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Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.


Santa Claus

My birthday is on December 15 and I usually like to do something fun. Last year I spent my birthday last slogging through Baltimore in very bitter cold temperature and frantically trying to contact someone in authority about a homeless man who was sleeping on the steps of the Baltimore Convention Center despite the fact that the Polar Vortex had come through the area plunging the temperature below 20 degrees.

I don’t know if I reached anyone and I was stymied by the fact that I don’t live in Baltimore so I didn’t know who to turn to. I spent the next couple of days doing Google searches to see if anyone had frozen to death on the steps of the Convention Center only to turn up empty. I guess the man survived that bitter cold night but I’ll never know for sure.

This year I decided to go to Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia because I had spent some fun birthdays there in previous years and I also wanted to avoid any more drama about homeless people in cold weather. December 15 fell on a Friday this year so I was looking forward to it.

Except it rained that day then the temperature plunged to below freezing so all that rain on the ground turned into ice. I still have memories of when I slipped on ice in Annapolis back in 2011, which resulted in my hip replacement being knocked out of position so I had to undergo hip revision surgery later that year in order to put it back into place. I just wasn’t willing to risk falling and having my hip replacement messed up.

So I decided to postpone that trip a couple of days. December 18 fell on a Monday, which is usually a relatively quiet night at that mall. Except it was just a few days before Christmas so there were more people shopping there on a Monday night than usual. But it still wasn’t bad. Here are the photos I shot that night.

I took the Metro to the mall, where I was greeted with this cool rainbow Christmas tree and some lovely twinkling lights when I arrived.

Some people were resting at one of the many fire pits that are set up outside this time of the year.

People could be found skating on a temporary ice skating rink, which is also usually set up this time of the year.

The first store I hit was American Girl Place. I was on a mission. Here’s the backstory: This year American Girl decided on an African American character for its Girl of the Year named Gabriela McBride. She was the first girl of color to be given such an honor since since 2005. She’s described as being an artist, which I find personally cool since I’m an artist myself. Earlier this year I was having camera problems so when I arrived at American Girl Place back in June, I was unable to shoot any photos while I was there. A few weeks later it was July and I decided to return to American Girl Place with my Canon DSLR in tow. I was able to shoot a few pictures until the battery ran out of juice. So I got pictures of the new contemporary doll Tenney Grant and her friend, Logan Everett, who’s known as the first boy doll that American Girl has ever released. I also got a picture of a case displaying what was the newest BeForever doll at the time—Melody Ellison, who’s supposed to represent the 1960s. But those were the only pictures I got before my camera battery died on me.

Ironically  I came close to arriving at American Girl Place without a camera this time around. I had left my Canon PowerShot camera in the car and I didn’t realize it until after I had gone on the Metro train at the Greenbelt station. I managed to dart out of the train before the doors closed and walked outside the station and back to the parking lot so I could retrieve my camera.

It was worth the effort to retrieve my camera and arrive at the mall a little bit later because, at long last, I was finally able to take pictures of the 2017 Girl of the Year, Gabriela McBride. On top of it, this doll was scheduled to retire after New Year’s Eve and be replaced by the 2018 Girl of the Year (which means that this doll will be retired by the time you read this). Here’s the standee where people can take selfies with Gabriela and a brick backdrop.

Here’s Gabriela herself. I think she’s a cute doll and I love her art accessories, especially the miniature replicas of a paint set and a sketchbook pad.

I was also able to take pictures of another doll on this trip. American Girl has been releasing a new line of contemporary characters who are growing up in today’s era. I took pictures of would-be country musician Tenney Grant and her male friend Everett Logan on the last trip. American Girl released another character who have nothing to do with Tenney or Everett and she has her own separate story. Her name is Z Yang, she is a Korean American, and she is passionate about photography and videography. Like Gabriela McBride, Z Yang also shares my interest. (To be fair, Tenney Grant shares my interest in playing the guitar except I prefer rock and folk music over country.) Z Yang’s miniature photography and video equipment are absolutely adorable (even if they are expensive).

They even have a human version of Z Yang’s meet outfit, which I personally find adorable. Sadly they are only available in children’s sizes.

Since my last visit to American Girl place back in July, American Girl have released a new BeForever historical doll. Her name is Nanea Mitchell and she has a white American father and a Hawaiian mother. She is described as growing up in the then-U.S. territory of Hawaii in 1941. Anyone who knows history will know what major event happened in Hawaii back in 1941.

I found Nanea to be gorgeous in person. I loved her meet outfit and her shell necklace.

They offer a variety of Hawaiian clothes for Nanea that are sold separately.

American Girl offers Nanea’s Family Market, which can be yours for only $250. (LOL!) I have to admit that I’m really impressed by the details on that furniture, including the tiny replicas of vintage World War II-era posters.


Here’s a photo of the 1960s BeForever character, Melody Ellison, wearing this gorgeous yellow outfit.

American Girl had this good sale on Melody’s Hairstyling Set, which was only priced at $5. That’s a pretty good deal compared to the high prices that this store usually charges. If I had a Melody doll, I definitely would’ve purchased it.

American Girl had a really cute new outfit for Julie Albright, who represents the 1970s. I remember people actually wore embroidered peasant blouses and blue jeans skirts back when I was a kid so her outfit definitely brought back memories for me.

Since another BeForever character, Rebecca Rubin (who represents the 1910s), is Jewish, there was a Hanukkah display featuring this doll.

The next two photos show a display of the Wellie Wishers dolls. They are pretty cute and I like their outfits.

American Girl had a display touting this one new service that they offer called Create Your Own. The idea is that if you don’t find a doll and/or an outfit that you want, you can always create a customized product. The idea of a customized doll isn’t new. The Japanese ball-jointed doll company Volks has long offered something called a Full Choice System which, from what I heard, can run into hundreds of dollars. The now-defunct Makies dolls had a similar service where you can get a 3D printed doll for far less. (I still miss that company. Sigh! If you’re curious, you can check out my posts about my one and only Makies doll, Victoria.)

So American Girl is now trying its hand at a similar customized service. There are two caveats about this new service: 1) You can only order the doll and/or outfit online since the store don’t offer any facilities to allow anyone to design something in-store and 2) Your customized doll and/or outfit will cost way more than an off-the-shelf product. According to this link, a Create Your Own doll costs $200 versus an off-the-shelf doll for $115.

I saw these American Girl Mega Construx kits featuring characters who were previous Girls of the Year, including Mia St. Clair, Kanani Akina, Isabelle Palmer, Lea Clark, and Saige Copeland.


Here’s a case full of the 9-inch mini doll versions of the historical 18-inch BeForever characters.

Here are a few more miscellaneous photos I took inside of American Girl place, including the  store’s Christmas tree.

I went to Build-A-Bear Workshop where I checked out these Star Wars plushes and some Christmas reindeers.

I checked out this temporary Christmas shop that will be in business until after New Year’s Day.

Strangely that store had some Day of the Dead-themed ornaments and decorations even though that holiday had long since passed.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Beatles Christmas ornament available for sale.

I went to The Disney Store, where I saw a lot of tie-ins to the new Disney/Pixar movie Coco (which I actually saw on Christmas Day) and the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi (which I saw on the day after Christmas)

I went to the LEGO store where I saw some cool things on display.

I ate my belated birthday dinner at Wasabi, the Japanese sushi place that delivers its food on conveyor belts. I really love the food, which is why I keep on returning to that place. If my finances weren’t so tight, I would be eating there more often than once or twice a year.

I went to Lolli and Pops where I purchased some gummy bears made from champaign and took these pictures.

That store sold two teddy bears named—what else?—Lolli and Pops.

Here are a few miscellaneous photos I took during my time at that mall.

Santa Claus

Since today is Christmas Day, I figured that it would be very appropriate to blog about The Doll and Teddy Bear Show that took place at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Maryland earlier this month.

I used to go to that show frequently. While the show, which is held about two or three times a year, has always had a huge emphasis on vintage dolls prior to 1960, I remember that the show had tables that were devoted to more recent dolls from my own childhood (such as Beautiful Crissy, Barbie, and Dawn) as well as newer dolls from recent years. I even remember seeing a table or two selling Asian ball jointed dolls.

I have lots of memories of going to those shows, starting with the couple of times I attended doll meet-ups at the Gaithersburg show that were organized through the Den of Angels forum where we all carried our Asian ball-jointed dolls around the show as we browsed the various vendor tables.

It was at one of these shows in September, 2005 where I found a vintage Velvet doll that was partially clad and had eye mold. I purchased her for only $10 then went to another table that sold vintage doll clothes and purchased Velvet’s original dress with a pair of shoes in her size for another $10. I managed to get rid of the eye mold and restored Velvet to her original glory. I took photos of what I did at the time. I later wrote a post about what I did back in 2010 and that post still remains among my more popular posts of all time.

At another show I found two vintage circa-1940s dolls that were totally disheveled and they were on sale for only $3 each. I purchased both of them and I turned one of them into a Little Red Riding Hood doll that I later sold on Etsy. (I’ve since misplaced the other doll but I’m hoping that she’ll eventually turn up once I get really serious of decluttering my home once and for all.) It was at that same show where I had unfortunate encounters with vendors whose hearts weren’t clearly into their profession of selling dolls.

The last time I went to a show was in 2011, when I purchased a couple of adorable outfits that were perfect for this doll that I had recently purchased. But then my hip problem became so acute that I had to have surgery followed by my husband leaving me abruptly just three months after my surgery. Then I spent the next few years dealing with the fallout from the hip surgery and divorce while adjusting to my new reality. (And that’s not to mention the crappy economy and the crazy politics that have gone on since an African American was elected to the White House for the first time followed by unlikely election of Donald Trump. But that’s a whole different series of blog posts that have nothing to do with the topic of this post.)

So it was 2017 and I found out online that another doll and teddy bear show was being held in Gaithersburg in early December. I hadn’t gone in six years so I was ready to visit again. I remember that the December show was usually the biggest one. The show’s organizers would rent more space than usual and it would be filled with lots of vendors and lots of dolls and teddy bears. I was looking forward to seeing some eye candy. My attitude was that I would purchase a new doll and/or doll clothes only if such items fit in with my tight budget but, otherwise, I was only there for window shopping with no anticipation of buying anything new for myself. I wasn’t disappointed because there were tons of eye candy and I took tons of photographs to prove it.

There were plenty of Christmas-related dolls and teddy bears for sale but I found one vendor table that had a Hanukkah menorah on display.

The most memorable booth was the one that sold Lenci dolls. The most notable thing about these dolls is that Dare Wright used her own Lenci doll in The Lonely Doll book series. I found them to be very lovely to see in person.

I really loved the expressive look on their faces.

Lenci even made a Madonna and Child doll.

Many of the outfits on these dolls are very exquisite.

The only thing about Lenci dolls is that the original company went out of business in 2002. As a result many of these dolls are collector items and they are definitely not cheap. Many of the ones I saw on sale cost thousands of dollars. The cheapest Lenci doll I found was a tiny doll that was less than one inch tall and that was on sale for a whopping $75.

The show had plenty of miniatures on sale that were made for dollhouses.

I even saw hand-painted clothespin dolls at that show.

I saw American Girl dolls on sale that were even cheaper than buying a new doll at the American Girl Place store.

I found two Barbie dolls that were made to resemble Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance from the famous “Job Switching” episode of the TV sitcom I Love Lucy. (That’s the one where Lucy and Ethel get jobs working in a chocolate factory only to have their stint be short-lived.)

One table had a variety of doll parts in a variety of sizes available for sale. It would be great for anyone who was looking for a part for an old doll.

Since the show was known as The Doll and Teddy Bear Show, it was natural that there were plenty of bears there, as well as other types of stuffed animals (such as rabbits, and dogs).

There were plenty of Santa Claus dolls available in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Some vendors had those reborn baby dolls which look very lifelike.

I found some odd things on sale at that show, such as this vintage children’s book called Beloved Belindy. It was written by Johnny Gruelle, who was the original creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. With the Aunt Jemima/Mammy-style illustration on the front cover, I can see why Beloved Belindy is more obscure today than Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.

I saw a couple of Native American kachina dolls on sale at one table.

I vaguely remembered when I was a very young child, there was a TV show called Julia, which starred Diahann Carroll. That show is remembered today as the first TV show to depict an African American woman in a non-stereotypical role. (The main character worked as a nurse.) I remember some kids in my elementary school had Julia lunch boxes but I never realized that a Barbie-sized doll was also released until I went to that show.

I saw a couple of other dolls based on the main characters in the TV shows The Flying Nun and I Dream of Jeannie.

I saw this one vintage Mickey Mouse doll.

There were plenty of vintage Barbie dolls but the ones that still had their original boxes were expensive.

I saw some vintage dolls that were based on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

I saw a set of vintage Dionne Quintuplets baby dolls. I have to admit that they are adorable to behold as long as you’re willing to overlook the sad real-life story of what happened to those girls behind the dolls.

I found these bottles of dollhouse-sized perfume and cologne to be totally cute.

I found this sign announcing that a family-owned business will close down in a few months after being in business for 72 years.

Most of the dolls and stuffed animals on sale were very expensive. I found one vendor table that sold something called Bling Dolls, which measure around six inches tall.

They cost $6 each but if you bought two or more, they would cost only $5 each. I might have considered buying two if it weren’t for the fact that all of the dolls had the same hairstyle, hair color, eye color, and skin color. That one doll type was cute but I wasn’t into buying the same doll with different outfits.

I basically bought only one Bling Doll. It was an impulse buy but she costs $6 and I found her to be quite cute.

There’s a keychain attached to her head, which means that she can either be attached to a few keys or clipped to a backpack.

Here’s a closeup of her face.

I took those last three pictures while I was eating lunch that I had purchased from the food stand at the show. A woman sat down near me and we started talking. Like me she had also attended previous doll shows and she mentioned that she felt it was smaller than she remembered.

As I was walking around the show I noticed that too. I remember the Christmas doll shows used to fill at least six large rooms. It would literally take me at least two or three hours to visit them all and I would be exhausted from visiting every single vendor table. This time I basically finished the entire show in less than 90 minutes. On top of it, I saw no Asian ball jointed dolls or even recent modern dolls from the 1970’s onwards. The vast majority of dolls on sale were made before 1960. The older dolls looked nice but they were very expensive. (It was common to see such dolls being on sale for over $100.) I still remember the day when I bought a wrecked Velvet doll for under $20 and I rehabilitated her. Or the times when I found some cool fabric that would be perfect for a doll outfit or a really neat doll clothes pattern that I wanted to try or a really interesting doll book that I decided that I wanted to read.

I don’t know for sure why it had changed so much. Maybe it’s the rise of sites like eBay and Etsy where people prefer to sell online than to actually transport their wares to a doll and teddy bear show. Maybe it’s the rotten economy where too many people have finances so tight that purchasing an expensive doll would be considered a frivolous luxury that they literally can’t afford. Whatever the reason, this show didn’t really have the little surprises that used to amaze me so much and were so relatively affordable that I ended up making impulse buys. The only surprise that really came close was that $6 Bling Doll I purchased. She’s a cute find but I still remember the show’s better days in the past.

The only fringe benefit of going to a smaller show is that I still had time in the afternoon to check out a flea market that was also held on the grounds of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds but it was located on the other side from where The Doll and Teddy Bear Show was held. I ended the day by checking out a show that was held closer to my home and it was also where I ran into a lot of my friends. I’ll write about those two events in a separate post.

A few months ago I wrote a post about how I got into knitting hats using a circular loom that I purchased from Jo-Ann’s Fabrics & Crafts after I learned that my church has a yarn stash that has filled at least 10 bins. (Much of that yarn came from donations either from church members who moved out of the area or relatives of recently deceased church members who were trying to declutter their loved one’s home.) Here are a couple of adult-sized hats I finished after I wrote my previous post back in May using different yarn color combinations that I haven’t used before.

I also bought a smaller circular loom with the idea of making smaller-sized hats that would fit infants and very young children. I basically used the same yarn colored combinations as on the larger hats. I didn’t have a styrofoam head small enough to display those hats. (I only have that one styrofoam head and I use that to hold this one multicolored wig that I own when I’m not using it to model my adult hats for pictures.)

So I decided to use some of my dolls to display these hats while I shot these pictures. Yes, I know that these hats are too large and out of scale for these dolls. Keep in mind that I didn’t knit these hats for dolls. (Heck, I don’t even know if there’s even a market for doll-sized loom-knitted hats.) Taking these photos have given me the chance to take a look at these dolls again and enjoy them. I had been less and less enthusiastic about dolls, especially in the early days when my husband abruptly left home (with zero advanced warning) for a friend of ours with severe mental health issues. Yeah, I was depressed for a long time. Especially since he left three months after I underwent hip surgery. There were times when I lost enthusiasm for a lot of things. I’m still trying to get back into doing things that I used to love to do but it can be hard at times with all of these distractions stemming from tight finances and the currently ugly political situation going on just a few miles away from where I live (a.k.a. Washington, DC).

So, without further ado, here are my smaller knitted hats for infants and very young children.

Since I mentioned my husband running away from home back in 2011, I’d thought I’d begin with the doll that he essentially blamed in that letter he left behind for leaving home. (He said that this doll contributed to the clutter in our home. But then I had friends tell me that he was spotted in public with the other woman less than a week after he left me and he married her two months after our divorce was final.) It was an American Girl Julie Albright doll who is supposed to represent the 1970s that I purchased the day before my hip surgery. So here she is wearing a knitted loom hat.

The doll in the next photo is also a historical 1970s American Girl doll. Her name is Ivy Ling and she’s described in the books as being Julie’s best friend. This doll was retired a few years ago when American Girl decided to get rid of its Best Friends of Historical Dolls line.

Here’s the third and last American Girl doll in this group of doll models. Her name is Addy Walker, she represents the Civil War era, and she’s wearing a hat that matches her pretty blue dress.

Now it’s time to move on to other dolls. This one is My Friend Cayla, the 18-inch interactive doll that has been banned in Germany because the authorities were concerned that the doll would spy on children. has a fully detailed article about the controversies surrounding that doll that has arisen not only in Germany but in other countries as well. Here she is modeling a knitted hat.

The doll in the next photo is a vintage 1970s doll from the now-defunct Ideal Toy Company known as Beautiful Crissy, who is 18 inches tall. This doll’s hair can be grown from short hair to long hair and back to short hair. (You can see a demonstration of this feature in this vintage commercial.) I had that doll as a child then my parents gave it away when I grew older. But I never forgot Beautiful Crissy. I picked this doll up on eBay a few years ago. Here she is wearing a hat.

The doll in the next photo is smaller than the others. She is 15 inches tall, her name is Velvet, and she was another Ideal doll that was released as a cousin of Beautiful Crissy. Like her cousin, Velvet also has hair that can change from long to short then back to long. I found this doll at a doll show years ago that was on sale for a very cheap price because she was partially nude and had this funky white mold in her eyes. I once wrote his blog post detailing how I managed to get rid of the mold and restored this doll to her original condition. So, without further ado, here is Velvet wearing a hat.

Here is a doll I haven’t touched in a long time. Her name is Kianna and she came from Mattel’s short-lived Teen Trends doll line. She is 17 inches tall and she has internal elastic stringing that’s similar to an Asian ball-jointed doll. Here she is modeling a hat.

And last, but not least, here is Blythe, who is the smallest of the dolls featured in this post because she stands at around 11 inches tall. She’s the same height as a Barbie doll but, due to her large, out-of-scale head size, she can wear the same hat size as a lot of the larger dolls.

Finally, here’s one last shot of the entire gang modeling those knitted loom hats.

I knitted the hats throughout the spring and summer. I did some knitting in the fall until I took part in Inktober and I found that it took up a lot of time that I could’ve spent knitting more hats. When the month ended and the annual church auction was happening soon, I spent some crunch time finishing the one last hat that was still on the circular loom before I got diverted by Inktober.

The hats were put on sale along with other wearable knitted items that were made by other church members at the church’s annual auction a few weeks ago. Last Saturday I received a phone call from a member of my church’s handcraft circle informing me that a member of our church had decided to buy the entire inventory of hats and mittens. He then donated that inventory back to the handcraft circle with the instructions that they are to be donated to local homeless shelters and other nonprofit groups that help the poor and needy this time of the year. My knitted loom hats were among the inventory that was purchased. I am very grateful to that church member for his generosity. 🙂

Previous in This Series

The Day Before the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
Greenbelt Labor Day Festival (Day 1)
Greenbelt Labor Day Festival (Day 2)

What a difference a day makes! Like I wrote in my last entry, I briefly attended the second day of the festival due in large part to the rain. The third day of the festival was different. It was sunny outside, the temperature reached into the low 70’s, and the humidity was low as well. It was the perfect outdoor weather for the festival!

When I arrived at the festival I saw that the STEM center Makerspace 125 had created a small miniature golf course consisting of handmade decorations that were miniature replicas of various Greenbelt landmarks and the local wildlife.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

This mini golf course was especially a big hit with the kids.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Even though the third day fell on a Sunday, I blew off church that morning because I wanted to make sure that I would arrive at the Greenbelt Museum on time for another event I wanted to take part in. This year the Greenbelt Museum was the site for the Retro Town Fair, which was the first time I participated in it since 2014.

I submitted two hand-knitted clothes for dolls. One was the funky “fur” coat for 1/6 dolls, which I had my Blythe doll model mainly because she was the one doll I had who looked best wearing it. The other was the Alice’s Tea Party knitted dress for 18-inch dolls. I had my Addy Walker doll model it because she looked like those African American church ladies I frequently see in my area on Sundays walking in public all dressed up in their finest dresses and hats (or a hair accessory).

Basically I had to submit my entries between 11 a.m.-2 p.m. then wait until between 2-4 p.m. before I can see the entire Retro Town Fair. So I submitted my entries then walked back to the main part of the Labor Day Festival where I hung around for a bit while I ordered a giant crab pretzel for lunch from one of the food booths. After lunch I walked back to the Greenbelt Museum while I took these pictures.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

I came upon my dolls and I found that I won two white 3rd place ribbons. I was pretty happy with that award even though the organizers had them laying down the entire time. (I guess it was probably easier to display them that way without worrying about them falling down.)

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

The festival area was full of people once again since Tropical Storm Harvey went away. Here are some pictures I took.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

The bingo tables were reopened as well with people eagerly playing bingo.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

There was this very long line at the ice cream stand.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

There were a couple of pint-sized Stormtroopers from Star Wars.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

That day was also the first day of the Craft Fair, where the vendors were blessed with ideal weather for selling their handcrafted wares.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

What was really wild is that I got lucky when I met a prominent person whom I’ve seen on TV a few times (back in the days when I still had cable television). The former head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, is running for Maryland governor in next year’s mid-term elections and he was at the festival talking to the people and asking them for their opinions. Here are a couple of pictures I took of him.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

If he gets elected next year, I’ll definitely have these photos to show people while telling them “I met Governor Jealous when I was at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival back in 2017.” (LOL!)

Makerspace 125 had a busy day. Not only were the volunteers there running the miniature golf course but they were also putting the final finishing touches on their parade float for the next day. When I was there, they were making giant LEGO blocks.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

I even went to the Greenbelt Theater, which was running classic cartoons (Superman, Betty Boop, Popeye, and various Looney Tunes shorts) for free on the big screen.

Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 3, 2017

I walked back to the Greenbelt Museum where I picked up my dolls and my award ribbons then I headed back home feeling exhausted yet happy at all the good things I experienced that day.

Next in This Series

Greenbelt Labor Day Parade
Greenbelt Labor Day Festival (Day 4)

Like I wrote earlier, I’m participating in two separate events at this weekend’s Greenbelt Labor Day Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland starting this afternoon at 1 p.m. (when the Art Show formally opens to the public for the first time). I took advantage of the four-artpiece limit by displaying a combination of old and new art, starting with my acrylic painting, Desire.


Acrylic on canvas
9 inches x 12 inches
23 cm x 30 cm

Desire is the oldest of my paintings in this show. It was the one that I originally painted while I was recuperating from my hip replacement back in late 2008 based on my photograph of my in-laws’ dog, Jay-Jay, while he was begging for a snack that I was eating at the time (during one of my many visits to their home in Phoenix that I made with my then-husband before our marriage broke up). I originally displayed this painting at Artomatic in 2009 then I gave it to my husband’s mother and step-father as a Christmas present later that year. (We gave it to them during a visit over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.) My mother-in-law passed away in 2010—just four months after we gave them that painting. When my husband’s step-father decided to move to a smaller apartment in a retirement community during the summer of 2011, he had to drastically downsize his possessions so he gave the painting back to us. When my husband left me in late 2011, that painting was among the many things he had left behind with me. I’ve displayed Desire at a few local shows in the years since (the most recent was the one in Baltimore last summer) but this will be the first time this painting will be displayed at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival. You can read more about the making of this painting in a blog post I wrote back in 2011.

The second artwork is a piece I did for a contest last year where we had to create our art using a tiny canvas. I decided to submit that to the Art Show as well. Here is my piece titled Carousel Horses at Night.


Carousel Horses at Night
Acrylic on canvas
3 inches x 3 inches
8 cm x 8 cm

You can read more about how I made this tiny painting in a blog post that I wrote last year.

In addition I created two new pieces. So far I’ve uploaded pictures of them on my various social media accounts. Here are a couple of Twitter tweets I made very shortly before the final submission deadline yesterday.

I really didn’t have much time to write anything in detail about these pieces. I’ll write more about these two pieces in a proper blog post at a later date.

In addition to the Art Show, I also intend to submit a couple of items I knitted to the Retro Town Fair, which will only be opened to the general public tomorrow from 2-4 p.m. Both are doll outfits that I managed to finish knitting last year and I made an unsuccessful attempt to sell them on eBay during the winter holiday season. The first one is a fur coat that I knitted using funky novelty yarn. This one is supposed to fit Barbie and other 1/6 scale dolls. This coat can also fit 1/6 scale dolls with large heads, such as this Blythe doll who’s modeling this coat in the photo below.


You can read more about how I made this coat while viewing photos of other dolls wearing it in a blog post I wrote last December.

Last, but not least, is this outfit I knitted for 18-inch dolls (such as American Girl). Here’s a photo of Addy Walker modeling this outfit.


You can read more about how I made this outfit while viewing photos of other dolls wearing it in a blog post I also wrote last December.

For information and directions to the festival, visit the festival’s official site.

I spent the morning attending a networking event that was held at McLean Bible Church that ended at noon. Afterwards I decided to drive to Tyson’s Corner Mall mainly because I was just a few miles away and I don’t get to that mall too often so I decided stop there since I was in the area anyway.

I was last at that mall just a couple of weeks ago but I wasn’t able to take too many pictures because of the current problem with my smartphone camera.

For this latest trip to Tyson’s Corner, I decided to pack my older and heavier Canon Digital Rebel DSLR camera. I made every effort to charge my battery the night before. So I arrived at McLean Bible Church and took the first couple of photos with my smartphone camera only to have it stop taking pictures while getting one of those dreaded “Camera Error” messages. So I switched to the Canon Digital Rebel and took photos of the church because it was the first time I had even entered a megachurch (you can read more about this in my last post) until the battery in that camera ran out.

So I drove to Tyson’s Corner Mall and left my Canon camera in the car. I decided to just take a chance with my erratic smartphone camera since it was at least fully charged.

Miraculously the smartphone camera started to work again. I was able to take a few pictures during my time at the mall, starting with this photo of some interesting looking cologne bottles.

What’s really cool is that Art Whino has a store in Tyson’s Corner. I still remember going to their original store at National Harbor. It’s pretty cool that they have expanded to a second location.

I was able to make a return trip to the American Girl Place, where I was able to take the photos that I wasn’t able to take a few weeks earlier. The next photo shows the newest historical BeForever doll. Her name is Melody Ellison and she’s supposed to represent the 1960s. The way she wears her hair reminds me very much of the hairstyle that Marlo Thomas wore in the 1960’s TV series That Girl. My grandmother used to watch re-runs of that sitcom during the daytime while she babysat me (both of my parents worked outside the home during the day) so I have vague recollections of that series. (I haven’t watched it as an adult so I have no idea how funny or even good that series is. I haven’t heard that sitcom airing anywhere in years.) The doll was released last year but I haven’t been able to make it back to the American Girl Place to see her in person until recently.

Here’s Maryellen Larkin, who’s supposed to represent the 1950s, next to a pink refrigerator. I’ve seen real-life vintage photos of pink refrigerators and other pink appliances. (I read on one website that there was this popularity surge in pink items because it was First Lady Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite color.) I showed an American Girl catalogue featuring the pink refrigerator to my mother last year and she remembered when pink refrigerators were actually popular.

American Girl has decided to unveil a new line of modern dolls that aren’t the Girl of the Year, which means that the dolls in this line will be on sale for more than one year. The first doll released in that line is Tenney Grant, who’s an aspiring country singer and musician. (Think of a pre-teen Taylor Swift.)

This new line has also led to the official release of the first male American Girl doll. His name is Logan Everett, he’s Tenney’s closest friend, and he plays the drums.

The release of Logan Everett has been controversial. One pastor says that the Logan doll is American Girl’s attempt to emasculate boys. Some Native Americans are peeved because Logan uses a face mold that was originally designed especially for another American Girl doll—Kaya, one of the historical BeForever dolls who is also the only Native American character that has been released. The face mold with the closed mouth smile was designed especially for Kaya because her tribe discourages showing teeth when smiling. Using the same face mold for a white boy not only removes the cultural impact but it also implies that Native American girls like Kaya are more “masculine” than girls of other races and ethnicities.

Having seen Logan in person, I have to admit that I’m underwhelmed by him. He wears clothes that are reminiscent of the 1990’s grunge era but, otherwise, I’m not much impressed by him. He’s okay but he doesn’t strike me enough to consider saving $115 to buy him.

Tenney is cute but she doesn’t impress me enough to consider shelling out $115 for her. Although I do love her turquoise guitar with the cool white floral design motif. If American Girl wasn’t charging $34 for that toy guitar, I would seriously consider buying it for one of my other dolls.

There were other new dolls that I wanted to photograph but my smartphone camera started giving out that “Camera Error” message again. I tried rebooting the camera app and the entire smartphone itself but I still kept on getting that same message. At least I was lucky that I was able to take pictures of the various dolls before my smartphone camera app started to act erratic again.

Three years ago I devoted an entire summer’s worth of Throwback Thursdays to doing a review a series of historical novels by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) devoted to a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. I thought it would be fun to comparing how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books with my own memories of growing up during that same era.

In the midst of doing those reviews, American Girl decided to revamp its historical line by retiring a few dolls and placing the remaining historical dolls under a new product line known as “BeForever.” In the process I found that the original six novels I had reviewed earlier that summer were combined into two large volumes with all of the original illustrations removed. In addition American Girl released another volume that was basically a “Choose Your Adventure” book.

By the time I finished reviewing that Choose Your Adventure book (A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie), I had not only read and reviewed all of the books in that series, I was starting to burn out from doing this project. I briefly revisited this series last year when I did a review of a movie short that American Girl did based on the books called And the Tiara Goes to…

The last time I went to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I found that a new Julie Mystery was published earlier this year called Message in a Bottle. This is the first new Julie Mystery book since 2013 (when Lost in the City was published) and the first new Julie Book overall since A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was released in 2014. (If you’ve missed the reviews I’ve done for other books in this series, there are links at the end of this post where you can read them at your leisure.)

I know that The Police had a hit song called “Message in a Bottle” but that song didn’t come out until 1979—two years after the events in this book. The closest song title that actually came out in Julie’s era (1975-1977) is Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which came out a few years earlier in 1972.

The book was written by Kathryn Reiss, who wrote the previous Julie Mysteries The Tangled WebThe Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar. The cover image was done by Juliana Kolesova and Joe Hinrichs.

All of the Julie Mystery books follow the events in the original Central Series books (which are now only available in the two-volume BeForever Books (The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 and Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2) and Good Luck, Ivy.

Since this new book is the latest one published and since the events take place in the summer (while the previous Julie Mystery, Lost in the City, takes place during spring break), I’m going to assume that it follows Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, The Silver Guitar, and Lost in the City.

Like all of the other Julie books, this one was written for a target audience of girls between the ages of 8-12 so some of the hot button topics of the 1970’s (such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion) won’t be mentioned at all.

She’s back and all ready to solve another mystery!

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the summer and schools are currently closed until September. Julie has been spending most of it alone in her mother’s apartment reading library books. (Apparently Julie’s 11th birthday came and went since it’s on May 1.) Both of her parents are busy with their jobs. Her sister Tracy is currently working not one but two summer jobs so she is rarely home these days. Her two closest friends, Ivy Ling and T.J. (whom the book misidentifies as “CJ” so it’s pretty obvious that some editor screwed up big time), are currently out of town visiting relatives.

But then her mother receives a letter from her younger sister, Nadine, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Nadine writes that she desperately needs her sister’s help on the commune where she lives with her son, Raymond, and she would like for her sister to come soon. She also mentions that she doesn’t have a phone so Mrs. Albright should just drive to the commune as soon as possible.

Apparently Tracy isn’t able to take time off from either of her two jobs so Mrs. Albright has arranged for her to stay at her father’s home and she also got her assistant at Gladrags to mind the store while she’s away. Her and Julie hit the road, driving north of San Francisco.

They eventually reached Sonora, the small town that’s located closest to Nadine’s commune. They decide to eat lunch at the outer space-themed Galaxy Cafe. They are waited on by a teen girl named Dolores who’s having such a hard time with arriving at her job on time from her break and messing up orders that the cafe’s owner, Mr. Coker, really chews Dolores out in front of Julie and her mother. Mr. Coker apologizes for Dolores’ mistakes and says that the meal is on the house. When Mrs. Albright mentions that she’s on her way to the commune to visit her sister, Mr. Coker says that Dolores lives at the commune herself. He also says that he had offered to buy the land from the commune but they keep on turning him down each time.

Julie and her mother arrive at the commune known as Gold Moon Ranch and Julie meets her Aunt Nadine and cousin Raymond (who’s around Julie’s age) for the first time since she was a toddler. As they are given a tour of the facilities, they learn that Gold Moon Ranch is supposed to be a self-sustaining commune where people live off the land and they make extra money on the side selling their homegrown vegetables and jars of honey. The commune includes a small cottage for each family unit along with a large central building, known as the Big House, where all the commune members eat their meals and gather for other events. The commune children are educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the premises and the adult members take turns serving as teachers. There is a large treehouse for the children to play in. There is also a separate bathhouse building with toilets (which are little more than seats on the ground over open pits) and with a water pump where the residents draw water to take a bath. (The commune has no running water or electricity.) They raise chickens, cows, and sheep while also growing their own vegetables. They make everything from scratch, including butter and wool yarn.

The commune got its name from the fact that it is located on the site of a former gold mine where gold miners used to dig during the California Gold Rush that went on from 1848-1855. The former mine has been boarded up in order to deter kids and trespassers from going in.

Nadine and her husband, David, founded Gold Moon Ranch and things were okay until her husband decided to join the military and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision was a shock because both Nadine and David were previously opposed to the war and so were all of their fellow commune members. It turns out that David joined because his twin brother was missing in action and he wanted to find him. He learned that his brother was killed and he was seriously injured not long afterwards. He relearned how to walk in rehab but he was unable to resume his work at Gold Moon Ranch due to his injuries so he has decided to take a part-time job at the library in Sonora. (Nadine mentions that things had become so strained between her and her husband that he decided to live in Sonora instead of the commune.)

David is described in the book as being very industrious and good with his hands before he went off to Vietnam. Ever since David went off to war the various commune members have been gradually moving out and it has gotten to the point where the remaining members can barely keep the place running and they are also having a hard time paying taxes. The reason why Nadine asks her older sister for help is because Mrs. Albright had been writing Nadine letters about how she had founded her Gladrags store and is currently doing well with it.  Nadine hopes that Mrs. Albright can put her knowledge and experience to work in helping the commune start its own store where they can sell their various handmade items.

Meanwhile Raymond has been distraught over his parents’ separation and he frequently talks about how his father had built many things on the commune and he basically misses his father. Julie tries to console her cousin by telling him that her parents are divorced and she once wanted her parents to reconcile but she has gotten used to her parents living apart. It’s obvious that Raymond hasn’t quite fully accepted his parents being separated while Julie has fully adjusted to her parents’ divorce because Raymond frequently talks about how much he misses his Pa.

If all that weren’t enough, there have been some pretty strange things happening at the commune. When Julie and her mother first arrived, they see the commune members trying to capture the chickens that had somehow escaped from the fenced-in area. Raymond tells Julie that the beehives are currently empty because the bees were somehow mysteriously driven away. Periodically Julie finds paper napkins scattered on the property that are the same ones that are used at the Galaxy Cafe. One night after midnight Julie follows her cousin to the entrance of the abandoned gold mine only for the two cousins to discover mysterious lights coming from that gold mine even though it’s supposed to be boarded up. Someone cuts the laundry cord while the commune’s freshly washed clothes were hanging outside to dry. Someone also manages to open one of the gates so the calf can run away while leaving her mother behind as the culprit leaves behind yet another one of those Galaxy Cafe napkins. (Julie finds the missing calf tied to a tree besides the river.)

During one of her walks with her cousin, Julie finds a perfume bottle along the river that runs near the abandoned gold mine. She later inspects it and finds that there is a message inside (hence the name of this book) while the bottle opening itself is sealed with wax. Julie manages to remove the wax, open the bottle, and take out the message. As she reads it she finds that it’s actually a poem about the downside of being a gold miner that has been signed with only the name Jack. Basically Jack wrote his poem to his “darling girl” where he expresses regrets ever becoming a gold miner and he now realizes that his love for her is a better source of being rich than gold.

What Julie saw at the commune raises all kinds of questions with her. Who really wrote that poem and why was it sealed in a bottle and thrown in the river? Who is behind all of those sabotage efforts on the commune and why is the person doing this? Is Mr. Coker doing this in an effort to get the commune to sell him the land? Or is it someone else, such as a disgruntled commune member? And what about those paper napkins from the Galaxy Cafe? Are they being left behind by accident or are they being left behind to send a subtle message to the commune that they should let Mr. Coker buy the property? Does that message in a bottle have anything to do with the sabotage that’s going on in the commune? Julie is determined to get to the bottom of all this.

The book ends with the two-page section titled “Inside Julie’s World,” discusses the rise of communes while mentioning the fact that the fictional Gold Moon Ranch is similar to a real-life Tennessee commune known as The Farm. The section mentions that these 1970s communes would later lead to the creation of co-housing and other forms of intentional communities in recent years (including co-housing for artists and senior citizens).

The section also goes into the plight of the Vietnam vets who returned home only to suffer through disabilities both physical and emotional while briefly mentioning veterans of more recent wars who have gone through something similar.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

“Sweet Betsy From Pike”

“This Land is Your Land”

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

California Gold Rush
The Farm commune in Tennessee
Vietnam War

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experiences With the 1970’s

I used to hear about people living on communes when I was growing up but my parents were never into living that lifestyle. I remember when there was a cul-de-sac court of four or five houses located across from the street where I lived and once a year that particular area would organize a block party that was especially for those houses. (I used to go to that block party with a friend who lived next door to me and we used to play with the kids who lived there. The adults never minded us being there at the block party even though our homes weren’t in that cul-de-sac. I remember having fun at those block parties.) My mother used to talk about how she was glad our house wasn’t in a cul-de-sac court so she wouldn’t have to get involved with organizing one of those block parties because she had enough to do with her full-time job (she was an office manager for a life insurance company that has long since been merged with another life insurance company).

If she felt like that about an annual block party, I can only imagine her reluctance to live in a commune where everything was shared and people had to constantly take turns making the communal meals or educating the children. Besides, there weren’t any communes located anywhere near Glen Burnie, Maryland (where I grew up). Heck, I can’t even say if a commune had ever been established anywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

My then-fiancee and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church just a few months before I was married at 23. It was a usual religious community where people (both with and without families) would attend weekly Sunday service and get involved in extra curricular activities (such as book discussion groups, dinners, and other types of social activities).

My then-husband and I had been members of that UU congregation for a number of years when we got involved in a day-long workshop that was put on by the Unitarian Universalist Association at our church, which had guided activities that encouraged people to come up with ideas as to how to attract more people to our congregation and to UUism in general. This workshop started off with all of the participants being divided into small groups. Then we were given questions about the congregation’s history that we would discuss within the small group.

During the course of doing this exercise, it came out that during the 1970’s that some of the members of our congregation had started to meet in a smaller group where they discussed the issues of the day. In time they started to hold dances and other social events. These members had been dissatisfied with society in general after living through such things as Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War. They began talking and this group started to express dissatisfaction with the whole idea of living in nuclear families and they wanted to explore alternative ways of living together in a community.

This group formed the nucleus of a movement where they would live together in a community and jointly share in the household chores and child raising, just like the commune described in the book. However, this group took things a bit further by exploring what was then called open marriage where married couples started having side relationships while staying married to their spouses. (Today it would be called polyamory.) I know that not all communes had explored anything like this and I can understand why American Girl would not even want to even hint about this in that book since their target audience are kids from 8-12 and they just did not want to provoke parental outrage.

There were two communes that they attempted to form. The first one was a group home in the Washington, DC suburbs but that one lasted just a few years. There was another attempt as a group decided to start a farm in Southern Maryland. I know that this farm still existed as late as the 1990’s (that’s because one of our longtime members had moved there because she wanted to live there post-retirement while being reunited with her old friends from the 1970s but she only lasted a few years before she moved back to our area) but I don’t know if it is still around or not.

I was amazed as I was hearing that story for the first time because none of the older members had ever mentioned anything like that to me before. I found out that it was because this group became controversial among other congregation members who weren’t into exploring open marriages or alternative ways of living together. I was told that quite a few members had left over this and it nearly led to a congregational split at one point.

By the time my husband and I started attending that church, this movement had pretty much collapsed and I guess that the other members just didn’t want to talk about a movement that had become very divisive within our congregation so I didn’t learn about this for years until I attended that workshop.

This led to a lay-led summer service just a couple of years later as the people who were active during that group’s heyday spoke about their experiences. I learned quite a lot from that service. For example, in the Message in a Bottle book I read it said in the “Inside Julie’s World” section at the end that it was young adults who had formed communes. This wasn’t the case with the people who formed their own movement within our UU congregation. One of the speakers said that the youngest person involved in the movement was 35 at the time. Another speaker said that her 25-year marriage disintegrated as a result of her and her husband getting involved in all aspects of that movement, including open marriage. Basically the majority of people who were involved were in their 40s, 50s, and even older during the movement’s heyday. Another aspect of that movement is that they had a no-drug policy and one of the speakers said that they had drummed out a few members for violating that policy too many times.

I later read in UU World magazine that this movement exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships was not unique to just our congregation. This article mentions how there was casual sex that took place among members of many congregations during the 1970s, including partner swapping, and how one UU congregation member said that she was frequently propositioned by married men.

The closest I had come to ever living in a commune was the time when I lived in off-campus housing just a half a mile from the University of Maryland campus in College Park. All except one of us were full-time students. (The one non-student was an aspiring DJ who worked as a busboy just so he could make ends meet.) We would socialize and stuff but we rarely ate our meals together because of our different class schedules. We had our own boyfriends/girlfriends and none of us had ever gotten into polyamory or anything like that. (It was hard enough juggling just one relationship with our studies, let alone trying to juggle two or more relationships.) I moved out after I graduated from school and moved back to my parents’ home in Glen Burnie. I moved out again 10 months later when I got married to a townhouse that I still live in because I got it as part of my divorce settlement.

As for the book itself, it’s not the first time Julie had tried roughing it with her relatives (see Julie’s Journey ) but this book had a much better-written plot than Julie’s Journey. The book provided some insight on what it was like to live in a commune. I found it mildly amusing when Julie admired certain aspects of the commune (such as seeing the stars at night with much greater intensity than in the streetlight-soaked city skies) while her cousin Raymond and teen commune member Dolores envied her because she has access to television and all of the amenities of big city life (such as a public library with a lot of books). Julie also took the point of view that it would be very difficult for some people to adjust to a lifestyle like Gold Moon Ranch. At one point in the book Julie admitted that moving to Gold Moon Ranch would mean not seeing her father or friends as much and she would also have to leave her current school.

The book became gripping when a commune member was trapped in the abandoned gold mine in the middle of a heavy storm that had the riverbanks flooding and Julie found herself in a race against time to help free that person before the gold mine became so flooded that the two of them would drown.

I also like the fact that this was a mystery where I wasn’t able to figure out what was really going on until the very end, unlike the earlier Julie Mysteries where I would guess the ending about midway through the book and I would be found correct at the end. I think making the mystery challenging enough makes the book more interesting.

The one thing I miss from this book that the older edition of the Julie Books had were the Looking Back section at the end, which were a multi-page spread that not only featured text but also vintage photographs and other illustrations from the era in which Julie grew up in. This new book, like the newer BeForever books, only have a text-only two-page spread titled  “Inside Julie’s Word.” It would’ve been more interesting to young readers had there been at least one photo of a real-life commune just so the kids could get an idea as to what one really looked like. Granted any kid could just Google “1970s communes” on a computer but I think it’s more convenient to have the visual information at hand while reading the text without having to interrupt reading the book, go to a computer, and do an online search.

I found the book to be a pretty good read but I still think The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the best of the Julie Mysteries because it was gripping at times with people following her and Ivy as they went through the streets of Chinatown and it also delved into the uncomfortable history of the racism against Chinese Americans.

That’s it for my book review. I have no idea if American Girl will come out with any more Julie Mysteries but if it does, I’m sure that I’ll probably buy it and read it. I’ll probably write another review for this blog.

I also noticed something about the Julie Mysteries. The events in the first, third, and fifth books (Tangled Web, The Silver Guitar, and Message in a Bottle) predominantly take place while Julie is with her mother. The events in the second and fourth books (The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter and Lost in the City) take place while Julie is with her father. If there is to be another book, it would be the sixth Julie Mystery book, so I predict that—if such a book is written and published—it will take place when Julie is with her father and her pal Ivy Ling will probably be there as well.

That’s the only speculation I’m going to provide about any possible potential future Julie Books because I’m not into spreading rumors.

If you want to buy this book and/or read my other Julie Book reviews that I wrote back in 2014, check out the links at the end of this post.

Where to Buy Message in a Bottle

American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

I was in a good mood that day for a few personal reasons (mostly related to my ongoing hunting for a new day job to pay my bills) that I decided to take the Silver Line Metro to Tyson’s Corner for the first time in over a year.

I ate dinner at Wasabi, which not only has good sushi but it has such a unique method of delivery that I shot this short video during a previous visit six years ago.

I also visited other stores like American Girl Place. The bad news is that I am currently dealing with the fact that the camera on my three and a half year old smartphone has been acting erratically since Christmas. Sometimes the camera will work and sometimes it doesn’t. There are times when I have to haul my older Canon Digital Rebel DSLR camera if I want to go to a place where I want to take pictures in order to ensure that I have at least one working camera. The downside is that the Canon is larger and heavier and it shoots in fewer megapixels than my smartphone and the images are less sharp than my smartphone camera no matter how much I focus the lens.

The phone part still works and money is still too tight for me to get a new smartphone. (If the phone part ever dies, I will have no other choice but to buy a new phone but I’m trying to make my current one last as long as possible.) I have to make do with what I have right now.

On that day I felt lazy so I left the Canon at home. That was a big mistake, especially at American Girl Place because I missed out on taking pictures on some gorgeous new dolls that had arrived in the store since my last visit. Oh well.

I took three pictures of what I purchased while I was at Tyson’s Corner after my trip. I found a new book at American Girl Place which focuses on the 1970’s historical character Julie Albright. A few summers ago I devoted several weeks of Throwback Thursdays to doing reviews of the Julie books. I plan on doing a review of this new book soon.

I also discovered that since my last visit a Lolli and Pops candy store had opened at Tyson’s Corner. I had already been to the one in Annapolis Mall and Westfield Montgomery Mall so it was no big deal that I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the Tyson’s Corner store. I purchased a small bag full of gummy bears made from champagne. (I found at least three different flavors of champagne in that store.) The last two photographs show my haul from that store.

Last week I had to take my car to a dealer in Silver Spring because there was a recall on the steering wheel. After I had that fixed and picked up that car, I decided to chill out at a nearby Target store in Silver Spring. I normally don’t go to this particular store, mainly because there’s another Target that’s located closer to my home but I decided to go there since it was on the way back from the car dealership.

This particular Target has giant red cement dots outside its doors (which is a feature that the Target that is closer to my home doesn’t have). Normally I don’t pay attention to those dots but I saw that two of those cement dots have been converted to resemble the heads of Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Bros. and other numerous Nintendo video games.

The heads were there to promote the recently released Nintendo Switch console system.

I stepped inside the store where I noticed that this store is larger compared to the one I usually go to. It also had items on sale that I’ve never seen at the other Target, such as American Girl’s Wellie Wishers dolls.

Those dolls were released last year but it was the first time I had ever seen them in person. That’s because it’s been a year since I last set foot inside an American Girl Place. The next photo shows the clothes and other accessories that one can buy for a Wellie Wishers doll, which are priced somewhere between $20-25.

The Wellie Wishers are smaller than the other American Girl dolls. From what I’ve read, these dolls were created for kids who are younger than the larger dolls’ target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. These dolls have vinyl bodies (compared to the larger dolls’ cloth torsos) and they are depicted as being somewhere between the ages of 4-7 (while the larger dolls are supposed to be around 9 or 10 years old). At $60 per doll, they are definitely cheaper than the larger dolls’ $115 price. But these dolls are more expensive than the 18-inch Our Generation dolls that Target sells as its alternative to American Girl. (The Our Generation dolls are generally priced between $20-35 depending on how many accessories are included with a certain doll.) I still find them to be pretty cute and their clothes are very lovely and colorful.

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