Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blog Converted to Paper

Last night, after four 12-16 hour days interrupted by my four hour birthday party, I finished converting Mary and my blog on our Peace Corps experiences into Five Volumes of photobooks, 740 pages. Copies of this project are going next to my six volume set of Marcel Proust's novel, probably to be remembered and read as often.
For those who encouraged me to write a book, forget it!

Soon, we now have a record we can hold in our hands and a seat to elevate grandchildren at the dining table.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


November 12, 2010
MNRPCV stands for "Minnesota Returned Peace Corps Volunteers" organization, celebrating its 30th Anniversary. We want to be among those who might share in our experiences, dressed in the garb of our country of service, as stated in their bulletin. Not to be deterred as being the only ones so dressed out of several hundred, we set out to schmooze with attendees.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers seem to come in two major groups. There are the earliest of Peace Corps volunteers inspired by President Kennedy's call to service, now in their 60's+, who still retain their "flower child" trappings, and there are the younger returnees who seem to be plucked from the less idealist corporate world. Then there is Mary and me who are dressed for the tropics while a winter storm brews out the reception windows. There is a common theme running through all MNRPCVs, we have participated in a great adventure.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween at 68

October 31, 2010

You never know what you may run across when you venture out for Halloween in downtown Minneapolis.

Jubilant Chilean miners celebrating at the "Ugly Mug"

Nicholas' girlfriend, Heidi Weiskircher, and me

lighting up our costumes at "Sneaky Pete's"

Iowa Football

October 30, 2010

Tailgating is a ritual for many fans. Here are my daughter, Kim; son, Nicholas,

and host, Chris Jensen talking to a fellow Hawkeye.

Fans Storming the field after the game as dejected Michigan State players

in white shuffle back to their locker room for a long flight home.

There are no better fans or place to watch a football game than the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, unless you are a visiting fan of the undefeated, nationally 5th ranked, Michigan State University football team. There are days when everything goes right for the other team and nothing for yours, the result 37-6.

My son, Nicholas, is a die hard Iowa alumnus. The good side is the happy mood of the entire state of Iowa and son on our way back to Minneapolis.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Time

October 29, 2010
What am I?

-A starry night

-A black ghost

-A muslim apparation

-All of the above

-None of the above

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Sister and Mt. Everest

October 21, 2010
My younger sister, Christine Shuraleff, a retired Eugene, Oregon school counselor, is a world traveler and adventurer. Over the course of her 63 years, she has travelled from the Arctic and Antarctic regions, from the Galapagos to Patagonia to Indian jungles in search of tigers, Botswana to the Svalbard archipelago. She has shunned the cathedrals, seaside beaches, cultural and the culinary meccas for the remote and inaccessible.

Fifteen years ago it was Mt. Kilimanjaro. Her love is rarefied mountain air and there is no more rarified air than that of Mt. Everest, or Mt. Sagarmatha, as the Nepaliese call it, the Goddess of the Sky. So the celebrate her October 6th birthday, her reconstituted knee, to test the amount of gas still in the old girl's tank, and to be spiritually closer to the spirits, it is off to the greatest height she has ever been for an 18 day trek, Mt. Everest Base Camp.

I am really quite proud of her.
Here are some of her pictures:

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Wedding, Belgium Style

August 21, 2010

Arnaud and Stephanie, nee Fanuel, Fieve

Please excuse my tardiness in posting our trip to Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Austria last month. My enthusiasm to write faded as my digital camera was destroyed when our canoe overturned on the Vtlava River in the Czech town of Cesky-Krumlov. I have had to rely on some photos emailed to me, stock photos, and memory. Hopefully, more photos are forthcoming from our European friends. After a week of hard rain, the weather was unusual for Belgium, sunny.
The Wedding "Day": Bride's First Appearance

Pictures taken in the garden of Stephanie's parents in Charleroi, Belgium

The wedding started at 9:00 am from Stephanie Fanuel's, the bride's, home in the French-speaking Belgium city of Charleroi. There a continental breakfast with champagne in the parent's garden started the day as the groom, guests, and town people awaited the appearance of the bride in her gown at the top of the family's staircase. The apparition of the bride created quite a stir not only for the groom, Arnaud, but for all young women at the bottom of the stairs who were anticipating Arnaud's reactions.

The Wedding "Day": The Official Ceremony

Vows at Brussel's Woluwe-Saint- Lambert City Hall

Group picture outside City Hall

The legal marriage in Belgium in a civil ceremony conducted at the city hall. It may simple signing of papers or what we might call a full wedding ceremony. Arnaud's and Stephanie's marriage we drove about 30 miles from Charleroi to a city hall in Brussels for a full wedding ceremony conducted by a city official at 11:00 am.

The Wedding "Day": The Church Wedding

Saint-Lambert's Church, Brussels

Saint-Lambert's interior

The church wedding was conducted at 3:00 pm in the 12th century church of Saint Lambert in the Woluwe district of Brussels. Mary and I helped the wedding party of about 20 bride's maids and groomsmen prepare the church for the 1 1/2 hour ceremony.

The Wedding "Day": Outdoor Reception

Groom Tossing

Then it was a 15 mile drive back south somewhere near Genappe to a old chateau converted to a country inn with stables now a dining and reception area accompanied by a beautiful outdoor garden. Champagne, hor d'ourves, helped to grease bringing together the various family members and guests. The wedding party started their own celebration by tossing Arnaud high into the air.

The Wedding "Day": Formal Reception

With Arnaud, his mother, Francoise, and brother, Jerome, at formal dinner

Moving inside for the sit down dinner started about six (very early by French standards). The early start was needed as we were treated to a multi course meal with interludes between courses serving as a smoke break and for the couple's many friends to show videos, toasts, and make jokes. Wine continued to flow.

For those interested, this was the menu:

Le ravioles de langoustines aux petits legumes bisque parfumee a la vanille.

Sorbet passion

Filet de canette de barbarie au miel et aux epices legumes rotis en cocotte

Vacherin glace et coulis de fruits rouges



Bordeaux "Chateau Anniche" 2008

Bordeaux Superieur "Chateau les Paruades" 2007
The Wedding "Day": The Dance
At 10:30pm the DJ started. A new younger crowd joined those from the formal dinner. Everyone seemed to be dancing with the music progressing from oldies to dances only the Belgians knew. We left at about 1:30am, being driven back by our guests who changed clothes only to return again.

The Wedding "Day": The End
The dancing did not stop until 5:30am.

The Wedding "Day": The Honeymoon
Two days later Arnaud and Stephanie left for the Indian Ocean island country of Mauritius for a two week honeymoon.

A honeymoon memorable moment, a Mauritius dolphin

Our Hosts

Quentin Sibille and Christel
Arnaud's long time high school friend, Quentin, his partner, Christel, and their Jack Russell dog, Harper, served as perfect hosts, drivers, and friends to make our stay at their home in Braine-l"Allude more than we had ever hoped.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Resuming my blog

October 9, 2010
I find myself beginning to forget things I have done, deep thoughts on obscure notions, and the need to record for myself at least portions of my life. The intervening time since my last entry in August is kind of like a brain fart, time dissipating into a nothingness.

Contributing to this loss is the destruction of my digital camera pictures as Mary and my canoe overturned in a Czech Republic river. I just need to continue on synthesising the past from other people's photos and pilfering the Internet before all my memories become imagination. I have entered some previously written, but unposted blogs.

The Gandy Dancer

October 7-8 2010
The "Gandy Dancer" is the name given to a 50 mile biking/hiking/snowmobile trail in northwestern Wisconsin, formerly a railroad line through such towns as Siren, Milltown, and Luck. The name comes from combining the "Gandy" from the Gandy Tool Company of Chicago which made the tools for constructing railroads and "Dancer" to mark the synchronized swinging of the hand tools and foot movements of the laborers. I doubt the workers ever connected the two romanticized words. After hearing the name of the trail I just had to walk it.
Some people may wonder why any person, especially a geezer, would think of to, let alone do such a thing. But usual 70+ degree temperatures and clear skies of an Upper Midwest October can do unusual things to a person. So with the forces of nature also affecting my enabling wife's encouragement, I packed my granola bars and water bottle in my Samoan $10 WalMart backpack and set off.
The trek was originally planned for 2 1/2 days, including two overnights in motels. However due to poor planning on my part and a Sheriff's deputy on her part, I was able to finish in two days. Mary met me at trails end, relieved I has finished and disappointed that I did not collapse into her arms. Instead we went to the local casino for a beer.
Since people like to read about other peoples suffering, let me share mine. The worst part is looking at the trail ahead disappearing into infinity. Such sights gender an "Ah shit" response.
As for the hike itself, you just put one foot in front of the other. Before you know it you have reached the end, sore legs and blistered toes included. In a way it is like life. You wake up every morning and before you know it, you have reached trails end.
The beginning
The middle

The end

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Philadelphia Impressions

July 18, 2010
Some places in this world myth becomes so intertwined with reality it is hard to separate the two. Philadelphia is one of those places to me.
"City of Brotherly Love"
Just where this notion came from is beyond me. Even Ben Franklin hated the new German immigrants whom he felt would poison his country with their alien ways. The racial tension in the Philadelphia is matched only by Detroit's, my home town. The most conspicuous sign of "Love", besides the newly weds of the wedding Mary and I attended, is the "Love" sculpture. Whether the sculpture is a sign of intentions or reality, I don't know.

George Washington Statue
This allegorical piece of metal would amaze even the "Father of our Country". Bison, elk, Indian maidens and warriors under his horse's hoofs? Why even George would have trouble lying about those.
Another Rocky Wantabe
The steps of the Philadelphia Art Institute are filled with people running up them and raising their arms in the air. There is even a statue of "Rocky Balboa" at the base of the stairs. Unknown by many, Sylvester Stallone only ran up seven steps, a double did the rest.
Samoa in Philadelphia
Somehow unknowingly ending up one night at the swanky black nightclub, The Octo, with a group of our decidedly suburban Edina book club members, I received a flyer about the "Pangea" festival, an event to foster diversity and harmony in the City of Brotherly Love. Much to my amazement, besides being one of the few to promote the diversity part, the program had a non-Samoan woman doing a Samoan dance with swords. I had never seen a dance like that before, let alone a woman doing it, but that's not the point. I am in favor of anything promoting anything that has to do with diversity and harmony, even if the audience thought Samoa is a city in California.

The Mutter Museum

Where else can the preserved specimen of the world's largest compacted human colon or hundreds of skulls and deformed bottled babies be a major tourist site, but in Philly? Call it Historic, call it macabre, I went. After all it is the Brotherly Love sort of thing to do.


If you don't know what it is, don't bother to try it, even at Philadelphia's "Historic" Reading Market. I do know what it is and I did try it. Now I have had scrapple that you can swallow before, but this stuff they sell to tourists, even the poor Dutch settlers wouldn't recognize.

A Wedding, Philadelphia Style


Just like Romeo and Juliet, Alex Braden and Shannon Lack exchange wedding vows on a balcony in Philadelphia, officiated by Alex's friend who flew in from Kosovo. Both Alex and Shannon are now Philadelphia lawyers having met while attending law school at the University of Pittsburgh. Alex is the son of one our book club members and graduated high school with our son, Nicholas.

I just love weddings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Off to Europe

August 18, 2010
It is off to Belgium and points East this afternoon to attend the wedding of our first foreign exchange student, Arnaud Fieve, in a little town outside of Waterloo, Belgium (August 19-22), then on an overnight train through Germany to Prague (August 23-25), and Cesky-Krumlov (August 26-27), in the Czech Republic, then to visit a young couple, Mani and Kia, whom we met while in Samoa and who live in Steinbrunn, Austra near Vienna (August 28-31) for a belated combination wedding-baptism we missed in July before returning September 1st. One never knows what to expect with our ad hoc accommodations and train tickets. I hope our adventures are manageable.
Stephanie and Arnaud, March, 2007, Mall of America
Mani (Manfred) and Kia (Kirstin) Phlovitz, March, 2008, Samoa

Here is a link depicting the course of our journey:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

John Kleive Redux

August 14, 2010

John Kleive and his Minnesota Summer Home

John Kleive ended his Peace Corps committment this past May. While he awaits his return to Samoa and his old job as a welding instructor this September, not as as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but as an ex-patriot, John lives on his boat at a Lake Superior marina docked in Superior, Wisconsin.

Mary and I went to spend a night in his home and to get first hand knowledge of his marina life. We are happy to report that John is doing well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Would Sherlock Holmes have brought you lunch?

August 8, 2010

Below is an email I received from a fellow American living in Samoa and gave me permission to publish it. The predicament is one with which I am familiar and one a foreigner can expect when living abroad.

"We have an opportunity to catch the thief who has broken into our house twice now, because he stole and is using one of our cell phones. All we need to do is go to the service provider and get the phone records and connect the dots on who the thief was calling or receiving calls from. Our security officer and I were eager to get this information ourselves and start the investigation, but we learned that we must go through the police department in order to get the phone records. So we went down to the station on Monday and talked to the officer in charge of our case and he assured us he would have the phone records by tomorrow and we could start to locate the thief. So we waited... and waited... and waited... and finally we were promised delivery of the phone records on Friday morning by the officer. Not surprisingly he didn't show. While laying in bed and reading on Saturday morning I get a phone call from the officer saying he was one his way to my house to drop off the records. Two hours later (I live 10 minutes from the station) he showed up with the phone records and two cans of corned beef. He told me to boil some rice so we could have lunch. We sat down to look at the records and they turned out to be from a 10-day span from before the robbery even took place. Three years of cultural conditioning have trained me to not hurl obscenities or less than kindly instruct the officer how to do his job, and since he was already there, we thought we might as well have lunch anyways. So over some corned beef and rice we talked about our jobs and I jotted down some notes on the search warrant to help him refine his phone records search. (The same notes I gave him in his office on Monday) After lunch he left and said he would try again next week. I just hope his next search doesn't end in another corned beef lunch. Wish me luck..."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lunch with John Kleive

August 3, 2010 John Kleive on his 77,000 mile "Hog"
with a case of Three Buck Chuck strapped to the back for his return
to his boat docked on Lake Superior.John's newest tattoo
John Kleive finished his Samoan Peace Corps assignment as a Welding Instructor last May. He has decided to return to Samoa as a private citizen this coming September to continue his teaching at Don Bosco College in Apia, which is a school for men who had dropped out of high school before graduation or are returning to learn a trade.
While John was in Minnesota for the summer visiting his children and tending to his Northern Minnesota home, Mary and I met him for lunch in St. Paul.
John plans a trip New Orleans and Las Vegas on his Harley as he makes his way back to Samoa, only to pick the cycle again in Las Vegas when he returns to the U.S. next May. What a life!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Breakfast at Al's

July 29, 2101

Al's Breakfast is located in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis, adjacent to the University of Minnesota campus. It is reportedly the narrowest restaurant in Minneapolis, at a width of ten feet (3 m), and possibly the narrowest full-service breakfast diner with counter-only seating in the world. The diner is crammed into a former alleyway between two much larger buildings, hours are 6:00am-1:00pm. The award winning restaurant's 14 stools have seated generations of local students, along with notable figures such as writer James Lileks and humorist Garrison Keillor, all of whom consider the tiny diner to be a significant icon of the state.

I first heard of Al's Breakfast having drinks with a Department of State security person, Jamal, at a Samoan resort. He, being still on duty to protect the recently departed Condelessa Rice, having a Coke, while me being on duty as a Peace Corps Volunteer having something a little stronger. To say Jamal doesn't have a presence would be a gross understatement. He is a mountain of a man who probably eats ball bearings for breakfast. You get the picture.

Well, Jamal has been living overseas with his family for the past eight years, living in what he calls the "World's Hellholes", and was planning to return soon to the U.S. for a post in Washington, DC. When I mentioned I was from Minneapolis, he told me about this fantastic little restaurant in Minneapolis where he had been to only once on a one day visit to Minneapolis years ago. In fact, he had just Googled it's name and location the day before. He was going to take his family there on their way to Washington from their current post in Wellington, New Zealand. I sheepishly admitted never having gone to Al's.

With my visiting 16 year old grandson in tow, we headed for Al's, after not finding it the day before and receiving a parking ticket in the search process. Now a ten foot wide diner doesn't leave a lot of room for counter, stools, grill, tons of memorabilia, and waiting area. In fact, the waiting area consists of people standing behind those already seated. The passage of customer's in and out is hard on the toes. Patron's shift up and down the counter from stool to stool to accommodate parties of different numbers. Waits can be considerable, especially when the university is in session and the temperature drops below zero. Service is what you might expect in a 60 year old restaurant with staff that has a seasoned sense of humor.

The menu is 1950's AMERICAN. I mean loaded with everything to clog the arteries and expand the waistline. The coffee tastes like dirty water, the hash browns have an ample supply of cooking oil, the pancakes are so huge that the syrup runs off them onto the counter. In other words, it's great. It is everything at prices and quantities you can't get these days.

I don't know if Jamal and his family ever made it to Al's Breakfast, but somehow I think they did. Should you ever visit Minneapolis, be sure to visit Al's and bring lots of quarters for the parking meters.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Visits with former Samoan Peace Corps

Mary and I took the train to attend a wedding in Philadelphia. Since we were in the area (as Mary likes to say), we whistle stopped to meet with some former Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers.
Washington, DC
Hanna Siemering (2007-2010)
Hannah has been back from Samoa since May 2010 where she served as a veterinarian with Samoa's Animal Protection Organization. Our less than one hour meeting hardly gave us time to cobble down some food, yet alone have a chance to catch up with our lives.
Hannah is currently living in Alexandria, VA and searching for a job or more accurately how to fill the time void she now finds herself facing. Hannah's son is returning to graduate school, her ocean side property remains as inviting for a new home as ever, and she has reapplied for a full-time Peace Corps assignment.

Mary and Hannah, Union Station, Washington, DC

New York, NY
Safiya Mitchell (2007-2008)
Safiya's Peace Corps job was as a Village Based Volunteer in a small Samoan village. Unfortunately she became ill with colitis early in her stay and after being medivaced to a hospital in Hawaii, received a medical discharge from the Peace Corps after successfully serving for about nine months.

Safiya met us with her 10 month old son, Ashair, at New York's Penn Station. Safiya is living with her sister in Brooklyn, working at the non-profit organization, The Pantry, while going to night school where she is exploring a career in nursing. She would like to travel and live abroad, using her nursing degree.

Safiya and Ashair, Penn Station, NY

Safiya's new duties

What a beautiful baby!

Providence, RI
Dylan Ryder (2006-2008)
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Dylan was a computer teacher at a high school on the Samoan island of Savaii. His service ended November, 2008.

Dylan lives in his home town of Bristol, RI and met us in Providence with his friend, Stephanie. He is currently working for a non-profit as an IT person while doing an on-line graduate program from Columbia University. He would like to be a school administrator, using his computer background. He and Stephanie would like to move to New York where he can directly attend classes at Columbia. Dylan is returning to Samoa with Stephanie in August to check out old haunts and meet old students.

Stephanie and Dylan on the streets of Providence

Samoan Souvenir
We just couldn't resist this Chicago pub during a Windy City layover

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oh Happy Day

July 14, 2010

Today my Certificate of Appreciation from the Peace Corps arrived. It took about a year and a little prompting, but what the heck, President Obama is a busy man.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Time for the Sublime

July 2, 2010
I am coming to realize one of the effects Samoa has had on me is to understand more fully that a hurried, hectic lifestyle, does not leave time for the sublime. For to appreciate the sublime, you must have time, time of leisure, time to contemplate those things which are not obvious or even seen, but sensed.

How we American Peace Corps Volunteers ridiculed and mocked Samoans for their seemingly lack of desire to "advance" themselves. How they rejected our efforts to "educate" them into the ways of our global world. Oh, how we thought we understood them. Oh, how blind we were not to see that they knew about the sublime.

I have taken to walking, at first for exercise, now to let my senses and mind wander to sample my surroundings. The beauty of birds signing, of young mothers pushing their babies in perambulators, a woman digging in her garden, the roar of jet planes overhead, a Mexican mother struggling with her groceries and two small children as she gets off the bus, this is the glory of it all!

To appreciate the sublime takes time, leisure time, time which earns no money, produces no goods, has no destination. It is time only some malcontents, artists, very wealthy, cloistered monks, elderly, and Samoans seem to set aside to enjoy the sublime. For the rest of the world, flat screen TVs, iPods, and stress are the rewards for time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup


Mary and I went to the "Blue Nile" African restaurant to watch the USA vs Ghana World Cup soccer match. The Ghanaians kept their composure throughout the match, except when they scored the go ahead goal during extra time. They almost jumped out of their clothes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Minnesota: The Wedding

June 19, 2010

The Wedding Party

Nikki Hollerich, a former employee and daughter of parents from our couples book club, and her partner, Angie Sullivan, commit themselves to each each other at Treasure Island Resort and Casino. The "Wedding" has all the pomp, pageantry, and traditions of most weddings, with an exception. It isn't legally a wedding at all.

There is no question about couples attachment and love for each other. Yet, a certain apprehension hangs over the proceedings, a hesitancy in the speeches from the "Bride and Groom's" fathers, and a reluctance at my own table to articulate our own feelings about the "marriage". Something seems missing. Maybe it is the hope of progeny, something totally expected in Turkey.

Currently, there are a number of feature articles about why even be married, the latest in Newsweek entitled, "I Don't, The Case Against Marriage", or the July/August edition of The Atlantic, on "The End of Men" and "Are Fathers Necessary?". In the United States a recent survey shows 75 percent of 18-to-34 year old men believe that marriage is a necessary institution they'll engage in, verses 63 percent of women. Times they are a changing.
I am now in the process of trying to clarify my own feelings about marriage. One thing I do know is that getting into a marriage is a whole lot easier than getting out of it and I like being married.
I still have three, maybe four. more weddings to attend this summer. I should have a better understanding about what it's about by then.