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Finding a Silver Lining in the Economic Downturn

The Bright Side of the Recession

Before the economic meltdown, Christina Dymock and her husband Craig, both in their early 30s, would hire a babysitter and meet three other couples at a Utah restaurant on a Saturday night. "We would sit around and talk and laugh," she recalls. "Then I decided to host the night at my house because we were all kind of struggling financially." The recession took its toll on each couple, through reduced work hours, layoffs, and in one case, a struggle to avoid foreclosure.

That Saturday, everyone brought a dish, and one couple walked in with the board game Clue. "We started to play and reverted back to being kids; it was noisy and fun, with a lot of laughter," says Dymock. Between the four couples there are ten children, who watch a movie in the living room while the adults play in the kitchen. "Laughing and having a good time kept us from getting down," says Dymock, whose husband was laid off in January.

The Dymocks aren't the only ones finding a silver lining in the recession. Tough times can inspire families and friends to support one another, be creative, and make the most of what they have. Four in ten adults with younger children say the recession has brought their families closer together, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center. And a recent survey by Yahoo!Finance found 46 percent of Americans are spending more time playing with their kids in response to the downturn.

LaVerne Otis, 61, lives in Long Beach California, near her niece, a single mom with four children. "They're like my grandkids," says Otis. She always been a saver, and especially now, wants to pass on her love of simple pleasures to her family. "We don't have money to do extra things, but can get together for popcorn and a DVD and enjoy each other," she says.

Otis and the kids also spend time gardening, bird-watching, hiking in a nearby wildlife refuge, and visiting the local animal shelter. Otis is also sharing her favorite hobby: She recently lent her digital camera to her 14-year-old grandniece Amanda, and they spent the day at a historic mausoleum, taking photos of the gothic architecture.

"She really enjoyed it, it didn't cost anything, and it brought us together," says Otis. "She's really getting into (photography); it makes me feel good that we share that interest."

Other families are combining thrift and social time. Celia Hamm, 60, lives in Colorado, where she and her husband build custom wood doors for ski resorts and luxury homes. "For twenty-nine years we always had to turn business away," says Hamm, whose son and daughter also work in the family business. "When the economy fell, the business came to a standstill. We're buckling down and not spending as much as in the past."

On Saturday afternoons, the Hamms meet their daughter and son, in-laws and five grandchildren at a dollar store to stock the pantry and find little luxuries. "We can sometimes spend up to two hours there; it's our entertainment -- we're blabbing and talking 100 miles an hour and enjoying each other's company," Hamm says. "Afterwards we get together for picnic or a pot luck supper."

Still others see the economic disruption as a chance to change careers. Karen Majoris-Garrison, 43, and her husband Jeff, 49, started slashing expenses in 2008 when his hours were cut at the Ohio trucking company where he had worked for a dozen years as an operations manager. Then in July, Jeff was laid off.

"He's also a musician, he has done studio work and traveled, so this has turned out to be an opportunity to make a living at something he loves to do," says Karen, who's has been married 23 years and has two kids, age 13 and 10. "We're working on making a studio for him in the house. We're not naïve; but we're not going to waste time on fear – what good is that going to do in our lives? Each day we pray together and find one thing to be thankful for, and so far it's absolutely changing our lives for the better."

Dymock, whose children are ages 8, 5, 2, and 1, has been working as a waitress and freelance writing to help make ends meet. "It's been the worst summer we've ever had, and the best summer we've ever had," says Dymock. "We've never been able to spend this much time together as a family because of our ability to schedule work around other things. Our marriage has never been stronger."

And things are looking up: Dymock wrote a story about game night and got it published in the latest edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The theme? "Tough Times, Tough People: 101 Stories about Overcoming the Economic Crisis and Other Challenges."

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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