Saturday, October 31, 2009

everything is SRN opp

Personal correspondence to a friend named DeGroot in which we belatedly add an earring to the comb. In such ways we stay in touch with reality (ies)........


there will be church tomorrow
but the Halloween thing will not be stressed
where I go

such a big event in everyday society
has been unable to penetrate the shell
of christendom

where I go
nobody will be in purposeful costume
some will be weird
but in mufti

the litany will not contain
there will be booze at the rail
and bread; no wrapped candy

the communion of wandering beggers
porch by porch
will be of a different sort;
‘satanic’ will be good there

do I see a tripod
in the church dungeon
where a kettle bubbles?

roiling miters and eyes of newt
bibles and unsavory recipes
that all may be one?

It is like that
where I go

Friday, October 30, 2009


Still Fickle Bat

A bat I thought was you
Fluttered around my head
Last night after the lights
were turned off

I opened the door
To let you find your way out
But you stayed
Would not go
Winging around my sought repose

Nibbling my ear lobes
The way you used to do
I went out myself
And you followed me

Joining another bat
Zig-zagging in the darkness
Both of you exchanged squeaks
And left

I lay awake a long time
Wondering if you’d be back
The only way to keep you
Is to set you free

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Popcorn in Waukesha, then and now

No serious outbreak of cobblestones then.

The famous and best Waukesha popcorn when I was a grade-schooler in the 1940's came from Hyde's Popcorn Stand at White Rock Ave and W. Main Street across from St. Matthias Episcopal Church and the old court house, now the Waukesha Historical Museum.

Long torn-down for 'progress', it was an unassuming store, as the photos show. Whoever decided to put the "Get Right" road sign pointing to Hyde's was onto something, for the marvelous fresh roughage, cooked in whatever magic oil Mr. Hyde historically used - and by request would pour over the corn once sacked (it wan't butter), set you RIGHT WITH THE WORLD after the first cramming mouthful. Friend Joe thinks it was lard?

I'd like to see someone resurrect a Hyde's popcorn stand downtown today. Lard (Fat) Chance. Times change, and I guess with them their demands. A mere, and askew, lean-to shed like that with a coal stove roughly chimneyed through the roof would run into just a few current building restrictions. And the business improvement image-builders would demand conforming changes in the spartan affect overall.

The earliest anyone I know can remember, Hyde's was in business at least in the 1930s, because friend Joe remembers what a treat it was to go down a half block from his White Rock School and get a snappy white sack of corn, with or w/o a cover, from Mr and Mrs Hyde, who ran the small stand. There wasn't much room TO stand at tiny Hyde's. The history is sketchy if non-existent. No one thusfar has uncovered any augmenting marks on Hyde's in the public records. It is well-remembered by some nonetheless.

photo courtesy of John Schoenknecht

But there is still a place.........John's Root Beer Stand out on Arcadian Ave founded in 1937, that has what an employee termed an original-equipment and owner-beloved popcorn-making machine, ("Don't paint it; just wash it!"), a machine renowned for it's superb popcorn. To that we can and will testify. Also excellent dogs, corn and root beer. Plainer fare. Non-Italian ice-creamed floats. John's, as locals know, is an institution!

You won't find John's Root Beer, a Waukesha landmark, running it's wooden orange stand in the downtown district.

SOMETIMES though boxed, or cubed, or in a lean-to, YOU JUST GOTTA THINK OUTSIDE!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spice of life

The London Review of Books
came yesterday.

As usual we immediately turned to the back page for the 'Personals'. The Brits really know how to compose interesting adverts, as they call them. Enlarge the image (click on it) to see what we mean........

The rest of the fare isn't shabby either:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Just missed him !

Raccoon saunters down sewer grate in the background, a split second before the shutter clicked at the burning bush, ablaze.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Close-up makes a good desktop background

Lithops blooms!

Four days ago our amazing lithops, a 'living stone' that is sure living, looked like it was preparing to bloom. We took this as a meta-4 representing the blooming of the newly-installed incoming minister at St. Paul UCC, Erin WI. See

The raccoon news has the scoop on this one. Shown above, the peculiar little plant is blossoming today. This evening the blossom closed up. What will it do tomorrow? Will it open when the sun comes up? Will the bloom continue to grow a wider radius? You are assured we will cover it right here on the SRN.

as it appeared on Sunday:

archival basement finds, additional

but you know what?
I couldn't care less.
(Ever notice how that phrase is misused? Many people say I COULD CARE LESS.)
The raccoon news, as the culmination, one presumes, of the various literary thrusts of this author, little -published, little-heralded, shall live on, committed to the internet ether, as long as he draws breath sufficient to operate his scanner and other electronic raccoon-trements.

Here's this old dusted-off photo formed by taping two separate snaps together, shot subsequently seconds from each other and in the same campsite:
The Svea 123 campstove boils coffee that steams; the famed Lee folding camp table holds forth; blazing fire picks up the theme of the gas stove, also ablaze and sounding like a blowtorch! Swiss Army knife at the ready. Darkness falls. Raccoons and pocupines indigenous to Peninsula State Park, WI, waited to lurk. Evening Grossbeaks sang............

( Attn: Gourd farmers, Gourd Girl and Gourd Guy of Bluemounds WI.
We've logged some arduous and hot spine-bending hours in the fields, but nowhere near as rigorously as you.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

archive this

Erin Kate Dix

Have we covered this before?

More archival from basement clean-out:

click on image to read:


'Look it up!'

click on images to enlarge

Back in March the Raccoon News had a posting about our old dictionary,

Now, this past Sunday, the NYTimes ran an article in its supplemental magazine titled Old Dictionaries, per above. Reading this, we hastened to see what edition of Webster's we had. As you can see below, we have a 'Fifth Edition' of the Webster's Collegiate, the largest abridgment of the vaunted - per the Times piece - SECOND EDITION !

What a noteworthy find! This means we possess ( all ownerships indeed temporary,) thin pages run apparently from the original plates. This volume is very satisfying. It is so fun just to page through it, admiring the lithograph illustrations. Sometimes we photograph them and use them - for greeting cards? as we did with the raccoon image in the above SRN link.

"SOMETHING there is" that loves an old leather-bound book.....

Even, or, especially our Webster's Collegiate. Dated 1944, it is platformed in good years, WW II not withstanding. We are not so anachronistic as to eschew today's modern internet for spellings and definitions, and for information not available in 1944.

There are professionals in library science and archive preservation who bridge gaps such as these for a living. Our daughter, Erin Kate, Lawrence U graduate finishing her masters at UW Madison is training to be one of them.

This is one old dictionary that will be preserved.

Monday, October 19, 2009

John's in the pulpit

It is very difficult to successfully grow 'living stones', or Lithops. But we have one in a tiny plastic pot within a tea cup that seems happy here, right now. One shoot is splitting into four, not the customary two, and the other is actually readying to blossom. This is rare! We looked up the species on the net and found a picture of the anticipated blossom.


Yesterday, we attended the installation of the Rev. Dr. John Helt at his new church, St. Paul's United Church of Christ in the town of Erin, WI. (His assignment to that post was previously addressed in the SRN: and

Yesterday, John officially took the reins at St. Paul's, together with all the ministers who make up that congregation; they're all in it together. The event included many friends from former congregations John has ministered to. People traveling from afar to celebrate the glorious occasion. Friends and clerics participated while John beamed from the back of the church. Rev. Tom Nordberg delivered a dynamite sermon for his oldest and bestest clergyman friend. Son Adam and daughter Anni lifted up a spine-clilling duet, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. John's mother, 90-some year old motorcyclist, came up from Burlington IA.

A Gospel choir had been booked into the church for Oct. 18, and as plans were laid for just when to have the installation, John said, "Let's have the choir concert and follow it with my installation on the 18th." That worked out in beautiful dovetail fashion, for the strumming trio set a perfect harmony and warm-up act for the rite to follow.

The day was lovely. Sunny. The fall colors stunningly adorned wooded hills and fields and presented autumnal crossed-branch arcades leading to the little old church at Monches and St. Augustine roads. Everybody was rejoicing for the Helts, and we dare say that the spirits hovering over their graves at the rear of the church (mingling with the crowd?) were pleased, perhaps especially so.

The next chapter for this historic country corner church is like our subject lithops plant, looking like a soon to bloom 'Jack in the Pulpit', but in this case John's in the Pulpit.

So mote it be!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Here's something you can do

with the bits of crab you so carefully extract from the crabshells if you attend a crabfest such as we did in Maryland. Crab Cakes are a delicacy sometimes for sale in the better deli counters, and they are good, but these sound better. We have yet to try them, but Mark Bittman doesn't steer you wrong in his MINIMALIST columns. Shrimp as the glue makes sense:


The Minimalist /The New York Times
Giving an Old Friend a New Lease on Life

Published: September 11, 2009
I LEARNED how to make good crab cakes 20 years ago from Johnny Earles, a chef and friend in the Florida Panhandle. When I say “good,” I mean crab cakes made predominantly from crab, seasonings, a tiny bit of mayo as binder (you need something) and not much else. And for a long time I barely tinkered with the recipe. Why would I? Everyone loved it.

Recipe: Thai Style Crab Cakes (September 16, 2009)

Then it occurred to me that I could make a formidable crab cake in a style that mimics tod mun, the Thai fish cake that, when made right, packs astonishing flavor. The challenge was replacing the mayo; it seemed odd to include it in a Southeast Asian dish. And then I realized I could take the tod mun imitation one step further and use the time-honored technique of including puréed fish as a binder.
This worked perfectly. I use shrimp purée because the taste doesn’t conflict with that of the crab; scallops are another good option. Just stick a few in a small food processor and whiz for a few seconds, or chop and mash by hand.
Once I’d solved that issue, the rest was easy, choosing an assortment of Thai flavors, many of which, especially the chili, can be increased to taste.
You can serve these with lime wedges, as I do here, or make a Thai-style dipping sauce of nam pla or soy sauce, lime juice, a little sugar and a few chopped scallions. Or yield to heresy and spike a little mayonnaise with nam pla or soy sauce.
For a musical reminder, sing along with Satchmo
and just substitute 'Crab Cake'
for 'Cheese Cake'

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crab festival, part 2

Four bushels of these Chesapeake crabs were really steamed when they got cooked !
Hit by paring knives, mallets and picks after serving,
the pincered army knew it was all over;
had no choice, went peacably

All diners set to their work with mostly mirthless expressions, mechanically splitting carcasses, tearing claws and sucking legs as they had done on the porch in Pleasant Valley MD so many times before.
They had these crabs right where they wanted them: On their table!

Too soon, all that would be left of the deceased Chesapeake crawlers would be a mountain of shells, precisely empty of contents. Done in by a crowd of intent consumers, albeit close members of a jolly and usually loving family.

The savored smidgeons of excised crab were washed down with many gulps of beer. A question of proper form. Some guests drank soda and ate hot dogs. Ha! They would have no hairy backs on which to shave the high school W!

Luke, of the hair, tears off some more paper towels with which to keep things septic. He is now the father of two boys. I first knew him as a toddler. When he was playing football for Westminster High a few years ago, he was a fearsome crusher. When among his loved ones as at the affair here he exudes gentleness, and only looks crabby at times.
Brother-in-law Jeffrey Means of NYC shows neophyte crab-eater Patrick Davis of Madison WI how to rip open the shells and get the meat. Patrick got the hang of it quickly and more than held his own with the 'Keep-Em-Comin' crabs.
Beer-drinking Patrick already had the hang of as a Wisconsinite................

And John Means Jr., father of the other day's Zach-the-crab-dangler, brooks no nonsense with his plated quarry. He wastes no time pounding the shells with wooden mallets. He uses his Means hands to hammer the top of the knife directly.
These guys are tough!

Did you see the hands on that girl?

Dee, brother John Jr. and sister Donna, at Means Rest, Pleasan Valley, MD

It is said that you can tell the eventual size of a growing dog by the size of its paws when a puppy. Here, we noted on our recent Maryland trip, in an old snapshot of Denise at age about 12 that she had the outsized hands of her father, John Means.

We know, her friends and loved ones, that Dee grew into the hands nicely, and they compliment her overall being. They don't look big now in her current proportions.
But her Dad has always had to bear his mitts as potential bludgeons. They are kind hands and expressive, but they are what they are. When he is photographed his hands are his main characteristics.
They appear to be awesome fists, hanging unclenched at his legs, that would rather be dealing with wagon-loads of baled hay, or, 'Time's Up, Buddy!' lights to punch out.
They hang at the end of his muscular arms like the arrows that go with the peace sprig in the American symbol.
When Big John shakes your hand, your hand is enveloped and disappears always unscathed, thank heavens!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why must everyone take me so seriously?

OK, we've been to the fraternal orders where certain serious hats are worn.
But those serious days are over. Serious anachronisms have been put aside.
Yet when I don the woodpecker hat people right away assume I am being deadly serious.

The correction is: I was once startled, not frightened, by a Pileated woodpecker in the WI northwoods. Out jogging on a wooded backroad, I heard a peculiar bird-call at my left in the trees, at the margin of the road. Jogging on, I looked to the side and saw what I thought to be a prehistoric bird, huge wingspan, flying even-stride with me and progressing from tree to tree staying abreast of me as I ran. This species, the Pileated, I later found out, is very rare and nearing extinction.
The large, bright red-crested bird flew alongside of me for about a quarter of a mile. I took it to be mystical omen, another meaningful event of the sort I had in those magical surroundings. (See
Of course, I found a felt woodpecker mask and began wearing it, but not, NOT in such a serious way as people seem to think.
Ex: I keep a precariously balanced stack of books at my bedside. Indeed, I do sometimes wear the woodpecker mask when I read abed, but believe me, though I consider myself woodpeckerian in my digging for nourishment from the bark of that tree of books, I ONLY WEAR THE GARMENT IN JEST.

At the public library, in semi-frustration, I've given up wearing the woodpecker hat. I'm tired of being taken so stone-cold serious by my fellow Waukeshans. Now, with usual smiles, I slip within in the racks of books, and at the check-out desk I only sometimes wish I had the mask on to keep other library users from tittering into their mittens about my odd given looks.

A Pileated Woodpecker
click to enlarge

Monday, October 12, 2009

Maryland Crab Feed

Zach Means
holds aloft a Chesapeake Bay hard-shell crab,
another in a long series of creatures he is to consume
in the lingering happy hours assembled on the Means Rest front porch in Pleasant Valley, MD
with clustered family members, traditionally sitting around a long groaning board
of comestibles, shell-bearing and otherwise.
Partaking of such gifts of the sea is a science studied not by this midlander editor, who is used to other species of larger crab, such as the Alaskan King, where one gets chunks of meat of a size that can be handled more easily. (He gets them rarely, due to the price.) But the editor is let off by this eastern shore family of pickers and leg suckers, for he is not a blood Means. His daughter, however, Erin and her friend Patrick dug right in and acquited themselves admirably. See later post.
This crustacean festival was merrily held earlier this month, in celebration of the 60th wedding anniversary of patriarch and matriarch John and Jean Means. To our knowledge, nobody ate 60 crabs, but someone might have. An ample number, 4 bushels, were parceled in, and many eaters' guts were filled, and devourees'spilled. Part of the fun seems to be in seeing how much extraneous matter can cling to one's oblivious fingers or mouthal regions. A veritable H. Fielding Tom Jones scenario.

Sister-in-law Doreen, Zach's mom, shown to the side here smiles hungrily after eating only her approximately 20th crab.

Zach, her college son, a shot-putter and hammer-thrower, illustrated at the top , handles that crab as though it weighed only a few ounces. Which it did.

More on a post to follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

And the garden gnomes shall save her?

Jane Vollmer's 'magnificent' adventure -
and her pickled fish recipe:

Jane Vollmer, now 84, spent a night in the cold woods last week in back of her empty-nest home across from the Menomonee River north of Marinette.

She'd bundled up in the evening to take a solitary walk and admire the fall foliage. She slipped on a log, fell and broke her shoulder. She couldn't right herself; too much pain. And her knees, surgically repaired, couldn't bear the strain of righting her. So she drifted in and out of consciousness the entire night in the chilled north woods. The rescuers summoned via 911 by finder son Alan, said Jane's body temperature had dropped to 54 degrees. Another hour and she would have been dead, they reckoned.

But the Vollmers are a very tough family.

Jane bore 11 children who were often more than a handful. Her rugged and feisty husband, my beloved friend, Bill died 19 years to the day that she took this nearly fatal fall. We SRNers were reminiscing about the Vollmers last night with our friends John and Cindy Helt. Fall foliage figured into that, too, for we were there for a fish dinner at the Fox & Hounds restaurant and then to spend pleasant hours with them in their Hogsback Road cabin in the town of Erin. Helt is the new pastor at St Paul's UCC near their Hogsback Rd. home. (See and search other entries in the SRN under 'Vollmer'.)

Our history with the Vollmers goes back over 27 years, when John became the minister, fresh out of seminary, at the Vollmer's old church, Friedens UCC, at 13th & Juneau MIlw. Thus, when I told the Helts about Jane Vollmer's mishap we were on common ground.

Sometime way back, Jane wrote out in pencil on a scrap of paper her recipe for pickled fish for Cindy, and last night while we were talking about her miraculous survival of this accident, Cindy said she'd once gotten the best recipe from Jane for pickled fish that she still uses! She immediately fetched it from her kitchen recipe archives and loaned it to us so it could be included in the raccoon news. It, below, is an historical document:

click to enlarge

Bill would catch the fish and Jane would fry them in a big cast iron skillet. Wall -Eyes fresh from the Menomonee River across their road, Twin Island. The fishing family (all 13) caught so many fish that they sometimes pickled them in jars.

We spoke to Jane today about this. She is already home from the hospital and recuperating. She remembers writing that recipe out for Cindy so many years ago, and her heart was warmed to learn that her recipe is still in use.

Having told Jane we wanted to do this, we pass the recipe along to our SRN readers for their own enjoyment via this instrument, with Jane's blessing.

Jane related to me this morning on the telephone that a nearby neighbor has a collection of garden gnomes, and a friendly dog who often keeps a watch on Jane's comings and goings. "Wouldn't you know it, that darn dog never came around when I needed him!" But she imagined (?) that the gnomes were dancing around her, making her angry. All through the night they kept at it.


This is an old photo of the Vollmer family. It has appeared in the SRN before. Jane was found in her nearly expired condition by son Alan, middle front row. Alan is the Vollmer's youngest. He lives close-by.

Worth watching (again, if you've seen it)

This morning I clicked on the NY Times per custom and found another video clip of an old Dick Cavett show doing his fourth and final segment of a long interview with actor Richard Burton. This one deals with Burton's drinking problem, and gives his Camelot memorization of the pulling of the sword from the stone, thus realizing his character was to be the rightful king of England.

When I watched this approximately 3o minute segment - attached below - I was displeased that the video ran with some hesitations, but I waited them out and they rectified themselves, and it was worth it. I so much admired Welshman Richard Burton, yet was never fond of Cavett, seeing him as an overly self-effacing interviewer with a too cute smile. But Cavett is tolerable in this, and catching more of Burton's gifted stagecraft, and his heartfelt advice to fellow recovering drinkers ( we have many friends and family members thus afflicted) makes this a more than worthy SRN inclusion.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Congratulations Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2009
It is a red letter day!
His remarks this morning:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

They ARE connected

Maj. Gaynelle O'Neil, USA, ret'd, sends the raccoon news some jarred jellies from her home state of Oregon. Now that her long military obligation is concluded,
she unpacks her memorabilia, including a jar of schoolyard marbles about which she will write something soon, and settles into a 100% unharried & unsoldierly lifestyle. A lifestyle that has her making jams and jellies. The one spread on the fresh bread above is blackberry. From Oregon.

Nel gets into the kitchen practice while thinking of her grandmother who blessed her loved ones with fare like this, and taught Nel how to prepare it.

In the spirit of that, we spread the jelly with one of our own grandmother's table knives, in service in our own family going back to the turn of the 20th century, or earlier. The knife is silverplate and is rusting around the edges. We use it and wash it tenderly.

The knife, I guess, is feeling right, spreading something like Gaynelle's (grandmother's) jelly.

"All things are connected!" Chief Seattle. Duwamish