Sheltering at Home

The weekdays blurred into the weekend as we all are sheltering at home. I’ve been writing a lot, but mostly poetry and email to say in touch with friends. Nothing seemed like the right thing to write about this weekend in Paradelle in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I spent an entire afternoon drinking tea today and paging through a book of paintings by Vincent van Gogh. It was therapeutic. Maybe I’ll write about that this week.

Posts here appear on weekends but, as I said, weekday, weekend – it’s all the same.

I should be used to this because since I have retired the days have already been blurring, so I should be used to this “new normal.” Except, this time is not chosen retirement from normal life. And retirement doesn’t mean staying in the house and avoiding your family, friends, neighbors and places you have been going to for years.

Here’s one poem that came out of this time inside. It wasn’t written about the pandemic, but maybe it is about that.

Diner Coffee

Two Hours of Coffee at the Diner

My newly retired friend says every day is a weekend.
A month of Sundays like that Updike novel, he says.

No, no, says his longer-retired wife
Every day is Wednesday. Weekends have no meaning now.

They are saying this to me because I’m nearing retirement
but I don’t want to hear either of those theories of time.

I want my days to continue to be 24 hours,
my weeks to have five weekdays and a weekend.

I tell my friends this and they laugh.
You’ll lose track of the days, she tells me.

If I didn’t have this phone calendar reminding me,
I wouldn’t know what day it is, he says to his iPhone.

None of this is making me feel good about retiring, I say.
You’ll get used to it, my long-retired friend says.

We all lift our coffee cups and drink and I realize
that two hours have passed without me realizing it.

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Classic Novels

Twain quote

As an English major and teacher, I have read a lot of novels. I have also forgotten many novels old (classic) and new. Mostly, I have enjoyed and sometimes loved those I have read. So, when I saw an article about the most loved and hated classics (according to Goodreads users), I had to give it a read.

Mark Twain (who wrote some classics) said that “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” The author of the article compares reading classic literature to “going for a 6am jog. It has its loyal fans but few enjoy it. Most people want to tell others they do; sometimes people experiment with it, but mostly, people just don’t like it at all.”

As a teacher, it pains me to say that some classics that might make your “hated” list were probably required reading in a classroom. But some of the most popular classics are also assigned in American schools.

“Required reading” is not the way you really want someone to encounter literature, but if some of these novels were not required, people would never experience them.

These are also often the titles that students turn to cheats as a substitute for the actual book. In my student days, those cheats were Cliff Notes and Monarch Notes, but now the Internet gives them Spark Notes and even websites where they can buy or just download essays.

The novels on both the loved and hated lists are all good books, though they won’t be loved by all. I learned long ago that with books (fiction and non-fiction) and films, you hated book or movie is someone’s absolute favorite.

When I was in my most rabid reading days (ages 11-19), I devoured books like I eat potato chips and popcorn now. I would read a favorite author’s entire works. That was easier with Salinger and Fitzgerald and harder with Hemingway and Steinbeck.

I’ve written before about the Classics Illustrated Comics that I loved in my youth. They exposed me to many classic novels. Some of those readings led me to the novels. Moby-Dick is definitely an example of that. Many of those classic novels were way over my ability in elementary school but I made my ways through them and probably benefitted as a reader and writer.

I know the comics led me to read some novels by H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau) and Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea) and Arthur Conan Doyle (lots of Sherlock Holmes and also The Lost World)

The Lost World comic, novel and feature film (1960 version) were the Jurassic Park of my (and Michael Crichton‘s) youth and had a big impact on my reading and thinking about science, if in a fictional and theoretical way.

I suspect that there are some classics that I think I read that I only actually read in comic book form.  I certainly had read a lot of comic book Shakespeare well before I read Julius Caesar in sophomore English class. I could speak pretty well in high school “cocktail-party conversations” about Macbeth and Hamlet if ever came up.

Novels become classics over time. I was once told that the book had to be 25+ years old but there is no rule. The Godfather makes the list looking a bit out-of-place to me next to the other titles. (Though I will always question a book or film labeled as a classic when it only came out that year.)

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is my best example. It is a book I love and have read multiple times. I would hesitantly recommend it though. It is not an easy read. The vocabulary and style are quite old-fashioned.  It takes on all the biggest themes. I would never want to teach it in a class where it was required. I would love to discuss it with other readers who enjoyed it. Still, despite my hesitation, should it be dropped from reading lists? That may be the only way people will encounter it. Perhaps, it should be one of several choices along with other classics. I used to give students such choices and groan when someone chose the shortest book. A short novel that you hate is much more painful than a longer one that you enjoy – though young students rarely accepted that as true.

Like Moby-Dick, Melville’s contemporary, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. also appears to be hated. It’s a lot shorter. So is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but that doesn’t mean easier.

Given a choice of what to require in a classroom, I would go with East of Eden or To Kill a Mockingbird if it meant that my students would actually read the book and leave it with a good feeling. When I taught middle school, I taught The Outsiders many times, not only because it is a well-written novel and totally appropriate for that age group, but because they loved it despite it being almost a historical novel for them today and it having a good and pretty faithful film version (the media cheat) that they also loved but didn’t choose as a substitute.

The article also notes that Don Quixote (1615) is the first classic in the data and the next is Robinson Crusoe which came out in 1719. Where are the classics in between?

The top classic-producing authors are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens on the other side of the pond and Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck in America. But in this love/hate thing, quantity does not mean quality to readers.

Charles Dickens (who I mostly like/love and have taught with mixed success) gets average scores.

Jane Austen (who I was required to read and never enjoyed) has multiple truly beloved classic novels and has rabid fans for the movies and TV versions too.

Hemingway (who is very high on my loved list) is pretty much hated across all his novels. I would teach his “classic” short stories before attempting the novels.

Steinbeck (who I read voraciously in those teen years without ever being required to read) only gets some love for East of Eden. I suspect that being assigned The Grapes of Wrath wins it no love (but it is a great novel) and no one is assigning enjoyable his short novels like Cannery Row or Tortilla Flat. I taught and had students who loved Of Mice and Men. The Red Pony is short. I liked it and I taught it once. And only once.

What are your feelings about classics loved and hated,
and how much does it have to do with required reading assignments?
Did you discover some classics after your student days that you love?
Comments welcomed!


MOST BELOVEDloved books


Oh, You’re a Character From That Book

I have had a long fascination with word and name origins. As a soon-to-be first-time grandfather, I have become more interested in baby names.

Julie Beck, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote a piece I found about people naming babies after characters from fiction. which was something I never considered when naming my sons, but I did consider in naming pets.

I know several boys who are named Atticus after the beloved father in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus’ halo got a bit tarnished when that prequel/sequel by Harper Lee was published in 2016.

I suspect that the novel got at least a few babies to be named Scout too. I know of Scout LaRue Willis who is the daughter of actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. I don’t think Jem was ever a popular name and the same goes for Boo. (Although my son, Drew, was called Boo when he was very young, though it had nothing to do with the novel.)

As Beck points out, “Naming a child after a fictional character is a high-stakes proposition. Like naming a kid for a family member, it can be more meaningful than just picking a name out of a baby book, but it also comes with much more baggage.”

little women
The 4 March girls of Little Women (2019)

She cites a family with three girls named Amy, Meg, and Laurie Jo (AKA Jo). It’s Little Women for sure and perhaps parents and friends might even look to see if the girls pick up any of the characteristics of the characters (who were based on real people). Shouldn’t have gone for another child so that they could have a Beth?

I suspect that if any boys named Atticus end up being lawyers, they will never lack for jokes and jabs at their name. And will people pay attention to Jo (Josephine in the book) for any signs of her being stubborn, hot-tempered or “boyish”?

With yet another film version of Little Women out now and getting Oscar attention, there will probably be some babies named after characters in the book.   Maybe some mother will be nicknamed Marmee. The “boy next door” is Laurie, whose real name is Theodore Laurence. I doubt that any 2020 boys will want to be named Laurie even if their given name is some version of Laurence.

Books, movies, TV shows and celebrities all bring attention to names and sometimes cause a jump in babies getting that name.

Might a Khaleesi baby become a Queen – or a despot?

The article notes examples of babies named Bailey (from a character on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati)  a Calvin (named for the main character in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes), Jolenes (named after the Dolly Parton song -where Jolene is a husband-stealer) and a bunch of babies who will carry the name of a character from Game of Thrones into the world, such as Khaleesi.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha babies, even if witchy, would be good witches, right?

Samantha was not a popular name until 1964 when the lovable witch of TV’s Bewitched debuted.

And Samantha’s TV daughter was named Tabitha which certainly had not on any top baby names lists before she was “born” in 1966.

I loved that show and I thought Tabitha was a totally invented name. It turns out that it is a girl’s name of Aramaic origin meaning “gazelle.” I knew it as the name of one of Beatrix Potter’s storybook characters who is a cat (Tabitha Twitchet) and it was the name of one of my neighbor’s cats, though we called her Tabby. I suspect the show’s writers made that cat-witch connection. Less likely was that the writers were going for a character in the Bible who was restored to life by Saint Peter. Actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick bestowed it upon one of their twin daughters. I don’t know why they picked it. The other twin is Marion.


I will become a grandfather for the first time this spring. Of course, I have gotten tuned in to names for girls though I have no idea what names are being considered (big secret) by her parents. I know it’s an important choice. With my two sons, we went with family-connected first and middle names. That is still a tradition for many parents.

Barbie and Ken
Barbie and Ken out for a drive in their beach cruiser

My mother went with my name Kenneth and my sister’s Karen because she liked having two “K’ initials and also liked the meaning of the names as listed in those baby name books. Kenneth is of Scotch-Irish origin, of which I have not a drop of DNA and it means “born of fire and handsome.” Growing up I knew several other Kenneths and it probably peaked in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. We had to deal with Ken being the name of Barbie’s (the doll) boyfriend and dream date. More than once, other girls tried to set me up with a Barbara classmate. I’m not sure if Barbie caught on at the same time as a girl’s name.

My youngest son started a website called What’s in a Name? when he was 11 as a contest entry project. It included a section on popular baby names, so we both did a lot of research on the topic back then. I took over the site and revamped it into Why Name It That? and I still try to write weekly entries about interesting names. Besides first names, I am fascinated by origins and etymologies of the names of bands, product names, place names, titles, sports teams and the origins of any words and phrases that catch my interest.

On my names site, one of the most pages is about “sexy” first names. I wonder if parents-to-be are looking there? Certainly, many parents today are looking for names that are distinctive and set their child apart in a good way. Sometimes that is done with a different spelling – Zooey becomes Zoe. Even the ever-popular Michael has many variations: Miska, Mikael, Misha, Mikel, Micha, Miquel, Mikhail, Mikkel, Mischa, Mica, Michon, Meical, Miguel, Mikael, Mikko, Micho, Mihangel, Misi, and Michel all appear on name lists. I even discovered an interesting crossover of first names that are used as street names.

There are many books about names and websites popular with expectant parents searching for a name, and people who want to know what their name means and where it originated.

What the Constellations Said About Me

Libra Zodiac Sign Horoscope Wheel From Astrology

A reader made a comment on an earlier post of mine about astrology asking what my college girlfriend had said about me based on my natal star chart. I’m sorry to say that the answers were not written down and I recall only a few bits of information.

A few things that did stick deeper in my memory:

I was born on a Tuesday, which means (according to an old nursery rhyme) that I am “full of grace.”

I was supposed to be good at motivating others – which sounded good at the time since I was studying to be an English teacher.

I was supposed to be open to new ideas – which seemed like Catherine might have injected that so that I would be open-minded about her many “new age” ( a term we did not use back then) interests.

She said that I could easily adapt to new situations and people – something I did not feel was true of me at all.

I would have a good sense of humor. I did. I do. Who doesn’t love a compliment?

I don’t really recall any negatives about me (selective memory) or predictions about my future that she told me except that she said my physical weaknesses would be my stomach and kidneys – and damned if I haven’t had kidney stones, an ulcer, and GERD.

I recall there were numbers she gave me – all of which are forgotten – but I suppose it included things like the celestial longitude interval assigned to Libra is 180° to 210° and that according to the numerology algorithm, the life path number for everybody born on my birthday is 3. I’m not sure what to do with that numerical information.

I knew back then just by reading the horoscopes in newspapers that Libras are governed by the Venus and the Seventh House. My mother had given me a ring with my sign’s stone, the Opal, and that the symbol for Libra is Scales.

I looked on a few pretty serious astrology websites to see if anything there triggered a memory of what Catherine said about me. I should note that she was doing a specific chart for my actual birth day (sidereal astrology) rather than those general descriptions of everyone born in that wide period of Libra in any year. Catherine laughed those away.

One site said that I should be: very energetic, taking the initiative, and preferring action rather than planning.  I don’t know about back in college, but all three are untrue of the 2020 me.

Libra people are most compatible with Aquarius, Gemini, Sagittarius and Leo. Catherine was a Taurus BUT it was a strange fact that her birthday May 5 (5/10) was exactly half of my Libra birthday (10/20). That had to mean something, right? Libra people are least compatible in love with Capricorn and Cancer. I married a Cancer.

Finally, according to, as of today I have slept for 8,072 days or 22 years. (I’d knock that number down. I’m a lousy sleeper.) But I have been alive for 581,040 hours. (It seems so short.) My birthday this year will again be on my birth weekday of Tuesday. Still full of grace.


Two Astrologies

zodiac clock

I noticed that Elvis, David Bowie, and Stephen Hawking all share January 8 as their birthdays. Had they lived to see 2020, Hawking would have been 78, Bowie 73, and Elvis would have been 85. That coincidence made me wonder if this simultaneity had any connection to their zodiac signs. But that would also depend on which of two astrologies you want to follow.

The horoscopes you commonly see use a system called tropical astrology which is the most popular system in the U.S. and Europe.

I learned this when I was back in college because of ​a college girlfriend who was deeply into astrology while I was into astronomy. She did not believe in the tropical astrological signs or the general horoscopes you find in newspapers and online. She told me about another system called sidereal astrology.

I have never been a believer in astrology and horoscopes, but this sidereal version seemed a bit more scientific, so it appealed to me. The popular tropical version doesn’t use the actual constellations in the sky on any day, including the positions of the stars at the time you were born. Tropical astrology is based on the seasons.

Sidereal and tropical are astrological terms used to describe two different definitions of a year.  A tropical year (also known as a solar year) is the time that the Sun takes to return to the same position in the cycle of seasons, as seen from Earth. For example, you could measure the time from the vernal equinox to the vernal equinox, or from the summer solstice to the next summer solstice.

On the other hand, if you measure the time it takes Earth to complete one full orbit around the Sun as measured with respect to the fixed stars, you have a sidereal year.

Ancient stargazers of 2000 years ago saw constellations that matched with the seasons. For them, the Sun was always entering Aries during the Spring Equinox. But the stars have slowly changed location relative to Earth’s seasons. By now, there is a difference of up to two zodiac signs between the popular horoscope system and the actual constellations up there now.

I found a lot of information about all this at  which is a site by Athen Chimenti who is a “sidereal astrologer.” (see video below)

Both systems divide the ecliptic into twelve “signs.” That divides the 360 degrees into 12 slices of 30 degrees.

That old girlfriend, Catherine, did my natal chart based on the stars at the time of my birth. (She wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t know the actual hour of my birth.)  I’m not surprised that technology can now do your chart much faster and easier than Catherine.

I don’t think Stephen Hawking would have had any belief in astrology, but if he did I think the sidereal approach would be his preference because it was more exact. I imagine that Elvis and Bowie (Starman) might have had some interest in their astrological horoscopes.

Using a calculator on, I generated this natal chart for my birth day. I don’t have that old one that Catherine did, and I don’t have her here to explain what it means. Back in college, she did explain it and a lot of things made sense. Of course, she knew me, so I always wondered if she was just telling me what she knew was true. I wish I remembered what else she said that didn’t make sense to me then. Maybe over the years, they came to be true too.

natal chart

Here are the sidereal signs which are based on the midpoint between constellations. If you are within three days of another sign you are supposed to be a blend of both.

Hey, Catherine – I don’t know where you are now, but it turns out I might be a Virgo instead of a Libra!

Aries (Apr 21 — May 12)
Taurus: (May 13 — Jun 19)
Gemini (Jun 20 — Jul 16)
Cancer (Jul 17 — Aug 6)
Leo (Aug 7 — Sep 14)
Virgo (Sep 15 — Nov 3)
Libra (Nov 4 — Nov 22)
Scorpio (Nov 23 — Dec 6)
Ophiuchus (Dec 7 — Dec 18)
Sagittarius (Dec 19 — Jan 19)
Capricorn (Jan 20 — Feb 13)
Aquarius (Feb 14 — Mar 9)
Pisces (Mar 10 — Apr 20)

UFOs 2019


x files
I am mostly a believer (like Mulder) with a little bit of skeptic (like Scully) on The X Files

The Martians haven’t landed in New Jersey again, but there were almost 200 reported sightings in New Jersey of strange objects in 2019, according to the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC).

One of those reports was right near Paradelle, although I didn’t witness it. The report was on June 1 at 9:30 p.m., and what was reported were 2 circle-shaped crafts, fully lit, flying erratically followed by sustained stillness.

“On June 1, 2019, at 22:30, son and I driving on Grove Avenue, and noticed 2 lit objects we assumed were drones, but based on erratic movement then sudden sustained stillness – we then revised our take as maybe [a] military helicopter. We tried to pull over but cars behind us only allowed us to slow down. They were clear, bright white light – perhaps oval or round, and seemed to be low-flying followed by a definite full stop. By [the] time we turned around – they were gone. I’ve seen thousands of aircraft and son has seen tons of recreational drones. There was nothing familiar about this experience.”

These sightings are compiled by NUFORC which is an independent organization that’s been around since 1974. They assist police departments when people report their observations to 911. Are they true sightings? I doubt it, but they have more than 90,000 sightings from around the world listed, so can they all be false?

I believe in intelligent life outside our galaxy. I believe it is possible that Earth has been visited. I believe that almost all UFO sightings are false. I believe I saw a UFO.

My sighting was in the New Jersey Pinelands (AKA Pine Barrens). I was camping with my family there in the summer of 1991. I was the only one up at about 3 am and I saw a craft over Atsion Lake. It was an elongated saucer shape with small lights encircling it. A bright red light/glow came from the bottom as it hovered close to the dark water. It was there for about a minute, then it rose slowly vertically about as high as four stories on a building and then shot off at an angle and disappeared. I don’t recall any sound coming from it at all.

I never reported it because I didn’t know of anyone who would take my report, and I suppose I thought people would think I was crazy. I told my family and friends. Later, I did check newspapers for reports and found nothing.

Years later when the Internet arrived, I searched sites like NUFORC and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) for report from that summer. Nothing.

MUFON is a US-based non-profit organization composed of civilian volunteers who study alleged UFO sightings. It is one of the oldest and largest organizations of its kind, claiming more than 4,000 members worldwide with chapters and representatives in more than 43 countries and all 50 states.

Both these organizations get criticized as pseudoscience, but that’s been true of all UFO efforts since after WWII in the U.S.

This video made the rounds this year showing the screens from some US Navy planes as the pilots report UFOs which the Navy labels as “unidentified aerial phenomena.”

Do you believe?