October 31 – Beggars' Night and the Halloween “Plague”!

Posted on October 31, 2013

Like a swarm of zombies, Halloween-type holiday traditions have been spreading all over the world. People I talk to on Facebook who live in New Zealand and Australia have been complaining about the contagion... saying that candy manufacturers have deliberately convinced kids in those nations that they, too, should do what kids in American movies and TV shows do: go door to door begging for candy!

Well, of course they should! It is so much fun!

I have also read about Halloween coming to other countries such as France, China, and Indonesia. I'm glad to see that most people seem to welcome the holiday, although there are troubling hints that advertising and commercial interests are major forces behind the spread of Halloween.

I thought I would look at a few variations:

  • Beggars' Night – in some places in the central and eastern regions of the U.S., the night for trick-or-treat (emphasis on the treat) is called Beggars' Night. And many towns publicize that Beggars' Night will be some other date—often October 30, but sometimes earlier or later—other than Halloween, October 31. I think that really enterprising trick-or-treaters could go out three or four nights, getting way more candy—that is, if they can find rides to various nearby towns!

  • Books for Treats – some communities urge people to give out “gently read” children's books as treats. It seemed to me that would be an awfully expensive treat to give out. And I could see some difficulties... Like, do you have to give out age-appropriate books? Still, I love the idea: “Feed kids' minds, not their cavities.”

    So I did some research. First, lots of communities do Books for Treats events during which costumed kids can choose their own books from donated books spread out all over tables. Well, that's splendid! – who doesn't like another event during which kids can wear their costumes?
Second, the author who started the activity, Rebecca Morgan, bought her gently used books at library sales for about a quarter apiece. She sorted the books into four boxes from youngest to oldest, and then she allowed the trick-or-treaters to choose their own books.

  • In Japan and China, Halloween is not really about candy and trick-or-treating; instead, it is about elaborate costumes, costume contests, and of course costume parties.

  • In the Philippines and Singapore, old traditions are being replaced by more Americanized versions of the holiday. People in the Philippines celebrate All Saints Day today, and many people visit their loved ones' graves before the costumes and trick-or-treating begins. In Singapore, the Hungry Ghost Festival still occurs, but Halloween events are becoming more and more popular. The Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, the Spooktacular, and the Museum of Horrors sound like they could be anywhere—but the three I mention here are all happening in Singapore.

  • Saci's Day in Brazil is an attempt to fight back against “cultural imposition” from the United States. Apparently Halloween has become popular, especially with young people. But some people are really mad about that and have suggested fighting holiday with holiday, proposing that October 31 become a celebration of a character from Brazilian folklore, Saci. This prankster has holes in the palms of his hands, wears a red cap, smokes a pipe, and can disappear and reappear through magic.

  • Many people in Latin America celebrate Halloween with costumes, trick-or-treating, and the familiar symbols of witches, skeletons, spider webs, pumpkins, and so forth. There is a push to get rid of the “evil” and “horror” aspects of the holiday and to rename it “Children's Day,” but so far at least these moves have not caught on all that well...

  • People in Europe are celebrating Halloween more and more, since the 1990s. Their new traditions are re-imports from the U.S., since originally many of the traditions grew from older European customs such as turnip lanterns rather than jack-o-lanterns, and “souling” rather than trick-or-treating.

  • Kalan Goanv in Brittany (southern France) – Women honor the dead by pouring milk on the tombstones, and kids play “gruesome” jokes on each other and on cemetery visitors. A common joke is to light a candle placed inside a skull, and to place the “skull-o-lantern” in a darkened corner of the cemetery.

  • Mischief Night in England and North America – In the olden days, Mischief Night was all about pranks. It was soap rubbed on windows and eggs and rotten vegetables thrown at houses and vehicles. It's toilet paper all over the trees and bushes, pumpkins smashed, fireworks set off, and doorbells rung and then quickly abandoned. Of course, some of these “harmless pranks” are actually dangerous to people and property, so law-enforcement generally cracks down on the perpetrators! And volunteers now roam the streets of some U.S. towns with “Angels' Night” shirts, patrolling in order to keep Halloween safe and happy.

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Halloween coincidences

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October 30 – International Magic Week

Posted on October 30, 2013

Usually we think of a week being from Sunday to Saturday, or perhaps Monday through Sunday. 

But International Magic Week just had to include October 31, which is not just Halloween but also the day that famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died.  

So this particular week runs from October 25 to October 31 (Friday to Thursday, in 2013).

Enjoy magic!

  • Learn some tricks (or illusions) such as these or these.
A lot of magic is sleight-of-hand. Remember, you need to practice this sort of trick over and over again—in front of a mirror or assistant—to make it truly mystifying. Here are two more tricks

  • Watch “Now You See Me.” This movie is rated PG-13 and may be too mystifying or upsetting for some younger kids, but it is really interesting for older kids and adults.

  • Magicians are really clear about the fact that they are creating illusions or doing tricks. Some people claim that they are really doing magic, or that they have psychic powers—when all they are doing is illusions and tricks. Professional magicians such as the Amazing Randi are very important to debunking these fakes. 

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October 29 – Happy Birthday, “Joy of Painting” Guy!

Posted on October 29, 2013

Okay, yes, the “The Joy of Painting” guy had a name: Bob Ross.

A guy who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 17—a guy who made a living screaming at recruits who were late and ordering them to clean the latrine—seems an unlikely sort to become the calm and happy host of a TV show called “The Joy of Painting”!

But Bob Ross learned to paint quickly while in the military, because he had only short breaks in which to paint pictures (which he then sold). And while he was screaming at all those recruits, Ross promised himself never to shout again, once he was out of the Air Force.

Ross was so calm and soft-spoken as a television host, he was compared to Mr. Rogers!

When Ross began to make more money selling art than he made at his “real job,” he left the Air Force. Someone at PBS must have been impressed by his “quick paint” technique with oil paints and realized that this technique would be perfect for a how-to-paint TV series. Soon Ross was world famous for his show on PBS.

You see, many oil painters allow time for one layer or color of paint to dry before applying more color, but Ross used a wet-on-wet technique that allowed a picture to progress so much more quickly! It is estimated that Ross painted between 25-to-30 THOUSAND paintings in his life. Most of his paintings are of mountains and trees, cabins and lakes—subjects dear to his heart because he lived in Alaska for many years.

To see how quickly Ross painted, check out this video, which teaches how to paint “happy little trees.” Or how about this video how-to on waterfalls?

Quotes from Bob Ross

Remind yourself of these things over and over again, while you paint!

  • We don't make mistakes; we just have happy accidents.

  • [Someone said] 'Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.' That's for sure. That's why I paint. It's because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.
  • In painting, you have unlimited power. You have the ability to move mountains. You can bend rivers. But when I get home, the only thing I have power over is the garbage.
  • We don't know where it goes. We don't really care.
  • Any time you learn, you gain.
  • Any way you want it to be, that's just right.
  • Trees cover up a multitude of sins

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October 28 – Happy Birthday, Auguste Escoffier

French food is so important that many food
words in the English language are actually

These include (right off the top of my head):
gourmet, cuisine, culinary, pork, beef, menu,
entree, a la carte, cafe au lait, au gratin. 
Posted on October 28, 2013

As a child, he showed all the signs of having promise as an artist. And he lived in France, which was a great place for artists in the 1800s—but at age 13 he was shipped off to be an apprentice at his uncle's restaurant in Nice.

Guess what? People can be artists in the kitchen, too.

Auguste Escoffier (born on this date in 1846) ended up working at a restaurant in Paris and then acting as an army chef during the Franco-Prussian War. He learned about efficiency and canning partly through his military service.

Out of the service, Escoffier teamed up with Cesar Ritz and reorganized the kitchens of the Savoy Hotel in London. He invented many famous dishes, popularized dining out among women (who in earlier times rarely dined in public!), and helped make the Savoy a huge success. Escoffier left the Savoy Hotel at the turn of the century and went on to revolutionize other restaurants.

He was so good at what he did, Escoffier was sometimes called “the king of chefs and chef of kings.”

He wrote a culinary guide that is STILL used today.

He elevated the title “chef” to a respected profession.

He streamlined and modernized French cuisine. For example, earlier chefs created huge lists of sauces to be used in various dishes. But Escoffier consolidated the hundreds of different sauces into just five “mother sauces.” It is apparently easier to learn how to make five sauces very well and then how to vary them with additional ingredients, than to learn how to make hundreds of sauces individually.

Try some French food today as you toast Chef Escoffier!

  • Kitchen Daily offers “kid-friendly French recipes.”

  • Easy French Food has a resident 10-year-old kid who loves to cook and is eager to share his favorite easy French recipes with others. 

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October 27 – Independence Day in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Posted on October 27, 2013

Today is a national holiday for yet another of those Caribbean island nations that it's so hard to keep track of!

This one has a long name for a small country, because it is made up of a small island called St. Vincent and a bunch of smaller isles that make up about two-thirds of the Grenadine islands! (The rest of the Grenadine islands make up the nation of Grenada.) Adding all the islands together, this nation is maybe one-sixth of the smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island.

At any rate, on this date in 1979, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became independent of the United Kingdom!

Catch some cool views of the beauties of this island nation with this long video. (Just watch as much as you have time for and interest in, of course!)

The Caribbean is...

Did you know that the Caribbean Sea is named for one of the main groups of native people who were living on the islands when the Spaniards discovered them in 1492? The Caribs also lived in northern South America in a region now part of Venezuela.

The Caribbean is famous for piracy...as you probably know from the whole Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” thing. Why do you suppose there was so much piracy in that region from 1650 to 1720? I'm thinking that there were so many islands, many of them controlled by different, warring groups of native and European peoples, that it was easy to (for example) hide Spanish pirates that attacked English ships, and vice versa. With thousands of islands and even uninhabited islets, it would be really hard to police all the harbors and coastlines in order to arrest the pirates and get back their booty!

To learn more about the Caribs, go here.  And learn more about pirates here

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October 26 – Happy Birthday, C. W. Post!

Posted on October 26, 2013

Munch some cereal today in honor of Mr. Post, one of America's first and most famous cereal manufacturers.

Post was born on this date in 1854, growing up in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, in Illinois. As an adult, he began to manufacture farm implements.

However, he fell ill and suffered several breakdowns and also digestive woes. Eventually he went to the sanitarium owned by the Kellogg brothers. He was impressed by the corn flakes he ate there and, after resuming his life outside of the sanitarium, Post started a new company to manufacture his own version of breakfast cereal.

The first product is still around – and is one of my favorites: Grape Nuts. Post followed up with “Elijah's Manna,” a corn flake cereal, which he soon renamed “Post Toasties.” Post now sells more than 15 varieties of cereal. I say “more than 15” because I am only counting Great Grains once, but there are six different flavors!

Yummy in our tummy...

Cereal is a favorite breakfast choice for many – and some people eat it as a snack or dessert as well! However, before stocking up on our favorite cereals, we should check the ingredients and nutritional information carefully because, like any processed food, cereal can be high on delicious while low on nutritious.

Yeah, when a cereal is named
for a not-very-natural, not-very-
healthy dessert, it's probably not
going to be on the most-nutritious
Here is a website with a sortable list comparing a variety of cereals.  The “best” list includes Post's Grape Nuts and also Shredded Wheat. The “worst” list includes some other Post cereals, probably invented by people long after Mr. Post died, during the modern era of the super-sugary cereal: Oreo Os, Waffle Crisp, Cocoa Pebbles, and Fruity Pebbles.

Yummly offers a lot of recipes using Grape Nuts: cookies, muffins, cereal bars, bread, pudding, and much, much more! 

Or make your own homemade version of Grape Nuts

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October 25 – St. Crispin's Day

Posted on October 25, 2013

It's not just St. Crispin's Day, it's the feast day of his twin brother, St. Crispinian, too.

But saying “St. Crispin's and St. Crispinian's Day” is a mouthful, and the Catholic church booted the day out of official status, anyway, pointing out that there is little evidence that these twins even existed. So people just shorten it to “St. Crispin's Day.” When they bother to mention it at all.

Crispin and Crispinian were said to be cobblers—that is, shoemakers. Because of this, they act as patron saints of cobblers, tanners, and other leather workers.

St. Crispin probably didn't make shoes
that looked like this!!
Shoes, glorious shoes!

Is it crazy that some people spend more than four thousand dollars on a pair of name-brand shoes?

Well...I have never been rich, but I have to say that it seems to me a little bit crazy! If you have that much money, maybe you should spend a couple of hundred dollars on a pair of really nice shoes—and then donate the leftover thousands of dollars to a charity that provides shoes to kids who have none!

But it probably is not crazy that the average adult in America spends $200 to $300 per year on shoes. Our feet are really important, and bad-fitting shoes can cause problems. Also, different activities in different weather conditions require different sorts of footwear. If you buy quality shoes made out of quality materials, they last a long time but are fairly expensive—and, let's face it, if you don't buy quality shoes, then you have to replace your shoes quite often! Which is also quite expensive!
Here are some of my favorite shoe innovations:

  • For toddlers, shoes that squeak! You can keep track of your little kid, and the squeak rewards proper walking (heel to toe). Of course, the squeakers can be removed when quiet is needed! 
  • Velcro shoes – wonderful for little kids and quick off-and-on action!
  • DIY “Sharpie shoes,” plain white canvas shoes personalized with Sharpie markers. 

  • Cottage industry shoes. It's nice that we can still support small and handmade “industries” like Babu Shoes

And then there are some things I'm not so crazy about. Like super-duper high spike heels just seem dangerous to me. High heeled “ballet slippers” have to harmful to your feet, as do really narrow-toes shoes. Walking around with little aquaria in your heel...is just...nuts!

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Constitution Day in Lithuania