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St. Patrick's Day

I’m currently trying to pay off my debts I’ve incurred when I underwent an expensive car repair by selling off a few things on eBay. I know it’s going to sound pretty weird to be selling some Christmas CDs on St. Patrick’s Day but I’m currently helping a friend with unloading some of his excess clutter in exchange for him lending me the money so I can make that car repair and he happened to have those CDs mixed in with his stuff along with some other CDs that are included in this lot.

Lot of 2 Christmas CDs Plus Three Mystery CDs

This lot has two Christmas CDs featuring all of the famous carols that you’ve grown to love. One Christmas CD is by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as they sing songs like “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” The other CD includes “A Musical Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas.”

This lot also includes three mystery CDs, which were originally created as a CD version of a mix tape. These CDs have a mix of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and more! One of the CDs is listed as “death songs” while another one is listed as a “cremation playlist.” If you’re the kind of person who loves both Christmas music and surprises, this lot is for you!

You can bid on this lot right here. To see the rest of my auctions, click here.

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Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.

UPDATE (April 10, 2018): I made a return trip to the Annapolis Toy R Us store where I was able to compare what I saw on that subsequent trip with the photos I took for this blog post.

ReCreative Spaces, which opened back in 2015, was a studio space for artists and makers located in Mount Rainier, Maryland. Last month I got word that ReCreative Spaces decided to close its doors. I wanted to go to its Farewell Party last month but I decided to scrap that plan when a snowstorm coupled with below-freezing temperatures hit the area and I just didn’t want to risk going out too far from my home and risk either getting in a car accident or slipping on some ice on the sidewalk and risk injuring my hip replacement. (Although that storm made some pretty pictures, such as the ones I took that day.)

Ultimately I went to the last ever event at that place, which was basically a going-out-of-business sale where everything must go. Here are a few pictures I took while I was there.

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

I only found two things that I decided to purchase, both of which had cost me a total of one dollar. I got a pack of inkjet fabric sheets.

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

I also found this Christmas rubber duck that I thought was cute enough to purchase on impulse.

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

Here’s the rubber duck next to my small collection of Ginger Cottages. This rubber duck is now currently residing in storage with the rest of my Christmas decorations.

The ReCreative Closing Sale, January 6, 2018

Since I’m publishing this post on a Thursday, I’ll make this into a Throwback Thursday by highlighting just a few past photos of ReCreative Spaces along with links to the original posts that they appeared in.

The first and only time I ever took part in a vendor show at Recreative Spaces.

ReCreative Spaces Open House event in Mount Rainier, Maryland, September 6, 2015

Photo originally published in the September 21, 2015 post.

I created this Christmas card during Small Business Saturday at ReCreative Spaces.

photo24

Photo originally published in the December 9, 2015 post.

The time ReCreative Spaces sponsored Art in the Park(ing Lot) where local artists painted murals on a soon-to-be-torn down shopping center.

Painting Party, August 7, 2016

Photo originally published in the August 23, 2016 post.

The time I made this Christmas ornament as part of Small Business Saturday at ReCreative Spaces.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Photo originally published in the December 19, 2016 post.

When I saw this funky Christmas tree made entirely of wood.

Gateway Arts District Open Studio Tour, December 10, 2016

Photo originally published in the December 27, 2016 post.

When I colored a page from an adult coloring book.

Winter Gallery Opening Event at ReCreative Spaces, Mount Rainier, Maryland, January 8 2015

Photo originally published in the January 12, 2016 post.

I created this postcard-sized collage.

surrealflight-webversion

Photo originally published in the March 3, 2016 post

I’ll never forget the time after Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States where ReCreative Spaces hosted this mural.

Deport Trump Mural

Photo originally published in the March 16, 2017 post.

From time to time ReCreative Spaces had musicians and deejays provide the tunes at their events, such as these two musicians.

ReCreative Spaces

Photo originally published in the May 22, 2017 post.

I’ll definitely miss going to their events because I usually enjoyed myself as I made art and met some new people.

I was going out and photographing various Christmas-related stuff starting in late November but I decided to wait until late in December before I started doing any kind of blogging about the winter holidays. On December 16, the day after my birthday, I would write one new winter holiday-related post every day until January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany) and I would even write and upload posts on Saturdays and Sundays.

Except things went a bit awry. I kept on doing winter holiday activities while I was doing my marathon blogging until I discovered that I had more posts than days available, which resulted in uploading two or three posts per day towards the end. I began to burn out on doing this but I kept at it.

Had I gone to the Artechouse Nutcracker event sooner I would’ve accomplished my marathon blogging on January 6. But I ended up not going until January 6 and I wasn’t able to write about it until earlier today. So there was a two-day break between my last winter holiday post and the Nutcracker post that would be the last of the marathon winter holiday posts.

Having done this, I’ve decided that I will never try this again. It was sheer insanity to do so much blogging like that and it also distracted from other things that I would like to be working on. If I was to do this again, I would not save posts until late December. If I come across something Christmas-related in November, I would try to write about it soon afterwards instead of waiting until after December 15 to write about it.

Well, anyway, I’ve learned my lesson.

I’d originally planned on not having any new entries about any of the winter holidays after January 6 (a.k.a. Little Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany). But then I decided to check out one more Christmas-related event last Saturday. I couldn’t devote any time to this blog on the following day because I had to go to Baltimore to pick up some artwork I submitted to a recent show that had just closed and I ended up spending some time at the nearby Walters Art Museum then I went home and started to take down my Christmas decorations. So here it is, the last Christmas post until November (at the earliest).

There is a new art gallery that recently opened in Washington, DC called Artechouse, which is located just a couple of blocks away from the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. It’s not your usual art gallery in that the exhibits are all interactive. When I found out that it was having a special interactive exhibit based on the classic Nutcracker Suite Christmas story, I knew I had to check it out. Except I was doing other things at the same time and I finally realized that this exhibit was going to close after January 7 so I had better get down there if I wanted to experience it.

It was fitting that I went on January 6 since it was Little Christmas. The only downer is that the weather was cold outside. (The entire East Coast was still smarting from that bomb cyclone that hit it just a few days earlier.) When I went downtown that day the temperature reached no higher than 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, it was cold as hell walking from the Metro to Artechouse.

You enter the facility through the lobby then go down a flight of steps until you see a living room and you hear music from The Nutcracker Suite being played.

The living room included the shadow of the Mouse King, who reacts to your movements.

There was this 3D effect on this chandelier that kept on swinging back and forth, which looked way cooler in person than what this photo suggests.

If you stand in front of one of the framed mirrors, a nutcracker emerges who then starts to mirror your movements just like a real-life mirror reflection would.

If you stood in the right place along one of the walls, you could control a spotlight with your hand and shine it over the various paintings. What was cool was that some of the people in these paintings moved until you shined that spotlight over them then the people would freeze and they would look like normal paintings.

One of the side hallways had snowflakes on the floor, which moved in response to your own movements.

This particular hallway led to a formal dining room that was surrounded by lit Christmas trees.

Some of the place settings had signs saying “ACTIVATE ME.” If you had a smartphone or tablet with the special Artechouse app installed on it, you could point it at that sign and see things emerge. Sadly my smartphone camera refuses to work these days so I had to make do with looking over other people’s phones and tablets to see the virtual graphics pop up. I remember one plate suddenly filled with virtual pancakes while another filled with virtual cookies.

One of the side rooms had swirls on the floor that suggested a snowstorm and they responded to your movements.

There was a bar at one end of the room where you can order drinks.

The last photo shows the menu. The drinks were a bit on the pricey side. Some of the drinks had some kind of augmented reality where if you ordered it, you could aim that Artechouse app at it and some kind of virtual reality effect would emerge. Naturally those augmented reality drinks were the most expensive at a cost of $12 per person. There were regular drinks without the augmented reality but, after paying $15 to get in, I wasn’t really into shelling out more money.

Birthday Cake Santa Claus

Today is the eighth anniversary of the day I made my very first post in this blog. Today also happens to be the day known as the Feast of the Epiphany, Little Christmas, and Three Kinds Day and it usually signals the formal end of the Christmas season. Usually I try to keep such anniversary posts light by tooting my own horn while marveling at how long I’ve been keeping up with this blog. This year it’s different. I don’t feel quite as light-hearted as I have in previous years. And it doesn’t help that that I’m writing this post while the entire region I’m in have been covered in sub-freezing temperatures that have been known as the coldest New Year since 1940 and it had just suffered through something called a bomb cyclone so it is still below freezing outside. I’m still trying to hold on despite the fact that all hell broke loose this past year.

It all started on January 20, 2017 when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. It all went downhill fast. It would take several separate entries to describe everything in detail but here are just a few of the highlights (or maybe I should call them lowlights): His penchant for issuing bizarre postings on Twitter that sound increasingly alarming (especially the ones about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un). He has appointed to various cabinet positions people who either lack experience or are outright hostile to the positions they have been assigned to (such as appointing a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and giving the Department of Education a new leader who is not only a proponent of for-profit charter schools but is also hostile towards the idea of having government-funded public education available to all children). Then there are his frequent weekend golf trips. This guy has taken more vacation time in his first year of office than his predecessor, Barack Obama, have in the eight years that he occupied the White House.

And don’t even get me started on that recently passed tax reform bill that Trump says he will sign where the wealthy individuals and corporations will get major tax cuts while middle and low income people will not only have their taxes raised but the social safety net will be shredded even further than it already has been in the nearly 40 years since Ronald Reagan was elected president.

Some of my problems are personal. My mother’s health has been deteriorating slowly over the past few years ever since she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s gotten to the point where I have to make all the phone calls because she literally no longer has the energy to even make calls on her cell phone. She doesn’t even return any voice messages I leave on her cell. Our conversations have gotten shorter because she gets tired all of the time. When I visit her in person she can only hold a conversation before she gets tired. We basically watch TV when I visit because at least she’ll sleep off and on. But she’s definitely a shadow of her former self. I don’t even bother with having any kind of deep heart-felt conversations with her because I don’t know if she has the energy to even process everything I say.

At least my mother is still alive as of this writing. I found out through one of my ex-husband’s relatives that my father-in-law had passed away in October. On Christmas Eve I received a phone call from another one of my ex-husband’s relatives telling me that there have been a couple of other deaths this past year as well. One was my ex-husband’s aunt (who was also my father-in-law’s younger sister) and the other was Annette, a longtime family friend.

I knew both of them pretty well. The last time I saw my ex-husband’s aunt was in 2010 (just a few days before I made my first post in this blog). She and her husband had just sold their longtime home in Scituate, Massachusetts and moved to a retirement community outside of Philadelphia in order to live closer to their children and grandchildren, who had all settled in neighboring New Jersey. My ex-husband’s aunt and uncle lived just a few miles from Longwood Gardens. After visiting my ex’s aunt and uncle in their new place, we all headed out to Longwood Gardens because it was having its annual Christmas display. I found that display to be so amazing that I shot a short video.

As for Annette, she was the friend of my mother-in-law’s who used to invite her and any of her grown children who were in town over to the Long Island home that she shared with her then-husband each Christmas Eve where she would serve her corn chowder. I wrote a post back in 2010 about that tradition and I even included the actual recipe. I later made this animation featuring that recipe while I was playing with this website called MySimpleShow.

The last time I saw Annette was in late 2010 when we held a memorial service on the East Coast for my mother-in-law that was held for the benefit of her longtime friends who couldn’t fly to Phoenix (where she lived the last 17 years of her life) for the original funeral back in March.

If all that weren’t enough, I learned that Ben, a man whom my late aunt used to babysit as a kid (and I met him several times when I visited my aunt, uncle, and cousins) had killed himself. I also learned through Facebook that my onetime high school guitar teacher had died the year before and he was only in his early sixties.

Then there is my effort to find a new day job to pay the bills. (I’m currently getting alimony from my ex-husband but I really want more money so I could pay off the debts I incurred due in large part to my divorce.) It has been over a year and a half since I left my last job at a newly formed startup because I wasn’t getting paid (the boss wouldn’t finally pay me for the work I had done until six months later). I don’t regret leaving that startup, especially when I saw that my ex-boss has spent the past year actively doxing his own sister on Facebook not once but twice.

I’ve been spending time at the local branch of the American Jobs Center doing things like going to seminars on all aspects of the job search process. I was told in those seminars that I needed to build my personal brand because that will make me stand out from the crowd of other job seekers. I was told that I especially needed to build my personal brand on LinkedIn because LinkedIn is the best way to a new job. I was told that I needed to learn how to market myself online. I took a couple of free online marketing classes that were on Alison.com where I learned how to market myself online as much as possible using tools like Hootsuite to schedule posts. I learned through those online courses that once I am able to market myself to the point where I’ve built my personal brand online, I will get so much attention that the job opportunities will miraculously come to me.

So I started to post links on my various social media accounts to older blog posts highlighting my skills in writing, art (both traditional and digital), and photography while using Hootsuite to schedule them. I was told that I also needed to share links of articles written by others showing my knowledge on certain subjects that would be sure to build my brand. Each week for the past few months I would schedule on Hootsuite a mix of links to newer blog posts, links to older blog posts, and links to articles that are in my fields of interests to be shared over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The one thing I learned that all of this brand building is incredibly time-consuming. I would literally spend several hours a week with trolling websites for external links then scheduling those posts on Hootsuite. I spent time carefully vetting each link in order to make sure that any links that include controversial topics or NSFW content do not get posted on my LinkedIn account (although I would post them on my Facebook and Twitter accounts since neither one have the stated reputation as being THE Social Media Network For Professionals). I even followed the advice from the American Jobs Center and tried to go to networking events where I made every effort to be friendly and introduce myself to new people. It was all to no avail. No one has come forward saying, “Hey, I love what you’ve posted on LinkedIn so much that I want to hire you!” No one has come forward saying, “Wow, you’re really an expert and you have such a fantastic personal brand that I want to refer jobs your way.” I began to feel that something was wrong with that advice but I kept at it because I was told by professionals who are experts in the human resources field that this is the best method for all job seekers.

The best I was able to do from all of my online marketing efforts and going to networking events was to snag a two-night stint serving as an extra at a taping of a TV special featuring finance guru Ric Edelman.

But then I came across this article through a link on Facebook titled The One Thing Nobody Ever Told You About Personal Branding where basically the writer says that building a personal brand in order to advance your career is overrated. His contention is that, instead of spending gobs of time marketing yourself on social media, you would do better to build your reputation by actually doing the work in your field (whether it’s in a job you already have or you’re currently volunteering in something that’s related to your field) and treating people well.

At first that article flew in the face of what those human resources experts were advising me and other job hunters at the American Jobs Center. But then I did a Google search on “building a personal brand is overrated” and I found a few other articles that echoed the same idea. Branding is an Overrated Buzzword says that one should focus instead on building his/her reputation by being passionate enough about your job/career/interest to focus working on that while also working consistently at your job/career/interest. Developing a Personal Brand Is Overrated says that developing a personal brand can take a lot of time that would’ve been better spent making the best product or doing the best work that you can do. The writer says that making tweets or sharing photos online is just a small portion of building a reputation and a reputation is made through doing your best at what you are working on. The Pitfalls of Personal Branding is even more blunt in saying that personal branding results in the pursuit of online attention stunts that may backfire and do serious damage to your real reputation.

That last article made a good point and I was especially reminded of it when I learned about a recent incident. A few days ago a popular YouTube star known as Logan Paul has come under fire for going to a park in Japan (which has a reputation for being a spot where numerous people have committed suicide) where he found the body of a man who had committed suicide by hanging from a tree branch. Instead of calling the Japanese equivalent of 911 or flagging down a park ranger/police officer/someone else in authority, he decided to film the body while he’s nearby wearing a hat that resembles the head of one of the three-eyed green alien toys from the Toy Story movies and making sick jokes about finding that body. Then he uploaded the video online. While the video in question has since been deleted and Paul has uploaded another video apologizing for his actions, there have been online petitions circulating calling for YouTube to delete his channel altogether.

I’m starting to think that the advice I got about personal branding was just wrong. I focused on marketing myself online at the expense of actually taking the time to developing my talents. I should’ve been volunteering more in the community on projects related to my interests. I should’ve been focusing on creating new arts and crafts for sales both online and in real life. But I ended up following what turned out to be bum advice for me. I shudder to think about how many other unemployed/underemployed people have been taking similar bum advice from human resources professionals and career counselors about personal branding by wasting their time trying something that is highly unlikely to work for them.

Luckily I haven’t inadvertently damaged my reputation in real life by my misguided efforts to develop a personal brand online.

So my conclusion is that focusing on building a personal brand is ineffectual at best while, at worst, could create a bad side effect that will severely harm your reputation and make it difficult for you to find new work opportunities.

I’m going to cut back on my online personal branding marketing efforts and just focus on doing my best work in real life. I’m not going to give up on this blog or social media altogether. I just want some better balance between promoting my work online and doing my work in real life. I’m hoping that doing this will enable me to live my life and conduct my work with more authenticity than just spending time on social media hyping myself on how great I am. I’m hoping that being more authentic to myself and to others will really convey what kind of person I really am that I haven’t been able to convey on social media.

Well, anyway, I’ll end this post with a few highlights from this past year. I especially needed to remind myself that I did do things other than sitting at home fretting about job hunting, my mom’s health, the recent deaths of people I know, and the Trump Administration. There are times when I think that I didn’t do anything in 2017 but then I look over my posts from the past year and these blog links prove that it’s not true.

Visited the American Visionary Art Museum for free on Martin Luther King Day.

I took part in the Women’s March on Washington, which had a far larger turnout than Donald Trump’s own inauguration the day before.

Checked out The World of Pets Expo.

Walked around Savage, Maryland on Groundhog Day.

Went to the Werk for Peace Dance Protest that started outside the Trump International Hotel and ended outside the White House.

I went to a Valentine’s Dance at my church.

Attended my first focus group movie screening (which was a documentary about the DC Divas women’s football team).

Walked around historic Riverdale Park on an usually warm February day.

Checked out the annual Sakura Matsuri in Washington, DC.

Attended Kamecon on the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park.

Walked around historic Laurel one spring day.

Spent two nights working as an extra on a television special featuring finance guru Ric Edelman.

Attended the Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Went on the Gateway Arts Open Studio Tour.

Checked out the latest outdoor art installations around Takoma Park.

Helped out with a yard sale where I found all kinds of vintage kitsch items.

Attended Creator Con in Silver Spring.

Walked around Mount Rainier, Maryland.

Visited two possible locations of a real-life exorcism that served as the basis for both the book and film versions of The Exorcist.

Checked out DC Pride Weekend.

Saw a new shopping center that was erected on a former farm in Riverdale Park, Maryland.

Saw some art murals in an industrial area of Annapolis.

Walked around Catonsville, Maryland during the Fourth of July weekend.

Checked out a large toy show in Timonium, Maryland.

Spent one hot summer after under the solar eclipse.

Walked around the Washington, DC side of Takoma Park.

Attended the German Festival in Timonium.

I made my first-ever visit to a megachurch.

I attended two different art events in one day.

Checked out some newly painted murals on vacant buildings in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Took part in a fall yard sale full of interesting vintage kitsch items.

Attended Baltimore Comic-Con where I saw DMC of Run-DMC fame and purchased an ocarina.

Checked out three Mall events in one day—Fiesta DC, the pro-Trump Mother of All Rallies, and the Juggalo March (the latter included fans of the Insane Clown Posse protesting the FBI’s classification of them as a gang).

Walked around historic Gaithersburg.

Spent an afternoon at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland.

Toured an Eastern Orthodox Church during a local Slavic Festival.

I purchased a camera off eBay, which took some spectacular photos of the Greenbelt Pumpkin Walk.

Checked out a Halloween-themed art walk in Hyattsville.

Went to Clark’s Elioak Farm, where I visited the attractions from the now-defunct Enchanted Forest.

Took some photos of an outdoor decorated Christmas tree covered in snow.

I went to Baltimore on the day that Fox broadcasted a heavily attended Baltimore Ravens football game.

Went to the Doll and Teddy Bear Show in Gaithersburg.

Saw the fall leaves in the Roland Park section of Baltimore.

Saw historic Annapolis at Christmas.

A few of the art shows, craft fairs, and other arts and crafts related events I participated in: I went to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School in both Baltimore and Washington, DC several times. Went to an artist networking event at the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center in North Brentwood, Maryland. Took part in a Craft-In on International Women’s Day. Attended the Resist art exhibition reception at ReCreative Spaces. Participated in the Cosplay Life Drawing Night in Rockville, Maryland. Attended an exhibition that was inspired by the Women’s March on Washington. Participated in the Greenbelt Maker Festival. One of my animations, The March of Liberty, was shown on an outdoor big screen at Light City in Baltimore. I went to a DC Drink and Draw event in Adams-Morgan. I took part in a couple of events at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival including an Art Show and a Retro Town Fair (where I won a couple of ribbons). I painted a fox on a rock at an event that was sponsored by Artists & Craftsman Supplies in Hyattsville, Maryland. I took part in the month-long Internet art event known as Inktober. I took part in the annual Holiday Craft Sale at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi, Maryland in December. I had one of my pieces on display at Trinacria’s Ristorante & Bar in Baltimore that went from early December, 2017 to early January, 2018.

Santa Claus

In the past I’ve tried taking pictures of the full moon but the camera I used would normally show the moon as a white disk even though the full moon on that particular night looked far more spectacular in real life than what my photos showed.

On the evening of New Year’s Day not only did a full moon come out but it was also a Supermoon. That night I was able to see some of the details of that moon with the naked eye.

For the heck of it I decided to try using the Canon PowerShot camera that I purchased used on eBay a few months ago. I expected yet another photo of a white disk in the sky. However, I was pleasantly surprised when it produced a photo that showed far more details than previous cameras I’ve used.

I am so glad I purchased this camera. This is the best picture of the moon that I’ve ever taken! 🙂

Santa Claus

On Christmas Day I drove to Lanham to see if a certain house was still continuing its overdecorated tradition despite the fact that that the family member who was responsible for the lights had passed away. I found out that not only were the family not carrying on that tradition but the house has been put up for sale.

But there are a few houses who have willingly picked up the mantel of trying to be the most decorated Christmas house. The house in Glen Burnie that I wrote about for TopBuzz.com has pretty much surpassed what the house in Lanham did.

But there’s another house located on Lastner Lane in Greenbelt that has the potential to one day be as decorated as the house in Lanham was (although it still has a ways to go before it could even begin to match that house in Glen Burnie). Each year the owners seem to add more Christmas lights. You can compare the photos I took in 2012, 2014, and 2016 with these recent photos I took in December, 2017.

Santa Claus

My Unitarian Universalist congregation had its annual Kwanzaa service on New Year’s Eve this year (mainly because New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday in 2017) where lunch was served following the end of the service. Here are my photos of the food and the decorations from that day.

Santa Claus

Click here to learn about the origins of this.

Benjamin Franklin

Lost time is never found again.

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