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Lately I’ve been doing more walking and riding public transit and I’m doing it because I have to. My car’s brakes have failed and they barely work these days. I’m looking at a steep repair bill that I can’t afford at the moment so I’m stuck. Last week I needed to run a few errands and I decided to go on foot rather than pay for a Metrobus fare.

There is a footbridge that was originally erected for the kids who attend Eleanor Roosevelt Hight School and it enables them to walk to school without having to walk along a major highway (Route 193) and risk having an accident with a passing car.

An emergency callbox was installed because there were too many reports of kids fighting each other and people getting mugged by juvenile delinquents.

The footbridge crosses over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, where one can see the cars buzzing past at all hours of the day and night.

Once I got on the other side of the bridge, I encountered two sections of sidewalk with graffiti permanently inscribed. I don’t know when this was done but it’s obvious that whoever did this had a penis obsession.

The next photo shows Eleanor Roosevelt High School. I know a few people whose kids attend that school and they seemed to be happy with it.

I eventually made my way to Safeway where I took a break at one of the tables the store has at the front. I noticed that the store has installed one of those Amazon Lockers that I’ve heard about. (Basically Amazon customers can request that their newly purchased items be sent to one of these lockers instead of being sent to the customer’s home or office. It’s a good idea since I’ve heard about some people who’ve had their packages stolen from their own front porch in broad daylight.) The idea of seeing an Amazon Locker is still pretty new and novel to me so I decided to take a few pictures for posterity before the novelty wears off for me.

Safeway was having its Monopoly contest where customers collect stamps each shopping trip in the hopes of winning prizes.

Someone even created a soda carton display based on Monopoly‘s Rich Uncle Pennybags.

Safeway had a display of both Valentine’s Day and Easter candies. I noticed this chocolate bunny based on the classic children’s book Peter Rabbit. Recently someone made a movie version of Beatrix Potter’s book. I saw a preview and I wasn’t impressed with it mainly because I read Peter Rabbit numerous times and I don’t recall the story being this wild and hyperactive.

As for Valentine’s Day, I saw that Oreo came out with a special cookie edition that had red cinnamon-flavored cream that was hyped on the package as being hot and spicy. (I didn’t buy this so I have no idea about how it really tasted.)

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Last week I decided to go to Adams-Morgan in Washington, DC because there was a mass meeting being held at All Souls Unitarian Church which is announcing the launch of a new nationwide campaign known as Poor People’s Campaign, which is an interfaith campaign that attempts to highlight the problem of income inequality. The initial campaign is being launched to coincide with both Lent (which started yesterday) and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s original Poor People’s Campaign (which was cut short with his assassination that year). I learned about this meeting through flyers that were distributed in my own Unitarian Universalist church and I was definitely interested in attending. After spending the past few years worrying about finances and being able to support myself in the wake of my husband’s abrupt walkout and trying to find a new job in a poor economy, that is one cause I can really identify with.

I wasn’t going to let something like having car brake problems stop me from going to that meeting. So I took the Metrobus from my home (I’m glad I live in a neighborhood with a public transit option) then I took the Green Line Metro to Adams-Morgan. I found this really nice wall mural at the Columbia Heights Metro station.

I arrived at the All Souls Unitarian Church a bit early so I took a photo of the church while it was still daytime then walked around the area.

It’s been a few years since I last was in Adams-Morgan so I was eager to spend some time in that neighborhood. The Polish embassy had a photo display on its fence to celebrate the fact that this year is the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence after World War I ended.

I saw some subtle signs of defiance against the Trump Administration, such as this sticker that I saw on the back of a metal road sign.

Local businesses, such as Potter’s House, have posted signs protesting the racism and Islamophobia of the Trump Administration.

Here’s a nice wall mural I found outside one of the local businesses.

Ever since Washington, DC decided to legalize marijuana a few years ago there have been more and more marijuana businesses opened. Adams-Morgan has two such businesses.

Adams-Morgan has long been a welcoming place for both artists and recent immigrants, which is why there are signs against the Trump Administration posted in many places.

The wall mural featuring the red-headed woman in the next photo is of the iconic Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. Here’s a fun fact about Madam’s Organ—it inhabits a space that once housed a store that was the forerunner of the Toys R Us chain.

When it got closer to the announced start of the meeting, I headed back towards All Souls Unitarian Church only to find this sign at the door.

I don’t know what happened or why it was cancelled. I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to that meeting for the past few weeks. 😦

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.

Last year I went to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore because it has free admission on Martin Luther King Day. (The regular admission price is $15.95 for adults under 60 and $13.95 for people age 60 and up.) I had a blast even though I arrived too late in the day to get a free slice of birthday cake that the museum usually serves for that occasion. This year I decided to do it again except I made every effort to wake up early and get out of the door so I could arrive by noon (when the birthday cake would be served).

So I managed to arrive earlier than last year while braving the cold weather (the temperature was in the low 20’s that day). I took the light rail into the city then transferred to the Charm City Circulator bus. I managed to arrive shortly before noon. The main disadvantage is that the museum was way more crowded than I remembered last year when I arrived later in the afternoon. But I still tried to make the best of my visit since it was free admission day.

One of the buildings had a new exhibition which featured this giant dragon sculpture that was made entirely from balloons.

There were a few wall hangings that were literally displayed on the ceiling of that building.

I managed to arrive on the third floor of the building where the birthday cake was being served along with a few other activities as well. There was an opportunity to create buttons, which I didn’t get to do because the museum had run out of button making supplies by the time I arrived. But I managed to get a photo of a couple who were able to make buttons.

The entertainment featured a children’s gospel choir known as the Cardinal Shehan School Choir, who came from one of the local Catholic schools in Baltimore. This group has been featured on Good Morning America after one of their videos went viral. After hearing them, I understood why because this choir was so phenomenal, especially since the singers were all children.

In fact, I shot this video of them doing their final number called “Rise Up” that I think you will definitely enjoy.

While the choir was performing I got a chance to look at the birthday cakes that were served to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis. The cakes were available in a variety of flavors.

The museum also gave out a variety of hot beverages (including hot chocolate and a few different flavors of tea). The next photo shows my cup of hot chocolate and the slice of cake that I chose.

This next photo should give you an idea as to how crowded this room got with people making buttons and consuming cake and hot drinks.

I stepped out of the balcony on that third floor where I got a great view of both the museum’s main building and Federal Hill.

Once I finished eating my cake and the choir finished performing its set, I left that large and crowded room and explored the rest of the museum where I took these pictures.

The museum had this special exhibit called The Great Mystery Show, which featured art related to science and mysticism. This NASA astronaut sculpture in the next photo had me thinking about how my ex-husband would’ve loved this since he works for NASA and he told me that he once wanted to become an astronaut only to find out that his eyesight would’ve been considered too poor for such a position. (He managed to study computer programming so he found another way of working for NASA even if he never became an astronaut.)

The statue in the next two photos intrigued me because it was made mostly from sea shells.

The most memorable part of the museum was seeing this sculpture of Edgar Allan Poe that was made entirely from marshmallow Peeps.

The base of the Poe sculpture was flanked by a black cat and a raven, who were both also made from marshmallow Peeps. (Those two were references to two of Poe’s famous works—The Black Cat and The Raven.)

Near the Poe sculpture was this heart that was made from glass, which was a reference to another famous Poe piece known as The Tell-Tale Heart.

The most surreal part of the museum was seeing a TV monitor that had non-stop showings of Martin Luther King giving his famous “I Have a Dream” speech while the monitor was flanked by flowers, tarot cards, two gold masks, and an Ouija board.

I was amazed by this life-sized sculpture of what looked like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

I found this interesting recipe posted on the museum wall that I would like to try at some point in the future.


I really liked this colorful and funky cat illustration.

This dress looked like it was made from glass with all of the glass beads.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this inspirational quote from Leonardo da Vinci regarding science and art.

I really liked this next photo, which is a painting of Albert Einstein.

I was also amazed by what this one artist did with small tins (such as a sardine tin and a tin box that was about the size of a pack of Altoids). This person created scenes with paper cutouts. The tiny details were astounding.

I made only one purchase at that museum. I found this crochet pattern book for $5 that was about creating tiny equipment, furniture, and buildings that were small enough for LEGO Minifigs, tiny dolls, and other types of tiny toys. It looked really interesting.

Even though I had that slice of cake, it was no substitute for lunch and I was starting to feel hungry as I was touring the museum. I thought about eating in the museum’s cafe until I saw that it was very crowded. I began to become tired of the throngs of people who were crowding in the museum because they were also taking advantage of the free admission. I decided to leave the museum and walk along the Inner Harbor while taking some photos. This next photo shows a building in the middle that’s under construction complete with a construction crane.

The weather had been mostly non-stop freezing since Christmas with an exception of a couple of days when the temperature reached the low 50’s just a couple of days before MLK Day. Unfortunately that respite was short-lived and the area was plunged into yet another deep freeze. The next few pictures clearly show the effects of the below-freezing temperatures had on the water itself where you can clearly see ice that had been forming.

Some of the litter thrown into the Inner Harbor had been encased in ice.

A pair of ducks were swimming in the non-icy portions of the water.

These stone installations resembled three Adirondack chairs.

The next photo shows the statue of William Donald Schaefer, who served as the mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland.

I walked by Harborplace where I visited It’s Sugar.

 

I bought a few things in that store, including a special pack of Skittles that  was known as “Sweet Heat” because spices were added to the candy. I tried them and I found the spicy taste to be interesting but, to be honest, I prefer regular Skittles.

I bought a small box of this treat called Marshmallow Madness. The idea is based on the Lucky Charms cereal except that the cereal part has been excluded so all you get is just small colored marshmallows in a variety of shapes. I’ve seen Marshmallow Madness be available in cereal-sized boxes. On this trip I saw that there were smaller box versions of Marshmallow Madness so I decided to buy it to see what it tasted like.

My verdict is that while the marshmallows are tasty, I found myself missing the cereal part. (I used to frequently eat Lucky Charms cereal as a child. Even though I rarely eat presweetened cereal these days, I still found myself lamenting the lack of cereal in Marshmallow Madness. I guess old habits die hard. LOL!)

I purchased a pack of orange-flavored Donald Trump-themed gummy candy known as Make America Sweet Again mainly because the package design was such a hoot. I took a bunch of detailed photographs of this product so you’ll get the idea.

I haven’t opened that candy as of this writing. I have an idea of doing something creative with this candy so I don’t want to just eat it right now, especially since there are only two It’s Sugar locations in the entire Baltimore-Washington, DC area (one at Harborplace and the other in the Chinatown area of DC) and I don’t really live close to either location so I can’t shop there too often.

I took a couple of photos of Harborplace, which showed it becoming more and more of a dead mall. This was shot on Martin Luther King Day when a lot of people are off from school and work. I remember Harborplace in better days when it used to draw a huge crowd of shoppers. I remember the days when I made special trips to this place so I could spend the day there. Despite the presence of It’s Sugar, H&M, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, this pavilion is still pretty much empty. I didn’t even bother with visiting the other pavilion because I know it’s the same situation from previous visits. Too bad, so sad.

The sign announcing a “New Tradition” at Harborplace that “Begins Fall 2016” had me laughing. Or maybe having a mostly empty mall is Harborplace’s idea of a “new tradition.” LOL!

The only area of Harborplace where I saw quite a few people was at the temporary ice skating rink that was set outside of one of the pavilions.

There weren’t really a lot of affordable place to eat lunch at. (I still remember the old days when that pavilion I had just visited used to have an entire floor dedicated to a food court that had all kinds of foods ranging from pizza to sushi to Chinese to Subway subs.) I decided to go to the Così that’s located across the street from the Baltimore Convention Center for a late lunch. Except when I arrived just 15 minutes before 3 p.m. I saw a notice on the door saying that Così would be closing early at 3 p.m. for MLK Day. I basically got my lunch to go and walked around the area looking for an appropriate place to eat lunch. Unfortunately it was way too cold to eat anywhere outside. I ultimately walked to the Hilton Baltimore where I sat down in one of the cushions in the lobby and quietly consumed my TBM (tomato, basil, and mozzarella) sandwich with a bag of potato chips and a Diet Coke. That hotel was very empty that day where the staffers outnumbered everyone else.

After I finished lunch, I decided that it was time to head back to the light rail station and get out of the city. I walked past Orioles Park at Camden Yards and took this one last photo. The place definitely looked pretty sad and deserted in the off-season. Baseball season will begin in a few months so this area will have a lot of Baltimore Oriole fans entering through those gates. (It also reminded me of the fact that the last time I attended a game there was back in 2007. It was the year before my hip replacement and it was also when I was still married because I used to accompany my husband to those games. I don’t know when I’ll ever attend another game there in person.)

I was up in Baltimore on a very cold day (the temperature reached no higher than 20 degrees Fahrenheit and I even have a few photos of the frozen water that I took from the window of the light rail train that I was riding on) because I received an email announcing that the art show I had participated in was ending and I needed to retrieve my work. (The art show was originally going to run through January 8 but I think the organizers decided to end it a few days earlier after the weather forecasts called for freezing rain on that day.)

Basically I went to Trinacria’s Ristorante & Bar and picked up my artwork with no problem at all. I saw that the place is located near the Walters Art Museum and I really didn’t have anything else scheduled that day so I decided to go there and warm myself.

Even though the Walters Art Museum is among Baltimore’s most famous museums, I didn’t visit it for the first time until my mother took me there when I was a teenager.  I wouldn’t step foot in that place again for a number of years until 2016 when I was taking part in another art show and I saw that the venue was located near that museum. I wasn’t able to finish touring the entire place when it closed but I swore that I would make a return trip just so I can finish with visiting the rest of the building. But then I went through 2017 without stepping foot in that building again.

So I decided to take advantage of being in the area and just visit the museum. On the last trip I started on the fourth floor, visited everything on that floor, then visited everything on the third floor until I finally finished the day with visiting only part of the third floor. Once again on this trip I started at the top floor and worked my way down except I spent less time on the floors I had previously visited and focused more on the places I hadn’t gone on my last visit. That museum had all kinds of neat stuff, such as this Japanese samurai armor.

This bust in the next photo is based on William Shakespeare’s Othello and I thought it was a neat combination of white and black marble.

They had a portrait of Othello located near that marble bust.

 

When I first saw this painting of the Mona Lisa, I did a double take because I thought that this painting was in the Louvre in Paris. The accompanying label said that it was a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting done by an unknown artist and that, yes, the Louvre has the original.

The wood carving in the next photo is a typical Madonna and Child art piece. The eyes on the figures reminded me of what you’d see on a Japanese anime character.

They had a room in the museum that was set up like a room in an English home during the Renaissance (or maybe it was King Arthur’s time) while conjuring up images of knights and maidens and stuff like that.

They even had a table in the middle of that room that had chess and checkers games that were available for visitors to play, which was kind of cool. If I had taken a friend with me to the museum, we could’ve taken a stab at one of these games. Oh well.

They had an entire section of the museum dedicated to ancient Egypt, including an actual mummy.

They also had a section devoted to artifacts from ancient Greece and ancient Rome.

The last area of the museum I visited was devoted to artifacts from the reign of Czar Nicholas II in Russia. The next photo shows a rare Fabergé egg that had a tiny building inside of it.

The next photo shows a necklace that had tiny watercolor paintings of Czar Nicholas’ four daughters. These watercolors were based on actual photographs of the princesses. These four young women would be murdered along with their parents and younger brother by the Bolsheviks.

I pretty much enjoyed myself in that museum. Maybe one day I’ll make a return trip without having to combine with picking up or dropping art at a nearby exhibition.

Last month I happened to be in Langley Park, Maryland where I noticed something new (or something that I hadn’t noticed before). It’s a very nice and colorful mural.

Santa Claus

I wanted to enjoy myself this Christmas Eve. That morning I checked out the Christmas pageant at my church, which included a living nativity scene. After church I decided to go to downtown Washington, DC. I wanted to check out an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery that was on its final weeks.

It was a special exhibit called the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which uses dollhouse-sized dolls and furniture to create dioramas of real-life crime scenes. I first heard about this when I attended the Utopia Film Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland in 2012. One of the films shown, Of Dolls & Murder, was narrated by film director John Waters about this very topic and I found that documentary to be totally fascinating. When I heard that the Renwick Gallery was having a rare public exhibition of these dioramas, I knew that I had to check them out. I ended up going on Christmas Eve when I found that this exhibition was going to close in January. A lot of other people had that same idea, as you can see in the next photograph.

These dioramas were done by Frances Glessner Lee. The attention to detail she provided in these dioramas were astounding to see in that documentary I saw a few years ago and they are even more astounding to see in person. I heard many people debate about who could’ve been responsible for many of the crimes depicted. As for me, I was just content to marvel at the realistic scenes.

The rest of the museum was far less crowded than the Nutshell exhibition. Next to the dollhouses was this exhibition by Rick Araluce, who’s an artist and scenic designer.

The next photo shows the back of the structure that makes up that exhibit.

The back of that structure also have a couple of peepholes where, if you look in them, you can see a miniature scene of a subway stop.

But when you walk around to the front of the exhibit, you’ll see a life-sized reproduction of a subway stop that looks incredibly realistic down to the train tracks.

Another high point of being in the Renwick Gallery was seeing a digitized 3D printed version of Hiram Powers’ sculpture The Greek Slave.

At first glance you would never realize that this is actually a replica that was done on a 3D printer.

If you look really close in the next photograph, you could see a few of the lines that are common in 3D printed items.

I hung around the Renwick Gallery checking out the other exhibits until it was close to closing time.

Once I walked outside I decided to walk along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

I was walking next to Lafayette Park when I was at the White House. There is an antiwar protest that has been ongoing since 1981 (when Ronald Reagan was in office). The last of the original founders of that protest, Concepcion Picciotto, passed away in 2016 and I was curious to see if that protest would still go on without any of the original founders still alive. I found that it’s still up as a presence against U.S. foreign military policy.

I didn’t stay too long in Lafayette Park because it was very cold that night. I walked along the area while taking a few pictures.

I eventually reached the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel, which was well-decorated for the holidays.

I needed to use the bathroom so I stepped inside. After I finished with the restroom I marveled at the lovely tasteful holiday decorations in the hotel lobby.

The coolest Christmas decoration was this gingerbread reproduction of Mount Vernon, which featured tiny figures of George and Martha Washington done in fondant. The details on this structure were amazing to see.

I was getting hungry (I hadn’t eaten dinner yet) so I decided to head for home. I took this photo of one of the doors to the Trump International Hotel when I was on my way to the Federal Triangle Metro station. I’ve only been inside of that hotel once and it was on the day before Donald Trump won the elections. I haven’t felt the desire to step inside of that hotel since.

Santa Claus

My birthday is on December 15 and I usually like to do something fun. Last year I spent my birthday last slogging through Baltimore in very bitter cold temperature and frantically trying to contact someone in authority about a homeless man who was sleeping on the steps of the Baltimore Convention Center despite the fact that the Polar Vortex had come through the area plunging the temperature below 20 degrees.

I don’t know if I reached anyone and I was stymied by the fact that I don’t live in Baltimore so I didn’t know who to turn to. I spent the next couple of days doing Google searches to see if anyone had frozen to death on the steps of the Convention Center only to turn up empty. I guess the man survived that bitter cold night but I’ll never know for sure.

This year I decided to go to Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia because I had spent some fun birthdays there in previous years and I also wanted to avoid any more drama about homeless people in cold weather. December 15 fell on a Friday this year so I was looking forward to it.

Except it rained that day then the temperature plunged to below freezing so all that rain on the ground turned into ice. I still have memories of when I slipped on ice in Annapolis back in 2011, which resulted in my hip replacement being knocked out of position so I had to undergo hip revision surgery later that year in order to put it back into place. I just wasn’t willing to risk falling and having my hip replacement messed up.

So I decided to postpone that trip a couple of days. December 18 fell on a Monday, which is usually a relatively quiet night at that mall. Except it was just a few days before Christmas so there were more people shopping there on a Monday night than usual. But it still wasn’t bad. Here are the photos I shot that night.

I took the Metro to the mall, where I was greeted with this cool rainbow Christmas tree and some lovely twinkling lights when I arrived.

Some people were resting at one of the many fire pits that are set up outside this time of the year.

People could be found skating on a temporary ice skating rink, which is also usually set up this time of the year.

The first store I hit was American Girl Place. I was on a mission. Here’s the backstory: This year American Girl decided on an African American character for its Girl of the Year named Gabriela McBride. She was the first girl of color to be given such an honor since since 2005. She’s described as being an artist, which I find personally cool since I’m an artist myself. Earlier this year I was having camera problems so when I arrived at American Girl Place back in June, I was unable to shoot any photos while I was there. A few weeks later it was July and I decided to return to American Girl Place with my Canon DSLR in tow. I was able to shoot a few pictures until the battery ran out of juice. So I got pictures of the new contemporary doll Tenney Grant and her friend, Logan Everett, who’s known as the first boy doll that American Girl has ever released. I also got a picture of a case displaying what was the newest BeForever doll at the time—Melody Ellison, who’s supposed to represent the 1960s. But those were the only pictures I got before my camera battery died on me.

Ironically  I came close to arriving at American Girl Place without a camera this time around. I had left my Canon PowerShot camera in the car and I didn’t realize it until after I had gone on the Metro train at the Greenbelt station. I managed to dart out of the train before the doors closed and walked outside the station and back to the parking lot so I could retrieve my camera.

It was worth the effort to retrieve my camera and arrive at the mall a little bit later because, at long last, I was finally able to take pictures of the 2017 Girl of the Year, Gabriela McBride. On top of it, this doll was scheduled to retire after New Year’s Eve and be replaced by the 2018 Girl of the Year (which means that this doll will be retired by the time you read this). Here’s the standee where people can take selfies with Gabriela and a brick backdrop.

Here’s Gabriela herself. I think she’s a cute doll and I love her art accessories, especially the miniature replicas of a paint set and a sketchbook pad.

I was also able to take pictures of another doll on this trip. American Girl has been releasing a new line of contemporary characters who are growing up in today’s era. I took pictures of would-be country musician Tenney Grant and her male friend Everett Logan on the last trip. American Girl released another character who have nothing to do with Tenney or Everett and she has her own separate story. Her name is Z Yang, she is a Korean American, and she is passionate about photography and videography. Like Gabriela McBride, Z Yang also shares my interest. (To be fair, Tenney Grant shares my interest in playing the guitar except I prefer rock and folk music over country.) Z Yang’s miniature photography and video equipment are absolutely adorable (even if they are expensive).

They even have a human version of Z Yang’s meet outfit, which I personally find adorable. Sadly they are only available in children’s sizes.

Since my last visit to American Girl place back in July, American Girl have released a new BeForever historical doll. Her name is Nanea Mitchell and she has a white American father and a Hawaiian mother. She is described as growing up in the then-U.S. territory of Hawaii in 1941. Anyone who knows history will know what major event happened in Hawaii back in 1941.

I found Nanea to be gorgeous in person. I loved her meet outfit and her shell necklace.

They offer a variety of Hawaiian clothes for Nanea that are sold separately.

American Girl offers Nanea’s Family Market, which can be yours for only $250. (LOL!) I have to admit that I’m really impressed by the details on that furniture, including the tiny replicas of vintage World War II-era posters.

 

Here’s a photo of the 1960s BeForever character, Melody Ellison, wearing this gorgeous yellow outfit.

American Girl had this good sale on Melody’s Hairstyling Set, which was only priced at $5. That’s a pretty good deal compared to the high prices that this store usually charges. If I had a Melody doll, I definitely would’ve purchased it.

American Girl had a really cute new outfit for Julie Albright, who represents the 1970s. I remember people actually wore embroidered peasant blouses and blue jeans skirts back when I was a kid so her outfit definitely brought back memories for me.

Since another BeForever character, Rebecca Rubin (who represents the 1910s), is Jewish, there was a Hanukkah display featuring this doll.

The next two photos show a display of the Wellie Wishers dolls. They are pretty cute and I like their outfits.

American Girl had a display touting this one new service that they offer called Create Your Own. The idea is that if you don’t find a doll and/or an outfit that you want, you can always create a customized product. The idea of a customized doll isn’t new. The Japanese ball-jointed doll company Volks has long offered something called a Full Choice System which, from what I heard, can run into hundreds of dollars. The now-defunct Makies dolls had a similar service where you can get a 3D printed doll for far less. (I still miss that company. Sigh! If you’re curious, you can check out my posts about my one and only Makies doll, Victoria.)

So American Girl is now trying its hand at a similar customized service. There are two caveats about this new service: 1) You can only order the doll and/or outfit online since the store don’t offer any facilities to allow anyone to design something in-store and 2) Your customized doll and/or outfit will cost way more than an off-the-shelf product. According to this link, a Create Your Own doll costs $200 versus an off-the-shelf doll for $115.

I saw these American Girl Mega Construx kits featuring characters who were previous Girls of the Year, including Mia St. Clair, Kanani Akina, Isabelle Palmer, Lea Clark, and Saige Copeland.

 

Here’s a case full of the 9-inch mini doll versions of the historical 18-inch BeForever characters.

Here are a few more miscellaneous photos I took inside of American Girl place, including the  store’s Christmas tree.

I went to Build-A-Bear Workshop where I checked out these Star Wars plushes and some Christmas reindeers.

I checked out this temporary Christmas shop that will be in business until after New Year’s Day.

Strangely that store had some Day of the Dead-themed ornaments and decorations even though that holiday had long since passed.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Beatles Christmas ornament available for sale.

I went to The Disney Store, where I saw a lot of tie-ins to the new Disney/Pixar movie Coco (which I actually saw on Christmas Day) and the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi (which I saw on the day after Christmas)

I went to the LEGO store where I saw some cool things on display.

I ate my belated birthday dinner at Wasabi, the Japanese sushi place that delivers its food on conveyor belts. I really love the food, which is why I keep on returning to that place. If my finances weren’t so tight, I would be eating there more often than once or twice a year.

I went to Lolli and Pops where I purchased some gummy bears made from champaign and took these pictures.

That store sold two teddy bears named—what else?—Lolli and Pops.

Here are a few miscellaneous photos I took during my time at that mall.

Santa Claus Baby New Year

I decided to check out the Baltimore chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School at The Wind-Up Space when I decided to go to the Christmas shop at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville as well. When I used to have a pet hedgehog I would sometimes schedule buying more hedgehog food where I would go to the original pet store where I got Spike, buy his food, then drive south along I-83 into Baltimore where I would go to Dr. Sketchy’s. (The pet store in question was located about 3-5 miles away from Valley View Farms. That store has since gone out of business.)

So I had a similar idea regarding Valley View Farms. I left home a few hours early in order to leave myself with plenty of commuting time. I figured that I could leisurely walk through Valley View Farms then head on into Baltimore where I can check out Dr. Sketchy’s. But then I encountered a horrendous accident followed by extremely slow traffic on the Baltimore Beltway. What should have been an hour-long commute turned into a nearly two-hour commute. By the time I arrived at Valley View Farms I only had 45 minutes to browse the store before I had to leave in order to make the start of Dr. Sketchy’s on time. I was kind of peeved that my plans went awry but what else could I do? I decided to make the most of the limited time I had. I also managed to take a few pictures.

The next two pictures show mistletoe, which brings back memories of the years when I used to buy mistletoe for the house when I was married. I haven’t purchased any since my husband left me because it seems useless and silly to buy it since I live alone these days.

I only purchased one thing at Valley View Farms and it was a tub of Fisher’s Popcorn. I used to buy it whenever my then-husband and I went to Ocean City. I haven’t had too many chances to buy it because I haven’t gone anywhere in the Delmarva region since my husband left. I know I can buy it online through their website but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. So I literally leapt at the chance to buy it when I saw that Valley View Farms had it in stock. The popcorn tasted just as good as I remembered it.

I took so many pictures in this post that I’m going to do a separate post about Dr. Sketchy’s. (Link is definitely NSFW.)

Santa Claus

After spending one Sunday morning at my church, I went north to Baltimore because I had decided to take part in this art show that was being held at Trinacria’s Ristorante & Bar and Sunday was the day where we had to submit our artwork.

When I arrived at the North Linthicum light rail stop I was surprised to see nearly every single parking spot taken up with cars. I’ve taken the light rail on weekdays before and the parking lot had never gotten filled up like that. I later learned that Fox was doing a live broadcast of the Baltimore Ravens Game at M&T Bank Stadium and that was why the light rail parking lot was so crowded. Luckily for me I saw one car pull out of a parking spot and I managed to snag the last open spot at that station.

The game had started so I had no problem with purchasing a fare ticket because there were very few people at that station. I rode the light rail and got off at the Centre Street station, where I took these pictures.

That block where the light rail station is located is incredibly run down and seedy. But when I walked a half-block away from that station, it was a different story. I went inside of the Mount Vernon Marketplace, which is located inside of the former location of a Hochschild Kohn’s department store, where I took these pictures.

This marketplace has an art gallery.

Mount Vernon Marketplace is an upscale food market where you can purchase various types of food and it also has plenty of bars and restaurants with signs in English and a few other languages.

I found one reference to Christmas at this spice store, which sold these ball-shaped Christmas ornaments that were filled with different kinds of spices.

I finally came across Trinacria’s Ristorante & Bar, where I dropped off my artwork. I took a few shots of the place while I was there.

Trinacria’s had the Baltimore Ravens game on the TV screen and there were people who were watching and cheering.

Here’s the artwork that I submitted to the show at Trinacria’s.

Robot Diavolino

Robot Diavolino
Mixed media (Diavolino electronic board, polymer clay, beads, enamel paint, hand-shaped charms, acrylic gel, plastic skulls, scrapbook paper, and tin on canvas)
5 inches x 7 inches
13 cm x 18 cm
You can learn more about how I created this piece right here.

I was invited to an artists reception that was scheduled for December 8 but it got cancelled at the last minute due to forecasts of a snowstorm coupled with below-freezing temperatures that was supposed to hit the area at the same time. (As it turned out, the temperature started to get below freezing on Friday night but the snowstorm didn’t start until very early Saturday morning.) The art show is still going on as of this writing until January 8, 2018. For details and directions, I suggest that you check out Trinacria’s Facebook page.

As I was walking back towards the Centre Street light rail station, I took a few photos of these vintage signs that decorate the outside of the Maryland Historical Society building.

This next photo shows the dog Nipper with the gramophone in a giant life-sized rendition of the famous advertising art that once served as the logo for RCA and it had the tagline “His Master’s Voice.” I have memories of that statue when I was a child because every time my father used to drive to Baltimore he would always pass the RCA building, which had that statue on top of it. That statue was later removed and it moved around to various locations, which you can read about right here, until it landed in its present location. Seeing that statue brings back childhood memories of my car trips into Baltimore whenever my dad drove.

I took the light rail at Centre Street when there were very few people. By the time we reached the Hamburg Street station, which is the closest stop to the M&T Bank Stadium, it became obvious that the Baltimore Ravens football game had ended due to the huge amount of people at that station.

This is what my train looked like after it stopped at Hamburg Street.

I was seated by the window, where I was able to take these two sunset photos.

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