Archive for November, 2007

“Aim at Heaven…” and Damah Film Festival

C.S. Lewis has a quotable quote from his classic Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 10.  “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”  

With 20 students packed into a small classroom last night for our English Club, I showed the short movie clip titled “The Limited” which got an award at an earlier Damah Film Festival, held every fall in Seattle, WA. These festivals started in 2001. Damah is a Hebrew word which, according to them, means “metaphor that transforms.”  Many professional and amateur moviemakers at this annual film competition produce movie clips as short as one minute or up to over 15 minutes long.  I discovered Damah ( this past summer while at a conference in Ft. Collins, Colorado.  Damah has taken hold to fascinate audiences with short attention spans, no different than the phenomenon of clips. 

This particular short clip I showed last night on the classroom wall is about a good, family man who dies in a car accident while running an errand for his wife and infant son. After realizing he is NOT in a bad dream but rather he is riding on an old locomotive train, the “Limited.” An unhappy traveler, he is stuck in a cabin with an ugly woman who hints for his leather jacket (she’s freezing) or for the candy he has in his pocket (she’s hungry). All the while he thinks he is supposed to be in heaven. He doesn’t help her at all and once the train screeches to a halt, he jumps out into a sunny, tropical scene where there is a greenhouse full of plants and flowers.  (I won’t write the rest, you will have to find out for yourself the surprise ending)  

Last night when I showed “The Limited,” which lasted 11:44 minutes, the students with varying ranges of English responded to how they thought it should be different, telling me how the movie had an unexpected ending, how they would have changed the ending if THEY were the film directors.  I showed the movie clip twice and unfortunately it didn’t have subtitles or closed captions.  That is the BEST way for foreign language learners to learn English.   

After that, I shared with the 20 students about something similar had happened to me where I could have been killed in a car accident as a 19 year old.  At that time in my rebellious state, I didn’t know whether I would be going to heaven or hell.  Since I didn’t know in my heart that Jesus had paid the penalty for my sin, I would have gone to hell even though I was a “good person.”  Fortunately in my case, I got a second chance to live, just like the students had wanted this man to have a second chance.  Not everyone gets a second chance, so that is why I encourage my dear readers to check out Damah movies and see how you can use it or at least be “transformed” by them. (Disclaimer: some are REALLY weird and abstract but fits our post-modern, Generation XYZ viewers) Yet, you will see how the moviemakers from all over the U.S. care about deep, spiritual issues. 

So last night I “aimed for heaven,” talking about eternal issues with 20 impressionable students and I believe I got “earth thrown in” with their talking in English about relevant matters. 

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Happy – Sad pose in Ukraine

orphanage in UkraineThis photo was sent to me by my former university in Kyiv of an orphanage they visited in Ukraine.  It has the appearance of being well maintained but there are happy and sad faces represented by each little person in this photo. These little ones need a family to belong to rather than existing in an institution with rigid rules and lack of hugs. Right now I’m thinking of my friend Linda who is in Kharkiv with her husband ready to adopt two or maybe three little boys.  I’m also thinking of my MN friends and their two biological sons who were just in China for ten days adopting a 5 year old albino boy who they named Brian.  They are back home in MN adjusting to new family patterns, no doubt there will be communication meltdowns for both families once their blending begins. 

Also, I’m thinking of my own 8 year old nephew who came from an institution similar to this photo, but he came from Russia.  He has been in his new family for two years and there are still many adjustments that all are making.  However, I think instead of these adoptive families making a “carbon footprint” to go overseas to rescue these children, they are making an imprint on these little souls who are starving for love.  Looking closely at these children’s faces makes me realize there is so much we can do to eradicate “global harming.”  That’s a new term I just made up and it means to neglect those widows and orphans who need our love and our help.  According to James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” 

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Nice pose, funny pose

funny poseWE English clubTo be around so much energy with the two English Clubs I’m involved with brings smiles and is refreshing for me.  Twice now, when I’ve had to take photos with a group of students, they have wanted a nice pose then a funny pose.  Okay, I hadn’t done the inverted hands to make glasses trick before but it was better than making a fish face with puckered lips.  Now, we are talking about Christmas parties for the different groups I’m involved with and that takes energy but will be fun.  I’ll make sure that we sing lots of Christmas carols but also that we play the game of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” where we pass presents to the RIGHT and LEFT.  Always a crowd pleaser.  One party is next Wed. a week from today, the other World Exchange group will be later.  I feel busy now with teaching remedial grammar to the WE groups and it is fun to meet such ambitious students.  They are ALL eager to get to the U.S. next summer so they are honing their English speaking skills with me.  Meanwhile, I’m getting our Christmas letter out in pdf format and for those friends and relatives who don’t have Internet, I have to figure out who will be leaving Kazakhstan to take a batch of our letters home to mail in the U.S. 

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Life can be rough for a three year old

3 yo riveted to toaster3 yo riveted to toaster3 yo riveted to toaster3 yo riveted to toaster

Several weekends ago we had a young family of THREE over for a dinner of tacos, salads and dessert. The father is American, the mother is Ukrainian, we know them from Ukraine.  The three year old kept asking her mother in Russian to go home, she was bored because there weren’t any playmates for her.  She had had a full day with face painting and playing with other children.  Finally, she resigned herself to sitting in our kitchen with heavy heart and was seemingly riveted to our toaster.  I had to get a photo of her showing such surrendered patience to her parents’ will to stay and visit.

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B&W treesAfter our Thanksgiving festivities of last Friday and a long hard week, I came down with a cold.  I especially started not feeling well after I dunked my Olympus digital camera into a cup of rooibos tea (read earlier blog entry).  As a result, I stayed indoors all day Saturday and most of Sunday trying to get better while Ken adventured out.  The following is what he e-mailed me once he got to his office on Saturday morning. 

“I caught a bus rapidly. Good thing because it IS icey. The walk on the other side of Abai street past Wessman’s old flat was fantastic.  I felt like I had God’s canopy over me, tree branches covering the sky with soft, thick snow. My eyes were forced UP, but if I looked to the side I saw gray Soviet type apartment building with glitzy commercialism in first floor converted shoppes. Fortunately, they were overpowered by the nature of the trees, and as I looked up into the gray sky, I saw a bluing patch of sky.” 

How I wish I could have seen what he saw but such is the way of colds, they may take us out temporarily but it is nature’s way of telling us to slow down.  Conversely, nature has a way of telling Ken that not all was forbidding black with his work here in Almaty.  When he looked up and saw God’s beauty among the white snow laden branches and the hopeful blue sky, he was refreshed and invigorated. 

I don’t feel so blue today.  Actually, I’m ready to launch out into the new day to see Almaty with all its colors now that the snow is mostly melted.  I know we have hope in a dreary black and white world only when we hang on to God’s promises for us. (such as Ps. 121) 

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Academic Listening class

Academic Listening class Last week was particularly busy for me giving talks at two different English Clubs about Thanksgiving or as this photo shows, I presented a ppt to an Academic Listening class where I talked about my research about my family five generations back.  I asked the 12 students how far they can go back in their ancestry, typically a Kazakh is supposed to know seven generations back.  Four raised their hands that they knew.  I not only showed up to date photos of my family but also talked about S.A. Olsness and how he had provided much information about my great grandpa Aslakson who immigrated from Norway to North Dakota in 1883.  These students perhaps have gripping stories of who their great, great, great, great grandparents were on the steppes of Kazakhstan as nomadic people.  I am eager to learn more about this Central Asian culture and how they survived the cold winters and maintained the Silk Road that connected commerce from East to West.  Tomorrow I will start teaching some very beginner classes at World Exchange which will meet every day.  Nice to get the added income for Christmas presents (and perhaps a new Olympus camera) but also to hopefully find out more from my students about the culture I’m currently living in.  I can say with conviction as Father Abraham is quoted in Gen. 23:4 “I am a foreigner and a sojourner among you…”

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Dunked Camera in Rooibos Tea

I KNOW I was tired and felt a cold coming on.  Ken and I had just gotten back from the cloud-covered mountains after eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, the WORKS!  It was good to see 15 feet in front of us in our flat because the whole city of Almaty was thickly clad in fog, all day sometimes you couldn’t see 10 feet before you.  Tricky for drivers of any conveyance. 

Naturally, both of us made beelines for our computers and I was in the middle of a game with my 10 year old nephew who is 12 time zones away and ALSO chatting on Skype with my folks and brother the same distance in MN.  I was just settling in with my rooibos, red tea in my tall cup and I picked up my little digital camera with my left hand.  (I’m right handed so my coordination was off) and was about to plug in the cord to the left side of my laptop to download many photos.   

Plop went my digital camera into the tea and out came a scream of horror from me.  Ken readily came to my aid and thought the surefire thing he might do to help me would be to douse it a second time with REAL water, not tea water.  So, I followed speed of light husband into the kitchen as if he were on an angel’s task of mercy.  It was not like my little camera was on fire, but now it was thoroughly drenched again!!!   

Of course, there are many precious photos from our Thanksgiving festivities on that camera. Hopefully, the memory card did not get wet and my photos can be found elsewhere when popped into another camera.  Otherwise if it is damaged, there are precious but irretrievable photos. Meanwhile, Dr. Ken believes I should take a hair dryer to the poor thing after he shook out the water from the inside of it this morning.  However, I believe in the slow, natural drying effect of putting it atop one of our radiators.  So many remedies, so little knowledge of how to mend a drowned camera. 

So, today, you MIGHT have seen some photos of our Thanksgiving meal, but you may never see the people we celebrated with or the fun we had.  I’m sad and have learned to not multi-task with a camera, laptop computer, online chess games, and Skype conversations all at once while drinking tea to unwind.  I’m thankful my laptop did not take any liquids during this dunking incident or you would not be reading this blog now. 

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Thankful for my Kazakh students

Academic listening class3 boysDinara and 3 girlsLast night I served my Kazakh students pumpkin cookies and salted pumpkin seeds.  They seemed to appreciate the former and were not sure of the latter.  Three girls gave me a big cake and a Thanksgiving card when they arrived to the classroom.  They were sooooo sweet.  I’ll bring the cake to a gathering of about 22 ex-pats in the mountains when we celebrate Thanksgiving together in every sense of the true meaning of Thanksgiving.  I asked my students last night if they had any questions with the last 5 minutes we had remaining and even after our time was up, they kept asking me questions about America.  My Kazakh students are not from Ken’s university but rather they yearn to go to the U.S. next summer on a work and travel kind of program. 

One little girl named Bo further practiced her English as she was about to leave and said that she so appreciated my being her American English teacher.  She used other synonynms like I had told them to do, she definitely got her point across and it warmed my heart.  Earlier in an exercise I had given them, they had to work in pairs and explain from a turkey’s point of view why THEY were not qualified for the Thanksgiving meal but that their partner was.  The word “tasty” kept coming up as a reason why the other turkey was better than them.  Others used the words “delicious” or “healthy” but I kept hearing that they were not “tasty” but the other person was “tasty.”  Some did use their imaginations such as saying they were beaten when young or just had one leg.  Difficult to be imaginative if you don’t have the vocabulary for it.  So I’m thankful for my eager students and hope they learn not only English from me but also Who to be thankful to.

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We have so MUCH to be thankful for…

granolapumpkin cookies and seedsMy dear Grandma would oft repeat this phrase in her later years.  She had seen much and yet through heartache, she would give glory to God.  As it should be…thanks be to God!!!  However, I got into the Thanksgiving mode of things with baking in our little kitchen in between Skype conversations with my folks and brother Tony.  As you can see, I DID successfully bake pumpkin cookies (two batches) and roasted the pumpkin seeds also I accomplished making granola with dried fruit (apricots, raisins and cherries).  Thanks to my wonderful husband who lit the oven that cranked out heat for nearly three hours. 

Also, I had fun with the English Language club last night explaining the origins of Thanksgiving.  Then afterwards I went to the Great Hall for a showing of “Inconvenient Truth” starring Al Gore.   We have MUCH to be thankful for that he did not become our forty-third president, I kept thinking to myself “snakeoil salesman, snakeoil salesman.”  What did it for me was when he showed HUGE pictures of the Aural Sea in Kazakhstan that used to be the fourth largest fresh water lake in the world.  Now it is dried up with boats in the sand.  THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GLOBAL WARMING!!! It has everything to do with bad Soviet politics that used the Aural Sea to irrigate the cotton fields in Uzbekistan.   

I told the embassy person (whose DVD was used to show these impressionable students) last night that I took issue with that one item of “truth.”  I also told her that during the communism period in Russia they had tried to change the direction of a river.  Such waste and environmental tragedies abound in the former Soviet Union, the half we don’t know about.  Why did Al Gore neglect to tell about the Chernobyl incident in Ukraine?   No, the film was made to make the U.S. look like the criminal nation in the world.  No mention of God superintending the tilt of our earth and the delicate balance we hang on. 

Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks to God for seeing the 52 Pilgrims through the toughest winter in Massachusetts in 1620.  Half of them had died who had successfully navigated the Atlantic in 66 days!!! Many other things I took issue with while watching Al Gore’s back (they seemed to like his backside) and he seemed glued to his laptop computer.  

Again, we have much to be thankful for, I am so glad for President George W. Bush’s leadership.  Though he is not perfect, he is light years ahead of what Al Gore would have done with our country.  History will be kind to Bush, just as many historians realize Truman was a man who cared nothing for the polls but for the good of his country.  Yes, Bush is no Lincoln, but he is more like the plain spoken man from Independence, MO.  That is what we as Americans can be thankful for, our independence and our freedoms!!!  

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Pilgrim in my Own Kitchen!!!

Tonight I’ll give a slide show to the English Club about the history of American Thanksgiving going back to 1620 when the Pilgrims first set sail for the new land.  I feel like a Pilgrim in my own kitchen when contemplating what I will do with the pumpkin I just boiled down ready for a recipe. (Also, I am soaking pumpkin seeds in salt water to bake later in the oven)  A dessert was nixed, too complicated with ice cream or whipped cream.  I decided against muffins since I don’t have a muffin tin.  The best thing to give the students a sampling of pumpkin without doing the pie is COOKIES!  Thanks to the Internet, I have two possibilities from website. 

However, baking cookies will have its own obstacles to surmount.  First, I need to find a cookie sheet and also I don’t have brown sugar.  I am not sure if they have that in the store (even the BEST of grocery stores). Unfortunately, when I left the U.S.,  I had to jettison my 1 pound bag of brown sugar when I had to get my suitcase weight down to 50 lbs.  Next, I need to buy raisins and walnuts from the Green Market but I’ll have to go without the vanilla flavoring.  Fortunately, I brought along cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice as well as baking powder. 

Baking is something I have always enjoyed doing when there is a well behaved oven to work with.  When Ken and I lived in Kyiv, we never used our oven except for storage of pots and pans.  Somehow lighting the gas pilot light was a bit beyond our sense of adventure.  Tomorrow, we will HAVE to be as brave as the Pilgrims and pre-heat the oven in order to bake up my Pumpkin Cookies and salted seeds. 

I’ll let you know how it turns out.  If you don’t see in my next blog about how I succeeded baking in my kitchen, you can assume that it didn’t turn out.  Alas, in lieu of providing my students with turkey OR pumpkin treats, I will just have to talk about it.  Meanwhile, my stomach will be growling in contempt.

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