November 8, 2012

Celebrating the Family in a Bad Economy.

Photo: Kai Schreiber

Due to the uncertain economy, many families will need to cut back and simplify as this holiday season approaches.

Rather than holiday spending sprees with anxiety filled wake-up calls in January when credit card statements arrive, why not find ways of celebrating that do not require spending beyond one’s means?

Being resourceful and creative as a family can provide memorable moments, joy, and happiness borne of hours spent together.

I completed my doctorate during the recession of 1981 and was full of optimism about obtaining a position at a college. Sending out countless resumes and letters of recommendation was a daily ritual. Getting few, if any, responses were part of the same ritual.

I found myself, much like many who are presently without work, going on unemployment and needing Food Stamps.

Existing on the bare minimum, I had a decision to make; either I could wallow in the unfairness of it all or take control of what I could to make life easier for my daughter and me.

Each morning at dawn, I carried my bicycle down six flights of stairs to the then-closed West Side Highway. Riding back and forth cleared my head, and when I returned home, my endorphins and mood were elevated and ready for the job hunt ahead.

That Christmas, my daughter and I made holiday decorations together, volunteered to serve dinner for the homeless at a local shelter ,and visited a friend in the hospital who was suffering from AIDS.

Tough times like these can bring a family closer together. It just takes a little resourcefulness to create the family moments that will last in memories forever.

Photo: Meaghan O’Malley

The basement of my house still has the lids of Ball jars attached to the ceiling where former residents hung canning jars. They reminded me of times gone by and how much fun it could be for families to relearn the forgotten joys of the canning process, and to enjoy the tasty results. Hours can be spent in the kitchen laughing and creating wonderful foods that, when ready, will bring back memories of seasons past.

Putting together complex puzzles with hundreds of pieces is another rewarding activity. These puzzles can be worked on for hours and weeks on end. Puzzles usually have a theme, and working on them can be accompanied with storytelling, learning about far-off places and their traditions. For economy’s sake, a suggestion might be to have round-robin puzzle shares with family and friends.

An activity from my childhood that could easily be revived is marbles. When volunteer teaching at an orphanage in Vietnam during the mid 1990s, the children played marbles for hours. Marbles is a rewarding activity that definitely could be resumed along with board games, chess and Scrabble.

Knitting is an inexpensive activity that is described as recession proof. This low-keyed activity is known to relieve stress and can be enjoyed as a solitary activity or in knitting circles. Many yarn shops offer classes in knitting and crocheting that are not age discriminatory. At such shops, one can find young and old engaged in conversation while knitting away for hours on end.

Visiting the local library is a wonderful way to fill afternoons and weekends. New books are added all the time. A “family read” (either the same book individually or reading aloud together) can provide wonderful opportunities for conversation and connection.

Photo: Luis Argerich

Leading the category of outdoor activities that are fun, challenging, and can be done alone or in a group is jumping rope. Children have enjoyed this and other rope activities for hundreds of years. Double Dutch is a true favorite that has tremendous popularity in cities, but can be enjoyed anywhere, and skill sets keep evolving with imaginative new techniques. Double Dutch can even lead to participation in team tournaments that are held nationwide for k-12 students. This activity is so wonderful because it is truly egalitarian and has the potential to bring different groups together. And it’s good exercise too.

Many such inexpensive activities exist, and part of the fun is to rekindle them and see kids in the neighborhood skating, riding bikes, and playing games. Such fun can be far less costly for the family budget than organized competitive sports teams or classes, and they offer the opportunity for family members to both teach and learn from one another.

One of the greatest of gifts of all is to give back. Many hospitals, homeless shelters and churches have special holiday meals and programs. Volunteers are always needed, and by serving others, one sees how fortunate our lives truly are. Parents can also help children become involved with community service projects through RandomKid.org, a site providing a plethora of wonderful opportunities for service throughout the United States, as well as ideas for how families can develop their own community projects.

Each of us faces many ups and downs, corners to turn in the days of our lives. In times of plenty we can expand; when the money is tighter we cut back. The important thing to remember during a time of economic downturn is this is not the first time we have survived a sinking economy, and, eventually, things will turn around.

The words of the prescient playwright Thornton Wilder come to mind:

”I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is a struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field or a home or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds, and God has always given us that.”

”Thus, let us not lose our optimism as we have so much to be grateful for. Faith in what tomorrow will bring, hope for the new dawning and charity towards others will keep our candle burning brightly for years to come.”


Editor: Lorin Arnold

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