Just Another Blog

my random ramblings about crafts, writing, books and kids

Christmas While Poor

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Me, my kids, and my brother last Christmas

Being poor sucks all year ’round, but it seems doubly bad come the holidays. If you’re Christian, or like me, an atheist that celebrates Christmas, there is a lot of pressure to give gifts to everyone and their uncle. It can cause a lot of stress when you barely have money to put food on the table, and many poor families go into more debt trying to give their children even a small Christmas.

This year is exceptionally hard for us. In 2013, my husband hurt his shoulder at work and went on worker’s comp. It’s been over a year since he worked, and since then, we’ve had to go on Medicaid and food stamps. We’re below the poverty line for a family of four, but there are seven people in our family. Our rent is over half of the disability income my husband receives, and we barely scrape by every month. If it wasn’t for the refund from my student loan that I get every two months, we’d have lost our house already. Or we’d have no lights or water.

As Christmas crept closer, the more anxious we’ve been. It’s not that we want to go all out. We’ve been poor our entire relationship, but the last couple of years weren’t as bad–we had some disposable income and were able to give the kids nice Christmases. This year is going to be bad because there just isn’t anything extra.

So far we’ve spent $30 on each child. The four younger kids each got two LEGO sets; the oldest got a Target gift card. We had to charge it to my husband’s emergency credit card (the only one we have). Normally my dad gives us $50 for each child which we use for Santa presents along with a gift from Papa, but this year he moved and can barely afford to eat so there were only be cards from him.

It’s hard. I know the kids will understand. They’re good kids and will appreciate what they get. Sure they’ll be disappointed, but they know we’re poor–we’ve never hidden it. How do you even do that? How many times have they begged for money to do something with a friend? How many times have I had to tell them to suck it up when they outgrow their clothes (thank goodness for hand-me-downs)? How many times have I had to use their birthday money to buy things for the house? They get it.

But we still want them to have something. It’s Christmas! So they’ll have their $30 gift from Santa. I’m going to pick them out each an outfit from Kohl’s which will be charged to my card to be paid off at some unknown time–they need the clothes anyway. And I’ll get some stocking stuffers using what’s left of my student loan money.

We do have a bright spot for Christmas. I have a friend online that I met through Livejournal that sends a gift for the kids every year. I’ve never asked her to do this, she just surprised us a couple years ago. Today she emailed me to let me know she’s sending a gift card this year. I cried. She’s amazing, and that will add one more Santa gift to the mix (the older kids all know that the gifts come from her–she’s our own special Santa).

I know we’re not the worst off–there are many other families in the US that have less. Things could be worse, so I’m not really complaining. The tree is up and looking all festive. My dad and brother are coming over for Christmas dinner–pork roast, yum–for our first full family get together. It’ll be a lot of fun even if the space under the tree is going to look really bare this year.

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Christmas as an Atheist

It’s that time of year again when pretty lights twinkle in the night, kids line up to sit on Santa’s lap in every mall across America, and parents struggle to figure out how to afford Christmas yet again.

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If you listen to some conservative Christians, you’d think there’s some huge conspiracy to shut Christmas down–the “War on Christmas.” As far as I can tell, this war stems from some stores asking their employees to say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas” because they, you know, recognize that Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated in December! Apparently this is persecution.

As a minority religion-wise, I don’t get it. It’s just common decency to consider other people’s beliefs and to not insist yours is above the rest. Personally, I don’t mind either version. It seems the only people upset about what greeting is used during the holidays are the quacky Christians (not to be confused with the sane Christians).

Being an atheist during the holidays can be a challenge. First off, it’s the one time of year that bombardment with Christianity isn’t just tolerated, but expected. There are other religions celebrating in the winter? Who knew?

Luckily for me, I like Christmas. I grew up celebrating and carried the traditions to my children despite raising them in an atheist household. We have the tree with twinkling lights, Santa visits (although he’s about as poor as we are), we make cookies, have a big family dinner on Christmas Eve, and generally enjoy this time of year. I even like most religious Christmas music. God, Jesus, mangers, and wise men play absolutely no role in our celebrations. They aren’t mentioned at all; it’s completely secular–just the way Santa intended.

Deciding whether or not to celebrate a religious holiday when you don’t believe in the religion can cause a lot of stress for atheists. If family members aren’t pressuring you to participate, there’s an internal battle over your own personal beliefs. Not everyone goes through this. For me, it was never an issue. I never thought twice about doing Christmas with my kids, but I’ve known others that have struggled with the idea of giving into the Christians this time of year.

Trying to explain why I still celebrate Christmas as an atheist has been met with criticism in the past. I’ve been accused of just pretending to be an atheist since I still continue to participate in obvious religious holidays. I’ve been told I’m a hypocrite for saying there’s no Jesus, but celebrating his birth (which I’m not doing–it never comes up at our house). Generally, there is just confusion coming from Christians who can’t fathom anyone believing any differently than they.

Christmas is a family and cultural tradition for me. Although we’ve started a few traditions of our own since my kids were born, most come from things I did as a child like having dinner on the 24th, leaving gifts unwrapped to play with before Mom and Dad wake up, and stockings with names stitched on by hand. I also feel connected to the millions of other people celebrating Christmas (for whatever reason), knowing that on December 25th, most people are waking up to brightly wrapped gifts under a tree. It’s all about community–locally and globally.

Most atheists I know celebrate Christmas and other holidays from when they were children, but there are many that don’t. For them, this time of year can be aggravating with the music, decorations, and pushy Christians everywhere. For me the stress has more to do with affording a few gifts for the kids every year. With five children that adds up quickly.

[repost] Stargate Sg-1 fanfic: Plans Change

samjack_hearttalkThis is one of the first SG-1 fics I ever wrote, back in 2010. I remember I spent a very long, tiring morning wrapping presents for my kids. It was around four in the morning when I finished putting them out and sat down at the computer to relax. The story idea hit me, and I spent the next few hours writing. I think I might have laid down for a half hour before the kids go up. I’ve fixed some grammar errors in it.


Plans Change

by jennickels (aka Jen Connelly)
Stargate SG-1
(Jack/Sam UST), Daniel, Teal’c
5253
words
rating: PG-13
WARNINGS:

Sam’s Christmas plans change unexpectedly. But that can be a good thing. A Christmas fic.

don’t own… wish I did, but I don’t. No infringement intended.


Plans change. It happens every day to just about every person on the planet. The odds of plans not changing for a person are one in… Well, really high. Sam didn’t much feel like figuring out the math at the moment. Her plans had changed. She sat staring at the half packed duffel on the floor by her feet and sighed.

First she got a message from the SGC saying her dad couldn’t make it back for Christmas. Apparently the Tok’ra didn’t celebrate or care. Or he just hadn’t bothered telling them why he needed time off. No problem. She could accept that her dad was now some alien hybrid super hero off making the galaxy safe for all beings. It’s what he did. It’s what they all did. She understood, but didn’t relish having to try and explain it to her brother… without actually explaining anything.

It ended up not being a problem. She was half-way through packing her bag when the phone rang. She didn’t bother to check the caller ID, holding the receiver between her cheek and shoulder.

“Carter.”

“Wow, is that how you answer your phone?”

A smile spread across her face at the sound of her brother’s voice. “Hey, Mark. I’m almost packed, and my flight leaves at 1300, uh, 1PM this afternoon-“

“Yeah,” he said slowly, his voice changing subtly. “That’s what I was calling about.”

Sam had sighed and thrown herself face first onto her bed as she half listened to her brother’s excuse. The first Christmas she had off in years, and both her dad and brother blow her off. Plans change. Read more…

Angel fanfic: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
by jennickels (aka Jen Connelly)
Angel
Angel, Cordelia, Wesley
1538 words
rating: G
WARNINGS:

It’s the first Christmas for Angel Investigations, but Angel isn’t really in the mood. Too bad Cordelia has other plans. Set in season one sometimes after Doyle died.

don’t own… wish I did, but I don’t. No infringement intended.


“What’s all this?” Angel asked, pushing aside the cage door of the elevator.

Cordelia balanced on a chair, a string of brightly colored lights in her hand. She smiled down at him. “It’s Christmas, silly.”

“Yeah, but what are you doing?”

“What does it look like?”

Angel crossed his arms. “It looks like you’re decorating my office with Christmas lights.”

“Ding, ding. Ten points for the vampire with the grasp of the obvious.” Read more…

Original Fiction: The Spirit in Christmas

Written for my fiction workshop class. It’s kind of a tearjerker. I cried as I wrote it, and I cry every time I read it. Then again, I’m an emotional basket case.

(c) Matthew Kenwrick 2012

(c) Matthew Kenwrick 2012

The Spirit in Christmas

Harold eased the car up to the intersection, breaks squealing. He knew they needed replacing, but he’d spent the money on Christmas gifts for the girls. He glanced over at eleven-year-old Amelia. She drummed her fingers against the door, puffing hot breath onto the window.

“So, which way do you think?”

He could hear Claire’s infectious enthusiasm urging him to the left like only his four-year-old princess could. He cranked the wheel, giving the whining engine just a little gas. Read more…

Original fic: A Girl I Used to Know

postcard

(c) ronholpic 2009

A Girl I Used to Know

Eve was a girl I used to know. Blond hair all trussed up in pink bows. She had eyes like emeralds, and a smile that frightened even the devil.
She talked to me once. We were ten, and I found her out in Vernon Woods, near the creek. She was poking at something in the dirt. She told me the raven had fallen from the sky. Dead. She said of a broken heart; I’m pretty sure it was a broken wing.
I helped her bury it under a willow tree. She said I was sweet and kissed me on the cheek. I ran home and never spoke to her again.
I opened the paper today; the headline read, “Bodies Found Under House Near Vernon Woods.” The suspect: a woman with blond curls, emerald eyes, and a devilish smile that sent shivers down my spine. She told the police they’d died of broken hearts. I’m pretty sure she was the one to break them.

Happy Birthday to Me

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I don’t have any baby pictures on my laptop, so here’s a picture of my on my second birthday (I think) in 1978. I was a cutie.

Original Fiction: Hallmark Doesn’t Make a Card for That

Written for my fiction workshop class. The focus was dialogue. I don’t know why I changed the names, but I based this off of my “The Story” characters of Tucker and Sarah. It’s funny because I kind of like the new names.

(c) EMILY SKOLOZYNSKI 2010/US Army

(c) EMILY SKOLOZYNSKI 2010/US Army

Hallmark Doesn’t Make a Card for That

The numbers all blurred together. This was the part of Emma’s job she hated the most–the part that involved math. She erased another error. If she hurried she could still make her date with Derek. She glanced around at all of the books needing to be shelved. Really hurried.

The bell above the door tinkled. She hated that bell. “We’re closed,” she said without looking up from her scribblings. Shoes squeaked across the linoleum floor. With a sigh, Emma raised her head. “I’m sorry, but we’re-” Her words trailed off, all thought abandoned at the sight of the man standing in front of her. “Cooper,” she whispered. Read more…

Who Am I Writing For?

Possible teen readers

copyright Jen Connelly 2014

When talking about writing there are two halves of me. There’s the half that writes fanfiction and the half that writes original novels. Other than on the basic scale of word choices, my styles for each are completely different. My fanfiction is oriented for an adult audience (not to be confused with adult content); my original fiction caters to readers of young adult fiction.

According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly from 2012, the number of adult readers of YA fiction is growing substantially. They cite a study done by Bowker Market Research that shows that 55% of consumers of young adult novels are adults over eighteen.

I remember first reading this article back in late 2012 or early 2013. Although I’ve been a avid reader of YA since early 2012, my first thought when seeing this statistic was, “duh, of course because they are adults buying books for their kids.” That is true, but according to the study, 78% of the people polled were buying the books for themselves. That’s a lot of people.

As a 30-something year old woman, I fall into the largest segment of readers–the 30-44 age range. Teens, though, are a shrinking demographic. A Time article notes that the number of teens reading for fun has drastically declined over the last thirty years. According to the study they cite, 45% of seventeen-year olds read for fun only once or twice a year. Only 19% of seventeen-year olds read for fun every day.

Obviously things are shifting, but what does that mean for me as a writer? It means that my style for YA fiction is converging with my style for my fanfiction. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to be writing about the same things (for one, I write in a completely different genre for my fanfiction), but it means I’m writing for a different audience–to a point.

As I’ve been working on my NaNoWriMo novel this past month, I’ve noticed my thinking patterns have changed. I used to think about teens–about my kids and their friends–and about what they like when I’d develop a story. What would interest them? How would they react to a story? This time, though, I’ve been thinking about the adult readers. What would they want? What would they believe is possible within the context of my story?

Becoming aware of that has changed how I write, and how I think about YA as a genre. When thinking of promoting a book, I don’t think of reaching out to teens. I picture adults–women my age–who spend their time discussing books and writing on Goodreads, Facebook, and individual blogs. They are who I’m reaching out to.

The weird thing is that we all enjoy the same aspects of books that teens do, so why am I drawing a line between the two? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many reviews of teen books commenting on the unrealistic, unhealthy relationships boys and girls have in them. Or how events are unbelievable. For adult readers, a lot of the predicaments the characters get into can easily be solved with our hindsight, but for teens, most likely experiencing these things for the first time, the situations are plausible and insightful. They might help them figure out their own lives–they don’t want to see perfect relationships; they want all the messed up emotional fallout that goes with love because that’s what they know and need to learn to deal with.

I think right now I’m balancing along the line, but leaning towards writing for my adult readers. If the trends in teen reading continue as they are (which seems likely) then adults will be the only ones reading my books. Maybe then YA fiction will lose the stigma attached to it, and those of us who read and write it won’t feel like we need to mumble through our lists of titles when someone asks what we are reading.

NaNoWriMo: Days 25, 26, and 27 totals

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I think I’ve pretty much given up. I’m not at all upset by this. I did a lot better than I thought I would considering being in school at the same time with five kids (and my husband still off work and driving me nuts). If I feel up to writing I might put a few more thousand in, but 30k is respectable. I’m happy.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo every day since 2005. That’s ten years. I won in 08, 09, 10, 12, and 13. I’m batting .500. Next year will be better. I’ll be done with school and have more time to plan ahead (instead of only coming up with an idea two weeks before November starts). Actually right now I want to go back and start editing the novel I wrote last February (in 2013). I had a few ideas for it but couldn’t start with November looming. Looking forward to next year.

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