Posts tagged Minnesota

More skating in Astana, Kazakhstan

four countriesI suppose many people are watching the Winter Olympics in Korea, some amazing talent there!  Not sure who took this photo of four nations represented but we were skating on a frozen solid river in Astana, Kazakhstan.  On the left is a former Kazakh student, then Wilma from Netherlands, a guy from U.K. who liked to travel everywhere and me.  Seven years ago I was teaching and living in Astana, the coldest capital in the world, second to Ulan Baatar in Mongolia.  Yes, when the winds swept through the northern plains to Kazakhstan you wondered what the weather was like north of us, in Russia.

Didn’t matter the temp or the wind chill, an expat friend of mine from U.K. would cross country ski every day along the river in Astana.  I thought she might have been crazy or part Norwegian but this was her usual thing to do while her husband had some kind of government job.  Wonderful couple, I wonder where they are or if Wilma is back in Holland.  I keep up with most of my former students from NAU through FB.

I’m amazed that I had so many visitors to this blog yesterday, must have been something I wrote or the pictures I put up.  I used to have over a 100 a day when I was actually living in Kazakhstan and talking about the culture and people.  Now I just put up occasional pictures of my life back in Minnesota.  The following is something I see a LOT of on our northern plains.




Life may be cold here, as it is in Astana, but the hearts are warm and we have memories to go on.  I doubt that I’ll ever get back to Central Asia after having lived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for 1 1/2 years and Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan for 2 1/2 years, over four years.

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Merry Christmas!

brighter threesomeWe have nearly wrapped up the year of 2017 and preparing now for 2018.  We came back on Saturday to cold weather in Minnesota after enjoying two weeks of family and friends in warm Arizona.  When we left we had set the house at the temp of 55 degrees. Imagine our surprise when we got home to a house that was 40 degrees!  The plants were mostly all frozen, except of those hearty ones in the bay window.  The toilet was frozen and the kitchen sink nobs for cold and hot would NOT move, frozen!


We made the best of it but spent all of Christmas Eve in town with the folks.  How nice to go to two services at my folks’ church and then celebrate afterwards with a nice beef roast dinner.  Of course, we had to play dominoes after that and the novice of the group, my brother Tony won.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thankfully someone my Mom knew came out to look at our plumbing situation.  He will come back tomorrow in order to fix the problems we have.  All is ending better than we thought.  It turned out to be a more expensive two week vacation than we bargained for!


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The latest from the classroom

Another Gray Comp ClassI have some great composition students this semester. One class is a bit slower but steady…another is more awake and doing better. I like them all.  We are in the last leg of the course and they are all invested in a topic of their choice. There were those that I had eliminated because *I* do not want to read about abortion, death penalty, GMOs, legalization of drugs, global warming, etc.  They have a wide array of things to choose from and some will be very interesting.

One Korean gal is going to write about the Veri-chip which I know nothing about.  Another will write about the Green Revolution, again, I’ll learn from my student on that.  I always have my college athletes who write about how college football players should be paid.  I might have another who will want to persuade others that college tuition should be free. Someone did that last year and found out that they was quite a reaction amongst her peers.  I always have them look at each other’s chosen topics and give feedback anonymously about each one.  So, they could end up with other views or thoughts from 25 of their classmates.  This proves helpful when they are writing on the other side for their persuasive essay. I want to make sure that they allow for another opinion instead of launching off about how they are right, the sources they found are accurate and if you don’t believe it, you are an idiot sort of persuasion.

These students will be giving their papers in powerpoint form to their classmates and I usually invite outsiders to come and critique and give their opinion about what they have come up with.  It is a win-win because it prepares the students to be more formal and not so casual as if they are only doing this presentation just for their peers. They have to keep in mind that there are outsiders who come in and don’t know everything on the topic they are reporting on.  I have someone talking about bee-keeping and someone else about hunting of wolves.  They have to find at least 5-6 sources from academic journals that can back them up. They are NOT allowed to use first person pronouns.  I tell them they need to find experts that can cover their back.  This means they are not in high school anymore where they can spout off whatever they find from doing a google search, they have to discover the research databases that our university provides.

Yes, we are ALL ready for summer and the end of this school year. We have had unseasonably warm days already which fools us into thinking that spring is really, really here.  Maybe it is, we have all the birds gathered around our bird feeder and also drinking and bathing in the water of our bird bath.  I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to know that we could STILL have a winter like blizzard, even up to May.  So we are all bracing ourselves for that inevitable event…for now we are enjoying the warm spring temps.

Gray Comp Class

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Another sunrise shot with Jack Frost at the window


Sunrise with Jack Frost peering in

We survived the caucuses the other night and now we are on for eight more months of political talk and (lies).  I think the American public is fed up with this and so that is why looking at sunrises, skyscapes and sunsets seem to be a nice break from it all.  I think too there is someone from Canada who really liked looking at my blog yesterday, there were almost 300 hits and I’m used to have just 75 to 100 hits per day even though I don’t write much any more about Kazakhstan.  All very interesting.


Shelter belt shot

A GOP debate tonight will be missed again by us, purposefully.  We did watch the 20 minute spiel by Mitt Romney this morning when he was looking very statesman like and talked about the con man who is running a charade.  We had a governor in Minnesota who was obviously not a politician but rather a show man, he knew how to con the votes out of Republicans and Democrats and ran as an independent.  Well, the state of Minnesota had enough of Jesse V. and so we will not stomach another with Donny T.  We voted on Super Tuesday for Rubio instead. He was not my choice but then the guy who won Texas and Oklahoma was.  We shall see on March 15th what happens with the remaining delegates…all very interesting.  We are at a crossroads.


Looking into the prairie horizon

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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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Entering the home stretch at 2014’s beginning

Anyone who has ever written a book before knows that there are enemies that lurk about, such as the perilous deadlines and death-defying word limits.  The first is not as bad as the second.  I DO see the light at the end of the dark tunnel that has had me feeling caged up for about five months now. I want to be free by knowing that the editor likes what she sees of my text.  My due date is tomorrow of 30,000 words, I am over by about 900 words but my husband is helping me to take out the unnecessary words that are repetitive.

How I need a second pair of eyes to see what I don’t see. When I have been this close to the material for this long, it is not easy for me to see the redundancy or the overly obvious. Yet, there are other instances where I leave things out which means a gap for the reader to try to jump over to the other side of understanding.

I’m not sure why writing has to be this difficult but it is.  I am thankful for this blog that I started back in 2007 that has helped me appreciate my reading audience. I am writing about my hometown and have photos to help tell the story. It is a niche market that I am selling to. The launch date is end of June of this year, six months from now.  I found that sometimes the story is there without the photos and that is when I have to be creative. Sometimes I may have the photo but not enough information so it has been a painful but also glorious five months of gathering info or photos or in a few cases, both.  In the meantime, I have met some very cool relatives of the “Legendary Locals” who are very proud to know their relatives will be included in this 125 page book. They are a cross section or representatives of my hometown in Minnesota going back 100 years ago up to the present.

So, let’s see if my Arcadia editor tomorrow will approve my submission of 186 photos along with 30,000 words for text.  I will be happy when I get to the point of seeing the proofs in May and giving the okay on that before it goes into print by Arcadia.  I look forward to the book signing day end of June 2014 and when I’ll personalize it for those people who see their relative in this Arcadia publication. Those others who just like history of my hometown will want to buy this book as well.  I am feeling very blessed at this point already, Soli Deo Gloria!

Happy New Year, I look forward to what He has in store for me and my husband!

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Kazakh “Marry” Christmas!

Who knew that 20 years ago I would meet the love of my life in Almaty, Kazakhstan!?  I had become at that point in my life decidedly single. I had trained to run the annual Twin Cities marathon, the fall of 1992 in Minneapolis to St. Paul as a kind of goodbye to my beloved Twin Cities.  I was in top physical shape and felt good.  Then I arrived to hot Almaty May 1st of 1993 and the next day I met my future husband. I didn’t know it at the time but HE did. He knew he was going to marry me and I put up quite a wall of resistance for about 8-9 months.  He kept asking me to marry him.  I’m glad Ken prevailed, he is stubborn in things like that.

We had a Christmas Eve wedding at my home church in Minneapolis and I brought over as guests a woman from Almaty, Tatyana Kazanina and a 16 year old Kyrgyz girl named Jyldyz.  Tanya was one of my bridesmaids and Jyldyz played piano and violin at our wedding ceremony and reception at Jax Café in north Minneapolis. It was a lovely day, I believe up in the 40s which is unusual for Minnesota in December.

I just wrote something on my Facebook about celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary and it was fun to get all the well wishes from friends from all over the world.  I especially liked what Nura wrote which I thought was so original, “Have a Marry Christmas!”  No one has ever used that play on words before with us.  I think it is brilliant and I told her so.  Leave it to a smart Kazakh to see that over native speakers of English!

Anyway, we are having guests over for Christmas day meal.  A Chinese guy with the Confucius Institute and his friend along with another family friend of ours.  I meant to have some of my former Korean students over along with my Japanese student.  She is already with her family in Japan and I didn’t get my act together to invite the Korean students. I suppose there is still time, I have five hours before the company arrives along with my folks.  I feel so blessed to have parents still they are very active in the community, my dad is 83 and my mom is 79.

Ken and I intended to watch our wedding video but I guess we deem it so valuable that we had forgotten that we had put it in our safety deposit box.  We will watch it on New Year’s Eve then.  Right now I have to keep working on my second book to satisfy the publishers by Jan. 2nd. So I can’t do too much holiday festivities.  I have the same word counts (350, 140 and 70 word captions) that are beastly, worse than deadlines.  When you combine the two, it means that I don’t have much of a vacation.  It also means I can’t go out x-country skiing in this beautiful snow.  Fortunately, it has been too cold so I haven’t missed out too much on that count.

In any case, I feel very blessed in our cozy home that my grandpa and great uncle built almost 100 years ago. I keep looking up all the facts about my hometown’s history that goes back about 130 years.  The turkey is baking in the oven, I need to make a pumpkin pie after I clean the floors and vacuum.  Yes, life is good on the Minnesota farm with cherished memories of Kazakhstan.  Right now that country, that is the 9th largest in the world, seems so far away.

Marry Christmas everyone!!!

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Twenty-seven questions and first impressions of Kyrgyzstan

I had written an update from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on May 8, 1994 to my colleagues and friends who were teachers back at the University of Minnesota English Center in Minneapolis. I will type out the questions asked by my American friend Tanya in bold and my answer follows:
1) Does virtually everyone speak Russian? Yes, everyone in the capital
2) Or do some people only speak Kyrgyz? People in the outlying areas perhaps ONLY speak Kyrgyz. We met a gentleman who spoke Russian poorly because of a strong Kyrgyz accent, this was only about a half hour outside of Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan]. My experience revolves around the capital so I may not be able to answer exactly.
3) What language do the people use in the markets, banks, schools, etc? They use Russian as the language of trade but the banks are trying to upgrade to English and the schools are teahcing both English and Kyrgyz. The markets is where you hear Russian and it is funny that some of the older vendors will sell things for “one rouble” they have not been able to change to mouthing the words for the new currency of “som.” There have been many changes and the issue of languages keeps the people in a constant staet of flux.
4) Does the younger generation speak any Kyrgyz? Yes, it is in vogue now to know Kyrgyz and very helpful if there is a grandmotehr at home who speaks it around the house. It is to these students’ advantage to be Kyrgyz in the first place and to have a working knowledge of it. The Russian students have a disadvantage now and have to work extra hard to learn it in order to be politically correct.

5) Or have they let go of past traditions?  If you mean other than language, then I think the “traditions” you mean is their faith, their dances, their songs, etc.  Many of the people in Bishkek who are ethnically Kyrgyz will say they are Muslim but do not practice any of the traditions known to be Muslim. They may have funerals or weddings in that tradition but a watered down version.

6) Do people listen to a lot of European and American music?  Yes, I have recognized quite a few American songs here.  Whitney Houston is a big name as are others but since I am not up on who is who in the music world, they seem to be better informed of the latest stars and hits.  As far as European music I know even less but my guess is that they like American music.

7) Or is the local ethnic folk music still appreciated?  I have a Canadian friend who has made it his life ambition to study the three strong instrument named Kosmus (?). He has been studying under ofe of Kyrgyzstan’s better known musicians, and his repertoire is up to three songs now.  He travels in the folk music circles and can tell you a lot more about how well it is appreciated.  I think it is by the older generation. As mentioned before the students I have, seem to liek English songs but then I work with some of the most privileged students in Krygyzstan who have money to buy the latest.

8 ) Can you still find folk dancing?  Yes, I have been to several concerts at their concert hall that shows very vibrant, colorful costumes and beautiful dancing.  A lot of what they show is the glamorized version of country life, riding horses, harvesting, courting practices, etc. One concert that I attended the dancers must have changed into 20 different costumes.  It was wonderful with the Kyrgyz instruments playing the background.  It is not an unpleasant sound like what you find in China with Peking Opera where the clanging and gonging is still ringing in your ears hours later.

(to be continued)

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My hometown benefited a century ago from Andrew Carnegie as the philanthropic entrepreneur

If you haven’t seen much of my writing on this blog, it is because I have been busy working on the Carnegie library in my hometown. There are many people who are supporting this effort of restoring the grand old building. Thankfully it is on the National Historical Register. On July 12th was the deadline for when I wrote a grant for $10,000 just to have an architectural engineer come in to look at the 50 ‘ x 50’ structure. Hopefully that will happen in October and then our historical society can proceed with the $50,000 grant that will help get this place back to pristine shape.
This building was designed by Bert Keck and completed in 1908. They had their dedication for the building on November 27, 1908 where movers and shakers from the community gave their speeches. I think if the great philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, were alive today he would be proud of the fact that his legacy continues. That cannot be said of many of the other libraries that he donated money to throughout the U.S. Sadly, some have been torn down in the name of “progress.” In fact, Carnegie gave $38,256,864 to have 1,539 libraries built throughout the U.S. with his name on them. The other day, we visited one in Grafton, North Dakota built in 1904. But by far, ours is bigger and much more beautiful. But then, it shows that my hometown had a LOT of money rolling through it over 100 years ago.
Our place will be known as the “Archival Storage Facility” where historical records of the county and city will be stored downstairs for archivists and researchers to go through. Upstairs where it looks grand with pillars and archways, will be for art displays, wedding receptions, mini-concerts, lectures, Powerpoint presentations, etc. We have much work to do to restore the place to its original look. We need to take down the florescent lights and put in old time fans and domed light bulbs. We need to take up the linoleum flooring and have an expert come to refinish the hardwood floors. Already we took out all the books that had been stored on the main floor, but they all need to be cataloged and inputted on “Past Perfect” software. Oh, the dust! We have had new sheetrock put in and a fresh paint job on all the walls. We will open this to the public on August 15th so they can see our “work-in-progress.”
Not sure why the photos that were taken by a colleague, friend of mine cannot be uploaded. I’ll work on that problem. He is inspired to help on our “clean-up” day on August 10th. We will have a former resident of our community come to take photos of six of his siblings who were sitting around a table in 1962 downstairs in the children’s section. They are all still living fifty years later and he will re-enact the photo if they all make it to their reunion. The amazing thing is he also donated the very table they were sitting around. We went to North Dakota several days ago thinking we were going to pay him $400 but he said the golden oak table was priceless, no dollar amount could be assigned to it. He was giving it back to our historical society to be put back into use in the restored Carnegie library. From big gift of $17,500 from Carnegie over one hundred years ago, to this gift, we feel blessed beyond measure with all the other donations that are coming in.

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“The Belief” about the Growing Seasons and Life

I’m not sure where this was printed but on the front of this greeting card was the title “The Belief” stating that it was from a yellowed news clipping dated April 23, 1967.  I am in the middle of growing my vegetable and flower gardens…it is a LOT of work.  However, what a joy it is to have lilacs, plums, crabapple, apple, apricot, pear trees blooming right now.  Seems I missed a few but spring has finally arrived in northwestern Minnesota.  Not all are privileged to experience this, especially those living in the city far away from the soil.

“By late April the countryman is thinking of June and haying, of summer and the growing season, even of September and golden October. The hillside birches still show only a gauzy green haze of leaftips, the swamp maples blush with half-opened blossoms and mornings are still frosty; but he can see corn knee-high in his newly plowed fields, oats ripening on the lower forty, strawberries ripening in the kitchen garden. Today’s weather, good or bad, can’t greatly change this view of the world the countryman knows.  Whether he is an optimist or not, he has confidence in the soil and the seasons.

The closer one lives to the land, the less one distrusts time. It is only when one is alienated from the earth and its eternal sequences that doubt takes root.  Few of the pat answers and instant solutions have validity when you are dealing with the soil. You see the slow but certain growth of trees, the persistence of grass, and you are aware of the tenacity of life.  The earth’s urgency is toward growth and renewal, and one season follows another despite man’s diversions and interruptions.  You can’t hurry spring, and you can’t interdict summer.

The countryman lives with these truths, no matter how they are phrased. He lives by them.  They shape his life.  So he looks about him now with confidence and with hope. Another growing season is at hand, deliberate as always, and he lays his plans, not for tomorrow, but for June and July and next September.”

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