Dec. 15 post, making it 1,501 blogs

I never know who I might meet over this blog either by e-mail or in person. I just encountered photos done by a very talented professional photographer who recently visited Kazakhstan. He captured some amazing outdoor photos of the beautiful panorama of Kazakhstan, in many ways it is still untouched.  It has been said that Kazakhstan was the original area of the Biblical Garden of Eden.  Yes, there used to be huge apples that were in the valleys and orchards in Kazakhstan before the Soviets took over.  Unfortunately, those kinds of apples are not as big or resplendent as they used to be.

Sadly some of the amazing places that the Kazakhs like to go to enjoy their own country’s beauty has been trashed with plastic bottles and other refuse that people just throw out when they are done with their picnics.  The Kazakhs need a campaign where everyone is responsible for picking up their own trash.  It hasn’t caught on yet.  If they hope to encourage tourism, the Kazakhs need to take better care of their country’s beauty.

Check out http://www.davidkoester.de/destination-bilder/kasachstan/ to see about 50 photos from presumably the southern part of Kazakhstan.  I recognized some shots from traveling there myself.  There was the singing sands which goes past Kazakhstan’s version of the Grand Canyon. There were pictures of areas where there had been a landslide south and east of Almaty where pine trees presumably now grew in a lake.  Many other lakes, perhaps also a photo in ancient Turkestan.  I could not read all the German in the notations but the pictures which shows off Kazakhstan are phenomenal.

I will assume that my blog readers will go directly to the above URL of David Koester. They will see the spectacular scenes he captured. So I don’t have to write much this 15th day of December, my 1,501 blog.  Besides I have final grades for my 85 composition students to work on.

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1,500 posts and last day of busy teaching

Two facts of posting 1,500 times in the last seven years and my last day of my busy teaching load  of 2014 go together.  I have had a whole semester of teaching five classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.  My Wednesdays are not as bad as having to wake up after a weekend of rest and teaching straight through on Mondays.  I’ve been more relaxed about posting on this blog since I don’t live in Kazakhstan any more but would like to just to visit some of the other amazing places that are in this BIG country.  I used to post every day and if I had nothing to write, I would put up photos of every day things that I saw in Almaty and Astana. It has been nice to have a following of faithful readers, people who still come back to my blog to see what life was like in Kazakhstan.

So, what am I doing in class today, all FIVE of them?  I am taking it easy there where it is my students’ responsibility to do their powerpoints based on their research paper they did this last month.  I have learned a LOT about different topics like swimming, hockey, horse therapy, horse slaughter houses, American Indian peaceful march, ACL prevention programs, artificial turf vs. grass turfs, aspartame, dance, sprinting, social media, Florida violence, war on terror, bond of brotherhood in military…the list goes on.  I have at least forty students who are showing off what they know from what they have researched.  I asked them to do a persuasive paper so they were required to show both sides of the issue they were presenting. Some are doing a better job than others.  Yesterday we learned about coyote hunting which was more of an informational talk than one that was well researched and persuasive.  Another talk yesterday was about child marriages where poor countries allow an older, rich man to marry child brides between the ages of 9 – 17.  Many of these girls have VVF as a result after having difficulty bearing their first child.  This was a good talk, the one about coyotes needed work.

Next semester, I wonder if I should have my students investigate Kazakhstan and I’m wondering what they would find.  It seems that there is so little good information out about this great land.  I know that there are photo journalists who regularly come to this blog, maybe some have used my photos though I don’t have a good quality camera so I doubt that.  My photos of Kazakhstan does give an idea about what to expect on the streets of Almaty or Astana. I took of the mountains in Almaty because that city was on a significant slant. I captured photos of the strange buildings in Astana because there was nothing very scenic to photograph in the capital.

I better get to my lesson planning for my other two composition labs.  I have had an annoying student who keeps insisting on her final grade of the semester for a one credit class.  I had to show her and her advisor that I have to work with percentages for self evaluations and 35% for grammar quizzes and finally 30% for the final self evaluation.  I had just given that last week and this irksome student asked if she could have an office visit with me to find out what her final grade is.  I told her I have 85 students, I have three comp classes that are 3 credits each and that I would not get to it until the end of the semester.  She is a weak student so I think she is hoping to get a good grade to buttress her GPA in her other classes.  She kept insisting and so I sent her and her advisor an e-mail saying that I would NOT have it done…just for her…until I have done all the classes at the END of the semester.

Most all of my other students are gems, I have really grown to love them.  Even the few other irksome ones.  They are freshmen and they want to do well.  Everything is new and exciting to them…except for those who are homesick and miss their families from far away. I had a student from Florida in my office yesterday working on his powerpoint.  He is going home for GOOD even though his presentation is about the violence there that is NOT talked about because that would hurt their tourism trade.  He is a good kid and I asked him if he would rather be where there is violence than our extreme cold weather in Minnesota.  Yep, he missed his family.  Sometimes we question why we put up with the “violence” of fighting the cold weather when it gets to be the middle of winter in January and February.

Happy 1,500 posts!  May there be many more to come…I don’t predict 1,500 more posts…unless I return to Kazakhstan to finish my story about it.

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Blogging is my way to Procrastinate!!!

I have only one more post to make after this one that would make it to 1,500 posts all together on this blog since I started it over seven years ago.  I have not been as frequent posting about Kazakhstan because I am living far, far away from a country I care deeply about.  So few people have heard about this ninth largest country in the world.  There are fewer people who actually live in this country and so the reason seems to prevail, not many people are out there to promote the good things about this former Soviet Republic.

I have lived in the two cities Almaty and Astana, I have visited other places like Karaganda and out west.  I went east to their version of the Grand Canyon, that is all documented on this blog.  I’d have to go back to see how to spell the names of these little known places.  A map would help but right now I am writing this blog because I DO NOT want to be grading the stack of 40 plus research papers that are 2,000 words long with APA formatted in-text citations and a Reference page of eight sources.  I brought this all on myself, it was my assignment for my freshmen composition students.  I want them to learn all that is possible before they go to the next level of Comp II.

Do my 85 students know that I care that they succeed?  I got feedback from one of my more genuine students when he said something to the effect that “not many students like you, but I do because you make us work hard. I have learned a lot from you.”  I guess I don’t go into this teaching gig with the idea of making friends with all my students by giving them the easy As or Bs.  If they are getting the grades they want, they will have worked hard for it or they already came into my class with prior knowledge.  Those of the latter set have had high school composition teachers that took the time to grade their papers in a diligent manner and told them the tough things that they needed to know to improve.

Right now, I should also be looking at the self evaluations and self assessments that I gave to my Comp lab classes, all three of them.  Oy, there is an overload here and I am looking forward to having a break.  I’m no different from the students.  I can fritter away time with the best of them.  I don’t remember working this hard with my Kazakh students even when I taught at KIMEP in Almaty and had 100 students, five classes of 20 in each. That was when I barely got their difficult to pronounce first names down…never mind trying to learn their last names.  I have all of my 85 students names figured out with these American students, some are from Florida, California, Texas…those are the football or basketball players.

We had a fun time decorating the Carnegie last week and it made the local newspaper the next day.  Some of the students seemed pleased that they are featured on the front page and also the group shot of them on the second page.  Well, I had to call it a service learning project, of course. You can’t have a field trip where all they do is decorate the halls of the Carnegie.  They had to learn about electricity in MN which was part of the traveling exhibit display.

I had better get to those papers, the clock is ticking and they do NOT grade themselves.

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December Christmas Decorations at the Carnegie

Right now I am in class with my dutiful composition students typing away on their post-assessment of the semester.  They all NEED the 25 points that this task is worth, that is, if they answer all the questions correctly.  In the meantime, I am about to leave them to themselves so they can finish this assignment on their own while I go off with two of the students to the Carnegie building.  This is for my other comp lab class that actually thought of this assignment to do as a kind of “field trip.”  Anything to get out of class, right?  I didn’t tell them that they will have to look at the traveling exhibit that is there at the Carnegie and answer the 14 questions that I composed so that I KNOW that they read the material.

I have had a pretty good semester with very compliant students but this 1:00 p.m. class has been a challenge.  They are very diverse and needy in some respects. The mature ones I tried to get out of this challenging class to an earlier class I taught. The ones who are not prepared for college are still in this class with the exception of a few.  The antsy ones play off of the others but after enough disciplining, they are by now ready for the rest of their college career.  I have had them write papers on human trafficking and that was after they downloaded the FREE e-book version of Two Kyrgyz Women.  I have harped on them about APA formatting style and researching with good keywords.  They know about that now but many of them had learned MLA formatting in high school, if they learned that at all.  Some came with grammar errors and others came with persistent punctuation or spelling problems.  They are all good kids at heart.

Anyway, in about two minutes I will leave this group of 16 students to their own devices.  I must trust them but I will get a report from the student who gathers up the 700 word self assessment.  I will have a GREAT time with my other composition class who are ready, I hope, to put up the Christmas decorations in the Carnegie.  We will have three Christmas trees to put up.  Lots of icicle lights and also more ornaments and about ten wreathes.  We will have the local newspaper over to take photos of this event.

*******

Back from the “field trip” and all 16 students showed up and two others from the historical society were on hand. We had a photo of the 19 of us for the paper and then some of them had to get back to campus for their other classes of the day.  We stayed on until 5:30 p.m. after being there since 1:30 p.m.  It went very well with the kids all pitching in and stringing the lights around the pillars and others putting the 3M plastic up to keep the cold air out.  It should be looking nice for Friday night after people read about it in the newspaper tomorrow.

The kids were READY to help because they didn’t want to work on the 14 question worksheet that I had given them.  They got half done with that. I found out that the 15 kids I left behind were very diligent and wrote and wrote so that they can have extra points.  I will have all these papers slipped under my door for me to find tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow I will have the students do their powerpoint presentations on their final research paper.  I am in the home stretch and feeling good!

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Black Friday started on Thursday evening

I’m not a shopper at all…I used to be when I lived in the Cities and didn’t have much else to do.  I had friends who liked to go to malls with me and I would see many of my friends from college at this particular mall. That made the Cities feel small, bumping into people all the time.  Well, forty years later and I have NO interest in going to malls to just look. I have too much to do to waste time like that.  I can’t even imagine why people would go to a place to buy something and then wait in line for up to a half hour or longer to get the BEST deals.

Well, I had a rude awakening at our area chain store that had a deal going on at 6:00 p.m. and then another at 8:00 p.m.  When I got there at 7:00 there were cars, maybe 30 or so lined up around the back waiting to get their TV delivered into their car.  It was freakish to see the parking lot full of cars, I had never seen it so busy before.  My sister and her family went into this big shopping place to find some things they couldn’t find in the Cities.  One of the things was the DVD named “24” which is into its third series.  I thought I might like it but according to my sister, there is a dark side to it. Apparently it hooks the audience because it is a kind of “who-done-it” series.  I guess I don’t have time for that either.

I had my sister tell me which was the best cat food to get for our feral cat that adopted us.  It is black with a touch of white and we call it Blackie for lack of anything else to name it.  It is not so wild now because it came right up to Ken when he brought more food to it, it was willing to be petted. Seems that it is NOT so wild then.  We need a good mouser on our place, also an animal that will take out the pesky gophers that make mounds of dirt in our lawn.  Pesky is a nice term for these critters.  Anyway, next spring Blackie will have a field day with all the critters that have had free reign of our place next to our two vegetable gardens.

It was a nice visit with my sister and her family. We played Mexican train dominoes and the youngest one won the game. I failed miserably but it seems it is the luck of the draw of what tiles you pick up.  I had wanted to sing Christmas carols but people were not game to do that so I settled for just eating together, laughing together and playing this silly game but there were 7 of us so that made it a fun family time.

Reality will hit that my vacation is over when I am back to getting papers graded to hand back on Monday and then also prepare something else for my Comp Lab classes.  I can see the end of the semester is nigh.  I am looking forward to it.  Black Friday is past, this semester is almost past, I look forward to an evening where I don’t have to frantically think about what I am going to do for my classes the next day.  Panic button hits usually on Sunday night in anticipation of what I will do with my five classes on Monday.

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Shadows of Winter Approaches Quietly and Softly

We are seeing the light snow on the ground disappear because of temps in the 30s and even 40 degrees a few days ago.  That is so unusual for our area of the country where others south of us had much snow dumped on them but we had a minimal amount.  I’m looking forward to my sister and her family coming up from the Cities to see us for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  Them rather than us making the hours of interstate and they will do it all in one day, turn around to go back the same day after being stuffed with turkey and dressing and all the other good stuff.

My composition students will be sparse in all my classes tomorrow, all five of the classes I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays.  That’s fine, I will bring pumpkin cookies, bread and one pie for the football and basketball players who miss having home cooked meals.  They are surviving on the school’s cafeteria food.  I asked some of my volleyball and soccer player girls what they planned to do for Thanksgiving.  One girl has 3-4 places to go to: her mother’s, then her father’s side of the family (I’m assuming they are divorced), then her grandparents and then her stepparent’s side of the family.  Complicated. Another talked about going home and inevitably being in the kitchen the whole time helping to prepare the meal. THEE meal!  That’s what Thanksgiving has become.  When I said good bye at the end of each class on Monday I reminded my students about being thankful. I didn’t say to Whom or for what.  I just said to remember what they are thankful for.  Most were too eager to get going to even respond to that.  Others gave me good wishes for Thanksgiving with the idea that I wouldn’t see them until next week AFTER Thanksgiving break.

Yes, it is a very big holiday for us as Americans. For some it is all about the food and then there is always “Black Friday” the next day.  I will avoid shopping at all costs on that day because I hate to shop on a regular day.  Give me the malls that are empty, or the stores that don’t have much business during the middle of the week, in the middle of the day.  I’m fine with that and perhaps I will go shopping tomorrow, the day before Thanksgiving just to get some presents for people.

Today as my husband and I drove into town it was remarkable to see the horizon and the landscape, it was very fresh, clean and close looking.  There are days like that where the distant trees and farmsteads miles away have a clarity that is refreshing.  However, there is currently sadness in our nation, especially in Missouri. I don’t even want to get into it but there is violence and there is injustice.  Unfortunately, for the people to create more violence and steal from the shopkeepers in the vicinity, that is sending a very WRONG message.  Perhaps it is really telling what the ilk of these people are who perpetuate the continued misunderstandings.  Lawlessness and the ignoring of rule of law seems to be escalating in our country.  We have freedoms and they have been abused, maybe quickly slipping away from us.

Well, looking at the purity of winter helps even though things are dormant or dead. It is like a covering that heals the hurt.  The shadow of winter is here, it is done approaching, it is all around us in the north. I am thankful for many things…even snow and cold.

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Home stretch…less teaching of writing and more WRITING of my own

Not sure if this is a baseball term or where “Home Stretch” came from, I suppose I could google this and find out.  I like to admit that “I see the light at the end of the tunnel” and I am making sure my 85 students in my six composition classes know they can share that light with me too.  Once this fall semester is finished, I will miss seeing my students who all seem ardently working away.  They come as freshmen students with different skill levels depending on what high school teachers they had and how much they worked with research papers. Some understand the complexities involved, others are like deer in the headlights about what is expected of them when it comes to researching.

However, I think after three months together, my students have a good understanding in my class that this is university level and what they pulled off as “A” papers in high school doesn’t cut it in their new academic environment.  One class has proven a bit of a challenge for me. I got two students out of there who were good and it fit their schedule to attend another composition class I taught in the morning. Two others dropped out while one student hasn’t handed in much of anything.  I keep wondering why if we are up to 700 points out of 1,000, he has about 100 points and still shows up for class.  For sure he will be taking this comp class again next semester…that is if he can survive the cold.

This weekend my 45 comp students are hopefully working diligently on their Paper #4 which is a topic they were able to choose, once I gave my approval. I had a list of ten topics that I considered “Hot button” topics that did not get my approval. Initially I needed to see from them a workable thesis statement and also a working bibliography of FIVE academic, peer-reviewed articles.  Some of my students chose topics that haven’t been written about by the academics or if they have been written about, there are no opposing views.  That was also part of my assignment for this persuasive research paper, it must have an alternative argument so that they can see from another point of view.  I am getting all different types of proposals and titles for title pages from my very diverse group of classes.  I have football players that want to write about football helmets or another wants to write about whether college players should be payed or not. Then I have would be farmers who want to write on the latest in planting and harvesting.  I have soccer player girls who want to find out more about the effects of artificial turfs and then I have a dancer who is learning more about children’s motor skill development with programs in dance.

This weekend I have already corrected 50 points worth of a quiz on the textbook dealing with the APA formatting style. Now THAT was tedious and I still have to finish off with two more weeks of instruction before we take a two day break for Thanksgiving the end of November.  After that, I will have them do a ten minute powerpoint presentation on their writing assignment. Then Dec. 12th, we are DONE with instruction, classes. It is up to me, while they are taking finals the last week of the semester, to get the grades in before my husband and I head south for a two week vacation in the warmth. Can’t wait to see the grandbabies and how they have grown from last year.

What a strange day today with near white out conditions, then sunny, more wind, then it dies down.  I’m looking out now and can see two miles away, but earlier you couldn’t see 300 feet or even 50 feet in front of you out in the tundra prairie.  Oh, we DO love it here because it keeps the riff-raff out. People who are up to no good do NOT want to stick around when the really bad weather starts up.  It could happen any week or month now.  I’m thankful though that our weather is NOT as bad as what I experienced in Astana, Kazakhstan for two winters. Now THAT country experiences a real hard-core winter and Astana being the capitol of the expansive country, you can be sure they have managed to keep most of their riff-raff out due to the extreme temps but also the high prices.

Do I want to go back to Astana? Some days I think about it but I think I would prefer Almaty even with all its air pollution and slanty roads because it is south and warmer.  How did I get on this topic?  I DO want to write about all the stories I collected from my Kazakh students the 3-4 years I lived and taught in Almaty and Astana.  If only I had more time and didn’t have to currently teach writing…I could write and get this book that has been on the back burner finally published.  It took me THREE years to come up with a title for this book “Unbroken Souls:  Soviet Grandparents’ Stories from Ukraine and Kazakhstan” but it will probably take me another decade before it gets into print.  Perhaps it would be best as an e-book to reach the expat community who care about these countries and who want to order it off of Amazon.com.  We shall see…I just have to get to the end of THIS tunnel I am in right now, even if I feel like I am in the middle of a white out!

 

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