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Not too long ago I made a video that’s an open letter to YouTube where my channel (also called Sagittarius Dolly just like this blog) is in danger of being demonetized. YouTube decided to do this in the wake of Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest video except YouTube is penalizing the wrong people.

This past week Logan Paul uploaded the first new video he made since both the Suicide Forest video and his subsequent apology video. It’s a nicely done PSA called “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow” and it included an interview with a man who attempted suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge and he miraculously survived. Here’s the video:

The video seemed promising even though there was one thing that had bothered me. Had Logan Paul simply made that Suicide Forest video then I would say that this new video is sufficient enough to prove that Logan Paul has learned a lesson from this incident. However, prior to the Suicide Forest video, Logan Paul made other videos where he and his pals essentially made fun of the Japanese and their culture while visiting their country. As of this writing he has yet to issue any kind of apology to Japan for his awful behavior. Here are the lowlights of those videos that were compiled by We The Unicorns.

I didn’t immediately jump on the “Logan Paul has learned his lesson” bandwagon because of that lack of apology to Japan. I’m glad I sat out that bandwagon because there were two recent incidents that had me question the sincerity of Logan Paul’s “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow” video. One was an inappropriate comment he made on a picture that was posted on rapper Cardi B’s Instagram account. The other was this interview he made on ABC’s Good Morning America where he basically said that the guy committed suicide in the Suicide Forest as a way for him to make that Suicide Forest video and raise awareness of suicide prevention. You can watch this interview in its entirety—if you can stomach it.

In response I made this video titled “Why Logan Paul Can Take His ‘Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow’ Video and Shove It.” In that video I briefly mention the earliest suicide that affected me when my Great Uncle Jack killed himself when I was seven or eight years old. Feel free to share it with everyone you know.

Writing off Logan Paul is no big loss for me and I definitely won’t regret making my latest video. Here’s a video I found which goes over previous outrageous things Logan Paul has done in the U.S. prior to his fateful Japanese trip that will have your blood boiling.

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Birthday Cake Santa Claus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checked out The World of Pets Expo.

Walked around Savage, Maryland on Groundhog Day.

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

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

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

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

Checked out the annual Sakura Matsuri in Washington, DC.

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

Walked around historic Laurel one spring day.

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

Attended the Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Went on the Gateway Arts Open Studio Tour.

Checked out the latest outdoor art installations around Takoma Park.

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

Attended Creator Con in Silver Spring.

Walked around Mount Rainier, Maryland.

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

Checked out DC Pride Weekend.

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

Saw some art murals in an industrial area of Annapolis.

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

Checked out a large toy show in Timonium, Maryland.

Spent one hot summer after under the solar eclipse.

Walked around the Washington, DC side of Takoma Park.

Attended the German Festival in Timonium.

I made my first-ever visit to a megachurch.

I attended two different art events in one day.

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

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

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

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

Walked around historic Gaithersburg.

Spent an afternoon at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland.

Toured an Eastern Orthodox Church during a local Slavic Festival.

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

Checked out a Halloween-themed art walk in Hyattsville.

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

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

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

Went to the Doll and Teddy Bear Show in Gaithersburg.

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

Saw historic Annapolis at Christmas.

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

Yesterday I spent Thanksgiving with the family in the home of one of my cousins. The night before I decided to try my hand at decorating an edible house. I purchased this Hershey’s Chocolate Cookie Mini House Kit from a local Five Below store for only $5.

This kit has everything needed in order to construct that house so I didn’t have to worry about doing the old fashioned baking method. All I had to do was just construct it and decorate it. The next few photos show the results of my decorating, which you can compare to the photo of the house that’s on the box in the above photo.

Okay it’s pretty obvious that I’m not a professional cake decorator. (LOL!) But my family still liked my effort and that’s the only thing that matters.

I parked my car near one of her neighbors and I took a photo of their tree in its glorious fall colors.

My cousin’s neighbors love to decorate their home for nearly every single holiday—both major and minor. I’ve taken pictures of their Thanksgiving decorations before but it looks like they have added yet another inflatable decoration.

The little turkey in the next picture is one that I think is new. Or I have never seen this particular inflatable bird in any of my previous photographs I’ve taken of that house.

My cousin has undergone some changes regarding her pets. Years ago she and her husband adopted two puppies and two kittens over a one- or two-year period. The big advantage is that the pets grew up as siblings and they basically tolerated each other. The big disadvantage is that all four pets have died close together. It started with Cookie the cat in 2015. Then the family went through 2016 with just three pets. 2017 became the year they lost the rest of their original four pets. Gonzo the dog died in March. Soon after Gonzo’s death, my cousin and her husband decided to adopt a new dog (which I’ll write more about later in this post). So their pet count went up to two dogs and one cat. During the Labor Day holiday weekend my cousin made a sad post on Facebook announcing that Lucy the dog had died as well.

So I arrived at her house expecting to see the new dog and the last of the original four pets, Purdy the cat. That cat had long acted very regally as if she is the Queen of the House. (Heck, I even once dedicated a post to Purdy’s regal ways.) When I asked my cousin about Purdy I learned that the cat had died as well. Apparently her health underwent a major decline over the past few months and it got to the point where putting her to sleep was the only option. My cousin admitted that she didn’t mention Purdy’s death on Facebook because she was afraid that her Facebook friends would start to wonder why her family had lost three pets in the same year. I can understand her rationale because not everyone would’ve known that the reason why this happened is that the pets were close in age and they arrived at the home around the same time. In any case, here are a couple of photos I took of the late Purdy in happier days.

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So now the original four pets are all gone. But they have one new dog, who was adopted earlier this year after Gonzo the dog died. Her name is Layla and she is a year-and-a-half old. Layla is also incredibly shy. This next photo is the only decent shot I was able to get of her while she was resting in my cousin’s husband lap.

Let me explain why Layla seems to have a purple spot on her forehead. (No, she’s not some rare purple-spotted breed.) My cousin’s husband has this penchant for dying a dog’s hair in a variety of funky colors on special occasions using food coloring. He used to frequently do this to Lucy, which you can see in this photo.

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The only dog he never did this to was the late Gonzo and that was because he had black fur.

Basically I visited with my family and socialized with my mother. Her health hasn’t changed much. She’s not getting better but she’s not getting worse either, which is all I can hope for at this point. (She has multiple sclerosis, which has no cure.)

American Flag

Today’s the day where many of us will eat turkey and pumpkin pie until we are totally stuffed. For this occasion I made this new ink drawing. It’s the first new ink drawing I made in my small sketchbook since Inktober ended on Halloween.

This drawing was based on my photograph of two turkeys that were on display last year at the Greenbelt Farmers Market. The drawing was relatively easy to do because both turkeys had white feathers. (They were domestic turkeys whose owners had raised as free range birds—meaning they were actually allowed to roam around outside instead of spending their entire lives being cooped up in small cages located on top of each other.)

What am I thankful for this year? My family and friends who continue to stick by me long after I endured that awful drama regarding my divorce and my ex-husband’s antics (such as sending me a divorce petition in a .pdf format that was attached to an email that was sent on Christmas Eve). I’m also grateful to new people whom I continue to meet on a regular basis, many of whom are basically decent people. There are so many people in my life whom I’m grateful for that I literally can’t name them all because I know that there would be a few names whom I would inadvertently leave off my list. I just want to say that I love you all.

I have a cousin who is married with two sons. Years ago she and her husband obtained four pets—two puppies and two kittens. All four pets were around the same age and they all arrived at my cousin’s home within a few months of each other. The four animals generally got along well together.

The one big disadvantage of getting four pets the same age is that they tend to die around the same time. Cookie the cat was the first of the four pets to die and he passed away in 2015. (I don’t have any pictures of Cookie mainly because he was so shy that he was in hiding most of the time when I was there to visit. I would see him dart from one hiding place to another from time to time but he never stood still long enough for me to get a picture of him.)

Gonzo the dog was the next one to die and he died earlier this year in March. This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my cousin made the sad announcement on Facebook that Lucy the dog has died as well. Here’s a photo of Lucy that I took back in 2013 while I was testing out the camera function of my new smartphone that I purchased the day before.

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Lucy was a sheepdog who was very friendly and she was especially devoted to my cousin’s husband. She would patiently stand by as my cousin’s husband dyed her fur for special occasions (which is why her fur has a purple and pink tinge to it in that photo).

Here’s another photo of her with Gonzo that I took on that same day.

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Of the original four pets, Purdy the cat is the only one who’s left standing (although she can usually be found seated either on a footstool or in a box). She remains healthy as of this writing.

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Thirty years ago yesterday my aunt passed away from breast cancer at the age of 48. I still remember her struggles with that illness like it was yesterday. She was around 42 or 43 when she noticed a lump in her breast. When she went to the doctor she found that not only did she have breast cancer but it had spread to her lymph nodes as well.

She underwent a mastectomy and went through many months of chemotherapy that literally made her sick. At one point she asked her doctor about smoking marijuana to help her deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy. Unfortunately medical marijuana was illegal in the state of Maryland at the time so the only way she could’ve obtained it was if she had been accepted in a clinical trial. I don’t know if her doctor refused to refer her to one of those clinical trials or if she got the referral but was rejected but, in either case, she had to fully endure the side effects of the chemotherapy.

She lost her hair so she started sporting turbans when she went out in public. Her cancer was in remission by the time I was married but she wore a turban at my wedding because her hair hadn’t grown back yet. One of the friends of my husband’s parents told my aunt how much she loved her turban during the reception. That friend thought my aunt was making a hip fashion statement. My aunt was elated by that friend’s praise.

Sadly the remission was short-lived because a couple of years later her cancer not only came back with a vengeance but it had spread to her liver. At the time of her death she became a grandmother for the first time just four months earlier and another daughter was pregnant with her second grandchild. (That child was born four months after her death.) As I’m typing this I realize that the oldest grandchild has just turned 30 while the second grandchild will soon turn 30. Time just seems to go too fast for me. It feels like yesterday when they were just babies.

In the years following her death my cousins would go on to have a combined total of eight other children. On top of it, one of my cousins has a stepson from her current marriage so if you were to count him in the mix, it would be a total of 11 grandchildren who would grow up without ever knowing my aunt as their grandmother because of breast cancer.

In her short life my aunt was a housewife who was very active in the Catholic church she attended. When her youngest child began elementary school she started a child care service where she watched some of the neighborhood kids during the weekday. Among those kids was a boy named Ben, whom my aunt started to watch when he was just a baby and he eventually started calling her “Mom Lipp.” (Lipp was my aunt’s last name.) Ben was the same person who took his own life earlier this year.

In a way it’s not fair that someone like her ended up living a short life while you have someone like Keith Richards, who has used and abused nearly every single drug known to mankind yet he is still alive and is currently living life to the fullest in his seventies. Sure his skin looks very leathery from age and all those years of hard living but he’s still alive and kicking nonetheless.

This is why cancer sucks.

Valentine's Day

During one of my recent periodic housecleaning periods I came across something I did as a child. It’s a card where I proclaimed my love for Jesus Christ. I wrote “Jesus I Love You” right on the front.

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The front of the card has two heart-shaped flaps in the middle that one can open to reveal a drawing of Jesus.

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Opening the card the normal way reveals paper lace with the drawing of Jesus directly in the middle.

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Here’s a close-up of the drawing. No, I did not do that one. It was a small printed card that had Jesus’ image on it. I have to admit that the drawing looked like it was a bit on the whimsical side with the cute baby-faced Jesus holding a very cute lamb.

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The card was basically a paper collage that was mostly made from construction paper. This was among the many artifacts from my childhood that I rescued from the house I grew up in when my mother decided to sell it. I’m amazed that it lasted this long because my mother had a tendency to periodically throw out my old art projects so they wouldn’t clutter the house. I have a feeling that she saved it out of deference to my devout Roman Catholic grandmother, who lived with us while I was growing up, because I know that my grandmother would’ve raised a stink had my mother thrown out anything with Jesus’ image on it.

I don’t have any memories of actually creating it. I have a feeling that it was probably one of the many arts and crafts projects I did during Sunday morning CCD class when I was being raised Catholic. Given the hearts and the message of my love for Jesus on the front, I have a feeling that I did this one either on Valentine’s Day itself or during the CCD class that was held on the Sunday before Valentine’s. I normally didn’t do religious themed arts and crafts at home so it’s logical that I probably did this at CCD. The teacher probably provided the materials and told us to make a love card for Jesus and I did this card as a result.

Even though I basically did what I was told when I made this card, I have no regrets making it. Yet I don’t have any kind of sentimental attachment to it either. It’s basically an artifact from my childhood that I forgot about for many years until I came across it again recently.

Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone whom you first met when that person was a baby is now dead? That is happening to me right now.

My late aunt, who was also my mom’s older sister, was a stay at home mother of four girls. When her youngest daughter started elementary school, her home was pretty quiet during the school week. She decided to earn extra money by taking care of other people’s young children in her home during the week. Most of the kids she babysat were between the ages of 2-5 and they only stayed with her anywhere from a few months to about a year or two until they either started elementary school or their parents moved elsewhere. So she had frequent turnover of kids.

Then she started to take care of three young brothers. The oldest had just started elementary school while the youngest, Ben, was just a baby (he might have been at least six months old) at the time. I think the boys’ mother wanted to go back to work after being a stay at home mom for the last several years so that was why my aunt started to care for them.

I think there may have been marital tensions between the parents as well but I don’t have all the details. (I was a kid myself when all this was going on.) I remember that Ben’s father shot himself to death soon after my aunt started to care for the brothers. I still remember when my aunt called my mom telling her about the distressing news. Ben’s mother ended up becoming a single parent and she frequently leaned on my aunt to help out with the childcare, especially if the mother had to go on some errand without having any of the kids in tow. I heard that the two older brothers were deeply affected by their father’s death. Ben was the least affected because he was so young when his father died so he grew up without ever knowing him.

Eventually my aunt stopped caring for Ben’s older brothers when they started middle school so it was just her and Ben at home during the weekday afternoon (when Ben’s school closed for the day) for a few years. Occasionally there were periods when they would be joined by another preschool child whom my aunt happened to babysit at the time. But the rest of the time it was just my aunt and Ben.

I used to sometimes see Ben when I visited my aunt and uncle with my parents. Sometimes his brothers would be there as well but there were times when Ben was the only one there because his brothers and their mother were elsewhere. I remember Ben being this really cute little kid with the big impish grin. He always had this mischievous look about him. As he learned to talk he started to call my uncle “Dad” (he saw my uncle as a father figure since his own father was gone) while he called my aunt “Mom Lipp” to distinguish her from his own mother (Lipp was my aunt’s last name). My cousins used to dote over Ben as the baby brother they never had.

My aunt stopped taking care of Ben when he entered middle school. She would continue to see him at church (his family attended the same Roman Catholic parish that my aunt, uncle, and cousins attended) and he would come by the house to visit every now and then (whenever he wasn’t busy with homework and after-school activities) so he still kept in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I think my aunt may have cared for a few more kids after Ben (I don’t remember) but she had to stop offering her child care services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer was in remission when my oldest cousin got married. Ben served as the altar boy at my cousin’s wedding. My aunt’s cancer returned not long after the wedding and she died at the age of 48. I saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral. I think he was in high school by then. It was the last time I saw Ben in person.

Today I learned on Facebook that Ben is dead. One of my cousins had posted a picture on Facebook of her, her three sisters, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I also learned on Facebook that Ben took his own life just like his father did. I don’t know why Ben felt the need to do what he did nor do I know if he actually sought any kind of professional help before he killed himself.

I just feel so weirded out that someone whom I met as a baby and saw from time to time as he grew up is now dead. I’m older than Ben and I’m still alive. Given the natural order of things, I should be the one who dies before Ben but, instead, it’s the opposite. Ben is dead and I’m alive. I just feel so numb about all this (and the fact that it’s cold and rainy outside today isn’t helping).

Last year I wrote about an impromptu memorial that sprang up in my area at the site where a man who committed suicide. At the time I wrote this:

The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

I also provided a link to the National Suicide Prevention Line (which can also be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255). I can’t say whether Ben would still be alive had someone reached out to him asking if he was okay or if he had contacted the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yes, I know that it’s too late to help Ben but I would urge everyone reading this to just reach out to someone whom they haven’t spoken with in a while just to see how he or she is doing.

Now I have to deal with the sad fact that someone whom I met as a baby is now dead and I’m outliving him.

Santa Claus

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

Here is the 12th and final part of my series on how I celebrated a Tabletop Christmas this holiday season. I timed it so it would run concurrent with the traditional 12 days of Christmas, which begins on December 25. As I kept on writing new posts each day, I noticed that the 12th day falls on January 5 despite the fact that the traditional end of Christmas falls on January 6. In the past I would hear January 6 being referred to as “Twelfth Night.” I did some research and, thanks to this webpage, I now know that I didn’t make any mistakes when I began these posts on December 25 and reached the 12th post on January 5. That’s because January 5 have long been observed as the Twelfth Night, not January 6. The Twelfth Night is traditionally observed as “Epiphany Eve,” and it used to be a grand occasion for feasting since it was the final night of Christmas before the Feast of the Epiphany on the following day and it marks the official end of Christmas.

Besides, January 6 is also the anniversary of the day I wrote my first post in this blog so I’m not too upset or worried about ending this series on January 5.

This final post in this series focuses on other Christmas decorations besides tree ornaments.

These two cute decorations were originally Avon cologne bottles. I used to frequently get Avon products for birthday and Christmas presents because my mother had a co-worker at her job who sold Avon products on the side and this co-worker made plenty of extra money whenever she brought those Avon catalogues to her day job. Avon used to sell their colognes in various containers shaped like animals and people. I tried looking online to see if Avon still sells their colognes in special containers only to find that nowadays Avon uses the typical cologne bottles that other cologne and perfume manufacturers use. The newer bottles may be pretty but they lack the distinction and novelty of the older Avon cologne bottles.

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Both containers once held Sweet Honesty cologne. This brought back memories of when I used to frequently dab Sweet Honesty on myself. I found that Avon still sells Sweet Honesty cologne even if it no longer sells them in the novelty containers.

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This next item is a vintage angel doll that I’ve owned since I was a child. I used to call her “Bernie Angel” because she reminded me of my cousin Bernie. This angel has long black hair, just like my cousin used to wear her hair. (These days she wears her hair very short.) Bernie Angel has survived all kinds of things over the years, especially the time when my parents’ dog, Napoleon, swiped her and attempted to use her as a chew toy but we managed to get her away from the dog before he did any major damage. I brought her with me to college when I attended the University of Maryland as my one token Christmas decoration. Naturally she came with me when I got married and she’s still with me.

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Bernie Angel is a doll with no joints and she’s in a permanent kneeling position with her hands folded together in prayer.

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I pulled back her hair to show her sweet face. Her eyes are permanently closed. She has rouge on her cheeks, blue eye shadow, and pink lips.

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Here’s another side of Bernie Angel.

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Here’s the back.

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She has a tag attached but it’s stuck together in a permanent folded position and I have a hard time trying to separate the sides, which is why I have two photographs of this tag. The tag actually reads: “© 1996 KAMAR ® MADE IN JAPAN.” I tried doing a Google search only to turn up nothing. I have a feeling that Kamar went out of business a long time ago. This doll was made at a time when “Made in Japan” meant cheap imported goods that tended to fall apart. The fact that this cheaply made doll has survived all those years is pretty miraculous.

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The next photo shows three Ginger Cottages that I currently own. I first got into them when I purchased the incense burner that’s shown on the far right of the next photograph a few years ago. I’ve since added the other two buildings. I generally prefer Ginger Cottages over the more popular Department 56 villages because they are about half the size of the Department 56 and they fit both my small home and my budget much better. On top of it, Ginger Cottages are made in the U.S. (in fact they are made in central Virginia), which is a definite plus in my book since most consumer items seem to be made overseas in China and other Third World countries.

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The one thing I love most about Ginger Cottages is that if you shine a light through a hole in the bottom of each cottage, it’ll reveal a surprise, such as the giant nutcracker peering out the second story window.

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Yesterday I wrote about how my support group for people who are separated or divorce throws a post-Christmas party each year where people bring a wrapped present for the White Elephant Gift Exchange. In previous years I received two items that I now keep among my Christmas ornaments. The next photo shows a small candy jar that’s decorated with peppermint treats.

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Here’s another White Elephant gift I received. This one is a set of snowmen salt and pepper shakers, which I’ve only used as decorations. (I’ve never actually filled them with salt and pepper.)

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The next few photographs show various noise-producing Christmas decorations, all of which were given to me as presents. The first picture shows a jack in a box Santa Claus that my parents gave me when I was around seven years old. This toy was made in Japan and I still have him after all these years. It’s among the few toys I have from my childhood and he’s still in pretty good condition. The white paint is slightly faded in spots but that’s noticeable only if you take a very close look at his face. There is silver duct tape holding the box top to the rest of the box because the red cloth-like tape that held the two together had frayed with age. Otherwise, he still works just as well as he did the day I got him. Basically Santa squeaks when he pops out of the box.

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The next photograph features a small plastic Santa Claus puppet that I also have from my childhood. Whenever you press a button at the bottom of his yellow base, Santa moves around and his little bell makes a ringing sound. This puppet is still in very good condition and it still works after all these years.

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The next photographs show a ceramic music box featuring a pair of doves wearing Santa hats. When the music box is wound up it rotates as it plays “Deck the Halls.” This music box was among the last Christmas presents I ever received from my Aunt Linda before she died of breast cancer when she was only 48 years old.

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The next few photos feature a Hallmark music box ornament that my late mother-in-law gave to me as a birthday present. (My birthday and Christmas are only 10 days apart.) While there is a loop at the top to hang it from a tree, I have always chosen to put it flat on the table instead. When this ornament winds up, Mickey rocks right and left as the music box plays “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

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I made a short video demonstrating the four noise making decorations that you can see and hear for yourself.

I’m going to end this series with a decoration that is actually the first Christmas decoration I put up each year. It’s an Advent calendar and I usually put it up soon after Thanksgiving so I can be ready to start the countdown to Christmas on December 1. I originally purchased this calendar many years ago at the now-defunct Frank’s Nursery and Crafts.

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The entire calendar is mostly made from felt. The ornaments for this calendar are kept in this attached plaid bag marked “SMALL ACCESSORIES” when the calendar is in storage the rest of the year.

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When it’s time to take out the calendar, I remove the ornaments from the SMALL ACCESSORIES bag and place them in numbered slots.

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Starting on December 1 I remove one ornament from a numbered slot and place it on the tree. (The ornament attaches to the tree with velcro.) I keep it up until December 24 when the entire tree is filled and the numbered slots are empty. I leave this Advent tree up until January 6 when I take it down and put it in storage with the rest of the Christmas decorations.

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So that’s it for my 12-part Tabletop Christmas series. I’ll leave everything up through tomorrow (January 6) then I’ll start dismantling everything on January 7 until everything is packed away in boxes and stored in the attic.

Ramadan

Nearly three years ago I wrote about the birth of Eli, who’s a grandnephew on my ex-husband’s side of the family. In the years since Eli’s birth I’ve kept up with the boy mainly through his mother’s posts on Facebook. I haven’t been able to visit his family’s current home in Charleston, South Carolina due to tight finances and I don’t know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to meet that kid.

Today I found out from my sister-in-law’s Facebook post about how she has just become a grandmother for the second time. Eli’s new brother has just been born a few hours ago. His name is Tobias. That baby will be joining an already full house with his big brother, his mother, his father, two dogs, and a cat.

In that last post about Eli from nearly three years ago I included a vintage early 1970’s video clip of Three Dog Night doing a live performance of their hit song “Eli’s Coming.” Unfortunately I can’t think of any songs that have the name Tobias in it so I won’t be embedding any music videos in this post.

Instead I’m going to repost my photos of a 60 cm (2 foot) tall Asian ball-jointed doll I currently own that was manufactured by a Chinese company known as Fantasy Doll. His default name is Tobias, which I’ve kept. Here are some photos of Tobias.

Fantasy Doll Tobias

Fantasy Doll Tobias

Pooh Kimono

Chiton for 1/3 Scale Dolls

Red Prince Doll Outfit

If you want to see more photos of this doll, check out the Fantasy Doll Tobias category. As for Tobias the human baby, so far he looks healthy (and I’m basing that judgement on the photos that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook). The only other thing I’ll write in this blog is that I hope he grows up to live a happy and healthy life. That is all I’m going to write about Tobias for the time being. 🙂

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