First Day back to CLASS!

In about three hours I will be in front of 19 students in my first writing class. Tomorrow I will have FIVE classes back to back and by the end of the week, I will have met most all of my 90 students. I would say that is a LOT to deal with. I’ve done it before when I lived in Almaty, Kazakhstan when I had FIVE classes with 100 students. Those were ALL very difficult names to pronounce. By the end of the semester, I had mastered saying all of their first names and knowing one from the other. My secret was to take pictures of each class and then the next session I passed the pictures around for them to identify themselves.

Fortunately, I can go on the web and see their photo that goes with their name. I have one class where half the students are from my home town, it is my smallest class. Another class must be a LOT of football players because they are from Florida, California, one from Georgia. They will need extra help because they are on a team that doesn’t win much. As freshmen they will not be playing but tough to practice day in and day out and then lose every weekend. I knew one school in the Twin Cities that boasted about their losses and purported to be more interested in studies. One game score was really lopsided at about 96 to 4 or something outrageous like that. I think the visiting team would probably have more fans than the home team in that case. I don’t know if they still have such a bad team but their emphasis is on preparing their students for law school.

I look forward to meeting all my students, it is a different kind of student than the ones I taught ten years ago. I also won’t be having them submit their first story about their grandparents for publication as I usually do. Too much red tape regarding the consent forms that I have used for YEARS! Times are a-changing. Well, I will find the best stories and try to highlight them in some other way. Some are so very endearing and the newspaper reading audience in our town needs something lighthearted and fun to read. We are reading too many headlines these days that threaten war, outrage, lawsuits, etc. I KNOW people want to read the good things and I am used to providing that.

With so many classes and students, I won’t be writing any newspaper articles until about January of 2015. I’ll miss the positive feedback I get from people. I do all pro bono and I know it helps me sell books about my hometown. I have had some good conversations with people about things I have uncovered from the past. I hope that my students, some of them will be interested in history as well.

Better sign off to get ready for my first class of the semester. I have my big office all ready with plants and much color. Things from Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It has my mark on it since I am borrowing it for the semester from another person who has another office elsewhere.

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Back again to WRITING…and teaching writing!

It has been a very busy month in August and now I am looking at the end of this month on the calendar and realizing that I have some catch up to do.  I have said “yes” to teaching 12 credits of composition I classes so that may mean that I won’t be able to write as much for the local newspaper every week.  However, what I should do is document all that I go through as a teacher in dealing with freshmen students who do not want to be in their respective writing classes.  I will have to convince them that writing is GOOD for them like taking your medicine everyday to feel better.

Somehow I have to persuade these postmodern products that it IS about them but that they have to know their audience in order to be “listened to.”  I have come to learn that postmodernism is more about what the person who is reading a script what it does to them, it is all about them.  Whereas before, like a century ago, it was more about trying to figure out what the writer meant and what his or her intentions were.  We certainly have it backwards now because you can interpret any message any way you want to, never mind what the main point of the author’s is.  

I am not sure when the swing back to the way I grew up will take place. If I am teaching my students to find their own “voice” and then to declare a message they are passionate about, how can I get them to also think that they have to do a sales job in getting their readers to buy into what they have to promote or what they care passionately about?  I haven’t had to think about this for a couple of years but I was re-visiting all my powerpoints from when I taught a comp class and I was struck with how much work I had done every week to teach my students the rudimentary principles they need to keep in mind to write an academic essay.

Must I tell my students every time that they CAN write?  Do I need to remind them that they can think and they can verbalize so all they have to do is put that down on paper.  If I can encourage them to write using ethos, pathos and logos, then I will have won half the battle.  Some will come crippled with a grammar problem because they did not get proper training in school as a young person.  Some students will repeat things they have heard and I cringe when I hear irregular verbs improperly used.  I’ve heard it with teachers I work with, those who should know better.  I suppose it is no different from those in Texas who might say, “I’m fixing to…”  When northerners might say, “I plan to…or I intend to…”  I have to keep in mind that I know what they mean.  I had caught my Texas friend who had just come back from a trip to Texas from Ukraine saying that phrase “I’m fixing to…”  I ribbed her about it because ordinarily I would not hear her say that while we lived in Ukraine.

I have lived in so many different countries and early on I learned that you do not use the question “How come…” with internationals who only know the way to ask is “Why?”  Where did the “How come” configuration come about?  When I come back from living overseas I also do not use expressions we take for granted and feel clumsy using them when with Americans again.  Things like “fit to be tied” or “six of one, half dozen of another” or “the whole nine yards.”  That would be too complex for my foreign students to understand and then without hearing these kinds of phrases or using them for years on end, I find I mix up these common place phrases.

Well, I hope that I can work back into my teaching writing routine without feeling like a fish out of water. Ha!  Yes, looking through the textbook thoroughly and re-doing the two different syllabi that I am working with will help get me back in the groove.  I’ve been working on getting two books out and selling them this past year, I am a bit out of sync with how to get back in the classroom with my heavy load of teaching again.  Indeed, it will all come back to me once I am in front of the fresh, expectant faces of my composition students.


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Eventful week at the home base

When it rains, it pours…as they say. Actually, we could use some rain because the roads are really dusty and the crops could enjoy more moisture. However, I believe this expression fits my living circumstance this past week because both of my parents ended up in the ER on the same day. It was two separate events but it kept us hopping getting one out and admitting another one in. The ER people seemed to not mind the business because the day goes faster when there is activity.

Apparently one guy escaped the police from his emergency room berth while my Mom was in her adjoining room at the hospital. Fortunately, she was discovered earlier by a neighbor in her back yard. She was not feeling well and the neighbor thankfully called the emergency room right away. My mom was zipped off by ambulance to the hospital which is only 5-6 blocks away.

Later that evening, my dad was loading a lawn mower into his van and the board slipped which meant that the mower landed on him and he broke four of his rips. The neighbors saw the aftermath of this accident and immediately went to help him out. That’s my 84 year old dad, he always sees the bright side of things, forever the optimist and so he believes he stands straighter now after having this injury to his ribs. He is also currently on some very powerful meds and so he may not see this as a good thing once he eases off of that and feels the pain again.

The day before her spell, my Mom had carpal tunnel surgery on her right hand. She is so active and such a doer that for her to NOT be doing something is agonizing. She was out picking beans from her vegetable garden and doing general puttering. I have to remind her NOT to use her right hand, at least she doesn’t have the ice pack on anymore.

That is life at our locale, I wish for the humdrum after all this excitment but am glad to be alive. I’m glad my folks are alive as well. It was a good day for my dad…and mom. I’m thankful for my sister who came up with the traveling exhibit load that my Dad and I had intended to get which was four hours away. How good to have a big family. We just celebrated my Mom’s 80th birthday last weekend. They are both going strong still except for this minor bump in the road.

I’m glad they are still alive!

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Biking around town with a 14 year old nephew

I needed the exercise yesterday. I wanted to make sure that my 14 year old nephew from the Cities experienced our small town from the outside and going in. We had our helmets on and I took the bypass highways at a pretty good clip. We were passed by big industrial trucks and semis and I was okay with that. My nephew, however, prefers mountain biking with his dad. Yes, he loves nature and is good help to his mom in their one acre spread with her wooded, shady garden.

However, I asked if he enjoyed Dairy Queens in the wooded areas of his mountain trails. No, probably not. He spotted the DQ and of course we had to cross over the four lane interstate highway to get his favorite blizzard which he couldn’t finish. Guess who had the honors in downing the rest of the $4.50 blizzard? Yes, you are right! I then knew we had to bike extra miles and extra hard because I had already downed a Buster Bar! Oh my!

So, we took in the thrift store after leaving the golf course area and then to the library to retrieve his earbuds that he forgot the day before. We had stocked up on plums that were out for FREE at the food shelf. I may go back for more so I can make plum jelly. We have plums but nothing as big as the ones we put in bags. They are tasty!

After that we went to a war memorial when we had seen the damage done in one of the additions from the tornado that passed through a week before. LOTS of trees down and people had mostly cleaned up and it had been taken away but it was easy to imagine all the chaos that was created with the tornado. Also, we went east of town to see the path of the tornado in the trees near homes that are out in the country. Along the way we met up with some Canadians who were passing through and had 450 miles left to go to get home.

That was our tour of the city which I kept saying it was about 8 miles that we biked. It was probably a lot more. My intention was to tire out my 14 year old nephew so he would sleep well for the night. Here I am up at a very early hour and he is sleeping after watching two DVD movies. Well, I will put him to work at hacking down noxious weeds like thistles and itch weed later this morning when he is up.

I have some writing to do so I should be doing that but I had to recount the day I spent yesterday during a beautiful high 70s day, slight breeze. We have to appreciate our very tolerable summer days while we have them. Soon enough it will be cold winter again. The green everywhere is healthy for us.

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World Cup and Malaysian Airline

I suppose I am your typical American, I did not watch any of the World Cup. I’m not interested in soccer or “football” as it is called elsewhere. I haven’t even watched our own games of baseball so I guess I am not “INTO” sports. I think Germany was a good win for the World Cup, they probably worked hard and a great team effort. Someone wrote that the main objective is to keep kicking the ball towards the net, the more you do that, you wear down the goalie and the ball is apt to get into the net for a score.

Life is like that in a way. If you keep working towards your objective, you will little by little achieve your goal. If you are wandering around the field with no good plan or teamwork, you will have no success. I have been getting stronger and stronger where I weeded a flowerbed that was entangled with quack grass and lilies of the valley plants. The latter had taken over and was very intense as a root system, superficial but irksome nonetheless. My husband helped me free the ground up because it was too big of a task for me. Now I have impatience plants and begonias replacing the tall grass. What a marked improvement in my flower bed that has old bed posts on the top and bottom of it with railroad ties on the sides.

This morning I went after another area by our shop to put in holly hocks that I got from my mom. I found all sorts of metal pieces that had been thrown out perhaps 75 years ago. LONG nails and other ancient items that don’t decay with the soil. So, now I hope to have holly hocks growing, an old kind of flower.

That’s the thing, you have to keep fighting the weeds. If you give the weeds’ roots just an inch, it will go the full mile. Kind of like the northern neighbor to Ukraine. They want more land and are having a full out war over this. The Ukrainians want peace and do not want separatists or others that are known by another term in the eastern part of their country. It is like weeds, they need to be pulled out NOW otherwise, worse things will happen.

The commercial airliner that was just shot down with almost 300 people on board is an example of someone using their missile to take an aircraft out. The bodies are strewn throughout Ukraine over 7 miles, we know the impact happened in the air. Maybe it was a bomb on board coming from the Netherlands and its final destination was Malaysia. Not now, currently they will be pulling all the pieces together to find out what hit this plane that should not have been hit.

This is a world wide problem, this is not just some small incident. The World Cup was big, yes, but it seems that what is happening in Ukraine is much, much bigger and will start to affect us all.

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World Cup news…and the rest is history

Tonight I discussed with other ladies about the World cup of U.S. versus Belgium. I was among some who think that the sport of soccer is boring, especially when the score is so low, like 1-0. I guess I am your typical American who grew up on baseball and got to know and understand football, our American version of it. I have watched my girls from composition class play in their soccer matches. I must admit that if you know some of the players, it does make a difference to at least cheer for your team.

I suppose soccer will never catch on in the U.S. because there is also the sport of basketball which also can be very exciting as well as hockey games. I know that one of the ladies has her heart in Brazil right now because two of her sons are there watching the games. They submitted to a kind of lottery where they won three places of games to go to. I understand they won’t be back to the U.S. for another two weeks. I don’t even know how long this World Cup event is going on, that shows you how much I follow the news. However, this mother is watching the World Cup news closely because she hasn’t heard from her sons since they arrived to Brazil and to tell their mother they were fine. I understand that a mother’s heart and mind needs to know more minute to minute coverage than just the initial “we’re fine, we arrived.” Hopefully, her boys will find an Internet café and text home to give a few more details. One of the sons has wanted to go to the World Cup for the last 5-10 years. He is an unusual American kid, his brother went with him to help protect him.

Well, what is the rest of the history that I am looking into? I received from an 81 year old Norwegian bachelor farmer ten pages, single spaced and typed nicely about his life. I had to piece together all the details because it was fairly scattered in its organization. However, there are so many good pieces of info about what life was like for him living as a pioneer farmer in my part of the world. It is as if this man was taken out of a time machine that went back 100 years. He wrote about how a pack of dogs chased their family’s flock of sheep to death. He knows about shocking grain and creating hay bales. He did hunting and sold a mink skin for $33.50 to Sears and Roebuck back in the 1940s. He has so many tidbits that I think people from my community will enjoy reading. I currently have the privilege of editing his ten pages down to something manageable for the newspaper. I think I will have at least four articles out of what he has written.

So, life goes on even though the U.S. is no longer qualified to play any more games in the World Cup. They gave it their best shot, I’m proud of who the players are even though I don’t know who they are. Also, life goes on for this elderly gentleman who is still very sharp and witty. I hope that if more people would get to meet him in my town, they would really enjoy his dry sense of humor. It doesn’t really come through in his writing or reading his quips.

Summer is 1/3 over with, now that we are into July. I have MUCH weeding of my flower gardens to do before my family descends upon us in about three weeks. My mom will turn 80 years old and all of my siblings and her sister will come for the big event that we are planning. It will be fun to see everyone from my family gathered together for this happy occasion. She seems much younger than the 81 year old man I am writing about. He has had a hard life of great physical labor, living as a farmer on not much acreage.

Life is short, handle with prayer…

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More Information about THEE university in Astana, Part III

I realize for those who are IN THE KNOW about Kazakhstan, they have probably already read this article and don’t think much of it. However, I think it is a window into what are potential problems that could crop up in Kazakhstan…soon. This new university in Astana is an experiment, a noble one to be sure. Keeping in mind that there were many “sound” theories the former Soviet Union promoted.

Freedom is the key and if you teach students to think outside the box, they need freedom to express that and not fear what they say or think will be used against them. I just wanted to document on this blog what is good and what might possibly go wrong. This is the third and final part of the article written by Joseph Kucera titled “Can a homegrown university in authoritarian Kazakhstan incubate reform?”

For the time being, Nazarbayev University is in little danger of creating radicals. While some students’ eyes are opened by reading critical materials, that’s not always the case. One professor who taught the History of Kazakhstan course says that in class, students presented Nazarbayev’s statements today as evidence of what happened in the 1980s. “I asked them afterward, on the class forum, about the reliability of Nazarbayev’s recollections as a historical source, and they were quite offended. ‘We have to trust the president,’ was the answer they gave me. I tried to push them to think about inherent biases, et cetera, but they were unwilling to engage,” says the professor, who asked not to be identified.

One student interviewed on condition of anonymity says that there isn’t a lot of discussion in the student body about how the country should be run. “Students are less concerned about politics than on their studies,” the student says. The country’s political system has an unfair reputation. “We discussed this with our professors, and they said that the fact that we can talk about this means that human rights are respected here,” adding that at a university-organized meeting with a human rights officer from the U.S. embassy, the diplomat told students that the reports by international human rights organizations are “often exaggerated” and that “the situation isn’t as bad as they describe.”

Most N.U. students are “acquiescent but not apathetic,” says Sam Hirst, a history professor who left N.U. in 2013, in an email interview. “A great number of the students are reliant on the stipends and the support that they receive from what they understand as either the university or the government. Many are thus scared to jeopardize what they have already earned.” And while few are blind to Kazakhstan’s problems, most “turn their eyes in other directions, usually toward their textbooks, to earn the money necessary either to secure themselves a place in the system they are dependent upon or to leave it.”

Hirst, who also taught the History of Kazakhstan course, notes that it can be difficult for students to navigate attending a school where critical thinking is encouraged while living in a country where it’s not. “When I talked to the students about their reticence, I found that many of them were struggling to code-switch as fast as we were asking them to,” he says.

School officials say they’re confident that students will be able to manage this balancing act. “I’m sure that, along the way, our students will have different views on societal organization and so on. And I do hope that they aren’t just buying propaganda, that they are thinking for themselves,” says Katsu. “But one thing that stands out to me at the same time is that our students are very patriotic. They are proud of this country.”

Katsu calls President Nazarbayev’s decision to set up the school “a calculated risk.” “If you were afraid,” he says, “you wouldn’t create Nazarbayev University.”

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