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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.

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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.

Ramadan

Early that morning I went to the Loudon Lyme 5K/10K/1K Fun Run in Ashburn, Virginia. The event ended by 11 a.m. and I was facing an hour-long commute back to my home in Maryland. I remembered that Tyson’s Corner Mall is located at the halfway point between Ashburn and my home so I decided to stop there for a few hours, look around, then drive the rest of the way home.

So I drove along the toll roads while enduring wind gusts (which prompted me to drive slower than usual because I didn’t want a wind gust to push my car into the lane next to me and risk having an accident) until I reached the mall. The first thing I did was to check out the American Girl Place. The new 2016 Girl of the Year, Lea Clark, was released back in January. I saw the 6-inch mini doll version on sale at the Target that’s located near my home about a month ago or so but I didn’t see the 18-inch version in person for the first time until I arrived to the mall that day. I had meant to check out that doll in person sooner but I was diverted by other things currently going on in my life. Better late than never, I suppose. (At least I’m not keeping a doll news blog like Living a Doll’s Life so I don’t feel compelled to come up with late breaking American Girl doll news as soon as I hear about it.)

Lea Clark isn’t quite as striking as last year’s Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas, but that’s because Grace had two-toned dark brown hair with light skin and very pretty blue eyes. But Lea is still pretty cute with her caramel brown hair, tan skin, and green eyes. Her default meet outfit is very colorful and bright.

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The next few photos show the outfits that one can purchase separately for Lea. I really liked the outfits, especially the white dress with the pretty green floral embroidery but, with prices starting at $30, there was no way I was even going to consider buying one for one of the other 18-inch dolls who currently live with me.

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They have Lea on display at that bistro’s bakery counter along with Lea-themed sweets that one can buy.

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Last year the 6-inch mini doll version of Grace Thomas wasn’t sold through American Girl at all. Instead one had to go to other stores like Target or Barnes & Noble in order to purchase the Girl of the Year’s miniature doppelgänger. Since I saw the 6-inch version of Lea Clark at Target before I went to the American Girl Place, I assumed that it would be the same situation. Except that American Girl Place is now selling the 6-inch version for a few dollars more than getting that same doll at Target. The only difference is that the Target version comes with a miniature abridged version of Lea’s book while the American Girl Place version comes with this very fancy doll stand. Also the American Girl Place version comes with a different outfit from the ones that are sold at other stores. As for me, I’d rather go to Target for the mini doll while going to Michael’s or A.C. Moore for a cheap doll stand and saving a few dollars.

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There are also a few animals that one can buy for Lea. I only saw the sea turtle and a Margay cat when I was there. Each animal, which is about the size of a Beanie Baby, costs $18 each. One dollar from each sale will go to support the World Wildlife Federation, although it would be easier for me to donate directly to the WWF while getting a receipt that I can claim as a tax write-off.

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There are a series of three tie-in books about Lea’s life.

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There are some accessories currently available for Lea. The good news is that none of them are as expensive as Grace’s French Bakery from last year. The bad news is that they are still expensive as hell. The most expensive Lea item is Lea’s Rainforest House, which costs $395. (So it’s $105 cheaper than Grace’s French Bakery.)

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The next expensive item is Lea’s Fruit Stand, which costs $150.

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Then there’s Lea’s Kayak, which is a relative steal at $85.

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The cheapest Lea accessory is the $34 Lea’s Beach Picnic Set.

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For human children there are clothes and jewelry that are all based on Lea’s clothes and accessories.

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There’s also a place where one can take selfies with Lea.

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As for the modern dolls, there was nothing that really appealed to me enough to even bother with taking a picture. I’ve already taken plenty of the historical BeForever dolls on previous trips so I’m just going to focus on the few new things that arrived in this line, starting with Kaya wearing her new $42 Pow Wow Dress of Today while standing next to her $48 foal, Sparks Flying.

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This year happens to be American Girl’s 30th anniversary so, to celebrate in a profitable way, American Girl has released these special edition mini doll versions of the BeForever dolls. Usually the mini dolls are dressed in the same default meet outfit as their 18-inch counterparts. For this anniversary, nearly all of them are dressed in special party dresses, which are sold separately for their 18-inch counterparts. (The only exception is Kaya, who’s still in her original meet outfit, which is strange because I’ve seen other outfits available for sale in the 18-inch Kaya line.)

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Recently American Girl has announced a new doll that will be joining the BeForever lineup. Her name is Melody Ellison and she’s supposed to represent the 1960’s. The doll won’t be released until later this year but one can buy and read her books in the meantime. I have to admit that her hairstyle reminds me of when I used to watch reruns of That Girl when I was growing up and Marlo Thomas wore a similar hairstyle.

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After spending some time at American Girl Place, I moved on to the Disney Store. Lately it seems like half the store has been given over to Marvel and Star Wars, which is appropriate since Disney owns both now.

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They had this gorgeous Elsa doll that has articulated joints. (I definitely saw elbow joints.) She looks like she’s about the size of a Mini Super Dollfie. She costs $50 and I would’ve bought her if I didn’t have to be so tight about money these days. So I had to settle for a picture instead. Sigh!

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I made a brief stop at the Lego Store where I took some more pictures.

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For a change of pace I went to Spencer’s Gifts where I saw plenty of items related to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections.

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I also saw Hillary Clinton items as well. I have to say this, compared to the items for the male candidates (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump), the ones for Hillary Clinton play off the fact that she’s a woman by using all kinds of sexual metaphors that just aren’t there for the men. It’s downright sexist and disgusting. Check out this t-shirt.

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And even that one is tasteful compared to this next photo, which shows a Hillary Clinton inflatable sex doll. Seriously! What’s worse is that this doll is called “Horny Hillary.” Yuck!

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I think those Hillary items are tasteless and disgusting. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary in Maryland recently and I think those Hillary sex items are gross. I can only imagine the reactions of Hillary Clinton’s most ardent supporters when they see stuff like that.

I took a look at the plaza where I would’ve entered the mall had I travelled by Metro instead of by car (like I did that day). Normally there would be things like a giant chessboard and beanbag toss corn holes that would be out for anyone to use. But, like I wrote earlier, it was a very windy day when I was there so I could imagine why the plaza was relatively bare.

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I saw a kiosk that was selling Emoji pillows.

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I saw this covered area that was advertising various Amazon.com products. I don’t know what’s going on there but the barriers were covering something.

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I took a few miscellaneous photos.

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I took one last photo as I was crossing the cross bridge to the parking garage where my car was parked.

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Santa Claus

Ever since my husband left me just three days after Christmas in 2011, I’ve been celebrating my birthdays by going out to all-you-can-eat Asian buffet places. While they were okay, I was ready for something a little bit different. I got a combination birthday/Christmas check from my mother so I could indulge myself a little bit. I originally planned on going to the Christmas Village that’s temporarily located in Baltimore where I would indulge in German food and do some shopping. But then I looked at operating hours and I found that the Christmas Village is closed on certain Tuesdays—including December 15.

Okay so that plan fell by the wayside. Then I decided on Plan B. I went to Tyson’s Corner Mall instead.

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Here are the first few images of the plaza area where Metro riders arrive at the mall.

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Käthe Wohlfahrt had a heated tent set up outside.

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The next shot is one of the two giant wooden soldiers that guard the entrance to the tent. There was a photography ban inside the tent but you can just go on the website to see the variety of German-made Christmas decorations that are currently for sale.

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Once again the mall has erected an ice skating rink on the plaza. It was empty mainly because I came on a Tuesday night.

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I saw that Jon Wye now has a kiosk in the mall. I can remember when Jon Wye was a regular fixture in many of the local indie craft shows (such as Crafty Bastards). One year I purchased this t-shirt for my then-husband, which he really loved. (My husband loved to cook, although in the later years of our marriage I did more of the cooking because he would come home from work totally exhausted.)

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I ended up eating my birthday dinner at Wasabi. It’s cool they deliver food on a conveyor belt plus the food is excellent.

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After dinner I walked around the mall some more. I saw these cute Christmas villages made from Legos at the Lego Store.

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A few months ago I wrote a rant on Why Kim Kardashian and Her Family Need to Just Go Away. I was exasperated over the fact that the entire family seem to have a knack at calling media attention to themselves even though most of them have no discernible talent. Even though I go through great lengths to avoid having anything remotely to do with Kim Kardashian and family, even I can’t avoid them completely. One example is this poster in a store window touting a fashion collection that’s promoted by two of Kim Kardashian’s younger half-sisters, Kendall and Kylie Jenner.

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Nintendo set up this temporary display in the middle of the mall. People had the opportunity to actually try some of the latest Nintendo games that are currently on sale for both their 3DS and Wii U systems.

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I saw these cute dolls made by the German company Götz in a Pottery Barn Kids store. Here’s a fun fact: Götz was the manufacturer of many of the early American Girl dolls, which ended when Mattel purchased American Girl and, in a cost-cutting measure, shifted all production to China. These days Götz makes its own 18-inch dolls that are sold in Pottery Barn Kids stores.

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I also saw this Star Wars display in the Pottery Barn Kids store right across from where the Götz dolls were displayed.

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In the middle of the mall was something called Those Animals, which were motorized stuffed animals that one could ride through the mall. Each animal is billed to carry a person up to 500 pounds. I thought about renting one briefly to try it out but I didn’t because I wasn’t sure if I would be considered too old to ride one. I later saw a group of teens riding those animals so maybe it would be okay for adults to ride as well. Maybe I’ll consider it again if Those Animals are still around the next time I go to Tyson’s Corner Mall.

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I went to the American Girl Place. I focused mainly on the Christmas related stuff this time around because I’ve already taken so many pictures of that store in the past. There was this store exclusive dress that was displayed on different dolls.

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There were also other types of holiday outfits for dolls available as well.

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They also brought back the horse carriage that I photographed extensively last year at the same store.

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Earlier this year I wrote extensively and posted a bunch of photos on Samantha Parkington’s gazebo. It was adorned with Christmas decorations when I saw that gazebo this time.

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Their Bistro area was all decked out in holiday ornaments. The doll on the counter is Kit Kittredge, who’s the BeForever historical doll representing America during the Great Depression.

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There were a variety of winter holiday decorations strewn throughout the store.

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I took one more token photo of the 2015 Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas, because by the time I make a return visit to the American Girl Place, she’ll be long replaced by the 2016 Girl of the Year.

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I took a few more photos of various store windows and displays throughout the mall.

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I saw the ultimately geeky Christmas ornament: Darth Vader wearing a Santa hat and one of those ugly Christmas sweaters featuring all kinds of Star Wars-related motifs. I didn’t buy it at the time because I didn’t have enough money on me (after eating at Wasabi). When I attempted to go to a Hallmark store located closer to me, I found that all of the Darth Vader ornaments had been sold out except for the display model.

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I finished with a visit to the Nestle Toll House Cafe. Instead of getting a birthday cake for myself, I opted to purchase a cookies and cream brownie. Boy, was it good!

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I purchased only one thing during my trip to the mall. I found this $9.99 miniature gumball machine that had the images of Anna and Elsa on it from the Disney movie Frozen.

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There is a coin slot but one can get the gumball just by twisting the handle. However, if you opt to pay with a coin, there is a lid at the bottom where you can retrieve your coins. (In other words, it functions as a bank as well as a candy dispenser.)

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As I went back out on the plaza in the direction of the Metro station (so I could return home), I saw an employee spraying the surface of the ice skating rink with water.

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I also saw some people sit on the outdoor couches by the tables with lit flames, such as this family in the next photo.

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Birthday Cake

It’s yet another birthday, which means that I’m officially one year older than yesterday. But I’ve had some thoughts lately that I’d like to share with you on my birthday.

For years I’ve heard about people creating something called a Bucket List where they list all the things they’d like to do before they die. Heck, in fact, there was even a movie with that title that was released a few years ago. To some extent I can see the value in clarifying what one wants to do in his/her life. The big problem I have with these Bucket Lists is what happens when one is close to death and, for whatever reason, he/she had only achieved less than half of what is on that list. Would the person focus on what he/she had accomplished on that list? Or would the person be more likely to spend his/her remaining time on Earth fretting over the things on that list that he/she didn’t do?

Having such a Bucket List might help a person focus on goals but it could come at a price. Some people may use that list as a reason so cram so many activities within a short period of time (like 5-10 years) in order to fulfill all of the Bucket List items at the expense of actually enjoying the experience for its own sake. Or some people may be so focused on fulfilling the Bucket List at the expense of an unexpected opportunity that may show up and that opportunity may turn out to be just as fulfilling as any of the items of the Bucket List.

What’s more, people’s ideas of what they want to do in life may change over time and they may not even reflect some Bucket List that a person may have written up when he/she was 18 or 19. Sometimes you’ll get exposed to things that weren’t on your original Bucket List but you’ll become glad that you were exposed to them. If someone had asked me when I was 18 if I ever wanted to travel to Arizona, I would’ve scoffed at the idea. At the time everything I knew about Arizona and the Southwest in general came from watching Road Runner cartoons and episodes of Westerns like The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid on television, which left me with an impression of the state as being little more than one large desert with tumbleweeds and cactus. Arizona was the furtherest thing from my mind when I used to fantasize about places I wanted to travel to when I was 18 or 19.

But then my mother-in-law decided to get married for a second time to an old classmate of hers from Oberlin College and move from the New York City metropolitan area (where she had lived for many years) to his home in Phoenix. Because of that situation I ended up visiting Arizona many times over the years with my then-husband. I found that Phoenix is a pretty cosmopolitan place and it’s a far cry from the desert wasteland that I’ve seen on TV shows. While the state has its problems (most notably with those people who decry the number of Mexicans who have crossed the border into the state illegally yet these same people will knowingly hire illegal aliens, which only encourages more Mexicans to illegally cross the border into Arizona), there are parts of Arizona that has a lot of natural beauty. There’s the Grand Canyon. There are the numerous Native American ruins throughout the state. There is the Sonoma Desert Museum. There is the Heard Museum, which is one of the best museums devoted to Native American culture. There is the excellent Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, which is one of the few non-chain, locally-owned bookstores left in the United States.

I haven’t been back to Arizona since 2011 (a few months before my marriage suddenly imploded) but I’m glad that I had the chance to visit the state when I did, even if it wasn’t a place that I originally wanted to visit.

That’s why I personally don’t believe in Bucket Lists. If I had such a list and I didn’t achieve everything that was on that list, I would probably be on my deathbed bemoaning what I didn’t accomplish on that list and it’s totally counterproductive. Sometimes life throws an unexpected curveball at you and it’s one that’s not on your Bucket List but it impacts your life nonetheless. For example, a woman who’s about to realize her big Bucket List ambition to climbing Mount Everest suddenly and unexpectedly gets pregnant and she decides to have the baby. Over time she becomes more focused on raising her child and she gradually begins to forget ever climbing Mount Everest and, instead, is just content to read the book Into Thin Air. Does it mean that she’s a failure because she didn’t uphold her original Bucket List pledge to climb Mount Everest? I don’t think so. It’s just a matter of her ambitions have changed because of this unexpected pregnancy.

Yes, the scenario about the mother who originally wanted to climb Mount Everest is entirely fictional. (I don’t know anyone in my life who had ever expressed a desire to climb Mount Everest.) But unexpected curveballs do happen in real life. In my case I had my marriage suddenly collapse on me when my husband left me for a friend of ours whom he subsequently married just two months after our divorce was final. No sane person would ever put getting a divorce on a Bucket List yet it happens to many people. Since my husband left I’ve met numerous new people. Granted some of those people I probably would’ve met anyway had my husband not left me but the vast majority of these new people I’ve met were through attending weekly support group meetings for people who are separated or divorced. It’s highly unlikely I would’ve ever met any of them in any other circumstances if I was still happily married.

Instead of creating a Bucket List for myself, I’m going to spend my birthday post creating a list of things that I had already accomplished or experienced and I would probably never do again because experiencing it once or twice was enough for me.

1. Getting married in a traditional wedding. Like many other American brides, I had one of those traditional weddings complete with a white bridal gown, being escorted down the aisle by my father, having bridesmaids and groomsmen in attendance, and having a clergyman officiate at the ceremony. I tossed my bouquet to a group of single women while my new husband had the opportunity to remove my garter belt from my leg so he could toss it to a group of single men. We cut our wedding cake and fed a slice to each other. For added measure, the wedding was even held in June, which is the most traditional month to get married in. Been there, done that and that wedding ultimately led to a marriage that ended in a divorce. I now know first-hand that having a traditional wedding isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. I got my first exposure to what I call The Wedding Industrial Complex where it is the marketers and companies who decide to convince you what you need to have on your special day regardless of whether you would’ve selected it for yourself or not. There were times when these people acted as if they knew what they felt was best for me even more than I did. One example was when my mother attempted to order flowers from a local florist and they said that they wouldn’t take her order until after my mother and I talked with a special wedding consultant that the florist had on staff. (My mother ended up ordering flowers from Giant’s floral department instead and that supermarket didn’t require any talks with a wedding consultant first.) If I was ever to attempt another marriage again, my wedding would be way different. For one thing, my father is now deceased so he wouldn’t be able to walk me down the aisle even if I wanted him to. I’d end up either walking myself down the aisle or walk down the aisle arm in arm with the person I intend to marry. I would stand up for myself when it comes to The Wedding Industrial Complex and make all of my own decisions on what I want or don’t want at my wedding. I would refuse to do business with anyone who try to tell me what he/she knows what’s best for me more than I do. I would probably wear a color other than white. Black would be cool. Or maybe red. Or purple. Or even a light pastel lavender color. And I’ll probably pick a month other than June to get married in.

2. Attending an American Girl Place store on the day that a new Girl of the Year is formally rolled out to the general public for the first time. Each year American Girl releases a new doll that’s a designated Girl of the Year where she’s available for sale (along with certain themed accessories and outfits that’s supposed to be appropriate for her character and her interests) for one year only. She goes on sale on New Year’s Day on January 1 and she is formally retired on New Year’s Eve on December 31. While the fan sites will spend months gossiping on who will be the next Girl of the Year, American Girl doesn’t formally introduce the new girl to the public until on December 31 (New Year’s Eve). On that day a representative from American Girl will show up on ABC’s Good Morning America show and formally unveil the new doll on live TV. The doll herself goes on sale for the first time on the following day (January 1, New Year’s Day) and all of the American Girl Place stores will have special events to celebrate the new doll’s debut. I attended such a formal rollout at the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia on January 1 when the new doll, Grace, went on sale for the first time. As I wrote in this blog at the time, the store was totally crowded with kids running amuck while they were crowding around the new displays of the Grace doll and her accessories (which included this bakery set that went on sale for the retail price of $500). There was a long line outside its Bistro with people waiting to eat inside. It was total havoc. Grace the doll is now in her waning days until she is officially given the boot in just 16 days on New Year’s Eve and her replacement will be formally announced on television as the new Girl of the Year. As of this writing the various fan sites and social media are speculating on who this new doll is and what her name will be. Some of them have gone as far as actually posting leaked photos that’s supposed to be of this new Girl of the Year. I’ve read some of the stuff and saw a few of the leaked pictures but I’m not going to divulge what I’ve learned because I’m really not into posting rumors in this blog. January 1 will come soon enough when we’ll all know who she is. As for me, I’m going to sit out the next formal New Year’s Day rollout at the American Girl Place because once was enough for me to last a lifetime. I’ll probably wait a month or two or three before I check this new doll out in person but I’ll never attend another formal Girl of the Year rollout in person ever again.

3. Celebrating the U.S. Bicentennial. I was a kid when this happened but I still remember it like it was last year. It was a year-long celebration that began in the fall of 1975 and it went on until the end of 1976. It was literally a celebration of America and how far we’ve come since the early settlers arrived from England. It was a unifying event for all Americans. It didn’t matter whether you were a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Anarchist, Communist, Socialist, or even completely apolitical, you were welcomed to celebrate along with fellow Americans. Sure there were the commercial excesses that were foisted upon the American people by the corporations as they released all kinds of tacky patriotic red, white, and blue items. But there were plenty of celebrations done on the local level as well and people were free to celebrate the Bicentennial in any way that they see fit without having to investigate whether a big corporation holds the trademark rights and having to pay some kind of a licensing fee. (I’m especially looking at the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s tendency to threaten to sue any independently organized event benefitting breast cancer research that uses the words “for the cure” as part of its slogan or advertising.) I still remember when someone painted the fire hydrants in my town to resemble colonial figures, which I thought was pretty cool. I also remember when the tall ships came from other countries around the world to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and I went with my parents to see them. In some ways it was a different era long before the election of Ronald Reagan, which unleashed this assault on average people (in terms of cutting funds to social programs which benefitted middle and lower income folks) in favor of giving tax breaks to the wealthy as well as encouraging large corporations to become even bigger through mergers and acquisitions. Then there was also the rise of the 24-hour news channels that seem to focus less on actual news and more on personalities that spew all kinds of opinions and other garbage and it seems like more and more people are mistrustful of anyone who’s different from them because they’ve been influenced by the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter. Given the times we live in now, I don’t know if anything like this could ever be repeated again because of all of the mistrust that’s out there now among Americans and I think it’s sad. But the Bicentennial was fun while it lasted and it provided me with lots of good memories.

4. Attending the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration in New York City. Like the Bicentennial this one was also a way of ensuring patriotic pride in all Americans but this one was mostly held in New York City for obvious reasons. It was one big party and it was so joyous. Granted it was held when Ronald Reagan was in office but the country was still a long way from being the messed up nation it is now (complete with corporations being rewarded for outsourcing formerly good paying jobs to China and various Third World nations, rampant Wall Street speculation, the difficulties in finding an affordable place to live, etc.). I was very fortunate to have been able to attend that one and I still have photos and fond memories of that event.

5. Attending my high school reunion. I did it once for my five-year reunion and it was a major letdown for me. While I ran into a few of my old friends, the vast majority of the attendees were people whom I remembered as being among the very popular kids and they acted arrogant and stuck up towards me. They still hadn’t changed by the time the fifth anniversary came and most of them either ignored me or talked to me with a touch of disdain in their voices like I was some inferior sub-human. Worse, I made the mistake of talking my then-husband into coming with me even though he never attended my high school (we met in college) because we had just gotten married and I wanted to show him off to not only my old friends but also the former popular kids who had stuck their noses up at me in the hopes that everyone would be impressed that I snagged a guy who worked at NASA. That backfired because my husband ended up being bored because he didn’t know anybody and the popular kids didn’t give a damn about who I married because they still thought of me as being “retarded” (which was an epithet that was hurled at me all the way through school). Despite the few friends I ran into at that reunion, most of them stayed away so even I got bored after a few hours. My husband and I left long before the reunion party formally ended after midnight. I haven’t attended another high school reunion since and I’d like to keep it that way.

6. Attending a big open-air rock music festival. Back in the day when the annual Lollapalooza festival used to travel from town to town (the festival is still held annually but it is now held for only one weekend a year exclusively in Grant Park, located in Chicago), I attended it once with my then-husband when it stopped in Charlestown, West Virginia (which was the only stop it made that was anywhere near the Baltimore-Washington, DC area). We left early in the morning and took a long trip in order to make it to the festival fairground that was held at the local racetrack. The year we attended had a really exciting bill including Hole, Elastica, and Cypress Hill. There was a secondary stage where some of the less known bands performed. There was a tent that had an art gallery inside featuring works of art by unknown artists. There was a film tent where movies were continuously showing. There were places where you could purchase food and drinks. It all sounded fantastic with one major downside: the festival was held on the usual Mid-Atlantic summer day where it was hot and humid with the highs reaching the 90’s. My husband and I dealt with it by periodically going to the art gallery and film tents because those were the only two places that were air conditioned. The art we saw numerous times in the art gallery weren’t really that memorable and, as the long day went by, we grew tired of seeing the same art again and again because we only used the tent to cool off from the heat. As for the film tent, it showed mostly student movies that were originally made for film school classes at various colleges and universities and, to be brutally honest, none of them were all that memorable. I remember standing in long lines in order to buy food and drinks as well as long lines in order to use the portable toilets. By the time we left it was dark and, as we were walking back towards the parking lot in order to retrieve our car, we were treated to the local hillbillies driving by while throwing things at us as they screamed stuff like “YEE HAW!” and “GO HOME!” I remember that I almost got hit by a beer can that one of these yahoos threw from the window as their pickup truck drove by us. (You can’t get any more stereotypical redneck than that last sentence.) Going to that one Lollapalooza festival had forever cured me from ever going to any other open-air rock music festival.

7. Attending a Fourth of July concert followed by fireworks on the Mall in Washington, DC. On the surface, what could be more patriotic than celebrating the Fourth of July in the nation’s capital? My then-husband and I only did it once with a few friends of his from his NASA job and the reality is that it’s not much fun—let alone feeling any kind of special patriotic pride. We ended up sitting on the grass far from the stage because it was so crowded so we didn’t see any of the acts and we ended up just hearing the music instead. On top of it, it was the typical DC summer day in that it was very hot and humid. I remember a fight nearly broke out between two guys who were near us and both men were literally restrained by other people. Things became a little bit better after sunset when the fireworks went off and it was such a lovely sight seeing them near the Washington Monument. But the good feeling I got from seeing those lovely fireworks quickly turned sour again when we had to wait in a very long line for an hour just so we could enter the Smithsonian Metro station then wait another hour or so until we could board a train where we were crammed in with so many other people like a can of sardines. I remember some guys on our car tried to lighten the mood by singing theme songs from classic TV shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. One year of that was enough for me. I’d rather see local Fourth of July fireworks held near my home than go through that ordeal again.

8. Camping in a tent in the great outdoors. I did it several times as a teenager, mostly with the local Catholic Youth Organization that I belonged to. Every single time I went camping with the CYO, it rained, which resulted in leaky tents and water seeping through the bottom so our sleeping bags got wet and we would end up shivering. I had gone on so many camping trips with the CYO that had at least one rainy day that I began to feel jinxed. When I was a college student I made one last attempt at a camping trip, this time it was with a group of friends from school. We spent the weekend in Assateague Island. The good news was that it didn’t rain. The bad news for me was that it was very hot and sunny outside and I forgot to pack sunscreen. I ended up with a horrible sunburn and I even had sun poison in one area of my skin. That was the last time I ever went camping in a tent.

9. Hiking the Billy Goat Trail at the Great Falls Park in Maryland. I did it once many years ago. The big allure of the Billy Goat Trail is that one gets treated to picturesque views of the Potomac River. It’s true that those views are incredibly spectacular to behold while hiking the Billy Goat Trail. The bad news is that the Billy Goat Trail is incredibly difficult to hike and it involves climbing up and over numerous rocks and boulders while watching out for any poison ivy that’s growing in the area. When I did it my one and only time, I pulled so many muscles that I didn’t even know exist. I was barely walking by the time I arrived back home. It took me nearly two or three days before I fully recovered from that hiking excursion. Now that I’m older, I have a feeling that doing it again would not only be more difficult (especially since I have a hip replacement) but it would take me at least a week to recover.

10. Visiting Biosphere 2 in Arizona. When I was married and my mother-in-law was still alive, my husband and I used to make a trip to Phoenix at least once a year, where my mother-in-law lived with her second husband. Over the years we visited various places all over the Phoenix metropolitan area. Some places were quite memorable. Then there is Biosphere 2, the controversial science research facility where scientists have attempted to recreate an Earth-like environment inside of a glass-cased building structure. Biosphere 2 is located a full two-hours’ drive from Phoenix and it’s open to the general public. Now for the bad news: It has a steep entrance fee (I remember it cost around $15 per person at the time and the admission fee has gone up since our one and only visit) and the majority of the complex is off-limits to visitors. I remember there was a formal tour but even that tour didn’t go into any of the off-limit areas. The few areas that were available to the public didn’t have many exhibits or information areas. We managed to see all of the areas that we were allowed to see in less than two hours. That place was a major rip-off that was made worse by the fact that we had to take a four-hour round trip in the middle of nowhere in order to get to and from that place. If you want an enjoyable way of learning about Earth science in general while you’re on vacation, you’d be better off visiting Epcot in Florida instead of Biosphere 2.

Those are just among the experiences I’ve had that, for the most part, I don’t regret trying but I have no intention of ever repeating again. I’m sure that the older I get I’ll have even more experiences that I haven’t done before so I’ll have even more things to add to that list of new things I’ve tried once or twice but have no desire to repeat.

Previous in This Series

Part 1 (Artomatic 2007)

Last week I mentioned that I’ve been going through some old files on my computer hard drive and I found the original rough drafts of my old Artomatic blog posts from previous years. (There was a time when Artomatic gave everyone who participated their own blogging account. For Artomatic this year, I had to step up and volunteer to be a blogger before I received my own blogging account.) It’s pretty appropriate to share some of these posts here since Artomatic is going on until next month.

While I visited a few previous Artomatics, the first time I actually participated was in 2007. I enjoyed that experience so much that when Artomatic was announced again in 2008, I jumped at the chance to participate in it again.

2008 was a momentous year for me for reasons other than Artomatic. I was born with a dislocated left hip and, as some old baby photos have documented, I was placed in a body cast for several months. My left hip joints snapped into place, the cast was removed, and I learned how to walk like an average child soon afterwards. I sprained the same left hip in a roller skating accident when I was 12 but I managed to recuperate and I walked like a regular person again. All that changed by late 2007 when I began to walk with a limp. As time went on, I had a harder time walking and by the time of Artomatic 2008, I had to use a cane to get around.

Despite my hip problems, I wanted to participate in Artomatic and I did so. That year I decided to focus mostly on photography, with the exception of this Peep Floyd diorama that I originally did for The Washington Post‘s annual Peeps diorama contest but it failed to make even Honorable Mention. Here is the original online catalogue that I put up to promote my exhibition space.

Peep Floyd

Unicorn

Little Chapel in Day

Little Chapel at Night

Guitar Heroes

Honda Asimo Robot

Toyota Partner Robot

Tai-Shan

Pink Flamingoes

Naked Mole Rats

$900 Pez Dispensers

American Girl Dolls

White Bridge at Cypress Gardens

Find the Swimming Alligator

R2-D2 Mailbox

Shalom Y'all

Unicyclist

Ninth Life Store Sign

Ellowyne Wilde Doll in Front of U.S. Capitol

Legal Cubans

Sunset Over Assawoman Bay

Blythe Doll in Cherry Blossom Tree

Cosplay Contest, 2008 Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, DC

Volks Dollfie Dream and Testudo

Volks Dollfie Dream Doll in Cherry Blossom Tree

Volks Dollfie Dream Doll Peeking From Cherry Blossom Tree

Tiny Dolls in Forsythia Bushes

Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008

Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008

Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008

Where is the Alligator? Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina 2008

Soom Mini-Gem Uyoo in Cherry Blossom Tree

Worshipping the Goddess

Here are just a few selected posts I made in my Artomatic account’s blog that year as archived on my hard drive. (That blog has long since been deleted since Artomatic tends to totally revamp its website whenever a new Artomatic event is announced.)

I’m Participating in Artomatic 2008, March 27, 2008

I’ve finally finished with registration. This year I’m going to emphasize my photography more mainly because I’ve been more successful at that than doing strictly drawing and painting.

Now my next task is to sift through my vast trove of digital photos to pick out the right ones to display. I am quite a shutterbug. I’m glad for the invention of digital cameras because I still remember the pain of running out of film and I had to choose between shelling out more money for film (then have to shell out more money to get them processed) or quit my picture taking for the day. I have a monumental task ahead of me so I’m going to sign off now.

Latest Stuff About Me, April 18, 2008

Last Saturday I went to the Artomatic orientation where I picked out my site. I’ll be located on the 7th floor, NE Quadrant, Area C4. I know it sounds like gobbledygook now but I’m sure it’ll become more apparent once the show opens and the maps/brochures are printed. For the time being, I’ll just say that my wall space is located right next to the men’s restroom on the 7th floor.

My Exhibit for This Year, May 8, 2008

I know that some of you who are familiar with my exhibit at last year’s Artomatic will be wondering if I’m doing anything different. Well, the answer is yes. I’m going to describe the difference between this year’s exhibit and last year’s.

Last year I had a variety of different media ranging from digital photographs to drawings to paintings. I even had a couple of dolls I customized myself that were on display in small glass cases that were mounted on the wall.

This year I’m focusing exclusively on digital photographs. That’s mainly because I wanted artwork that was more transportable than my larger art pieces. All of my photographs are either 8″ x 10″ or 5″ x 7″. Keeping the photos at those two sizes made frame shopping really easy for me since those two are standard sizes. On top of that, I’ve had people tell me that my biggest strength is in photography so I decided to highlight that some more.

The biggest challenge I had was whittling down the hundreds of digital photographs that I have on my hard disk to just 32 photos. (Sixteen of them are 8″ x 10″ while the rest are 5″ x 7″.) Then I had the additional challenge of printing since, as experienced digital photographers and computer graphics artists know, what is seen on the computer screen doesn’t mean that the print version will turn out the same. But I managed to get everything done in time for the opening tomorrow night.

I’m also pricing my photos at $10 for the 8″ x 10″ and $6 for the 5″ x 7″. I know my pricing methods may become controversial but there’s a method to my madness. If you’ve been reading a newspaper or watching any of the cable news channel, you’ll know that this country is in an economic crisis due to rising gas costs, higher food prices, and the subprime mortgage crisis. I really don’t think that people are in the mood to shell out $100 or higher for a piece of art no matter how much they love it because of the economy.

I also had an epiphany around the end of last year’s Artomatic. I got someone who wanted to buy one of my drawings but she wanted to know how much it would cost if I would remove it from the frame. Since I didn’t have any other serious buyers of my artwork last year, I told her that I would take $25 off my drawing. So I sold it to her and took home an empty frame.

This year I scoured the local big box retailers looking for the lowest frame prices. A.C. Moore had the best prices with many frames being sold for $3 and $4 and with some going for as low as $2. What’s more, the frames still looked pretty decent despite the low prices. Then I went to Staples where I bought a pack of satin-finish photographic paper for $35. I calculated each sheet as costing around sixty cents per sheet, which isn’t bad.

I even have a catchy ad phrase that I put on a sign in my area: “Affordable Artwork for Uncertain Economic Times”.

What’s more, since I have my photos on a hard drive, I can easily print multiple copies so if one person buys one of my photos and someone else wants that same photo, I can print and frame another copy and sell it to that other person.

I will have a small table next to my photos where I will have a guestbook for you to sign and a digital frame that will rotate digital photos of some of my other works of art like my drawings, paintings, sculptures, and crafts. I purchased this digital frame at Target and I love it because I can display more of my art than the space that’s alloted to me.

I will also have a diorama displayed on that table called Peep Floyd. I originally created this diorama for The Washington Post’s second annual Peeps contest but it didn’t make the final cut among the judges. I was disappointed but my husband was even more heartbroken than I was. (He felt that I was robbed.) So I decided to give my little diorama a second chance by displaying it with my artwork. I’m even putting it up for sale for only $5 (which is about how much money I spent making it in the first place). What’s even amusing is that there will be a display of the winning Peeps dioramas on the 10th floor while my display will be on the 7th floor. So if people decided to start on the first floor and work their way up, chances are that they will see my own diorama first before they see the winners on the 10th floor. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Last year I printed three photo zines that I sold on the honor system where people can put money in a box if they wanted one or more of my zines. I did it mainly as a promotional item, even if it was a pain to print multiple copies for the duration of Artomatic. (The fact that I was using a 10-year-old Epson color printer didn’t help matters much.) I thought that I would get some sort of opportunities from the zines after Artomatic in the long run so I toughed out the time spent printing, collating, and stapling the zines. I also gritted my teeth as I spent lots of money on printer ink since those zines did use up tons of ink. Even though the zines sold pretty well (some people did leave money in the box), nothing ever came of those zines after Artomatic ended. No one contacted me saying, “Hey I liked your zines and photos and I want to do some work with you.”

Basically it really wasn’t worth the time or money spent making and distributing the zines so I’m not going to do any more this year. I know that some of you will be disappointed but that’s the way things go.

The biggest change from last year to this year is myself. Yes, I am a year older but my health has gone down a bit. I have an old injury in my left hip that was repaired a long time ago but I’ve now developed osteoarthritis in it. Last year I was able to walk normally most of the time (although I did limp if I overextended myself by doing too much walking or other physical work). This year I’m walking with a limp and I use a walking stick whenever I have to walk around outside for any great distances. I’ve consulted an orthopedic specialist and he’s recommending that I undergo a hip replacement, especially since my left leg is now a little bit shorter than my right leg, thanks to the osteoarthritis.

But, before I undergo the surgery, I have to lose weight and do exercises to strengthen my hip. As a result, I’m still able to participate in Artomatic since I won’t be able to undergo the surgery until July at the earliest.

Having osteoarthritis is a bit of a bummer. I get more physically tired than before, partially because of having to take prescription version of ibuprofen (which has drowsiness as a side effect) and partially because it’s just more physically taxing to limp around. My current condition was a major factor in my decision to focus on smaller photographs than my larger canvases since the photos are easier to cart around than a big canvas. Since I decided to eliminate the zines, I will find Artomatic less taxing than last year.

I will be at the opening tomorrow night with my husband. This weekend I will be working as a vendor at the Greenbelt Green Man Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland. I will have a packed schedule.

I’m Doing Pretty Well at Artomatic This Year, May 26, 2008

So far I had someone who wanted six copies of my “Shalom Y’all” photo because she wanted to give them away to her Jewish friends. I also have one other person who may be potentially interested in purchasing something from me but I haven’t heard back from him.

So far I took part in a drawing workshop on Opening Night and I’ve also worked one shift so far. (It happened to be on the same night as the “Meet the Artists Night” so I couldn’t be at my area, with the exception of a brief break that I took around 8 p.m.) Right now I’m typing this entry from a hotel room in Charleston, South Carolina but I intend to participate in more Artomatic events once I return.

I happened to be in Charleston at the same time as their annual Piccolo Spoleto Festival—an art-filled festival that includes special exhibitions at area art galleries, special theatre shows, special musical concerts, and a crafts fair. I intend to check out the crafts fair at least. I also intend to visit the City Market, which is filled with stalls of people hawking food items and various types of crafts. It’s also where a local African-American group of people known as the Gullahs sell their speciality craft–making baskets, vases, flowers, and other items out of sweetgrass.

Well, anyway, see ya later!

My Artomatic Videos, June 2, 2008

This year I’ve been doing more at Artomatic than just showing my artwork and attending a few events. I’ve also been taking photographs and shooting video. I haven’t decided what I’ll do with the photos yet but I’ve already edited and uploaded three short video clips on my YouTube account.

All three videos are of the firedancing troupe known as Flights of Fire. I shot this during the second hour of their show on May 16. (I missed the first hour because I was finishing up the last hour of my own volunteer shift during that time.) I was pretty exhausted after working my five-hour volunteer shift so I basically went outside, sat down, and unwind a bit by watching the group perform the rest of their show. I happened to have my videocamera with me so I filmed them as they did their various fire tricks to some lively dance music.

This first clip is a general highlights reel as I focused on the troupe’s most spectacular firedancing tricks:

The second clip is a very sexy and erotic routine that is performed in its entirety:

The third clip is the grand finale that is also performed in its entirety. Imagine a bunch of people dancing and swinging flaming torches at the same time and you’ll get something like this:

Two More Artomatic Videos For You to View, June 5, 2008

I shot two more videos at Artomatic that I’ve uploaded to my YouTube account. The first one is the Peeps artist reception that was held on May 31, 2008.

The second one is the first-ever Artomatic 500 cardboard car race, which is just as hilarious as it sounds.

Enjoy!

A Posting From Artomatic, June 13, 2008

I’ve just finished the third required volunteer shift over an hour ago and I’m waiting for this workshop on “Urban R & D: Developing a Community Research and Design Lab” to begin in a few minutes. Actually volunteering wasn’t too bad despite my totally arthritic hip (which has given me a bad limp in recent months and has definitely put a crimp on my mobility) because I was given desk jobs. (I worked the front desk on the first floor the first two times and I worked the fourth floor this final time today.)

Last night I attended the Artists’ Social. I met someone whom I had volunteered with on a previous shift and I also met up with other people whom I had met at other Artomatic events. What was cool was that I sold two of my photographs to someone who loved by two robot photos (one of the Toyota Partner Robot and the other of the Honda Asimo—both taken at a Japanese cultural festival at the Kennedy Center a few months ago).

I’m looking forward to attending Artomatic tomorrow night–they are having the first-ever Art in Fashion show, which is supposed to have fire as the theme. From the way this event is being hyped, it sounds like Project Runway on steroids.

Well, anyway, I gotta wrap this entry up and head off to tonight’s workshop.

More Artomatic Videos, June 21, 2008

I shot and posted a few more videos at Artomatic before it ended last Sunday but I’ve only gotten around to blogging about it now.

First is a video of my own exhibit, which was displayed on the 7th floor next to the men’s bathroom.

Next is a video of a couple of interactive exhibits that were done by other artists.

I previously videotaped the Peeps artist reception where I spoke with prolific Peeps diorama artist Carl Cordell. At the time he was working on a fourth diorama, “The Day The Earth Stood Peeped”, that wasn’t ready in time for the reception. I kept on going to the Peeps area for the next few weeks but the diorama didn’t make its appearance until last Saturday, the day before the last day of Artomatic. I made a short video highlighting that diorama.

I did a three-part video about the Art in Fashion show, which was the closing event of Artomatic. (It was held the night before Artomatic’s final day.) It highlighted fashions created by fashion designers in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area. I had fun attending this because I’m such a fan of Project Runway and I had never seen a fashion show in person before.

After the fashion show ended, there was a big party that included all kinds of activities. I videotaped some of it but I was running out of battery power by that point so I didn’t film as much as I wanted to. But it should give you an idea of what it was like. (Some parts of this video are definitely NSFW because it includes scenes of body painting on partially or fully nude bodies.)

Well, anyway, that’s it for the Artomatic videos.

Visiting the Artomatic Site for the Last Time, June 21, 2008

I had successfully sold yet another photo to someone and he and I agreed to meet at the Artomatic site today. After the transaction was made and he took his newly-purchased photo with him, I took down my exhibit. I felt wistful as I did it but, as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

Goodbye For Now, June 23, 2008

Now that Artomatic is over and I’ve picked up my artwork from the site, it’s time for me to say goodbye to this blog until the next time I decide to participate in an Artomatic.

Three months after I wrote that last farewell Artomatic post, I underwent a hip replacement followed by physical therapy that lasted until well into 2009. In early 2011 I suffered two falls within a week that knocked my hip replacement out of alignment so I had to undergo hip revision surgery followed by more physical therapy. Right now my hip is doing fine. <knock wood!>

Next in This Series

Part 3 (Artomatic 2009)
Part 4 (Artomatic 2012)

The day before I watched and read in horror as my birthplace of Baltimore seemed to go mad as riots and looting took place in the wake of the murder of a young African American man named Freddie Gray by Baltimore police officers. I wrote a post that day about my sadness, anger, despair, and outrage over the situation.

The following evening I felt like going out somewhere to just clear my head from the shit that was going down just 30 miles north from where I lived. I decided to take the Metro to Tyson’s Corner, Virginia and check out the American Girl Place. It’s been a while since my last visit. I made my first visit to that store in 2015 on New Year’s Day itself, when the store was officially rolling out the new Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas. That store was a mob scene (and so was the rest of the mall, for that matter). Among the Grace Thomas-related items was this really large bakery. While I got a few photos of that behemoth, there were so many children crowded around it that I just couldn’t get a closer look. When I found out about the $500 price tag later via the Internet, I not only got sticker shock but I became more curious about the bakery—basically what would one get for that much money. I decided to wait a few weeks until the initial new Girl of the Year hype died down and I returned to the store on a weeknight later that same month. I found that the bakery was no longer in stock. I was disappointed because I had taken photos of a real-life bakery a few days before and I was going to compare those pictures to the $500 play bakery set for dolls. Instead I had to content myself with taking photos of the smaller and lower cost $150 Grace’s Pastry Cart and $85 Grace’s Bistro Set. For added measure, I took a close look at the $300 Samantha’s Ice Cream Parlor from the Beforever Samantha Parkington line.

Despite those alternate photos, I still wanted to have the chance to see the bakery in person so I could take closeup shots before Grace Thomas and her entire line officially retires on December 31. Sure, I could’ve ordered the bakery for myself and have it delivered to my home if I really wanted to get a first-hand look at my own leisure but I decided against that idea for two reasons: 1) the bakery I saw on New Year’s Day looked so big in person that I know it would’ve taken up a huge space in my modest townhouse and finding a place for it would’ve been a nightmare and 2) the $500 price tag for an item for a doll.

I waited a few months until after Valentine’s Day and Easter had already passed. I wanted to return to the store before the start of summer vacation when the children would be off from school for three months and I would be more likely to see more kids in the American Girl Place during the week. (I learned a long time ago that the best time to visit the American Girl Place is Sunday-Thursday during the school year. On Sundays the kids are usually either in church with their parents or in some organized extracurricular activity like sports, or both. On the other days, the kids are usually in school during the day, they are busy in the afternoon with some organized extracurricular activity, and they are busy with homework in the evening. That store is practically empty during the week, which means that one can leisurely browse the merchandise without dealing with children running through the store, crowding around the larger items on sale, or having temper tantrums in the middle of the store. The worst times to visit are Friday, Saturday, and holidays.)

When the violence in Baltimore started, I knew it was past time for me to make a return trip to the American Girl Place in the hopes that the bakery would be back in stock so I can view it at my leisure. I decided to pack the Mini Grace Thomas doll in my bag (which I bought from Target a few months ago) because I thought it would be fun to photograph that doll next to her 18-inch counterpart (especially since I decided to pass on buying the larger doll because of the $120 price tag). When I first arrived to the plaza that one sees when commuting via Metro, I enjoyed the fact that the days were getting longer. I was able to view the life-sized bird sculptures up close.

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I noticed that the large ice skating rink that I previously saw on my last visit in late January had been dismantled and replaced with some benches.

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There was also a bean bag game (which also served as an ad for the Tyson’s Corner Mall) that anyone can use to toss some bean bags around.

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When I entered the American Girl Place, I finally saw that the store got Grace’s French Bakery back in stock. At long last I can finally write the post that I originally wanted to write back in January but was thwarted when the bakery was out of stock.

According to the official American Girl write-up about this item, this bakery is based on the first book in the Grace Thomas series, simply titled Grace, where Grace and her mother visit this bakery in Paris called La Pâtisserie that is owned by Grace’s aunt and uncle. A few days before my ill-fated last trip to the American Girl Place, I decided to take photos of a local bakery in my area in order to compare a real-life bakery to this $500 doll bakery. For the real life bakery I picked Raulin’s Bakery, a family-owned bakery that has been in business in Beltsville, Maryland for decades and they have excellent baked goods. I took these photos back in January but the bakery itself hasn’t changed that much since then.

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Here’s Grace’s French Bakery, a doll version of a bakery that retails for $500. This is the view from the front.

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This is the view from the back. As you can see, it’s not very interesting. American Girl probably assumed that this bakery would be placed against a wall when not in use so they made the back very plain.

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There is a large opening in the rooftop where you can look at the entire bakery from the top. Even though such an opening would be impractical for any real-life bakery (with rain and snow and the generally bad idea of leaving any food in direct sunlight for long periods of time), for a pretend doll bakery it does provide more light than it otherwise would’ve had the bakery had a closed rooftop. (Especially since, unlike a real bakery, this doll bakery doesn’t have any kind of electricity at all.)

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When the two doors are opened wide, the bakery takes up a lot of space. The bakery itself serves as a storage bin. When you’re not using it, all you have to do is shut both front doors and leave all the furniture and accessories inside. Even when the bakery is closed up you would still need a large space to store the bakery in.
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The details on the front of the store are impeccable. You can tell that a lot of planning and design went into this bakery.

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The opened front doors has posted menus written in both French and English.

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The details inside the store are just as impeccable. The oven have rotating knobs and it opens. There are tiny kitchen utensils (such as a rolling pin and measuring cups). The front counter has realistic looking marble lines. There are wall decorations. There are cakes, pies, and other pastries that have incredible detail for such tiny pretend food. One could easily spend an hour or more just gawking at this bakery with all of its included furniture and accessories.

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On top of everything, there is even an open space cut out of the side with a counter. That area is meant for take-out orders where, in nice weather, people would order from that outside window. It’s a really cool feature.

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There is even a hint of modern high tech with this toy pink tablet that’s fit for a doll. (No it’s not electronic at all.) It looks like the recipe page on that tablet may be a real recipe for a sweet treat.

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I took a photo of my Mini Grace doll standing on the counter top, which shows that this bakery would overwhelm any doll that’s smaller than an 18 inch doll.

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Having seen Grace’s French Bakery up close in person, I have to say that I’m impressed with it.

The Upside: It seems very well made. The attention to details are impeccable from the fake marble on the counter to the small shopping bags that has the bakery logo on them. This has got to be the most realistic doll accessory I’ve ever seen in person. I can’t really say enough good things about this bakery. Children who are interested in baking will love Grace’s French Bakery.

The Downside: This bakery will take up a lot of space in anyone’s home. Even if the doors are closed up and all the furniture, food, and other accessories are stored inside the bakery, it will still take up a lot of space. If you have an already cluttered home, this bakery will make your clutter situation far worse. If you live in a small apartment or home, you will have a hard time finding storage so that the bakery won’t get in the way when it’s not in use. Then there’s the $500 price tag. That’s a lot of money for a children’s toy that’s made for a doll. (Especially when you consider that—like everything else that’s put out by American Girl these days—it’s made in China, a country where a lot of things can be made for less than $10 then sold in the U.S. at inflated prices.) When I told a few of my friends who are parents about this bakery, all of them balked at the $500 price tag.

I honestly don’t know how many people will actually spring for the bakery beyond the hardcore American Girl fans with deep pockets and/or the overindulgent parents with deep pockets. I think American Girl should’ve broken that bakery up into separate products. There could’ve been just the outside hulk for those who actually have the space. There could’ve been a separate item for just the refrigerator and some pretend food. And a separate item for just the counter and some more pretend food. And a separate item for just the oven, utensils, and some more food. Well, you get the idea. That way parents with less money and/or space could still buy just one or two components from the bakery for the child while parents with a lot of money and space can easily choose to buy everything. I just think having the entire $500 shebang as being the only option for parents of interested children is little more than putting all their eggs into one basket that may not work out by the end of the year—especially given the current economic climate.

Well, anyway, enough pontificating about Grace’s French Bakery. I took a few photos of my Mini Grace doll in the store. Here she is next to her larger counterpart.

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Since I was last at the American Girl Place in January, both Grace’s Pastry Cart and Grace’s Bistro Set had been moved from a center table (where Grace’s French Bakery was now displayed) to one of the side shelves.

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I noticed one detail about the plate that came with Grace’s Bistro Set that I didn’t notice on my last trip (mainly because there was a tiny croissant covering the plate). It had the name of the French bakery mentioned in the first Grace book (La Pâtisserie) along with the words “est. 2015”. There were also two thin blue borders along the outside of the plate, which makes it look like a miniature reproduction of a china plate. How cute!

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Here’s my Mini Grace doll on the table top.

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And here she is on top of the bakery cart.

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Here’s another shot showing the size differences between the Mini Grace doll and her 18-inch sisters.

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I had brought along the original box that my Mini Grace doll came in because I wanted to compare the two different sized boxes. I originally thought that the mini doll box version would be an exact reproduction of the larger box. But when I put the two boxes side by side, I noticed that there was a difference in terms of the design. The larger box has a window that’s small enough to show only Grace’s head. The smaller box has a window that shows most of the doll’s body. Very interesting.

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I had the Mini Grace doll stand on the table in the standee area where people can take photos of themselves with Grace and her bulldog.

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Since my last visit American Girl has released a bunch of new items in their Beforever line of historical dolls. I thought they were amazing with the only downside is the high price of each item. Addy’s Dress and Sewing Set is incredibly lovely. From the nice colors to the realistic sewing tools, this is one dress that speaks to me because I’ve done sewing projects in the past. The only downside is that this outfit, along with the miniature sewing accessories, costs $48.

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This bed from Caroline’s collection caught my eye mainly because of the lovely embroidered blanket. That blanket is only available with the bed and that set costs $125.

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Ironically, just six days after my visit, American Girl would announce the upcoming retirement of Caroline Abbott and her entire line.

Of all the historical characters, the Native American doll is the one that I’ve been less than impressed with mainly because of her dull clothes and even duller accessories. For the first time, this new outfit for Kaya has totally caught my eye. It’s called the Modern Fancy Shawl Outfit and it’s based on what members of her tribe would actually wear to a powwow. It is really lovely and red has always been my favorite color. If it weren’t for the price, I would buy the Kaya doll and this outfit and just keep her in that outfit all the time (especially since I’m not a really big fan of her Meet outfit). Unfortunately the basic Kaya doll costs $115 plus the Modern Fancy Shawl Outfit costs an extra $48. So I had to make do with just a photograph of a Kaya doll modeling the Modern Fancy Shawl Outfit.

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Moving right along to Julie the 1970’s historical doll, she also got a new outfit called Julie’s Mix-Print Maxi Dress. At $28, this outfit is relatively cheap compared to the other new outfits. When I first saw photos of this dress online, I wasn’t impressed with it. It was only after I saw it in person when I realized that it is a pretty lovely dress and, yes, people actually wore maxi dresses similar to this back in the 1970’s. (There’s an old photo of me as a child wearing a maxi dress with a funky pattern that’s floating somewhere in one of the old family albums.) I found myself wishing that this dress had been just a bit cheaper (at $15 or less) because I would’ve bought it otherwise.

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And speaking of Julie, here’s something I noticed. Last summer I did a series of book reviews for Throwback Thursday where I read the Julie books and I compared the books’ description of the 1970’s with my own childhood memories of that same era. As I was reading and reviewing them, American Girl decided to revamp the historical dolls into the Beforever line and, as part of the revamp, the original six books in the Central Series were merged into just two books (this was done by removing the original illustrations). A few months later I learned online that American Girl was taking some of the mystery books featuring the same characters and giving them new covers. Here’s the curious thing. I saw The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter (which I reviewed last summer) on the store shelves. That was the only Julie Mystery I saw on the shelves. I couldn’t find any of the other Julie Mysteries anywhere in the store. (Although the other three Julie Mysteries can still be found on the American Girl website with their original covers.) What’s also curious is that The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter got the new Beforever cover treatment even though it was the second mystery book in the series. (The first one was The Tangled Web.) I don’t know if the other Julie Mysteries will ultimately get the Beforever treatment or what’s going on with them. In any case, I found the new cover version of The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter.

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Then there was Samantha Parkington, who is supposed to represent the early 1900’s. She has gotten a bunch of new stuff, much of it I personally liked. Even though I have no intention of ever getting the Samantha doll (mainly because of money and space issues), I would’ve been tempted to buy some of her dresses for some of my other dolls if it weren’t for the prices. The next picture shows Samantha’s Special Day Dress, which is very gorgeous but it costs $32.

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I also love the dress in the next photo as well. It’s called Samantha’s Flower-Picking Set and, at a retail price of $48, is more expensive than the other dress. I especially loved that art set in the next photo. It’s called Samantha’s Painting Set and I was very tempted to buy it so I could pose my Julie doll with it. (The original Julie books described her as being into crafts just like her sister and mother so a painting set wouldn’t be that big of a stretch.) As an artist, that set definitely caught my interest big time. But then I saw the $36 price tag and decided against it. Besides, I could go to Michael’s or A.C. Moore’s and purchase a small canvas with a tiny easel, glue a small print on the tiny canvas to simulate a work in progress painting, and even look for some doll-sized paint sets under the lower cost Springfield or Our Generation label—all for less than half the cost of Samantha’s Painting Set.

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Then there is this huge item that has just been added to Samantha’s collection. It’s called Samantha’s Garden Gazebo. While it’s not quite as wide as Grace’s French Bakery, this gazebo is still tall and it would take up space in anyone’s home. At $200 it’s also cheaper than Grace’s French Bakery.

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Here is what you get for $200, according to the writeup on the American Girl site. Its white arches are accented with scrollwork designs.

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The roof panels are removable.

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Four hanging fairy lights that has a flickering LED light inside to simulate candles.

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The gazebo also comes with a set of paper decorations so the gazebo can change with the seasons. Each level of the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner had the gazebo with each one showing different paper decorations.

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Even though the two gazebos displayed on each floor showed furniture and other accessories, these items aren’t included with the $200 gazebo. They are all sold separately. There’s the $36 Samantha’s Painting Set, which I already discussed a few paragraphs ago.

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The furniture displayed in the two gazebos in the store is sold separately as Samantha’s Outdoor Serving Set. For $75 this set includes a white metal chair with a cushion and a wheeled serving cart.

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As for the refreshments, they are also sold separately as Samantha’s Summertime Treats. This $45 set includes toy petit fours, a fancy toy plate, two pink glasses, a pink vase, a bouquet of flowers, a lacy fan, and a pair of napkins.

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While the whole gazebo with its related furniture and accessories looked impressive in person, it would just overwhelm my home way too much for me to ever consider buying the whole thing. (Plus there’s all that money involved.) I view that gazebo in the same way that I view Grace’s French Bakery or that Volkswagen Beetle that I saw during a trip to the same store last summer—something that’s nice to view inside the store but there is no way I would ever buy it and take it home for me because it would take up a huge amount of space in my modest townhouse.

After I finished with browsing the American Girl Place for a while, I ate dinner at Wasabi once again (I’m a sucker for food delivered via conveyor belt. LOL!) then I purchased a chocolate milkshake for dessert from the Shake Shack. I went back on the Metro afterwards because I was feeling a bit tired and drained from all the horrible news coming from my original birthplace (I was born in Baltimore and I lived there until I was 5, when my family moved to nearby Glen Burnie). I wasn’t in the mood to do much cruising around in the mall on that day.

At least I finally got a chance to see Grace’s French Bakery in person before Grace Thomas and her entire line gets retired at the end of this year.

Groundhog Day
Back on New Year’s Day I went to Tyson’s Corner Mall because I wanted to see what it was like to be at the American Girl Place on the day that it formally unveiled its new Girl of the Year doll. All I learned was that not only was that store totally crowded but the rest of the mall was also so full that it was difficult to find a place to sit anywhere in the mall. (Not everyone was there for the new 2015 Girl of the Year rollout at American Girl Place. I think there are a lot of people in the DC area who just love to go to the local shopping mall on New Year’s Day.)

While I was at American Girl Place on that day, I saw crowds surrounding one of the new accessories that were made for Grace Thomas. It’s a bakery fit for an 18-inch doll complete with miniature food (which isn’t really edible), miniature kitchen utensils, a miniature refrigerator, a miniature oven, and other miniature things. I made a mental note to return to that store at a later date so I could get a closer look at that bakery because of 1) the amazing details and 2) the fact that this item, which is supposedly made for a target audience of girls between 8-12, costs a whopping $500!

After waiting a few weeks, I decided to give American Girl Place a try again in order to check out that bakery in more detail. I went on a weeknight mainly because I learned a long time ago that the best time to go to that store is Monday-Thursday both day and night. That’s because the kids are in school during the weekday, they tend to spend the late afternoon involved in sports or other extracurricular activities, and they spend the evening doing their homework and preparing for the next day at school. That store tends to be nearly empty on those days so one can more leisurely peruse the inventory without having to deal with hordes of kids running around, grabbing things, and having meltdowns because their parents wouldn’t buy them something that they really wanted.

Once again I took the Silver Line Metro to the Tyson’s Corner station then took the pedestrian bridge to the mall. When I arrived I saw that the Christmas tree that was there the last time I visited has been dismantled but the ice skating rink is still there.

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I briefly sat in one of the outside couches that are surrounded by these special glass tables that put out flames that heat the area. I was fascinated by the flames that heated the area.

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Here is a shot of one of the life-sized bird sculptures that decorate the plaza area outside the mall entrance.

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Like I wrote earlier, I returned to the mall because I wanted to get a closer look at that bakery because a floor model was so crowded with kids that this next photo was the best shot of inside the bakery that I could get on New Year’s Day.

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I’ll admit that I originally wanted to get a closer look at that bakery because I intended to write a post comparing a real-life bakery with that $500 miniature reproduction. A few days before my trip to Tyson’s Corner, I took photos of a local family-owned bakery in my area that has been in business for decades. It’s called Raulin’s Bakery and it’s located in Beltsville, Maryland in a shopping center.

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The next two shots show the inside of the bakery. Raulin’s has some incredibly tasting desserts of all kinds. If you’re ever in the Washington, DC area, you find yourself in the Maryland suburbs and you’re dying to satisfy your sweet tooth,  check out Raulin’s. (And, no, I’m not being paid to write this either. I’m just a total fan of their sweets.)

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So I was all ready to take some close-up shots of this bakery so I could write a post about the $500 bakery. When I arrived at the American Girl Place, I found that—believe it or not—the $500 bakery was sold out! The only thing remaining at the place where I saw that bakery on New Year’s Day was this pad of tiny slips advertising the bakery along with the hefty price tag.

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I was kind of surprised that it was sold out because, to be honest, I just didn’t think there would be too many parents willing to pay that much money for a doll accessory and I thought that the bakery would still be in the store when I made a return visit. When I looked online at the American Girl site, I saw that the bakery was on backorder until February 13. I wonder if there was a situation where each American Girl store was initially allotted only one or two bakeries while its online store was similarly limited to no more than 10 bakeries and all of them were sold out because so few of them were available to begin with. It sounds plausible to me because I just don’t see too many parents willing to buy something that expensive as a toy for their child to play with. When I mentioned that bakery and the $500 price tag in a Facebook post, some of my friends who are parents of children who are in American Girl’s target demographic totally balked at the price.

Even though the bakery was out of stock, there were smaller bakery items available that I could still photograph and write about. There’s Grace’s Pastry Cart, which costs $150, and occupied the same space that once held the $500 bakery.

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Compared to the bakery, the pastry cart is pretty small and would take up less space in any home. I have to admit that the details on this cart were really amazing to behold in person.

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I was impressed with the realism of the miniature pastry boxes that held miniature pastries of various kinds.

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The display for the cupcakes and other smaller pastries had a removable cover. One could also remove the tiny cupcakes and pastries as well.

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I was especially impressed with the tiny bread basket holding tiny loaves of French bread, each in their own tiny bag.

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The realistic details on the French bread were amazing.

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I also got a closer look at the 2015 Girl of the Year. Her name is Grace Thomas, she enjoys baking very much, and she would like to own her own bakery when she grows up. I have to admit that, in terms of looks, she is definitely an improvement over the previous Girl of the Year, Isabelle Palmer. Grace looks very striking with her blue eyes, freckles, and brown hair.

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Her hair is very long in the back and it’s quite lovely. It felt very soft to the touch. If it weren’t for the fact that this doll has a retail price of $120, I probably would’ve bought her on impulse. Instead, I decided to save my money and just take pictures of the doll.

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The next photo shows Grace and her French bulldog, Bonbon, flanking Grace’s Bistro Set. Compared to the $500 bakery and $150 Grace’s Pastry Cart, this bistro set is a relative bargain at only $85. There aren’t as many tiny food and drink items as the ones in the bakery and pastry cart sets but Grace’s Bistro Set still looks pretty cute.

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The next few photos show the attention to detail regarding the food, drink, plates, eating utensils, and even the Eiffel Tower-style menu holder. I lifted the chair briefly and it feels like it’s made out of metal and it has some hefty weight to it.

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I’ll admit that I was disappointed at not being able to get a closer look at that $500 bakery. As a consolation to myself, I decided to browse the store’s BeForever line (which consists of the historical dolls that originally gave American Girl its start) until I came across this item that belongs to Samantha Parkington, who’s supposed to represent the early 1900’s, which was at the height of the Progressive Era in the United States. The next photo shows Samantha inside of her ice cream parlor. Ice cream parlors hold as much sweet allure for me as bakeries, especially during the hot summer months. (Since it’s still the dead of winter as of this writing, I currently don’t feel very tempted to order myself an ice cream cone or hot fudge sundae.)

Like the $500 Grace’s French Bakery, Samantha’s Ice Cream Parlor would take up a significant amount of space in any home, looks very realistic, and is full of incredible details. With a retail price of $300, the ice cream parlor is also very expensive yet just $200 cheaper than the bakery.

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I was impressed by the realistic cracks in the ice cream scoops and the tiny roses painted on the bowl.

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The candy jar lid in the next photo didn’t open at all (probably because having those miniature gumballs spill out would’ve provided choking hazards to very young children) but the details still looked very realistic.

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The cash register looked like it was made from metal.

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The pink “marble” on the soda fountain looked realistic and there was also a very charming Tiffany lamp on top.

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The menu in the next photo looked interesting—especially the listed prices. You definitely know that this ice cream parlor represents the early 20th century, especially since nickels and dimes don’t really buy much of anything these days. (LOL!)

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I also saw this area dedicated to horses and stables for dolls. The Stable and Supplies in the next few photos cost $110. But that’s just for the stable and related supplies itself. The horses cost extra.

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The Chestnut Horse that the doll is riding on costs $75 The Paint Filly standing in the stable costs $48. The Apricot Poodle Puppy costs $28. Of course the doll and her riding outfit are also sold separately.

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The next photo shows this doll-sized piano that was really interesting because it looked very realistic.

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I even saw volume control and an input/output button. I didn’t see anything listed about this piano on the American Girl site. I don’t know if it’s a new piano or one that has been discontinued. (If it’s the latter, then why was it displayed in the store like it’s currently available?) The closest I’ve found to an online description is this entry on the unofficial American Girl Wiki.

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Since the next big consumer holiday is Valentine’s Day, there were plenty of Valentine items that one could buy. One cute idea was this doll t-shirt, which came with its own envelope in case someone wanted to mail it to a doll owner in place of a regular card.

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There were the American Girl pets who were waiting to be someone’s Valentine.

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I usually don’t pay any attention to Bitty Babies but I really loved this cute Valentine’s outfit.

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The next couple of photos show American Girl’s Bitty Baby line, baby dolls that are priced cheaper than the other dolls (yet they are still more expensive than what one would find in a big box retailer) and are meant for children who are too young for the American Girl doll. They are designed to withstand more abuse from a toddler. I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of baby dolls (even as a child I always preferred older looking dolls like Barbie to baby dolls) but I thought that the store display looked nice.

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I also got a closer look at the area dedicated to Grace where shoppers are invited to take their own selfies next to a standee of Grace and Bonbon and upload them online.

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I was impressed by the realism of this area, especially since it occupies just a small corner of the store.

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I also took some photos of this display of the BeForever doll known as Kit Kittredge. I never used to care that much about the doll until last year when American Girl retooled the entire historical doll line as BeForever and all of the historical dolls received new outfits that, in most cases, were definitely an improvement over what they used to wear. Kit is supposed to represent the Great Depression and she is said to have a great interest in journalism and photography.

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I was really impressed by the miniature newspaper, photographs, camera, and film.

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Notice that tiny roll of Kodak film in the next photo.

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I ended my visit to the American Girl Place by checking out the place in the back of the store where people can buy something to eat. The sit-down American Girl Bistro was closed early for the evening (which is the only major disadvantage of coming to the American Girl Place on a weeknight). But the takeout area where one can buy drinks, candy, cake slices, and cookies was still open. I noticed that Grace Thomas flanked this area, which is appropriate since she’s supposed to be a baker.

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The cookies served in the takeout section comes in two sizes—one for a human and one that’s sized for a doll.

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I order two chocolate chip cookies to go. The store clerk put them in this really tiny American Girl shopping bag that I thought was so cute that I took photos of that bag when I got home.

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The cookies were wrapped pretty well. They basically tasted like the typical Nestle’s Toll House cookies that are pretty common (due to the fact that they are relatively easy to bake).

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I took a photo of my Julie Albright doll with the tiny shopping bag. If I cut the handles a bit shorter, this bag would be a perfect doll accessory. What a cute idea!

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I did other things at Tyson’s Corner Mall besides hanging around the American Girl Place. I came across these shiatzu massage chairs. I’ve seen them at other malls and I’ve even sat in them and paid the money so I could get a quick massage a few times. What made these chairs at the Tyson’s Corner Mall different is that they also provided USB ports so one could get his/her mobile device recharged while undergoing a massage. I was thrilled with the idea until I found that I needed my own cord in order to get my cell phone recharged. Nevertheless I paid $1 to get a 3-minute massage. (One can get longer massages for higher prices but, for me, three minutes having some machine rub and squeeze me is about as much as I can take.)

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I stopped by the Disney Store where I found these interesting looking small plush animals. Basically they are Disney characters re-shaped as these cute logs or something like that and they are sold under the label Tsum Tsum. I later learned that Tsum Tsum was something that started in Japan as a video game and when Disney released real-life plushes based on the game they were a huge hit. So now Disney is trying to spark a similar craze in the U.S.

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I had a good laugh out of seeing Olaf the Snowman from the Frozen movie as one of those Hawaiian hula dancers that people would put on the car dashboard.

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I walked past the Montblanc pen store where it displayed a special limited-edition John F. Kennedy pen.

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I stopped by the LEGO Store where I saw a few interesting kits on sale (including one based on the Disney Frozen movie).

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I walked past this Steinway & Sons store, which sells—what else?—Steinway pianos. I paid more attention to it than I usually would mainly because I went to this mall just a few days after I visited this piano store in College Park with an interesting building façade that is currently in the process of going out of business.

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I basically looked in the windows because I’m not in the market for a piano. (One of those Steinways would overwhelm the living room of my townhouse.)

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Besides, if I really want a Steinway piano, there’s an app for that.

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I usually don’t blog about public restroom toilets in shopping malls but I noticed that the toilets in the Tyson’s Corner Mall have two different flush buttons depending on how much body waste you eliminated. (Basically the green button is for urine only while the other one is for when you eliminated so much that you need more water to get rid of it.) On top of it, if you’re slow in deciding which flush button to use, the toilet will automatically flush using the right amount of water based on the amount of waste detected. This would be especially of interest to my Unitarian Universalist congregation because, for the past few years, the denomination (especially the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee) has been emphasizing The Human Right to Water, especially as it relates to the scarcity of water in Third World countries and the water pollution resulting from oil spills and fracking here in the United States. I still remember when the minister at my congregation gave a sermon on how important water conservation is and what we can all do to conserve as much water as possible.

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The next photo shows an aerial shot of Wasabi, this sushi restaurant where the food is delivered on a long conveyor belt and all you have to do is select the plate of any food item that interests you. The food is incredibly fresh and I really love eating there even if it’s a bit on the pricey side.

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Here’s a panoramic shot of the same place, which shows how long Wasabi is.

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By the time I decided to leave the mall it had grown cold and dark. Because I was there on a weeknight, the only people who used the ice skating rink were the mall employees.

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I also took the last couple of photos of the outdoor couches surrounding the warming table with flames inside. The darkness of the night really makes the flames stand out more.

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Santa Claus

I have some photos of American Girl dolls wearing festive winter holiday clothing and since, for me, the Christmas season won’t formally end until tomorrow (when it will be the day known alternatively as Little Christmas, Feast of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night, and Three Kings Day), I’m going to post them right here, right now.

The doll in the next photo is the first American Girl doll I’ve ever purchased. She is a historical doll named Julie Albright and she’s supposed to represent the 1970’s, the same era where I was a young child. I’ve already written plenty about how and why I became attracted to that doll so I’m not going to write much here.

I bought that doll and a series of thin paperback books about her character and the 1970’s era that she represented the day before I was to undergo hip revision surgery. I originally intended to buy just the books to give me something to do in between doctor visits and physical therapy sessions. But then I took another look at that doll in her original pre-BeForever default outfit and her peasant blouse reminded me of a similar blouse my mother once sewed for me when I was growing up in the 1970’s. I ended up buying the doll along with the books.

A month after my surgery I drove my car back to Tyson’s Corner Mall. While I was at the American Girl Place I noticed Christmas outfits for dolls. There were even appropriate period Christmas outfits for the historical dolls. I purchased an outfit for Julie for the heck of it. The next photo shows the Julie doll modeling the Christmas dress.

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I have a confession to make. Even though it’s a period Christmas outfit that’s meant for the historical dolls, this one was not created for Julie and her 1970’s era. There was a different Christmas outfit that was made especially for Julie but when I saw it, I wasn’t crazy about it. I found another historic Christmas dress that I thought was way cuter. This dress was originally made for Ruthie Smithens, a depression-era doll who was originally created as a best friend to Kit Kitteridge but has since been retired. I decided that there were no rules that state that I was limited to buying only 1970’s era clothes because I have a 1970’s era doll so I purchased Ruthie Smithens’ Holiday Outfit for Julie Albright and she looks fantastic in it. Besides, I could’ve sworn I worn similar styled dresses in the 1970’s although I’m not 100% sure about that. (I would have to do extensive research into children’s clothing styles of the 1970’s and, these days, I’m not motivated enough to do such research.)

After my husband left me while citing my purchase of that doll and her corresponding books as the reason why he had to leave home (instead of the truth—he left me for a friend of ours who has serious mental health issues and he married her just three months after our divorce was final), I internalized his initial excuse and I didn’t do much with Julie other than use her in my Occupy the Dollhouse project that I was working on for Artomatic 2012. But as the real truth about why my husband left emerged, I gradually stopped blaming the doll for my husband leaving home and I’m okay with having the doll in my possession once again.

By 2014 I decided to re-read the Julie Books and I even began to write a series of Throwback Thursday posts where I compared those books with my own memories of the 1970’s. At the time I purchased the Julie doll, there was a corresponding best friend doll based on a character in the books named Ivy Ling. I wasn’t really interested in getting Ivy mainly because Julie wore a 1970’s outfit that nearly resembled an outfit I once wore as a child in the 1970’s and it got my attention. But, as I re-read the books, I found that Ivy began to grow on me. I thought it would be cool to have two 1970’s era dolls since they were supposed to be best friends. Out of the original pre-BeForever books that comprised a total of 11 books, Ivy appeared in nine of them. And there was one book, Good Luck, Ivy, where she was the main character and Julie Albright was relegated to being a supporting character.

My financial situation had totally changed with my divorce so I felt that I couldn’t just go out and buy Ivy like I could in the old days. I decided to spend a year gradually saving money until I had enough to buy Ivy. That worked for a while until American Girl announced that Ivy was one of four dolls scheduled for retirement later in 2014 and I had to push up the date when I would get Ivy before it was too late. It created a minor financial stress for me (I had to cut back on going out for a couple of weeks) but that was a temporary situation that didn’t last long.

The next photo shows Ivy wearing an off-brand My Life As doll outfit that I found during a rare excursion to Walmart when I needed to buy myself some nice shoes for fancy events and potential future job interviews. Compared to what American Girl charges for its doll outfits (which starts at $30 and it can go as high as $60 or $70), this My Life As outfit was an excellent bargain. (I remember it was on sale for around $7 or $8.) Ivy looks like she’s all ready to go to the upcoming Christmas or New Year’s Eve ball.

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For a few years before I even purchased my first American Girl doll, Julie Albright, I would visit the giant American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue in New York City. While I was impressed by the quality of the clothes and I thought the idea of having historical dolls with corresponding books to be a cool one, I was only interested in the 1970’s dolls because I was a very young child back then and it was kind of freaky and cool that my own childhood would be considered historical enough to warrant a doll and her best friend.

I can remember back when American Girl was an independently owned company (before Mattel bought it) and there was controversy when the company came out with its first non-white doll. She was an African American named Addy Walker and her corresponding books portrayed her as being born into slavery. At the time I was two minds about this controversy. On the one hand, I felt that non-white girls should have access to non-white historical girls who lived more varied lives than just being a slave. On the other hand, slavery was and still is a major part of American history (and it was one of the major factors of why a civil war erupted and it has had major repercussions among generations of African Americans that affect them to this day) and any frank discussion of American history has to include slavery just as much as any frank discussion of German history has to include the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

As for the doll herself, I found Addy to be underwhelming. While her face looked cute, her original pre-Be Forever default outfit was totally dull and bland. The rest of her wardrobe were also equally bland, such as her 1994 Winter Coat, her 1997 Stilting Outfit, and her 1995 Work Dress and Apron. I basically ignored that doll for a long time.

But then American Girl decided to take the historical girls it hasn’t retired yet and give them totally new outfits with a fresh look and re-name the line BeForever. While I think the name sounds awkward as hell, I love many of the new outfits that came out. Addy Walker was one of the dolls I personally feel has benefitted the most from the BeForever revamp. Her default outfit has gone from being totally dull and bland to being very striking and attractive.

At the same time I’m experimenting with trying to sell sew-your-own doll clothes on Spoonflower.com (so far I only have one outfit but I hope to have more come out over the next few months depending on my own personal schedule and things like that). With Julie and Ivy I had two different models for the clothes but I thought that having a darker skin doll as a model would be useful as well. I originally thought about buying a cheaper Our Generation or Springfield doll with darker skin just as a model. But then I had a relative give me money for both my birthday and Christmas (both days are only 10 days apart from each other) and I began to think about that BeForever Addy Walker doll again and, well, I took the plunge.

I’ve always been a bit of a history nerd and I live in a state (Maryland) that’s full of Civil War history including slave plantations, the Underground Railroad, and Antietam (a.k.a. the bloodiest battle of the Civil War). So, to make a long story short, I bought the Addy Walker doll, I’ve finished the book that came with a doll (Finding Freedom: An Addy Classic, Volume 1) and I recently got a copy of the second book that’s sold separately (A Heart Full of Hope: An Addy Classic, Volume 2) and I’ve just started that one. (I’ll probably write about those books in a separate entry at a later date. I just don’t know when I’ll do it.)

Here’s Addy in the next photo modeling an outfit that I originally purchased at Target in either late 2011 or early 2012 (just after I purchased the Julie doll). The outfit was for a line called Play Wonder by Madame Alexander that Target carried for a while (nowadays it carries exclusively Our Generation dolls and clothes) and I think it was on sale. I purchased it at the time because I was curious as to how well an off-brand outfit would fit an American Girl doll and I found that it fitted perfectly on Julie. Then I put the outfit away and forgot about it for a while. I bought Addy so close to Christmas and I really wasn’t into battling the crowds at the stores to buy a cheap Christmas outfit so I decided to put her in the Play Wonder outfit even though it isn’t a Christmas outfit per se. I found that Addy looked really great in that outfit and the metallic lace on the skirt is pretty shiny so I decided to pretend that it’s just a Christmas outfit and take a photo of her wearing it.

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Here are the three American Girl dolls wearing their holiday outfits together.

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They look pretty good together.

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If money and space were no object, I would buy all of the BeForever dolls along with the gorgeous outfits and other accessories because they look so awesome, especially when seeing them in person at the American Girl Place. However, I don’t have infinite amounts of money or space so I have to set limits as to how many dolls I’ll allow in my home. I’ve seen other people’s American Girl collections that number higher than 10 (such as this one and that one) and, to be honest, having 10 or more dolls would overwhelm me. Heck, even having more than six dolls would provide space headaches that I’d rather not deal with. So I have no intention of ever amassing a giant American Girl doll collection. But I will probably continue to take smartphone pictures of any dolls or outfits or accessories that grabs me visually at the American Girl Place because it’s easier to store digital photographs than it is to store 18-inch dolls or some large piece of furniture or other accessory.

Previous entries in the Occupy the Dollhouse series can be found right here.

The dolls and their allies continue their fight for equal justice for all by staging a die-in at American Girl Place.

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A few American Girl dolls currently on sale decide to raise their hands in solidarity with the protesters.

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This protest was one of many that have been taking place all over the United States as a protest against police killing unarmed African Americans. The largest one to date took place at the Mall of America (a.k.a. the biggest shopping mall in the United States) on the last Saturday before Christmas.

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