Saturday, December 21, 2013

Euphorbia Pulcherrima

By Julie Rahm

Euphorbia pulcherrima is a culturally and commercially important plant species of the spurge family. The plant is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. Have you guessed correctly? The plant derives its common name from Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett was the first United States Minister to Mexico. He introduced the plant into the United States in the year 1825.

Poinsettias are actually shrubs or small trees. As you may know, the plant bears dark green leaves that can measure from two to six inches in length. The colored leaves, most often flaming red, can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled. The colored leaves are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors. The colors in the leaves are created through photoperiodism. They require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least 5 days in a row) to change color.

The association of poinsettias with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico. Legend tells of a girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. Later in the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus. Enter Albert Ecke.

Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1900. There he opened a dairy and orchard. He became intrigued by the plant and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke developed a grafting technique. But, it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke, Jr. who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and Christmas. Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope's Christmas specials to promote the plants. Until the 1990s, the Ecke family had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technique that made their plants much more attractive. The Eckes produced a fuller, more compact plant by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. But, the Eckes' technique made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant. In the 1990s, a university researcher discovered and published the method previously known only to the Eckes. As a result, competitors using low-cost labor in Latin America have entered the business. Still, the Ecke’s poinsettias serve about 70-percent of the domestic market and 50-percent of the worldwide market. Now you know. May the poinsettias make you smile this season. And, may your Christmas be merry and bright!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Over Torque

By Julie Rahm

My husband, John, is the king of over-tight. He over tightens everything. From pickle jars to oil filters, John will apply one last turn making most anything impossible to remove. Last week, John decided to fix a long-standing plumbing problem in our sailboat. Water pressure at the galley sink was low. The reduced flow was more of an annoyance than a problem. However, with the help of a friend, (name withheld to protect the innocent) John disconnected the water line and cleaned out some hard water scale that had clogged the connection.

It was a good fix until it was time to reconnect the line. The king of torque over tightened the connection and cracked the threaded male portion of the fitting adaptor. A gorilla would have a difficult time over tightening this adaptor to the point of failure. But, John cracked this adaptor with a few grunts and minimal effort. (impressive really) After a trip to the hardware store, a new fitting adaptor was installed. However, (déjà vu) when John tightened the stainless braided line (from the faucet) to the new fitting adaptor, the nut mysteriously cracked. John contends the nut was sub-standard Chinese metal. Maybe so, but now we needed a new braided stainless line down from the faucet. The nuts on these faucets are permanent and cannot be replaced.

And what did we learn next? The braided stainless line cannot be replaced! The lines are permanently attached to the underside of the faucet. We need a whole new faucet! And, because it is in a boat, John could not reach in behind the sink to remove the faucet. We have to enter the space through the engine compartment, which means removing part of a wall (bulkhead)! Perhaps to scare me, there was discussion about sawing through the cabinets to get at this faucet. The word calamity came to mind as the low water pressure issue was turning into major plumbing and carpentry. Anyway, the engine room the wall (and insulation) was removed allowing us access to faucet, which we promptly removed. We found a suitable replacement. After a word of caution about the torque, John installed the new faucet with only one minor hiccup.

Before tightening down the faucet, to detect any leaks, John decided to connect all the fittings. Well, there were no leaks. However, in order to install the threaded ring to the underside of the faucet, all the water lines must be run through the ring to seat it up against the underside of the sink! There was some technical language when John realized he had to disconnect all the lines in order to route them through the ring. Anyway, we can laugh about it now. So, I tell you this story to tell you this.

Do not over torque your life. Forcing too many “turns” in your relationships and finances can result in “cracks”. Instead of attacking a problem, choose the solution. And, may your Christmas season be exactly as you desire.

Friday, December 6, 2013


By Julie Rahm

Last week’s robbery of the First Citizens Bank in Oriental has obliged me to write about Bonnie and Clyde. When it comes to robbing banks, the manufactured Bonnie and Clyde folklore is hard to surpass. As you may know, Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born in Texas on March 24, 1909 near the town of Telico just south of Dallas. He was the fifth of seven children from a poor farming family. His family moved to the urban slum known as West Dallas in the early 1920s to escape their life as impoverished farmers. The Barrows spent their first months in West Dallas living under their wagon! Clyde was first arrested in 1926 after running when police confronted him over a rental car he had failed to return on time. His second arrest for possession of stolen turkeys came shortly after. Despite having legitimate jobs during the period 1927 through 1929, he also cracked safes, robbed stores and stole cars. After sequential arrests in 1928 and 1929, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. While in prison, Barrow beat to death another inmate who had sexually assaulted him. It was Clyde Barrow's first killing. Paroled in February 1932, Barrow emerged from Eastham a hardened and bitter criminal. His sister Marie said "Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn't the same person when he got out." A fellow inmate said he watched Clyde Barrow "change from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake."

Another rattlesnake, Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born on October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas. She was the second of three children. Her father, Charles Parker, a bricklayer, died when Bonnie was four. Her mother moved with the children to her parents' home in Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas, where she found work as a seamstress. Bonnie Parker was one of the best students in her high school, winning top prizes in spelling, writing, and public speaking. As an adult, she found expression in poetry.

Bonnie Parker first met Clyde Barrow in January 1932 at a friend's house. Bonnie was out of work and was staying in West Dallas to assist a female friend with a broken arm. Clyde dropped by the girl's house while Bonnie was in the kitchen making hot chocolate. When they met, both were smitten immediately; most believe Bonnie joined Clyde because she was in love. Bonnie remained a loyal companion as the pair carried out their crime spree and awaited the violent deaths they viewed as inevitable.

Though known today for his dozen bank robberies, Barrow, in fact, preferred to rob small stores and rural gas stations. The Barrow gang killed at least nine police officers and several civilians. The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in North Louisiana by law officers. The parish coroner’s report listed seventeen gunshot wounds on Clyde’s body and twenty-six on Bonnie’s, which was an appropriate ending for both rattlesnakes. So my message this week is don’t become a rattlesnake!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Muck Raking

By Julie Rahm

Muck raking is defined as searching for and exposing misconduct in public life. So, a muck raker is one who inquires into and publishes scandal and allegations of corruption among political and business leaders. The term comes from John Bunyan and his book Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory published in February 1678. The book is one of the most significant works of religious English literature. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print. The English text has 108,260 words and is divided into two parts. Each part is a continuous narrative with no chapter divisions. The first part was completed in 1677 and entered into the stationers' register on December 22, 1677. It was “licensed” on February 18, 1678, which is considered the date of first publication. After the first edition, an expanded edition, with additions written after Bunyan was freed, appeared in 1679. (Bunyan was jailed for religious violations at least twice with 12 years being the longest sentence.) The second part appeared in 1684. There were eleven editions of the first part in John Bunyan's lifetime. They were published in successive years from 1678 to 1685 and in 1688. There were two editions of the second part, published in 1684 and 1686. Anyway, according to Alexander M. Witherspoon, professor of English at Yale University, the two parts of Pilgrim's Progress in reality constitute a whole, and the whole is, without doubt, the most influential religious book ever written in the English language. So now you know. Back to muck raking!

Bunyan describes the man with the muck rake (manure rake) as the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, and who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake himself the filth off the floor. So, in Bunyan’s words, a muck raker cannot look up to heaven because he is so obsessed with the muck of worldly profit. But, the term muck raking was not popular until 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech dedicating the House of Representatives office building. President Roosevelt said the man with the muck rake typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. As a result of President Roosevelt’s speech, muck rakers came to refer to reform-minded journalists who wrote largely for popular magazines. President Theodore Roosevelt agreed with the accusations of muck rakers, but questioned their methods. Some of the early muckrakers were Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair.

So, I tell you all about muck raking to tell you this. If your life is filled with muck, keep your head up. Do not focus on “the filth of the floor.” This year, I wish us all a muck-free holiday season!
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