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I went to the German Festival for the first time in three years. I almost missed it until I saw an ad for it on Saturday (which was the first day of the festival). I decided to go on the second and final day on the spur of the moment after I went to church that morning.

The German Festival ran the same weekend as Artscape but I was lured to the former by the fact that it was held indoors in an air conditioned building. (There was a massive heatwave that had been blanketing the area for at least two weeks.) Besides I still have less-than-fond memories of my last attendance at Artscape when I met two people from my childhood in Glen Burnie whom I did not want a reunion with.

I drove to the light rail stop in North Linthicum then took the light rail all the way to the Maryland State Fairgrounds. It started to rain the minute I got off the light rail but I brought an umbrella with me so it was no big deal. (It was another reason why I’m glad I didn’t choose to go to Artscape this year.) There were practically no lines so it was no big deal getting inside. It was basically a nice event with many of the same vendors as my last attendance in 2014. I ate sauerbraten with noodles for lunch followed by a slice of black forest cake. Before I left I purchased two freshly baked cinnamon sticks to eat later. I also took a few pictures, which you can see below.

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Last summer, when I checked out the German Festival that was held in Timonium, I picked up quite a few flyers that were all advertising upcoming events that were of interest to the German-American community. While I was doing some tidying up at home, I came across one of those flyers that were advertising a Christkindlemarkt that was being held at Zion Lutheran Church in Baltimore. I was intrigued enough by the brochure that I decided to check it out in person this year.

I parked my car at the North Linthicum Light Rail station and took the light rail train to Lexington Market then walked for a few minutes. The next photo shows the remains of the old Hutzler’s department store. One can still see the name and logo etched over what was the main entrance.

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While there are the occasional chain stores that one can also find in the suburbs (such as the Rainbow store in the next photograph), the vast majority of stores are locally owned.

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Baltimore is such an economic mix, even on the same street. In some areas if you look on one side of the street, you’d see locked up stores that have definitely gone out of business a long time ago. But then you look across the street and you see what looks like a nicer area. It gets pretty surreal at times.

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I eventually reached my destination, Zion Lutheran Church. It is a large brick building that’s totally rich in history dating all the way back to 1755.

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Living in the DC area that has a lot of immigrants from Central America, I have long grown used to hearing people speaking Spanish among each other and seeing bilingual English-Spanish signs. It’s just so novel to go to a place where people talk to each other in a different language and seeing bilingual signs and it’s not in Spanish but in German.

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The church has this library that’s filled with wooden shelves and wooden furniture and it’s loaded with German language books, many of which are very old. This church has so many old German books that this library can’t contain them all. I saw bookcases in other parts of the church where the overflow German books were stored.

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Everywhere you went in that church there were all kinds of things relating to German American history and culture. And the architecture of this building was amazing.

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According to the Wikipedia, Zion Lutheran Church is the last church in Maryland that still offers weekly Sunday services in German. I would love to sit in on such a service except I live about 30 miles away and the German services are held at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday mornings. If I really wanted to go, I would have to wake up between 6-7 a.m. and be out the door no later than 8 a.m. Since the light rail trains don’t start on Sunday mornings until after 10:30, I would have to drive into the city and deal with the hassle of finding parking. Maybe I’ll make the effort one Sunday in the future, I just don’t know when I would do this.

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As for the Christkindlmarkt itself, it was excellent. There were three floors full of things to see, do, and eat. The most crowded room was the one that contained a train garden as many children crowded around watching the toy trains go by. I heard a few tantrums as parents tried to tell their children that it was time to go and the kids didn’t want to leave because they were completely mesmerized.

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There was an amazing array of German imported crafts that one could buy. The only thing I purchased (besides the lunch that I ate there) was a pound of German coffee as a Christmas present for my mother. When I was buying the coffee, there was a couple near me that were buying a whole box full of German coffee and they ended up paying $70. I guess this couple loved their German coffee so much that they needed to have enough to last them for most of 2015. (LOL!)

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Despite the German crafts and food, I found that not even the Christkindlemarkt at Zion Lutheran Church is immune from the onslaught of Anna and Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen. (LOL!)

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Zion Lutheran Church is literally located across the street from City Hall.

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I walked back to the Lexington Market Light Rail Stop using a slightly different route. I came across this memorial to former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., who was also the father of former House Speaker (and current House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi.

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I ended my visit to Baltimore by walking past these interesting looking Christmas decorations before boarding the light rail back to where my car was parked.

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April 10, 2013 will be one of those monumental days in my life but not for happy reasons. As I wrote in a previous entry, I made an appearance in court to witness the end of my marriage first-hand. The judge granted something called a Provisional Divorce while I would eventually get a divorce certificate via mail at a later date. The whole procedure started at 9 a.m. and it ended around 9:20 a.m.

I was pretty sad. I drove home and stayed there for a couple of hours but I felt restless. I decided to get in my car and just drive. It was only after I was on I-95 that I decided to head to Baltimore. It was the city where I was originally born and I lived the first five years of my life until my parents decided to move to nearby Glen Burnie (where I spent the rest of my childhood and teen years until I went to the University of Maryland).

I drove to the North Linthicum light rail station and took the light rail into the city. (It’s cheaper than the parking garages in Baltimore.) I initially went to Harborplace where I ate a late lunch at a Johnny Rockets then walked around, where I took these pictures. I hadn’t been in Harborplace in several months but I was pleasantly surprised to find a store that’s dedicated to McCormick’s spices. While I can get most of the spices in my local supermarket, there were a few spices I hadn’t seen before like cocoa chili powder.

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Harborplace also had this general store that engaged in a bit of seafood humor.

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I saw these interesting egg people in the windows of H & M.

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I can remember when the second floor of the Light Street Pavilion used to be full of mainly fast food outlets (some were national chains like Subway while others were locally owned yet provided quick meals like hamburgers and fried chicken), small boutiques, and Hooters restaurant. That pavilion has been renovated and only Hooters remains in its original place. Everything else that was on the second floor has been replaced with just two businesses—the second floor of the H & M store and a new attraction that has opened at Harborplace over the past year: Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium.

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I can remember when I once visited a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum that is located on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland a few years ago. I went with my now-ex-husband, his sister, her then-teenaged son, and one of her son’s friends who came along with the family on that trip. We went to the museum on a night when we planned on visiting the Boardwalk but it rained so we decided to go to the museum instead. Since I saw the Ocean City one, I decided to check out the Baltimore version just for the heck of it.

Like its Ocean City counterpart, the Baltimore location has a main museum (known as the Odditorium) that features all kinds of oddities. I took a photo of a few of them but there were a lot of oddities that were crammed in that museum. The one advantage of visiting the Odditorium on a weekday afternoon during the school year was that it was mostly empty so I was able to help myself to the hands-on activities that the museum provided. (I can imagine that those activities would be crowded with kids on weekends and during the summer.) I had a good time viewing all of these oddities, including the ones I photographed.

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This large statue of a penny was created using actual pennies.

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The giant green circle in the next photo is an actual jade coin! The sign invited the public to touch it for good luck. I did so in the hopes that my current bad luck will change for me soon.

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The next photo shows a typical room in the Odditorium. As you can see, each room was crammed with an oddity. By the way, that statue of the tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur in the center of the room was made from the foil that wraps Pop Tarts.

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The most memorable part of the Odditorium was the numerous models of buildings that were created from matchsticks. Those matchstick buildings included Hogwarts Academy (from the Harry Potter books and movies), the Sydney Opera House, the World Trade Center in New York City (prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001), the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Eiffel Tower, and the Washington Monument.

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The entire Ripley’s attraction had three components. I only saw the Odditorium one since it’s the main part of the facility. There is also a mirror maze and a 4D moving movie theater but those other features cost extra so I didn’t check them out. (I’ll probably check out the 4D moving movie theater at a later date since you can visit that one separately without having to tour the entire Odditorium again.)

After the Odditorium, I walked over to the Pratt Street Pavilion where I visited It’s Sugar, which is basically a candy store on steroids. There are so many different types of candy on sale there that anyone who’s a total sugar addict could easily drop a lot of money buying huge amounts of candy.

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It’s Sugar also sells candy and treats in giant sizes, which would appeal to parties, large families, or people with huge appetites. One example is this giant 2 pound version of Rice Krispies and marshmallow squares.

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The store had underwear made from candy.

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It’s Sugar had a few non-edible items on sale, such as these teddy bears from last year’s R-rated hit movie Ted.

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After visiting It’s Sugar I walked out of the Pratt Street Pavilion and towards the Power Plant, where I saw this artist at work.

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I also saw a display announcing the creation of a new monument in Baltimore dedicated to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

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After a brief stop at the Barnes & Noble store in the Power Plant, I walked on towards the nearest bus stop on the Charm City Circulator’s Green Route. I walked towards the area where Baltimore’s long-notorious red-light district known as The Block is located. One pretty amusing irony: There’s a church located just around the corner (note the cross-shaped sign on the left side of the photo below) from one of the less-than-reputable businesses located in The Block.

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Here’s another shot of The Block. I have to admit that The Block has managed to maintain its seedy reputation while other cities have managed to eliminate their red-light districts through urban renewal. (For example, if you really want to know what Times Square in New York City was like before Disney, Sanrio, and other companies moved in, I highly recommend that you rent either Urban Cowboy or Taxi Driver.) The porn theaters and strip clubs managed to stay in business all these years despite the rise of home video and Internet porn.

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The Charm City Circulator’s Green Route was located just a stone’s throw away from The Block. I saw this one woman waiting at the same stop who dressed like she was a hooker. (I had no idea if she was a prostitute who had just gone off-duty and was waiting for the bus to take her home or if she was a woman who was just wearing a sexy outfit for the heck of it. I had no intention of asking her either.) Eventually the bus that I was waiting for arrived and I boarded it. I rode it until it reached Fells Point, where I got off.

It has been at least five or six years since I last visited Fells Point so it was really nice to be able to visit the area again. I knew I was in Fells Point when I saw the sign for Bertha’s, a seafood restaurant which is an institution there. (It’s not unusual to see cars in the Baltimore-Washington area with bumper stickers that says “Eat Bertha’s Mussels.”)

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I was happy that I had another chance to visit the Sound Garden, a music store that has gotten write-ups in national publications like Rolling Stone magazine. At that store one could find not only current hit CD’s but also music from relatively obscure artists. The store also sells vinyl records and DVD’s. I used to tell my husband “One of these days I gotta get you to the Sound Garden.” (I’ve visited that store previous times on my own.) I knew he would’ve loved that store. However we never got our act together so we never visited Fells Point together so I never got a chance to introduce my husband to that store. Now that we’re divorced, I’ll never introduce him to that store. Oh well. It’s his loss since he’s the one who wanted this divorce.

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The next two signs are of an art gallery (charmingly named How Great Thou Art) that had a cool looking sign and an outdoor art piece dedicated to the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

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Another art gallery displayed this painting on its outside wall next to the gallery entrance. It’s Edgar Degas’ Before the Race. It’s pretty unusual to see a painting permanently hung outdoors.

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I walked past this empty storefront that had this sign that made me glad. Kilwin’s is opening in Baltimore soon. I’ve visited the Kilwin’s that’s located in Melbourne, Florida when I visited the area twice with my ex-husband and I wrote positive praises of the place each time. (You can read them here and here.) When I saw Kilwin’s for the first time, I assumed that it was a locally-owned Melbourne store. I first realized that there was Kilwin’s in other places when I went to the shopping area in Annapolis and I saw a Kilwin’s there. (Since I took that photo below, I learned that a new Kilwin’s had just opened near the church where I attend my weekly support group meeting for people who are separated or divorced. I can now visit Kilwin’s without having to travel to Melbourne, Baltimore, or Annapolis. I now have a new temptation to resist each week. LOL!)

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I ate dinner at Brick Oven Pizza, which probably ranks among my favorite pizza parlor. It’s a locally owned mom-and-pop place and what’s really cool is that you can order pizza with all kinds of toppings, including ones that aren’t commonly found in other pizza places (such as spam). I used to tell my husband about this place and how I loved for the two of us to eat one meal there. My husband once even toyed with the idea of the two of us spending a weekend in Fells Point where we would go shopping, eat at local establishments, and go drinking in some of the many bars and pubs in the area but I only heard him mention the idea once or twice and we never acted on it. Now that we’re divorced, my ex-husband will have to go there on his own (or with that other woman he left me for) if he wants to experience the place.

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After divorce court this morning but before I headed to Baltimore, I changed clothes into something more casual including this t-shirt that I purchased at Katsucon two months ago that says “Hedgehogs: Why Don’t They Just Share the Hedge?”

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That t-shirt was a definite conversation starter at Brick Oven Pizza since the woman who took my order noticed it and we ended up in a conversation about our pets (including my hedgehog and her dog and cat). She had so many funny antecdotes about the antics of her pets that I suggested that she start a blog about them. I think she would get readers, especially if she included photos.

After dinner I walked over towards the Broadway Market where there was an announced meeting I learned via Facebook. Members of Occupy Baltimore and Luminous Intervention announced this joint action where they were doing a public debut of this new video game called Tax Evaders. People were instructed to meet about a block from the place where the video game would be debuted in order to not arouse the suspicions of the local authorities. One of the organizers pointed where we would walk to once the organizers finished with setting up the equipment. That person pointed in the direction of this wall mural that looked so nice that I took a photo of it.

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A portion of the wall mural spilled over to this Bank of America building, where we would ultimately meet.

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Once the equipment was set up, we walked over to the parking lot in the back of the Bank of America building where activists had set overhead equipment where the video game was shown on the side of the building. The location was selected because Tax Evaders skewers those rich mega-corporations who have gotten away with paying little to no taxes—including Bank of America.

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The activists managed to rig the video game with the X-Box Kinnect so people can play the game using their whole bodies as the controller.

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I saw the video game in action and I was impressed. I was too tired to play the game myself because of all the walking I did plus showing up in divorce court early in the morning. I took a few still photos with the Canon camera but then switched to the video camera in my smartphone because I realized that video was a better way to show how the whole display worked. Here’s a short video of what the whole set-up was like.

If you like what you see in both the photos and video, you can play the video game yourself online right here.

After seeing that video game, I walked a few blocks to the nearest stop on the Charm City Circulator’s Orange Route. I boarded the bus then got off at a stop that was closest to a light rail stop. I then took the light rail back to the North Linthicum stop (where my car was parked) and drove home. I was totally exhausted and drained by everthing that went on that day so I basically went to bed when I got home.

Nearly 15 months ago I shot this video called Laurel Mall: Portrait of a Dying Shopping Mall. As you can see, it was shot on Black Friday but it was still largely empty. Just six months after I shot this video the entire mall closed down for good and much of it has been recently demolished. There’s supposed to be a new shopping place of some kind that will rise up from the ashes but I’ll have to wait and see what happens.

That video was a sad one because I still have memories of that mall’s glory days. There’s one memory I had that I originally planned on mentioning in that video but ended not doing so because it would’ve made the video length run that much longer. Here’s my memory from many years ago. One Saturday, when I was still a relatively newlywed, I happened to go to Laurel Mall when I saw throngs of people standing in this long line that ran down part of the length of the lower level of the mall. I had no idea what was going on. I saw that the line ended at this table featuring two very ordinary looking people with dark hair—a man and a woman. I had no idea who they were and why so many people were dying to meet them.

I finally asked someone standing in line who that couple were. The woman answered, "It’s Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon." At the time the pair were doing a series of public appearances across the United States to promote the film Back to the Beach, the first beach party movie they made together since the mid-1960’s. Here’s a short clip from that movie.

Laurel Mall happened to be one of their many stops on that tour. They were signing autographs for longtime fans who also brought along their chidren and grandchildren. I didn’t get in the long line because I wasn’t into waiting for one hour or more to greet two celebrities whose names I had heard of but I wasn’t a major fan of. (The only time I ever saw any movie that Frankie Avalon was in while I was growing up was when he sang the song "Beauty School Dropout" in the movie Grease.) As I took a final look at the front of the table before moving on to finishing up with the rest of my shopping, I saw a girl who was somewhere between the ages of 7-10 at the front of the line wearing Mickey Mouse ears while Annette was sporting a wide grin at seeing that young fan.

That was the only time I ever saw Annette Funicello in real life. (Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me that day because I would’ve taken pictures.) Yesterday she died at the age 70 after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. I read on various websites that she was initially diagnosed with MS while she was working on that Back to the Beach movie but she kept it a secret for a few years. (Which means that she was already secretly dealing with that illness when she made her appearance at Laurel Mall.)

Annette reached the height of her fame before I was born so I hadn’t heard of her until years later when local stations throughout the U.S. started to air re-runs of the original 1950’s Mickey Mouse Club series and there was especially lots of stories in the newspapers about Annette, who was the most popular Mouseketeer. My mother and grandmother remembered her very well but they weren’t superfans or anything like that. Yesterday I searched YouTube since I heard that she was also a recording artist for a few years. Most of the songs I heard were okay to listen to once or twice but they didn’t really resonate with me. Her music is mindless yet harmless background music at best. One example is this vintage American Bandstand clip of Annette performing her biggest hit "Tall Paul." This clip had this cutesy effect where Annette sings as she acts the part of a tiny marionette puppet while Dick Clark acts the role of puppeteer.

I’ve never seen any of her beach party movies (nor any of her films for that matter) so I can’t comment on her film career. I know her mainly from the numerous guest appearances on televisison as well as the many ads she shot for Skippy peanut butter in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Here is Annette Funicello in a 1984 Skippy peanut butter ad.

Yes she had a wholesome squeaky clean image but she managed to avoid going down the same destructive path (drugs, alcohol, dysfunctional relationships, etc.) that so many child stars go on once they reach adulthood. Looking at her Wikipedia page, it seems like the worst thing she ever did was to divorce her first husband but that’s no big deal since so many marriages end in divorce these days. (My own divorce is scheduled to be final tomorrow.) She married her second husband a few years later and that one endured despite her MS diagnosis. But she was never self-righteous or arrogant about maintaining her squeaky clean image so I’m not going to be hating on her for it. She basically lived her life that way and she seemed happy and content with her life. The only reason why she said she made her MS diagnosis public is that her walking became increasinly impaired and she didn’t want her fans to think that she had become an alcoholic.

I felt sorry for her when she publicly disclosed that she had MS since I know that it’s a devastating disease with no cure as of this writing. (My own mother is currently struggling with it.) I remember when my husband and I were visiting my parents and my mother had the TV tuned to QVC right at the moment when that channel were hawking collectible teddy bears from The Annette Funicello Teddy Bear Company (which she created soon after going public with her MS diagnosis). Annette herself was on the air and she chatted with phone callers about her bears, her illness, and her life and career in general. The only thing I remember her saying is that maintaining a positive attitude is the key to withstanding the disease.

Despite her efforts at maintaining a positive attitude, MS ended up having the upper hand. At first she couldn’t walk anymore so she ended up in a wheelchair. A few years later she lost the ability to talk, which is really devastating to an entertainer.

I read on her Wikipedia page that her teddy bear line folded in 2004—the same year that she lost the ability to walk. One can see what the bears looked like by doing a quick Google search. They were pretty cute and I might’ve even bought one if I have had the extra money at the time.

I’m not surprised that she died. But given the fact that my own mother also has MS, Annette’s declining years have given me a glimpse of what my family can possibly look forward to in the future. So far my mother can no longer walk and she she has to have home care nurses help her with getting dressed and getting out of bed. She has problems with controlling the fingers on her hands so she had to give up crocheting (which she loved to do). She can still feed herself since handling knives and forks don’t require as much dexterity as crocheting does. Right now I’m hoping for the best but I’m also mentally prepared for the possibility that my mother could suffer the same fate as Annette in terms of losing the ability to speak as well as losing other bodily functions as time goes on.

Last night I learned via Facebook that the wife of my husband’s nephew is pregnant with their first child. The baby is due in June. Knowing them both, I am very confident that they will be good parents. They are both pretty calm and level-headed people so I won’t have any worries about them as they enter a new phase in their lives.

In some ways the news is bittersweet. My husband still refuses to speak to me and it has been that way since he abruptly walked out on me three days after Christmas last year. I’m still having a hard time recovering from this because of the way that it abruptly ended. We were very loving towards each other up until the night he came home from work and announced that he was moving out. If he hadn’t done what he did, we would’ve been rejoicing at the news that we were going to have a grandniece or grandnephew. It’s quite possible that we would’ve celebrated by going to this French restaurant that we always loved going to on special occasions.

I still remember happier times when my husband and I traveled to Connecticut to attend that nephew’s wedding two years ago. We spent the weekend in Mystic and we visited Mystic Seaport where I purchased a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, which led to this blog’s regular feature Benjamin Franklin Friday.

I can’t believe that this nephew is going to be a father. It seemed like yesterday when we learned that my husband’s sister was pregnant with him. I was so thrilled that I was going to be an aunt that I purchased this counted cross-stitch embroidery kit. It included a bunch of teddy bears surrounding a blank oval space where you personalized it with the baby’s name, birthdate, weight, and length. I selected it because it was cute and it was gender-neutral (at the sime my sister-in-law was still pregnant and she didn’t get any advanced notice on what the baby’s sex would be). I did the teddy bears part of the cross-stitch then put it away for a while. Once the baby arrived, I picked up the cross-stitch again and added the information in the center. After that I purchased a frame for the piece then gave it to my sister-in-law and her then-husband as a present.

I don’t remember where I got the cross-stitch kit from but I probably purchased it from one of two stores that no longer exist. One was a locally-owned mom-and-pop store in Lanham, Maryland called Family Crafts (or something like that) and I really loved that store. Sadly it went under due to competition from the big-box retailers like Michaels Arts & Crafts and A.C. Moore, which is a story similar to the many mom-and-pop stores throughout the United States that went under starting around 1985 because it couldn’t keep up with competition from their larger and wealthier rivals.

The other store was part of a chain that no longer exists. It was called Frank’s Nursery and Crafts and it was a hybrid nursery and craft supply store. In the spring and summer you could shop in the nursery section for something to plant outdoors. By the fall the nursery would be temporarily closed until November when it would reopen for the Christmas season. After Christmas it would close again for a few months until the spring. The craft supply store part was indoors so it was opened year-round. It sold a variety of yarns and craft kits for all ages. I loved shopping there. I was very sad when that chain went under because of the competition from the bigger chain stores like Michaels Arts & Crafts and A.C. Moore, which had larger floor space than Frank’s and didn’t bother with selling live plants, trees, and bushes.

It also seemed like yesterday when this nephew was a kid. He was rambunctious growing up but he was basically a good kid. He managed to remain a good kid despite his parents’ rocky marriage and subsequent divorce. The only time that I recall ever seeing him losing his way was when he went away to college where, without going into any details, his freshman year was so disasterous for him that he dropped out of school. He worked for Walmart for a while but he realized that he had no future with an employer notorious for low wages and benefits so crappy that many Walmart employees end up on food stamps. He has a paternal grandfather who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II so he decided to follow in those footsteps and enlist as well and he has done well ever since. He studied nuclear technology and he now serves on nuclear submarines. He met his future wife while he was stationed in Charleston and now he is stationed in the Groton-New London area of Connecticut while he and his wife await their first child.

I am happy for them and I really wish them well in the future.

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