A Puzzling Problem – The Move Day 5

Even though one of the main reasons that we came back to the United States this time around is because we are homeless, and this is a great place to be while we wait to move into our new place. Though that may be one of the reasons that we are back, the real reason is to visit family and friends, and the summertime is the best time to do that. We had just landed in Denver, and were ready to spend time with my side of the family for a couple of weeks. The first stop here was at my sister’s place and she had invited my parents over for a bar-b-q and we sat in the back yard on a cold Colorado summer night to catch up. It was fun, but the night that really brought everybody together was when we walked by a recent puzzle that was laid out to be put together.

It started off simple with none of the pieces put together yet, but the edges had already been separated from the rest of the puzzle. I made a little joke that it wasn’t too difficult and I would be the first one to put two of the pieces together. I quickly found two of the obvious ones and connected them. Christine dismissed that as being too easy and that the real challenge was getting the pieces that looked similar together. Of course, I couldn’t let that challenge be dismissed without finding another piece to put in the puzzle, and quickly found another one. This is when my sister showed up to see what we were doing. It was only a matter of a short time before other members of the family came over. Like some modern version of a Norman Rockwell painting, we had all gathered around the table, and the puzzle started to pull itself together into the image that we saw on the box.

This simple pass time had this incredible power of bringing everybody together. Before I started to put together two pieces, family members were all over the place, inside and outside of the house. Some were watching videos on their tablets; others were looking at problems that were happening with this outdoor fire pit; while others were cleaning up the meal that we had just enjoyed. There was unity among the various pieces of the family, but the bigger picture wasn’t together yet. It wasn’t until two of the family members started to gather around the borders of the puzzle that others started to gather there as well. It was a slow process. Some connected with the building of the puzzle quickly while some of the others stood on the periphery, not willing to make the commitment yet. But as the puzzle drew one or more into putting it together, the final holdouts finally gave up denying the temptation and came into play with the rest of the family. Before I knew it, the picture was complete. Everybody had gathered around as one family unit.

As families grow older, the tendency to spread apart becomes more pronounced. Members find their own passions, and move to other corners of the globe. Even though they may not be present, they are a part of the bigger picture. It takes some kind of event to bring them back together in-between the borders of the family. Sometimes, it is something simple like a jigsaw puzzle on a cool summer evening. Other times, it is bigger events like holidays or celebrations. But when all of the pieces finally come together and the picture becomes some that everybody can recognize, family.

The Glow from the View in the Elements

I will not let the distance get between
The celebration I can have with you.
I will battle to make it to that scene
Where we can toast all that we have been through.
Not even the nastiest of weather
Will deter me from my ultimate goal.
It does not make the trek any further.
Though my ambition I believe it stole,
It only gives me a greater resolve
To plow ahead through the gathering snow.
Any problem you throw my way, I’ll solve.
My way is lighted by the party’s glow.
There is nothing like the final greeting
When it’s your family you are meeting.

Games are Important – The Holidays Day 16

Last night I gathered around the dining room table with my parents, and My sister’s family to play a game of Codenames. It is one of the newer games that has helped bring about the resurgence of the popularity of board games, and I can see why because it is a smart game that with endless possibilities that will never let the game get old. It would almost impossible with all of the way the cards can be laid out that you would never experience the same type of mental connections that make this game interesting in all of the amounts of times that you get together to play the game. Its gameplay is also unique, and I have never experienced another game like it. Getting together with my family on a Friday night to play a board game might sound like a boring way to spend the start of a weekend, but I tend to disagree, and I think it is part of the reason why board games are becoming big business again.

These games are important. First of all, they are a social event. This is something that you cannot get from television or video games as well as you can from a board game. Television used to be a social event with people gathering around to experience the same story at the same time, but people still remained quiet so as not to disturb the action on the screen and didn’t really interact with each other. In recent years, it has gotten even worse. People rarely watch television in real time. Instead, they grab their tablet or phone, find a quiet corner of their house and experience the show on their own. The same can be said for video games. Yes, there are a couple of games like Madden, Smash Brothers, and Mario Kart that lend themselves to people getting together to play, and they have even set up on-line communities that allow people to interact over headsets, but the speed of the game takes over and the opportunity to talk gets taken away, and people become more interested in their reaction times rather than talking to each other.

Board games like Codenames are actually designed for people to interact with each other. There is enough downtime during the game to allow people to talk about their days and what is going on in their lives, and when the action is going on there is collaboration that is happening that once again forces people to interact with each other. It might not be as slick as a video game or cost as much to produce as a television show, but for some reason, this interaction with other people ends up more satisfying then getting together around a screen. I feel that after I play a game that I have made a stronger connection with the people I played with rather than when I sit down and watch something on the screen.

As a teacher, I also think that board games are important. On Fridays in my Creative Writing class, we always play a game of some kind such as Gloom, Balderdash, Magnetic Poetry, Exquisite Corpse, or Line-by-line Story. My students love these days the best and not just because it allows for some downtime in their hectic schedules, but because they get something out of the experience as well. The games are designed to spark creativity, and help my students with their writing whether it is with their voice, word play, or putting together a tighter plot. They are learning while having fun. In fact, I believe that when you are having fun is when real learning is taking place. This is when true engagement is taking place. This is part of the reason that I always try to make my classroom a fun place to be.

Codenames is a great example of how a game can be fun and at the same time a learning tool. It requires that the Spy Master makes connections to various words spread out on the table, and communicate that connection with the use of only one word. It requires that people start to see the connections in words. It also forces players to see that words can have multiple meanings. There is a lot going on in this game through some mental challenges. And it wasn’t like we were all sitting at the table staring at the matrix we created with intense concentration. We were laughing, talking, and having a good time.

This is why games are important. I am happy for this resurgence of games, and I am amazed at the different ways that people have come up with to challenge us while still being entertaining. It is the reason why when I have the opportunity to play a game, I always take it up.

The Long Day

Airport travel.

I know what a lot of you just did. You screamed loudly and clicked off of this blog post because there was no way that you ever wanted to read a long post about traveling through airports. It is the comedians cliche. It is the third topic that should never be spoken about at bars after religion and politics. It is something that nobody ever enjoys, yet there is always a large group of people congregated at the airports around the world looking to shift their location from one place to another. And this time of the year seems to bring a bigger group of people to these places.

But do not worry. I will try not to bore you with the details. There were the typical delays. The lunches being held down on the shaky approaches in. And of course, there were the long hours wandering around the airports, looking for ways to make the time go quicker. But there was a certain excitement in the air as well that I had not felt before a long airplane flight for a very long time.

It could have been that I had just finished one of the hardest semesters I have ever been through in my educational career. It wasn’t because my students were cruel, or because administration was always breathing down my back. In fact, in both of those cases, they were both some of the greatest students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching, and after a couple of stumbles with a new administration, they are finally finding their stride and making a community at the school that makes a great environment to teach and grow in. It was just the fact that I had taken on a little bit more than I could chew, and it really ran me ragged. This break was something I was looking forward to, and the vacation would be one that I would take full advantage of.

It could have been that I took the school bus out the airport as soon as the last day of school was over, and I had an opportunity to visit with people that I usually do not get to hang out with, due to the fact that we live in different parts of the city. The extra time that I got to spend in the airports was actually fun, and added to the excitement that I would be traveling to a different part of the world for the holiday season.

But I think the real reason that this trip was not that I was dreading so much was that it was a last minute decision to go home for Christmas instead of spending the holiday season in Vietnam and Thailand. There were certain events happening in that part of the world that required our attention during the break, and it made sense that we would be down there then. But then the situation suddenly changed, and it didn’t make sense to go down there anymore. We were left with the option of picking from anywhere in the world. Of course, we only had two weeks to really decide where we would go, but only one place really made sense, home. I know we spent the holiday season in the States last year, and it wold be like going over the same routine again, but there is really nothing like spending the holidays with the people you love. It brings with it the warmth and joy that you always think of when you think of the holidays. It was in anticipation of this warmth that made the twenty-four hours spent in the world’s airports and planes worth the time. The delays, bad food, and turbulence could not bring me down as I slowly made my way home, and now that I am here, I can just relax and enjoy a much needed break.

So for all of you that will be going through the same experience in the next couple of days, try to find that joy that you know you will eventually get to, and do not let the long time that airport travel forces you into bring you down. It will make everybody else’s experience even that much brighter, and this holiday season will be a joyous one for all.

Reunion

As the breeze blows over the patio
Allow me to refill your empty glass.
There is not a place where you need to go
And you should never let a moment pass.
You know you enjoy the conversation
As we let the time of the night tick by,
For our memories are the connection
Of where our relationship really lies.
Though it may be that only once a year
That our lives are able to intersect,
It is these little moments that appear
That move my heart with the greatest effect.
I want to thank you for the night’s meal,
Also the way the time makes me feel.

Sundays are for Family – Around the World Day 24

One of the ways that I know that I have let the stress of the school year finally behind and I am able to really enjoy myself is when I look over at somebody and ask what day of the week it is. It usually takes a couple of weeks before this happens, and it is a nice feeling to not be a slave to time. I know that I will have to get back to watching that calendar and clock again, but the time being I am not going to worry about it.

While traveling through Europe, there was one day that always let me know that it had come around, Sunday. It is so dramatically different than any other day of the week, and not because they ring the church bells more often. The whole continent seems to take things slower that day. The streets take a little longer to get crowded. Not all of the restaurants are open, and if you find a store that is open, you should consider yourself lucky. It is a day that Europeans know is for something greater.

Some might say that this is because they are all very religious and they are taking Sunday easy as a sign of showing respect to God, and I don’t think that is necessarily accurate. First off, despite the hundreds of cathedrals that are out there, the number of people who claim to be religious is steadily declining in most countries. Granted, I just came from Spain which still holds a strong Catholic contingency, it was still evident that people are just not that religious anymore. I think there is something greater going on here.

I could be wrong, but my sense is that Europeans have a strong sense of family and it is really important to them. You can see this when I compared the interactions between various families as I toured many of the larger site of the country. And even though, many of the teenagers were still salty towards their parents, but the European ones would warm up to their parents quicker than ones that were obviously from a different part of the world. I think that bonding comes from the fact that Europeans have designated one day of the week to family, Sunday. I don’t know if this is the reason why things are all closed down on Sundays, or because things have closed down on Sundays that families come together this day because of this reason. Either way, it is evident that families get together on Sundays.

Now, I am not saying that Americans do not do the same thing, but there is a different feeling on Sundays in America than there is in Europe. This might be because the stores are still opened and people can still get some stuff done in their busy lives on this day. We are not forced to put that stuff aside so we can pay attention to something else. But you do see from time to time families getting together to share a moment together. It is a great experience when it happens, and I was lucky enough on my fourth Sunday on my trip around the world to get together with my family for one of these moments. Not only was I able to see my brothers and sister, and my parents all together one more time, it was also great to slow down and just appreciate the things I have been blessed with.