Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where Have All the Poinsettias Gone?

Apologies to Pete Seeger, this seemed an appropriate title for today’s blog. My daily desk calendar, which this year was from the New Yorker, has a fact of some sort on the back. Today’s was that the Poinsettia was introduced into the United States in 1828 by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett. Go figure!

One of my favorite episodes of Friends is where Chandler has tickets to a Yankee game and is trying to get Joey to go with him. Joey, clueless as to baseball is eventually interested because Chandlers brings out the Yankee history including the moment when Lou Gehrig makes his farewell speech. “Why was he leaving?” “He had Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Lou Gehrig had Lou Gehrig’s Disease? What are the odds?”

Poinsett brought us Poinsettias? Actually the flower was a tradition in Mexico related to Christmas since the mid-1600s, and in Spain before that. A few years ago I read a story in the LA Times that talked about what happened to the tradition in the U.S. It was slow to grow until a German immigrant, who settled in LA began selling the plant from stands in the mid-1950s. His son, also interested in the plant, experimented with grafting procedures which resulted in a superior, more attractive plant. Soon the Ecke family had a virtual monopoly on the plant throughout the United States. A third generation son had a flair for marketing and provided free plants to television stations from Thanksgiving to Christmas as backdrops for their news programs. He also finagled his way on to the Carson Show and Bob Hope’s Christmas specials, which were both very hot at the time.

All things must end, they say, and the secret grafting procedure was eventually made public in the 1990s. Now a commodity, they are ubiquitous and cheap. This year as in years past, I bought four for our window ledge, one for our steps and one as a hanging plant on my deck. I used to plant them and surprisingly they would last through the year and even bloom the next year. But now my deck has too many herbs so they get recycled as green waste.

I would be interested if any of you follow this seasonal tradition and what you do with the Poinsettias after the New Year’s parties?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas in California

I received an e-card today from a friend in Ohio. Apparently Ohio is far enough north to escape the snow that is threatening Atlanta, since they mention "hoping for and waiting for snow". I was reminded of how much I have changed since growing up in north-central Iowa.

Until the navy took me away from home hearth on Christmas was always a little damp from the wood brought inside. My first winter holiday in San Diego, I wrote home “Today, New Year’s Day, I swam in an outdoor pool.” I wouldn’t do that today as we are expecting a high of only 62 degrees. And that reflects my change. I am disappointed with my 62 degree weather. I have gotten used to choosing when I want snow and ice and for how long. Mary and I try to get to New York between Thanksgiving and Christmas to see a show or two, try new restaurants, see the decorations…and see the snow.

And then we return to what we expect will be the perfect climate people see when they watch the Rose Bowl. That’s become an entitlement as expected as Social Security. Maybe more so.

My grandchildren, who live across the street, are making plans to go snowboarding in our local mountains during their school vacation. There was a time when their parents were growing up when we would do that too, but today we will light the fire more for atmosphere than necessity. And my Christmas cards, finished yesterday, are filled with news other than the weather.

California news, like what celebrity we saw recently (Brad and Angelina), what to see New Year’s eve (“Black Swan” too dark, “True Grit” too long, “What Do You Know” terrible reviews), And our tax mess. Cheery news.

I bet I’m not the only transplant who has changed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Man of Letters

Yesterday I read a blog from one of my favorite bloggers, Gutsy Writer http://www.gutsywriter/ who took the position that a case can be made for not buying Christmas presents. Her arguments as always were persuasive and well founded, I just don’t happen to agree with her (sorry, Sonia). But it started me thinking about another commonly criticized practice, the Christmas Letter.

My wife asked me if this year’s letter was the 50th or 51st in our long history of proselytizing the practice. I was able to look in a hardcopy file and find that it was the 51st, the first being written the first year of our marriage, when I was a navy dentist in San Diego. We had less than two months to compose ourselves and a letter to explain to friends and family all the things going on in our lives. It seemed a letter covering the general facts and supplemented by a personal note at the bottom was a reasonable model.

Each year since we have tried to keep our holiday correspondence personal as well as descriptive of what has turned out to be a very busy and active life. For many years the letter has developed a style that receives almost universal appreciation from the recipients. There is a scripture reference that ties in to a quote of the biggest news story of the year (this year it was the mid-term election), both in a highlighted box at the top, balanced by religious art on the left.

Then, we have four paragraphs the chronicle the activities of Mary and me, our two grown sons and a few grandchildren from the older’s family. Finally there is a closing paragraph that covers guests in the last year and hopes that more will join those ranks in the upcoming year. There is enough room on the single page for a three or four sentence personal message. Sometimes we include a picture. On occasion I think there may be a book there.

We send a few more than 100 each year and try to get them to recipients before Christmas. Mary is better at that than I am. But then I have to shop for presents.

How do you feel about Christmas letters? Write them? Enjoy receiving them?

BTW I think there are some good fruitcakes too, including the recipe of my mother-in-law.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Board Games and Boredom

We are experiencing an unusual weather system in Southern California. A week of steady, albeit light, rain. For a variety of reasons I find myself reflecting on an earlier time when, if the weather was inclement, we would pull out the chest of games and play, hour after hour.
One of the reasons for my memory is that I yesterday finished reading a remarkable book called “City of Thieves” by David Beniof. The story tells the brutally vivid story of the siege of Leningrad by the Germans in 1943. A pivotal scene in the story depicts a chess match between a seventeen year-old Jewish boy and a high ranking SS officer. I am hard-pressed to remember my last chess match, and my 12 year-old grandson, I’m told plays a respectable game. But he too would probably not find it easy to remember when last he played something that wasn’t computerized. We seem to have lost the knack.
Interestingly also was a note this week that the toy collection of Malcolm Forbes, the late financier will be auctioned off. Included in that collection are several early versions of the game Monopoly, which was a household favorite. A 1933 board, hand-painted and circular in shape to match the table it was played on is expected to fetch as much as $80,000 at the Sotheby auction. I have fond memories of playing Monopoly, cribbage, Scrabble and some puzzle games when we were forced inside of the Clear Lake, Iowa summer cottage of my youth. In addition to sharpening one’s wits, these games served as socialization tools, teaching us to give and take, choose up sides, accept defeat and other valuable life lessons.
I think if the rain continues I may challenge Ryan to a game. I get white.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Dog in the Fight

When I was in the corporate world I found comfort in being able to take a position that “I don’t have a dog in the fight”, meaning I had no strong position to defend on a controversial issue. I could save my energy. I could avoid making enemies. I could support whomever I wanted.

Now that I am involved in retirement, I find that I choose only issues that I am concerned with, indeed often am passionate about. The problem with that is I always “have a dog in the fight.”

The most recent occurrence of this problem comes from my position with an organization called the American Institute of Wine and Food, AIWF. AIWF was founded shortly after WW II by Julia Child and Robert Mondavi. It was modeled after a French program that tried to re-instill in French school children, knowledge and passion for food. It was well-funded and supported two charities: culinary scholarships and school education about food.

I became interested in the organization by getting involved in the Orange County school Days of Taste Program and some seven years later find myself the Chair of one of the 29 National Chapters. We try to have one event a month to raise money and have one Board Meeting a month to track our progress. I have been Chairman for almost three years.

In the last three months I have had only a total of two Board members make the Board Meeting. While we have had events in October and November they were organized by other than our Chapter members and were not well attended by our members. We are not havig a December event.

Today I realized it is time for Board elections and I have only three candidates willing to serve. My dog is in the fight and it is a pretty weak pup.

Anybody have a suggestion?

Saturday, December 11, 2010


As I write this I am watching one of the oldest traditional rivalries in college sports: the Army-Navy game. The game has received particular interest this year for a variety of reasons. First, the knowledge that the senior cadets and midshipmen will be likely placing themselves in “Harms Way” before next year’s game is evident in the number of wounded warriors who are rooting for their respective service in Philadelphia. Second, it is likely that both teams (and perhaps the Air Force Academy) might get Bowl bids this year. Third, ad perhaps this is a little cynical, people who have little knowledge of the service schools feel a sense of patriotism and troop support by watching the game and talking about it.

In my case I have a special affiliation. When I was growing up my birthday, October 27 was celebrated as “Navy Day”. This was because I shared the birth date with Teddy Roosevelt a Secretary of the Navy and the President who sent The Great White Fleet around the world. I had a little officer’s uniform and marched in the Mason City, Iowa Navy Day parade until I outgrew it. I also was expecting to go to the Naval Academy until my vision deteriorated in Junior High. I would later follow my father as a navy dentist and remain so until I retired with 31 years of service.

On one of my tours to Washington DC I was close enough to Annapolis to take advantage of the fact that I had a friend who was the senior dental officer at the Academy. My younger son was 15 and we went as a family to several home games. His older brother was in college but I seem to remember he was able to go to a game himself.

So, I am reminded that practically all of us are part of one or more traditions that bring fond memories. Please feel free to comment on any that are special to you.

Go Navy. Beat Army.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

“A Day that will Live in Infamy…”

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined those words to alert to American people that the Japanese had attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor and dealt what might have been a crippling blow to America’s ability to defend itself against occupation, I doubt if he envisioned that five generations and less than seventy-five years later few school-aged children would commemorate or even remember the date.

I doubt also if he could have envisioned that, what Tom Brokaw would call “The Greatest Generation”, could possibly rise to the occasion to put an end to the conflict in less than four years. My parents were part of that generation; my father enlisted as a Navy dentist at the age of forty-one. As I look back on the war years my memory is of general acceptance of sacrifice. Saving sugar stamps for birthday cakes, saving gasoline stamps for special trips, sharing with others so all could have a semblance of order in a chaotic time.

I recently saw the movie “The Road”, an adaptation of a bestselling piece of fiction by Cormac McCarthy. Some of you may have seen the screen adaptation of another of his dark novels, “No Country for Old Men”, which had much better distribution and acclaim. McCarthy paints a picture of a different kind of world, where selfishness is the norm and the moral road is not maintained. After seeing the movie, I needed a counterpoint and so ordered a new biography titled “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. Ms. Hillenbrand is a fascinating author whose earlier book “Seabiscuit” also was made into a popular film in 2003. Her characters portray the best in people, and the hero of “the Unbroken” Louis Zamperini is larger-than-life inspirational.

Probably most of us, if we are truthful with ourselves, lie between these two extremes, of selfishness and selflessness most days, showing the extremes on rare occasions, but I can’t help but reflect on days that for me commemorate more than just a date, how much we can learn from those who went before us.

If only we stop and do the reflecting.

Please comment if you share my feeling.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Memories Pop Up at the Strangest Times

I don’t know exactly what prompted the memory. Maybe it was the news item that President Obama had stitches in his lip from a basketball injury. Maybe it was watching my Lakers get beat for the fourth time in a row and realizing that at any time in the game eight of the ten players on the floor were black. Maybe it was that my memoir is about to be published and I flash back on episodes from my youth.

Whatever…I thought about the Harlem Globe trotters…and Meadowlark Lemon.

When I was growing up in Iowa in 1950 I think I went to a Globetrotter game each year for three consecutive years. One of those games I remember was against what were then the Minneapolis Lakers with their tall phenom, George Mikan (who was white). While I didn’t realize it at the time, Iowa was home court for the Globetrotters. They originated as a serious basketball team in the Negro league when Abe Saperstein decided to promote a group of talented ball players from South Chicago, where they all went to high school, by taking them on the road to challenge home town teams in southern Illinois and Iowa. This was in the 1920s.

So, by the time I saw them they had evolved from serious ball players to showboating entertainers. And entertain they did! The shot-making would be impressive to today’s fans and the warm-up passing and dribbling would take the breath away from an Iowan adolescent. At least it did mine.

While there were legitimate stars, like Wilt Chamberlain, “Goose” Tatum and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the most remembered and certainly the longest lived was “Meadowlark” Lemon who was an active player for more than 22 years. He played in more than 16,000 games and entertained literally millions of fans. Eventually his legitimacy was established by his entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

What I began to reflect on when I thought about the Globetrotters is how much they did to bring equality to the game of basketball and eventually all sports. There is no doubt that they were instrumental in the Boston Celtics decision to sign a black to their team in 1950 and the fact that they had a winning percentage of 98.6% of their 22,000 games as of 2006 speaks eloquently of their talent.

How did they play so many games and travel through the United States, Europe and the rest of the world? Well, there was more than one team. And the talent level of each was pretty high. Thanks, Globetrotters for the joy you brought this once-upon-a-time youngster and for all you brought to the sport.

Here are three links if you want to see for yourself what the Globetrotters brought to the game: