Archive for November, 2014

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  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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Winter has arrived…white blanket of snow

Norge Festival of TablesWe all knew in our hearts that our long fall would have to end…I think with the white blanket of snow on the ground from last night, we have winter.  It has arrived to stay for good for the next six months.  Maybe in Kazakhstan it will be longer, it usually is LONG and brutally cold in Astana.  I survived two winters there.  We also had a terrible winter last year and we all shudder to think what it will be like once the cold and the heavier snow sets in.

One of my football player students from Florida or Texas saw some sputtering of snow last week and innocently asked if it was a blizzard.  Us seasoned Minnesotans shook our head and told him…”No, you will know when it is a blizzard…you won’t have to ask anyone.”  We thought to ourselves that he was an innocent southern who is bracing himself for the inevitable.  I feel sorry for my football players from down south.  They’ve been told about our harsh winters but until you have gone through it and have the proper attire to help you get through the long months of Feb. March and April then you can be an expert on winter.

I was happy to look through my schedule and realize I only have two weeks of REAL teaching left to do but then I will have Thanksgiving break to grade 45 papers and hand them back for the students to adjust their papers to the polished version. THEN, comes the fun part to see what was in writing go into a 10 minute powerpoint presentation.  I always like to see what the students do to be creative. These papers are something the students are passionate about and know a LOT about but now they are going to use academic journals to back them up.

Looking forward to the end of the semester as I know the students are too.  Then we will go south to see the grandkids and that is the part I really look ahead to.  They grow so fast and we only get to see them once a year.  We are grateful that we can still go to see them.  I’m also thinking about what is happening in Ukraine, things are heating up there. Nothing is “normal” any more in eastern Ukraine.  I have many friends in western Ukraine, so we are watching the war situation very closely.

That’s all the news I have so far.  I went to a nice event yesterday with many tables that had themes.  I will post a photo of the Norwegian table that the ten of us ladies sat at.  There were many nice tables, all to raise money for the hospital.about caterpillars

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People are Passing Away, Towns are Passing Away

Facebook reported the passing away of an American teaching colleague that I worked with in Almaty and Astana. I am sorry that I don’t know more information about this sad event. I was told by another colleague over FB that he died in his sleep. I’m sure there is more to this story than that. He did smoke and so it could have been some complication related to bad choices he made. He was in his late 60s I think.  Anyway, where I live, people keep passing away.  I am in an old established town where all of us in high school were encouraged to get out of town, do better by going to the big cities.

I did better than that, I went to the BIG cities elsewhere like in Harbin, China or Kyiv, Ukraine or finally Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan.  I should not forget the year and a half I spent teaching in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I would not count Bishkek as a big city, however. It had not changed much from the time I was there in 1993-1995 to when I went to visit again in 2007 or 2008.   It is holding its own even after the startling spring revolution that happened about five years ago now.  Ukraine had its Orange revolution, I think Kyrgyzstan’s was dubbed the tulip revolution. I can’t recall.  I’m sure I have it on this blog if I went back to look at the exact date and name of the event.

Yes, people are passing away but also small town American is passing away.  They have statistics that show that by a certain date in the future, many more people will be living in the cities than in the countryside.  Why is that?  I would think that if people can live away from the metropolis, if they can sustain themselves through the winter with the right kind of heat and food, they would not have to move INTO the city.  I think it is safer and more peaceful out in the rural areas.  I would think the trend would be to move away from all the people and crime and violence and live in solitude in a small town.

However, what was true over 100 years ago where people were pushing west and getting land parcels for a very good price, now people don’t want to do the country thing. Small towns that were thriving with the railroad as their connection to the rest of the world are withering away.  If they have not created some good industry to keep up employment, then one by one, the store fronts look empty for the businesses downtown.

My hometown has a strong image from the past, we have many old brick buildings that remain. Some elegant ones have been torn down due to lack of money to keep the roof shingled, thus the decay from the inside has made the brick work that looked regal and stable become a liability.  People my age have the memory of what our downtown used to look like, bustling with people and business.  Now, the move has been away from downtown and to one of our city of 8,000 people.  We have businessmen and women who are struggling to have any kind of business downtown since the amazing old high school was torn down and moved to the one end of the city.

The people in charge, those on the city council, the city administrator, mayor and others have to make tough decisions about what to maintain due to our tax base not being as flush with money as it used to be when families had 6-10 children.  Many of those children have left for better jobs elsewhere, leaving the older parents behind in the dying town.  So we have the melancholy problem of people passing away in the towns that are passing away.  Sometimes I do yearn for the big cities where the action is…for right now though, I am happy to be in a small town that minds its own business and doesn’t have great fanfare about much of anything.  I can write that because I am teaching 85 freshmen students how to write. There is adventure and challenge enough in doing that.  LOVE it when the lights go on in their heads about what I am trying to get across to them.  I have GREAT kids, most of them want to learn.

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