Trick or Treat or Curmudgeon?

What is a curmudgeon and how do you know if you are one? Perhaps a good place to start would be with Charles Murray‘s book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead (2014), a brief read about the “Do’s and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.”

Filled with “tricks” – i.e. tips and suggestions – with a particular focus on young people as they navigate the treacherous waters from college to adult life, The Curmudgeon’s Guide is an “indispensable sourcebook for living an adult life” and a lasting treat that deserves a special place on the bookshelf as a timeless reference, of course, only if you ARE a curmudgeon.

Murray goes beyond the technical definition of a curmudgeon as an “ill-tempered man,” and offers a more broad description that encompasses “highly successful people of both genders who are inwardly grumpy about many aspects of contemporary culture, make quick and pitiless judgments about your behavior in the workplace, and don’t hesitate to act on those judgments in deciding who gets promoted and who gets fired.”

Curmudgeons, Murray writes, “usually don’t give off many clues that they’re doing these things…because they want to be polite, but also because they don’t want to sound like geezers, old and out of touch.”

Curmudgeon definition

While Murray might be a curmudgeon – and yes, he is older – he is certainly not out of touch. As a lifelong social historian, he started supplementing his colleagues’ online tips for interns and entry-level staff on grammar and English usage with a “series on proper behavior in the workplace.” Murray was responding to what he saw as a decline in the deterioration of manners. His book evolved from this and is a polite curmudgeonly gesture towards rectifying the current landscape.

In his introduction, he writes: “As The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead moves from success in the workplace into the deeper waters of success in living, you will find the occasional bromide, because some of the clichés you’ve been hearing all your life are actually true and need to be considered afresh.”

From “On the Presentation of Self in the Workplace” (Don’t Suck Up) to “On Thinking and Writing Well” (Putting together your basic writing toolkit) and “On the Pursuit of Happiness” (Take religion seriously even if you’ve been socialized not to), Murray delivers plenty of things to consider afresh and does so with a tough, albeit polite, matter-of-fact and sometimes humorous manner, some of which you’ll find below.

Take, for instance, the commonplace use of the phrase “no problem” instead of “it is my pleasure” or “you’re welcome.” A seemingly benign phrase on the surface, Murray explores it in depth to show how its use signals a “retreat from graciousness.”

“When you unpack ‘No problem,’ what people are saying is: ‘I can do what you’ve asked because it will not unduly burden me,’” Murray writes. “Graciousness is good” and the phrase “No problem”, he explains, is not gracious – and “[i]t is much more pleasant to live in a world where people are gracious.”

Murray goes on to denounce a prevailing ethos of nonjudmentalism, writing: “Of the many precocious aspects of today’s academic culture, I think the worst is its celebration of nonjudgmentalism.” He continues: “The ability to make judgments is what distinguishes Homo sapiens from every other living creature…[b]ut the ability to make judgments carries with it the obligation to do so. You don’t have a choice.”

In defining “judgmental,” he writes: “The negative connotations of judgmental – harsh, arbitrary, condemnatory moral judgments – have taken over so completely that I can’t recall the last time I heard judgmental used in a neutral sense. But historically (and still in some dictionaries), the first meaning of judgmental was simply ‘of, relating to, or involving judgment.’”

Another interesting change that Murray examines is the use of first names with people considerably older than oneself. “The use of first names has undergone a cultural transformation in the last three or four decades” (he again rightfully blames the baby boomers and their fear of being grown-ups), he writes, “so that by now the use of honorifics and last names is nearly extinct.”

Turning to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson as an example, he writes: “Their friendship was deep and intimate. And yet the last letter from Jefferson to Madison, written less than a month before Jefferson’s death, begins not with ‘Dear Jemmy’ (Madison’s nickname), but with ‘Dear Sir.’”

what is a curmudgeon In our curmudgeonly opinion, Mr. Murray could have elaborated more on the ramifications of this transformation in regards to the blurring of generations (this is something that is now being written about) and the relationship to the notions of honor and respect.

But, we will be polite with our judgment of Mr. Murray’s book and say that there is something to glean in this guide – Curmudgeon or not – for anyone who is interested in self-improvement, which is most assuredly necessary for living a good and gracious life.

Of Interest: One of our most curmudgeonly irritations (from growing up with an English teacher as a mother/grandmother) was shared by Charlotte Hays, a reviewer of  Mr. Murray’s book who wrote:

“As much as I like Mr. Murray’s tips, I regret that he didn’t address what I regard as the most horrific (and revealing) grammatical error afoot in the land: ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘I’ for ‘him,’ ‘her,’ and ‘me.’ It isn’t the uneducated but graduates of good schools who nowadays say, ‘I gave it to Jim and he.’ This betrays a certain unfamiliarity with grammar – and thus with the process of thinking itself.”

This isn’t the first book of Murray’s we’ve reviewed. See our review of Charles Murray’s By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. 

Ghosts, Goblins and Great Decorations in The Big Apple

“They call it the ‘Big Apple’ because that’s how big our apartments are!” – Billboard on the Hudson River Parkway, NYC (2012)

Anyone familiar with New York City knows that tight, close quarters and a small amount of personal space is a sacrifice that must be made for living in what has been deemed, somewhat ironically, “The Big Apple.” Indeed, on a 13.4-mile island populated by 1.6 million people, space is a luxury that many – though not all – can’t afford, which is why New Yorkers are often compelled to get a bit creative.

Such creativity is witnessed firsthand while strolling through the neighborhoods of Manhattan in the weeks leading up to Halloween. With a truly limited and “tricky” amount of space to work with, the elaborate displays, spooky props and ghastly décor that line the stoops, gates, stairs, windows and doors of many apartment buildings is rather impressive – and a pleasant “treat” that lifts your spirits to the festive fun of the season.

Below is just a sampling, all taken within a 10-block radius on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Happy trick-or-treating!

See also our list of the top 10 scariest movies of all time as well as our recipes for all things apples. And…are you a curmudgeon

Halloween in NYC

Halloween ideas NYC

Where to trick-or-treat on Halloween in NYC

Halloween costumes NYC

Best Halloween displays NYC

spooky outdoor halloween decor

Scariest Halloween Decorations

Unique Halloween Props

Scary Halloween Scenes

Halloween decor ideas

Halloween spider decorations

Scary Halloween costumes

Aliens, Monsters, Jaws, and Things: 10 Scary Movies for Halloween

Best halloween movies“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) from his 1927 essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature

In the spirit of Halloween – a time of bubbling cauldrons, bloodcurdling screams and cackling spirits – ATG puts forth our top 10 picks of the scariest movies of all time, nine of which were made over 30 years ago, but hold up surprisingly well.

Responsible for spawning numerous sequels, cheap imitators and whole genre movements (zombies, aliens, etc.), these movies play off of man’s primal fear of the unknown, causing our imaginations to run rampant with unthinkable possibilities.

Frankenstein – Directed by James Whale, this 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s (1797-1851) classic novel Frankenstein (1818) is by far one of the scariest movies ever made. Only a few years into “talkie” movies (1929 Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer was the first ever “talkie” movie) you know you have made a scary movie when people run out of the theater throughout the movie (which is exactly what happened in 1931). The special effects, make-up, and laboratory hold up amazingly well when you consider it was made close to 75 years ago. Boris Karloff without a doubt delivers the most classic performance of the Frankenstein monster ever made.
Note: For a hilarious spoof on the original, check out one of our all time favorites, Young Frankenstein (1974) starring the always-enjoyable Gene Wilder with Cloris Leachman.

Psycho (1960) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. This is a classic that stays with you and is every traveler’s worst nightmare when checking into a sketchy motel. Even today it keeps people on their paranoid toes when taking a shower. Anthony Perkin’s intense low-key performance is unnerving and the ending is still one of the all-time best of any classic scary movie.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) directed by George Romero. This low-budget black and white has probably spawned more zombie-related movies than any other movie made. Filmed in western Pennsylvania which adds to its authenticity, a few of us have been spooked in the cemetery of the living dead where some of the filming took place. The current zombie craze is a spinoff from this cult classic. After all, what isn’t scary about being locked in a country farmhouse when hundreds of local living-dead are trying to break in and eat you!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) directed by Tobe Hooper. Another cult classic with an unknown cast set in the remote and desolate Texas outback. Unchain your imagination when viewing this scary movie and you will be running wild with fright! Being chased by a leather-faced maniac with a chainsaw is enough to get anyone’s blood pumping!

The Exorcist (1973) directed by William Friedkin. One of the few movies worth all the hype when it first came out. The spinning head scene has spun its share of jokes and is one of the most familiar and referenced movie scenes ever. Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Max von Sydow give very authentic and believable performances that leave you wondering: “Is there somebody inside me?”

list of halloween movies

Jaws (1975) directed by Steven Spielberg. A movie that grabs you and won’t let you go into the water on your next visit to the beach. So many classic lines – “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat” – and classic scenes, it is a hard one to top. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, it was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard and became the first ever summer blockbuster that played in theaters all summer long. After filming was wrapped up, Dreyfus and Spielberg went to Hawaii for a vacation and couldn’t bring themselves to go in the water!
Note: The sequel is worth watching as well.

Halloween (1978) directed by John Carpenter.* Jamie Lee Curtis’s breakout performance. This movie is a real treat for teens and is considered the original “teen scream” movie that keeps you jumping out of your seat. Responsible for launching a whole new genre that is still going strong today with Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and Paranormal Activity.

top 10 horror movies Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott. A slow-to-start classic space thriller that picks up speed a third of the way through and continues to build to one of the scariest scenes in cinematic history (hint: My belly doesn’t feel so well). This movie put Sigourney Weaver on the map and also includes John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Harry Dean Stanton . It spawned a whole new alien genre with three sequels. Many attempts have been made to top this original space monster story and 35 years later it still hasn’t been done.

The Thing (1982) directed by John Carpenter. An all-time favorite and a rare movie remake that is 10 times better than the original. Kurt Russell, with a great character cast, gives an amazing performance of what it would be like to be stranded in Antarctica with the “THING.” A movie with one of the best opening sequences – a dog feverishly on the run from some-THING in an intense pursuit-and-capture leaves the dog exploding into a monster “THING” – that sets the stage for a wild and frightening ride to find who on the island has the THING inside of them.

Wrong Turn (2003) directed by Rob Schmidt with a largely unknown cast. A classic on-the-edge-of-your-seat movie that gives quite a fright and stays with you longer than you’d like. An easy-to-relate-to-situation that quickly turns into a nightmare will make you think twice about venturing off the beaten trail. The story takes place on the back roads of West Virginia where you will find that smart yuppies are no match for inbred hillbillies.

*For another fright from John Carpenter check out The Vampires (1998)

Apples, Apples, Apples — All Things Apples

recipes for fall“Man has been munching on apples for about 750,000 years, ever since the food gatherers of early Paleolithic times discovered sour, wild crab apples growing in the forests in Kazakhstan Central Asia.” Apple Cookbook (2001) by Olwen Woodier

‘Tis the season for apple pie baking! While bakers everywhere are busy rolling out the pie dough, Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York has been busy rolling out 66 apple varieties for more than a century including Cortland, Empire, Jonagold, Jonamac, and Macoun.

In her book Apple Lover’s Cookbook, Amy Traverso writes about her visit with Susan Brown, one of the horticulture professors and apple breeders at the 50-acre lab in Geneva near Lake Seneca where they breed, develop and produce apples that are ever more appealing to the tastes of consumers, who tend to favor crisp, juicy and firm varieties.

Along with satisfying the taste buds of consumers, the horticulturalists also experiment with fortifying the health benefits (“an apple a day keeps the doctor away”) by breeding apples that have as much vitamin C as oranges and those that have high levels of quercetin, a natural antioxidant that may have a role in protecting the brain cells from Alzheimer’s disease.

Ms. Traverso explains that the display of apples she saw during her visit was “a beautiful still life of diversity” and was “evidence of how many different traits are coded in the apple’s approximately 56,000 genes, (the human genome has somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 genes), the sequence of which was only recently decoded.”

Today, one doesn’t have to travel far to see the “beautiful still life of diversity” that Ms. Traverso recounts. It seems every fall one can find at least one new variety of apple with a “jazzy” name in the local market, crisply displayed with the abundance of varieties developed and grown across the globe – from Honey Crisp (developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 1991 to consumers) to Ginger Gold (Virginia), Snapdragon and Ruby Frost (both from Cornell), Cripps Pink (Pink Lady from Australia), and Jazz (developed in New Zealand).

As we approach the end of October, when time falls back and apples fall to the ground, ATG celebrates All Things Apples by “picking” a variety of apple recipes to share through the end of the month.

easy apple dessert recipes

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting (taken from The Apple Lovers Cookbook by Amy Traverso)

These cupcakes are really yummy – very moist and flavorful and easy to make!

Note: This recipe has a large yield, 24 cakes. However, you can cut the recipe in half fairly easily; most everything divides into two except for the eggs and the boiled cider. In that case, use 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk and 3 & 1/2 tablespoons boiled cider.  Also, for the baking powder, 1 & 1/2 teaspoons is equal to 1/2 tablespoon.

Ingredients for the cupcake:
2 sticks butter (16 tablespoons), room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 & 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
5 large eggs, room temperature (if cutting recipe in half, use 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup boiled cider (see notes below)
1 cup whole or 2% milk, room temperature

Apple cinnamon cupcakes recipe


  1. Using a mixer combine the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until pale and very fluffy (7-10 min.).
  2. Add 1 egg at a time to fully whipped butter/sugar mixture making sure to use all 5 eggs. Add the vanilla.
  3. In medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a medium bowl.
  4. In a small bowl stir the boiled cider into the milk.
  5. Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture with a little bit of the milk/cider and stir until just combined and then repeat the process two more times until both mixtures are thoroughly combined.
  6. Fill greased muffin tins two-thirds of the way and bake at 325-335 degree Foven for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Note: I did not have boiled cider so substituted with homemade applesauce making sure the consistency was thin and smooth. I cut up 2-3 Macintosh apples and cooked them in a saucepan with a little bit of a local apple cider to keep it on watery side. Or you can make your own boiled cider (see here) or order a pint from King Arthur Flour at this link.

Ingredients for the frosting:
2 packages cream cheese, room temp.
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter, room temp.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy.  Note: for a lighter frosting which doesn’t have a heavy cream cheese/butter taste cut back on the cream cheese to maybe 1 & 1/2 packages and maybe 5-6 tablespoons of butter.

Butternut Squash Bisque (taken from Simon Pearce)

1 large squash
1 large onion
8 cup water
8 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup of cream
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Butternut squash soup recipe


  1. Combine the butternut squash, onion and water in a sauce pot.
  2. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer until just tender.
  4. Drain the butternut squash and onions from the water.
  5. Place the butternut squash in to the blender.
  6. Then add the following the remaining ingredients and blend the mixture well.

Waldorf Salad (taken from Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier)

3 medium apples (any apple that is crisp and firm)
3 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper (we preferred a couple of sprinklings of black pepper)
4 mint leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley – optional
1 head of Boston lettuce (we used Romaine)

Waldort salad recipe


  1. Chill a medium-sized bowl for beating the cream.
  2. Core and dice the apples.  Place in large bowl.
  3. Add the celery and walnuts to the apples.
  4. Sprinkle lemon juice over apples and walnuts.
  5. Beat the cream until thick and stands in soft peaks, stir into apple mixture.
  6. Sprinkle mint or parsley on top (we substituted diced red grapes on top)
  7. Serve on lettuce leaves

For more Fall recipes, including a recipe for delicious homemade apple cider donuts, please see here.

Houston, We Have A Problem. And Matt Damon — The Martian — Can Fix It.

The Martian Ridley Scott
Picture taken from Our Solar System by Seymour Simon

“For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars…voyaging between horizons across the eternal seas of space and time.” – Henry Beston (1888-1968)

It seems that Fall has become the season for sci-fi action, space exploration thrillers. Last year (November 2014), we joined Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway as they plunged through a wormhole in search of a new home for mankind in Interstellar, and a year before that (October 2013), we embarked on a riveting, turbulent ride with Sandra Bullock in Gravity, which became the month’s highest-grossing live action film of all time.

This year, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring actor extraordinaire Matt Damon, is supposedly on course to surpass the latter, blasting off with $55 million on opening weekend.

Described as a “love letter to science”, the “ultimate survival story,” and “Cast Away for NASA Nerds,” with critics calling it among Scott’s best, it tells the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astro-botanist who becomes stranded on Mars after his crew mistakes him for dead during an emergency evacuation.

Striking the perfect balance between funny and suspenseful, Watney is forced to utilize human logic and his astronautic and botanical training to “science the shit out of” his daunting dilemma in order to survive, growing his own food, improvising ways to communicate with NASA and launching himself back into space to be “picked up” by a spaceship with the crew who left him behind.

An all around impressive film, with a truly stellar performance by Matt Damon, it showcases the limitless breadth of scientific ingenuity and human resiliency – and only makes Elon Musk’s vision of colonizing Mars seem more plausible – while delivering an inspirational message for the turbulence we can experience in our own lives on planet Earth – namely that, where there is a will, there is a way to accomplish anything, even the impossible.

the martian review
Picture taken from Our Solar System by Seymour Simon

In what has inevitably become one of the film’s most quotable moments, Watney says to a classroom full of young astronauts upon his return: “It’s space. It doesn’t cooperate. I guarantee you that at some point, everything’s going to go south on you. And you’re going to say, ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that…or you can get to work.”

He continues: “You do the math. You solve one problem. And then you solve another. And then another. Solve enough and you stay alive.”

Here’s to solving problems – in life, on Earth and beyond!

For another well-done film about Mars, check out “Mission to Mars” (2000), directed by Brian De Palma and starring Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle; an action-packed recovery mission, set in the year 2020, to bring back the crew of the “first manned mission to Mars” after encountering a catastrophic disaster.

Mistress America: So Much To Be, So Little Time

Mistress America Movie ReviewNoah Baumbach’s latest film, Mistress America, is an unexpected delight first and foremost for the abundance of laugh-out-loud moments and the many quotable lines delivered in Woody Allan-esque, rapid-fire sequences.

A classic “coming of age” story set in New York City, it follows Tracy (Lola Kirke), a freshman and social outcast at New York City’s Barnard College who finds herself captivated by the seemingly glamorous life of her soon-to-be 30-year-old stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), only to become disillusioned by the fact that Brooke’s life isn’t as “together” as it appears.

What makes this film particularly brilliant, however, is its ability to capture – with a rare, authentic awareness – both the exhilaration and lamentation of the endless career possibilities available in today’s world of entrepreneurial pioneers.

Admittedly, part of my enthusiasm stems from having lived in New York City for the past three years – a city I have come to know well, where ambition is not just a prevailing attitude, but a means of survival.

It is Greta Gerwig’s character that embodies this so humorously (and with pointed relevance), as we learn that Brooke – who radiates an infectious energy and charisma inherent in the city itself – is a freelance interior designer, high school tutor, Soul Cycle instructor, all while attempting to secure investment for a restaurant she envisions as a “community shop, general store, bodega”-like place called “Moms” where “it will always feel like Fall inside” and where you can eat, take cooking classes, “but also where you cut hair.”

Brooke is, as Tracy narrates, “kind and fearless,” someone who “spent time purposefully”; “Being around her is like being in New York City…[making] you want to find life, not hide from it.”

Indeed, to say that she is the ultimate “go-getter” – not to mention a seemingly confident, independent and bold woman (“there’s nothing I don’t know about myself, that’s why I can’t do therapy,” she says) – would be an understatement.

Greta Gerwig Mistress AmericaWhat soon becomes clear, however, is that while she appears to be “doing it all,” she is barely doing anything, slowly becoming unraveled by all of her “creative and great ideas.”

“I think I’m sick and I don’t know if my ailment has a name,” Brooke says to Tracy toward the end of the film, explaining that she has been “staring at the internet and TV” for hours on end, followed by bouts of excitement for various ideas she has, but doesn’t know how to implement.

“I just can’t figure out how to work in the world,” Brooke finally states. “I wish we lived in feudal times, when your position couldn’t change…if you were a king or peasant, you had to be happy with just who you were.”

Brooke’s momentary romantic reflection on the feudal past and the simplicity inherent in a concrete social hierarchy of kings and queens, princes, princesses and peasants – where one’s days are not spent on an arduous quest for self-definition – is one of the more poignant moments in the film. She becomes fully and painfully aware of her whirlwind quest of “how to work” in a world where anyone can invent, reinvent, define and redefine themselves on their own terms and in their own way.

“I’m going to be worse off now than before I started to accomplish stuff,” Brooke says at one point.

Such freedom for invention and reinvention is certainly liberating, but as Baumbach captures so astutely, it can also be severely, detrimentally paralyzing.

“The world was changing,” Tracy narrates at the tail end of the film. “And her kind had no where to go.”

Noah Baumbach Mistress America

Where should I go? What should I do? Who should I be? These are all questions that we confront in life, which is partly why this 84-minute journey with the character Brooke is highly entertaining and relatable.

Indeed, as a young woman in one of the biggest cities in the world, where I step out my apartment each morning energized by knowing I can do and be anything, it gave me a bit of solace to know that I might not be the only one trying to “figure out how to work in the world.”

Mistress America is currently playing in New York City’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema. Watch for its DVD release on December 1, 2015.

A New Day for a New World: Happy Explorers’ Day!

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” – T.S. Eliot

Today is Columbus Day, a day when we celebrate the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, commissioned by King Ferdinand of Spain, to sail the ocean blue in 1492 on his boats the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina in search of the “New World.”

Given the growing controversy about the validity and integrity of celebrating a man who was not the first to step on the shores of America – and the ensuing insensitivity toward the indigenous Native American population – we might instead consider renaming the holiday “Explorers’ Day”, inspired by Hawaii’s “Discoverers’ Day”, in which we celebrate all explorers worldwide.

Discoverers' Day Holiday

Indeed, there are a great many explorers to celebrate. From Ponce de Leon to the Norseman Leif Eriksson; Meriwether Lewis & William Clark and Sacagawea; the Antarctica explorer Ernest Shackleton; Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to reach the peak of Mt. Everest; first man on the moon Neil Armstrong; Jacques Cousteau, who explored the deep blue oceans; Henry Hudson of the beautiful Hudson River; and Marco Polo to the present day larger-than-life explorer Elon Musk.

Famous explorersAs seekers and explorers of All Things Good, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the world of exploration by “discovering” something new today, whether it be a new book, new museum, new restaurant or coffee shop.

Our discovery? Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), an explorer and writer from England who is known for “helping to establish modern Iraq after WW1” and who, together with the famed British traveler, T.E. Lawrence (i.e. Lawrence of Arabia) “tried to forge alliances with Arab tribes.”

Interestingly, she has remained highly relevant, as “[h]er writings about her experiences in the Middle East – particularly in Iraq – continue to be studied and referenced by policy experts in the 21st century.”

Also of interest:
Despite her own political achievements, Bell actively opposed women’s suffrage in Britain. She argued that the vast majority of her contemporaries lacked the education and knowledge of the world necessary to participate meaningfully in political debate.

See also our list of recommendations for nonfiction adventure and exploration books.

One More Cup of Coffee for the Road…

In morning there is darkness, light and then a good hot cup of coffee. Rarely are we able to begin our days without it. Indeed, a sip of fresh, hot coffee in the morning is like magic, turning moans and groans into spoken words.

Facts about coffee

“Coffee is a daily ritual in the lives of millions of humans around the globe,” Tori Avey writes in Caffeinated: A History of Coffee. It is by far the world’s most popular beverage (more than 2.2 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day). Whether it is the pleasure of holding a warm cup or taking the first sip, it is as if God knew man would need something strong to entice him out of bed in the morning and help prepare him for the challenges of the day ahead.

That “something strong” is the Coffea Tree, an evergreen shrub that produces a fruit known as “cherries” in which two coffee beans are cocooned. It first grew on the mountain slopes of southwestern Ethiopia, which is considered the birthplace of coffee.

Most of us have a story or a memory of when, where, and why we drank our first cup of coffee – from college all-nighters to working night shifts – as a brother of mine did back in 1993 when he was flying 10 hour night missions over the Adriatic Sea during the Bosnian War.

Having never before had a cup of coffee, it didn’t take him long to acquire a taste and strong desire for the cappuccinos that the Italians offered him in the hangar on the U.S. Military Base in Sigonella, Sicily. The cappuccinos that he drank during the preflight preparations set the stage for a long night ahead on board the P3 where the crew of 12 kept a large pot of coffee brewing throughout the night patrol.

When he returned to the states, he brought his fondness for those cappuccinos with him, seeking out cappuccinos wherever he was and whenever his body, night or day, needed that “jolt.”

History of coffee

Around the mid- to late-nineties, when Starbucks began appearing on the corner blocks of every town across America, those cappuccino-seeking-lovers like my brother no longer had to search far.

“Starbucks introduced a generation to specialty coffee and espresso drinks,” Bangor Daily News writes. Indeed, Starbucks, which first opened in Seattle in 1971, set the stage for what has evolved over the decades into the “Third Wave” of coffee.

Coined in 2002 as a “chiefly American phenomenon”, Third Wave coffee is a movement that shares a similar evolution to that of wine and chocolate, where a mass-produced foodstuff is elevated to new culinary heights as “an experience” to be understood and appreciated. As the Bangor Daily News states, coffee, which was “once a means to a caffeinated end, was now an ‘experience’, or even a status symbol.”

The movement has come to encompass every aspect of coffee, from the source of the bean’s origin to its cultivation, harvesting, processing and roasting, and has led to the development of a mutually beneficial relationship between producers, traders and roasters of coffee. “Our partners are much more than farmers,” writes Eric Hoest, head of Operations for Stumptown Coffee, “they are production experts, constantly innovating practices in planting, harvesting, and processing the best coffees around…producers are the heart of what makes good coffee.”

“Coffee as an experience” can be seen today in specialty shops across the country where one can discover and learn about the distinctive features of the Third Wave movement – defined by direct trade, superior quality beans, single-origin (as opposed to mass-produced blends), lighter roasts and latte art.

Starbucks history
3rd Avenue Starbucks, New York City

Howard Schultz, the owner of Starbucks, first recognized the value of coffee as an experience when he travelled to Milan, Italy back in the early 80’s and observed the many cafes where people would spend their afternoons sipping cappuccinos and socializing. Coffee houses throughout the history of time were a meeting place for lively discussions and political debates, religious meetings, storytelling and singing – they were part of the “societal fabric” – from the mid-15th century, when coffee houses started springing up in European countries, through the 1650’s when “all-nighters” were born with the formation of the “Oxford Coffee Club” (information from

It was with this in mind that Mr. Shultz, upon purchasing Starbucks in 1987, initiated an American “rebirth” of coffee from the days before tin cans.

Today, alongside the blended tin canned coffees such as Maxwell House (1886; “Good to the Last Drop”) and Folgers (1866; “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup”), one will find a seemingly infinite variety of specialty roasters on store shelves.

“The shelves at cafes and food shops are overrun with beautifully designed bags of single-origin beans from small-batch roasters,” writes The morning ritual for many family kitchens has gone from brewing one big pot of coffee for everyone to setting out the various bags of craft roasted coffee that each has claimed as their favorite ‘morning joe’ for the present moment.

From Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine to Counter Culture in Durham, North Carolina; Intelligentsia in Chicago; Lexington Coffee Roasters in Virginia; PT’s Coffee Roasting in Topeka, Kansas; Peace Coffee in Minneapolis; Blue Bottle in California and Stumptown in Portland, Oregon, we are living in the “best era ever for quality coffee” ( These represent just some of the best from the vibrant coffee scene of artisan roasters who are “finessing the roast of beans to ultimate degrees” (

how to roast coffee

Intelligentsia Coffee’s website explains it well, writing:

“Coffee roasting is an intensely dynamic combination of art and science wherein a batch of raw, green coffee beans is transformed into a caramelized state which can be ground, brewed, and enjoyed. The goal of the roaster is to unlock the many potential flavors that lie dormant within the green beans to achieve a delicate, nuanced, and balanced cup that best showcases the characteristics that make each coffee unique.”

The “story of coffee” in America will continue to be told by the next generation of coffee roasters, according to Oliver Strand who, in his article for the Wall Street Journal, “Coffee’s Next Generation of Roasters,” highlights Supersonic Coffee in Berkeley, California as one of the first to “reshape America’s coffee obsession.” He writes:

“The first roasting company in the U.S. to buy from Nordic Approach, a renowned Norway-based importer that sources only high-quality ‘green’ coffees, Supersonic will light-roast in the so-called Scandinavian style used by groundbreaking roasters in Northern Europe. ‘We wanted to look five years ahead,’ says John Laird, one of Supersonic’s founders, ‘and do something that would feel fresh down the line.’”  

While this new wave is busy forming, craft coffee roasters all across America continue to pop up, each with their own unique story about how their passions for coffee led them to join the roasting craze.

Third wave coffeeEven my brother, a pilot after all of these many years – who came to depend on the little roadside cappuccino stands for his caffeine boost on his way to the Fiumicino airport in Rome, and who has probably had more cups of coffee in more Starbucks across the country than anyone I know – joined the coffee craze years ago when he began to roast his own beans at home.

His coffee story continues today after a three-day course at Dietrich’s, a company in Idaho that manufacturers one of the world’s best coffee roasters and offers coffee roasting classes.

I leaned from my visit with him that he tends to like a traditional dark roast, which is referred to as a Full City Roast or Viennese Roast and that he likes to roast with beans from Columbia. I also learned about the importance of acidic balance – too little acid makes for a flat tasting coffee. And I learned that about 75 percent of the beans sold by producers are “Arabica” as opposed to “robusta,” for many reasons that I have yet to learn.

Ultimately, however, I learned that there is just so much to learn about coffee. In fact, after all this learning, I think I need one more cup of coffee for the road.

speciality coffee roasters


#Kindness4Colleen, Kindness For All

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

The above quote, attributed to the Lebanese-American author Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) most well known for his book The Prophet, has always been one of my favorites. Serving as a counterpoint to a prevailing cultural ethos that too readily equates strength with acts of self-empowerment and self-aggrandizement, it is a reminder of a “quieter” strength, one that doesn’t seek the world’s attention and approval, but instead manifests itself in acts of humility, sacrifice and loving kindness when no one is looking.

While I did not know her, and was made aware of her only recently through a friend, I get the sense that Colleen Ritzer – a Massachusetts native and high school math teacher whose life was tragically and mercilessly stolen from her at the age of 24 – was one of these people.

Described in this Boston Globe article as “a paragon of caring” who was “lighthearted, kind, and genuinely nice” and in this CNN article as a “dynamic and brilliant ray of light”, a “young caring girl” who was “energetic and compassionate” and “extremely approachable”, and again in this Huffington Post piece as a “very, very respected, loved teacher” and “gentle, with a big smile,” the impact Colleen has had on her friends, family, students and strangers is certainly palpable.

Colleen Ritzer legacy
Colleen Ritzer and her best friend, Jennifer Berger; Summer 2013

“I really do believe the reason why so many have connected to Colleen since her passing is because she was simply good to people in an effortless way,” says Jennifer Berger, a close friend of Colleen’s since kindergarten. “For example, she’d always greet you with a big smile, or let you know she was thinking about you by sending a card when there was no occasion.”

She added: “Colleen was a genuine person who cared about people and was always thinking of others…she valued her family and friends to the utmost [and] was an amazing role model.”

On October 22nd, marking the two-year anniversary of Colleen’s death, Ms. Berger is organizing a “Kindness Campaign”, asking people to perform acts of kindness and share them online using the hashtag #Kindness4Colleen, to help honor her legacy and the values by which she lived.

“The goal of the #Kindness4Colleen campaign is to turn the day that will always be sad, the day we lost Colleen, and try to make it a little better,” she says. “I have always wanted to find a way to honor Colleen’s legacy and I couldn’t think of anything better than asking people to spread kindness in her name.”

While there are certainly many different ways of exhibiting kindness – from smiling at a stranger to helping an elderly person cross the street – Ms. Berger says that, to her, being kind is thinking beyond yourself and being considerate of others.

“Kindness can be big or small and sometimes it’s the little things that can have the greatest impact,” she says. “From a really young age, Colleen and I learned to treat others as you would like to be treated,” she continued. “Colleen was the epitome of that and more.”

In fact, a favorite quote of Colleen’s, attributed to Taylor Swift, comes from her teacher twitter account, which she regularly used to connect with her students, posting homework assignments along with inspirational messages: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”

That Colleen practiced such goodness in her own life, thereby creating a lasting impression and “wonderful legacy”, is evident in the campaign that Ms. Berger is organizing – and serves as further proof that kindness carries with it a quiet strength and power that can trump all else.

As seekers of all things good, it is my hope you’ll join us on October 22nd in honoring Colleen’s legacy by spreading kindness and sharing it on the campaign’s Facebook and Twitter pages with the hashtag #Kindness4Colleen.

After all, as Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They will remember how you made them feel.”

You can read more about Colleen’s legacy and the #Kindness4Colleen campaign on the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund’s website.

This piece also appeared in The Huffington Post.