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Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt, Maryland is basically a typical suburban shopping mall. It is anchored by a Target at one end and a Giant at the other end. It is a thriving indoor mall despite the fact that other malls similar to Beltway Plaza has succumbed to the phenomenon known as dead malls or the retail apocalypse in recent years. Beltway Plaza has such staying power that The Washington Post did an article about it last year.

The mall has a Southwestern-style motif on the outside that has gotten pretty grimy over the years. But a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be at the mall right at the point where it was briefly transformed into a total visual marvel. Outside there were some dramatic looking clouds that had come in that looked threatening but it didn’t rain at all. At sunset both the sun and the clouds combined to create this awesome effect.

This visual effect started to reflect off of the exterior of Beltway Plaza, which added a very warm glow to the mall that contrasted with the dark clouds in the background.

Here’s another shot of the clouds that reflected the glow of the sunset as it contrasted with the mall in the foreground.

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Here are a couple of recent photos that I consider to be the last summer ones. (I shot both on August 25.)  Here’s yet another nice sunset twilight photograph complete with some nice clouds.

Twilight

Here’s another twilight photo of some Black-Eyed Susans in full bloom.

Twilight

This really violent storm went through my area one hot and humid summer day (a.k.a. normal August weather in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area) which not only cooled everything off temporarily (the hot and humid weather returned the following day) but provided these really dramatic pictures.

I saw this really cool rainbow. I rarely see rainbows and, when I do, I only get to see just a portion of that rainbow. This photo documents the first time I’ve seen a full rainbow in recent memory.

That rainbow was short-lived because the sun tended to dart behind the clouds. But that storm provided some really dramatic looking clouds.

Those dramatic clouds provided a backdrop to this really cool looking sunset.

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

Sometimes I like to bring my laptop to IKEA so I can sit in their cafe and surf the Internet using their wifi. I also like eating there as well. The next photo shows this cinnamon bun that I ate when I was there last time. IKEA’s cinnamon buns only cost $1 each but I think they taste much better than Cinnabon’s more expensive buns. What’s more, if I ever have a bunch of people over at my place, I can purchase a pack of six buns for only $4. Sweet!

Cinnamon Bun

I also saw a bin full of pink flamingo plushies. It doesn’t get more kitsch than this!

Pink Flamingos Plush

Sometimes you can find the unexpected at IKEA, such as this gorgeous sunset right outside the building.

The things you can find at Ikea: This lovely sunset outside the store.

Santa Claus

A long time ago I learned that going downtown on Christmas Eve is the best place to be on Christmas Eve because everything is relatively empty. That’s because so many people tend to pack into the suburban shopping malls doing last-minute shopping while the stores in the city are empty. I’ve spent previous Christmas Eves in both Baltimore and DC and it’s the same situation.

I thought about a lot of places I could go to on Christmas Eve. In Baltimore I could go to the Walters Art Museum, Fells Point, or the Ripleys Believe It or Not! Odditorium. In Washington, DC I could go to any of the Smithsonian museums, Chinatown, or Georgetown.

But then it rained on Christmas Eve, which put a damper on a lot of things I would’ve loved to have done (especially going to places where I would be spending a good bit of time outside) and I was not in the mood to do a lot of driving in such lousy weather. I ultimately decided to go to Union Station and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum mainly because both places were located next to each other so I could take the Red Line Metro to the Union Station stop. I exited on to the lower level, where I found that it wasn’t very crowded at all.

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I hadn’t been to Union Station in a long time. I was looking forward to eating sushi for lunch at the Hibachi stand followed by going to Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry for dessert. Except when I arrived I found that half of the lower level where all of the fast food type places are located had been blocked off. While there are still places where one can get a quick bite to eat, there are far fewer choices than before. (That’s not to mention that both Hibachi and Vaccaro’s are both gone.) I ended up going to a Chinese food stand where I ordered orange chicken with two side dishes. But I ordered my lunch around the same time that they changed employees and I told the replacement employee that I had told the other one that wanted the orange chicken. She had me try the tofu and led me to believe that it was one of the side dishes. So I ordered the tofu as a side dish and told her that the orange chicken would be the main dish. Except when I got my meal and went to one of tables I found that this employee had given me the tofu as the main dish. The tofu was okay but I would’ve preferred the orange chicken. On top of it, the green beans side dish was undercooked. I made a mental note of never ordering anything from that place again.

After lunch I did some more walking around. I found out that the reason why the lower level had been cut in half was because Walgreen’s had moved in and opened this giant store.

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There was one large aisle dedicated to purchasing every kind of Washington, DC souvenir that you could think of.

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I’ve been to various Walgreen’s stores over the years but this is the first one I’ve ever been in that actually has a sushi bar that makes fresh sushi on the premises.

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If it hadn’t been for that less-than-thrilling Chinese lunch I had already eaten, I would’ve tried the Walgreen’s sushi for the hell of it.

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I made my way to the upper level where the upscale shops are located and I found that they were not crowded at all.

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Since my last visit to Union Station I saw that the DC Lottery had opened its own store where anyone can buy—what else?—lottery tickets.

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I decided to eat some dessert. Since Vaccarro’s Italian Pastry was gone, I thought about going to the Corner Bakery instead since I’ve eaten their desserts in the past and I found them quite good. But I found out that it was replaced by a French pastry place known as Le Pain Quotidien. I found their Christmas-themed dessert display to be quite charming.

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I ordered the sea salted chocolate and caramel tart and it was wrapped up in this nice looking box. The tart was excellent.

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I saw the Christmas tree that was a gift from the Norwegian Embassy.

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There was also a special exhibition documenting the joint U.S.-Norwegian explorations of the Polar Regions.

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There was a large toy train layout that I found to be quite lovely.

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On my way to one of the exit doors I saw this pigeon who somehow may its way inside Union Station. It was walking around among the various people on the floor like it was going shopping or rushing to take the next Amtrak train. I thought it was quite a hilarious scene.

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Outside of Union Station is this futuristic looking dome where one can rent a bike.

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Right next door to Union Station is the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. It’s one of the newer Smithsonian museums that had opened in recent years but I never got around to stepping foot inside until Christmas Eve.

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I don’t even know what took me so long to visit this place (especially since I’m a local resident). I’m glad I finally did because the interiors are absolutely breathtaking.

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As you can guess by the name, this museum is dedicated to the history of the U.S. Postal Service and postage stamps. Naturally stamp collectors will get the biggest kick out of this museum but there are plenty of things on display to wow those who aren’t into stamp collecting.

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This museum features Owney, a homeless dog who became the mascot of the U.S. Postal Service for a time until his death over 100 years ago. Here’s a bronze statue of the dog.

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And here’s the real Owney, as preserved by a taxidermist.

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Owney was the Grumpy Cat of his day—a beloved animal celebrity who received attention and presents (in the form of special tags indicating where he travelled to) everywhere he went. The next photo shows the many tags he received and are currently on display draping his stuffed carcass.

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The gift shop also has a smaller stuffed animal version of Owney for sale.

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I didn’t buy that stuffed animal but I did buy a short book on the dog’s life for only $4.

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Since I arrived at the museum on Christmas Eve, I got a chance to see the museum’s Christmas tree with surrounding poinsettias.

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The one exhibit that excited me the most was the one on PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard. That’s because, through my past involvements with Artomatic, I know that PostSecret originally started as an Artomatic exhibit that was put on by the writer Frank Warren. That exhibit was such a phenomenal success that it overshadowed the other Artomatic exhibits that were on display that year. That exhibit was eventually turned into a series of books and I remember the times when he held book signings at various Artomatic events mainly as Frank Warren’s way of showing appreciation for the event that started it all. (You can read about those book signings here and here.)

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Now PostSecret has turned into a Smithsonian exhibit, which is pretty cool. The next photo shows just a small portion of the postcards that Frank Warren has received over the years.

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Here’s something that was actually sent on a coconut.

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I’m still amazed that something I’m familiar with from my involvement with Artomatic has become a Smithsonian exhibit.

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The photos I took are just a small sample of what’s currently on display at that exhibit.

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There was an area that was especially made for stamp collectors. One can view the various stamps currently on file in a special room. The stamps are in a case that one can pull out and they are organized by nation, year, and type of stamp. I can imagine a hardcore stamp collector spending at least two days in that area alone just looking at all of the stamps on file.

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That area also had the world’s first postage stamp on display. It was a British stamp known as the Penny Black and it was released in 1840.

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There was a hands-on exhibit where one can design a stamp on a touch screen computer. Here is the stamp I designed.

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There was even an area that’s designed for anyone who’s thinking about starting his/her own stamp collection and one can get the first stamps for free. First you get an envelope like this.

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Then you go through this bin picking out stamps you’d like to put in your envelope.

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I have a confession to make. The rules of picking out free stamps basically said that each person was limited to six stamps in order to make the free stamps available for everyone. There were so few people in the museum the day that I was there that I actually broke the rules and picked out seven stamps. I wasn’t caught (mainly because there were so few people there) and I got away with it. I’m not saying that what I did was right or correct and if there had been a ton of people in the museum that day I would’ve obeyed the rules. But I fell into temptation because there were so few people and, besides, I only took one extra stamp and not like—let’s say—30 extra stamps.

Here are the stamps I picked out. I’ll admit that I was inspired by the recent elections and the incoming President Donald J. Trump Administration along with all the doubts swirling around him as to whether he will even follow the Constitution. So I chose this stamp commemorating the 175th anniversary of the U.S. Bill of Rights.

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As a former Journalism major in college and current blogger, this next stamp really appealed to me. It features a quill and ink along with the words “The Ability to Write-A Root of Democracy.”

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I picked out this stamp featuring George Washington since he was not only one of the Founding Fathers but he was also the first President of the United States and he set the tone for how the succeeding presidents should always follow the Constitution.

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I picked out this stamp featuring Martha Washington because she was not only the first First Lady but I’m sure she went through her own trials and tribulations while supporting her husband first as a hero of the American Revolution then as President of the United States. It’s like the old saying goes: “Behind every man is a woman.”

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I picked out Thomas Jefferson because he was also a hero of the American Revolution, a Founding Father of this nation, and he was instrumental in including many rights that we Americans take for granted (such as the freedom of the press) and could possibly be threatened under Donald Trump’s presidency.

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I picked out Benjamin Franklin, another Founding Father who was the first Postmaster General. Plus I’m currently running the weekly Benjamin Franklin Fridays in this blog where I include quotations from his Poor Richard’s Almanack book.

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I chose Susan B. Anthony because she was a suffragette who fought hard to win the women’s right to vote.

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I chose one foreign stamp. This one is from France and it features Marianne, the French symbol of freedom who provided the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty.

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I basically hung around the museum until it was closing time. By that time the rain had stopped but it was still cloudy outside and the ground was wet. I was treated to a nice Christmas Eve sunset as I took the Metro back home.

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Santa Claus

 

 

 

 

Last year I planned on going to Baltimore to celebrate my birthday at Christmas Village in Baltimore. I had to scuttle those plans because my birthday fell on a Tuesday and it turns out that the place was closed on certain Tuesdays including my birthday. (I ended up going to Tyson’s Corner instead and I still had fun last year.)

This year my birthday fell on a Thursday so I decided to go to Baltimore, just like I planned last year. I was determined to go there despite the fact that the Polar Vortex had just arrived in my area so the temperatures plunged to below freezing. (I basically wore a heavy winter coat and a hat so I was able to brave the deep freeze.)

On the way to Baltimore I stopped off at a local Jo-Ann’s Fabrics & Crafts store to check out the recent sales. I found a bundled pair of slipper socks. The original price was $9.99, which would’ve been a decent price for two pairs of thick socks. But they were on sale for half-price, which meant that I paid $5 for the bundle (or $2.50 per pair).

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I took the light rail into the city. I initially went by Harborplace where I saw this ice skating rink.

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Since my last visit to Harborplace, I found that the store It’s Sugar had moved from one pavilion to another. (It is now located next to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium.)

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I purchased a few things for myself on my birthday. Here is this cute gingerbread man cookie I bought.

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I purchased this Pez dispenser featuring Badtz-Maru, one of Hello Kitty’s friends.

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I bought myself this Guinness Luxury Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar. It was very delicious.

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I took a few photos of other items in that store but I didn’t buy any of them.

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After my visit to Harborplace I took a couple of photos of the Inner Harbor area at sunset.

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I eventually made my way to the Christmas Village in Baltimore.

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I’ve been there other years (see the photos I took in 2013, 2014, and 2015). Some of the same vendors were there this year while there were others whom I had never seen before. I also saw some empty booths but I had no idea if fewer vendors signed up or if it was because I came on a Thursday night and some of the missing vendors only worked on the weekends. I had been looking forward to eating some bratwurst with sauerkraut for dinner followed by a Belgian waffle topped with hot fudge and whipped cream for dessert. Unfortunately the waffle place wasn’t there this year, which was a big disappointment. The German food booth was still there so at least I was still able to eat the bratwurst and sauerbraten platter.

I purchased only one item. It was a pack of incense that I got from the large Käthe Wohlfahrt booth that was located at one end of the main tent. I’ve been lighting the incense each night since then so my home can smell like Christmas. (LOL!)

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On my way back to the light rail stop, I saw this homeless person laying down under a thin blanket outside the Baltimore Convention Center. Usually I wouldn’t pay this person much notice other than the fact that the Polar Vortex had arrived and the temperatures were forecasted to dip under 20 degrees Fahrenheit over night. (The following morning my AccuWeather app on my smartphone registered 18 degrees Fahrenheit.) I felt that this person should really be indoors but I didn’t know where to turn since I live 30 miles south of Baltimore.

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I took the above picture and frantically did Google searches on my smartphone for homeless organizations in Baltimore. I texted the photo to a couple of organizations while indicating where the person was located. For added measure I texted the photo to the Baltimore Police Department. I even uploaded this photo on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts using people to forward this to anyone who could help bring this person in from the cold. I don’t know if my efforts helped or not other than the fact that for the next few days I did a Google search for any recent homeless deaths in Baltimore outside the Baltimore Convention Center only to turn up empty-handed. I guess this person somehow survived the Polar Vortex but I’ll never know for sure.

Once I reached the North Linthicum Light Rail Station (where my car was parked) I drove over to Glen Burnie. Last year I found out about this overdecorated house on Delmar Avenue and I saw it for the first time on Christmas Eve. This year I decided to check it out again and, yes, it is still just as heavily decorated as it was last year.

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The only difference I could tell between this year and last year is the next-door neighbor’s lighted sign that said “DITTO” with an arrow pointed to the other house. (That neighbor’s house didn’t have any outdoor lights at all other than that “DITTO” sign.)

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By the way the house on Delmar Avenue has its own Facebook page that you can view to get the latest news and photos about that house.

Last year I shot a bunch of still photos of that house. This year I decided to shoot a video so you can get a sense of the flashing lights (including an animated laser display that’s shown on the garage door) and the constant Christmas music.

I headed home after visiting that house so that was it for celebrating my birthday in Baltimore and Glen Burnie.

I spent Small Business Saturday just cruising around two towns that are located squarely in the Gateway Arts District of Prince George’s County. First I headed to Mount Rainier where I checked out ReCreative Spaces.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County, Maryland

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

During my time there I created this Christmas ornament using green cardboard, ribbon, and pom-poms.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

I also got this free recyclable shopping bag, which was pretty cool.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

After my time at ReCreative Spaces I headed over to Hyattsville. The first place I stopped at was at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, where I took these pictures.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Then I stepped outside where I caught this cool lighting effect of the late afternoon sun on the American flag against a dark cloudy

I stopped by the Three Little Birds Sewing Company, where I took these pictures.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Next door to the Three Little Birds Sewing Company is a temporary pop-up shop that’s being run by Tanglewood Works in addition to its original location in nearby Edmonston.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

I walked around outside where I took a few twilight photos (including some gorgeous sunsets).

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

The last place I stopped in while I was in Hyattsville was at Franklins Restaurant, Brewery, and General Store.

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

Small Business Saturday at the Gateway Arts District of Prince George's County

One day I was feeling a bit antsy about things so I decided to just go to one of the many local parks in my area and just chill. I decided to head to Bladensburg Waterfront Park just a couple of hours before it closed for the day.

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American history buffs would know that this peaceful park was once the site of the Battle of Bladensburg, which was one of the big battles of the War of 1812. There are plenty of reminders of that incident throughout the park.

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As for me I was more interested in the nature, which included lots of fall foliage as it reflected off the Anacostia River.

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There’s an interesting mushroom graffiti that someone drew along the bridge that formed the outer perimeter of the park.

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A walkathon was schedule in the park for the following day where the proceeds would benefit groups that were fighting hunger and homelessness. The walking path was full of chalk writings that mentioned some distressing facts about being poor in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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At one point I hiked outside the park where I walked past the historic yet controversial Peace Cross.

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Here’s the start of the evening rush hour traffic along Route 450 outside the gates of Bladenburg Waterfront Park.

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Here’s the memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. There are a few benches available for quiet mediation and reflection as the cars go whizzing past by on Route 450.

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I managed to get back inside the park so I could retrieve my car just before the park closed for the day. I saw a group of rowers packing up their long rowboats.

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The fading sunlight provides a nice glow to these feathery plants.

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I’ll end this post with a couple of sunset photos.

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Dancing Skeleton

I had a relatively quiet Halloween this year due mainly to a combination of tight finances and my mother’s latest health battle. (She spent a few days in the hospital earlier this month for sepsis.) I purchased this interesting pack of marshmallow Peeps from Five Below because these Halloween Peeps looked pretty unusual. I’ve seen Halloween Peeps shaped like black cats, ghosts, jack o’lanterns, and gravestones but this was the first time I’ve seen Peeps shaped like Frankenstein’s head.

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But that’s not all I found at Five Below. I also found pumpkin spice-flavored Peeps. These are the chicks that I usually see at Easter but I guess Just Born has decided that chicks aren’t just for Easter anymore.

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I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the combination of marshmallow, white chocolate fudge, and pumpkin spice but I found that they were quite tasty.

Among the treats I gave out this year was Utz Bats & Jacks Pretzels. That pack usually gives out a free black and white Halloween decoration (which is basically the Utz girl dressed as a witch while being surrounded by bats).

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The same decoration is given out each year. I know that the decoration is in black and white because it’s meant for children to color it using crayons or other media. I displayed it outside a couple of years ago in its uncolored state at the last minute before the first trick or treater arrived. This year I decided to take out some colored pencils and color it in.

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I did the coloring Friday night. I displayed it in the trunk of my car at my church’s Trunk or Treat event yesterday (Sunday), which was held in the parking lot for the children at that congregation. I took some photos of the event, which I’ll write about later.

After the Trunk or Treat event I hung that same colored decoration on the door of my home alongside the ghost from the Scream movies (which I’ve owned for a number of years) and a traditional Mexican Day of the Dead decoration (which I purchased from Five Below just a couple of days ago for only 99 cents).

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Like I wrote two weeks ago, I purchased this new bat to replace a previous bat that was stolen from the porch in 2014.

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I have a Grim Reaper dangling from the bottom of my mailbox near my small coffin.

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I also have some smaller Halloween items placed on the front porch near the coffin and Grim Reaper.

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I deliberately didn’t cut down the dead Black-Eyed Susans and other dead foliage in order to have this dead plants effect (which is way cheaper than buying fake dead Halloween foliage in the stores). Safeway had a special “2 medium pumpkins for $10” sale so I bought two pumpkins and carved jack o’lantern faces on them then placed them among the dead plants. I kept the seeds and roasted them so I now have healthy snacks.

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The next photos were taken in Glen Burnie earlier this month during one of the days I visited my mother in the hospital. After that visit I drove past a couple of homes where I saw those Donald Trump signs on the front lawn, which were the first homes I’ve ever seen anyone display anything that was pro-Trump. (It figures that I saw them in the town where I grew up from ages 5-19.) After I took photos of those two houses with the Trump signs, I decided to stop by Giant because I needed to buy a few things and I thought it would be easier to buy them at the Giant in Glen Burnie then drive straight home. I got out of that store just in time to enjoy this lovely sunset.

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In the same shopping center as that particular Giant I saw that one of those Spirit of Halloween stores had set up its temporary shop there.

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I went over to that store where I took these pictures documenting what’s considered “in” for Halloween 2016.

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Of course since this is an election year, there would be opportunities for people to dress up as either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

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There was a Bernie Sanders mask available for sale. It’s too bad that there were reports of primary election rigging in places like IllinoisMassachusettsKentuckyArizonaNew YorkCalifornia, and Nevada since there were many poll results that stated that Bernie Sanders could’ve beaten Donald Trump by a much wider margin than the current narrow margin between Clinton and Trump. (Some recent polls say that Hillary Clinton has since come out way ahead but who knows what will go down on November 8.)

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I didn’t buy anything at that store due to tight finances. Even if I could afford to shop there I don’t think I would buy very many items because I’m really not into large lawn displays and there are so many costumes and masks that I can really keep in my home before I get overrun with costumes and masks.

I spent the bulk of Halloween day going to the first of a two-day session on how to improve my job hunting skills that’s offered by the State of Maryland. It’s currently being held in its offices in Laurel, which is located next to Laurel Shopping Center. During one of the breaks I walked around the far end of that shopping center where I saw the place where a second-run movie theater used to operate (but it went out of business a few years ago). There’s currently a haunted house known as Laurel’s House of Horrors that’s operating there. I didn’t go inside at all mainly because the admission was $30 and I’m really not into spending that much money on something that’s only going to last one hour at the most. I have to admit that the exterior looked interesting.

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I’ll finish this entry with this giant spider in the center of this giant spider web that’s currently displayed outside Makerspace 125.

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