Sunday, February 20, 2011

Making the Best of a Taxing Situation

by Linda Goodman

In less than two months, federal tax returns for 2010 are due. As some of you know, in addition to being a storyteller, I am an accountant. This tax season I am helping out at a small CPA firm. Some issues you should be aware of:

1. According to a letter to the editor titled No Coercion? Tell That to the IRS in the February 20 issue of The Richmond Times Dispatch, the federal government is hiring 16,500 more IRS agents and purchasing Remington riot shotguns for that agency. I personally know that 112 extra agents were hired in Richmond alone (don’t know about any shotguns here, though). I know a few of them very well. They are good people, but they have been hired to do a job and they have to do it.

2. An article titled Tax Collection Conundrum on the front page of the Moneywise section of the same issue states that the IRS is steadily increasing the number of tax liens and levies it files against taxpayers, “despite the high number of Americans who are unable to pay their taxes.”

3. This same article states that the IRS is “going after anyone who owes money, not just the wealthy who may have found loopholes or people who hide money in offshore accounts, and the practice is inflicting unnecessary harm, according to National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.” Tax liens damage a taxpayer’s credit and stay on a taxpayer’s credit report for 7 years, once resolved. Tax liens can put a small business out of business, as they render inaccessible the credit necessary to do business.

4. The IRS is claiming that it is taking steps to help taxpayers who are victims of our recession ridden economy. From what I am hearing, that is not true.

Some Advice:
Word has it that the IRS is scrutinizing schedule C’s. If you are a self-employed storyteller, you must file a schedule C. Make sure you keep all documentation for any income you have received and all expenses you have recorded.

The IRS is in some cases disallowing mileage logs. Make sure you mileage log is written and that it contains all the necessary requirements, which you can find on the IRS website:

The IRS is also scrutinizing non-cash donations. If you make non-cash donations, keep a detailed list of what you have donated. The list should include:

1. Date the item was acquired
2. Original cost
3. Name and address of agency accepting the donation
4. Date of donation
5. Fair Market Value at the time of donation
6. Method used to determine the fair market value

Storytellers cannot deduct the price of the clothing in which they perform unless it is exclusively for particular shows and cannot be worn elsewhere. For instance, someone who does historical storytelling in period costumes can deduct the cost of costumes; If you tell stories wearing a colorful cloak because you want to wear something eye-catching, however, you cannot deduct the cost of the cloak. Rule of thumb: When you are dressed in your storytelling garb, if someone doesn’t look at you and think, hey! That’s a performer! – don’t deduct the price of your outfit.

You can deduct miles traveled to a free performance for a 501(c)(3), but your time cannot be deducted. You get no deduction for the travel time or the show.

Be sure to include all your income on your tax return. A hiring agency must send you a 1099 MISC if it paid you $600 or more. You, however, must declare the income, regardless of the amount.

If you should get audited, and taxes and penalties are unjustly assessed, it can take a year or longer to get the problem resolved. Take deductions to which you are entitled, but don’t take chances.

A few years ago, when I was teaching my workshop Making the Best of a Taxing Situation at a storytelling conference, I was asked if I actually knew any storytellers who had been audited. I replied that I knew two. By the end of the conference, I knew six. Six out of the 200 people at the conference had been audited. None of them had pretty stories to tell.

At that time, only .58% of this country’s population was audited, on average. Today that percentage is 1.01%, almost double. If you have a red flag (a schedule C, non-cash donations), your odds of being audited are greater. This country has a huge deficit. Collecting taxes through whatever means is possible is being seen as a way to reduce that deficit. Beware.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Bully Billy Goat

DVD Review

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

By Priscilla Howe. Available at (click on Listen to My Stories and from that page click on the CDBaby link to buy this DVD) Email: $12.00. Suggested ages: 3 - 10 years

I first saw Priscilla Howe in April 1989 at the Connecticut Storytelling Festival. She was telling a story about a dragon who loved peanut butter, and everyone listening to her was enchanted. More than twenty years later, Accompanied by her puppet Trixie, she is as enchanting as ever.

The Bully Billy Goat is a collection of five stories, one song, and a movement activity. There is also a bonus story.

The stories come from around the world. The title story, from Poland, is about a billy goat that stations himself in a fox’s den and threatens to head-butt all those who try to make him leave. Luckily for a fox, a wolf, and a bear, a little hedgehog turns the tables on the bully.

The Pancake, from Holland, is reminiscent of The Gingerbread Man, as a pancake accidentally flipped to the floor decides to run away to see the world. Howe allows members of her young audience, to their delight, to choose the animals that the pancake encounters on its journey.

The Bellybutton Bird, a story from Japan, tells of a desperately poor man who, rather than feeling sorry for himself, delights in being serenaded by a bird that later saves him from execution and helps him gain great wealth.

France’s entry on this recording is Drakestail, a duck who is determined to get back money that the king borrowed from him. Drakestail is successful because he understands that no one can have too many friends.

The Village of No Cats, set in Bulgaria, is about a trickster who helps rid a village of its overwhelming mice population. A misunderstanding occurs, however, and a comically sad state of affairs is the end result. No good deed goes unpunished.

Small children often need breaks to dissipate energy between stories, and Howe provides such breaks with a hand exercise and a song that she teaches the children to sing though lenses of anger, sadness, and happiness. She even has them sing the song “under water.”

The bonus story is The Ghost with One Black Eye, a delightfully funny tale about a baby who wants apple juice and a ghost who will not let anyone get it. When the baby takes matters into his own hands, the ghost learns the meaning of trouble.

Watching Howe’s young audience enjoy her stories is as much fun as watching Howe and her puppet entertain them. Howe expertly keeps her audience engaged by including participatory activities and by maintaining a relaxed presence that allows the children to have fun.
Indeed, I would recommend that anyone who is uncomfortable telling stories to children use this video as a primer. This storyteller knows her stuff.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Barbara Lipke Left Behind

By Tony Toledo

Her trademark storytelling vest.
An empty theater seat.
A half eaten box of Chilmark Chocolates.
A bathing cap.
An old beat up beach bag.
A dog eared book of Norwegian folk tales.
A welcoming home of brick and laughter.
A puzzle in the corner with one missing piece
Toast that sits when it wants to fly.
A simple straight forward salad.
Schencken. (Who knew snails knew German?)
Figures, Facts and Fables.
A hole in Martha's Vineyard.
An empty potluck pan.
World's longest 3/8 of a mile.
A Chilmark floor yearning for her footsteps.
Waves at Windy Gates wondering when she'll be back.
36 years of Herb's good night kisses.
Binky and Bobby, nicknames un tethered.
A certain bend in the road that holds her voice.
The last time I saw her.
10 great grand children.
7 grand children.
4 children with her chin. (and heart)
New England Storytellers (who miss her terribly)
A world of admiring friends.
One less skinny dipper.
One less storyteller.
One less teacher.
One less friend.
Her laugh.
Her grin.
Her love.
A ripple in the water.

Inspired by the Charles Coe poem What He Left Behind (for his father).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Deirdre of the Sorrows

Compact Disc Review

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Deirdre of the Sorrows, by Diane Edgecomb with Margot Chamberlain, compact disc available from Diane Edgecomb, P.O. Box 16, Jamaica Plain, MA, 02130 (617) 522-4335. Email: $15.00, plus $1.50 S&H. Suggested age range: 12 years through adult

To see Diane Edgecomb perform Deirdre of the Sorrows, accompanied by Margot Chamberlain on the Celtic harp, is to watch poetry in motion. Hearing this haunting story on this exquisite recording conjures up images of both beauty and horror, leaving the listener breathless. Do not plan on listening to this recording and then going back to business as usual. It may take a while to recover composure.

Edgecomb and Chamberlain first met to work on Deirdre in 1989. The hauntingly beautiful musical arrangements by composer Tom Megan and Edgecomb’s extensive research into the life and world of the pre-Christian Celts have produced an unforgettable adaptation of this ancient tale. It begins at the Feast Samhain at Emain Macha, where Deirdre is born suddenly while her mother is serving the harsh and demanding High King at his banquet. A druid predicts the child will have a beauty so powerful and yet so destructive that it will bring about the ruin of Ulster. .

Though warned by a kinsman that he should take heed of the prophecy and destroy the child, the High King, perhaps feeling himself above prophecy, selfishly decides to send her to be raised in the wild by Lavarcham, a woman servant he deems to be trustworthy. No man is to touch Deirdre until she becomes old enough to be sent back to the High King.

The name Deirdre means sorrow, and sorrow is what she brings to all who love her. Deirdre has visions of the man she will love, and she holds onto her dream until she finally meets him in the flesh. Edgecomb skillfully paints their love affair in a way that makes us feel we are spying on secret lovers who do not know that we are there. Chamberlain’s Harp takes us back in time, and we cannot help but get caught up in the passion. The intensity between the two young lovers is palpable and real. We do not doubt their love for an instant.

Of course, only sorrow can follow such an all-consuming love. Omens of betrayal and tragedy appear throughout the story, and we know that it will not end well. But it does not matter that we know. By the time that Deirdre and her naive lover journey back to Emain Macha, we cannot help but go along with them and witness their last moments together as they seal their fate.

This story is timed perfectly to rise and fall with the crescendo of the harp. The characters are distinct and vivid. They will visit you in your dreams. Even though they break your heart, you will not be able to let go of them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


CD Review

Written and performed by Lynn Ruehlmann. Music by Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall. Available for $15.00, plus $3.50 shipping and handling, from May also be ordered by calling Lynn at (757) 625-6742.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

While Lynn Ruehlmann’s previous CDs have focused on American history (the Civil War, the Presidents’ wives), Mischief share’s Ruehlmann’s personal childhood history as a mischievous girl whose curiosity not only gets her into trouble from time to time, but teaches her lessons that have served her well throughout her life. Just one look at the cover photo tells us much about her. This is a child who knows how to have fun, and we cannot wait to get to know her better.

Once again Ruehlmann calls upon the musical talents of Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall, and they enhance the charm of the stories. Various instruments (guitar, dulcimer, autoharp, and harmonica, among others) are used play the musical intros that set the tone of each tale. From Ceiling Blues to Simple Gifts, the songs serve as bridges between stories.

Ceiling Blues introduces the listener to Ruehlmann’s imaginary friend Freddy, who leads her on an escapade which ends in her “breaking the house.” This story illustrates the sharp contrast between childhood perception and adult reality. Who knows what clever little minds may be thinking?

Real Baby Maybe finds Ruehlmann on a visit to a “kid house” where, disillusioned by an older girl’s outlandish behavior, she ends up taking a “real” baby on a walk that is rather unexciting, until the baby wakes from his nap. Real babies, she finds, hold forth surprises a girl would never expect from a doll.

A dismissive sister, boredom, and a nail file lead to mischief in Carving My Place. Ruehlmann’s work on a school jungle project helps her to deal with a bully and perform an act of kindness for a friend in Jungle Jaguar.

Did you know that you can tell a lot about people by the way they use chopsticks? After unwittingly serenading an entire restaurant, Ruehlmann shares her chopsticks expertise with the kind minister who is one of her lunch mates in Travel by Chopsticks.

Pipes and Chimes finds Ruehlmann bored at church, where she is banned from the room where her father and Mister Wheeler are tuning the organ. What is a young girl to do but go exploring and play pranks? Thankfully, the end result is a touching moment between father and daughter, a most satisfying end to this sweetly nostalgic recording.