Thursday, May 31, 2007


Packing for any trip is really a combination of physics, imagination, economics, and the law. It is the art of reducing all that you own into parcels which your mode of transportation physically allows and which your mind deems to be needed. Your packing list is a compilation of suggestions from both official and unofficial sources. Packing is done with the full understanding that at least half of what you bring is never used and what you truly require is forgotten.

The Essentials:
Laptop computer, digital camera, cell phone, electrical converter, address book, pictures, credit cards, zip lock bags, battery operated lantern, toilet paper, and a return date.

Two year supply of underwear (one year sealed for future use), Chacos and other non-leather sandals, hats, ponchos, cargo shorts, light dresses, short shelve shirts, and swimming suits.

Personal care:
Two year supply of disposable razors, shaving mug with soap and brush, septic pencil, camp towel, waterproof cosmetics, and a comb.

Enough bandages and antiseptics to handle a national disaster, enough Immodium to plug a New Orleans levee, fungicide for those nasty rashes, and itch creams, repellents, and sun screen to be constantly anointed for two years.

Did I forget anything?

Monday, May 28, 2007

D minus Seven Days, Memorial Day

There is a quiet calm in the air, a resolution, if you will, of the "Before Departure" segment of our life and this blog. The weather is perfect, the birds are singing, and the cars are sold. Our son and daughter are spending lots of time together. Mary and I watch meaningless movies, as we go through our habitual actions. Most of the goodbyes are behind us. This is not a sad time, just a quiet time.

For me, Memorial Day has a special meaning. It is a time to pause and pay tribute to those who precede and those around, not for valor or bravery in war, but for just being. They are incorporated in me as a memory. Their monuments are my thoughts. Who can question everlasting life as long as one's memory exists?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mary Returns to College

Mary's A.A. degree graduation
from University of Minnesota

What's a husband to do after his wife cools from hot flashes then decides to join the Peace Corps and now has re-enrolled in college after a 40 year absence to complete her B.A. degree ? Isn't it enough to graduate the kids, sell the house, and say goodbyes? Is it hormonal or what? What do I know about life, except the latest sport poll rankings.

Fortunately, Metropolitan State University in Minnesota has a new pilot program whereby Peace Corps training can be applied towards an undergraduate degree. This makes sense since the first three months in Samoa consists of six hours per day for six days a week mostly of language, cultural and survival skills classes while living with a native family. According to my calculations, this is more classroom time than all the eight years I spent in college.

You might ask what is she going to do with the degree when she completes it? The answer is probably similar to the one about joining the Peace Corps.

Monday, May 21, 2007

D minus Fourteen Days

It is like we are on a multi-lane highway. The lives and experiences of our family and friends seem to be travelling with us in parallel, sharing life together, with an occasional person entering and leaving. Now we find ourselves approaching a turn off. The sign ahead reads "Samoa". You set your compass from Minneapolis at about 245 degrees; your GPS at 13.8S 171.8W; your time machine at Fourteen Days.

Since it is we, rather than they who are exiting, their goodbyes, farewells, and Godspeeds take on a new meaning for us and I imagine for them too. The expressions no longer seem rote or mechanical, with the confident assurance their sentiments are only temporary. Each farewell is different; from tears, to doing something, or simply being unable to say or express anything at all. There is doubt in the air. This Bon Voyage is different.

As I read the emails from the other Peace Corps people with whom we are departing, I sense their nervousness and excitement. Their youth and optimism are apparent. We hope their energy invigorates us. Who they are and their motives for joining the Peace Corps are to be discovered in the months ahead. How different to see their undertaking as a building block for the future, as compared to the capstone of one's life.

There are still some minor things to do, but the major events and actions on our check list are crossed off. We often feel exhausted. Even the questions to ourselves about what will it be like in Samoa are now rare. Our focus is turning to actually packing what we are to take.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Advertisment for the German-American Steamship Line

Modern View of St. Pauli Landungsbrücken, Hamburg, Germany,
from where my grandparent's left Europe.

How does one describe that moment of thought when one decides to leave; to take that phantasmagorical step into the void? I often wonder about my grandparents with little children in hand leaving Mother Russia from the port city of Hamburg, Germany and the millions of others who make that decision, who take that step to leave the known for the unknown.

I certainly don't want to imply the decision to join the Peace Corps is analogous to permanently leaving your home for a dream, but it may be the closest I come to answering my questions about what went through their minds before departure.
And what is the answer? It is probably lost amongst their ashes, as mine are lost in the rambling of these blog pages.

The one thing I do know is that they "Just Did It".

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Graduate

Mary & Nicholas

One of the great milestones is the graduation of your child. Fortunately, society provides today's child with numerous graduation opportunities. There are pre-school, grade school, middle school, and high school ceremonies to mark educational passages. By the time one completes college, the rituals, speeches, and accolades are well known. Yet, there is something significant to a parent about college graduation. It marks your child's nervous entry into adulthood and your exit from their educational scene.

This past weekend our son, Nicholas, graduated from the University of Iowa with a double major in Accounting and Management Information Systems. His path started a little later than most, but once on it, he never wavered. His mother is beaming; his father thankful that a job in Minneapolis awaits him at the accounting firm of KPMG.

Thus, Mary and I have attended the last of our childrens' graduation exercises. We are proud of their achievements and know they are ready to stand on their own. Now they can watch as we go to Samoa to begin as Peace Corps Trainees and hopefully graduate as full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Excitement Grows

A few days ago we received our Peace Corps Staging Kit, made our airline reservations for departure on June 4th, and started to receive emails from others Peace Corps members who are joining us in Los Angles, bound for Samoa. The level of excitement is high as all anticipate meeting one another and the adventures which lie ahead.

It is hard to tell the backgrounds of our Samoan group, but from what little I can tell, they are an eclectic group of about 10-12 who are ready to sample their piece of the Peace Corps pie. They seem as anxious as we to find out who are their fellow volunteers.

Whatever may be, now is a wild emotional ride as the days dwindle down to a precious few (seems like I have heard that before).

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Family Photograph

Front: Nick and Mary Shuraleff, Kim (Shuraleff) Wolfe
Middle: Steve Christensen, Matt Wolfe, Sam Christensen
Rear: Teri (Shuraleff) Christensen, Nicholas Shuraleff III

There is no photograph more treasured or gratifying than that of your adult family. Contained within its frame is the distillation and transference of your life.

Just who is included in your family photograph is governed by the laws of biology, the laws of society, and by the laws of the heart. The characters are based more on chance than by design, yet mysteriously joined.

As I view the figures in all their imperfect shapes and poses, my mind inserts the missing and most important pixel, the love we have for them and most of all the love they have for each other. One hopes that this 1/60th of a second can be extended into the years ahead.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Ode to Nick and Mary

David Braden’s reading of “Ode to Nick and Mary” was one of the many highlights at our April 28th surprise party. David and Ann Braden are members of the Edina Book Club, a long-standing group of book and food lovers. With the poet’s permission, we have reprinted their ode. Like many great poems, there may be references unfamiliar to the reader or missed by the listener. There are explanations for some of these references at the end of the ode.

Ode to Nick and Mary
By Ann & David Braden

1) We’re glad to be among tonight’s guests,
With some thoughts on our honorees to express.
A poem, thought we two,
T’was the least we could do,
But you’ll find it was slightly less.

6) This evening we toast Nick and Mary,
Apologies to Nicholas, Kim, Jennifer and, Teri.
Among family and friends
Though this crowd size depends
On both supporters and adversaries.

11) This duo hits the storied South Pacific.
With fire and drive for some task, non-specific.
The Samoans that git ‘em
Won’t know quite what hit ‘em.
But we will, ’cause the blog is terrific.

16) We suspect Samoa’s sartorial norm
Means their attire’ll take the island by storm.
He’s a bug, she’s a frog
(That’s nowhere on the blog!)
Nick’s purple tights and his rowing uniform.

21) Nick’s global view covers quite an expanse.
He considers merengue and polka one dance.
He learns languages such
That he’ll speak Turkish to the Dutch,
And he’ll toast Russians, then wake up without pants.

26) On her mat, Mary’ll sleep through the night,
Never snoring, nor crying out in fright.
Alert all the while
She’ll not nap on that isle
For there’s neither a car nor a red light.

31) As a reader, we all know Nick’s voracious
Always highbrow and never salacious.
But, if they learn he’s been loosed
To teach them all Proust,
Their epitaph will say things like “courageous.”

36) Nick’ll pack up at any moment opportune.
He travels to his own special tune.
He up and drove to Nebraska,
And why not? He might ask ya.
Hell, I’ve been thrown out of Saskatoon!

41) Of animals they’ve enjoyed their full quota.
Every legal pet in Minnesota.
But Kim left with her zoo,
And then Bo bid adieu,
Now they’ll have centipedes the size of Toyotas.

46) For a lifetime their tastebuds they’ve honed.
They’ve served us rabbit, goat and dishes unknown.
In rare flavors we’ve basked,
What it is, we don’t ask,
But, they’re ready for poi bourguignon.

51) Now, Mary’s posse’ll be in a pickle,
Lifelong friends, so true blue, never fickle.
For when one understands she has actual fans,
She’ll leave more folks bereft than Nick’ll.

55) As they commit this magnanimous deed,
An adventure none here will exceed,
We sure hate to lose ’em, but till they’re back safe in our bosom,
We wish them both luck and Godspeed.

References by Line #:

7) Nicholas & Kim (Nick & Mary’s children), Jennifer (Mary’s niece), Teri (Nick’s child from previous marriage). All played an important role in organizing the surprise party.
12) The exact Peace Corps assignment is unknown.
18) Nick has a large bug head, from a failed marketing scheme, worn on Halloween and special occasions. Mary lost a cribbage game to Nick and had to walk the length of Nicollet Mall in a frog costume.
20) Nick wore purple capaline tights on a book club canoe trip, quite shocking many of the adults and all of the children. He is still referred to as “The Man in the Purple Tights”.
At an indoor rowing meet in Belgium, Nick’s Chuck Taylor Converse shoes, head band, and t-shirt were somewhat out of fashion with the spandex uniforms of Europeans.
22) A Latin dance teacher’s reference to Nick’s style of dancing.
24) At the Amsterdam airport where Nick tried out his halting Turkish on a dark skinned agent at the Turkish Airline counter. After several futile attempts, the puzzled agent said she was Dutch and didn’t understand a word of Turkish.
25) At a party given for Nick in Russia, where upon being introduced to the Russian way of drinking vodka, he found himself in his underwear the next morning and was told about his antics the previous night. Russians were impressed that not only did Nick survive the party, but felt fine the next day.
27) Mary has a habit of snoring and calling out in the night for help.
30) Mary feel asleep once in her car at a red traffic light.
34) Marcel Proust, considered by some the greatest writer of the 20th century, wrote a 3,500 page novel read by almost no one, except Nick.
38) See February 7, 2007 blog entry.
40) Unfortunate incident with Canadian authorities, who did not believe Nick flew to Saskatoon for 30 minutes just to get a t-shirt.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Surprise Party Kudos

Jennifer Fahey

The April 28th surprise party for Mary and me was concieved about three months ago by Jennifer Fahey, Mary's niece from Boston. Even though she broke her leg about two months before the party, Jennifer managed to coordinate the affair. She also was the prime mover for the audio-video show. Jennifer acted as Emcee.

Teri Christensen with Sam, Steve, and Henry

My daughter, Teri Christensen from State College, PA, handled much of the party details and invitations via Steve, her husband, helped with the music. The entire family came from PA. Henry stayed home.

Nicholas Shuraleff, III

My son, Nicholas, managed to get the many email addresses off our computer while still attending the University of Iowa. He had the difficult job of convincing Mary and me to go to Stella's Restaurant and to push me out the elevator door.

Kay Wangard, blond in the middle

Kay Wangard, Mary's friend from Edina, found and reserved the room at Stella's.

David Braden, rear with blue lei

David Braden, from our Edina Book Club, wrote and presented the "Ode to Nick & Mary"

Of course, this is just a partial list of all those who made our Surprise Party such a success and surprise. There is no way other way to express our gratitude, other than to say "Thank You"