The Holidays at Home

Things are starting to slow down again, and we are starting to pack up the decorations and waving goodbye to loved ones as they make their way back to their homes. The holidays are over, and it is time to find ourselves in that slower groove that comes with our regular routine. And though the bills coming in might depress us a bit, I think it is important to look back at the holidays, and remember why we put ourselves through it every year.

It is a time of the year where the little things that we do not always get to notice become more obvious. The decorations that people put together can be subtle, but they can make us laugh and put us in a better mood just by having seen them. It is also nice knowing that the little details that we put together for someone else has been appreciated as well. We might forget these things as we move on with our busy lives, but these are the things we should remember when the weight of responsibility starts to get us down.

It is also a time when the inclement weather does not get us down as much. A snowstorm in December is a different event than the ones that bear down on us in March or April. The blanket that it produces is just an extra touch that adds more to the moment because we do not have those places we need to get to, and it forces us to slow down a bit and enjoy the moment. I know that it can become a chore later on as we have to pull out the shovel again to make sure we can get our car out of the garage, but we should really enjoy on those days where we are not forced to address this concern with the cold snow.

And for ourselves, we get to find those small moments we can slow down and recharge our batteries. Life can be busy and hectic, and sometimes we can forget to take care of ourselves. But when we are shut indoors with a heavy snow coming down, there is no excuse but to let things go and just enjoy the afternoon with a little nap.

But I think the thing that I enjoy the most when I get to go home for the holidays is seeing all of my family again. All of the other stuff is nothing more than fluff. The time at home should be about home. It should be about getting together with those that you love, so you can share in laughter and good conversation. Yes, it is centered around tradition, and sometimes we forget about the most important thing because we put too much weight on those things that we believe need to be done. But in reality, life will be fine if you did not find the time to bake those cookies, or you were unable to find that perfect picture for the Christmas card. It all gets forgotten the moment that you lose yourself in your family, and that is the most important thing to take from this time of the year. I know we will all soon forget what this time of the year brought. Some of us have already done so. I also know that it will be easy to lose yourself to school or work as you push your way through the colder months. We will have to endure a couple of Hallmark holidays, and soon the lazy dog days of summer will occupy our minds more than the cold comfort of the end of the year. But when things start to get you down during those times of the year, think back to this time and how you felt. It may be the greatest gift you can take with you throughout the whole year.

Thank you for those memories for everybody I got to spend time with over the last couple of weeks. It has been wonderful to be back in the United States for the holidays, and I treasure those moments I got to spend with you. It may be awhile before I get to see you again, but I will take those memories with me as I hope you do as well.

A Snowy New Year

It started last night when I arrived at my brother’s house. I had gone down to Castle Rock so I could ring in the New Year with a couple of my family members, and there was a little grumbling about how it was a terrible night to have it snow. It would make driving difficult, and a bunch of idiots would be out on the road after they had drunk one too many. There would be wrecks all over the place, and the police would be driving around to make sure everybody was safe. If only it could have waited a couple more days, the much anticipated snow would be welcomed in the state of Colorado.

I did not feel the same way. First of all, the first big snow of the year would keep people from going out and doing stupid things. It would also bring much needed moisture for an area of the world that was thirsting for any drop. The fires that started up north and destroyed a big part of Boulder county would also welcome the snow because it would put an end to the destruction.

These were all great reasons to be excited about the snow, but the real reason I wanted to see it was because it was snow! I remember a time in my life when I would grumble and complain like many of the other people that I spent the night with when the snow continued to pound the front range throughout the course of the Winter. Most of these complaints came during the later Winter months such as late February, March, and late into April when I was done with the wet and cold. But it has a different feeling when it first arrives. It brings in the change of the season, and marks an end to the one I had just experienced. I would get enjoy cold days of drinking hot coffee and looking out the window and the snow collected on the ground, creating a blanket of calm and peacefulness. I would have an excuse to snuggle in the warmth of my home while reading good books and watching movies. I knew I would eventually tire of this feeling, but when it first began, I would get excited about the prospect of what the next few months would bring.

It had been at least two years since I had experienced this change of the season, and I never knew how much I would miss it. I know it seems like a silly thing to miss, but there is a certain amount of joy that comes with the changing of the seasons. As the earth makes its rotation around the sun, the seasons give you a small, little thing to always look forward to. Every three to four months, you get to change the way you live your life, so you will not fall into rut of an everyday routine. When I lived in the eternal summer months of Thailand, I quit paying attention to pages of the calendar flipping because it meant nothing more than another day of more of the same.

Of course, part of the reason that I came out to Colorado for the Winter Break was to see my family and spend the holidays with them. It was great to hop around from home to home and enjoy their company for an evening or two. I was able to create a few new memories that I will take with me as I fly back to Jordan and return to my life there. But I will be honest; this was not the only reason that I came out. I wanted to see that snow. I wanted to experience the change of the seasons, and as my time out here continued, I kept on missing that chance. As I was making my way to the New Year’s Eve celebration, I was happy to see snow spitting from the sky. As the night progressed, I was even more excited to see it collect on the patio furniture in the back yard. And as I woke up this morning to greet the New Year, I was excited to see the whole city had been covered in this white goodness.

I know many of you might not have had the same experience, and you may not feel the same way as I do, but I hope that your New Year’s celebrations brought you what you wanted to get out of them. I also hope that 2022 brings you happiness and joy, and that you get to anticipate something great as well, no matter how small that thing may be.

A Desert Feast – Wadi Rum, Jordan

To my American friends, I am sorry I am late, but I would like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope that you were able to spend it with good people, sharing good food with them, and making good memories. To all my friends who come from other places in the world, I hope that your adventures allow you to experience the same kind of joy that makes Thanksgiving one of my favorite American holidays.

Living away from the United States makes this holiday a little harder to celebrate. Many of the places I have worked for as I moved overseas has not seen this day as an important holiday, even though they celebrate holidays that are very similar to Thanksgiving. Luckily, I have found myself in a community that appreciates this day, and made sure that my coworkers and I were able to celebrate it in the best way we could find. I took advantage of this fact, and got up early on Thanksgiving morning to take a three and a half hour drive south to Wadi Rum, a Unesco World Herritage Sight, and the movie set for such famous films as Dune, The Martian, Prometheus, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Lawrence of Arabia.

This desolate landscape might not be the first choice for many people when they think of gathering together for a big feast, but there is much more to this location than the stark beauty. There is a whole community of people that live nomadic lifestyles among the sand, and rocky mountains, and they welcome people with open arms to take a couple of days and feel what it is like to live this way.

It might not have been what I was expecting for a Thanksgiving dinner, but the food and the way it was prepared made for a great Thanksgiving experience. The Bedouins having been preparing huge feasts for centuries out in this desert. It basically starts when they dig a hole in the ground and fill that hole up with burning coals. They then add vegetables, and chicken, cover that hole with a blankets and some sand, and let it cook for two hours.

After two hours, they dig away the sand, pull back the blanket, and pull the feast out of the hole.

And it is quite the feast that they pull out of this hole. Just like a great Thanksgiving meal, there is not a lot of spice added to the meal. For the most part, it is about the preparation of it. Simple ingredients cooked well and combined in the right way to make the perfect meal, and though it was not turkey and mashed potatoes, it was still the perfect meal for this day.

But it was the friends I got to share this meal, and all of the other meals this weekend, that made it a Thanksgiving. Though we may talk about the food, it is the company and the experiences we remember. I feel lucky this year to have spent it with a great group of people. It may not have been my family, and I do miss sharing this day with them, but if I can’t be with them, I am glad that I was still able to have an experience that I will soon not forget.

I hope your Thanksgiving was just as good, and that continues on through the whole holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Black Friday

Ever since I have moved overseas, Thanksgiving Day does not mean as much to me. It is not that I do not appreciate the holiday. It is just that the holiday is a very American experience and other places in the world do not celebrate it or even acknowledge its existence. Because of this, I have had to work on the past six Thanksgiving Days, and after the sixth time, it is hard to get excited about this day.

It fills me with sadness when I recognize this fact because for a long time it had become my favorite holiday. It was the one day where we stripped away all of the pretentious behavior of our daily routines, and get together with family to share a delicious meal and make memories. There was also the looming consuming beast of Christmas looming right around the corner, but we could put that aside for a moment to just enjoy being with the people we love. I know that other countries have holidays that are comparable to this, but it is hard to get into the spirit of them when they jump out at me from nowhere and I am expected to understand the traditions of these days. The traditions of my past are the ones that stick with me and which I yearn for every year around this time.

There are other Americans at the schools I have taught at that help to keep this tradition alive. I have had one Thanksgiving dinner already and I will be experiencing another one this weekend, and I appreciate that people take the time to make sure that this holiday makes it across the ocean. But since I have moved to Asia, I have started a new tradition that makes me just as happy. It involves the day after Thanksgiving which in the United States is one of my least favorite days of the year. It is not because I am working off my turkey coma or I am depressed because I find myself without my family again. It is because I believe that this day brings out the worst of Americans as they push and shove to get crazy deals on crap that they really don’t need. It is fodder for the television news broadcasts and every year it gets just a little worse. Hopefully, with Covid ravaging the land, people will take it a little easier this year, but the current state of things has proven that many people would not let this tradition pass them by no matter what danger may loom in a crowded room.

The way I have avoided the pain of this day is to take in the meal that I usually miss because I have been stuck at work during Thanksgiving day. I have had the fortune to have the next day off, and the Asian countries though they ramp up the shopping experience during Black Friday, it is no where near the insanity that can be found in the United States. The restaurants are still open and this is a great day to hop from one to the next as I indulge in a little bite at each one. It allows me to get out there and see a bit of the holiday spirit as it takes over the community while not fighting with people over a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run. This is the tradition I would like to see take off for this holiday. We need to step back from this idea that stuff will make Christmas perfect and look back at the holiday we have just enjoyed. It is about family, and all holidays should take Thanksgiving’s tradition to heart. This is what my new tradition would be about because you do not go out to spend money on people, but you meet up with them at various restaurants to enjoy their company.

I hope you all found yourself in a wonderful spot on this holiday and that you are taking the precautions to be safe during the next month. Be thankful for those people you have in your life no matter where they may be.

Our Nightly Meal

We will eventually feel the fall breeze
Meandering over the rice fields.
It’s the addition we need to this ease
Of living off of what this farm yields.
The men will gather the vegetables
That we will use for our dinner table.
It is in that moment when our troubles
Turn into nothing more than a fable.
We will know then that the day’s long labor
Has been worth all of our time and effort.
We’ll be surrounded by those we adore
When we give to each other our support.
This is the power of the night’s meal
When a family can become real.

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.