Teaching to the Test

I am now one of those people who is over the age of thirty and living in their parents’ basement. This is not because I am a jobless bum, but rather because I am in-between jobs and in the process of moving from one country to another. My stuff is sprawled over the basement as I sort through what I should take and what I should leave behind. I have to make predictions about what my life will be like in the new country that I am moving to, and what I will need for clothes and for entertainment. Most of this is old habit as I have learned much from past experiences about how to stay informed about my sports teams, and watch their important games, what television shows I can access, how many books and new music will keep me engaged until I can make my way back to the United States, and most importantly how I can engage with my new fellow colleagues. I am excited about the change, and nervous, but not as nervous as I was when I made my first leap to a different country six years ago. The whole reason I don’t feel the same kind of fear of what I was getting into during that first time is because I have lived through it before, and I know a little bit of what I should be expecting. I am prepared. There is something about being prepared and how that helps to reduce stress in your life.

It is part of what I have been doing this past week. Every day, my alarm has been waking me up, so I could crawl over to my computer, hop on to Zoom, and participate in a workshop for a class I will teaching for the first time next year, AP Literature and Composition. I knew a little bit about the class from teaching in an AP school for four years, but I had a few questions that I needed answered to make sure that I could give my students the support that they will need. I have been looking at different lessons, and different texts to use in those different lessons. It has taken me back to my college days and all of the literature classes I took back then. I am sitting in a room with like minded people who love to read and talk about what they read, and it has been fun to engage with texts in this way again. But we have also looked at many students’ essays based on the prompts they might encounter on the test, and we have gone over what the College Board will be looking for when they grade them. It reminds me of the drudgery I go through any time I have student plop a completed essay on to my desk and the task I have to go through in order to grade them all and get the feedback to them. Granted, these are the higher end students writing literary analysis and for the most part, they are engaging and well written. Also, most of these essays were written in a time period of only forty minutes, so they do not take that long to grade. But I appreciated the opportunity to look at this final product because it helped me understand where I need to get my students in order to be successful in this class and on this exam.

This gets me to one of the biggest discussions that teachers have when they are assigned to one of these classes with a big exam at the end of it. Should I be teaching to this test or does that do my students a great disservice because I am not preparing them for the more important thing, life? I do believe that this is an important question to examine. If I am being honest, there will be very few of my students who will need to know how to to write a good literary analysis essay in order to be successful in life. There are very few professions that need to know how to do this, so why should I spend so much time nurturing this skill within my students? Wouldn’t the time be better spent exploring the ideas presented in the literature and having my students talk about these issues to become better citizens after they have graduated from high school? Does the test actually measure their ability to do this, and why do a bunch of dead white males hold the keys to this kind of profound thinking?

But then again I look at the reason I love literature so much, and why I want to instill that same kind of love into my students. There is a reason that the most successful people have the ability, desire, and ambition to read a large amount of fiction in common. Every story that they read teaches them the capacity to understand the world from a different person’s point of view. They get to live hundreds of pages in the mind of another person. It is the true definition of empathy, and this ability makes successful people great leaders and amazing innovators. The ability to dig deep into a piece of prose or poetry and analyze it in a way that is profound and purposeful. This may not be a skill that an engineer or a lawyer might need to know, but it is something that a human being needs to know. And though it is important to have a profession in life, it is also important to be able to practice that skill of empathy so you can have those connections in life that are meaningful.

Can I reach that level of understanding by teaching to the test? Normally, I would say no, but I do believe that AP Lit is a different class. It is a skills based class. I will be teaching students how to write effectively, and writing effectively is nothing more than an act of thinking effectively, so essentially what I will be teaching students is how to think effectively, and if they can do that then they will be successful on this test, and this test will allow them to reach that level of understanding that they need with others so they can be empathetic and successful. Why wouldn’t I then teach to the test? It is what I should be teaching anyways.

So as I prepare to take the leap to a new country again, I have been taking some time out of packing and getting the supplies I will need to be comfortable in this new country, I will take a little time to make sure that I am also prepared to teach this class for the first time. It will allow me to get my students to the place where they will need to be in order to be successful not only on the test, but life as well. I now look forward to the new school year with anticipation because it will a great one filled with a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get to it.

The Last Hurrah!

Now that the end is almost upon us,
We will travel on the road one last time,
And though our work may put up quite the fuss,
I think they will survive losing the dime.
Though there is nothing left for us to see,
We will still go out to see an old sight
Because what is in this moment for me
Is to reminisce for a single night
About my life living in this city,
And how my return may never happen.
I don’t want to remember with pity,
And that’s why I am going out again.
I’ll have to say goodbye to all of ya,
And that’s why I’m taking this last hurrah!

Short Termer’s Disease in Times of Covid

Everybody has been waiting for a change to happen. We all have looking forward to going back to a time where everything was not wrapped up in uncertainty and caution. The times have been awful to live through, nobody doubts that, but at the same time, it has exposed the flaws of many organizations, whether that is the smallest of businesses to the most powerful nations on Earth. It allowed us to ponder whether the place we found ourselves in were the places that were the best for us, or were there other opportunities that would fit us better; thereby, making a big change in our lives the only thing that gave us the feeling that we were in control of our own destiny.

This is what I did. I took the frustration that I had about being stuck in a country far away from home, and the frustration I was having as I started to see the place I work for start to crumble. I was given a new opportunity in a new country with a new school with a strong reputation. I didn’t have to take it, but it felt like a way of escaping the current situation, and getting away from the home I had found myself trapped in during the Covid lock down. When I first took the opportunity, it felt great. Life was exciting again, and I just couldn’t wait to make the change.

But then things got worse in Thailand. Covid became a problem for the first time in the country, and it meant that we were once again regulated to spending our time at home. I was once again teaching online, and I felt like I was no longer the teacher that I knew I could be. Add on to this the frustration of trying to organize a move, preparing for the next school year, and the worst case of homesickness I have ever experienced, then it makes it harder every day to try to push on, and do the job I need to do.

I now know what it feels like to be a senior. They have always driven me crazy at the end of their senior year. They no longer care about doing a good job because they have already received their acceptance to their university, and it feels like the place that they are in is doing nothing more than begging more and more from them while they feel like they do not owe the school anything. They just want to move on, and the school keeps on reminding them that they have to finish their obligations first.

It makes every email I get, and every request I am asked make me want to rant about all of the flaws that I have noticed about the place. It is not fair to the place, but I am having a hard time caring about the school anymore. This is not the first school that I have left, but for some reason, this time it feels completely different. I don’t have that bittersweet feeling of leaving this school behind. That excitement of going out to a new experience, but at the same time, the sadness of leaving the place behind, is just not there.

I put a lot the blame for this feeling on Covid. For the last couple of months, I have done all of my teaching from a tiny box on a Zoom screen. The distance that is created between my students and me is larger than that of our locations all over Thailand. I have watched as one by one each of them have disconnected from the school and their learning to the point where only a couple of them are even trying to engage in class anymore. It annoys me, but at the same time, I get it. What do they have invested in the school that would allow them to remain connected? They are left with just going through the motions with some talking head in the hopes that the pain they are enduring with every passing day will eventually end.

And that is where I am too. It does not help that my school called the school year a couple of weeks ago, and my fellow colleagues rearranged their flights to get out of Thailand and back to their home countries as fast as they could. I have watched as one after another has made their way to the airport with their Covid test in hand and that anticipation of getting back home in their hearts. It has made staying behind that much harder. I need to do it though because there are still a couple of odds and ends that I need to take care of. I keep checking off the boxes and yearning for the day that I can take my cab ride out to the airport, but it is still a couple of weeks away.

Until then I have to sit in my home and look out the same window I have looked out way too many time over the past couple of months and count down the moments until I can leave. It is the true feeling of short timer’s disease, and I can’t wait until it is over.

The Arrival – The Move Final Day

The living room in my new place as I start to unpack

I know that a lot of people move everyday, and I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because it is a stressful situation no matter how big or small the move might be. My goal is to empathize with those people that are going through with the process because I understand how many trials and tribulations they need to go through until they can get to that moment where they find themselves in the new place and can start unpacking all of those boxes and bags and start living their lives in their new location.

My process started way back in early December when I finally said yes to taking a job teaching at a different international school in Thailand. I started to pack up my stuff while getting together all of the paperwork to get a visa so they wouldn’t kick me out of the country when I finally got there. The list got pretty long with all of the stuff I needed to accomplish along the way, and it seemed like it would never end, but after all the steps forward intermixed with occasional setback, I finally landed in Thailand, signed my lease on my new place, and started moving in.

Even though the square space in the house is not much more than what I had in my apartment in Korea over the last four years, it is nice to find myself on a street with my own driveway, my own small front patio, and my own mango tree. I love the fact that I now live in a neighborhood and not a complex, and all of the charms that come along with it. Just this morning as I stood out on my front patio and sipped from my cup of coffee, I was able to wave at the father and his young daughter as they walked down the street this morning. It gave me a sense of community that I never really felt when I entered my apartment complex every evening. I never got to know my neighbors there because they were packed so close together that I never really saw them more often than once a month. It might just be the optimism of living in a new place, but I do not believe that I will have that problem here.

A vegetable vendor on the street market

The neighborhood has a lot more to offer than just neighbors, too. There are tons of new restaurants I am going to be able to try out with a bunch of variety to them, and also a street market every weekend if I would prefer to get some fresh produce and make my own meals. It is these cultural experiences that I am also looking forward to in my new home. The first few weeks that I live in a place I feel like I am always wandering around exploring all the nooks and crannies until I can find out everything that the place has to offer. The weekend market alone should provide me with enough corners that I won’t get bored with it for a couple of months.

Some interesting tile work in the bathroom at my new place

And of course with any new place you move into, there are always a couple of strange surprises that you never thought you would encounter. Mine came in my new bathroom. Behind the toilet, painted into the tiles is this wonderful piece of artwork. It is not small either. It is a good three by four feet, and it is ready to greet me every morning as I get ready for work.

For the most part, it feels very nice to start to put things away and make those small adjustments so we can make the place feel more like home. Of course, it will take a little bit of time before we get to the point where I won’t have to rearrange furniture and try out new locations for all of my stuff, but it is nice to know that when I unpack something, I don’t have to put it a suitcase again because I have not reached my final destination. I have finally arrived, and I can start to quit living in the limbo between two places. I can now take in the sights and start to enjoy my new home.

The Things I am Excited About – The Move Day 24

I have spent a lot of time this summer talking about the place where I came from, and mentioning the place where I am moving to, but I have not really talked about it, and why I am excited about moving there. So I thought I would give a little time to talk about the things that I am looking forward to about the relocation to Bangkok.

First of all, I am looking forward to the food. I know that Korean food is the trendy thing worldwide, but I have never been a fan of this kind of food. I like the spices and I do enjoy the community spirit that is created by going to a Korean bar-b-q, but it has nothing that I have ever craved. I do enjoy what they have done to fried chicken, and I do not think that any culture can compete with this improvement on an American staple, but I cannot eat that every night unless I want to end my life by exchanging cholesterol for the blood in my veins. Basically, for the last four years, I have struggled eating.

My wife and I would always talk about our favorite foods in the world, and if there was one type of food that we had to eat for the rest of lives what would it be. Of course Italian always comes up for me because it has always been my favorite style of food, and my wife always talks about Japanese food because of the variety and the unique flavors that they explore in that country. And even though we both agree with each others’ main choice, we both agree whole-heartedly with Thai food. On my recent trip out there to scout out places where we would end up living, I even experienced new flavors that I did not know existed with this cuisine and it turned into one of my favorite Thai dishes. This just means that I have not tried everything that Thai food has to offer. I am excited to explore these options even more.

Which brings me to the next thing I am excited about, the street markets. There is a big one right next to the place where I will be living. It is not as big as the Chatuchak Market in central Bangkok, but it will still be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Apparently, it is only open during the weekends, but it will be the perfect place to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables. And the amount of fresh fruit that will be out there excites me a lot. I was able to get fruit in Korea, but it was heavily dependent on the growing season. When I arrived in the summer was when I could get green apples, but they disappear soon after I got out there. Berries would not be available until late in spring, and yes, I could get a watermelon, but I would have to spend up to $30 for it.

The fruit should be more readily available in Thailand, and the variety should always be there available at the markets and delivered that morning from the groves. I look forward to going to the market and searching for the perfect fruit and vegetables of the day and creating a meal with them later in the evening. I will not always have to wait until the weekend to make this happen either. Where we are moving has a mango tree in the front yard, and twice a year I should have a supply of fresh mangoes in which to eat and cook with. I see myself perfecting the best mango salsa by the end of the first year.

A lot of this is due to the thing that I am having a love/hate feeling towards, and that is the weather. It is going to be hot and humid, and this will never change. My two favorite seasons in Korea were autumn and spring. If you are ever visiting Korea, this is when you want to go because the weather is perfect and the changing of the trees, whether it is the shedding of the leaves or the blooming of the cherry blossoms, is spectacular. I will really miss that about Korea.

What I will not miss about Korea is its bitter winter. I have seen my fair share of bitter cold winters, but I have never experienced anything like the ones in Korea. The temperature drops and stays there. I used to look at the outside, not wanting to venture out because I knew it meant bundling up so my skin would not be ripped away by the dry frigid wind. It wasn’t even pretty because it rarely snowed in the winter to hide the dead tree and lawns. It was just cold. I will not miss that.

But I am not also a fan of extreme heat. I am a runner, and trying to run while it is hot and humid is harder than when it is cold and bitter. It just saps all of the energy from me, and I feel like I am wading through the air rather than slicing through it. I know I will eventually acclimate to this because it is never going to change, but I will miss the colder times of the year. I know this even before I make it out to Thailand  because as I said earlier, the milder times of the year are my favorite. It is still not enough to dissuade my excitement for this move, and it is this weather that makes all of the other things I am excited about possible. It is just a minor thing, and I know that I will be able to make the adjustment.

So as the time pushes closer when I will finally get make that last leap, I am starting to get excited about what the changes will be for me, and I can’t wait to share them with the rest of you.

Time to Take the Summer in – The Move Day 22

Mueller State Park in Colorado

I have really enjoyed the time that I have gotten to spend with family in friends over the last couple of weeks in both Colorado and Oregon. It is great to catch up and to go out and see a bunch of spots that I am familiar with as well as some new ones that have popped up since I have been away. Being back in the country that I grew up in brings back a comfortability that can’t be matched, but it has also worn me out.

It is probably one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people who decide to make a career out of international teaching, coming home can be exhausting. It is not a bad kind of exhausting. You get to see the people that you love and catch up, but the problem that comes is when you are being pulled in twelve different directions so you can make sure that you spend enough time with everybody you have come back home to see. By the time I get back to my job overseas, I am worn out and I need to get back to work so I can schedule some down time.

Glaze Meadow Pool at Black Butte Ranch

I know it sounds kind of bad that I am whining about going out to eat on a regular basis, hanging out with family and friends, and taking a break from the grind of being a teacher. Do not get me wrong. I love my summer vacation. I need it in order to recharge my batteries, so I can take on the pressures of the work that I do. I also love seeing all of these people and the fun stories that I get to create along the way. But I also need that time of mindless vacation where I have no concerns or worries, and I can take in the moment a little for myself.

Some of the trails at Black Butte Ranch

I am lucky in this aspect for there is a place where my path leads me every summer where I can do this exact thing, Black Butte Ranch. This little gem in the high desert of Central Oregon forces me to take time and just relax. It is a beautiful spot filled with lodgepole pine trees and clumps of aspens. It boasts of four pools where you can just kick up you feet and soak in the sun, and if you want to take a more active break, it has miles of bike paths that will get you lost for a time but also will take you back to a familiar spot eventually. There are also tennis courts and two amazing golf courses. You can go enjoy yourself at the parks or the little lake in the middle of the ranch that rents out paddles boards and kayaks or during the dusk hours attracts fishermen and bats looking for bugs that you can watch. There are three different restaurants and a couple of snack bars so you can grab a tasty bite to eat or a drink. All of this and more is at least a ten minute drive from any form of commercialized civilization that just pushes you into that stage of being completely disconnected from your problems and worries.

I am glad that I have been able to make it out here to really take in the summer months and relax for a bit. So for all of you that I have caught up with over the summer, it has been great seeing you and I miss you already, but I need a little John time and the best place in the world I have found where I can get this is Black Butte Ranch. So I am going to take this time to recharge the batteries and get ready for that next jump over the pond to my next adventure in international teaching in Thailand.

 

 

Making Adjustments – The Move Day 16 – 17

I have moved many times in my life, but it was usually just from one apartment, or town home to a new apartment or house. The farthest I had to go was across town, and I did not really need to worry about making the change to a new culture or lifestyle. Even though it was a small move, it still held some sense of the unknown. Would I get along with my neighbors? Would I find nice restaurants and bars in my new corner of town? Would I be safe there? Would my commute to work be affected in any way? Was the place I bought or rented really up to the snuff that the people who sold it to me said it was at? How will I get my stuff from point A to point B?

These are all things that cause stress in somebody’s life as they make these life changing jumps, and this was only across town. Four years ago, I left Colorado for the first time in my life, making a huge change and a huge adjustment by moving to not only a new house, but to a new country, South Korea. The level of stress increased because I would not get to look at the place I was moving into before I got there. Moving stuff across town in a truck can cause stress, but loading all of your personal belongings onto a baggage scale at the airport to make sure that it falls within the weight limit causes even more stress. I not only had to worry about finding food that I would enjoy, but whether or not I would enjoy the cuisine in the first place. I would not only have to worry about getting along with my neighbors, but I also had to worry about getting along with everybody I came into contact with because we would have a hard time communicating if we could communicate at all. Being safe became an even bigger concern when I thought about the madman that lived just north of the city that I would be residing in. How would I not only get back and forth to work, but to any place that I wanted to go without a car, and would it be a good idea to get a car in the first place because I was sure that they drove a little differently out in Korea?

Having this many questions hanging before me would make me reconsider the decision I had made and go running for the hills of Colorado to hide away until the moment it was safe to come out again. But I am glad that I did not do this. It was a little bit of a challenge, but I do think that it was the best decision I had ever made in my life. It forced me to push against my nature, and learn from the process to become a stronger person. It made me look at the world differently and understand more about not only other cultures but the one that I came from as well. It made me grow in my profession, and I have emerged a better teacher than when I went in. All in all, it made me a better person, and why would anyone not want to experience that challenge if presented it? I am glad I went into the field of international teaching, and I do not think I will ever look back.

My experience in Seoul made this next move a lot easier to go through. I am still traveling into the unknown, and there will have to be some adjustments that are made when I arrive, but I have been to Bangkok, and know what life is like there. I also know what it means to be an international teacher, and I will be learning how to make the leap to an IB program, but this is not as big of a leap from going from an alternative program to an AP program. It is still a challenge to move all my important possessions from one part of the world to the next, and it does always cause stress when I have to figure out how to get nine bags on to a commercial flight and make sure that I get them all after making two layovers along the way. But that is just the pain of moving, and I will figure it out along the way.

It is all a part of the experience, and I am now getting to a place where I am comfortable about the move that I will be making. I am looking forward to exploring a new corner of the world, and even though I am still a couple of weeks away from making that final jump, I hope that you will continue to come along with me as I share with you all the new experiences out there on the opposite of this globe.

What I Will Miss from Korea – the People – The Move Day 14

I have to be honest that I have a love-hate relationship with the people of Korea. There were times that I would have wonderful experiences with random people on the street and feel like I was one of the most loved people on earth, but the next day I would get to experience Korean pride, and wonder why I ever thought this society could ever be considered kind.

But then I think about it, and that is the same truth about any group of people in the world. I have experienced it during my couple of weeks that I have spent in the United States. There are times where I look at something that was a regular occurrence here, and I think to myself that this was something that I really never missed. There are always going to be people that you enjoy, and people that get on your nerves for some reason. But when you look back at the time you spent at a place, you can look at the things that annoyed you, or you could look for the things that you enjoyed about the place. If you look at the things that annoyed you then you will always hate life, but if you embrace the moments that you enjoyed then you will look at your time here with a fondness that makes you know when all is said and done, you truly enjoyed the life you are given.

With that in mind, even though there were some things that annoyed me about Korea, the people were one of the reasons that I will look back at this place with fondness. Even though they may first come across as reserved and cold, when you get to know the Korean people, they have a heart that extends to all people and will go out of their way to make sure that you are comfortable in their world.

I think back to one of my first memories of being out in Korea. It was during the heat of summer, and I wanted to go down to the Ikea to buy some furniture for my new place. I decided that the best way to make it there was to take the subway even though I was advised against doing this. I thought that I had planned things out nicely and was working my way there, but I was finally kicked off one of the trains early because it was going off duty. I was a little lost as to what I should do next and was looking at one of the big maps in the station when I was approached by a kind, young Korean. He asked where I was going, and I told him, and he tried to point out my final destination which I was already aware of. But in the meantime, the new train appeared, and I got on thinking that I was on my way to Ikea. The kid also got on the train with me, and stood in the corner with his phone, and a little pad that he kept writing on.

This is where the kindness of Korea really shined through. When I got off the train to make a transfer to the next train, I was stopped by this kid with a list of different ways that I could make it to Ikea, and which bus or train that I could take. And then he disappeared, never to be seen again. He had spent fifteen minutes on a train to help some random stranger, and I will never forget this kindness.

This kind of generosity extended to everywhere I went. The places where I was a regular became comfortable because the owners would get to know our names, and our drinks or food that we enjoyed even though very few of them could speak English. Some of them even spent time to work on teaching us a few Korean phrases so we could feel more comfortable in the neighborhood, and there were numerous occasions that someone came to my aid when I felt the uncomfortableness of being in a foreign country and trying to figure the ways of my new surroundings.

There are many things that I am not going to miss about Korea, but there are even more that I am going to miss. But the one thing that I will miss the most is the kindness of the people, and the joy that they brought to my life in the four years that I was out there.

Thank you, Korea.

What I Will Miss from Korea – Convenience Stores – The Move Day 6

Ah, the good old GS25. From the parking lot of my apartment complex, there were two of these stores that would take less than a minute to get to. The closest one to me was right across the street from my front door and I could make it there and back home as if I had never left. The landscape of Seoul is dominated by these little stores, so if I ever feel in the need for a quick bite, a refreshing drink or a top up of my subway card, I can pop into a GS25, a CU, or a 7-11 and get what I need. It makes life very easy, and I was never at a loss for what I needed.

But this is not the reason that I will miss these stores with the one right across the street from my apartment being the one I will miss the most. It is the cultural experience that goes along with these stores that makes them different than any other convenience store I have seen anywhere else in the world. In most convenience stores, they expect you to pop in, get what you need and then leave. In Seoul, they have a bunch of tables and plastic chairs set up outside, inviting you to sit down and enjoy a little bit of time after you have made you purchase. It has all the charm of Paris cafe with all the class of a dirty Circle K. At first, I looked at it as something that I would never partake in, but eventually, I drank the Kool-Aid and took part of this cultural phenomenon.

Depending on the time of the day, different people can be seen sitting outside of these convenience stores, enjoying them in their own special way. After school, students on their way home will be eating quick ramen bowls while conversing with their friends. In the middle of the day, mothers with their strollers will converge here to enjoy a cold coffee. On the weekends during the summer, families will search through the cooler for individual ice cream cones that they can share quickly to get relief from the heat. And later at night, the older crowd gather to buy beer and soju and drink cheaply for a couple of hours. It makes these places look like they are always packed with people waiting to get in and enjoy the amenities there.

The GS25 outside of my apartment had a big patio and was a big draw for many people in the neighborhood, but mainly for the teachers that worked at my school. It became the center of the whole community without ever really trying to. I ran into many people at this place for a quick conversation, or to enjoy a moment to catch up out on the patio. There were many moments that I had a the GS25 and it was the start of many nights that led to other adventures and noraebang sessions. I was such a regular at my GS25 that the owner of the place would wave to me as I ran by on my runs. I am sure I will find other places in my future travels that will become important to me like this tiny convenience store became, but there will never be a place that will become a staple of my everyday existence.

In a time when convenience becomes a part of everybody’s lifestyle, Korea has found a way to make it a part of their culture, and a place to slow down from the busy lifestyle, if just for a moment, so they can come together as a community. It is because of this that I will miss the convenience stores of South Korea.

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.