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Mother’s Day Weekend 2018 was a big deal for me. First, there was the annual Greenbelt Green Man Festival but it wasn’t the reason why it was a big deal for me. Just a few days before the festival I decided to ditch both my Droid Ultra smartphone and Verizon. My five-year-old smartphone was literally on its last legs. The camera feature had died first (which was why I ended up using the Canon PowerShot camera for photography and videography) but the last few months I had to deal with a phone that constantly kept on crashing and rebooting. This even happened when I was on the phone with someone.

And then there was Verizon, who was increasingly price-gouging me. It got to the point where it started to charge me $125 per month for just the cell phone. I asked someone at Verizon what can I do to lower my cell phone bill and I was told to just get one of those pay-as-you-go phones. The downside is that I wouldn’t be able to transfer my current phone number to that pay-as-you-go phone so I would’ve had to deal with the hassle of telling all of my friends, family, and various business associates that I have a new phone number.

I settled on Consumer Cellular, with monthly plans starting at $25 per month. So far I’ve been very pleased with that company. As for my new phone, it’s actually a used phone that I got from a friend of mine but it’s new to me. (LOL!) It’s a Samsung Galaxy J3. It’s not exactly the top-of-the-line phone but it’s good enough for my purposes.

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival was the first place where I tried the camera part of my new smartphone. This selfie I took is officially the first photo I’ve ever taken with my new smartphone camera.

My Selfie at the Greenbelt Green Man Festival

This video, featuring the band Kiva and a bunch of people dancing is officially the first video I shot with my new smartphone.

On the first day of the Greenbelt Green Man Festival I took a bunch of shots of the festival itself. There were a couple of people playing with hand puppets shaped like a cricket and a praying mantis.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

The theme for this year’s Greenbelt Green Man Festival was soil, which was reflected in the official t-shirts that were for sale.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

There was a local beekeeper who showed off his beehive.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

There was a hands-on activity where people of all ages were encouraged to build their own fairy garden.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

There was a community art event where people were encouraged to paint on a canvas that was shaped like a peace sign.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

There was a small pool with rubber ducks that kids could play with.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

There were plenty of handcrafted items made by local artisans on sale at that festival throughout the weekend.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

Some people offered their services, such as Gwen Vaccaro, who runs her own spa known as Pleasant Touch.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Some people staffed information booths that promoted local environmental organizations and local environmental issues.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

There were musical acts who performed throughout the entire two-day festival.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

A local Girl Scout Troop did a food and toiletry drive for a local homeless shelter on the first day of the festival.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

People basically hung out with each other and had a good time.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

May 12 was also Scratch Day. The Greenbelt Makerspace had put out a bunch of laptops in anticipation of people coming in and try their hand at coding in Scratch. However, the festival was simultaneously being held right outside its doors so very few people took advantage of this opportunity.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 12, 2018

The second day of the festival was not only Mother’s Day but it was also the first day of the new season of the Greenbelt Farmers Market (which had been on its usual winter hiatus). A new Lebanese restaurant was in the process of opening its doors but there was still more work to be done in the restaurant before it could be properly opened to the general pubic. The restaurant decided to offer Lebanese Zaatar bread on a carryout basis, which I found to be very tasty.)

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The biggest downer about the second day of the festival was the rain, which resulted in fewer people at the festival.

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

Many people opted to go indoors instead. Some of them went to the Greenbelt Makerspace.

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

Many of the performing acts moved indoors to the New Deal Cafe where they were still able to perform despite the rain.

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The band Global Warming performed its indoor set.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

Here’s a short video I shot of this band in action.

I shot some more footage of the band Tower Green, whose set officially closed the Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

The one thing about getting a new phone with a working camera is that I was able to play with an app for the first time in 2018. I took a photo of Hatsune Miku at the very end of the festival when a truck had arrived to take down the stage.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

Here is what I purchased at this year’s Greenbelt Green Man Festival. I purchased this nice vegan cupcake that I ate soon after I took these photos.

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

The Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

I purchased this bar of jasmine soap from Acorn & Clover.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

I was also given a free soap sample by Acorn & Clover.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

Last, but not least, I purchased another bar of soap from Mystic Water Soap.

Greenbelt Green Man Festival, May 13, 2018

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Ramadan

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Martin Luther King may have been killed by a Memphis police officer, not James Earl Ray.

How white Americans used lynchings to terrorize and control black people.

Laminated jewelry crafted from vintage books by Jeremy May.

A look at the guerrilla grafting movement—secretly grafting fruit-bearing trees onto ornamental city trees in order to feed the poor.

A Princeton sociologist spent 8 years asking rural Americans why they are so pissed off. Hint: It’s not about the economy.

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83,500 vintage sewing patterns put into online database from Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick, and Simplicity.

Stunning images of pagan costumes worn at winter celebrations around the world.

Watch the illustrated version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic.

The bots that are changing politics.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Ramadan

This year I took part in the Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, which was put on by the Greenbelt Makerspace in Greenbelt, Maryland. The weather was warm yet windy. (At one point a guy who had his table next to mine had mounted his iPad on a tripod. He had to leave his table for a moment and a gust of wind blew over the entire tripod—iPad included—and smashed the glass on the screen.) Here is my vending area at the festival.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Yes, I used Giant’s off-brand version of Oreos to entice visitors to my area. (LOL!)

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

The thrift shop Barbies that I refurbished as Fairy dolls made their appearance along with other arts and crafts I have done in the past.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

I brought back the doll couch that I made from a broken Dance Dance Revolution dance pad. I had two American Girl dolls—Julie Albright and Addy Walker—sit on the couch along with a stuffed lion that I got from Build-a-Bear Workshop. (I wanted to show that this couch could seat stuffed animals as well as dolls.)

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

A Barbie doll models this “fur” coat that I knitted using fur yarn.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

I attempted to do a live demonstration at my booth where I would crochet a small amigurumi bunny rabbit. I had this ambition that I would finish the rabbit by the end of the festival. Well, I ended not finishing it mainly because I had to tend to people who were browsing my table and there were times when I toured the rest of the festival. I would finish it later on.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Here are my photos of the rest of the festival which I took while I was going to and from the bathroom. There were 3D printers that printed various 3D items, musicians playing live on stage, children playing with Legos, woodworkers, a sewing demonstration, numerous computer demonstrations, and an information table that dealt with things like composting. There were vendors that sold jewelry, knitted hats with matching knitted scarves, and ceramics.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

This boy was checking out a table where one can play music with oranges that were connected with some kind of an interface with a computer.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

When I first started going to these maker events, I saw 3D printed items in only one color. At this event I saw 3D printed items based on Winnie the Pooh and Snoopy and they were 3D printed in more than one color, which was cool.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

This year there was an attempt to include the Greenbelt Library in the festival even though the building is located a few feet outside of Roosevelt Center (where the festival took place). Phil Shapiro brought his portable wind tunnel where he enticed families with young children to check it out. I happened to take this photo of him during downtime where he was reading.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

He had me use his phone to film him sending paper streamers through the wind tunnel. He later uploaded the footage I shot on YouTube while he added some music in the background.

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Passover

Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson and other historic women are being made into Barbie dolls.

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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.

I recently dodged a financial bullet. That near-miss started during the recent Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year’s holiday week when I was uploading a bunch of new holiday photos on my Instagram account. One night I saw a comment posted to one of my Instagram photos from a company known as Boho Queen Jewelry. The comment basically said that they liked the photos I had posted under my own account and the company invited me to apply to become on of its brand ambassadors.

My immediate reaction was that I was thrilled to receive such an invite. I had heard about some people becoming Instagram influencers where companies will either pay or give free samples of a product to Instagram influencers in exchange for posting a photo of themselves actually modeling a product. I thought this invitation from Boho Queen Jewelry could potentially be the first step for me to eventually become an Instagram influencer myself and it may lead to a new career path for myself.

I was very flattered to receive such an invite mainly because most of the pictures of jewelry I’ve posted in my Instagram account were either of my own creations or they were ones I had shot of other people’s jewelry during craft shows, art shows, and trips to the various shopping malls. I hadn’t done any kind of professional modeling before nor had I ever done any jewelry reviews. I thought it was cool that someone thought of me as being a potential online marketer of some really cool looking funky jewelry whose photos I saw posted on Boho Queen Jewelry’s website.

I decided to sleep on it since I had received that invitation so late in the evening. The following morning my immediate thrilled reaction had chilled and I wanted to proceed with this proposed brand ambassador gig with caution because I had never heard of the company before. I decided to do a quick Google search on Boho Queen Jewelry to learn about how others view that company. I immediately came up with a bunch of links that alarmed me.

Boho Queen Jewelry was previously known under two different names—Mirina Collections and Nora NYC—which became notorious for the way it conducts its business using this pattern.

First the company searches the Internet for photos of jewelry created by talented jewelry artisans. Then the company creates knockoffs using the cheapest materials they could find. The company lists a knockoff on its own website with a retail price that’s two or three times higher than what the talented jewelry artisan charges for his/her original work. Sometimes the company will list its knockoff product using the photo of the original jewelry that it swiped off of another website.

The company trolls various blogs and Instagram accounts by leaving comments inviting people to become its online brand ambassador while providing a link to a page where the person can apply. The person applies and is always accepted into the brand ambassador program. The newly appointed brand ambassador is then required to buy the jewelry but at a special lower discount than the retail price.

Here’s where the fun begins. While sometimes the person receives the jewelry in one piece and writes a good online review of the product (such as this one), usually the new brand ambassador encounters one of two scenarios.

1. The person never receives the jewelry. The person contacts the company via emails only to have them ignored.

2. The person receives the jewelry but it’s broken or damaged. The person contacts the company asking for a replacement or refund only to be ignored.

If the dissatisfied brand ambassador tries to contact the company through its Instagram page, the company will block that person. There have been cases where the company has threatened to sue the brand ambassador for writing a less-than-glowing review about that person’s interactions with the company on his/her blog or Instagram account. There have even been a few cases where the company went back into the brand ambassador’s bank or charge accounts at a later date and took out even more money.

Even though the company has changed its name for the third time, the way it conducts its business still remains the same.

After I read the accounts of people getting ripped off I decided against applying to become Boho Queen Jewelry’s brand ambassador and I immediately deleted that company’s comment on my Instagram photo.

The one thing that most raised my suspicion is the company’s requirement that you purchase its products (even at a discount) in order to do an online review. I know from my days working for the school newspaper during my college years that most legitimate companies never charged for a product that it wanted someone at the newspaper to review. Instead these companies would frequently send free samples of a product in exchange for a review. In the case of something like a movie, the film’s distributor would either provide free tickets or would set up a special free screening at a local theater that’s limited to reviewers only prior to the film’s official release.

Additionally when I worked in the corporate office of a now-defunct computer reseller, I saw that the various computer and/or software companies that wanted the reseller to sell its products would either send free samples or send a sales rep to do a free demo of a product. None of those companies ever charged the computer reseller money for reviewing the product before deciding on whether it would sell that product.

The one big lesson I can impart here is this: If you get an invitation from any company to be its online brand ambassador, always do a quick Google search about the company first before accepting that invitation. Just typing in “NAME OF COMPANY reviews” in the search box (without the quotation marks while replacing the all caps with the company’s name) will do the trick. If the number of negative reviews outnumber the positive ones, do NOT deal with that company. Your banking and credit card accounts (as well as your online reputation) will thank you.

I’ll end this post with a list of links to blog posts about other people’s less-than-thrilling interactions with Mirina Collections/Nora NYC/Boho Queen Jewelry.

Boho Queen Jewelry: A Review

Product Review: Boho Queen Jewelry

Boho Queen Jewelry Storytime/Honest Review

Retraction: Mirina Collections & Nora NYC (Updated)

“Mirina Collections” LIES

I walked around the streets of Annapolis taking a bunch of photos not too long ago.

Annapolis really does Christmas really well with its mix of traditional decorations (such as garlands of pine needles) with modern lights.

The highlight was when I went to the Holiday Art Shop, which is a pop-up shop that is sponsored by the Annapolis Arts Alliance.

I came across some fused glass jewelry that I thought looked like something that a friend of mine does in her fused glass work. It turns out to be my friend’s fused glass work. (By the way, you should check out her stuff at her Profusions of Glass Facebook page.)

I purchased a couple of bars of soap from Soap-A-Saurus. One is for me and the other will be a Christmas present for my mother. Both bars are Frankenscence Myrrh scented, which is pretty appropriate for Christmas.

There were Christmas decorations everywhere on the streets of Annapolis.

The next photo shows the historic St. Anne Episcopal Church.

St. Anne is starting to cater to the increasingly Latino population in the state of Maryland. The sign in the next photo translates as “Daily Vespers Prayer. In Spanish. Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.”

The rest of the photos show a mix of historical markers and festive Christmas decorations everywhere in the historic district of Annapolis.

Like I wrote in my previous post, I decided to go to Baltimore on November 25 because I wanted to check out the Christkindlesmarkt at the Zion Lutheran Church. But I got stuck in horrible northbound traffic then I waited a long time for both the light rail and the Metro subway. By the time I arrived at the church I only had 45 minutes left until the event ended for the day. (They would continue it on the next day but that day was Sunday and I wasn’t able to make it at all due to commitments I had with my own church that took up most of the day.) I eventually made it to the church, where I saw this statue outside of the church that’s dedicated to all of the Baltimore City firefighters both past and future.

Outside of the church were these trees that produced wonderful red colored autumn leaves.

Despite finally making it to the event so late in day before closing, there were still plenty of things to see and do.

There were a lot of stuff I would’ve loved to buy but I couldn’t due to tight finances. I purchased two German-imported Santa Claus chocolates that were more patterned after the original bishop, Saint Nicholas, than after the fat jolly man who hangs around with elves and reindeer. I kept one for myself and I plan on giving the other one to my mother for Christmas.

I also purchased a pack of Haribo gummy candies that were all cherry flavored and they were even shaped like cherries.

I was bummed that I arrived at the Christkindlesmarkt event so late in the day. It was still daylight outside so I decided to just take the Charm City Circulator bus to the Inner Harbor where I checked out the Christmas Village in Baltimore and the Inner Harbor itself.

Once again I volunteered to handle the money transaction for the yard sale that was held by Changing Focus, a nonprofit group that helps people deal with separation, divorce, and being widowed. The yard sale took place on the grounds of the Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church in Crofton, Maryland, where the weekly Changing Focus meetings take place.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

The weather was cloudy and it veered between being warm and cool. When the sun was behind the clouds, I felt cool enough that I would wear my hooded sweatshirt that I brought with me.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

However when the sun emerged from behind the clouds, the temperature would suddenly shoot up and I would end up removing my sweatshirt.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

The weather was crazy at times but at least it didn’t rain so people were more likely to come out and do some shopping.

The yard sale gave me an opportunity to take pictures of some oddities that were on sale. I have to admit that the organizers’ decision to no longer accept certain electronics and other outdated items have had an effect. Like the spring yard sale that took place earlier this year, there were far fewer oddities that really belong in a museum than in the past. (My all-time personal favorite is the time when someone donated a Westinghouse vacuum tube that was still in its original box.) There were still a few items that were worth photographing but they were more of a cool vintage sort than something that was totally outdated. Some of the vintage items could easily belong in a museum.

These fuzzy slippers were obviously meant to resemble an animal but I wasn’t able to figure out which animal. (I couldn’t tell whether it was a bear or a pig with that snout.) In any case, I saw someone purchase it so it all worked out.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

This plate had the pictures and names of Canadian songbirds written in English and French. The one thing I learned is that Canada has the same songbirds as in the United States.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

Those Depression-era pink glass plates looked pretty nice. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m trying to live a more simple life with fewer possessions, I would’ve definitely bought the whole set.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

I never knew there was such a thing as a Never Clog Sugar Shaker.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

This one really caught my eye because it looks like something that belongs in a museum. It’s a cookbook called Frances Lee Barton’s Cooking School of the Air and it also has the name General Foods on it. Many of the pages had the date July 5, 1934 printed on the bottom of each page. I later did a Google search and found that this cookbook was based on a radio show that aired on the NBC Red Network from 1932-1935. After reading that, I found myself wishing I had actually bought it for myself because it would’ve been interesting to try some of the recipes from a long time ago. Oh well. I found that Amazon.com has a few used copies of that book so if I ever feel the need to cook any meals from that cookbook, I can buy it online.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

There was one customer who asked about what kind of furniture it was and it had me stumped. Someone else with the Changing Focus group figured out what it was. Apparently it was something that was used in the days before indoor plumbing became common. Basically one would draw water from a well then place some of the water in a pitcher on the top shelf level of the furniture. A bowl would be placed on the lower shelf while soap and other washing supplies would be placed in the cabinet below. Anyone wanting to wash up would take the pitcher of water, pour it into the bowl, then wash his/her hands or other body parts.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

There were a set of two wine glasses that also had seven colored 3 LED lights. The photos on the boxes made it look like one could drink liquids while the glass glowed a variety of different colors.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

This set of vintage 1948 crochet baby bibs looked really nice. It’s amazing that something that was handmade for a baby nearly 70 years ago has survived being spat upon and enduring other food stains.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

I came upon a postcard that caught my attention. It was for an ice cream parlor known as the Sugar Bowl. I remember when, during one of our numerous trips to Arizona, one of my husband’s step-sisters encouraged us to try going for ice cream at the Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale because that was one of her favorite places. We ate there once and I liked it. (I think my husband liked it as well but we only ate there once.) I looked on the back of this postcard and saw that it was the same Sugar Bowl that is in Scottsdale. That is pretty ironic that I would find this postcard at a yard sales held thousands of miles away from Scottsdale.

Changing Focus Yard Sale, September 30, 2017

The Changing Focus yard sale is usually held in conjunction with the Festival on the Green, a craft show that’s held on the grounds of the Crofton Country Club (which is located next to the Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church). At one point I managed to walk over to the festival where I saw all kinds of neat stuff.

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

There was even a boxing demonstration.

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

At one point I shot this photo of the mascot for the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team.

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

Someone who was in that same booth where the mascot was located had offered to take a picture of me with the mascot using my own camera. I only went along even though I wasn’t in the mood to have my picture taken. Here’s the shot.

Festival on the Green, September 30, 2017

I helped with the yard sale until 2 p.m. when a truck arrived to take the unsold items to a nearby thrift store. I helped with packing the inventory in boxes, loading them onto the truck, then dismantling the folding tables (which belonged to the church). It was sometime around 3:30 or 4 p.m. when I finally left Crofton.

I only purchased two things for myself and they were both from the yard sale. One was the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. Among the numerous things that my ex-husband left behind when he abruptly ran away from home three days after Christmas in 2011 (and three months after I had hip surgery) were The Hobbit and two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I tried looking for that third book but I couldn’t find it. (It would be weird if my husband had taken only the first book in that trilogy but none of the others but he’s been doing weird stuff ever since he ran away from home. In the process he has not only alienated me but many of our long-time friends as well.) It turned out that the yard sale only had one of the books and it was exactly the one that was missing from my home.

What I Purchased at the Changing Focus Yard Sale

I also purchased this book because it has some neat craft ideas that I wouldn’t mind trying in the future.

What I Purchased at the Changing Focus Yard Sale

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