Archive for December, 2014

Interviewed an 83 year old Old Timer

Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview a man who knows a LOT about my hometown.  He had many memories of people and places even though he has lived away from his boyhood stomping grounds for over 50 years.  He attributes the fact that he knows so much because he was a good numbers guy and also was a telegrapher in the Korean war.  With his jobs doing parts, he was a detail guy too, for 43 years.  This is all from a man who had to make the decision to quit school to help with the family. His dad died when he was 9 years old so he was forced to get jobs around town to help support the family. He had a sister and brother.

Marv was an upbeat kind of guy, didn’t say a bad thing about anyone.  He only told jokes or stories that made you laugh or forced you to think.  He claimed he knew 95% of the people in his beautiful living complex because he was on the welcoming committee.  Perhaps that is true but I also think that he had a love for people.  Perhaps he would have made a good politician had he furthered his education.  He thought aloud with saying, “My life would have been so different if only…” and then he trailed off on that sentence. I knew that was probably the one regret he had but still he did well with what he accomplished in his life.  One of the 100 people I featured in my last history book titled “Legendary Locals” about my hometown was a good math teacher.  He really admired her and he said she had wanted him to join in the theater’s plays that they produced.  I was glad to hear him say he had a good relationship with her.  I had heard from other people that she was a task master or at least a tough teacher.

That reminds me of my current situation. I had a young student e-mail me about how he was NOT happy with his final grade.  What perplexes me is that he did not show up for the last month of classes and did NOT do his last two required papers that had significant points attached to them.  He wanted to do the extra work, NOW!  That would amount to MY having to do the extra work so that he could get a better grade. I sent my e-mail exchange with this student, name blocked out of course, to a teaching colleague friend of mine. She backed me up 100% because she said that if she allowed one student to improve their grade, that would set a precedent where all other students would have a chance to do that as well.

Perhaps this student who is still a high school student didn’t have enough advice about how he was in university now, it is a different ballgame. I had 85 other students I taught this past semester, it is not my job to chase after students to find out why they are not attending class.  His father has an office just down the hall from me.  He never asked about his son and I didn’t offer any information to him either.  Now this young lad can’t play in his favorite sport of hockey because he has failed this one course.  He claimed that he got Bs in his other two university courses.  What is a high school kid doing taking THREE college level courses and then playing on the high school hockey team…plus his high school load?  Well, he gets all these courses FREE and what better way to get a college degree than using the system like that, right?

Anyway, I hope I have the support of my boss on this because the father is also under the same boss I am.  Makes for a strange vacation to have things from last semester follow you.  I will have to talk to my boss and the father and perhaps this son when I return from being away for two weeks.  I’m actually glad that I WAS away after all my students got their grades. I haven’t had any of them e-mail me to THANK me for their grade.  It feels like a thankless job to be a composition teacher.  We are in the trenches with kids who come to our classes ill-equipped from high school but then when we get high school kids too who expect GRACE to improve their grades…well that is not an institution of higher learning anymore. You simply have millineals calling the shots.  Not a good trend.

This is my last post of the year of 2014.  I wish I had better news to report but I was glad to talk to an old timer who went through a LOT in his life, worked hard and had good times along the way.  That should balance out the negative review I got from a 16 year old boy who made some bad decisions to NOT do the work and NOT attend my classes.

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Writing articles while I have time and “Unbroken”

Yesterday I wrote two articles for our local newspaper, today I have two more in rough draft form.  I am determined to get at least seven done out of the eight that I have planned.  Some of these articles are writing themselves and as if there is an outside force propelling me on.  That is a good feeling. I also did an interview of two educational administrators eleven years ago and I am using the text of what I videotaped to put together two articles about two very different people who worked alongside each other for a time.  They were very charming in their own way, one was the consummate extrovert, the other a studious but friendly gentleman. I met the latter’s son this past summer and he reminded me of the extrovert, so different from his father was he.

We are making our final plans to see family members while our days are waning in sunny Arizona.  We saw “Unbroken” last night and it was in a BIG theater with lots of people in attendance.  People clapped at the end out of a sense of relief.  We had all witnessed some frightful things about what the cruelties of war does to people.  Hate was personified in the Japanese prison guard called “The Bird.”  He seemed to enjoy his torture of the hero in the story who after he was freed at the war’s end went back to Japan to try and find all those who were part of the prison system he was under.  He met with all of them and gave them forgiveness but the person known as the Bird would not meet with Louie Z.  He did not want to be broken down by his forgiveness, who knows whatever happened to him.  Louie Z. died in his 90s but not before he returned to run with the Olympic flame in Japan which was a high point for him.

What a story of perseverance and eventual faith.  Louie went back to his Italian family in the U.S. after two years in the Japanese prison system. He eventually got married but he still suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome after what he had been through.  He was into drugs and alcohol until he went to a Billy Graham crusade.  The American pilot named Phil who had been in the life raft with him for over 45 days on the Pacific Ocean also survived the prisons in Japan.  He was a Christian and perhaps had some earlier impact on Louie.  His family were religious but he would have none of that until he heard the message about Jesus.  I’m glad that the movie portrayed that part of his story of what he went through but they only captured a part of it. My husband read the book and he claimed that it was much more about his return to civilian life and how he coped and changed for the good.  The life leading up to his days on the ocean and then two years of capture is just a small part of the whole, real life story.

I suppose Hollywood can only document so much in two hours of what was in the true story that Laura Hildebrand had written about Louie Zamparini (sp). I am glad that it was aired because watching about 20 minutes of previews showed that there are soooooo many other movies that are not worthwhile to even see. In fact, some are downright evil and dangerous to young minds.  Do people actually like going to these movies? Are there any good morals or inspiration to them?  With the movie “Unbroken,” there was the inspiration to survive and then to forgive those who had persecuted.

It will be interesting to see the other reviews on this movie.  This was only day two of it being out in the public.  I hope there is a sequel that will show the rest of Louie’s life.  He died just recently at the age of 90 or so.  What a victor and he would give all the glory to Christ.

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Today is everyone’s holiday, yesterday was our holiday too

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary, we met in Almaty, Kazakhstan on May 2, 1993 and were married the following year Dec. 24, 1994.  Seems like a LONG time ago but we made the 20 year mark after having lived in Kazakhstan, then Washington D.C. area, then Kyiv, Ukraine for about seven years.  Then in 2007 I started this “Kazakhnomad” blog in Almaty, Kazakhstan when we returned to live and teach in Kazakhstan again.  If you have never been to Kazakhstan, there are photos taken of this amazing country by a very professional photographer.  Check this URL out:

Today is everyone’s holiday for those who believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Israel. My husband and I went there 20 years ago on our honeymoon along with many other historic sites throughout Israel.  Yes, besides those who are Christian, many others celebrate this holy day of Christmas but they take the Christ out of OUR holiday by putting in Santa Claus and reindeer and jingle bells, etc.  It is as ludicrous as having chocolate bunnies and eggs for Easter but that is what people who are nonbelievers do.  They want to have a celebration about something so they chime right in with banal extras. They don’t REALLY believe they exist but they make up this fiction to feel good about something.

The sad part about what Christmas has become is that people give each other gifts and some of them are way too expensive and probably not even wanted by the receiver of the gift.  I suppose they are trying to replicate what God did in giving us His Son to die on the cross for our sins.  Jesus was born to die on the cross as a punishment.  We deserved what happened to Jesus because of our sin. Yes, I guess that is difficult for some people to absorb, they think the kids won’t understand it either or that it is too gory.  The truth of the matter is that many people throughout the world live in poverty and can fully relate to the story of Jesus’ parents being too poor to have a proper place to have a delivery of a child. Indeed, Jesus was born in a barn with animals in it.

The nonbelievers also think that the crucifying of Jesus is too horrible to tell young children so they bring in fluffy, white bunnies and color eggs instead.  When kids who are living in abject poverty learn about an innocent person being punished, they can probably relate…many kids are sold into slavery or treated terribly because of their living conditions and lack of education.  Therefore, it is deemed good news for these children to know about a Savior who loves them…loves them enough to die on the cross for them.

Well, I am about ready to wrap up another year regarding what I see, observe, know about Kazakhstan.  It isn’t so much these days after living away from this great country.  However, I have many people who still hit on this blog so I will keep it up.  You never know, I may be writing my book about Kazakhstan soon.  I may have some free time in the future that I will use to reveal in English about a little known country.  Almost as little known or maligned as the true Christmas story of Jesus birth which we celebrate today.

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On Vacation…Sort of

When you go on vacation, you are really at the mercy of those whom you stay with. You may think you are in control of your schedule, but you are not. Your hosts’ schedules come first and you work around that.  They have their set meal times and you go with that. Plus, the room you are staying in might be too cool but the bed’s comforter is just right.  The night before at our other host’s place, the bed may have been too small but the fan above kept things cool, rather than too warm.  Then there is the food issue, even though we packed enough food to give to others as gifts, we do not have our own snacks handy. Maybe we were too polite to take a second helping at the main meal.

This is our vacation for the next two weeks.  However, we will be more on our own for one week when we travel south to see the other grandkids.  We have our own rental car but it is a tiny, boxy little thing. We are used to our Toyota Camry that has ample space for others to ride with us.  We barely have room for our two smaller suitcases and two carryons. That is how small this “Spark” is.

On vacation but not from not knowing what is going to happen next with the grandkids nap schedules and feeding times.  I would LOVE to indulge in a nap, to just drop whatever is going on and catch up on a semester’s worth of sleep that was missed. I also feel like I need to be writing articles for our local newspaper because when you teach 85 freshmen students to write, there is NO time to do your own kind of writing.  Will there be space and time to get much needed writing done while on this vacation?  That would be my ideal vacation, to just sit and write when I want to and not have to do all this running around to see people.  But I LOVE seeing people to catch up, I just can’t do both.

I should not complain, we are in temps that are 60 degrees higher than where we came from in Minnesota.  We could get used to this very quickly but then we are not on our own schedule here, at least on vacation, we are not.  I think I could easily become a snowbird where I would have a little place that would look to the mountains and quietly write away.  I miss the mountains of Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, I loved it when I would see the sunrises or sunsets with the mountains in the foreground.  Not where we are from in Minnesota, we only see the amazing colors in the morning or evening and perhaps with NO mountains we see more of it.  It has its own splendor.

Back to my vacation, it is 3:00 a.m. in the morning and I can’t sleep so I am sitting in the cold bathroom so my husband can continue to sleep. We will probably do play with the kids and then go shopping tomorrow, erh, I mean today.  I should go back to bed but I thought I would write about my vacation.  We have most of the presents wrapped for the kids and it is so much fun to play ball and catch with them.  The two year old has a natural skill with throwing and catching. I saw that already last year when he was a year younger.  The 4 year old has his own skills and talks more.  They are sooo much fun, so this “sort of” vacation is worth it to be able to catch up with the kiddlings.

Okay, over and out, I’m back to my vacation sleep time.


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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 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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