Expect the Unexpected

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Archive for the month “February, 2020”

Ephemeral Art: Dirty vans and cars

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Nikita Golubev, aka Pro Boy Nick, creates ephemeral art on dirty trucks and cars.

Don’t you hate dirty car windows? Covered in brown dirt and dry mud? Well, some creative artists have found gold in that darn mud, turning dirty trucks and cars into ephemeral masterpieces.

Russian artist Nikita Golubev, aka Pro Boy Nick, @nikitagolubevart on Facebook, does traditional illustrations and portraits, but he also does street art in Moscow, what you might call “reverse graffiti.”

Using just his fingers or a paintbrush he scrapes away at the dirt on trucks and cars creating all kinds of things like a crocodile, skull, praying hands, or a scene out of Star Wars, giving Nick the nickname “The Dirty Van Artist.”

So beautiful… until it rains. Like all ephemeral art, it’s here today and gone tomorrow.

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Dirty van art by Pro Boy Nick.

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This design by Pro Boy Nick really suits its “canvas.” 

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Yoda, by Pro Boy Nick, on the back of a very dirty truck.

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The Lord’s Prayer as envisioned by Pro Boy Nick.

Scott Wade has been called the “Da Vinci of Dust,” but he prefers “The Dirty Car Artist” @dirtycarartist on Facebook.

Like Pro Boy Nick, the spunky Texan takes dirt on vehicles and creates artistic masterpieces.

Unlike Nick, Wade adds more dirt to car windows so he can make more intricate designs.

Dirty cars never looked so good!

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Mona Lisa and Starry re-created by Scott Wade in dirt.

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Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, immortalized by Scott Wade until it rains.

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A New England lighthouse in Texas, courtesy of Scott Wade.

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Scott Wade at work.

More Ephemeral Art:

3D Sidewalk Chalk Art

Amazing Fruit Carvings

The Smoke Ring King

Pumpkin Carvings

Rainbow Ribbon Jello Mold

Coffee foam, The Gates, Sandcastles

Vegan chocolates are pretty darn good

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Royal Treasures chocolate collection from Divine Treasures are vegan and gluten-free.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s hard not to think about chocolates. A lot of people will be giving and getting them.

An admitted chocolate fan, I recently discovered vegan chocolates while hunting for a gift for my daughter-in-law who eats only plant-based food. Before she went vegan she had a passion for chocolate but she was missing it. Turns out most regular chocolate has dairy in it. Many vegan chocolate products, she said, were grossly inferior to the “good stuff.” 

So, the search was on. In Paris last year, I bought her several vegan chocolate bars from Chapon Chocolatier, which specializes in excellent single-origin chocolate, including some vegan varieties. It also has a chocolate mousse bar, serving up your choice in paper cones! America, you need branches of Chapon Chocolatier here, right now. I want to own one.  

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Chocolate Mousse Bar at Chapon Chocolatier in Paris.

Looking for good vegan chocolate in the states, I came across Divine Treasures in Manchester, Connecticut. You can visit their store or order online/. Perfect!

I ordered a box of mixed vegan chocolates which were not only rich and full of dark chocolate goodness, but were pretty darn cute. An added plus is they included a brochure which explained the filling inside each one. Yes! All chocolatiers should do that!

My daughter-in-law swooned over them. Salted caramel, peanut butter, mango, just some of the flavors in the box. Their base is made from high quality organic European dark chocolate. Nuts, real fruits, and liqueurs are also distinctively present. A thumbs up!

So how did  these first-rate vegan chocolates stack up against non-vegan chocolates? Well, that’s up to everyone’s individual taste. I personally rank Divine Treasure’s vegan chocolates in the “good” category.

I am extremely opinionated when it comes to chocolate, so let me explain my own personal Chocolate Ranking System. There are five categories, going from worst to first. 

5. Worst —Fake Chocolate. Palmer’s Easter Bunnies and the like. Made from what is called “compound chocolate” using cocoa and vegetable oil instead of real chocolate. Not worth the calories. So why do they sell so much of this in supermarkets and 7-Elevens? Because it’s cheap. You get what you pay for, and back in the day, adults didn’t care what their kids ate. But times, they be a changing.

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Notice how the label on this bunny says “Chocolaty” rather than chocolate. A tipoff it’s fake.

I’ll also throw white chocolate in here. Technically it’s not chocolate at all. But some grades of white chocolate are better than others, with more cocoa butter in them. So if you want a good one, read the label.

4. Supermarket Chocolate. Candy bars in general, what you give out for Halloween. Sugar is the top ingredient in candy bars. The order of ingredients in a Hershey bar are cane sugar, milk, chocolate, cocoa butter, milk fat, lecithin (soy), and natural flavor. Sugar leads the way. 

3. Fancy Supermarket Chocolate. These are primarily the same caliber as candy bars but gussied up and disguised to look fancier in last-minute gift boxes of Russell Stover’s or Whitman Sampler.s 

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Lindt truffles are full of oil.

For Lindt truffles, the ingredients in order are: Sugar, cocoa butter, coconut oil, milk, cocoa mass, palm kern oil, soya lecithin, barley malt extract, and artificial flavour. Yech, full of oil. Shame on you Lindt. You should be better than that.

There are some very good fancy supermarket chocolates. In particular, Ritter Sport Bars (try the biscuit one) and Trader Joe’s chocolate bars, try the milk chocolate and hazelnut one).

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Ritter Sports bars are German but fortunately are readily available in America and online.

2. Good Chocolate. This chocolate is more crafted, usually handmade with quality ingredients and is better than supermarket grade. You’ll often find good chocolate sold in little boutique stores (deserving of your support). This is where I would place Divine Treasures vegan chocolates.

Other good chocolates I’ve had the pleasure to try are Lake Champlain Chocolates, Vosges, Li-Lac, and Neuhaus. My guilty pleasure is See’s Candies. Handmade, See’s is a fine example of Americana. Easy to order online/.

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See’s Chocolates — delicious Americana.

Godiva chocolates are arguably at the “Good” level, but their quality has dramatically slipped over time. Initially made from fine Belgian chocolate, Godiva is now owned by a Turkish holding company and its chocolates are nowhere near as good as they used to be. Bring back the Raspberry Crowns! 

1. Fine Chocolate. Painstakingly made with the best quality chocolate on earth. Hand crafted from the finest cocoa beans, and high in cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Texture is smooth and creamy, and each piece is meant to be very slowly savored and enjoyed. You will pay the most for these chocolates. But they are the creme de la creme.

On our visit to Paris last year, we were astounded at the number of fine chocolate shops, where bonbons were displayed like jewels. Jacques Genin, Pierre Hermé, Patrick Roger, Chapon Chocolatier are some of the best in Paris, although there are many more.

Fine American chocolatiers include Kee’s Chocolates in New York City, L.A. Burdick, Norman Love and Jacques Torres.

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Chocolate Mice from L.A. Burdick

In Connecticut, we have some outstanding fine chocolatiers. Le Rouge- Handmade Chocolates by Aarti in Westport serves up dazzling chocolates, some with out-of-the-ordinary spice fillings. Fortunately for everyone around the country, they can be ordered online/.

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Dazzling chocolates by Le Rouge- Handmade Chocolates by Aarti from Westport, Connecticut, and available online. 

Bridgewater Chocolates in Brookfield, Connecticut specializes in premium handmade chocolates. Their toffee crunch bars are addictive, but it’s their Chocolate Covered Amarena Cherries that, to me, are amazing. If you like chocolate covered cherries, you simply must try them. They pack a wallop of flavor and are a bargain at $16.95 for a cubed box. Can be ordered online/.

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They may look innocuous, but Bridgewater Chocolate’s Amarena Cherries get my vote as the best chocolate covered cherries in the universe.

At the end of the day, Americans love their chocolate, regular or vegan, at all price points and definitely not only on Valentine’s Day. As Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit!

Why the film Parasite is as American as apple pie

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A scene from the Oscar-winning film Parasite, where the poor can serve, but never truly be part of the lives of the rich.

Wow, Parasite, a South Korean film took home four Oscars — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film!

But even though the film is in a foreign language and subtitled, its theme is as American as apple pie, unfortunately without the ice cream on top.

As I said in my previous blog post, Parasite is a good film. But I didn’t say much more than, “I completely identified with the family at the center of the film and their struggles.”

So here is my full explanation.

WARNING ***MAJOR SPOILER AND PLOT ALERT*** WATCH THE FILM FIRST, THEN COME BACK AND READ (PLEASE).

The plot of Parasite: Members of a poor family scheme to become employed by a wealthy family by infiltrating their household and posing as unrelated, highly qualified individuals.

Things go well initially. The poor family enjoys the fruits of working in a rich household. But things then turn to crap, literally and figuratively. Through a series of unfortunate events, the family’s lives are destroyed, the lives of the family they work for are destroyed and members of a rival family are destroyed.

Their South Korean dream, akin to our American dream, turns into a nightmare and comes to a crashing halt.

The film’s message is on par with the American classic The Great Gatsby, whose author F. Scott Fitzgerald said:

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.   

Fitzgerald’s thoughts are completely on point with Parasite. The rich couple in the film, though seemingly kind to the poor family, actually attributes a foul smell to them, the smell of the… “subway!”

The father in the family, particularly feels humiliated and shamed when he learns this. Any loyalty he felt to the rich family is destroyed. The class difference is front and center, and he knows he lies at the bottom of it.

My heart aches for the family, trying to climb out of austere poverty, but overtaken by their exaggerated sense of being nouveau riche, acting as if they can attain a rich life just by inhabiting its facade.

Jay Gatsby couldn’t do it either.

Adding further depth to class distinction, Parasite takes things a step further, showing the battle within the lower class itself. The first family encounters another poor family who has the same dreams they do, but with one member who has sacrificed his personal freedom for years just to get a scrap from the wealthy class.

So sorry for both families. They just could not clench and fight their way out of their station in life.

But some of us do.

Parasite also reminds me of Anton Chekhov’s classic short story Oysters which in just a couple pages shows the plight of the poor dealing with the rich.

In Oysters, a father who can’t find a job, can not bring himself to beg on the streets, even though he and his young son are starving. The son, however, learns real fast that you have to do what you have to do in order to survive, even if it means being humiliated by the rich. And he does just that. On a positive note, the son is the narrator of this story, so we know he survived. He became a writer!

The plot of Parasite touched me personally.

The oldest of seven children, I grew up in a poor household in suburban West Bridgewater, Mass, in the 1960s. We lived in a two and a half bedroom house with one bathroom and constantly failing septic system. I learned how to cook by turning U.S.D.A. government surplus food (unsliced logs of American cheese, cans of stinking mystery meat, powdered milk) into palatable meals. My mom worked like a dog as a police dispatcher in order to provide for us, while my dad, who was very sociable, worked odd jobs and gambled away his meager wages. I became the family’s nurturer.

I grew up fast. When I was eight, I saw the lay of the land. Other poor families mocked us, made fun of our dilapidated house and ratty clothes. We were at the bottom of the barrel when it came to being poor in the suburbs.

But I knew I had a ticket out of this life — Education. I studied like crazy, getting advice from some of the kindest teachers. My parents screamed at me for wanting to go to college, saying I needed to stay home and care for the family.  But three fine West Bridgewater teachers (Patricia Murphy, Marietta Kent, Marie Rosenthal) helped me with my college applications. My childhood plan worked. I attended Boston University, getting a degree in English.

Part of that time, I worked in the household of a Nobel Laureate’s family. They employed  someone to clean their house, someone to do their laundry, someone to handle their household expenses, someone to care for their children, someone to buy their food, someone to cook it…  I wondered, do these people even live their own lives, or do they just make guest appearances?

They were good to me though. They paid me a fair wage. But I knew, no matter how educated I was, they would never consider me to be on their level in life.

So you can be like the little boy in Oysters and make the best of your situation, learn and grow from it, and find your own way.

Or you can be like the family in Parasite and let jealousy and envy destroy you. Just as it did Jay Gatsby.

That’s the message I got from the film Parasite. As they say, your mileage may vary.

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The family in Parasite believes a rock will bring them good luck.

Not looking forward to the Oscars, again

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Scene from Parasite, Best Film Oscar nominee

Going into tonight’s telecast of the 92nd Academy Awards, I don’t have much enthusiasm. I do enjoy watching the speeches in the four acting categories. Yes, Sally Field, we really do like you.

But the main draw for me is Best Picture.

As a film buff, the recent Best Film winners left me speechless, as in I had nothing great to say about any of them. Green Book, The Shape of Water, Moonlight, and Spotlight were okay, but they are resting in my one-and-done pile, no need or desire to see them again. A Best Oscar winner should be better.

The 2020 Best Picture nominees are:

Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
Parasite

Nine nominees is about four too many in my book. I didn’t get to see them all (just five), but only one — Parasite, is worthy of Hollywood’s top prize, in my humble opinion.

The Irishman was beyond boring, way too long, with self-indulgent acting and direction. I love Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence are brilliant), but this film is an exercise in unbridled narcissism. Scorsese joins the ranks of directors Steven Spielberg (horribly bad adaptation of War Horse) and Quentin Tarantino. They are famous and well-funded and therefore go mainly unedited when it comes to their vision going on film. Even if that vision is no feast for the eyes of the audience.

Joker, like The Irishman, is not Best Picture caliber. Todd Phillips couldn’t let Heath Ledger’s dynamic performance in The Dark Night rest in peace. This film is a decidedly “horrorble” mess.  Joaquin Phoenix though was gripping. Rooting for him for Best Actor, though Jonathan Pryce was surprisingly effective in The Two Popes as was Adam Driver in Marriage Story.

Marriage Story is more suited for the Hallmark Channel, rather than the Oscars. That’s no slight to Hallmark. But is a dig at the level the Academy has sunk to in order to fill out its nominee roster.

Once upon a Time…in Hollywood proves how good a writer Quentin Tarantino is. He’s creative and original (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction). But like Scorsese and Spielberg, he’s too big for his britches once he gets behind the camera. Tarantino’s ego pours out in “Hollywood” with his way too long “car drives along the road to music” scenes. They took me out of the film, as I muttered, “There goes Tarantino again.” If that is his goal, mission accomplished. For this one, loved the script, hated the execution. Rooting for Brad Pitt, well who couldn’t.

Parasite was the last Oscar-nominated film I saw, and it was “Good.” In this race, “good” is about as good is it gets. I completely identified with the family at the center of the film and their struggles. The film is creative, taking what appears to be a straightforward class-conscious tale and giving it an explosive outcome.

Eventually I’ll get around to the films I haven’t seen, Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, and 1917. Maybe one or more of those has that special spark that used to ignite Best Picture Oscars. Miss those days.

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Watching the Oscars by the toilet is not inappropriate. From Parasite

I was Mother of the Bride and Grandma on the same day

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My daughter Katie and husband Bill at their wedding on Nov. 9, 2019.

Talk about expecting the unexpected.

Our family will never forget Nov. 9, 2019.  Let me explain.

More than a year earlier, my daughter Katie’s boyfriend, Bill, asked my husband and me to join him for an ice cream at a local shop. He somewhat nervously, but very politely asked if we would allow him to ask for our daughter’s hand in marriage.

Such a sweet gesture. I thought the tradition of asking parents this question was long gone. But Bill is THAT guy. Good-natured, with a big booming laugh, he is also generous and caring, and very respectful of others. He also makes Katie very happy.

To be honest, we couldn’t say “Yes” fast enough.

I liked Bill the moment I met him. Katie brought him to dinner, and I had made a rib roast with all the trimmings. Bill had seconds, then thirds, of everything. A man that eats, that’s my kind of man. And despite his healthy appetite he managed to keep a lean, trim physique. We should all be so lucky.

So when the two decided to tie the knot in 2018, we dove into the wedding planning. The couple found a lovely venue, the Fox Hill Inn in Brookfield, Conn., which was available the following year, on Nov. 9, 2019, so we booked it. Having months to prepare was good, it gave us time to save the money we would need to hold this special event.

Months later, my son Kevin, Katie’s older brother, had some news for us. After living halfway across the state for the past year, he had accepted a new job, much closer to us. He asked if it would be okay if he and his wife Hilary stayed with us for a few months while they settled in the area and looked for a new home. Of course, no problem.

After a few months as our houseguests, Kevin had some more news. He and Hilary were expecting a baby. Our first grandchild! The due date was Nov. 16, a week after Katie and Bill’s wedding.

Let me just cut to the chase…

Friday, Nov. 8, I’m getting text messages every half hour from Kevin. Hilary went into labor around noon, a week early, and is doing her best to avoid a Cesarean. It turns out to be one very long day, and then one very long night.

Kevin texts me continually, filling me in on every stage. Labor starts, then it slows down, then it starts again. Hilary is induced, it doesn’t work. She rests, then wakes up and goes at it again.  Finally, the next day, at 4:39 a.m., we get the news. Healthy baby Graham has arrived. Mom had a tough go but she avoided the Cesarean.

In the meantime, Katie’s wedding is in seven hours, at 11:30 a.m. I was exhausted, but riding on Cloud 9 after Kevin texted me a photo of my new grandson.

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Me and baby Graham on Nov. 10.

Somehow I made it to my hair and makeup appointment on time and then to the wedding venue, where news had spread about the baby, and how crazy it was that our daughter was getting married the same day. I can’t tell you how many of our guests asked if we planned things this way… AS IF!

The wedding was beautiful. The reception was a blast. The band, City Express, was an absolute WOW. Bill, who plays guitar in a band, delighted everyone when he joined in for a number, performing “Smooth” by Santana.

In truth, things could not have gone more smoothly. Everything worked out. Being a grandmother and mother of the bride on the same day was pretty cool. Our family now has a new hashtag, #EverythingAtOnce.

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Sharing a glass of bubbly with Katie before the wedding ceremony.

A new year, new blog

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Welcome to 2020. A new year, and a new attempt to resurrect this blog. It’s been a long time, and I miss it. Life, as they say, just got in the way. But people keep commenting on old posts and I appreciate what they have to say, so I’m back.  My New Year’s resolution this year is to clear out the clutter. I figure this is one resolution I actually have a chance of keeping! How about you?

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