Posts tagged North Dakota

Photos from early 20th century in Canada

Happy Canada Day today!!! I love looking at old black and white photos from yesteryear.  These photos were taken in the area of Swift Current, Saskatchewan in Canada where my two Great Uncles Richard and Stephen Aslakson used to farm.  They had caught the “Northwest Fever” after being born in North Dakota and wanting to prove up new land of their own. My great grandparents had come from Telemark, Norway and had five sons in the late 1800s.

My great uncles could have been using these harvest machinery below or people they knew in the area of Swift Current were using them.  How does this land compare to the Virgin Lands territory that was opened up by Krushchev in the 1960s in northern Kazakhstan?  Well, they didn’t have the steam threshers or swathers as the Canadian farmers used back in the early 1900s. A LOT of manpower was needed to bring in the harvest, when things got tough during the Depression, they moved on to greener pastures. My economist husband knows a LOT about this era of time. I just enjoy looking at the photos.

Comments (1) »

Letter dated August 2, 1993 – Kazakhstan

The following letter is a continuation of what I had been through while training Peace Corps volunteers with the first group in Almaty, Kazakhstan the summer of 1993.  It was an arduous time for all of us with hot weather, very bad quality food in the staloviya (student cafe), fiesty trainees and stressed administrators.

August 2, 1993

Last week I needed a rest, even having a Type-A personality, I took a rest.  I’m willing to admit it.  I don’t like being driven but being involved with “training” compelled me into the center of the ring.  I do not like to give up on challenges very easily and this one was my match.

I have a second assistant working with me and it is so fun to get to know her.  I met Damira at church on the 4th of July and knew I wanted her to join me since she has computer skills.  She has been such a blessing in getting the Cyrillic script typed out and also knowing Kazakh.  Along with Tatyana (Polish background), I have a wonderful team to work with.

This counters some of the other bad elements I had to deal with in the Peace Corps office.  The most difficult part of any new post is that we are up in front of very tired and worn out trainees who demand to know all the answers.  But if we have never been in this country before, we don’t know and we don’t know people who MIGHT know.  However, I did find Sandy, who had been teaching and lecturing in Russia for the past five months.  I had her give a lecture on her experiences to the group.

This past week while the trainees were out on their site visits, I took a little one of my own.  I went to my future home of Kyrgyzstan and really do love the country and the people.  I had a chance to visit my friend Elizabeth Macdonald who is doing the same job I am doing with 20 trainees.  Elizabeth has been a wonderful resource to me from the first time I met her in Wash. D.C.  We traveled together to Almaty and she will be leaving one week earlier than me.  That is, if I can get my plane ticket changed from Sept. 4 to Aug. 28.  I really don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.  I am burned out from this city, the trainees, the dorm AND Almaty.

That is why it is good I took this rest.  I went away to a lake called Issy-Cul and read “The New Russians” and did nothing that was work-related for about 5-6 days.  The lake is beautiful with mountains rising up all around it.  It is 60 miles long and mile or two wide. There are white caps and the water is cold due to mountain runoff.  I was thankful the Peace Corps authorities permitted me to go there.  I really felt homesick though as I was returning to Almaty and I saw the rolling hills just harvested which reminded me so much of North Dakota. I never thought I would get teary-eyed over my memories of that state.  I kept telling the Lord that something mighty powerful will have to pull me back to Bishkek come this fall.  Right now I really want to be where I am in control of my meals, my sleeping hours, my working hours, etc.  I felt I have had much of my independence stripped from me.  I can relate well with what the trainees are feeling and they are committing to two years here!!!

Anyway, it is an honor to have the Fulbright grant to look forward to in Bishkek.  Someone at church who is in academia said that I either am really smart or close to God. I know the first doesn’t apply to me and sometimes I feel that I have been too busy to sense God’s presence.  I can relate to Mark 6:31, I needed this rest.

Leave a comment »

New Octogenarian in our Midst

My Dad is now 80 years old, that means a new octogenarian in our midst.  What a party was put on in his honor with the main entertainment at the end of the musical program, being his quartet singing four, very funny numbers. Before that was featured solo violin piece, tap dancing, Hardangar fiddle number about lutefisk, sisters trio and of course the happy birthday song was sung.  A decorated birthday cake and other food for all the guests made it official as well.  His three older sisters were in attendance, two from Phoenix, Arizona and another from Los Angeles, California area.  More relatives from San Diego and Los Angeles, North Dakota and other parts of Minnesota also showed up to wish the birthday boy a happy day.  Aunt Alta had one funny story at the very end when Dad gave his thank yous to all those who attended this auspicious occasion. His 90 year old sister said that my Dad was always a ham even as a young boy he would sing at the landing of the stairs, then when finished he would run down the stairs and be the audience and clap for his own rendition.  Yes, that’s my Dad all right, loves to sing and I think that has been the secret that has kept him young looking.  May he enjoy many more years of entertainment!!!

Leave a comment »

My Godfather: May He Rest in Peace

p1020003p1020002p1020004Today I went to the funeral of my godfather, Emil Bagley.  He was a gentle soul, a quiet man with a sturdy faith in God.  He was born in western North Dakota to a Norwegian Lutheran pastor’s family.  He served in the military and later was a servant leader with a happy demeanor in my hometown.  He was so typically Norwegian, he loved his family and his lake home.  Emil was 82 years old when he passed away peacefully on Dec. 29.  What caught me off guard at this particular funeral was the song that was sung by a tenor whose roots are also from North Dakota.  He sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”


Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;

Thru the storm, thru the night, Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.


When my way grows drear, Precious Lord linger near

When my life is almost gone,

Hear my cry, hear my call, Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.


When the darkness appears, and the night draws near

And the day is past and gone

At the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand

Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.


Leave a comment »

Former Student’s Comment and Best Blog Dart Thinker Awards

To be tagged as the Best Blog Dart Thinker Award is an honor and I must extend this prestigious award to other bloggers I know of.  When I read this announcement to my husband the other night, he thought he heard “Dark Thinker Award.”  He knows that I have chosen some rather dark themes to blog about such as the karlags and ALZHIR in Kazakhstan and the ominous politics at our university and anything else about our life here in Almaty.  No, I think Dart Thinker must have something to do with hitting the bullseye about how we perceive our world.  As an American guest in a country that has long been maligned, misunderstood, forgotten or NOT known about by westerners, I am trying to faithfully write about how GREAT this country is.  I suppose my friends in Ukraine would think I am a turncoat to my love of Ukraine but I believe living and teaching 7-8 years in Ukraine prepared me for living in Kazakhstan.  


I already mentioned in my last blog my American friend, Ukrainiac, who got me started on blogging two years ago but the next award goes to “The Sea Wave” a former Ukrainian student of mine who is studying in Honolulu now.  She has a very prophetic screen name for her blog and this is what she wrote on September 6, 2008 when she was first starting up her classes in an American university.


 The next class was Analyzing and Writing Arguments. And this is when I clearly remembered Mrs. KG) 8) Our professor is Polish but is very experienced in an American writing style, and this is what we are going to do in this class: write essays, make PowerPoint presentations, work on using citations, write a research paper, perform peer review and feedback (reading each others papers), and twice a week we will have to do something in the Internet (remember how we had to write blogs three times a week?). Dear Mrs. G, if you are reading this, thank you very much for your classes. Now I feel so prepared for all these.


Thrills me to read my former student’s comments and I have many good memories of my other Ukrainian students who started this blogging experiment with me over a year and a half ago at a westernized university in Kyiv, Ukraine.  They are Princess of Snow who was another blondie from Sevastopol and also Noire Swan who looked very Ukrainian and was prolific in her writings and comments of her classmates and my blog.


The next award goes to Eric Bergeson who is known as The Country Scribe and has written for many years on his blog about what life is like back in my neck of the woods in northwest Minnesota.  He has a history background, talented piano player, owns a very beautiful nursery and is a wonderful photographer.  If Ron Vossler had a blog, I’d award him as well, his politics are very different from Eric’s but he has the same research interests as Dr. J. Otto Pohl. 


Then there are two American teaching colleague friends of mine who need to be encouraged to write MORE on their blogs about life in Kazakhstan.  Dr. Nancy Burkhalter and also James who has a screen name of Molapse which stands for “Momentary Relapse of Reason.”   My next award goes to Asqat who is very Kazakh but looks Japanese at first glance, he has a blog that is in Kazakh language but ocassionally he slips into blogging in English.  I trust that what he writes is a good perspective on life in his country of Kazakhstan, it was pleasant to meet him last spring.  Another American blogger I’ve been following through tags on WordPress is a woman who went to Kostanai, Kazakhstan to adopt a baby.  I don’t know her name but have followed her travails and eventual victory on bringing her Kazakh baby home to the U.S.  She goes by the screen name of ByChance, she has her hands full with two other adopted children I believe. 


The only reason I knew about Kazakhstan back in 1992 when I applied for a Fulbright grant was hearing John Piper talk about Kazakhstan when I attended his church in Minneapolis in 1983-1990.  Thanks to him indirectly, I met my husband when I arrived in spring of 1993.  I believe Piper wrote his doctoral thesis in German.  There is a strong connection of Germany and Kazakhstan as is true with Germany and Ukraine, but that’s a whole history lesson by itself. 


History IS important because it helps explain why certain people ended up where they did.  Why did my Norwegian great grandfather, Sveinung Aslakson, leave his beautiful country to farm in North Dakota?  That reminds me about who started their blog back in 2000 and I read it faithfully back then.  My Montana cousin, PK Aslakson Madsen, also shares the same great grandfather.  PK, if you are still blogging, I’d give you an Best Blog Dart Thinker Award also. 8)

Comments (3) »

Tribute to My 91 Year Old Great Aunt Izzy

Why do we learn things too late from a dear person’s obituary, as in the case of my Great Aunt Isabelle Aslakson?  I already knew she enjoyed “rock star status” in her small town of New Rockford, North Dakota. Many people appreciated Izzy for the spunky, former lady pilot and historian that she was.  I know she was highly revered for what her late husband had started 50 years ago as a celebration of old steam threshing machines.  She owned at least three of these dinosaur tractors that need an expert engineer’s know-how and a warrior’s bravery to start and run.  Izzy’s grandson, my Uncle Leigh or others would drive her steam engine tractors in the parade of the fairgrounds for this yearly fall festival event. I was told when the 40 year reunion happened in September 1998, all the steam engine tractors blew their whistles at a set time, the deafening bellows were heard at distances of over 10 miles away.


Yesterday I was rather melancholy because I was missing the bitter-sweet family event of 50 years of celebrating steam engines and imagining what they would do to celebrate this time. Seems they celebrated Izzy’s passing in a poignant way.  I found this out from my Mom of how the organizers honored my Great Aunt and Uncle Aslakson, (please read to the very end).  


In tribute to my Aslakson relatives, I proudly wore my sweatshirt that reads “Central North Dakota – Steam Threshers Reunion.”  I bought my shirt last year when I gave a research presentation about another quiet but hardworking Norwegian relative of mine, S.A. Olsness.  As it turns out, my unassuming Great Aunt Izzy died on Sept. 15 on the very start of the day of the 50 year reunion.  Because her funeral happened to coincide with the steam threshers reunion, my aunt and uncle from North Carolina, my other uncle and aunt from Montana were there to celebrate her long life along with my parents and brother Tony.  Since they had earlier arranged to be at the big event, now it was not only a happy but sad one for them.  Izzy was truly a pioneer of women in the sky since she had been my Great Uncle Ole’s only female student in an aviation class back in the early 1940s. They were married September 8, 1941 and Izzy had been a widow for over 30 years, Ole died in 1977.


Great Aunt Izzy was always so self-deprecating whenever I asked questions about her life.  She knew of my desire to research more about her late husband, my Great Uncle Ole Aslakson and write up about his life as a pilot, mechanic, and farmer. Apparently Ole knew everything there was to know about the inner workings of the steam engine, he was a highly esteemed mechanic.  He had built his own plane according to what S.A. Olsness wrote about him in his many diary entries concerning the Aslakson family.  As a true lover of history, Izzy wanted to help me out in my desire to ferret out these little known facts about her husband.  Together we surveyed the contents of the museum in New Rockford where she volunteered her time.  I found out later from people at an aviation museum in Fargo, North Dakota that she actually had the old log books that Uncle Ole kept of his flying days.  They were squirreled away in her house.  I hope one day to see these flight logs since I talked to a few old pilots who remembered Ole and had hunted with him.  I seem to recall one said that Ole had engineered a rig on his plane so that he could shoot fox from the cockpit and still maintain altitude.


I am fortunate to know a little bit more about Izzy because my Mom and I would see her every  Memorial Day weekend as we made our customary day trip together to the Grandfield Lutheran church graveyard two hours west of us.  That is where Great Aunt Izzy is now buried next to her husband, my Great Uncle Ole Aslakson.  I will always remember Izzy spading up dirt at the cemetery at Grandfield, close to Sheyenne, North Dakota because she would carefully plant geraniums next to her late husband, Ole, and other Aslaksons in the family. She was known to have a green thumb and had a garden even last year at the age of 90. She was always interested in reading books.  As she got older, she became more deaf and so perhaps her curiosity about everything and her active lifestyle is how she maintained her youthful appearance. I don’t know how many 90 year olds keep up with their loved ones, but Aunt Izzy had e-mail and she would write me.  I have many short messages from her still in my inbox and she would always call them EMs.  Maybe she learned to abbreviate words from her pilot days. 


Izzy hopefully got my last letter I sent from Kazakhstan about 3 weeks ago by snail mail but just in case I had asked her daughter Kristy to print out the same so it would get to her sooner. I knew from Kristy that Izzy was failing in health but I hoped that she would hold out long enough to celebrate the 50 year reunion.  Seems her life ended just when it was supposed to, while people from all over the U.S. and Canada could celebrate her long, illustrious life.  She was known not only as the widow of the man who had started the Steam Thresher’s reunion, but she was sweet and dear Aunt Izzy to me.


The following is the last Izzy wrote on Jan. 3, 2008, eight months ago.


K. I think either tomorrow or Saturday will be O K  it you want to come over, but I don’t know how much information we  will be able to    find  in that amount of time.                                 I have been unusually busy this morning, with phone calls, oil delivery for furnace,   paying bills, etc.                                       Let me know, if you can, or if you have ti   me to do so!                    Happy New Year!   Belated, Isabelle


The following is what my Mom wrote to summarize the event I wish I had been able to attend but is yet another family reunion that I missed because I teach half way around the world in Almaty, Kazakhstan.


There was a very emotional moment for many of us in the crowd at the Steam Thresher’s Show when a small yellow airplane flew over and circled back over the grounds in honor of the founder of the show, Uncle Ole and Izzie.

Leave a comment »

Pulling Weeds and 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine

Today was THEE day to pull out vicious weeds from my various flower gardens.  Since we got a blessed 4/10ths of an inch of rain last night, the thistle and itch weed were extracted easily.  The 4-5 hours I was outside playing havoc with those evil weeds, I was thinking about American education and what they “intentionally” leave out of world history books.  I believe not many people in the U.S. or other western countries really know what happened in Ukraine 75 years ago. (Sadly, many don’t care.) Ten years ago I honestly had NO idea what tragedy Ukraine went through in 1932-33 with the Holodomor (Terror Famine). We simply know from our history books that American farmers were focussed on poor grain prices and the rest of Americans were mired in the Great Depression.  Or for that matter, even less is known by many westerners about what Kazakhstan and other countries of the former Soviet Union endured during collectivization. 

I don’t normally put in links on my blog but this one about Ukraine and their memorial of remembering those who died of starvation is something I couldn’t resist inserting.  I hope my reading audience has a better understanding of my passion to get this information out so that more people are aware of what bad government can do to good people.  Turns out that after the 1917 revolution those communist elite who mimicked Lenin’s words of “religion is the opiate of the people” did not have a clue what a relationship with God was really all about.  Yes, admittedly religion can be dried out and oppressive if going through motions and rituals. However, many of those Ukrainian farmers mowed down by Stalin’s edicts to eradicate “kulaks” who owned small plots of property and worked hard off the soil of the land were merely God-fearing peasants.

Those professors in academia who want to suppress this truth about the evils of the Soviet Union in their hallowed halls of our American institutions are not being intellectually honest.  They are trying to promote their socialist, Marxist agenda once again but now this time they are trying to vilify Christians who may have a simple faith in God and are just ordinary citizens.  Instead of “kulaks” who were persecuted 75 years ago and starved to death, now they are going after the big corporations as the evil entities.  If those who in power had their way, they would want all those entrepreneurs and others who are in business to make money through the capitalist system to be punished.  However, if that were to happen those lower in the chain of command would lose their jobs and we would eventually have another Great Depression.  That is, if the intellectuals had their way and wanted to start a class warfare which seemingly worked in the 1930s.

These very people in the ivory towers who want their young students to believe in Utopia little realize they are trying to preach a certain poisonous opiate of their own concoction.  “Opiate” and “Utopia” share many of the same letters (can you tell I’ve been playing lots of online Scrabble?) These dishonest professionals are attempting to drug the younger generation in believing that Christians are evil and that their hardsell for Utopia or the nothingness of postmodern de-constructionism is the right way to think.  Ron Vossler has a new book he is working on which, of course, he says it way better than I ever could.

The following is one of the many projects from Ron Vossler’s website: Communist East Dakota: How Twenty Years Teaching at a Midwest University Turned Me into a Republican. This irreverent book—a Hunter Thompsonesque account of a fictional adjunct teacher perched on the lowest, dung-smeared rungs of a backwater Prairie University —portrays an academic Don Quixote, who after discerning the deep Marxist bias prevalent in American higher education, wages a humorous battle against the dark forces of left-wing propaganda that pollutes both his colleagues’ and students’ minds.

Comments (2) »

Photos from our MN Farmyard

I don’t have much to write on Kazakhstan obviously being back home on “vacation” in NW MN.  Today I should have quoted from Ron Vossler’s latest book “Wedding of Darkness” but I already gave it to my Mom for her to read.  Quick read of three riveting accounts of what happened to Ron’s relatives who were left behind in Odessa, Ukraine area.  A misnomer to call them “Germans from Russia” really because geographically his relatives were living in what is today called Ukraine, they just happened to speak German. Back then when they immigrated to Dakota, their orientation was Russia because that is what the czar in Russia expansively referred to Ukraine as, Southern Russia.  Therefore, Ron has a difficult time explaining that whatever the Ukrianians went through with the Holodomor (Terror Famine of 1932-33), his ethnic group went through it as well just because they happened to be in the way of the great Utopian ideology touted by Marxists.

This year the Ukrainians are memorializing 75 years since the “Great Sadness” where families were tragically torn apart.  Good lines in Ron Vossler’s book as he poetically weaves together pieces from interviews he did with his “Germans from Ukraine” relatives who left for the U.S. after the 1932-33 starvation period together with primary source material and what Ron read from old Dakota newspapers he translated from German. 

Ron’s life work is tied up with resurrecting what happened to his dead relatives and the mystery of silence that prevailed in his Wishek, North Dakota surroundings.  Finding out about his relatives tragic past, changed his life.  Ron wants reconciliation, as do I, in our current history books about what REALLY happened under a despotic government that went more than haywire, it went crazy against families and personal property.  All in the name of collectivization and the great Utopia.  (BTW, Utopia does NOT equal heaven, it’s true meaning is “nothingness”)  The Ukrainians and the Germans from Russia who happened to be good, hard workers and owned property were targeted first under Stalin’s purge in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  They were reduced to owning nothing and even their lives counted for nothing!!!

Currently I’m reading a book on Holiness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, simultaneous to that I’m reading the No. #1 bestseller “The Shack” by William P. Young.  The latter was a self-published fictional book and it describes a man’s “Great Sadness” of losing his young daughter to a sadistic serial murderer.  I’m half way through and can see why it has fallen through the cracks and not published by the Christian circles or the secular ones.  Simply, it is NOT smarmy enough with sex scenes but also it is not orthodox enough in its theology for Christian publishers.

However, the main character in the Shack apparently works through his sadness and I think that Ukraine and other countries like Kazakhstan can work through their “Great Sadness” if the truth of the atrocities are brought out in the open.  Similar to a rape victim never quite healing by keeping silent, so too have history books worked against the millions of victims and their families by not exposing what communism actually did to ordinary people while the Soviet Union existed. 

Then I reflect on holiness and what Kazakhs, Latvians, Estonians, Russians, Germans from Russia, Ukrainians and a host of other nationalities had to go through under the bloody hands of Stalin.  He and his cohorts were all about materialism and accruing wealth and power.  Stalin forcibly had thugs seize what possessions had been in families for generations, but namely love, communication and trust were destroyed. 

Getting back to Ron Vossler’s short account in “Wedding of Darkness,” the village church bells were taken down from every steeple throughout Ukraine.  Also, from a local newspaper account I read of that era a western observer witnessed church bells sitting on a wharf in Odessa (port city on the Black Sea).  These bells were about to be melted down to be used for machinery and equipment.  Holiness vs. Materialism, it is a war we all wage in our hearts and I’m reminded that my MN farmyard is not my home, heaven is.

Leave a comment »

Rare “Dacha” Moment Sequel

What I forgot to mention in my last blog posting is that the evening we watched the ORANGE full moon come up, fireflies were also something to behold.  Once it was dark, they glowed brightly against the backdrop of our densely, grassed woods.  So, to look at the sky above with stars glittering and then look at eye level to see miniature stars twinkle was part of our rare moment.

Also, I neglected to add that we have a wren or two who warble their happy melodies, always a welcome sound.  Now that we have the thistle seed up, we have our regular, bright yellow finches back.  Of course, without us they have plenty of wild thistle to eat from but it is like the birds “fast food haven” to go to our feeder.  The other night as I went out to see how the wild raspberries were doing that some birds “planted” out west under the western shelterbelt trees, I saw some raspberries were already ripe.  Our domesticated ones are not that far along yet but it won’t be long that we will enjoy raspberries on our breakfast cereal.  What got me really excited to not only watch the remnants of a spectacular sundown but also to HEAR the howls of the coyotes out west.  I tried to call Ken out to hear but he had already retired to the house.

We have some pocket gophers that are playing havoc with our raspberry patch.  These varmits dig up beautiful rich, black soil but when they start getting into the lawn, we must put a stop to that kind of ambition.  I don’t know if flooding them out will help or what to do.  I remember my grandpa would sit out on the front porch and use a BB gun to get the little rascals that were creating mounds in our front yard.  Not sure what animal rights people would say about that but once you let a gopher family in, the rest of the colony will arrive post haste.

Ken has been watering with a hose our Braeburn apple trees as well as our grapes, hopefully we will have some grapes to harvest this year from the oldest vine.  I’m not sure how much we can harvest and make into jelly of the apples and raspberries since we have to be back in Kazakhstan by mid-August.  I have rhubarb I could make into sauce today.  Last night we enjoyed some store bought blueberries on our ice cream thanks to our good friend Ron Vossler.  We three enjoyed a picnic outside by grilling chicken shashlik and catching up.

It has been about a year since we saw Ron and he had just returned from a Ukrainian Holodomor/genocide conference in Dickinson, ND.  He told us stories of his recent trip to Ukraine where his relatives were from.  He has been to Ukraine about seven or eight times before.  He is a prolific writer concerning what he has unearthed about his own people (Germans from Russia) who left the Odessa, Ukraine area to settle as pioneer farmers in North Dakota.  His own relatives of two generations ago were starved out by the communist regime in 1932-33 when the Holodomor (Terror Famine) had labeled industrious farmers as “Kulaks.”

On my early morning walks along the gravel roads I look around the perfect beet fields and impeccable grain fields that surround our little hobby farm, no weeds!!!  I ponder what our German farmer neighbors would do if they were forced to join the collective.  What if these prosperous farmers were told they had to hand in all their equipment to the government because they were NOT supposed to own their own property or work for their own profit?  That is precisely what happened 75 years ago in Ukraine and also in Kazakhstan to the nomads who happened to be good shepherds and owned large stock.  The Kazakhs did not fare as well with collectivization due to their lack of experience.  However, Russian and Ukrainian farmers, who were sent down to Kazakhstan to take over the open spaces fared much better with their collective farms.

Our God-given freedom is a very precious thing, our freedom to earn money by hard work is rare.  That is why I am enjoying my moments in Minnesota especially since it is mosquito free.  Wonders never cease.

Leave a comment »