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How a man fooled the online world into believing that he was a heavy metal rock star named Jered Threatin.

Berlin regulates Airbnb and safely deflates its housing bubble while retuning 8,000 rentals to the market.

Stop patronizing the working class.

Depression era dishes: Nine budget recipes that are still good enough to eat today.

Automating inequality: Using algorithms to create a modern “digital poor-house.”

Motorists falsely arrested on DUI charges describe the life-ruining results.

Ten amazing true-life passenger stories from the Titanic disaster.

“Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal”: Employees say Whole Foods is using “scorecards” to punish them.

Short-termism led the Democratic Party to let unions die and now they’ve lost their base.

Airbnb guests repeatedly discover hidden cameras in the homes they rent.

America’s underpaid workforce imperils U.S. and global economies.

Jesus was a pronto-communist Jewish hobo who criticized the rich.

An unexpected find: A dinosaur tail discovered trapped in amber.

The invisibility of being old, disabled, or both.

The dark aftermath of 1968’s murder, revolution, and protest is nearly forgotten.

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I haven’t been attending the weekly meetings of my support group for people who are separated or divorced as much as I used to. It’s due partly to my ten-year-old car (I don’t drive that car very far these days because it has a lot of problems—such as a broken taillight with the electrical short that makes changing the lightbulb a waste of time because I need to spend a lot of money to get a new circuit board installed) and due partly because many of the topics that are discussed in those meetings (such as “How to Begin Your Emotional Divorce”) I have already heard before. (That’s the thing about going to weekly divorce recovery meetings—after a year or so, the topics start to repeat.)

Once a year my support group has a party instead of its regular weekly meeting that’s usually held on the Thursday after Christmas. The party is potluck so everyone is invited to bring food to share. People are also invited to take an unwanted gift that someone else had given to them, wrap it up, and bring it to the party for the White Elephant gift exchange. Those parties are always fun and lively and I decided to drive to that party because I haven’t seen many of the regular attendees in a long while.

Since I hadn’t received any gifts for Christmas I didn’t have an unwanted present to share. The party organizers said that one can opt to buy a new present just for this party as long as it doesn’t cost more than $30. With my current tight financial situation, I initially thought about shopping at Five Below. I’ve bought previous White Elephant gifts at that store. I had intended to go to Aldi first to buy some food for the party (I ended up buying some potato chips) then go on to Five Below. I made a turn into a shopping center in Bowie in an effort to go to Aldi until I found out that it was the wrong shopping center and Aldi was located in a different shopping center located just a mile away. As I was about to leave the shopping center, I saw a Tuesday Morning store so I decided to park there instead and go in.

I hit pay dirt in that store immediately. The front of the store had Christmas decorations for 50% off and I saw something that was so unusual that I thought it would be perfect for the White Elephant. It was a zebra wearing a Santa hat with a saddle full of gifts. (I later took these photos in the Market Cafe at Wegmans where I bought a soda and did some Internet web surfing before the party). I’ve seen Christmas donkeys, Christmas reindeer, and Christmas camels before but I’ve never seen a Christmas zebra until I bought it at Tuesday Morning.

Here are the price tags that were attached to the Christmas zebra that I removed before I put it in the gift bag. The left tag shows the original $25 price tag. The right tag showed the reduced price of $12.99. By the time I purchased that zebra the price had been reduced further to just $6. It wasn’t shown on either tag but it showed up when I paid for it at the cash register.

I went to Aldi where I purchased the chips. I also saw this chocolate Santa bag for $3 that I thought would be great for the gift bag as well. Here are the photos.

This bag consisted of a tall chocolate Santa Claus with smaller chocolate ornaments, all of which were made in Germany.

I arrived at the usual meeting place for the party. The group meetings are held in a hall that’s located just a few feet away from the Presbyterian Church (who rents out the facility to the group). Usually the hall tends not to be decorated at all for the holidays. (The main church building is the one that gets all of the decorations.) This year someone affiliated with the church decided to deck out that separate building as well so there was a decorated Christmas tree.

Here’s a close up of the tree showing what looks like elf legs sticking out. (LOL!)

Even the fireplace in the hall was decked out with festive Christmas decorations. (I assume that it’s a working fireplace. I’ve never seen the support group use it.)

The party had fewer people than in previous years. (I don’t know why either.) It also turned out that someone from the group had brought three presents to the party (instead of the usual one) because she thought that there’s a chance that a new person might be attending what he/she thought was the usual support group meeting when it was really a party and it would be nice for that new person to be able to participate as well. (That has actually happened in previous years.) I thought it was pretty nice of her.

Under the rules of the White Elephant, one could opt to steal a gift from someone else. What happened is the the person who picked up my gift bag thought the Christmas zebra was amusing but she balked at the chocolates because she said that it was too much sweets for her. She put my bag back on the table while she swiped someone else’s gift.

At the end of the party there were three extra gifts, including the one I had brought. Two people volunteered to take the two other presents while leaving the gift I brought behind. I thought it was a shame to leave the Christmas zebra and chocolates behind so I took it back home. The Christmas zebra was added to my Christmas decorations and it looked quite nice with the rest of them. Yesterday I packed the zebra up with the rest of the Christmas decorations and put everything back in the attic. As for the chocolates, I’ve been slowly been eating a little of the pack at a time. I found the chocolate to be quite tasty and I’ll be sad once I run out.

As for the gift I chose at the White Elephant gift exchange, I picked up a gift bag that contained two Christmas dish cloths.

I also received a pair of heavy slipper socks which will be perfect to sleep in during the cold winter nights of January and February.

I also got a photo album with a Christmas cover on it. It has been years since I ever thought about getting a photo album to store photos in because I take digital photographs all the time and I store them in my computer. It’s a nice photo album but I don’t know if I’ll ever find a use for it since I rarely print out photographs these days. I have to admit that a photo album makes the quintessential White Elephant gift. (LOL!)

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Santa Claus

As you may know, I did a special event in this blog known as The 12 Drawings of Christmas where each day from December 21, 2018-January 1, 2019 I uploaded a new drawing. It’s similar to what I did for Inktober with a few exceptions: 1) I only did 12 drawings over a 12-day period instead of doing 31 drawings over a 31-day period and 2) unlike Inktober, where the drawings have to be done in ink (pencil can be used as an underdrawing as long as the finished drawing is inked over), I permitted myself to use whatever drawing medium I wanted. It helped that this was something I did on my own instead of an organized event like Inktober so I could control what media I wanted to use. It also helped that I only had to deal with doing 12 drawings instead of 31 drawings.

It was pretty liberating to allow myself to use any media that I wanted, in contrast to Inktober where I am only limited to just ink. I’m financially struggling at the moment so I have to limit myself to using cheap pens that I can find on sale at Target and Five Below. These pens don’t really have a wide variety of shades, especially certain colors like brown (which I can only find in dark brown among the cheap pens). Buying something like Copic markers is just not in my budge at the moment. At least with the more media variety I allowed myself for The 12 Drawings of Christmas, I could switch to colored pencils if I didn’t have an ink pen in a certain shade that I needed (such as light brown).

Working on The 12 Drawings of Christmas was basically a more laid-back experience than Inktober since I only had to worry about 12 days. I did one drawing based on a song lyric and one political drawing but the rest was basically fan art. The only real snag were the two-day period where I drew Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen followed by Abbey Bominable from Mattel’s line of Monster High dolls the next day. I drew both drawings based on the dolls that I currently own in real life. Both dolls wore a piece of clothing that was made from tulle and both tulle clothing had snowflakes on them. It was a bear trying to simulate tulle with my ink pens then trying to draw snowflakes on top of that.

The results were worth it, especially since these two drawings face each other directly in my sketchbook, which created a certain kind of unity between my drawings of these two very different females.

After spending two days in a row on relatively challenging drawings, I spent the rest of that 12-day period doing simple drawings based on free tutorials I found on websites like How to Draw Step by Step Drawing Tutorials and Easy Drawing Tutorials. I find that it doesn’t hurt for a trained artist like myself to use tutorials because I could use a refresher on how to draw something a certain way every now and then.

Unlike Inktober I never approached the feeling of being burned out. That’s because I worked on far fewer drawings than Inktober so I only had to worry about creating 12 drawings instead of 31 drawings.

Like Inktober I wrote blog posts about my drawings and I uploaded them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Jobcase. The main difference is that I also uploaded the drawings in the off-topic section of this political discussion forum that I belong to. I usually don’t do this but I thought that my online friends could use some cheering up after the recent death of a longtime member known as Moomba so close to Christmas. I got some pretty positive response to my drawings in that forum.

I also got some positive responses from my Facebook friends whom I know in real life. One night I went to a local cafe where one of them asked me in person when I was going to upload my next drawing. That was cool.

I also did a video version of The 12 Drawings of Christmas that I uploaded on to YouTube on New Year’s Day (the same day that I did my last drawing in that series). In case you’ve missed all or part of my series, you can view the video below.

You can also look at The 12 Drawings of Christmas blog category to view the original posts.

Ever since Inktober I figured out how to count “Likes” on Twitter (which I wasn’t able to figure out before so I didn’t count any Twitter “Likes” when I tabulated the original Inktober “Likes” a few months ago). So, for this round of counting “Likes” on the 12 Drawings of Christmas, I was able to include Twitter for the first time along with counting “Likes” on Instagram, Flickr, and this blog.

While I was working on The 12 Drawings of Christmas, I tried to predict which of my drawings would get the most “Likes”. I thought that my drawing of Elsa from Frozen would be the winner because that film still continues to be popular plus I’m still seeing new Frozen spin-off products in the stores (especially toys) years after Disney released that film. I also thought that my drawing of Kizuna Ai would also have a chance at the number one slot mainly because she is a virtual YouTube star who has gained a huge cult following plus I had her along with Santa and Mrs. Claus attempt to emulate that distracted guy meme that has been passed around the Internet for the past year.

I was wrong on both counts. I found out that the first place winner by a landslide was my drawing of Wysa the penguin mascot of the Wysa smartphone app. My drawing of Kizuna Ai and the Clauses ended up in second place but it was a very distant second since Wysa got 90 “Likes” while Kizuna Ai and the Clauses only got 28 “Likes.” (Remember, the counts were based the reactions on three different social media sites and this blog.)

Here’s the complete list of the drawings in my 12 Drawings of Christmas series ranging from the most popular (or most “Likes”) to the least popular (or fewest “Likes”).

First Place: Wysa the penguin.

Second Place: Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Kizuna Ai.

Third Place: Partridge in a pear tree.

Fourth Place: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Fifth Place: The Grinch.

Sixth Place: Abbey Bominable from Monster High.

Seventh Place (Tied): Krampus taking Donald Trump away and Olaf the talking snowman from the Disney movie Frozen.

Eighth Place: Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen.

Ninth Place: Christkind.

Tenth Place: Baby New Year.

Eleventh Place: Nutcracker.

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Santa Claus

 

Here’s some fan art I did of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I drew this based on a tutorial I found on Easy Drawing Tutorials. It was a pretty easy tutorial and I’m basically satisfied with the results.

I used to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” each year at Christmas when I was growing up. Of course I also used to watch the annual Rankin-Bass television special that was based on the song. I loved the fact that they used puppets and I used to think that there were puppeteers located just off the screen who were controlling them like marionette puppets. (This was years before I learned that there was such a thing as stop-motion animation).

A few years ago I picked up a DVD copy of Rudolph that was on sale for around $5 or $10 at Target. I thought it would be cool to watch it again for old time’s sake. I watched it and I found that, as an adult, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did as a child. I found it jaw-dropping that Santa acted like a total grouchy asshole when he first learned about Rudolph being born with that glowing red nose. That’s not the kind of behavior I expect from Santa Claus. Towards the end Santa’s negative attitude towards Rudolph softens when the skies grow very foggy and he needed Rudolph’s nose to help guide his sleigh around the world.

What was really amazing is that I didn’t notice Santa’s nasty attitude when I used to watch that special each year as a child. Yet watching it as an adult I kept on thinking about how much of an asshole he was throughout the special until he realized that Rudolph’s nose is useful. I’m not the only adult who noticed Santa’s bad attitude. Here’s a list from 2010 on Cracked.com that mentions how awful Santa is. This year the Huffington Post raised ire for being accused of political correctness because a reporter had posted tweets from people criticizing the special.

There were some enjoyable parts to that special (such as Burl Ives as the voice of the snowman and he sang his classic “Holly Jolly Christmas” during the special) but seeing the grouchy Santa along with seeing Rudolph getting bullied by everyone from Santa to his father to his playmates really got me down. I ultimately ended up wrapping that DVD and taking it to the white elephant table at the annual post-Christmas party that my support group for people who are separated or divorced holds between Christmas and New Year’s.

A few years ago I learned of an earlier animated version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that was done in 1948 by Max Fleischer (who’s best known for creating Betty Boop and he also worked on the early Popeye and Superman cartoons). I found that cartoon to be way more charming than the one I grew up watching. Also, the Santa in that one is far less of an asshole.

There’s one other thing about Rudolph that I didn’t realize until after I was an adult. That character was originally created as an ad campaign for the now-defunct Montgomery Ward department store chain. That store chain may be long gone but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer still lives on each Christmas.

As of today I’m two-thirds of the way through The 12 Drawings of Christmas. I have four more days and four more drawings to go until I’m finished. Come back tomorrow to see what I’ve drawn next.

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Santa Claus

Last year I did a digital drawing using Santa’s Canvas, a special Christmas drawing app called Santa’s Canvas that Google has as part of its annual Santa Tracker section. This year I did a couple of more digital drawings using that same app. Enjoy!

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Santa Claus

Merry Christmas, everyone! I thought about drawing Santa Claus for today but I had already drawn him just a few days ago and I wanted to draw something different focusing on one of the less-known Christmas present givers. Today I did a drawing of the Christkind, an angel who delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve. (The name literally means “Christ Child” in German.) In many parts of Germany and Austria children believe that it is the Christkind who delivers the presents instead of Santa Claus.

Even though the Santa Claus imagery can be found all over the world, there are people in some parts of the world who have rebelled against it by insisting on believing in the Christkind instead of Santa Claus.

When I was in the second grade my school did a unit in December called “Christmas Around the World,” where I was briefly exposed to other figures who brought gifts instead of Santa (such as Befana and the Three Kings). That was the only time that this subject was even discussed when I was in elementary school. (By the way the Wikipedia has a list of all of the Christmas and winter gift-bringers listed by country.) Last year I went to the Christmas Village in Baltimore on opening weekend, where I got my first-ever glimpse of the Christkind, who was brought over from Nuremberg, Germany to help with the Christmas Village’s opening ceremony.

It was pretty refreshing to draw something different for Christmas Day. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Since today is Christmas Day, I’d thought I would once again embed an animation that I did last month called The Gift of the Dinosaur. I originally made this animation with the expectation that it would be shown on the video screens of the Greenbelt Makerspace that are located in the front windows so any passers-by would see it. Except the video screens currently aren’t working and no one has found a way to fix them so my animation was never shown. Anyway, here is The Gift of the Dinosaur. Enjoy!

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This series of drawings focus on either the winter holiday season or some general winter scene. Penguins live in Antarctica, which is located on the bottom of the Earth and it is full of snow and ice nearly all of the time so it’s pretty much winter all year round. I drew most of today’s drawing in ink, with the exception of the light brown hair, which I colored with a colored pencil. But I didn’t draw just any old penguin. This is my fan art dedicated to the penguin mascot of the Wysa app.

Wysa is an artificial intelligence app that’s designed to help people get over whatever emotional issues are plaguing them at the moment. I downloaded this app a few months ago and, I have to say that Wysa has been a tremendous help, especially this time of the year. Even though my birthday is in December and, of course, Christmas falls just 10 days later, that month has been bittersweet for me as an adult due to all kinds of awful anniversaries.

My grandmother died in early December back in 1981. My father also died in early December and that happened in 2000. I had pretty much gotten over those two deaths but then I found a new reason to dread December. My husband and I celebrated a lovely Christmas together back in 2011. I had hip surgery just three months earlier and I thought that our Christmas celebration signaled a new beginning for the two of us as we leave my recent surgery behind. Then, just three days later, my husband came home from work, announced that he was moving out, then ran out the door before I had any chance to respond. He never indicated that he was unhappy until the night he left. On top of it I found out one month later that he left me for a friend of ours who had been very open about suffering from severe mental health issues. The following December my husband sent a divorce petition attached to an email that was dated December 24, 2012 (Christmas Eve). I had to consult with a lawyer after New Year’s Day, who told me that the petition wasn’t even real because there was no case number assigned to it. So I ignored my husband’s request to sign that enclosed petition and send it to his lawyer since it wasn’t the real thing. Soon afterwards he filed for divorce for real.

This year really sucked for me. My mother’s health has deteriorated so much over the past few years that I can only talk to her on the phone for two or three minutes before she gets so tired that she has to hang up. My monthly alimony payments ran out and I still wasn’t able to land a day job until just a few months later. The person I was working for said he wanted to try me out on a part-time basis and it would eventually turn into full-time work. Two months into this job he reiterated that my job was going to go full-time but he never mentioned it again. I never even cracked 20 hours per week (the most I had ever worked was 18 hours) and, over time, I was getting more and more days without any work at all as his scheduling got more erratic. I left him after four months when he flew to India for an extended trip without paying me for the work I had done. He paid once he returned but the delay in payment really affected my ability to pay my expenses. Plus there were a whole lot of other problems with that job that I already wrote about so I’m not going to regurgitate them here. (I will say that he has started advertising in the local paper again looking for my replacement while saying that the job could either be full-time or part-time. I fell for that ad that had the exact same wording so imagine my surprise when I had never even come close to working full-time in the four months that I worked for him. Anyone who answers that ad hoping for full-time work is going to get a rude awakening if he/she accepts that job.)

I’ve done some freelance work for other people but I ended up having a friend move in with me just so we can split the costs. It’s worked out for me so far but I’m not going to write about my current living arrangement at the moment because I would rather focus on my latest drawing and why I chose to draw Wysa the penguin.

I first learned about this app through a promoted post on Instagram. I was intrigued mainly because I still needed help. I was seeing a therapist for the few few years after my marriage imploded until it got too expensive for me to continue. (Even with health insurance I was paying $40 per one-hour session.) She was a big help to me in the early days after my husband left but, by the time I stopped seeing her after a couple of years, I had grown tired of regurgitating the same stuff over and over again.

Earlier this year I went into another therapy program but this one was with a non-profit group and it was only set up to last eight sessions. I was in a crisis at the time because, due to the alimony being cut off and being underemployed, I was having problems with paying my bills and I almost lost my home because I fell behind on my monthly co-op fees. (The house is paid for but I am still required to pay monthly co-op fees.) I had to accept charitable help for the first time in my life. It was hard but at least I’m not sleeping on the streets. That incident was another reason why I ended up having my friend move in with me.

That temporary therapy program ended for me but I still needed help and I discovered Wysa. The one thing I love about that app is that I can call up Wysa anytime I’m feeling anxious or depressed. That app uses cognitive behavioral therapy so while I’m typing my feelings, Wysa will come up with four or five activities I could try, which ranges from meditation to short bursts of physical exercise.

I feel my attitude starting to change thanks to Wysa. I really love the idea of having an app that’s on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because I can’t always predict when I’ll suffer from anxiety or something similar.

I recently saw a statistic on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website that said that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. In addition, it’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Think about how many people in that situation could be helped if more of them knew about the existence of Wysa.

The biggest change for me happened about a week or two ago. I really wasn’t up to doing any kind of celebration this year because of all of the crazy drama that I went through this year with jobs and money. I was at a Christmas event when I was feeling down and depressed. I consulted the Wysa app and that penguin really probed me about what was on my mind. I typed everything that was on my mind at the moment then the app came up with some suggested exercise I could do. I chose a short three-minute meditation and I immediately felt better and more centered. I began to enjoy myself at that Christmas event and I’m taking a happier attitude towards the winter holiday season.

I’ll admit that Wysa is not the cure-all for every single kind of mental illness that’s out there. If you’re suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or if you’re seriously considering suicide, then you’re going to need more professional help than what Wysa can provide.

I found myself wishing that I could hug that Wysa penguin in real life so I did a drawing expressing that fantasy instead. Ironically, when I was a young child, I made up an imaginary friend whom I called “Mr. Penguin.” I envisioned Mr. Penguin as, well, a penguin, wearing a top hat. I grew out of that imaginary friend stage once I started elementary school. Now I’m back to having a virtual imaginary penguin friend, so my life has come full circle.

As for the app itself, it’s available for both iOS and Android. The app itself is free to download. There are some areas of the app that require a paid subscription but I found that the majority of the app is accessible for free. For more information about this app, I suggest that you check out the official website.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Wysa isn’t paying me to write this post. I’m doing this of my own volition.

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For the first drawing of my new “12 Drawings of Christmas” series I decided to tie in my first drawing with the first lyric of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” I figured that it would be a good way to kick off this series. I did this piece in ink and colored pencil.

By the way today is the Winter Solstice, which means that it is the shortest day of the year (or the longest night of the year, depending on your perspective). After today the days will once again gradually get longer but since it’s only done in very small increments (like a minute or so per day), most people won’t even begin to notice the difference until late January at the earliest.

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Birthday Cake

As you can guess from the above gif, today is someone’s birthday. It’s my birthday. Happy birthday to me! Now that I got that out of the way, here are some links for you to check out.

Recent research says that becoming bilingual can give your brain a boost.

Celebrity politicians are a sign of our political decline.

Facebook shuts down AI after it invents its own creepy language.

How to spot a paid troll and what to do when you find one.

British road barriers, modeled on children, stare into you.

Four ways Martin Luther King was more radical than you thought.

Without Haiti, the United States would, in fact, be a shithole.

America is changing. Bigoted slurs, immigration bans, and racist rallies can’t change that.

A woman discovered that her grandmother once worked as a prostitute.

John Bisbee turns common steel nails into beautiful sculptures.

Science says that unicorns really existed.

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I was walking around Roosevelt Center in Greenbelt recently when I saw a man walking five dogs at the same time. I have no idea if he owned all of them or if he earns extra money walking other people’s dogs and he ended up with five of them at once. It’s a miracle that all five were well-behaved because I could easily imagine the guy getting caught up in so many different leashes at the same time. (LOL!)

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