Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions. – Pablo Picasso

Colors often have different meanings in various cultures. Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or using colors to heal. Chromotherapy is also known as light therapy and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

  • Red is used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
  • Yellow is thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
  • Orange is used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
  • Indigo shades are thought to alleviate skin problems.

Most traditional doctors view color therapy with great skepticism. I view it with skepticism. But some research has shown that colors can alter feelings and most people will admit to some colors affecting them. A blue room can have a calming effect, but weightlifters perform better in a blue room.  Students exposed to the color red prior to testing has been shown to have a negative impact on test performance but athletes shown red before activities can causes people to react with greater speed and force.

Artists and interior designers have used color to affect moods and emotions. But some of these associations are personal and cultural. The color white in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, but it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern countries.

Picasso went through his “blue period.”  That is the period of paintings in which the color blue dominates which occurred between 1901 and 1904. The blue period paintings are melancholy and coincide with the suicide of his close friend Carlos Casagemas, so the paintings do express his emotional state.

Black is the color of authority and power from priestly robes to villains, but it is  popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner.

Brides wear white to symbolize innocence and purity and doctors and nurses commonly wear white to imply sterility.

Pantone Inc. is known for its Pantone Matching System which is used in printing, colored paint, fabric, and plastics. Every year they pick a Color of the Year, trying to anticipate what the color trend of the year will be.

Tangerine Tango was their 2012 Color of the Year which they described on their website as “sophisticated, dramatic and seductive, Tangerine Tango marries the vivaciousness and adrenalin rush of red with the friendliness and warmth of yellow, to form a high-visibility, magnetic hue that emanates heat and energy.”

“Radiant Orchid” was picked as the Color of the Year for 2014.

Are you seeing more of orchid this year? Are you having an orchid year?

My friend, Maria, told me recently that, “There was a bumper crop of acorns this year. My mother always said that means we will have a bad winter.”

That’s another old weather proverb. My mother would say that if leaves hang on in the autumn and are slow to fall, you should prepare for a cold winter. The little scientist in me wondered if it wasn’t just because the fall was gentle and we didn’t have the wind or rain that shakes the leaves loose from branches.

frosty pumpkins

Frost on your pumpkins might mean that
the October full Moon was also frosty.

Several bits of weather lore look to October weather to predict the winter to come.

Much rain in October, means much wind in December.

A warm October, means a cold February.

A Full Moon in October without any frost, means a warmer month ahead. There was no frost in Paradelle on the Full Moon this year and that means I should expect no frost until November’s Full Moon which comes on the sixth this year.

Do keep in mind with all weather lore, that your local observations are an indication of the local weather ahead and not about the country or the world.

More generally, weather lore tells us that thunder in the fall is supposed to foretell a cold winter ahead.

And looking to the upcoming weeks before the Winter Solstice, look for flowers blooming in late autumn. That pleasant surprise is supposed to be a sure sign of a rough winter to follow, as is any warm November.

mugI like to discover new words when I am reading. It doesn’t matter if it is a poem, newspaper article, novel or blog post. My wife has gotten me word-a-day calendars and I have subscribed to email lists that send you one each day. But I do prefer to stumble upon them in the context of my reading.

I (infrequently) blog about word origins, phrases and even the origins of names of bands or teams etc. on my Why Name It That? blog.

I do drop by the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day site pretty regularly. I’m not looking for words to use for Words With Friends or to help me solve crossword puzzles, just looking for that interesting word   You can even subscribe to a podcast version and listen.

Today’s word was forswear   \for-SWAIR\   verb  1. : to make a liar of (oneself) under or as if under oath  2. a : to reject, deny, or renounce under oath b : to renounce earnestly.

For my blog, I usually post something when I either stumble upon an interesting origin or comes across a word or phrase that I wonder about its origin.

For example, in my reading I saw the sentence: “and his own theory is not even wrong.”  I looked that one up and discovered that “not even wrong” is used to describe any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level. The phrase is often used to describe pseudoscience or bad science, and is considered derogatory. The phrase is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. The origin story is supposed to be that a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, “It is not even wrong.” A variation is “It is not only not right, it is not even wrong.”

Last month, I was reading about the celebrity iPhone photo hacks of nude photos and the word paparazzi was used. I’ve heard it many time before and most people know it means those annoying celebrity photographers that often overstep the boundaries of good taste and privacy. But where did the word come from?

As with many words, there are multiple etymologies. The word “paparazzi” as we use it now is an eponym, meaning it is taken from a name. In the 1960 film La dolce vita (directed by Federico Fellini) there is a news photographer named Paparazzo. Fellini took the name from an Italian dialect word that describes the annoying noise of a buzzing mosquito. But there’s more to the origin…

There are also origin stories that might tie together the unlikely rock threesome of The Lovin’ Spoonful, 10 CC and Pearl Jam. It’s not their styles of music. Read and discover…

A photo of the first total lunar eclipse of 2014 taken from Arizona
Credit: Ron Delvaux via The Virtual Telescope Project

Observers of Wednesday (October 8) morning’s Moon may see a rarity:  a total eclipse of the moon and the rising sun simultaneously. The little-used name for this effect is called a “selenelion.”

During a lunar eclipse, the sun and moon are exactly 180 degrees apart in the sky in an alignment called a “syzygy” (an excellent Scrabble and Words With Friends word).

It’s a bit of an atmospheric trick that seems, like most good tricks, to be impossible. Earth’s atmospheric refraction causes the images of both the sun and moon to “lift” above the horizon. That means that to our eyes, we can see the sun for several extra minutes before it actually has risen and the moon for several extra minutes after it has actually set. Excellent trick.

This coincides with the full moon of October on the 8th which we tend to think of as being a nighttime event, although it often reaches its fullest during our daylight hours when it isn’t visible to us. This month it occurs around sunrise for the east coast.

For many of us east of the Mississippi River, we will have a chance to observe this, weather permitting. It is a short window of opportunity – about 2 to 9 minutes (depending on your location) with the possibility of simultaneously seeing the sun rising in the east while the eclipsed full moon is setting in the west.

The eclipse will happen when the full moon passes directly through earth’s shadow.  According to the wonderful website, if you live in the Americas or Hawaii, the total eclipse happens before sunrise October 8, and while the total part of the eclipse will last about an hour, the entire event will last more than three hours. (In the Central time zone, that means the partial lunar eclipse will be visible beginning around 4:15 a.m and become total at 5:25 a.m., end at 6:24 a.m., with another partial eclipse to follow at 7:34 a.m. Central time.

Our full moon also occurs on October 8. This particular full moon is usually called the Hunter’s Moon or Blood Moon and the time between moonrises is shorter than usual for several consecutive nights around the full moon, bringing bright moonlight from early evening until dawn on those nights. The term Blood Moon has another meaning, but a full moon almost always has a reddish appearance during a total lunar eclipse.

fall moon

October 8th is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is usually called the Harvest Moon and most years, including this year, it occurs in September.  The first full moon after the equinox is often called the Hunter’s Moon. The name was given because it was the preferred time to hunt summer-fattened deer and also for the “sporting” hunts of the fox who has a harder time hiding without the cover of baring fields. Many states still have their deer hunting seasons timed around these dates.

If Hunter’s Moon doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities, then you also might not want to use the other popular name for this month’s full moon: the Blood Moon. That name comes from the old practice of killing and salting down livestock before the winter months made it harder or impossible to feed them.

The Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon seemed to be particularly bright and long in the sky. Any bright, full moon will give hunters a better opportunity to stalk prey at night. It also suited the hunting of migrating birds in Northern Europe. American Indians also had names based on this time of the hunt in autumn moonlight, as they needed to stockpile food for the winter ahead.

The Cherokee people called this a Harvest Moon (Dunin[i]di) because it was the time of the harvest festival called Nowatequa.

I have collected many names for this full moon used by the ancient Druids, Wiccans and American Indians. Most are less brutal than hunting and blood names: Travel Moon, Moon When the Water Freezes, Moon of the Changing Seasons, Leaf Fall Moon, Basket Moon, Big Wind Moon, Shedding Moon, Winterfelleth (Winter Coming), Windermanoth (Vintage Month), Ten Colds Moon, Moon of the Changing Season and Moon of Falling Leaves.

For 2014, I have chosen the name Moon of the Dying Grass. This year the full moon is early in the month and not so long after the equinox (September 22), so trees in most of the U.S. still have leaves full of brightening colors. But the grasses are beginning to yellow and their growth has started to slow down as they prepare for winter.

This month’s full moon also coincides with a total lunar eclipse of an unusual nature, and a full moon and lunar eclipse usually does give the moon a reddish tint which will a bit more literally suggest that Blood Moon.


I saw posted online that yesterday was the birthday of Edward L. Stratemeyer. He is an author whose name doesn’t come up too often in literary discussions, but he had a big impact on my early reading habits. This  New Jersey author (born in Elizabeth, NJ in 1862) was not schooled for literature. His father was a tobacconist, but his first story (supposedly written on packing paper) got published and started him on a career writing adventure stories for young readers.

He became one of the most successful children’s book authors of his day. He is the man who created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, and Nancy Drew.

He wrote about 150 books on his own before he created a company in 1906 called the Stratemeyer Syndicate. He was a pioneer in this publishing idea of creating a long-running, series of books using a team of freelance writers. All of the books in the series used the same characters in similar situations and all the books were published under a pen name owned by his company. The ghostwriters wrote based on his outlines.

The idea continues today with lots of books series, especially for young readers. Writers such as R.L. Stine owe something to him for his “Goosebumps” series.  The many Star Wars books continue the world created by the first films, and the numerous Star Trek novels that are written by many authors, also continue to use the characters with the permission of the copyright holders.

Stratemeyer made authors swear to secrecy and not reveal that they were writing any of the series books. As a child, I imagined Franklin Dixon who was listed as the author on the cover as a kind of literary adventurer. The syndicate even invented fictional biographies for the ghostwriters.

There were no “young adult” books in those days. There were children’s books, but Stratemeyer helped create the genre of juvenile fiction.

The Rover Boys series started in 1899, followed by The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and Baseball Joe.  In 1927,  The Hardy Boys debuted and Nancy Drew came the year after following many of the Hardy Boys plot outlines but written for the young  female detective and audience.

It seems that there were at least 25 writers, known and unknown, who wrote Hardy Boys novels that carried the Franklin W. Dixon name on the cover. The one writer who gained some personal attention finally was Leslie McFarlane. He wrote about 20 of the Hardy Boys adventures, including volumes 1-16. His own account of writing for the syndicate is in his memoir Ghost of the Hardy Boys. It is out-of-print and I only got a chance to read it through an inter-library loan.


A 1930s edition

My own copies of the Hardy Boys adventures (seen at the top) are the ones popular in the late 1950s and 60s. You can find many different editions of the books through the years. Nancy, Frank, and Joe get better looking and hipper/cooler depending on the decade.

The Hardy Boys were definitely a big part of getting me into reading chapter books. My mom was very wise to make getting a book a great thing. They were rewards for good schoolwork and surprises when I was home sick for a few days from school.

I wanted all the Hardy Boys books and I wanted to read them in the number order of the series. I didn’t get through all of them – a combination of lack of funds and growing out of the series as I grew into books hat more in the fiction and literature sections of the bookstore, rather than the children’s section.

But the series were books that I owned. Fifty percent of the books I read from kindergarten through high school were borrowed from the library, but I owned the Hardy Boys and displayed all those matching spines proudly on my bookshelf.

There was no great love for the Syndicate books back in the day. Libraries refused to carry any of the series, calling them unworthy trash. They were criticized and said to “cause ‘mental laziness,’ induce a ‘fatal sluggishness,’ and ‘intellectual torpor.”

Despite claims that they would ruin a child’s chances for gaining an appreciation of good literature, I moved on from them and loads of Classics Illustrated comic books to the actual classics and became an English major, teachers and professor.  More recent studies have proven those old beliefs to be unfounded. These days I would encourage young people to read whatever interests them. Just read!

I know that one summer, desperate for reading material, I came upon some original Tom Swift books and I gobbled up my older sister’s (not a reader) Nancy Drew books. She only had a half-dozen of them. They were fun and different. I also grabbed her Seventeen and Teen magazines – after all, you need to research the enemy, plus all those cute girls.

The Nancy Drew series was listed as being written by Carolyn Keene, who was also the pseudonym for any of the series writers.

staircaseNancy, like Frank & Joe, evolved in response to changes in American culture and tastes. In the 1960s, they were revised and shortened, supposedly both to lower printing costs but also from eliminating stereotypes. Oddly, Nancy is said to have become less assertive and more feminine in the 60s revisions. It wasn’t until the 1980s that an older and more professional Nancy emerged in a new series, The Nancy Drew Files, although it also included more romantic plots for her.

In 1977, some of these characters were brought to TV in a crossover series. First, they were separate Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series alternating in the same time slot on ABC. The second year the casts combined as The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and in 1978 the Nancy Drew thread was dropped and The Hardy Boys Mysteries continued on alone. The adolescent brothers Frank and Joe Hardy, updated but based on the Franklin W. Dixon versions, worked with and without Keene’s Nancy Drew character.

Like kids on The Simpsons, Family Guy and other animated series, Nancy, Frank, Joe, Tom and the others never aged. Everything took place in one incredibly action-packed virtual year.

The Boys have many international fans too.

I am sure I was blind to any racism in the books as a young reader – and no doubt it was there. The themes were very much All-American white boys from a family with a great father, mom and aunt, money when they needed it and the freedom and time to pursue their cases. Okay, it was pure wish-fulfillment. And it worked.

I actually saw Edward L. Stratemeyer’s gravesite. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in New Jersey, not far from where I grew up. I went there on a literary pilgrimage to find another author that I really admired, Stephen Crane.

In 1926, the American Library Association sponsored a survey of juvenile reading preferences, asking 36,000 children in 34 different cities about their favorite books. A shocking 98 percent of those children responded with a Stratemeyer title.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate titles are now published by Grosset & Dunlap (they have the rights to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys volumes that they had published previously) but newer titles are published by Simon and Schuster. The titles still sell about 6 million books each year.

For fans and collectors:

This is not a review of the novel by David Mitchell titled The Bone Clocks. I can’t truly review that novel because I didn’t finish reading it. I probably will never finish reading it. That in itself may be more a review of me as a reader these days than a review of the novel, which has gotten some strong recommendations.

It is a difficult book. It’s not that the content is difficult to grasp, in the way that a college math or science textbook might be for a child. It is complex in the way that the stories and time shifts along the way. That is a part of Mitchell’s style.

I had several friends recommend his earlier book Cloud Atlas. The summary sounded interesting and The New Yorker review said, “Mitchell’s virtuosic novel presents six narratives that evoke an array of genres, from Melvillean high-seas drama to California noir and dystopian fantasy.” But reviews used a variety of adjectives including audacious, dazzling, pretentious and infuriating to describe the book.

I didn’t make it through that earlier novel either. In fact , I couldn’t make it through the film version of Cloud Atlas either. I was lost and finding my way just didn’t seem worth the effort.

I do like the evocative titles Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks.

This past week, I wrote one of my daily poems using the idea of the bone clocks. I certainly feel like a bone clock lately.


We wake in the stiffness of sleep,

walk down stairs like a primitive robot

stepping into the next century by accident.

Hear the tick tock clicks of fingers

lifting coffee cups to the new day.


hands and cup The idea of us being clocks ticking our way into old age, and the literal click of some of my bones these days (including trigger fingers) makes perfect sense to me.

I wanted to like these novels. But I couldn’t do it. And that is troubling.

I find that it is not only my aging brain that can’t seem to handle these complexities, but that less calculating part of my brain that just does not want to try very hard to deal with complexities.

Complexity is less interesting these days. I don’t want to do brain exercises, crossword puzzles, sudoku and such, though I’m told it will help preserve those brain connections that might let me read the way I did as an undergraduate English major.

A quick click to the Wikipedia article on the “aging brain” will tell you that more research is being done now on people who have a “normal” brain in old age (not affected by some known disease). They are studying Structural Changes with complex and frightening descriptions like Loss of Neural Circuits and Brain Plasticity, Thinning of the Cortex, Neuronal Morphology, Neurofibrillary Tangles, the role of Oxidative Stress.

Scientists are studying chemical changes in substances like Dopamine, Serotonin and Glutamate.

And they are studying the things that most bother me lately: Neuropsychological Changes in things like orientation, attention and memory.

There is a poem by Billy Collins, titled “Forgetfulness,” that I have always liked, but it makes more and more sense (and seems less amusing) as I get older.

Collins opens with a stanza that captures how I now feel about almost any novel I have ever read.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

Last year, I listened to audiobook of The Great Gatsby. It is one of my favorite novels – a perfect novel in many ways. I first read The Great Gatsby in high school, again for a college course in much greater depth, and at least two times since just for the pleasure of it. I have seen three film versions and I thought it would be nice to listen to it again after seeing the latest film adaptation for comparison purposes.

Now, I could give you a good summary of the novel’s plot. I could probably get at least a B grade on a high school test on the book. But when I listened to the audio version, there were many sections that seemed entirely new to me. Had I skimmed those sections over multiple readings? It was disconcerting.

Collins says in that poem:

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

I actually want to retire to that little village. No phones. No distractions. No rabbit holes to fall down. No complexities.

I take some comfort in hearing friends my age express similar feelings. I even took a little comfort in reading a note that placed on their product page for Cloud Atlas:

“This book does not contain a misprint on page 39. We have received complaints from customers that they have received misprinted editions because of the way the story changes direction in the middle of a word on page 39 (for Kindle readers, the end of the first section). This is not a misprint or error. It is the way the author has written the book. He returns to the seemingly abandoned storyline later in the book.”

So, it’s not just me that is having a problem reading this type of novel.

But I was once able to make it through Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest. Now, I wouldn’t even attempt it knowing I would fail. But those are the kinds of complex challenges that brain research tells us that I should be taking on.

Perhaps, as Aldous Huxley feared, we have become reduced to passivity and egoism, drowned in a sea of irrelevance, living in a trivial culture.

There is a line that I recall: “Life, the second half of it, is a matter of losing things.” It makes a lot more sense now that I am deep into that second half. I can’t tell you the source of the line – maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald? – and that seems appropriate, or ironic, or sad. Once, I would have known the appropriate adjective to use.

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