October 31 – National Caramel Apple Day

Posted October 31, 2017

I kind of hate to talk about anything other than Halloween on October 31, but as you see below (in the "Also on this date" section), we have Halloween, Halloween, and more Halloween. Samhain is one of the precursors to Halloween, and knocking on doors, begging for treats, and magic are all associated with Halloween. So almost every year, I manage to talk about Halloween. This year is no exception!

All sort of treats are associated with Halloween. Here are a few:

Candy of all sorts, especially miniature versions of popular candies.

Candy corn, in particular.

Spiced apple cider.

Popcorn balls.

And caramel apples!

Now you see why today is National Caramel Apple Day!

To make a caramel apple, buy a bag of caramels - making sure that sticks are included in the package. Slowly heat the caramels over low heat, stirring frequently. Impale a crisp, tart apple with a stick and then dip it into the melted caramel, moving it around to get an even coat. 

Put the dipped apple onto a tray covered with waxed paper. Cool it - possibly in the refrigerator.

It's easier to eat a caramel apple when it is cool or even cold, because then the caramel isn't quite as soft and sticky. 

Of course, you can vary this simple recipe a lot of different ways. 

One popular variation is to dip the caramel coated apple into chopped peanuts (before allowing the caramel to cool). 

Other sorts of nuts, small candies, or other toppings can be used. 

Another popular thing to do is to "paint" designs onto caramel apples with melted white chocolate colored with food coloring - or with just melted dark chocolate.

Here and here are some more ideas.


Also on this date:

Halloween (All Hallows' Eve)

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:

October 30 - Celebrating John Adams

Posted October 30, 2017

John Adams, U.S. President #2, always seemed a little less dynamic to me than our first and third presidents. I mean, George Washington was the general who led the American rebels to victory! And Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence! And bought the enormous "Louisiana Purchase" that was so so so so so much more land than just Louisiana!

Indeed, John Adams is not ranked as high as Washington and Jefferson by historians who compare the accomplishments of the various presidents. According to Wikipedia, most historians rank Adams as being medium-high in accomplishment, around the level of Barack Obama, rather than one of the top-top (rankings vary, but both Washington and Jefferson tend to be in the top 5).

But Adams was no slouch. Check out the bajillions of things Adams accomplished even before he became president:

He was a lawyer. As a matter of fact, even though he was pro-American independence, he felt that it was so important that everyone have the right to counsel (in other words, the right to a lawyer), he provided a legal defense of the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. This move was very unpopular - but he thought it was the right thing to do.

He was a writer. He wrote a diary and loads of letters, particularly to his wife, who he considered his most important advisor. He helped write the Declaration of Independence. One of his essays, and the Massachusetts state constitution he helped write, both influenced the development of the U.S. Constitution.

He was a diplomat. He helped negotiate the peace treaty with Britain, and he also managed to get important loans from European banks.

He was the nation's first Vice President, serving under Washington. 

Now, as to Adams's presidency, he was strong on defense and is called the "Father of the American Navy." He avoided full-on war with France partly by fighting a "Quasi-War," in which American ships harassed French ships in order to get France to stop seizing American merchant ships. In case France attacked the new United States on land, Adams built up the army as well as the navy. 

Adams was the first president to visit the new capital, Washington, D.C., as it was being built, and he was the first to live in the executive mansion - now known as the White House. 

Even though Adams and Jefferson were often political rivals, and Jefferson beat Adams in the election of 1800, in what turned out to be a pretty vicious, personal campaign, the two became friends again after Jefferson's presidency was over. They wrote to each other often for the last fourteen years of their lives.

It's interesting to note that both Jefferson and Adams, who worked together to write the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4, 1826. This was the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and it was considered the birthday of the nation - so it is amazing that they both died on this day! 

Adams's last words included a famous, short statement: "Thomas Jefferson survives." I guess he meant to acknowledge that his longtime friend and rival had outlived him - but, remember, at the time news traveled really slowly. In fact, Thomas Jefferson had died several hours before!

John Adams often spoke about the need for an educated
people in a democracy.

Now that we have social media, tons of misinformation,
Russian hackers, internet trolls, memes that may or may
not be accurate - we all need to have a good basic education
AND a sense of skepticism AND the practice of fact-checking.

You probably know that this is a fake quote! :)

October 29 – Happy Birthday, Richard Dreyfuss

Posted October 29, 2017

One of my favorite actors, back when I was a young adult, was Richard Dreyfuss. I'd seen him in some of the big movies of the time - American Graffiti, Jaws, Close
Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl. I also liked some of his smaller movies, like The Big Fix and Stakeout

Dreyfuss, who was born on this date in 1947, in Brooklyn, New York, has won plenty of awards for his acting, including an Oscar for Best Actor. But I often think of him for two other non-acting reasons:


I really like science fiction, which is sometimes called the literature of "What if?" What if we meet intelligentaliens? What if we destroy civilization with thermonuclear war? What if we invent a way to instantly transport people and things vast distances in just seconds?

One sort of "What if?" I don't often find is what could be called "alternative history." Richard Dreyfuss and cowriter Harry Turtledove wrote a novel that asked the question,  "What if the United States didn't revolt against England in the late 1700s?" It's a book called The Two Georges. Pretty fun!


Dreyfuss is convinced that civics is largely untaught in the U.S. educational system, and he thinks that it should be carefully and thoroughly taught. He has created The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative to encourage civics education, and he makes a lot of speeches about the topic. He has also studied and done research on civics at Oxford University. 

Here are a few snippets from Dreyfuss:

"...[T]he notion that the ruler and the ruled could be one thing, which is the real revolution we triumphed in, and gifted to the world."

"...[Because of this, we] became the most free and most wealthy country in history..."

"Teachers are not the problem; teachers are the solution."

"Life is not pro-American. Life doles out bad and good; and our kids must be able to handle both."

Try out some civics-education websites, like this one from the National Constitution Center, and iCivics. 

Also on this date: