Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas with the animals

Christmas Day 2010
our dog Roscoe
lies totally exhausted
-catatonic -
rigor mortis-imitating.
tongue hanging out,
after playing madly
with his Santa-brought
ping-pong ball,
thus showing his appreciation
for his small gift,

Mona the cat
ignores her new
fleece-lined bed
preferring her position
outside of it, yet
against the radiator.
"I may never go in it," she says.....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Story

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.

Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. "Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude," said the stranger. "I see you're busy, I'll just go."

"Not without something hot in your belly." George said.

He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty. Stew ... Made it myself. When you're done, there's coffee and it's fresh."

Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me, be right back," George said. There in the driveway was an old '53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. "Mister can you help me!" said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. "My wife is with child and my car is broken." George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead.

"You ain't going in this thing," George said as he turned away.

"But Mister, please help ..." The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. "Here, take my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good."

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. He turned and walked back inside the office. "Glad I gave 'em the truck, their tires were shot too. That 'ol truck has brand new ." George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it. "Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. "Well, shoot, I can fix this," he said to
himself. So he put a new one on.

"Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either." He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car anyway.

As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, "Please help me."

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. "Pressure to stop the bleeding," he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. "Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin'," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.

"Something for pain," George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. "These ought to work." He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. "You hang in there, I'm going to get you an ambulance."

The phone was dead. "Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car." He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio.

He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. "Thanks," said the officer. "You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area."

George sat down beside him, "I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through 'ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain."

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?" he asked.

"None for me," said the officer.

"Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain't got no donuts." The officer laughed and winced at the same time.

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. "Give me all your cash! Do it now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.

"That's the guy that shot me!" exclaimed the officer.

"Son, why are you doing this?" asked George, "You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt."

The young man was confused. "Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!"

The cop was reaching for his gun. "Put that thing away," George said to the cop, "we got one too many in here now."

He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain't much but it's all I got. Now put that pea shooter away."

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. "I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son," he went on. "I've lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week."

George handed the gun to the cop. "Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can."

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. "Sometimes we do stupid things." George handed the young man a cup of coffee. "Bein' stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out."

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. "Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I'm sorry officer."

"Shut up and drink your coffee " the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. "Chuck! You ok?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer.

"Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?"

"GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?" the other cop asked as he approached the young man.

Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran."

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.

"That guy work here?" the wounded cop continued.

"Yep," George said, "just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job."

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, "Why?"

Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas boy ... and you too, George, and thanks for everything."

"Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems."

George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. "Here you go, something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day."

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. "I can't take this," said the young man. "It means something to you."

"And now it means something to you," replied George. "I got my memories. That's all I need."

George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's something for that little man of yours."

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.

"And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too," George said. "Now git home to your family."

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good."

"Nope. I'm closed Christmas day," George said. "See ya the day after."

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. "Where'd you come from? I thought you left?"

"I have been here. I have always been here," said the stranger. "You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?"

"Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin' up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin' cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself and besides I was gettin' a little chubby."

The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. "But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor.

The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. "That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man."

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man.

"Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again."

The stranger moved toward the door. "If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned."

George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

"You see, George ... it's My birthday. Merry Christmas."

George fell to his knees and replied, "Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus"

Merry Christmas!!


Submitted by daughter Laurie Kari of Wasilla, AK

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star:

Another king again joins the procession to Bethlehem


RE gifts traversing from afar:

David James, our friend from college in the late 50s, sent us a Christmas gift of a white turquoise cabochon from the extinct White Buffalo mine in Nevada. David and his wife Bobbi live in Tucson. We have been the recipients of other turquoise pieces and various gifts from David, most generously.

David, more commonly known here by his 50s nickname, "The Babes", and "FFL" (Friend For Life!) calls this a raccoon stone. He is able to look at things and see something significant represented, in the way that we at the SRN saw the face in the bag of plastic peanuts the other day. Click on

Here David is pictured catching a trout in circa 1957.

This is the note David sent with the raccoon stone. I added the red glasses to his drawing and sent it back acknowledging his interpretation.

Other renditions follow from raccoon headquarters:

Monday, December 20, 2010

For night illumination picture you must await Christmas Eve

Festoon Fox illumined by day

In another preparation for days of yule, here beginning on Christmas Eve except for church Christmas pageants, etc, already well accomplished, Festoon, some maintain long-dead, has been glamorized for this most mirthful season.

He sits on a ledge looking down over Waukesha's Five Points, the hub of downtown commerce. But in the 60's he stood in a store window on Grand Ave, only a block away.

Friends may visit him again, holding forth in his current aerie. Peerers at street level must look up to our 3rd (top) floor location. There will likely be a candle also burning in the center window. Festoon is behind and above that. He, brightly lit, now directly faces the Fox River, which is only right.

For historical purposes,see

Thanks to Mel Stark for the taxidermy restoration



Why I mourn.

What can you say about a problem like Richard Holbrooke? You either loved him or hated him or both. Myself, I loved him. Most of the press did. There is no embarrassment in this. He took us seriously and we took him seriously. We knew how much he valued the platform that we gave to him, but we were not fools and he was not a knave: He plainly wanted the platform just as much, or most of all, not for himself but for his mission. Holbrooke was the rare diplomat who understood the need to make his case publicly—that the press was not always an adversary, but was sometimes an effective method for advancing America’s goals. This was a delicate negotiation—who was the user and who the used, and why; but there were times when America’s goals seemed so obviously right that our professional relationship with Holbrooke, or at least my own, was nothing to trouble our journalistic conscience. He was a very clever man, but in his work he also never lost sight of the moral dimension. He was not a moralist, not by a long shot; but he was a moral man, and he was genuinely committed to using American persuasion and power to lessen the cruelty in the world.

We understood that when Holbrooke told us stuff, he was often spinning madly—as though the sheer force and quantity of words, said loudly and often enough, would change things on the ground or around the bargaining table. It was our job to get beyond the spin. Bluff, burly, profane, unexpectedly sensitive, and hilariously funny, Holbrooke was the quintessential opposite of the pin-striped organization men and women who often populate government service at home and abroad. He was flamboyant. His diplomatic sophistication came in blazing Technicolor. I saw this most unforgettably in Bosnia, where I learned that a reporter sometimes has to be morally engaged, and where Holbrooke experienced his great triumph.

In Bosnia we were a kind of team, the press and the president’s man. Those of us who chronicled the daily outrage of ethnic cleansing—a new genocide, and in Europe—were torn between anger and hope in our feelings about the United States: anger, because the administration in Washington, along with the other Western governments, seemed content for so long just to watch the catastrophe unfold and do nothing to stop it, and hope, because we believed unreservedly that only America could put an end to the slaughter of the innocents. We could not believe our luck when Richard Holbrooke, a trouble-seeking missile, was deployed to the wrenching scene. If anybody could beat the rampaging Serbian dictator who set the sights of his gunners even on small children, Holbrooke could. And he did.

I have heard some people wondering why Richard Holbrooke is being so noisily and universally eulogized. After all, he was never even Secretary of State. As one who witnessed and covered the finest hour of his career, let me try to explain. The story starts in Sarajevo. In 1984, it had been the city of the Winter Olympics. It was a well-known capital of European diversity: Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived there for centuries, intermingled, even intermarried. Throughout the cold war, Yugoslavia was the least Soviet of the Soviet-bloc. But by 1992, with communism overthrown, diversity turned ugly and took up arms, as the extreme assertion of ethnic identity—more specifically, Serbian and Croatian identity—led to war. When, like Croatia, Bosnia sought its own post-communist independence, it brought down upon itself the xenophobic wrath of Serbia, which directed Orthodox Christian Serbs in Bosnia to carve out their own ethnically pure statelet, and to terrorize and even destroy the Muslim population of Bosnia. They set up concentration camps. They made systematic rape into an instrument of war. They besieged and bombarded Sarajevo and other cities for three and a half years.

I remember the blood-spattered snow that first freezing winter of war in Sarajevo; the rosettes made by mortars crashing into streets, sidewalks, playgrounds, hospitals, homes, and marketplaces. I remember the men, women, and children shot by snipers as they walked to work, or ran to school, or stood in line to collect water. (The Serbs had cut off the water and the electricity.) That winter we watched the people of Sarajevo—including the former Yugoslavia’s cultural and educated elite—cut down trees to drag home for firewood, to stay fed and to keep warm. Little food made it past the siege. The city’s old Lion’s Cemetery quickly filled up. The graves, hastily dug with small wooden markers, spilled into the soccer fields and empty ground around the Olympic Stadium, where Torvill and Dean had skated to stardom in better, almost unimaginable days. I would lie awake at night wondering what motivated men to put a child’s head in the sights of their guns. Weren’t they fathers, too? And I wondered bitterly what kind of a world we lived in that could tolerate this for so long.

We journalists were also on the frontlines. We, too, were shelled and sniped at. We lost many friends and colleagues. It was the first time journalists were deliberately targeted, though now this seems a matter of course. We were bloodied in Bosnia, physically, mentally, and morally. I say morally, because from the start of the war none of the great or even small powers, none of the liberal democracies whose societies were founded on the principles of justice, tolerance, and religious equality, showed any interest in intervening to stop it. We heard endlessly that this was just a civil war. “Centuries of ethnic hatred,” “Balkan ghosts,” “all sides are equally guilty”: I can still hear the chilling excuses.

It was in Bosnia that I learned—I do not mean to make my tribute to my friend too personal, but Bosnia, and his role in it, was inseparable from my own education—what it means to really see what you are witnessing and to call it by its right name. When asked why there was not more balance in my reports from Sarajevo, I asked whether balance should mean making a story up, because there was no balance in the story I was covering. Genocide is an imbalanced situation. Should I, in the name of fairness, have drawn a false moral equivalence between victim and aggressor? I could not, and I would not; but I learned that in Sarajevo. It was there that I learned about objectivity—that giving all sides a fair hearing does not mean treating all sides equally, especially in situations of gross humanitarian violence. Treating all sides equally in Bosnia would have made me into an accomplice.

Richard Holbrooke knew this. His gift for listening attentively to all sides was second to none, but he took a side. It was the side of peace and decency—which, in the Balkans in that conflict, meant the side of Bosnia. Even before he became President Clinton’s envoy to Bosnia, he had gone to Bosnia as a private citizen to study the problem and to bear witness. He called it genocide long before governments would. In Sarajevo we kept hearing European diplomats lecture the miserable victims of the siege, “Don’t think that the cavalry is coming over the hill to save you.” But they were wrong. The cavalry did show up, in the person of Richard Holbrooke.

Just as Sarajevo and all of us were plunging into deep despair and exhaustion, the United States finally rallied and down swooped Richard Holbrooke, deployed by President Clinton. For three years Milosevic and his men called the world’s bluff, and then Holbrooke came and called theirs. Armed with the full weight of American resolve—there is no greater, or sadder, example of “better late than never” than America’s entry into the Bosnian conflict—he began to get things done. It would take more than another year—and 8,000 more killed, Muslim men and boys slaughtered in the tiny Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Soon after the massacre the United States and its allies launched a brief bombing raid on Serbian military targets in Bosnia. Milosevic and his thugs quickly caved. Holbrooke was then tasked by President Clinton to negotiate an end to the war. At Dayton, Ohio he did just that. His reputation as a bulldozer with sharp elbows and a gift for knocking heads served the cause of peace. It has held to this day. Richard died the day before the fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords.

Two years ago I went back with Holbrooke to Bosnia. In Sarajevo we walked across the bridge where a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and started an earlier slaughter. Ordinary Sarajevans came up to him. They had not forgotten what he did, and they wanted to shake his hand. Women and men had tears in their eyes as they thanked America for saving them, for restoring honor and humanity to their country, and to our world. They thanked America by thanking Richard Holbrooke.

Christiane Amanpour is the host of “This Week” on ABC News and the former chief international correspondent of CNN.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How lovely are thy brushlike branches - $6.99 at Goodwill

With 18 foot ceilings

our tree for this year
- remember, times change and with them their demands -
was to be something that would emphasize height
and be unwide, yea, columnar.
Additionally, the requirement per the R @ R
of our 1882 vintage complex was that the tree must be unflammable.
We have now been caught, not dead yet,
with a fake tree.
No sap,
no greenery aroma,
no falling needles,
no dismal discard at curbside
at end of season,
no reality.
But reusable.

Perhaps when it is trimmed
as it will soon will be
its beauty will magnify, yet
may it remain, thin, columnar,
and nonsupportive of combustion.


Here I Am, Lord

by Michael Chitwood

The ribbed black of the umbrella
is an argument for the existence of God,

that little shelter
we carry with us

and may forget
beside a chair

in a committee meeting
we did not especially want to attend.

What a beautiful word, "umbrella."
A shade to be opened.

Like a bat's wing, scalloped.
It shivers.

A drum head
beaten by the silver sticks

of rain,
and I do not have mine,

and so the rain showers me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thrill at dawn

this morning as I sat dreaming
in my old rocking chair
- that has got me -
I looked at a bag of
shipping peanuts
that lay on the floor before
and I swore
I sore (saw)
a face in the styrofoam
in the center of the sack
- looking to its left -
with its hand held to its face
registering surprise
at a future gift
to be unwrapped


Monday, December 13, 2010

In the bleak midwinter

This was the Christmas card we got last year from Means Rest in Pleasant Valley, Maryland. It was taken of part of Dee's parents' farm.

Also, about this time last year we got the good news that son Lee was chosen for Teach for America following his imminent graduation from the UW-Madison.

I searched the web for something about teaching and Christmas, and found this:

It seemed appropriate.

The teacher in the video even looked something like Lee.

Then Lee graduated and got his first assignment, teaching math to 5th grade girls in Houston.
Here he is in action:

Family raccoon readers will want to play these two presentations, and probably marvel over the similarity between the two young teachers, both teaching classes of eager students.

On teachers like these rests the hope of the world's children.

Well, I'll be DAG-GONE!

That's what Gramaw said,
"Well, I'll be DAG-GONE!"
Last evening, when I borrowed the phone from Dee to read a note to her Maryland mother, aka: Gramaw, that Dee received from a member of 1st Congregational at the annual Santa Lucia gift opening, Gramaw, Jeannie Means, uttered her famous exclamatory. "Well, I'll be dag-gone!"

Dee's hard-working parents deserve to hear such news of their daughter. They hated to lose her to Wisconsin back in 1981. Dee receives occasional notes and cards from her church friends in Waukesha, expressing grateful acknowledgement of her gifts to the church, & etc. Last night I wanted her folks to hear this chap's touching sentiment:

Gramaw, strong-handed, also said:

" God love his heart!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Downsizing at 308 South St

The New Yorker 12-10-10

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Our father who art in heaven (we hope and believe)

Atty. and Col USA ret'd Leslie V. Dix I


Please listen:

Monday, December 6, 2010


Dee in a familiar position, early AM today, cat on lap, bundled against the chill, studying the Jerusalem Bible, a gift to me years ago from my mother. Dee has read it so much and often (truly daily) that is ragged, gilt long ago worn off the pages. She has read it very much more than I would ever have.

See the grapefruit and oranges on window sills, where we've put them to keep them cool, the overflow from a full icebox. Our much anticipated box of Florida fruit from the South High School Marching Band fund-raiser came on Saturday.
The picture is taken from up here where the computer and office is.

Mona, cat, receives regular love and attention from her best friend and surrogate mother.


We receive a gift
The phone rang on Saturday. It was a call from Donna, owner of our former house, with another kindness to extend to us. She was calling from across the street down here on the Five Points, at the store of her good friends and soon-to-be tenants at 517 Arcadian, the winged fairy godmothers ofThree Sisters Spirit.

It turns out that Donna and her husband, in the renovating of the house, did not want to just paint over the growth chart we kept of our children, Lee and Erin. They wanted to preserve it and convey it to us.

It was done of pencil marks scrawled on a wall in the downstairs hall, starting from when the children were 36 inches tall until they incrementally preached their full height of 6'2" for Lee and 5'9" for Erin. Lee is a first year teacher with Teach for America in Houston, and Erin just started her new job as University Archivist at Lawrence in Appleton WI. They are fully grown; no more marks to put down by us.

As time went on, that scrawled-upon wall got covered with fresh paint, but never did we paint over the pencil-marked chart, which was getting to be monumental. We always painted up to and around it. When it came time to move, a consideration was given to taking my Milwaukee Saws-All and removing and patching that piece of wall, not to lose the record. A souvenir.
But it seemed like an affront to further weaken the loyal dwelling that sheltered this family for so long. Instead, I photographed it, but could not capture the quality of reproduction that the new owners have done.
Pictured here is the result of their tendered work. The shades of paper from the correctly-fitted and laminated jigsaw puzzle vary in tone, but maybe intentionally. The result is a work of heiroglyphic. A true artifact.

Our visitors will get to see it.
Our children will get to see it.
It will be treasured by us always, wherever we go.

Thank you! Tidings of comfort and joy

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Santa points to sign of the times:

Christmas Lithops splits,
reproducing itself
just in time for Christmas 2010
Santa finger puppet points to the bloom which has begun to divide in two!
Calooy callay! Another omen that we have come to the right place in the Putney.
Note newfallen snow, our first of the year. No shoveling responsibilities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Use 'em or lose 'em!

Howard Fineman

Howard Fineman

Posted: December 1, 2010 01:37 PM

There were some, including some in the media, who listened to President Obama's account of this week's meeting with Republicans and concluded that there was hope for a surprisingly bipartisan conclusion to the lame duck Congress.

My questions are: What planet do he and they think they are on? And have they paid any attention to Sen. Mitch McConnell?

The president emerged from the meeting yesterday to say, hopefully, that he had suggested that they work together not just on taxes and spending, but on the other issues pending, including an extension of unemployment insurance.

But at that very moment McConnell and the rest of the GOP Senate leadership were beginning work on a plan to force the Senate to do just the opposite: a unified GOP threat to filibuster debate on anything but taxes and spending.

This morning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was sounding upbeat -- even after news of the McConnell strategy had surfaced.

Republicans are energized and out for blood. And, like all tough politicians, when they sense weakness and confusion on the other side, they are emboldened to press harder.

On the Hill yesterday, GOP aides privately could barely contain their contempt -- and their amusement -- at the president's declaration of a dawn of bipartisan optimism.

They know that Obama already in effect has conceded on a two- or three-year extension of all tax cuts, and they are going to insist on that before considering anything else -- which, in the end, they won't.

Barack Obama and his crew have many good qualities. But that list does not include skill and guts at legislative combat with Republicans. They don't seem to really know the enemy or the game they are in, and the president's meager and glancing experience in the trenches of politics has caught up with him.