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Asian Lunar New Year

I usually don’t re-post other people’s work in their entirety in this blog but I’m making an exception just this once because this message is very powerful and it’s one that all Americans should read. It was written by legendary journalist Dan Rather and he posted this on his Facebook page earlier this week.

These are not normal times. These are extraordinary times. And extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

When you have a spokesperson for the president of the United States wrap up a lie in the Orwellian phrase “alternative facts”…

When you have a press secretary in his first appearance before the White House reporters threaten, bully, lie, and then walk out of the briefing room without the cajones to answer a single question…

When you have a President stand before the stars of the fallen CIA agents and boast about the size of his crowds (lies) and how great his authoritarian inaugural speech was….

These are not normal times.

The press has never seen anything like this before. The public has never seen anything like this before. And the political leaders of both parties have never seen anything like this before.

What can we do? We can all step up and say simply and without equivocation. “A lie, is a lie, is a lie!” And if someone won’t say it, those of us who know that there is such a thing as the truth must do whatever is in our power to diminish the liar’s malignant reach into our society.

There is one group of people who can do a lot – very quickly. And that is Republicans in Congress. Without their support, Donald Trump’s presidency will falter. So here is what I think everyone in the press must do. If you are interviewing a Paul Ryan, a Mitch McConnell, or any other GOP elected official, the first question must be “what will you do to combat the lying from the White House?” If they dodge and weave, keep with the follow ups. And if they refuse to give a satisfactory answer, end the interview.

Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of our nation, or you are against it. Everyone must answer that question.

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Santa Claus

This year New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday so my Unitarian Universalist church decided to schedule its usual Sunday morning service. Since New Year’s Day is also the last day of Kwanzaa, the theme of this service was on Kwanzaa and how this congregation’s observance of it is more important now than ever before (especially since my congregation is among the houses of worship that has put up a Black Lives Matter banner on its property).

There was a special Kwanzaa feast following the Sunday service. The special Kwanzaa altar remained up after the service ended so I took a few photographs.

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I even got pretty silly and took this last photo using the Hatsune Miku photo app on my smartphone.

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Santa Claus

I checked out the annual ZooLights that’s held during the Winter holiday season at the National Zoo for the first time back in 2012 (at a time when I was reeling from Christmas Eve when my estranged husband sent a divorce petition in a .pdf format that was attached to an email that he sent on Christmas Eve just four days before the one-year anniversary of the day that my husband left me). I enjoyed myself at the time even though I was exhausted by the time I left.

I hadn’t made any return trips since mainly because I got distracted with doing other things. I finally got the idea that I should go back to the National Zoo during the Christmas season when I was taking the Metro to the recent Dr. Sketchy’s event at the Bier Baron in Dupont Circle. (Link is definitely NSFW.) The Greenbelt Metro station had this cute panda bear display hyping the ZooLights.

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I finally decided to go to the zoo on the day before New Year’s Eve because I figured that it would be less crowded than on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day (especially since those two dates were the last nights that the ZooLights would be on display). On that day it was very bitter cold outside (I think the temperature was barely above freezing) but I still decided to brave the cold weather.

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Once again I tried to arrive while it was still daylight because I wanted to see the animals. The only bad thing is that I saw signs saying that many of the animals (especially those who come from warmer climates) tend to stay inside where it’s warm so I was treated to views of empty animal pens after empty animal pens. I managed to get this neat shot of a canopy of bamboo forming an archway along the Asia Trail.

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After seeing empty animal pens I finally hit pay dirt when I came to the giant panda area. One of the panda bears was sitting outside eating bamboo. (Even though the panda was seated so far away that I had to use the zoom feature on my smartphone, I could hear loud crunching as the panda was chowing down on the bamboo.)

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I saw one other giant panda but that one was inside the Panda House. I didn’t take that panda’s picture because it was sleeping and it had curled up into a tight ball and was facing the wall so all I saw was the animal’s back.

Then I walked over to the red panda area and I lucked out again as I saw this little critter hanging around outside.

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I saw some more animals when I went inside the Elephant House where I saw some elephants feeding.

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By the time I finished visiting the elephants most of the buildings were in the process of closing. (They tend to close at 4 p.m. in the winter.) I managed to take a couple of outdoor photos, including one with a couple of animals that were among the few that were still outside.

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The Small Mammal House was one of the few buildings that stayed open later to accommodate those who were checking out the ZooLights. So I took the rest of the animal photos in that building.

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During my time at the National Zoo I also encountered technical problems with my smartphone camera. My problems actually began a couple of days before Christmas when I had problems with getting the camera software to actually load. Sometimes it would load as usual and I could take pictures but other times it either wouldn’t load or it would load but refuse to take pictures or it would load only to get an error message telling me to restart the camera software.

Basically my smartphone camera started to act more erratic. It finally came to a head when it refused to cooperate after I visited the Small Mammal House. Finally I had to do a Google search on my smartphone and did all kinds of troubleshooting on the camera software while dealing with the increasing plummeting temperature at sunset. Finally I managed to get my camera software working after I cleared its data cache. Unfortunately by the time I solved that problem, I didn’t have much battery power left so I didn’t take as many pictures of the ZooLights as I wanted. But I managed to take a few before my camera stopped working due to low battery.

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The silver lining is that many of the lights that were on display were way similar to what I shot in 2012 so I suggest going to that blog post to get an idea of what its like to see the ZooLights.

The one thing I managed to do what I wasn’t able to do back in 2012 is to check out this train ride. When I was there in 2012 I saw this huge line and I didn’t feel like standing in it. But I still wanted to take that ride because I thought it did a tour of the entire ZooLights. One of the reasons I made every effort to show up at the Zoo during daytime is because I wanted to be among the early birds to get on the train. I managed to get my $3 ticket just minutes after it went on sale and I stood in a very short line so I could be among the first people to ride the train.

I discovered that this train doesn’t go through the entire zoo. All it does is go around the Great Cats area where you saw a couple of light displays (shaped mainly like cows and corn stalks) that you could only see on that ride and it lasted no more than two or three minutes. I saw a lion on a rock while I was on the train but the lion was too far away, it had grown dark outside, and the train was traveling too fast for me to get a decent picture. I also wasn’t able to get a decent photo of the train ride-exclusive light displays but that was no big deal since they were of cows and corn stalks. I personally wouldn’t take that train ride again unless I was with a very young child. When I got off the train I saw a longer line of people waiting to take that train and I can only imagine how aggravating an adult who waited in a long ride to take a very short train ride would feel after the ride ended.

I didn’t stay too late after the train ride because the really cold weather got to me. I think the weather outside was way colder that night than when I last went in 2012 because even trying to rest on a bench got pretty trying because I would get cold very fast when I wasn’t moving. I managed to leave the zoo and get to the nearest Metro station as soon as I could even though I felt major fatigue starting to kick in.

I had thought about eating dinner in a local restaurant before taking the Metro but everything was pretty pricey. I ended up taking the Metro to Union Station where I did something off-beat.

Here’s some background. On Christmas Eve I went to Union Station (along with the Smithsonian National Postal Museum that’s located next door) where I discovered that half of the local level is now being taken up by Walgreen’s. This particular Union Station Walgreen’s have one thing that other Walgreen’s in my area doesn’t: a sushi bar where fresh sushi is made daily.

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The only reason why I hadn’t tried eating there on Christmas Eve was because I had eaten a mediocre lunch at a Chinese stand before I discovered that Walgreen’s had a sushi stand. When I couldn’t find a restaurant near the National Zoo that was within my price range I decided to take the Metro to Union Station (since I had to travel on the Red Line anyway) and try some Walgreen’s sushi just so I can say that I actually did it once.

By the time I got to Walgreen’s I saw that the sushi chefs had left for the day (I took the above photograph during my Christmas Eve visit) but there were a few fresh sushi packages left. I bought the spicy tuna roll and I found it to be quite good. If I had the chance to do it again, I would definitely eat the Walgreen’s sushi because it was good and the prices were on par with similar sushi at Wegmans.

After dinner I got back on the Metro and headed home. I was incredibly sore from doing all that walking in freezing cold weather. I was so sore that I spent most of New Year’s Eve resting at home. But it was worth it because I had forgotten how much I love seeing the animals at the National Zoo. I should make an effort to go back when the weather gets warmer. For added measure, I should pack a lunch and some drawing materials and make a full day of it. I could leave the house after eating breakfast then spend the entire day either photographing or drawing the animals I see. I would definitely do it when the weather started getting warmer (in March or April) so I could rest on the outside benches.

Santa Claus Baby New Year

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I’ve purchased a few ornaments on my travels. Here are the ones I currently own.

I purchased this ornament when I went to Walt Disney World with my then-husband in 1992. This one commemorated the 10th anniversary of the opening of Epcot Center.

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I’ve purchased this faceted crystal Hershey Kiss-shaped ornament during one of my numerous trips to Hershey, Pennsylvania over the years. It really shines very brightly when the lights are on.

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Here is a dripping clock ornament, which is obviously inspired by Salvador Dali’s famous painting The Persistence of Memory, that I bought when I made my first (and, so far, only trip) to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida with my then-husband.

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I purchased this ornament when I took my then-husband to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. (I had been to that place several times growing up but it was the first time I took my husband during our marriage.) The outer circle says “Seasons Greetings” and “Fort Mc Henry.” There are two smaller gold banners above and below the image of Fort McHenry and they are embossed with this sentence: “Birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner.” (It’s a reference to the fact that Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that later became the lyrics to the national anthem while he saw Fort McHenry under siege during the War of 1812.)

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The last three pictures feature Moravian stars, which are type of stars that originated with the Moravian Church. I first became acquainted with these stars when my sister-in-law moved to the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania, which includes two towns that were founded by members of the Moravian Church—Bethlehem and Nazareth. The smallest of the stars is one that I purchased at the Moravian Book Shop, which is located in Bethlehem and it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re ever in town.

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The second photograph features a paper Moravian star, which was given to me by one of my sister-in-law’s friends. She lived in Nazareth at the time and she told me that the locals in both Nazareth and Bethlehem frequently just place the paper stars on the branches of the Christmas tree.

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The last one is the largest of the three. It’s made from stained glass and I think it may be one that I purchased at the annual Christkindlemarkt that’s held for several weekends in Bethlehem each year prior to Christmas but I don’t remember for sure. All I know that it looks really pretty in my tree, especially when the lights are turned on.

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Santa Claus Baby New Year

I happened to be in Brentwood on a sunny yet cold day. I finally did something that I’ve long wanted to do—take a few pictures of the Gateway Community Development Corporation building.

The Gateway CDC building is located in a small yet cozy looking cottage.

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At first glance one would think that he/she is looking at some front windows until you get a close-up view of those “windows” and soon realize that they aren’t really windows. They are actually paintings.

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Both of these painted false “windows” are actually a style of art known as trompe l’oeil.

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One side of the building has real windows along with a sign explaining what the Gateway Community Development Corporation is and what it does (which you can read about online right here).

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The other side of the building also has real windows along with plenty of open ground with a picnic table. I can imagine that it would be the perfect spot for a picnic on a warm sunny day.

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Santa Claus Baby New Year
New Year's Parade Float

Santa Claus Baby New Year

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Among my Christmas decorations are a few imported ones that I purchased at a couple of places.

My sister-in-law lives in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. Each year the town of Bethlehem has a multi-week arts and crafts festival known as Christkindlmarkt, which features handcrafted items from both local artisans and imported handmade items. I remember she took my then-husband and I to Christkindlmarkt a few times and I really enjoyed it very much. (The only reason why I haven’t come back is because of finances.) Among the items I purchased was this German-made nutcracker that’s shaped like a park ranger or a naturalist.

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There’s a pretty funny story behind this one. Throughout my now-kaput marriage, my husband insisted on controlling all of the finances including the checkbook for the main checking account. He didn’t always take his checkbook with him because he didn’t always want to stuff his pockets with the checkbook and he wouldn’t carry a bag or purse or anything like that. That weekend he took the main checkbook with him. When we were going over to the Christkindlmarkt he asked me to hold the checkbook in my purse. When I started perusing some of the vendors, I saw a man who sold German-made nutcrackers and this fellow caught my eye. It turned out that he cost only $50, which is cheap compared to similar nutcrackers I’ve seen on sale in my area. (I’ve seen German nutcrackers the same size start at $125.) I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet and he didn’t take a credit card so I pulled out the main checkbook and wrote a check. At that moment I was writing a check, my husband showed up and caught me in the act. While he was okay with using it to buy the nutcracker, he insisted on taking the checkbook and keeping it with him. Strangely (LOL!) he never asked me to hold the main checkbook again after that incident. (LOL!)

I also purchased this wooden German-imported ornament at Christkindlmarkt. This one is shaped like a cuckoo clock.

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Another place where I purchased imported ornaments was from SERRV, which has a store in New Windsor, Maryland but it also sells its items online. SERRV is run by the Church of the Brethren and it hires artisans from Third World countries to make items for its catalogue. SERRV makes an effort to pay these artisans a living wage and it also makes inspections of the places where these artisans work in order to ensure that they aren’t sweatshops. SERRV sells a variety of lovely products from all over the world. The next picture shows a wooden nativity ornament that was made in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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The next couple of ornaments were made in El Salvador. These artisans work in wood and they paint in bright primary colors. There is such a cheerfulness to their work, such as these ornaments shaped like a llama and Santa Claus.

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Most of the El Salvadoran ornaments are two-sided but are painted the same on both sides. The tree ornament in the next two photos was also made in El Salvador but the design is different on both sides.

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I also bought this pair of clay doves, which were made in Guatemala.

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The doves come packaged with this short paper explaining about the origins of these doves.

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A disastrous earthquake in 1976 forced many Guatemalans to be uprooted. The Chanautla area was severely damaged at this time causing a number of residents to move to the northern edge of Guatemala City, a location now known as Nueva Chanautla. When ceramics are handcrafted by these artisans the “white clay” must be brought from the original Chanautla area.

Each fragile dove begins as a lump of clay dug up in Chanautla, a region of Guatemala. Because of each artisan’s individual fantasy, head and wing positions differ. Primitive firing is accomplished by covering the delicately formed bird with grass and igniting it. This method causes colors that vary from burnt black to orange to grey and white. Doves are packaged in an attractive basket for a safe flight. Due to the use of unrefined clay, small blemishes and chips sometimes occurs in the firing process.

These doves come in a nice woven basket that I also have on display under the Christmas tree because it is so lovely looking.

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Santa Claus Baby New Year

In the wake of the recent presidential elections that resulted in Donald Trump becoming the next President of the United States, there have been concerns about his antics, especially regarding his tweets on Twitter, where he has managed to piss off China and declared that the U.S. will be creating more nuclear missiles and possibly using them. There are concerns about how suitable he really is to occupy the Oval Office.

The Electoral College was scheduled to meet on December 19. Usually they tend to rubber stamp the results of the elections. This time a movement known as the Hamilton Electors sprang up and they were urging the Electoral College to reject Trump in favor of a more moderate Republican like Mitt Romney or John McCain. On December 19 these Hamilton Electors had called for rallies to be held in every state capital in the U.S. urging the Electoral College to reject Trump in favor of someone more moderate and with more experience than Trump. (Donald Trump is the first president-elect in history with no prior military or political experience.)

Since I live in Maryland the rally was being held in Annapolis. I had thought about going there to make a stand against Trump. But then I remembered that Hillary Clinton had swept Maryland in the elections so Maryland’s Electoral College delegates had already pledged to vote for her instead of Trump or another Republican. On top of it, it was a cold day and I was less enthusiastic about freezing to make a public stand against Trump when my state’s delegates had already committed to Clinton. So I decided to skip the rally altogether and do something fun instead.

My decision turned out to be a good one for two reasons: 1) the Electoral College decided to award the presidency to Trump anyway despite the Hamilton Electors movement and 2) I went to a place that I hadn’t been to in two years and it was nice to go there again.

I went to Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. It’s a long commute from the DC area but it’s so worth it because it has one of the most awesome Christmas shops anywhere in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area. Here are some photos I took to show how awesome it is.

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And if you like these photos, check out photos I took of the same place in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Asian Lunar New Year

Last weekend there was an uproar over what happened in the Fells Point area of Baltimore. Here’s a video that compiles two other videos of the same incident as shot from different angles.

It’s a shame that something like this happened in Fells Point. That area probably ranks up there as among my favorite area in Baltimore, despite the fact that I last set foot in that area back in 2013 on the same day that I appeared in divorce court with my husband. (I can be lame at times. LOL!)

The good news is that they caught the driver of that van. The bad news is that this guy had mowed over a woman twice during his driving rampage from hell. The woman’s family has set up a GoFundMe page in order to help pay for her medical expenses.

Asian Lunar New Year

A few weeks ago I was at a local Wegman’s when I saw this red dragon-shaped balloon.

Dragon Balloon

Since this year is supposed to be the Year of the Monkey, I’m going to once again post an animation I did as part of a class that I took at a local community college years ago. The Dancing Monkeys is loosely based on one of Aesop’s Fables of the same name. If you want to learn more about the background of this animation, check out this post that I originally wrote last August. Otherwise, you can just watch the animation below.

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