stepped on a tiny sharp white thing!" he shouted.

"The dog got into your peppermint Life Savers!" I shouted back.

He growled again. My husband, I mean. It's not my fault the dog found his Life Savers but it is my fault that we have a dog. And I thought I'd cleaned up the mess, but the bathroom floor is speckled shiny white and blue tile and those pieces were hard to see.

"If I cut my foot I can't have surgery!" he said. This is true.

"Put on some socks!" I said back. I'm pretty sure Life Savers aren't sharp enough to penetrate the thick socks he wears.

My husband has been having a rough time. This morning he was still on call for his practice, about to go perform surgery, and less than 24 hours from a total knee replacement. That he's receiving, not performing. Also his tooth still hurt. His mind was running an auto-loop of all the things that could go wrong with his knee, and it was not effective to try to reassure him because just recently everything possible went wrong with one of his teeth. Three root canals. Extraction. Dry socket. Heavy antibiotics because of the pending knee surgery.  He's lost 15 pounds in the last few weeks simply because it hurt too much to eat.

He's having his knee replaced because he has no cartilage left. When he was a boy he fractured his patella playing baseball and it healed with a sharp internal edge. He's had repeated surgeries on that knee and we've known for awhile that a joint replacement was only a matter of time. He hoped, however, for a little more time.

I'm optimistic. He, right now, is not. Did I mention the time he ruptured his Achilles? That hurt. A lot. Still does. Then there's the shoulder surgery....orthopedists love the man.

As do I. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving is going to be small this year. It's funny to me how my holidays flip-flopped. When I was a child Thanksgiving was sacrosanct. It would take place either at my house or my aunt's house, but it always, always involved the same family and the same food and the same card games. Christmas changed from year to year. Thanksgiving never did.

Then I grew up. My children have known a never-changing Christmas. We found a good set of rituals early and kept them. It's been rare for us to have family visiting on Christmas and we never travel. The only big change is that now that they're adults they don't wake us up at four am. Thanksgiving has been our variable holiday--different family, different friends, different food. We've traveled and hosted friends and been hosted by friends, and all of it has been lovely, but not this year.

This year will be the four of us. I had family willing to come and I told them no. My husband will be two days postop, sleeping in my office. My children don't arrive home until late Wednesday night. I floated the idea of getting our turkey from Bojangles this year. (For my Yankee friends, that's a Southern fast-food fried chicken chain.) Bojangles deep-fries turkeys. I always thought deep-fried turkeys sounded interesting but also, in my hands, a near-guaranteed way to set the house on fire. We all like Bojangles, especially my son, who hung out there after school with his friends so often in high school that the manager gave them all t-shirts.

But the children protested mightily, and finally I got to the root of their unhappiness, which was, you can't stuff a deep-fried Bojangles turkey with my grandmother's stuffing.

My grandmother's stuffing--made primarily of saltine crackers and bacon--is legend. It achieves greatness only by being cooked inside the bird--you can't get anything close to the same texture or taste without it absorbing all the poultry juice and drippings. It is magical. I cram that turkey as full as possible with the stuffing; no matter how much I make, there are nearly no leftovers.

Ok. I understood. Grandma's stuffing had to be on the table. But that caused me to rethink the entire menu. What if, instead of making all the dishes I usually did, I only made what mattered most?

Turkey with stuffing. My daughter added cranberries. My husband added our traditional sweet potato casserole. My son added Sister Schubert's pan rolls. (Those come frozen in Southern grocery stores.) We thought hard about dessert and decided to go with fancy ice cream. The end.

It will be plenty to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Can Your Book Club Help Mine?

Phew. I'm back from the fall rush. Now I'm in the middle of a book rush. It's a good place to be.

Monday I spoke at a lovely public middle school in New Jersey. It was well-appointed but not crazily so; the students were well-behaved, diverse, well-prepared, inquistive--everything you'd want in a school group. It was a pleasure to be with them.

As usual, I asked the librarian what percentage of the students get free or reduced-price school lunch. The librarian looked startled. "I'd guess hardly any," she said. Later I looked the school up on niche.com, and sure enough, it's listed as 1%.

In a perfect world, none of our schoolchildren will grow up in poverty.

Where I live--I just stopped to do some math with the stats on niche.com, because my town is divided into both Tennessee and Virginia sides, and has 9 elementary and 2 middle schools--in my hometown, 71% of the elementary students and 63% of the middle school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. That's 3000 students out of a little over 4000.

This is why I started the Appalachian Literacy Initiative. If you're struggling to feed your kids you're going to struggle to get them books.

If they don't have access to books, they don't learn to read as well.

Nationwide, of the students who get free and reduced-price lunch, only 22% read proficiently.

At ALI, we've enrolled 28 classrooms, 675 students, in this year's program. By the end of the year each teacher will have a classroom set of 28 new high-quality books and each child will have four brand-new books of their choice to keep. "I hate to say this," one teacher from Kentucky told me, "but you give some of my students one book and you've just increased by 100% the number of books in their home."

The books we give are interesting and age-appropriate and shiny bright. They are books designed to get kids hooked on reading.

They are not free or reduced-price books. (Though our partner, Parnassus Books, does give us a great discount.) And the truth is, we've committed to these kids, but we don't know yet how we're going to fund the whole year. We're working on it! We'll take all ideas.

Meanwhile, the librarian at that school in New Jersey had a suggestion that I'm going to pass onto all of you. If you're reading this, you probably enjoy reading.
If your reading this, you may belong to a book club.

If you belong to a book club, would your club sponsor ALI? Perhaps we could be your holiday project. For $40 you could sponsor a student. $210 will sponsor the teacher's classroom set. $1000 is an entire classroom for the year.

I know, at this time of year you've got a million worthy charities vying for your attention and your dollars. Can you still spare a moment for us? I believe so sincerely in this cause. I believe so sincerely that the right book can be a lifeline for a child.

If you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, you can mail a check to Appalachian Literacy Initiative at PO Box 3283, Bristol, TN 37625, or click here to purchase books on our wishlist from Parnassus Books, our preferred bookstore. You’ll receive 10% off with the code GIVEREADING, and Parnassus will ship the books to us free of charge. You can also purchase books from our Amazon wishlist by clicking here.