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I spent the Fourth of July holiday attending a party at a friend’s home whose backyard overlooks Greenbelt Lake. Here is what the view looks like.

The View From a Friend's Home at Her Fourth of July Party

It was really cool seeing the fireworks being shot over the lake with the reflection in the water. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a short of the fireworks. Like I wrote the other day, my smartphone camera is starting to act erratic lately. Sometimes it’ll work perfectly while other times I get this dreaded “Camera Error” message along with “Please restart camera.” I restart the camera only to get that same error message. I leave my smartphone camera alone for a while and the camera starts to work normally again. That problem has gotten so bad that I now take the older and heavier Canon Digital Rebel EOS DSLR camera with me if I’m going to a place where I really want to take pictures.

That day I left the Canon camera home because I didn’t feel like lugging it around and my smartphone acted up after I took my one and only photo on the Fourth of July. While I would’ve loved to have gotten some fireworks photos, I’m not too bitter because I had previously taken photos of Fourth of July fireworks in Greenbelt Lake in 2013, 2014, and 2016,

Here’s a gorgeous sunset photo I took on July 11, 2017.

Gorgeous Sunset

And last, but not least, I was visiting a friend at his job at the Takoma Park Public Library on July 14, 2017 when I saw this customized Bart Simpson vinyl toy that was on display there.

Customized Bart Simpson Vinyl Figure

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Santa Claus

Ever since my husband walked out on me I’ve gotten involved with a support group for people who are separated or divorced. Each year this group hosts a post-Christmas party that’s usually held between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s a pot luck party so everyone who plans to attend is asked to bring one dish to share. The high point is the White Elephant Gift Exchange. The idea is that if you received a Christmas gift that you didn’t want, you can wrap that present and bring it to the party. If you basically liked all of the gifts you received this year, then you can go to the store and buy something new that’s just for the gift exchange but the rule is to spend no more than $20.

I’ve been going to this party for the last few years and I find them to be such fun. This year I went to Five Below, where I purchased this gift item.

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It’s a wine glass that’s large enough to hold an entire bottle of wine. I thought it was so hysterical when I saw it on sale that I couldn’t resist buying it for that party. The woman who ended up with it thought it was funny.

There are rules that we all had to follow regarding the White Elephant Gift Exchange and we all laughed as various people opened their chosen presents then other people stole various opened presents. Here is what I ended up with.

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It’s a welcome mat. Except the writing on it is anything but welcoming to anyone.

See you later alligator…After while crocodile…In an hour, sunflower…Maybe two, kangaroo…Gotta go, buffalo…Adios, hippos…Ciao ciao, brown cow…See you soon, baboon…Adieu, cockatoo…Better swish, jellyfish…Chop chop, lollipop…Gotta run, skeleton…Bye-bye, butterfly…Better shake, rattlesnake!

I can remember the entire party cracking up as I read what was written on that mat. Right now I have it on the floor in the foyer of my home.

For the past few years I’ve been attending a party at a friend’s place on Halloween. This year was the first year that I actually shot photos.

My friend had installed red light bulbs in the lamps, which gave off this really spooky vibe. I shot a bunch of photos with the flash turned off, which led to some really creepy effects.

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I took this next photo using a flash. That was the only time I used a flash that night.

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There was also a bonfire in the backyard where I took these last three photos.

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I’m hoping that the craziness of the last two weeks will end as of today but in life there are no guarantees. This latest round of stress started when I signed up for an interview for this potential job that was located in Jessup yet the employment agency responsible for the hiring was holding interviews in its Glen Burnie offices. The night before my scheduled job interview I got word that my mother was in the hospital in Glen Burnie. I already wrote at length about that episode here and here so I’m not going to repeat it in this post.

Instead I’m going to pick up on the Thursday before the start of the Labor Day holiday weekend. It was the last day I visited my mother before she was released the following day. I brought along one of my paintings, which was my fan art tribute to My Little Pony, and left it in the car while I visited my mother. After that visit I drove straight to the Greenbelt Community Center where I entered it in the upcoming Labor Day Art Show. I wanted to enter it on the first day that entries were being accepted because I was scheduled to head up to Baltimore the following day.

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So on Friday my mother was released from the hospital. I was invited to this closing party at the Escape Artists Gallery in Baltimore where I was participating in a show that was benefitting those who were affected by the recent flood in Ellicott City. The closing party wasn’t announced until just two days before the event but I decided to go any way and endure yet another commute from the DC area to the Baltimore area for the fifth day in a row.

I decided to go up to Baltimore a bit early on Friday to check out the Walters Art Museum that was located just a few blocks from the Escape Artists Gallery. I hadn’t been there since I was a teenager and it had free admission so I went for it. I spent at least two hours there until it was close to closing time but I found that one really needs to spend a full day there in order to see everything that the museum has to offer. I may make a return trip there when it gets closer to the Christmas holiday season since the mall parking lots will be filled with cars by then but it really depends on my schedule.

After the museum closed I was outside where I was enjoying the wonderful weather. There was this horrible heat wave where the temperature was in the 90’s with high humidity as well. I endured that heat wave as I commuted to and from Glen Burnie to visit my mom in the hospital. But then Hurricane Hermine made its way to the U.S. While it affected the waves at all of the beaches along the East Coast so swimming was strongly discouraged, the hurricane never went inland. As a result the outer edges of the hurricane blew away the heat wave and it was replaced by nice sunny weather in the 80’s with low humidity. It arrived just in time for Labor Day weekend.

I decided to take advantage of the longer days and nice weather by sitting in a chair near the Washington Monument so I could rest from trekking around the Walters Art Museum. I was starting to feel hungry so I looked around for places where I could eat dinner. There was a Subway that was located under the Escape Artists Gallery and there was a nearby local pizzeria that was slightly more expensive than Subway but it was still within my price range. I had enough money for Subway but I found that I needed to hit the ATM if I wanted to eat at the pizzeria. So I attempted to use the pizzeria’s ATM only to find out that I got an “Access Denied” message on the receipt. Never mind the fact that I had recently deposited my ex-husband’s latest alimony check just a few days earlier.

I ended up eating at the Subway then waited until the party began at the gallery that was located upstairs. When I came in I found that I was the first person who arrived. So I ended up talking with one of the people who ran the gallery where I learned that it had sold only half of the art currently in the show and the bulk of the sales happened on opening night. Since then the gallery had sold only one or two additional art pieces but, as a fundraiser, it was a bust. I also learned that my own art piece had remained unsold despite the fact that I chose it because it was 9 inches x 12 inches (23 cm x 30 cm) and it depicted a very accessible family-friendly subject matter (a begging dog flashing very sad eyes because he wanted to have a bite of that chocolate chip cookie that was also in the painting).

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A few more people showed up to the party but it drew no more than around six people including myself. The gallery owner admitted that she had waited too long to announce that party and it was also scheduled for the Friday before Labor Day weekend. I spent some time checking out the other pieces on display in that show since I hadn’t been there before. (I wasn’t able to make it to the opening night reception a few weeks earlier.) But the party was a bit of a letdown so I decided to leave a half-an-hour before it was scheduled to end. As I was saying good-bye to one of the gallery owners whom I talked with earlier, she suggested that I take my painting with me since the show would close in just two days and it would save me another trip to the gallery. I took her up on that suggestion because, to be honest, I hadn’t been looking forward to taking yet another trip from the DC area to the Baltimore area for a sixth day out of the last seven days. Taking that painting kind of messed up that post that went live just a few hours earlier announcing that my painting would be in the show until Sunday, September 4 but I didn’t bother with updating it because I figured that there were plenty of other unsold art that would still be there and it was all going to a good cause. It’s too bad that my painting wasn’t sold.

The next day was Saturday. I went to the ATM machine at my bank I was able to withdraw some cash, which was great because I was scheduled to go to the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival. I arrived in the afternoon where I walked around enjoying the sights and sounds. Then I reported for volunteer guard duty at the art show (which is the one condition of submitting a work of art for the show) for an hour. After I finished that obligation I checked out the rest of the art show along with the photo show. I also checked out various tables from local groups because the first day was “Community Day” while talking with a few friends whom I ran into. I grabbed a cheese crab pretzel for my dinner then played a few rounds of Bingo as the sun set on yet another wonderful weather day with full sun and low humidity. I hung around after sunset for a bit while I took pictures of the carnival rides after dark until I grew tired then I sat at the bus stop waiting for a shuttle to take me back to my car so I could go home. While I was waiting at the bus stop I saw a couple pass me from behind and I immediately recognized them as my ex-husband and my onetime mentally ill friend whom he married just two months after out divorce was final. By then it was around 8 p.m. and I was leaving the festival while the Backstabbing Couple From Hell were just entering it. At least I didn’t have to worry about running into them. (LOL!)

The following day I decided to go to Sunday service at my Unitarian Universalist congregation for the first time in several weeks. I was surprised to see two onetime members who had since moved to Florida and they were up in the DC area for a visit. They are a longtime gay couple whom my then-husband and I visited in Florida shortly after I started this blog back in 2010. We chatted for a bit and I learned that they managed to evade Hurricane Hermine, which struck the Tampa-St. Petersburg area where they now live. One of them has a son from a previous marriage to a woman and it turns out that I recognized the son’s girlfriend from the fact that we both participated in the yard sale that’s put on by my support group for people who are separated or divorced. I also found out that the son had been attending that same support group’s meetings at its Columbia chapter while I attend the ones in Crofton. The son met his girlfriend through the Columbia chapter. So it was a cool coincidence.

After church I found that I hadn’t taken out enough money the day before so I decided to go to the ATM machine that was affiliated with one of the branches of my bank to take out just a few more bucks only to get a slip that said “Access denied.” This was reminiscent of what happened Friday in Baltimore! Worse, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it until Tuesday because of the holiday weekend. So I wasn’t able to do grocery shopping nor was I able to spend any more money at the festival on things like food. I had just enough money to go to this local art supply shop to buy a tiny 3-inch canvas and one tube of black acrylic paint because I decided to take part in a local tiny art contest that I’ll write more about in a future post and I needed to get this piece done by the September 13 deadline.

I went to the Greenbelt Museum because it was having its free admission day. I briefly perused the craft tables because it was the first day of the craft show but I didn’t buy anything because of a lack of money.

Ultimately I went home where I started work on my latest project for the upcoming tiny art contest: an acrylic painting on a tiny 3-inch canvas based on one of my photographs I had taken at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival the night before.

The following day was Labor Day itself. I went to the Greenbelt Labor Day Parade then I went back home to eat lunch. Afterwards I went over to the Labor Day Festival because the Greenbelt Theater was having a free showing of the movie Briggadoon. The story was kind of hokey but I loved the music and dancing in that film. I ran into a friend after the movie and I socialized for a bit with her. I perused the craft tables and hung around the used book sale (which was giving away its inventory on the last day of the festival) while enjoying the continuing wonderful sunny with low humidity weather until 4 p.m., when I could retrieve my artwork from the art show. Afterwards I headed home where I ate dinner and worked some more on that tiny art canvas.

The following day I decided to confront my bank over the ATM situation. I went to the drive-through ATM first to see if the problem had somehow corrected itself. I still saw that “Access Denied” printed on the slip. I grew angry and I was all ready to park my car and go inside that bank branch to do some major confrontation.

But then something happened that I can’t explain. The ATM card was no longer in my hand. I assumed I had dropped it on the floor of my car. I looked there and I didn’t see it. I looked through my wallet and it wasn’t there either. I walked back over to the lane where the ATM was located and I didn’t see my ATM card anywhere. I went inside the branch and asked if anyone had turned in an ATM card but no one did.

I tried continuing my search outside. By that point the wonderful holiday weekend weather was gone and it was replaced by yet another heatwave where the temperature shot up to the upper 90’s along with high humidity so doing an extensive search around my car became intolerable. So I couldn’t confront the bank about my ATM card because I had somehow dropped it and I couldn’t find it plus the increasing temperature had made it impossible for me to continue my search either in the car or outdoors. So I had no choice but to return home.

I continued to work some more on my tiny art canvas while I did a thorough search of both my wallet and my purse in an air conditioned living room. I couldn’t find my ATM card. I searched through my wallet and purse several times and it was the same result. I waited until after dinner when the heat was slightly less oppressive and I did a thorough search of my car while I did some major decluttering. My car was cleaner but I still didn’t find my ATM card.

The following day I returned to the bank branch where I searched among the bushes outside and I even did a closer look around the drive-through ATM lane. I didn’t find my card. I went inside to inquire and found that no one had found my ATM card and turned it in.

The only silver lining is that it was the same card that kept on giving me the “Access Denied” message so anyone who found it and tried to use it as a debit card would have problems with accessing my account. But it was still annoying that I had somehow lost it while I went through a flash of anger over the whole “Access Denied” SNAFU in the first place.

Yesterday I went back to the same bank branch and did some more searching around the general area but I knew it was hopeless. Thanks to my flash of anger, I was very careless about my ATM and I dropped it in a place where I couldn’t find it and the further the situation went on, the less likely my ATM card will ever be found. So I broke down and ordered a new ATM card, which won’t arrive for the next five to seven days. I also wrote a check for “Cash” so I could have some dollar bills on hand. (I’m old enough to remember that in the days before ATMs became so widespread, writing a check payable to “Cash” was the only way one could access money in the checking account. Of course, one had to do this during banking hours.)

I was totally stressed out over the whole ATM situation so I went to the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced just so I could vent. Luckily the topic that evening was the challenges of being divorced so I could explain my sob story about the ATM situation and the times when I miss having another person in the home whom I could confide in about various issues. I felt better after that meeting and I managed to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in a few days.

So I’m now hoping that the worst times are over but in this life nothing is guaranteed. I’m just looking forward to the upcoming tiny art contest that I’ll write about in a future post while hoping that no more major calamities strike me because I really need some time to get over the last two weeks.

I’m still trying to plug away at working on my sketchbook as often as possible, even though I’ve long since given up on trying to create a new drawing every single day because I’ve discovered that it’s simply not realistic with me, especially if I’m currently working on another creative project. At least I managed to complete two sketches this month. This first one I drew during this intense heatwave where the temperatures shot up to the upper 90’s and it became very humid.

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This next one I was inspired to draw after attending this free event in downtown DC that wasn’t really all that it was cracked up to be. It was supposed to be an expo highlighting video games done by local programmers and it was also supposed to be a networking event. Sure, I expected people to play video games but since it was also billed as a chance to meet people and since it was being held in a local bar, I thought I would have a chance to talk to people. When I got there I saw more people being engrossed in playing video games than people actually schmoozing among each other. I saw tables full of people just looking at video screens while ignoring their neighbors next to them or across the table from them. It was such a bust for me because, personally, if all I really wanted to do was to stare at a computer screen playing video games, I would’ve stayed home instead of paying to ride the Metro to Farragut North then walk around the corner to the bar where the event was held. At least I have this drawing to remember that event by. (LOL!)

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A couple of years ago I went to a party at the home of a person whom I met through my support group for people who are separated or divorced. She announced that she was having a bonfire and she invited people to bring anything they would like to burn. A couple of years ago I brought my wedding cake topper to burn, which I wrote about in this blog and I shot this short video.

Recently the same person was having another party with a bonfire at her home and she invited people to bring something to burn. I found something that had been hanging on the wall of my home that I thought would be proper to burn. It was a wedding present from my parents and it featured this embroidery piece that was handmade by my mother the placed in this lovely frame. It had hung in the living room of my home for many years and it still remained there after my husband literally ran away from home and subsequently divorced me.

I no longer wanted the embroidery piece as is. I couldn’t sell it on eBay because it was personalized with my name and my ex-husband’s name along with the date of our wedding. I thought of ways that I could somehow alter it and maybe use it in some kind of potential future arts and crafts project only to find that it really can’t be altered without ruining or destroying the piece.

I called my mother to see if she would want it back since she worked hard on it but she said she didn’t want it either (especially since it has my ex-husband’s name on it).

So I did what I felt I had to do. I removed the piece from the frame (which I kept because it’s really too lovely to destroy and I can definitely recycle it), brought it with me to the party, and burned it. I also made a video of its destruction.

The party hostess also provided sparklers for the guests to light (especially since it was the night before the Fourth of July holiday) and here’s a photo of one of the sparklers I lit using the bonfire.

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Ramadan

American Flag

I had a pretty action-packed Fourth of July holiday weekend this year. Here’s a rundown of what I did.

Friday, July 1, 2016: I went to Community Forklift, which was having its First Friday event where, during the warm months, the store not only stays open later on the first Friday of the month but it also has live entertainment with food and beverages available for sale. The store also has a sale on many of its products. That’s the time when the store takes on a really festive atmosphere, which is why I’ve attended many of Community Forklift’s events like First Friday.

Saturday, July 2, 2016: A few weeks ago I had prescheduled a few posts that would go live in this blog over the Fourth of July weekend so I could enjoy the holiday myself without working on this blog. But then I saw this article on Medium.com urging people not to take fireworks photos with smartphones because the results are always bad. I couldn’t resist writing a rebuttal post including my own fireworks photos I shot with my Droid Ultra over the past couple of years just so I could prove to people that, yes, it is possible to get a good fireworks shot with a smartphone.

I attended an afternoon outdoor barbecue at my church, which was totally fun. It especially helped that the weather was pleasantly warm with very low humidity. I socialized while gorging myself on so much food that I ended up skipping dinner because I was still full by early evening.

For the past few weeks I would see a tiny shadowy figure that would zoom quickly then disappeared. At first I thought it was a mouse but I dismissed it because a few years back (when I was still married and my husband still lived at that townhouse) I had installed these high tech devices I found at the hardware store that emitted a high frequency sound that was offensive to rodents yet humans and other types of pets (like dogs and cats) can’t hear. But after encountering too many nights where I got startled by briefly seeing that fast shadowy figure I decided that my home was once again invaded by at least one mouse who doesn’t mind hearing those high frequency sounds.

After the church barbecue I went to Five Below where I bought a King-Sized Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar and a box of Milk Duds. I dug up a couple of old humane mousetraps that I had put in storage and I set them using a couple of squares of the Hershey’s bar as bait. (I also ate a few squares of that chocolate myself.) Just as I was about to go to bed I heard a noise coming from one of the traps and I discovered that I captured one mouse. I took the trap, got in the car, and drove to a nearby park located a mile from my home where I released the mouse. When I returned home I saw that there was a few nibbles at the Hershey’s bait but there was enough of the candy bar left that I decided to just keep it in the trap. While I was in the upstairs bathroom brushing my teeth while preparing for bed, I thought I heard something coming from downstairs. It was getting late at night and I was too tired to investigate by then so I simply went to bed.

Sunday, July 3, 2016: I ended up skipping church that morning because I overslept. I took a shower then went downstairs to eat breakfast. I heard scratching noises from that same mousetrap in the kitchen where I had captured that mouse just a few hours earlier. I ate breakfast then I inspected that trap. I found that I had captured another mouse. I went to the same park where I released the other mouse on the previous night. I saw plenty of people parking their cars and carrying their picnic baskets to that park for some pre-Fourth of July celebrations. I took the trap over to an area of the park that was wooded but there weren’t any picnickers around and I released that mouse. When I got home and took a close look at that trap, I saw that the square of Hershey’s chocolate bar was completely devoured. (It was inevitable given that two separate mice had been caught in the same trap with the same exact bait.) I had eaten much of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar by then so I opened the Milk Duds and placed a couple pieces of that candy in the trap and set it up again.

I decided to do a driving trip for the heck of it since I can’t afford to take a real vacation. I drove all the way north to Brooklyn Park then headed south on Ritchie Highway to the town I grew up in, Glen Burnie. I took some pictures (which I’ll get around to uploading sometime in the future) but I ultimately ended up at Crabtowne USA, where I played their vintage pinball machines and arcade games like Donkey Kong and Phoenix. (I’ve written previous blog posts about that place while posting photos of some of their vintage arcade goodies here and here.) I didn’t eat anything at Crabtowne USA (even though I love their seafood dishes) because I was invited to a party that would begin later. (The restaurant part was nearly filled anyway.) I did go to Ann’s Dari-Creme where I purchased a small soft vanilla ice cream cone with a chocolate dip top and a small Diet Coke. It was delicious. The weather was very cloudy and it drizzled off and on all afternoon. I was worried about this party that I was scheduled to attend that evening because it was to be mostly held outdoors with a bonfire.

I drove on to Crownsville where I went to a party that was held by someone I met through my support group for people who are separated or divorced. I brought along an old wedding present that was personalized with my name and my ex-husband’s name along with our wedding date and threw it in the bonfire that was set up in the backyard. I shot video footage of that burning but I need to do some editing before I can upload it. I also roasted several marshmallows over that same fire and ate them. Fortunately the frequent drizzles had stopped after sunset and it didn’t rain at all.

Monday, July 4, 2016: I woke up a bit later than usual since I didn’t arrive home from that bonfire party until well after midnight. I checked the mousetraps and I found no new mice in them. Fantastic! I’m still going to keep the traps up for another week to make sure that I had gotten rid of all of my unwanted rodent houseguests.

I basically hung around at home playing video games on the Nintendo Wii (ABBA You Can Dance and Rayman Raving Rabbids) until after 4, when another party was scheduled to begin. It was held at a friend’s place in my town. She and her partner had just purchased this home that overlooked a lake and the town officials were having an official fireworks show on the other side of that lake. The idea of going to a party, socializing with friends, and ending that party with viewing the fireworks sounded appealing. Except it started to rain this afternoon.

Ultimately the official fireworks were postponed until July 5 but the party went on as originally scheduled. Instead of stepping outside to see fireworks, we ended up turning on the TV and setting the channel to Maryland Public Television which had a live broadcast of the fireworks that went on in downtown Washington, DC. (Unlike that one town in the suburbs, the DC fireworks went ahead as scheduled—rain be damned.) We all socialized and had a great time. Some people brought drums and one person brought an acoustic guitar so a music jam session broke out. It was all good.

I had a great holiday weekend even if I ate too much food all three days. I’m definitely going to watch what I eat for the next few days in order to make up for all that eating excess I had put my body through. Tomorrow I have to face real life once again. Sigh!

UPDATE (July 5, 2016): I was getting tired when I saw the DC fireworks show on Maryland Public Television at my friend’s party last night. Had I been more awake, I would’ve noticed the disconnect between the fact that the live musical performances show the wet stage, audience members with umbrellas and rain ponchos while the fireworks themselves were shot off in a cloud-free crystal-clear sky.

Santa Claus

Four years ago today my husband came home from work and announced that he was moving out. I was shocked because he never told me that he was the least bit unhappy. In addition I was still recovering from hip surgery just three months earlier and I really didn’t need this.

Since then I haven’t spoken to him. I really can’t be friends with someone who, one day, pretended that he still loved me while he was secretly screwing a mentally ill friend on the side (at the same time that I was recovering from hip surgery and it’s possible that the affair might have started even before that surgery) then the next day announced that he wants a divorce and he started to treat me like he really detested me all those years while demanding that I adhere to this separation schedule that existed in his head or else he would threaten to sue me. On top of that, he refused to even talk with me in person or on the phone—I could only communicate with him either by e-mail or text and he would answer only if it was relevant to the separation schedule that existed in his head. (Otherwise, I might as well have communicated only with myself if he chose not to answer.) As of this writing he has yet to make any attempt to apologize to me or anything like that.

I can’t say for sure when his affair started. All I know is that I later found out after our divorce that he had secretly become engaged to the other woman just eight months after he left me (and while he was still legally married to me). Then he married her just two months after our divorce was final. So my ex-husband went from his first marriage to his second marriage in nearly 20 months. And he married a woman whose mental health problems had gotten so bad that she was determined to be eligible for Social Security disability payments about a month or so before he left me for her. (My husband told me at the time that he had gotten her to talk to his sister via long-distance telephone because she works for Social Security and he thought she could give that woman advice on how to apply for disability. I thought he was being a helpful friend and I didn’t realize that he was more than just friends with her.)

Since that time I’ve had many of our longtime friends tell me that they either haven’t seen him at all or they’ll see him with the other woman but he keeps his distance from them. It’s like he’s gone from being a very friendly person (at least when he was with me) to being more reclusive. It kind of reminds me of the lyrics to the Creed song “My Own Prison.”

It’s sad because I never expected my marriage to turn out like this. Sure my marriage wasn’t perfect but we had basically gotten along well with each other until the night he left. I’ve had so many of my friends tell me that they were shocked that my marriage ended the way it did because, based on what they saw, they thought we seemed very happy together.

I really envy widows mainly because when they lose their spouses, they generally still love them and continue to have fond memories of the happier times they had before their mates died. In my case I’ve seen a complete personality change in my own husband and it’s jarring because it contrasts with the earlier memories I have of him. It’s like his old self is dead yet his body is still alive with a new self that’s more unlikeable and unfriendly than before. It’s almost like someone had flicked an internal switch inside of him or he had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a lookalike pod person. (The latter is actually the plot of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) To me seeing something like that is far worse than being a widow.

Since that time I’ve tried a whole bunch of things in order to get my life back on track. It’s hard because I had two major bad things happen to me back-to-back (hip surgery and divorce) and it’s taking me much longer to get over it than if I had to deal with only one of them.

If all that wasn’t enough, I’ve had to deal with a very tough economy. My craft sales have declined because people are either unemployed or underemployed and I’ve gotten plenty of people telling me that they couldn’t afford to buy anything from me. I’ve tried getting more steady work (like a day job) but it’s been very difficult because I’m competing with so many other unemployed people as well.

This fall I went through a bunch of unexpected drama that was so non-stop that I didn’t realize that Christmas was coming until after December 12 (when the six-week Artomatic show ended).

In late September I applied for a job for tutoring children which supposedly required computer skills. I went for it and I was surprised when someone called me back just two hours after I e-mailed my resume. It was a private for-profit educational company that had just gotten a contract with a local public elementary school to provide before and after school classes to the students who attended that school. And they wanted me to submit to a background check so I could begin teaching immediately. I initially felt thrilled with the possibility of having a steady job to offset the unsteady job of being an artist and crafter.

That pleasant surprise went downhill for me pretty quick when they began to pressure me to accept teaching jobs in cooking and fashion design—subjects in which I had no experience in. (I cook simple meals mainly for myself using recipes but one would be hard-pressed to call me a chef. As for fashion design, the closest experience I have is when I made doll clothes using patterns. Otherwise, most of my knowledge of fashion design comes from watching episodes of Project Runway.) What was worse was that there was no curriculum or anything and we were expected to plan our own lessons. I told them that I had no experience in these subjects but they refused to take that for an answer and they kept on pressuring me to accept those assignments. (Never mind the fact that the original job announcement never mentioned cooking or fashion design and it said that it wanted people with computer skills.)

I was prepared to walk away when they offered me the chance to assist another teacher for a digital photography class. I leaped at the chance because it was a subject that I knew all about (and have tried to demonstrate in this blog). I was told to call the instructor. I did so. I learned that, like the other classes, there was no curriculum and we had to make up our own lessons as we went along. He told me that the digital photography class was a before school class that would be held from 8:15-9:15 a.m. so I was expected to get up at the crack of dawn and make the drive around the notoriously clogged Capital Beltway in order to arrive at the school on time. He also told me that the class would begin the very next day.

So I was thrown into a class with less than 12 hours notice that had no formal curriculum and literally no time to develop any kind of lesson plans or activities and it was a total disaster. (Basically the instructor I assisted gave an hour-long college-level lecture to elementary school kids that was way too advanced for them and they ended up completely bored and confused. They complained to their parents, who then complained to the school and, well, you get the picture.) After my first day on the job I had to go to the organization for a job interview (which is pretty convoluted). From that time it was total chaos where my original co-teacher was replaced with two other teachers and I would be relegated to be an on-call substitute teacher only to have one of those other teachers get sacked a week later and I ended up being back in the classroom again. I got along with the other replacement teacher pretty well and, in a different situation, I would’ve loved to have continued working with her. But that organization was way too full of behind the scenes dysfunction and drama for my taste.

And then there was the issue of getting paid. I didn’t get any money for the first two months. In fact, I began to turn down other tutoring jobs from that organization because of the paycheck issue and the fact that I was not very impressed with them at all. (They would call me with tutorial opportunities with not much notice. They called me about one such gig only two hours before it was supposed to begin.) I finally got my first paycheck after I assisted in teaching eight one-hour sessions and, based on the eight hours I had worked at that point, the breakdown was that I was paid little more than $5.93 per hour! Ironically I could’ve made a lot more money working at McDonald’s or Walmart (two places that are notorious for paying their workers very low wages). The gas alone ate up whatever I earned so it turned out to be not even a profitable gig for me and there’s no way I could support myself on such a low wage (especially not in the Washington, DC area). On top of it this organization was expecting us teachers to come up with our own lesson plans outside of class in addition to teaching in the classroom and all for only $5.93 an hour!

Unfortunately I foolishly signed a contract with the group during that job interview (yes, it was the one that was held after my first day on the job) that stipulated that I had to stay on the job until the class ended on December 8 or I was fired—whichever came first. So I had to sit there and keep on helping with the before school class until it finally ended. (As of this writing, I have yet to receive a paycheck for the last three weeks of the class that I actually taught.) I could write plenty more paragraphs about that teaching job, believe me. Let’s just say that this job has given me a glimpse into the whole for-profit education system and it’s not a pretty picture. Fortunately it was a public elementary school that hired this outside for-profit contractor for only the before and after school programs so the kids still had their regular public school teachers during the day. I’d hate to see first-hand what goes on in those private for-profit charter schools that I hear so many people complain about.

In the meantime Artomatic was announced. I decided to get involved as a filmmaker rather than a visual artist like at past Artomatics mainly because I couldn’t afford the $125 visual artist fee. (The filmmaker fee came to only $15 because my film was less than 30 minutes long.) It was a really neat thing being a filmmaker because people really took me seriously whenever I declared myself as one and they asked me about my movie (Saving the Enchanted Forest) and when I would be showing it. I had people see my movie and respond positively to it, which was really cool. In addition I also volunteered as a blogger for the Artomatic site and that was a cool gig as well.

I pretty much immersed myself into the Artomatic experience at the expense of not paying any attention to the upcoming winter holidays until after it ended on December 12.

In between all that, I had volunteered to staff a table on behalf of the new non-profit Greenbelt Theater cooperative during the Festival of Lights craft show in Greenbelt on December 5 just a couple of hours after I did the second showing of my Saving the Enchanted Forest movie at Artomatic. I liked talking to people about the Greenbelt Theater but, boy, was I tired after that full day!

The day after Artomatic ended I took part in my church’s annual Holiday Craft Fair, which usually begins after Sunday service ends and goes on until around 12:30 p.m. I didn’t announce it in this blog ahead of time because I got so tied up with Artomatic and, in addition, I’ve never got much response from announcing my church’s craft show in this blog in previous years mainly because the show begins once Sunday service ends and the schedule tends to benefit members more than the general public who either aren’t religious or attends a different house of worship at the same time. This year the person organizing it decided to try running it for two Sundays in a row to give people who couldn’t be there the first week a chance to buy handcrafted items. I was selling the superhero coasters that I’ve been selling since the Greenbelt Mini-Maker Faire and I earned $30 each week for a total of $60. Sweet!

So I promoted the Greenbelt Theater on December 5, my crazy drama-filled one-day-a-week teaching job ended on December 8, Artomatic ended on December 12, and I was selling my wares after church on December 13 and December 20. So I had a pretty action-packed fall.

I’m also on the verge of starting something new that I hope will earn me a better income than that before school teaching job. I can’t go into details at the moment other than to say that, based on my job interview, this new company is way more professional with far less drama than the organization behind that teaching gig. (At least they did the job interview before I was expected to start working for them—like a normal company would do.) It’s a job that’s completely different and has absolutely nothing to do with teaching or tutoring kids. I’m looking forward to it and I hope everything works out.

Tonight I’m going to the annual holiday party that my support group for people who are separated or divorced holds each year between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a potluck where we bring a meal to share. They have a White Elephant gift exchange where we could either bring an unwanted gift or we could buy a new gift (as long as it costs less than $10) and it has to be wrapped. That gift exchange is pretty fun and it’s the third year that I’m participating. (I purchased this wooden table top miniature bowling game that I found at Five Below, the store where no item is ever priced above $5.)

I just want to put the trauma of December 28, 2011 further behind me. I want my future to be just like the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”

Ramadan
I recently went to a party for a good friend of mine and I took some photos of interesting stuff that I want to share here.

I used to love candy cigarettes as a child. I used to suck on it and have it dangling from my mouth so I could act “adult.” I haven’t seen candy cigarettes in years. I assumed that they went out of production due to the recent crackdowns on smoking in public places and increased public messages on how much damage that smoking real cigarettes can inflict on the body in the long run. After all, candy cigarettes were designed to make cigarettes look “glamorous” and more “adult” for kids (and increase the likelihood that they would eventually pick up and start smoking the real thing when they got older). One preteen daughter of one of the party-goers proved me wrong because I saw her with candy cigarettes dangling from out of her mouth throughout most of the party. By the time I took a photo of the empty box, I saw that she had consumed all of the cigarettes.

photo1

Here’s the birthday cake that someone got from the local bakery. I thought it looked really pretty. The cake also tasted very good. (It was a chocolate cake with chocolate icing.)

photo2

The party was held in my friend’s backyard because it was such a beautiful day. (It was warm but not too hot and the humidity was low as well.) There is this mimosa tree in the backyard that was already in full bloom with its lovely feather-like flowers.

photo3

My friend has this really cool looking bottle cap opener that I’ve never seen in any store. It has this antique look about it. (It’s possible that it may be an antique.) What I really love about this bottle cap opener is its handle that’s shaped like a mermaid.

photo4

photo5

The night before the DC Mini Maker Faire there was a party that was held for the volunteers who were working the event. The only thing is that the invitations weren’t e-mailed until the night before this party. Attendance was pretty sparse when I was there and I only stayed about an hour at the most.

The event was held near the Navy Yards Metro stop and the Yards Park.  I cut through the Transportation Walk, which is located next to both the Department of Transportation building and the Yards Park and it provides scenic views of the Anacostia River.

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

I finally arrived at the venue for the party. Ideaspace is the soon-to-be-opened STEM technology center that is still a work in progress. (For example, there weren’t many computers or other electronic equipment when I visited.)

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

At one point I toured the second floor of Ideaspace, which was mostly empty with the exception of this bamboo-frame pterodactyl that hung from the ceiling.

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Like I wrote earlier, I basically left the party after an hour. On the way back to the Navy Yards Metro, I noticed this giant fountain whose lights seemed to change colors.

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

Party for Volunteers of DC Mini-Maker Faire

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