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Passover

The day after St. Patrick’s Day I helped a friend of mine with his booth at the annual Maker Faire NoVa that was held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I had attended previous STEM Maker events in Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Washington, DC but it’s the first time I ever checked the Northern Virginia one. I have to admit that this event was the largest event of its kind that I had ever attended. To give you an idea as to how big it was, here’s a video I shot of this event.

And now it’s time for the still photos. I knew I had come to the right place when I saw this statue of George Mason (whom the university is named after) all dressed up for the occasion.

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These signs were further giveaways that I was at the right place.

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The reason why I was there was that I was helping a friend of mine with his table. His name is Phil Shapiro and he frequently hangs out on YouTube and Twitter. He wanted to demonstrate Inkscape, which is the free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. He brought a couple of Linux laptops that he made available for people to use. At the last minute he decided to have one of those laptops run Tux Paint, which is a free open source graphics program that is made for kids under 7, which turned out to be a good move because a lot of visitors were kids. The kids seemed to really like Tux Paint so it was all good. In any case, here is what the sign looked like.

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Here are a few shots of the table that I took before Maker Faire NoVa opened to the general public.

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Here’s Phil Shapiro at one of the laptops setting everything up before the show began.

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And here’s Phil showing off the two laptops with Inkscape and Tux Paint to the general public.

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One of the many kids tried his hand at drawing with Tux Paint.

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Near our table was one that was manned by Bob Coggeshall, who’s famous in the Unix world for inventing the Unix command sudo.

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There were all kinds of projects that were run off of Raspberry Pi, such as this vintage teletype.

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There were also all kinds of 3D printed projects that looked amazing.

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There was a refurbished gumball machine that dispensed 3D printed charms for only 50 cents.

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It was at that gumball machine where I made my one and only purchase from Maker Faire NoVa: A tiny 1-inch printed 3D printed Darth Vader who’s seated like a Buddha. I only paid 50 cents for this cool item.

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There were also some vintage bikes that the public can ride.

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It was at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first-ever real life glimpse of a Bitcoin mining machine.

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It was also at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first glimpse of American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year doll. Her name is Luciana Vega, she’s into STEM and her big ambition is to be the first person to explore Mars.

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This boy was showing his work in progress on his latest project. He was in the process of building his own BB-8 robot from the Star Wars movies.

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There was just a variety of things I saw at Maker Faire NoVa that were simply astounding.

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George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is pretty big. In fact, I think it may be as big as my own alma mater (University of Maryland at College Park). I briefly went through the campus Barnes & Noble store, which had copies of Michael Wolff’s controversial bestseller about Donald Trump’s first year in the White House called Fire & Fury.

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I really had a blast at Maker Faire NoVa. It helped that the weather was in the 50’s that day so I was able to wear a light jacket instead of my heavy winter coat for a change. I even saw my first robin of the year while I was walking around outside going from building to building while checking out the event. (The entire event was spread over four buildings.) Sadly that warm weather was a short-lived thing because the weather turned really cold and rainy the next day followed by a snowstorm.

The only downside about that event is that for about a couple of days before that event I started to have stuffed sinuses. By the time of that event my throat felt more scratchy as I talked more and more with the general public while I worked at Phil’s booth. My legs had grown stiff and sore by the end of the day due to the huge amount of walking and standing I did throughout the day. The following day I felt extremely tired and sick. I ended up spending most of the next week sleeping (with the exception of the couple of times I went out in the snow where I did some shoveling two days after Maker Faire NoVa). I even ended up skipping the big March for Our Lives on the following Saturday due to being sick. But the video, photos, and fond memories from Maker Faire NoVa made it all worthwhile.

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Easter

Passover

It’s not very often when you have three different holidays (Easter, Passover, and April Fool’s Day) arriving on the same day like this. I can only imagine the Easter or Passover pranks that will happen in conjunction with April Fool’s Day. (LOL!)

Easter is partly derived from the old pagan holiday Ostara and partly derived from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which generally signals new beginnings. Passover commemorates Moses leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt and into what is now Israel, which is another type of new beginning. Plus all of these holidays generally take place in the spring where the trees start to sport new leaves, the flowers start to bloom, and the robins return from their winter home in warmer climates. (Okay, I’ll admit that it’s a stretch to somehow tie in April Fool’s Day with new beginnings. LOL!)

I feel like I’m going through a new beginning of my very own. This past Monday I started a new day job that seems promising. I’m working part-time on a trial basis. If things go well for me, then I may get more hours. Since my new job recently started it’s too early to tell whether it’ll work out for me or not.

In the meantime I took a few spring/Easter themed photos that I’d like to share here today.

Not too long ago the local nursery school was having a fundraising bake sale outside one of the supermarkets. I gave into temptation and purchased a cupcake for $2. This cupcake was topped with three Robin’s Eggs (these are not real robin eggs, they are the chocolate candy with a colorful crunchy shell on the outside that Hershey’s makes each Easter) while the frosting was decorated and swirled in such a way that resembled a bird’s nest. The cupcake was delicious by the way.

I didn’t do much more Easter related photography until a couple of nights ago. I decided to attend the weekly support group meeting for people who are separated or divorced for the first time in a few months. (I don’t go as often as I used to mainly because I have gone through many of those topics several times and I feel like I’m further along in the whole divorce process than someone who’s recently separated.) So I drove down to Crofton once I got off from work where I decided to eat dinner in the Market Cafe that’s located inside of Wegmans. While I was walking around inside of the store, I saw this new limited edition Unicorn cereal from Kellogg’s. Yes, there is now such a thing as Unicorn cereal. Even though I felt tempted to buy it, I decided against it mainly because finances are still pretty tight for me plus I read the Nutritional Label where it listed this cereal as having a whopping 11 grams of sugar per serving. I have to admit that the box is pretty colorful.

I saw that Utz had a special Easter snack known as Cotton Tails. Basically they are cheese balls that are made with white cheddar instead of the usual yellow cheddar.

I have a friend who’s totally crazy about dinosaurs. I took this picture of a dinosaur candy dispenser the uploaded it to Facebook where I tagged her name.

The next three pictures are of a few inflatables that I saw on display at Wegmans.

Then there are the Easter lilies, which are the usual Easter flowers that people buy as gifts for their loved ones.

The same shopping center in Crofton that has a Wegmans also has a Five Below store. I briefly stopped in there where I saw that this particular store had a shipment of some toys known as Talk Back Pets. The idea is that these cute animals repeat everything you say. I’ve seen toys like this before in the past. These Talk Back Pets came in bunny, chick, and lamb (which means that they were definitely Easter toys that one could buy for a child for only $5 each). I tried a couple where I heard them repeat everything I said. Then I got pretty mischievous where I got these cute critters to say stuff like “Hail Satan!” and “piss off.”

I’ll admit that I was inspired by a video that went viral three years ago where a guy managed to line up a bunch of snowmen (which were similar to the Five Below Talk Back Pets except these snowmen not only repeated what you said but they also bobbed up and down while repeating what you said) on a store shelf, switch them on, said “Hail, Satan!” and saw these snowmen bob up and down as they said “Hail, Satan!” I managed to get a chick to swear while I got both the chick and bunny to say positive things about Satan. I shot this short video where you can check it all out. Enjoy!

I shot a few photos during a recent trip to Target. I shot this photo of a sign at the front of the store announcing the fact that this year Easter is scheduled on the same day as April Fool’s Day. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that. I can only imagine how these dual holidays will be observed. (LOL!)

I shot the next few photos of a line of Playskool Chomp Squad toys because I have a friend who’s totally dinosaur mad. I uploaded them on Facebook while tagging her name. She reacted positively to these pictures.

I also uploaded and tagged the same friend on Facebook because they have Target gift cards shaped like a dinosaur.

While I was there I found this cool surprise. I had heard of a Fingerlings toy known as Gigi the Unicorn but I had read that this particular Fingerling was a Toys R Us exclusive. I was surprised when I found Gigi the Unicorn on sale at Target. Of course I decided to buy this one.

I shot a video documenting my first impressions of Gigi the Unicorn, which I’ll get into in a later post.

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.

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

I had a busy day on December 2. First I went to The Doll and Teddy Bear Show in Gaithersburg. I took so many pictures at that one event that I decided to make a separate post about the other things I did on that day after I left the show.

When I went to The Doll and Teddy Bear Show, I noticed that there was a flea market being held, which I don’t recall ever seeing before during visits to previous Doll and Teddy Bear Shows. (I hadn’t gone to that show since 2011 and I never went to those fairgrounds for any other event.) So after I went to that show, I went to the flea market that was located on the other side of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

The flea market had a variety of dolls and action figures on sale as well, except they were all of the more recent variety than the predominantly pre-1960 vintage/antique dolls that were on display at The Doll and Teddy Bear Show. I found a vintage Barbie doll-sized Michael Jackson doll from the 1980’s on sale. (This doll even had the sequined glove on one hand, which was Jackson’s trademark look at the time.) The doll that’s next to the Michael Jackson doll reminded me of Diana Ross. (I have no idea if it was actually a Diana Ross doll or not.)

Like The Doll and Teddy Bear Show, the flea market had a variety of Christmas decorations available for sale, including Santa Claus.

The flea market was a total vintage treasure trove.

The flea market had stuff other than vintage items on sale as well, such as packaged food, hair dye, and even tires.

There were some good prices on a few computer laptops.

Cash-strapped parents of school-aged children can buy school supplies at the flea market.

I’ve long heard conservative Republican politicians complain about poor people and immigrants who still have consumer goods and they use that argument to favor such things as cutting programs that would help them. When I was at this flea market I heard a lot of shoppers speaking Spanish to each other and many of the vendors are bilingual. I realized that this is how many of these immigrants are able to afford consumer goods on very tight budgets. This particular flea market operates every Saturday and Sunday so cash-strapped shoppers have an affordable place to go when they need to buy something. Heck, if I lived closer to Gaithersburg, I would be shopping at this flea market on a regular basis. (Depending on the traffic, Gaithersburg is about a 30-45 minute drive from my house so it’s really not feasible for me to make regular trips to this flea market unless I happened to be in the area for a different reason on the weekend and I decided to make a brief stop while I was there.)

I saw one table that had toothpaste on sale. I bought this tube of Colgate toothpaste for only $2. The package was a little bit bent in one corner but, otherwise, the toothpaste was still usable. In fact, I’m currently brushing my teeth with this toothpaste and it works just as well as the toothpaste I’ve purchased in the regular supermarkets and pharmacies.

On the way back home I went to the annual Festival of Lights Craft Show that was held at the Greenbelt Community Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I really wanted to go to that show since I missed the opening ceremony of the Festival of Lights the night before mainly because I had opted to go to the Holiday Warm-Up Party that was held at my church instead. One of my friends was selling her fused glass jewelry and plates. On top of it I ran into several of my other friends who happened to be there at the time. Here are a few of the handcrafted items that were available for sale.

I’ve gone to previous Festival of Lights Craft Shows but this was the first year I’ve ever seen a vendor table with a 3D printer. This vendor made items that could be used in spinning yarn.

The Festival of Lights Craft Show was held in the Greenbelt Community Center, which also had this display explaining how some of the earliest Greenbelt residents had celebrated Christmas during the height of the Great Depression.

The Greenbelt Community Center also had a special red mailbox where people can deposit their letters to Santa Claus.

When I was on my way back to my car after visiting the festival, I noticed this hilarious car sticker.

I only purchased soap at the Festival of Lights Craft Festival. I purchased two bars of Lilac Wood soap—one is for me and the other I planned to give to my mother for Christmas.

I bought one additional soap that I also plan to give to my mother. The cupcake in the next photo is actually soap. That’s right, it’s soap that looks like a cupcake. I think it’s cute.

Santa Claus

Today is Christmas Day! Here’s some digital art I did for a Facebook friend of mine who’s really into dinosaurs.

I created this piece using a free online drawing application that Google currently has on its site called Santa’s Canvas. It’s part of a bunch of free apps known as Santa Tracker that Google has been slowly revealing at the rate of one app per day since December 1. (The reveal schedule is similar to the Advent calendar.) Some apps are simply fun Christmas-themed games. Other apps do things like teach people of all ages how to do simple coding or other types of computer work, such as a simple computer drawing in Santa’s Canvas. The final app was revealed online yesterday so you can now check it all out right here.

As for Santa’s Canvas, it lacks the sophisticated finesse of any Adobe Creative Suite program or even the open source alternatives like GIMP or Inkscape but it’s fairly easy to use. Even a young child can learn how to use this app pretty quickly. There are options to draw something from scratch but for non-artists who still want to create something, there are alternatives available where a non-artist can still create a work of beauty using pre-designed backgrounds and stamps of various images ranging from Santa Claus to robots. I did the above graphic using a winter background scene with two stamps resembling a gingerbread man running and a dinosaur dressed in a Santa outfit and I was able to finish it in less than 15 minutes. Once you finish your masterpiece, you have the options of sharing it online with others and downloading it to your own hard drive so you can admire your work for years to come.

I currently have my Christmas decorations up. The vast majority of them, including my small three-foot artificial Christmas tree, are located on a table in the living room of my home. Last year I did a 12-part series titled “A Tabletop Christmas” where I profiled what ornaments and decorations I had on display in my home. I still have the same decorations as last year when I did this series. In case you missed it, here are the links where you can see my pictures and read about the stories behind some of these ornaments and decorations.

A Tabletop Christmas, Part 1
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 2
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 3
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 4
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 5
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 6
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 7
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 8
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 9
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 10
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 11
A Tabletop Christmas, Part 12

Well, in any case, I hope you are all enjoying yourselves this holiday season. I’ll end this post with a link to this animated video featuring the voice of Patrick Stewart called Dear Satan, which explored what happened when a little girl’s letter to Santa Claus gets accidentally sent to Satan instead due to a simple spelling error.

I recently went to a Royal Farms Store in Glen Burnie where I had take-out fried chicken with wedge fries. It was really excellent. There’s a reason why Food & Wine Magazine had named it “…best fast-food chicken…” (Okay, I don’t read that magazine but the store had the sign with that quote.)

Royal Farms Store, Glen Burnie, Maryland

I also saw some Bic lighters in that store featuring Run-DMC, Eminem, and Outkast.

Royal Farms Store, Glen Burnie, Maryland

I saw a couple of dinosaur-related stuff at Target. One was a jigsaw puzzle.

Dinosaur Stuff at Target

The other was a virtual reality set that’s a tie-in with the upcoming Jurassic World movie.

Dinosaur Stuff at Target

Click here to learn more.

Since the winter holiday shopping season has officially started three days ago, I’d thought I’d post pictures of stuff I’ve seen lately on the store shelves. I took these photos mainly to show some of my friends on social media who would be especially interested in these products.

First, here are some photos I shot at Target over the past month or so. Target is selling the 3Doodler along with the DoodleBlock Kit.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target has a LEGO aisle filled with all kinds of LEGO kits for all ages.

Target, October-November, 2017

Last year American Girl came out with a line of multiracial 14 inch dolls known as Wellie Wishers, which cost $60 each. Target is now selling a line of multiracial 14 inch dolls known as Glitter Girls for $20 each.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target also sells a line of 3-foot tall dolls based on various Disney characters.

Target, October-November, 2017

You know Christmas is coming soon when you start seeing special gingerbread spice cereal like this.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target has been selling a line of STEM toys, kits, and games for makers of all ages. You can now make a variety of things including LEGO stop-motion animation, piñatas, video games, drones, Raspberry Pi computers, and more. Below are just a few of them.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

This is probably the most unique and off-beat product I found at Target: A Funko Pop! vinyl toy based on the late painter and television show host Bob Ross.

Target, October-November, 2017

I also found some Hot Wheels toy cars that seemed to be made with Baby Boomers in mind. How else can you explain cars based on The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night and Mad magazine.

What I Found at Target Today

What I Found at Target Today

What I Found at Target Today

What I Found at Target Today

Recently a new Guitar Center store opened up in Laurel, Maryland so I decided to check it out.

Coco Guitars

I saw these special edition Cordoba acoustic guitars for adults and children that are tie-in products to the Disney/Pixar movie Coco, which was recently released. (I haven’t seen it yet. All I know that it’s based on the Mexican El Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead holiday, which happened earlier this month, and which also explains the skull motif on these guitars.)

Coco Guitars

Coco Guitars

Coco Guitars

Last, but not least, are a few of the photos I took when I made my last trip to a local Five Below store.

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

Working on a new sketch per day during Inktober plus being sick on Halloween itself have really thrown me out of whack. (Which is why I’m not participating in either Makevember or NaNoWriMo this month. It’s amazing how much time doing any kind of daily creation of something new along with uploading your new creation on to social media can take out of your day.) I meant to upload a bunch of cool fall photos in this blog only to get sidetrack by both Inktober and illness.

My most recent trip to both the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center and Clark’s Elioak Farm came from a desire to come up with some more Inktober sketches before I totally burn out on doing this entirely. I packed my small sketchbook along with some pencils and pens and a camera and headed out.

First I went to the site of the now-defunct fairy tale amusement park The Enchanted Forest. The original site has since become a shopping center. For many years the original castle entrance and the sign featuring Old King Cole served as reminders of the place’s previous existence as a amusement park. But then the original castle entrance was moved to Clark’s Elioak Farm and now Old King Cole is the sole last vestige of the shopping center’s amusement park past.

There were two reasons why I wanted to go back to the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center. One is that there is this bagel place that serves very delicious yet affordable food. The other reason is that I had heard that a plaque marker was erected on the former site of the castle entrance. After I ate lunch at the bagel place, I went over to view this plaque marker.

Afterwards I drove to Clark’s Elioak Farm, which houses most of the Enchanted Forest’s former attractions. It’s my first visit to the farm in two years (when I finished making then showing my documentary film, Saving the Enchanted Forest, at Artomatic) and I’ve noticed a few changes they’ve made since my last visit, starting with this new entrance that’s only for those who have either booked a birthday party at the farm or have signed up to do a formal guided tour of the farm.

The next few photos show the replica of the original Enchanted Forest castle entrance (which Clark’s Elioak Farm erected before they got the actual castle entrance). That replica serves as the castle store where people can purchase meats and produce produced at the farm as well as various souvenirs. There was a time when that replica was also the place where people could enter and exit. As of my recent visit, they’ve changed the rules where you can only enter through the castle replica if you purchased a season pass or want to only shop at the castle store. Otherwise, you have to go to a tented area.

Of course there was this huge line waiting outside the tented area. It basically took me around 20 minutes before I finally reached the tents so I could pay admission and get inside.

When I entered the first thing I saw was the original castle entrance and the storybook sign that were moved from its original location to the farm two years ago.

They added a miniature replica of a castle where I saw children playing while their parents were taking pictures.

On the other side of that original castle entrance I saw this new plaque dedicated to Pat Selby Sealing, who worked at the original Enchanted Forest and was instrumental in getting many of its former attractions transferred to Clark’s Elioak Farm.

I went inside the pine tree maze where I saw some major changes, starting with these plastic streamers in the next picture.

When I went to Clark’s Elioak Farm in 2015, it was a few weeks after they had placed dinosaurs among the fairy tale and nursery rhyme attractions.  When I returned recently I noticed that they had removed most of the dinosaurs, which I thought was a bummer because I really liked seeing them. I don’t know why they were removed. You’ll have to see the photos I posted in 2015 if you want to know what you’ve missed.

There was only one remaining dinosaur at Clark’s Elioak Farm and this one is in the next picture.

They’ve added a new train ride on the farm.

The Gem Mining and Geo Cracking station is still there since my 2015 visit with an addition of the various gorgeous gems that one can purchase.

The old Enchanted Forest attractions that are the major draw to the farm are still there, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears house. However I noticed one difference when I looked in the windows of that house.

Usually one can find Goldilocks in Baby Bear’s bed (just like in the original story). This time around someone had taken Goldilocks from her bed and placed her in the living room near the pipe-smoking Papa Bear.

I’ve long thought that Goldilocks was a full figured human girl until I saw her out of her bed. She’s actually half a girl in that she has nothing below her waist. No legs, no nothing.

Seeing her likes this makes her look very creepy. In a way it was fitting to have Goldilocks in that position since Halloween was coming soon. But I think she looks far better in Baby Bear’s bed than as this weird half-girl.

Mama Bear had been moved to the bay windows, where she looked very pensive sitting there. I couldn’t resist photographing her like this.

I took a few landscape photographs. Basically the Enchanted Forest attractions look the same as on previous visits.

I also hung around the petting zoo a bit. The animals were still there as before.

There was this marker honoring those members of the Clark family (who founded Clark’s Elioak Farm) who fought in World War II.

Fall is the time of year when the yellowjackets get really obnoxious and aggressive. This trap had plenty of yellowjackets in it.

Despite the farm’s efforts to keep the yellowjackets under control, there were some tables where you did not dare sit at because those stinging insects were literally hanging around there.

I took a couple pictures of some fall flowers in full bloom.

I saw this mother and daughter pair celebrating Halloween early by dressing as Batman and Robin.

There was a pumpkin patch where people could have their pick of pumpkins.

 

They had a variety of pumpkins available for sale in all shapes, sizes, and colors (including even white pumpkins).

This last photo shows the one purchase I made at Clark’s Elioak Farm—a pumpkin.

 

As for the original purpose of visiting the farm again, so I can work on some Inktober drawings, I had a very productive day. I managed to finish this drawing entirely in ink while I was at the farm, which was of the black duckling and white swan that once served as part of the Mother Goose Ride at the Enchanted Forest but they have had their wheels removed and they are permanently parked in the pine maze.

I made three other drawings in pencil, which I inked, one picture at a time, over the next three days in Inktober. Two of them were the former Enchanted Forest attractions—the Crooked House and Willie the Whale.

The last one was one of the goats in the petting zoo who was just sitting in this metal basin with its eyes closed while looking very blissful and satisfied.

In case you’ve missed it, here are all of the 31 drawings I did for Inktober last month.

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