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I have a cousin who is married with two sons. Years ago she and her husband obtained four pets—two puppies and two kittens. All four pets were around the same age and they all arrived at my cousin’s home within a few months of each other. The four animals generally got along well together.

The one big disadvantage of getting four pets the same age is that they tend to die around the same time. Cookie the cat was the first of the four pets to die and he passed away in 2015. (I don’t have any pictures of Cookie mainly because he was so shy that he was in hiding most of the time when I was there to visit. I would see him dart from one hiding place to another from time to time but he never stood still long enough for me to get a picture of him.)

Gonzo the dog was the next one to die and he died earlier this year in March. This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my cousin made the sad announcement on Facebook that Lucy the dog has died as well. Here’s a photo of Lucy that I took back in 2013 while I was testing out the camera function of my new smartphone that I purchased the day before.

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Lucy was a sheepdog who was very friendly and she was especially devoted to my cousin’s husband. She would patiently stand by as my cousin’s husband dyed her fur for special occasions (which is why her fur has a purple and pink tinge to it in that photo).

Here’s another photo of her with Gonzo that I took on that same day.

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Of the original four pets, Purdy the cat is the only one who’s left standing (although she can usually be found seated either on a footstool or in a box). She remains healthy as of this writing.

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Thirty years ago yesterday my aunt passed away from breast cancer at the age of 48. I still remember her struggles with that illness like it was yesterday. She was around 42 or 43 when she noticed a lump in her breast. When she went to the doctor she found that not only did she have breast cancer but it had spread to her lymph nodes as well.

She underwent a mastectomy and went through many months of chemotherapy that literally made her sick. At one point she asked her doctor about smoking marijuana to help her deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy. Unfortunately medical marijuana was illegal in the state of Maryland at the time so the only way she could’ve obtained it was if she had been accepted in a clinical trial. I don’t know if her doctor refused to refer her to one of those clinical trials or if she got the referral but was rejected but, in either case, she had to fully endure the side effects of the chemotherapy.

She lost her hair so she started sporting turbans when she went out in public. Her cancer was in remission by the time I was married but she wore a turban at my wedding because her hair hadn’t grown back yet. One of the friends of my husband’s parents told my aunt how much she loved her turban during the reception. That friend thought my aunt was making a hip fashion statement. My aunt was elated by that friend’s praise.

Sadly the remission was short-lived because a couple of years later her cancer not only came back with a vengeance but it had spread to her liver. At the time of her death she became a grandmother for the first time just four months earlier and another daughter was pregnant with her second grandchild. (That child was born four months after her death.) As I’m typing this I realize that the oldest grandchild has just turned 30 while the second grandchild will soon turn 30. Time just seems to go too fast for me. It feels like yesterday when they were just babies.

In the years following her death my cousins would go on to have a combined total of eight other children. On top of it, one of my cousins has a stepson from her current marriage so if you were to count him in the mix, it would be a total of 11 grandchildren who would grow up without ever knowing my aunt as their grandmother because of breast cancer.

In her short life my aunt was a housewife who was very active in the Catholic church she attended. When her youngest child began elementary school she started a child care service where she watched some of the neighborhood kids during the weekday. Among those kids was a boy named Ben, whom my aunt started to watch when he was just a baby and he eventually started calling her “Mom Lipp.” (Lipp was my aunt’s last name.) Ben was the same person who took his own life earlier this year.

In a way it’s not fair that someone like her ended up living a short life while you have someone like Keith Richards, who has used and abused nearly every single drug known to mankind yet he is still alive and is currently living life to the fullest in his seventies. Sure his skin looks very leathery from age and all those years of hard living but he’s still alive and kicking nonetheless.

This is why cancer sucks.

Valentine's Day

During one of my recent periodic housecleaning periods I came across something I did as a child. It’s a card where I proclaimed my love for Jesus Christ. I wrote “Jesus I Love You” right on the front.

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The front of the card has two heart-shaped flaps in the middle that one can open to reveal a drawing of Jesus.

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Opening the card the normal way reveals paper lace with the drawing of Jesus directly in the middle.

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Here’s a close-up of the drawing. No, I did not do that one. It was a small printed card that had Jesus’ image on it. I have to admit that the drawing looked like it was a bit on the whimsical side with the cute baby-faced Jesus holding a very cute lamb.

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The card was basically a paper collage that was mostly made from construction paper. This was among the many artifacts from my childhood that I rescued from the house I grew up in when my mother decided to sell it. I’m amazed that it lasted this long because my mother had a tendency to periodically throw out my old art projects so they wouldn’t clutter the house. I have a feeling that she saved it out of deference to my devout Roman Catholic grandmother, who lived with us while I was growing up, because I know that my grandmother would’ve raised a stink had my mother thrown out anything with Jesus’ image on it.

I don’t have any memories of actually creating it. I have a feeling that it was probably one of the many arts and crafts projects I did during Sunday morning CCD class when I was being raised Catholic. Given the hearts and the message of my love for Jesus on the front, I have a feeling that I did this one either on Valentine’s Day itself or during the CCD class that was held on the Sunday before Valentine’s. I normally didn’t do religious themed arts and crafts at home so it’s logical that I probably did this at CCD. The teacher probably provided the materials and told us to make a love card for Jesus and I did this card as a result.

Even though I basically did what I was told when I made this card, I have no regrets making it. Yet I don’t have any kind of sentimental attachment to it either. It’s basically an artifact from my childhood that I forgot about for many years until I came across it again recently.

Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone whom you first met when that person was a baby is now dead? That is happening to me right now.

My late aunt, who was also my mom’s older sister, was a stay at home mother of four girls. When her youngest daughter started elementary school, her home was pretty quiet during the school week. She decided to earn extra money by taking care of other people’s young children in her home during the week. Most of the kids she babysat were between the ages of 2-5 and they only stayed with her anywhere from a few months to about a year or two until they either started elementary school or their parents moved elsewhere. So she had frequent turnover of kids.

Then she started to take care of three young brothers. The oldest had just started elementary school while the youngest, Ben, was just a baby (he might have been at least six months old) at the time. I think the boys’ mother wanted to go back to work after being a stay at home mom for the last several years so that was why my aunt started to care for them.

I think there may have been marital tensions between the parents as well but I don’t have all the details. (I was a kid myself when all this was going on.) I remember that Ben’s father shot himself to death soon after my aunt started to care for the brothers. I still remember when my aunt called my mom telling her about the distressing news. Ben’s mother ended up becoming a single parent and she frequently leaned on my aunt to help out with the childcare, especially if the mother had to go on some errand without having any of the kids in tow. I heard that the two older brothers were deeply affected by their father’s death. Ben was the least affected because he was so young when his father died so he grew up without ever knowing him.

Eventually my aunt stopped caring for Ben’s older brothers when they started middle school so it was just her and Ben at home during the weekday afternoon (when Ben’s school closed for the day) for a few years. Occasionally there were periods when they would be joined by another preschool child whom my aunt happened to babysit at the time. But the rest of the time it was just my aunt and Ben.

I used to sometimes see Ben when I visited my aunt and uncle with my parents. Sometimes his brothers would be there as well but there were times when Ben was the only one there because his brothers and their mother were elsewhere. I remember Ben being this really cute little kid with the big impish grin. He always had this mischievous look about him. As he learned to talk he started to call my uncle “Dad” (he saw my uncle as a father figure since his own father was gone) while he called my aunt “Mom Lipp” to distinguish her from his own mother (Lipp was my aunt’s last name). My cousins used to dote over Ben as the baby brother they never had.

My aunt stopped taking care of Ben when he entered middle school. She would continue to see him at church (his family attended the same Roman Catholic parish that my aunt, uncle, and cousins attended) and he would come by the house to visit every now and then (whenever he wasn’t busy with homework and after-school activities) so he still kept in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I think my aunt may have cared for a few more kids after Ben (I don’t remember) but she had to stop offering her child care services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer was in remission when my oldest cousin got married. Ben served as the altar boy at my cousin’s wedding. My aunt’s cancer returned not long after the wedding and she died at the age of 48. I saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral. I think he was in high school by then. It was the last time I saw Ben in person.

Today I learned on Facebook that Ben is dead. One of my cousins had posted a picture on Facebook of her, her three sisters, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I also learned on Facebook that Ben took his own life just like his father did. I don’t know why Ben felt the need to do what he did nor do I know if he actually sought any kind of professional help before he killed himself.

I just feel so weirded out that someone whom I met as a baby and saw from time to time as he grew up is now dead. I’m older than Ben and I’m still alive. Given the natural order of things, I should be the one who dies before Ben but, instead, it’s the opposite. Ben is dead and I’m alive. I just feel so numb about all this (and the fact that it’s cold and rainy outside today isn’t helping).

Last year I wrote about an impromptu memorial that sprang up in my area at the site where a man who committed suicide. At the time I wrote this:

The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

I also provided a link to the National Suicide Prevention Line (which can also be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255). I can’t say whether Ben would still be alive had someone reached out to him asking if he was okay or if he had contacted the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yes, I know that it’s too late to help Ben but I would urge everyone reading this to just reach out to someone whom they haven’t spoken with in a while just to see how he or she is doing.

Now I have to deal with the sad fact that someone whom I met as a baby is now dead and I’m outliving him.

Santa Claus

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Here is the 12th and final part of my series on how I celebrated a Tabletop Christmas this holiday season. I timed it so it would run concurrent with the traditional 12 days of Christmas, which begins on December 25. As I kept on writing new posts each day, I noticed that the 12th day falls on January 5 despite the fact that the traditional end of Christmas falls on January 6. In the past I would hear January 6 being referred to as “Twelfth Night.” I did some research and, thanks to this webpage, I now know that I didn’t make any mistakes when I began these posts on December 25 and reached the 12th post on January 5. That’s because January 5 have long been observed as the Twelfth Night, not January 6. The Twelfth Night is traditionally observed as “Epiphany Eve,” and it used to be a grand occasion for feasting since it was the final night of Christmas before the Feast of the Epiphany on the following day and it marks the official end of Christmas.

Besides, January 6 is also the anniversary of the day I wrote my first post in this blog so I’m not too upset or worried about ending this series on January 5.

This final post in this series focuses on other Christmas decorations besides tree ornaments.

These two cute decorations were originally Avon cologne bottles. I used to frequently get Avon products for birthday and Christmas presents because my mother had a co-worker at her job who sold Avon products on the side and this co-worker made plenty of extra money whenever she brought those Avon catalogues to her day job. Avon used to sell their colognes in various containers shaped like animals and people. I tried looking online to see if Avon still sells their colognes in special containers only to find that nowadays Avon uses the typical cologne bottles that other cologne and perfume manufacturers use. The newer bottles may be pretty but they lack the distinction and novelty of the older Avon cologne bottles.

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Both containers once held Sweet Honesty cologne. This brought back memories of when I used to frequently dab Sweet Honesty on myself. I found that Avon still sells Sweet Honesty cologne even if it no longer sells them in the novelty containers.

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This next item is a vintage angel doll that I’ve owned since I was a child. I used to call her “Bernie Angel” because she reminded me of my cousin Bernie. This angel has long black hair, just like my cousin used to wear her hair. (These days she wears her hair very short.) Bernie Angel has survived all kinds of things over the years, especially the time when my parents’ dog, Napoleon, swiped her and attempted to use her as a chew toy but we managed to get her away from the dog before he did any major damage. I brought her with me to college when I attended the University of Maryland as my one token Christmas decoration. Naturally she came with me when I got married and she’s still with me.

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Bernie Angel is a doll with no joints and she’s in a permanent kneeling position with her hands folded together in prayer.

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I pulled back her hair to show her sweet face. Her eyes are permanently closed. She has rouge on her cheeks, blue eye shadow, and pink lips.

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Here’s another side of Bernie Angel.

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Here’s the back.

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She has a tag attached but it’s stuck together in a permanent folded position and I have a hard time trying to separate the sides, which is why I have two photographs of this tag. The tag actually reads: “© 1996 KAMAR ® MADE IN JAPAN.” I tried doing a Google search only to turn up nothing. I have a feeling that Kamar went out of business a long time ago. This doll was made at a time when “Made in Japan” meant cheap imported goods that tended to fall apart. The fact that this cheaply made doll has survived all those years is pretty miraculous.

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The next photo shows three Ginger Cottages that I currently own. I first got into them when I purchased the incense burner that’s shown on the far right of the next photograph a few years ago. I’ve since added the other two buildings. I generally prefer Ginger Cottages over the more popular Department 56 villages because they are about half the size of the Department 56 and they fit both my small home and my budget much better. On top of it, Ginger Cottages are made in the U.S. (in fact they are made in central Virginia), which is a definite plus in my book since most consumer items seem to be made overseas in China and other Third World countries.

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The one thing I love most about Ginger Cottages is that if you shine a light through a hole in the bottom of each cottage, it’ll reveal a surprise, such as the giant nutcracker peering out the second story window.

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Yesterday I wrote about how my support group for people who are separated or divorce throws a post-Christmas party each year where people bring a wrapped present for the White Elephant Gift Exchange. In previous years I received two items that I now keep among my Christmas ornaments. The next photo shows a small candy jar that’s decorated with peppermint treats.

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Here’s another White Elephant gift I received. This one is a set of snowmen salt and pepper shakers, which I’ve only used as decorations. (I’ve never actually filled them with salt and pepper.)

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The next few photographs show various noise-producing Christmas decorations, all of which were given to me as presents. The first picture shows a jack in a box Santa Claus that my parents gave me when I was around seven years old. This toy was made in Japan and I still have him after all these years. It’s among the few toys I have from my childhood and he’s still in pretty good condition. The white paint is slightly faded in spots but that’s noticeable only if you take a very close look at his face. There is silver duct tape holding the box top to the rest of the box because the red cloth-like tape that held the two together had frayed with age. Otherwise, he still works just as well as he did the day I got him. Basically Santa squeaks when he pops out of the box.

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The next photograph features a small plastic Santa Claus puppet that I also have from my childhood. Whenever you press a button at the bottom of his yellow base, Santa moves around and his little bell makes a ringing sound. This puppet is still in very good condition and it still works after all these years.

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The next photographs show a ceramic music box featuring a pair of doves wearing Santa hats. When the music box is wound up it rotates as it plays “Deck the Halls.” This music box was among the last Christmas presents I ever received from my Aunt Linda before she died of breast cancer when she was only 48 years old.

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The next few photos feature a Hallmark music box ornament that my late mother-in-law gave to me as a birthday present. (My birthday and Christmas are only 10 days apart.) While there is a loop at the top to hang it from a tree, I have always chosen to put it flat on the table instead. When this ornament winds up, Mickey rocks right and left as the music box plays “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

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I made a short video demonstrating the four noise making decorations that you can see and hear for yourself.

I’m going to end this series with a decoration that is actually the first Christmas decoration I put up each year. It’s an Advent calendar and I usually put it up soon after Thanksgiving so I can be ready to start the countdown to Christmas on December 1. I originally purchased this calendar many years ago at the now-defunct Frank’s Nursery and Crafts.

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The entire calendar is mostly made from felt. The ornaments for this calendar are kept in this attached plaid bag marked “SMALL ACCESSORIES” when the calendar is in storage the rest of the year.

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When it’s time to take out the calendar, I remove the ornaments from the SMALL ACCESSORIES bag and place them in numbered slots.

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Starting on December 1 I remove one ornament from a numbered slot and place it on the tree. (The ornament attaches to the tree with velcro.) I keep it up until December 24 when the entire tree is filled and the numbered slots are empty. I leave this Advent tree up until January 6 when I take it down and put it in storage with the rest of the Christmas decorations.

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So that’s it for my 12-part Tabletop Christmas series. I’ll leave everything up through tomorrow (January 6) then I’ll start dismantling everything on January 7 until everything is packed away in boxes and stored in the attic.

Ramadan

Nearly three years ago I wrote about the birth of Eli, who’s a grandnephew on my ex-husband’s side of the family. In the years since Eli’s birth I’ve kept up with the boy mainly through his mother’s posts on Facebook. I haven’t been able to visit his family’s current home in Charleston, South Carolina due to tight finances and I don’t know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to meet that kid.

Today I found out from my sister-in-law’s Facebook post about how she has just become a grandmother for the second time. Eli’s new brother has just been born a few hours ago. His name is Tobias. That baby will be joining an already full house with his big brother, his mother, his father, two dogs, and a cat.

In that last post about Eli from nearly three years ago I included a vintage early 1970’s video clip of Three Dog Night doing a live performance of their hit song “Eli’s Coming.” Unfortunately I can’t think of any songs that have the name Tobias in it so I won’t be embedding any music videos in this post.

Instead I’m going to repost my photos of a 60 cm (2 foot) tall Asian ball-jointed doll I currently own that was manufactured by a Chinese company known as Fantasy Doll. His default name is Tobias, which I’ve kept. Here are some photos of Tobias.

Fantasy Doll Tobias

Fantasy Doll Tobias

Pooh Kimono

Chiton for 1/3 Scale Dolls

Red Prince Doll Outfit

If you want to see more photos of this doll, check out the Fantasy Doll Tobias category. As for Tobias the human baby, so far he looks healthy (and I’m basing that judgement on the photos that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook). The only other thing I’ll write in this blog is that I hope he grows up to live a happy and healthy life. That is all I’m going to write about Tobias for the time being. 🙂

American Flag

Another Thanksgiving Day is here. I may not be fully recovered from that unexpected separation and divorce I went through and money is tight with me these days but I still have a lot of things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for my health. I’m thankful for having a circle of supportive family and friends whom I can lean on whenever I go through an anxiety attack (which I’ve been suffering from ever since my husband abruptly walked our on me with zero notice that he was unhappy just three days after Christmas in 2011). I’m trying to dig myself out of this hole that I got thrown into courtesy of my so-called “dear husband” but I’m feeling far better than back in 2012. I’m hoping that I’ll feel even better by this time next year but who knows what the future will bring?

Since Thanksgiving is devoted to eating turkey, I’ll end this post with some pictures of turkeys that I took at the weekly Greenbelt Farmers Market in Greenbelt, Maryland earlier this month.

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This year is the fifth anniversary of this blog. For the first year I was unsure about how many photos I could actually upload because of the free WordPress.com blogging account has a space limit. So I kept photo uploads limited to just my arts and crafts along with any photographs that I actually exhibited in a show. Over time I learned such things as graphic optimization so I was able to upload more photos that way than I thought I could. So for the rest of the year I’m going to devote Throwback Thursday to photos from previous blog entries (along with links to the original posts) that I should’ve uploaded five years earlier but I didn’t.

In mid-July my then-husband and I travelled to Connecticut for the wedding of his oldest nephew. Before the trip I purchased a pair of plain looking shoes, which I then embellished with sequins and I wrote all about in this post I wrote on July 13, 2010 titled Turning a New Pair of Shoes From “Blah!” to “Fab!”

Shoes-Before and After

After I posted this announcement regarding my imminent departure to Connecticut, my husband and I boarded an Amtrak from Maryland to New London, Connecticut then we rented a car for the duration of our time there. We spent part of both the first and second days at Mystic Seaport, where I took these pictures.

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During our time in Connecticut, I remembered that an earthquake actually hit Washington, DC but it was a relatively minor one. I also remember that there was talk about me photographing the wedding rehearsal the afternoon before. My husband spoke with his nephew on the phone and the nephew said that my photography services wouldn’t be needed because they had plenty of people with cameras who would be there at the rehearsal. So we had originally planned to spend the entire first day at Mystic Seaport then eat dinner on our own. While we were at Mystic Seaport, my husband’s sister (and his nephew’s mother) called us on his cell phone wondering where we were. When my husband told her about her son saying that they didn’t need us there, his sister overruled what her son said and basically told us to be there and I was to photograph the rehearsal. So I did it. After the rehearsal we were invited to this picnic dinner at a nearby park where I took some pretty decent sunset photos.

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As I recounted in this post that I uploaded after I returned from that trip, the wedding took place the following afternoon. It was held at Mohegan Sun, a casino resort that’s operated by a Native American tribe. The wedding and reception were both held at a golf club facility that was located far from the buildings where the gambling usually takes place. The wedding took place outside on this large deck overlooking a lake. It provided plenty of nature photography opportunities.

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Here is what the deck looked like on the actual wedding day itself. The bride wore white while the groom, who’s currently serving in the U.S. Navy, wore his formal dress uniform.

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The reception was held in this lodge located just a few feet away from the wedding deck.

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Inside the lodge was really lovely. I’ll end this post with a couple of shots of the wedding cake itself. This one was among the more unique wedding cakes I’ve seen because it was decorated with ladybugs made from cake frosting. (The bride likes ladybugs, which is why they were there on the cake.)

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Since that time the couple has moved to Charleston, South Carolina (when the groom was transferred by the Navy) and they are now the parents of a two-year-old son. I still keep up with them via Facebook despite the fact that I’m now divorced from the groom’s uncle.

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I have a story from my past that’s especially appropriate for this time of the year. After all, today marks the second and final day of the holiday that’s celebrated in Mexico as El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) while Halloween happened two days ago. Both holidays traditionally focused on honoring the dead while those who traditionally observed the Gaelic festival known as Samhain (from which Halloween was derived from) believed that the veil that traditionally separates the living from the dead is at its thinnest so all kinds of cross-communication between the two can occur.

My late grandparents had lived in various places around the U.S. because of my grandfather’s occupation (I believe he was an electrical engineer but I’m not exactly 100% sure about that). They lived in places like Roanoke, Virginia (where my father was born); Kansas City, Kansas; and Kalamazoo, Michigan. They moved to Maryland when my grandfather got a civilian job with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, where he spent the rest of his career before he retired. They settled in Ellicott City, where they purchased this house sometime in the 1950’s. Even though he was already an adult, my father lived there for a few years until he married my mother (at the time grown adult children were expected to live with their parents until marriage) while his younger brother (my uncle) spent the rest of his childhood and teen years living there.

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The house was mostly one level with three bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a large kitchen, a den, a two-car garage, and two bathrooms (one was in the hallway and the other could be accessed only by walking through the master bedroom). There was a subterranean basement, which was very prone to flooding. (I remember my grandparents owned a sump pump for such occasions.) At the time they owned this house, they had to rely on well water and the toilets were connected to a septic tank so they had to periodically call someone to pump that tank out.

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When my grandparents owned this house the driveway was covered with gravel. My father used to complain about having to drive the car over all these tiny stones when we used to visit when I was a child. As the next photo shows, it looks like one of the subsequent owners had the driveway paved with blacktop so the surface is now pretty smooth.

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I remember this part of Ellicott City was very rural when I used to visit there as a child.  All of the houses at the time had at least one acre of land. (As I drove through that area recently I noticed a bunch of new housing developments that weren’t even there in my grandparents’ time. The newer homes had less lawn than the older homes like the one my grandparents lived in. The area also has a lot more traffic than I remembered as a child.)

My grandparents had neighbors on both sides of their home. One one side of my grandparents’ home was another home whose occupants did some small-scale farming on the side. (I don’t think they were full-time farmers because the land they were on wasn’t big enough for any kind of large-scale farming operation.) I never met the people who lived there and I don’t even know if my grandparents ever bothered with them all that much. I remember they kept a couple of Hereford cows in their yard and they used to frequently walk over to the fence separating the property lines whenever I was close to that fence and they would just look at me. I still remember their brown bodies and white faces and I also remember my father telling me what kind of cows they were when I mentioned their white faces. I think the neighbor might have had a horse at one point because I remember a few times when a horse would come over to that fence as well whenever I was there.

As for the neighbors on the other side of my grandparents’ home, well they were there but one would be hard-pressed to say that they “lived” there.

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My grandparents lived next to the Good Shepherd Cemetery. I don’t know why they would purchase a house in such an odd location unless they got it relatively cheap. I remember my mother felt uneasy at the idea that they lived next to a graveyard. But they lived there for many years. After my grandfather died when I was 12, my grandmother continued to live in that house by herself. For a few years after my grandfather’s death she worked at Hutzler’s, which had a store in a shopping center just a few miles from the home (and which I also mentioned in a previous post). She worked there for a few years until she was laid off in a cost-cutting measure where the managers were instructed to get rid of all employees who worked there for longer than five years simply because they earned more money than newer employees. (I remember when my grandmother called my parents’ home the day she was laid off because she was very upset. She basically liked her job and had made new friends. Hutzler’s went out of business a few years after my grandmother lost her job.)

She decided to retire after being laid off and she continued to live in that house for a few years until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1980’s. Her cancer was detected early enough so she could undergo a lumpectomy followed by radiation. Soon after she was given a clean bill of health, my grandmother decided that she could no longer handle being in the house she had lived in all those years and she wanted to move to a smaller place. I remember when she put the house on the market and my mother was skeptical that my grandmother would even find a buyer because of its location next to the cemetery. My grandmother found a willing buyer so she used the proceeds from that sale to move into a small rental apartment located just a few miles from her old place. She lived there for a few years until her doctor discovered that the cancer had returned with a vengeance. She moved into a hospice and lived there until she died about a year later. (I was around 28 or 29 at the time.)

I have many memories of when I used to frequently wander in that cemetery while the adults were busy socializing. That was the only thing that was within walking distance from my grandparents’ home since everything else of interest (such as a store) were located so far away that one needed a car to get there. I would look at the graves while I walked around. All I can say is that I never encountered a ghost or a zombie or some other supernatural undead creature during my wanderings. At the time the border between my grandparents’ property and the cemetery were marked by a row of trees and small bushes. I used to cut through the shrubbery from the backyard in order to get into that cemetery. That property border is now fenced off and it was probably erected by either one of the subsequent owners of that house or the cemetery itself.

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The next photo shows a fence that now blocks off the backyard entirely from the front yard.

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The front yard still has the border of trees and shrubbery still in place along the dividing line.

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Good Shepherd Cemetery is a small cemetery compared to others that I’ve been to in my lifetime. One can easily spend no more than two hours there and feel that one has seen everything there.

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Some of the headstones date as far back as the 1870’s. There were headstones so old that the writing on them are now illegible because the lettering have faded.

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But there were plenty of old headstones that were still in pretty decent shape, such as this one where Robert Sylvanis Davis has been resting in peace since his death in 1909.

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This headstone looks like it has been slowly sinking into the ground for many years. Unless someone rescues it, there will come a time when the headstone of Alice V. will be completely buried along with her original coffin.

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I saw this one headstone that had recently toppled over and broke in a few pieces.

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And it looks like these headstones were previously broken then glued back together.

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The only notable person whose grave I found was one for Bernarr Graham Busbice, a musician who performed professionally under the name Buzz Busby and he became known as the Father of Washington, DC Bluegrass Music. He was someone who was buried long after both of my grandparents passed away.

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Here’s are a few recordings of Buzz Busby in his prime.

I remember whenever I wandered the cemetery as a child, I used to feel sad when I encountered the grave of a baby or a child who was younger than me because I was alive and walking around while they were already dead and buried. I would especially feel sad whenever someone left a toy or some other personal memento at the gravesite. Many of the headstones of these children include statues of angels or lambs.

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Even though this unnamed baby boy died soon after he was born in 1959, someone still left a recent bouquet of artificial flowers at his grave. Which indicates that this baby still means a lot to his family 56 years after his death.

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There were quite a few headstones with photographs on them so people would know what the deceased looked like in life. The older graves had black and white photographs.

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The newer graves had photographs in living color.

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People mostly left flowers at the graves. When I visited this cemetery just a few weeks before Halloween, I noticed a lot of Halloween decorations that were left at the graves as well.

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This grave of a man who died a year ago had a black and white photograph and an engraved picture on the headstone, a Baltimore Ravens sticker, flowers, a couple of tiny pumpkins, a carved jack o’lantern, and even a personal note written on an erasable board with dry markers.

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There were all kinds of headstones at this cemetery, some of which looked like works of art. This headstone had a nice nature scene etched on the side.

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This headstone looked relatively plain on one side until you looked at the back and saw this intricate etching.

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Then there was this headstone shaped like a park bench. It looked pretty inviting to sit on.

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Some of you reading this are probably wondering if my grandparents are buried at Good Shepherd Cemetery. It would’ve been appropriate considering all those years that they lived in the house next to it. But, no, they weren’t buried there at all. Instead they were buried just a few miles away at the cemetery located on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Last Wednesday I posted a couple of photos I took while I was in Bethesda. I was there for business reasons and I had to arrive there at the crack of dawn. I was a bit frazzled when everything was over by 11 a.m. for the day. (I can’t really go into details here about the reason why I was frazzled or how I got so frazzled in the first place.) Once everything was over I realized that the area of Bethesda I was at was near the borders with both Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. I remembered that, for a while, I had been wanting to make a return trip to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia in order to check out that new historical 1950’s BeForever doll, Maryellen, in person. I was within close driving distance of that mall plus it was a Tuesday afternoon, which meant that the kids would be in school so I could just look at dolls in peace without encountering hordes of running, screaming kids (like on the weekends).

So I drove to the mall (which was about a 15-20 minute commute from where I was). When I arrived the first thing I did was to eat lunch at Wasabi. (That’s the sushi place where everything is delivered on a conveyor belt. The food is very excellent so the delivery gimmick is icing on the cake.) Then I did a leisurely walking around the mall. I went to the outside area of the mall where I would’ve entered had I opted to use the Metro instead of the car to get there. I saw that there were a few nice touches that weren’t there the last time I was there back in April. There was the table tennis table where I saw a couple of guys play a furious game of ping pong.

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They also had giant checkerboards where one can play giant sized versions of either checkers or chess.

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One of those large chess pieces is almost as big as my foot.

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I was browsing some of the stores inside the mall. It seemed like this trip became a nostalgia trip for me because of what I saw that evoked past memories for me. I found this stuffed Gizmo from the 1980’s movie Gremlins. I can remember when I saw that movie when it was first released in the theaters a long time ago. I was surprised to see a new toy based on that movie.

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Here’s an overhead shot of an olive oil and vinegar bar where one can purchase olive oil and vinegar in a variety of different flavors. They also tend to be more expensive than the olive oil and vinegar that one finds in a regular supermarket. I’ve seen these types of stores in various upscale shopping areas around the Washington, DC area so I wasn’t really that surprised to see one at Tyson’s Corner. To be honest, I’m happy with buying vinegar and olive oil from the supermarket instead of one of these specialty stores.

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Everywhere I walked around the mall, I saw all kinds of Star Wars stuff on sale ranging from kids toys to sexy bustiers for adults. It’s like the stores are gearing for that new Star Wars movie that’s coming out by the end of this year. (It’s going to be the first Star Wars movie since Disney bought the rights to it from George Lucas a few years ago.) The next few photos show just a few of the many Star Wars stuff I saw on sale at that mall.

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I eventually made it to the American Girl Place. Sure enough, the signs all over the store remind shoppers that, yes, there is a historical 1950’s BeForever doll named Maryellen and, yes, she now exists in real life.

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And here she is, Maryellen Larkin, in her default 1950’s style outfit.

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And here is the smaller mini doll version of Maryellen, which costs $25 (versus $115 for the 18-inch version).

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Even though I previously wrote about my trepidations regarding American Girl coming out with a 1950’s doll (mainly because I was inundated with all kinds of 1950’s nostalgia when I was growing up in the 1970’s), I have to admit that I like her strawberry blonde hair and her default outfit is cute as well. The color scheme reminds me of Spoonflower.com’s Coral, Mint, Black, and White contest that I entered in earlier this year. Overall I think she’s pretty cute and she definitely looks striking in person.

Maryellen represents the 1950’s era that both my mother and my late father grew up in. In fact, before I made this recent trek to the American Girl Place, I received the latest American Girl catalogue in the mail that features Maryellen prominently. I’m currently saving it for the next time I visit my mother in person because I think she’d get a kick out of seeing all of the 1950’s clothes and other items from her era rendered in doll form. I’m not sure if she would want the doll herself but I think she’d still get a kick out of seeing the catalogue nonetheless.

There are also other 1950’s outfits available for Maryellen and they are all adorable (even if the cheapest outfit I found costs $32).

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There are also outfits for young girls that are modern takes on Maryellen’s wardrobe (so as to avoid the historical costume look that’s more appropriate for Halloween or cosplaying at a geek convention). The next photo is based on Maryellen’s default outfit and I think it’s a very cute and chic update on Maryellen’s 1950’s aesthetic.

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This black outfit with the pink poodle appliqué (based on Maryellen’s poodle skirt ensemble that’s sold separately) is less successful in my mind. It looks more like a costume than something that a modern girl would wear to school or to a friend’s house on the weekend. In fact, it reminds me more of the kinderwhore look that the 1990’s riot grrls used to wear onstage, such as Babes in Toyland and Courtney Love (back when she was the lead singer of Hole before her personal problems overwhelmed her performing career).

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In recent years it seems like American Girl has gotten into launching big ticket items for certain dolls that cost a lot of money. There was Samantha’s Ice Cream Parlor and Gazebo. There was the current 2015 Girl of the Year Grace’s French Bakery, which costs a whopping $500. Now there’s Maryellen’s Seaside Diner.

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The store had one of the Seaside Diners out in the middle of the floor where one can look at it in detail. The diner is slightly smaller than Grace’s French Bakery (although it would still take up a tremendous amount of space in a small home) and, at a retail price of $275, it’s cheaper than that bakery as well. (Although frugal parents would have a very hard time justifying paying $275 for a child’s doll no matter how cute and realistic looking it is.) I have to admit that American Girl did a pretty credible job with designing a realistic circa-1950’s diner with the impeccable attention to detail (such as the formica countertop). I’ve heard that Maryellen’s story takes place in Florida (I haven’t read any of her books as of this writing), which would make sense given the name of the diner. In addition, I went to a couple of cafes and restaurants when I last went to Melbourne (located in Florida’s Space Coast region) back in 2011 and Maryellen’s diner looked way similar to my memories of eating in those real-life places. (Many of them even played 1950’s oldies music. It was probably because many of the retirees now living in Florida came of age in the 1950’s and these businesses were catering to them by playing the music from their youth.)

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Even though the jukebox was shown with the Seaside Diner, it’s really sold separately. It costs $90 and it can not only play a selection of six tunes that evoke the 1950’s but one can also use it as an external speaker for a computer laptop, tablet, iPod, or any other kind of modern electronic mobile device. I grew up with these types of jukeboxes in the 1970’s (many of the local cheap restaurants, cafes, and diners had them) and I still encounter them from time to time (although there aren’t as many of them as when I was growing up). I have to admit that the American Girl jukebox looks pretty realistic.

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There’s even an apron for Maryellen to wear whenever she decides to work behind the counter. (Although, in reality, she would not have been legally allowed to even get a job at her age since the child labor laws were passed decades earlier.)

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There was also a living room set for Maryellen with furniture that is supposed to evoke the 1950’s era that she grew up in.

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Her sofa is actually a sofa bed which opens into a place where Maryellen and one other 18-inch doll can sleep. It’s pretty cute even if it costs $150.

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Then there’s Maryellen’s $85 television console. American Girl did a pretty decent job with that one because I still saw similar setups like this in various people’s homes way into the 1970’s. (I grew up in a more working class area where people held on to their stuff a while longer than people with more disposable incomes. The attitude among most of the adults in my neighborhood was that it didn’t matter if something came from the 1950’s as long as it was still working.)

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Seeing that tiny set of encyclopedias also brought back memories for me even though I wasn’t around in the 1950’s. Basically many families in the 1950’s and 1960’s thought that buying a set of encyclopedias for their children would help them succeed in school. My parents felt that way also because they bought a set soon after I was born. The only problem was that by the time I reached middle school, much of the information in them was out of date so that set became pretty useless for doing research with. For my schoolwork I ended up using the encyclopedias in the school library and the local public library because they were more current and up-to-date. My parents ultimately got rid of the encyclopedias while I was still in high school since I rarely touched them.

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While this next shot shows a still screen featuring Maryellen in black and white (since color television wasn’t available to the masses back in the 1950’s), there is an area in the back of the console where one can place an iPad. The idea is to download an app that’s related to this console online and the person can use that app to create TV shows with. Then the person would slide the app behind the console and the screen would look like the TV is playing that TV show that was created with an app. This option is only available for iPads. (Have an iPod, an iPhone, or a Droid tablet or smartphone? Too bad for you!)

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Then there’s the $58 living room set, which features this funky table and lamp. Even though I grew up in the 1970’s, I visited a lot of homes that still had tables and lamps similar to this set. (Like I wrote earlier, I grew up in a mostly working class area where people were slower to upgrade to the latest and greatest furniture and other types of home decor.)

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This set includes a miniature TV Guide, which brings back a lot of memories for me. My mother used to bring home the latest issue of TV Guide along with the weekly groceries. There were a few articles in the front and back (focusing mainly on the stars of the shows currently on the air) but the middle section was a bunch of TV listings that were organized by day and time so one would know when a particular favorite program was going to air on what day and at what time. In addition, there would be short descriptions of what a certain show is about and what actors or actresses would be involved. That helped a person decide on whether to watch a certain show or pass on it. That miniature TV Guide is an accurate replica of what I would’ve read from the 1970’s until about 10 or 15 years ago when that publication underwent a serious format change. TV Guide started having problems with keeping up with TV listings because of an increase in the number of cable channels while keeping to its small publication size. So it decided to increase the size of its publication, which wasn’t so bad. But, along with that larger publication format, it decided to add more feature articles about current TV stars and devote fewer pages to TV listings, which resulted in a confusing grid listing all the shows for the week that was printed on one or two pages and the rest were feature articles. TV Guide went downhill for me after that. Until I quite my newspaper subscription last year, I used its TV listings instead of buying TV Guide. These days I rely on the Internet for TV listings. Yet I still see TV Guide still on sale at the supermarket checkout line so someone must like that format enough to buy it.

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That ad for Uncle Walt also brought back memories because one of the local TV stations in Baltimore had a similar weekday kid-friendly host who would introduce the cartoons and other kid-friendly programming. Except the name of the host in my area was known as Captain Chesapeake.

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When I first learned about Maryellen representing the 1950’s, I read the synopsis of the books and I immediately thought of Leave It To Beaver if Beaver had been a girl. But I later learned that Maryellen’s life isn’t some perfect utopia. From what I’ve read online (I haven’t read the books yet), she supposedly had polio when she was much younger, which resulted in one of her legs being weaker than the other. I never had to deal with polio, measles, or certain other childhood illnesses because I was vaccinated on a regular basis as a child. In recent years there have been these anti-vaxxers who are currently going around the country urging people not to vaccinate their children because vaccines cause autism. Even though there have been numerous scientific studies refuting that claim, people are still not vaccinating their kids so there have been a return of diseases in recent years that were previously rare, such as whooping cough.

That living room set also includes a tiny newspaper that includes headlines that would make the anti-vaxxers have a screaming fit if they ever saw them.

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I have to commend American Girl for standing up to the anti-vaxxers in a very subtle way like this. Especially since, about a year or two ago, I read an article somewhere that made me cringe. Basically there were some parents who, instead of vaccinating their children, decided to group together and have “pox parties” where they would expose their children to someone who currently had chicken pox so they would get the chicken pox at an early age. Yes, I admit that it’s true that children who get the chicken pox at an earlier age tend to have fewer health consequences than getting it as a teen or adult. Yes, it’s true that once you have the chicken pox, you have a lifetime immunity from ever getting again. But, as someone who survived chicken pox in the second grade, I would urge parents to get their kids vaccinated instead. The only reason why I wasn’t vaccinated against chicken pox was because that vaccine wasn’t around when I was young. If such a vaccine had been invented, the pediatrician would’ve given it to me with my parents’ blessing. I still have memories of the chicken pox covering my entire body. I remembered that it went into every single fold of my body plus there was the constant insane itching everywhere. I remember smearing calming lotion everywhere several times a day and I still itched. I would wake up in the middle of the night scratching myself. It was a week of pure hell. Parents, take it from a chicken pox survivor: For the love of God, get that damned chicken pox vaccine and skip the pox parties!!!

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Well, anyway, back to my visit to the American Girl Place. There’s also Maryellen’s Classroom Set along with a very cute school outfit, which are both sold separately.

There is a cursive writing poster that’s way similar to what I saw in school. I’ll admit that I never enjoyed cursive writing and I used to get bad marks for my handwriting. I was forced to write in cursive as late as high school. It wasn’t just English classes who required cursive writing. Even classes like social studies required papers to be turned in written in cursive. When I got to college and I found that the professors there weren’t quite as fanatical about cursive writing, I switched to print instead. These days I only do cursive writing when I have to sign something. I have one of my Facebook friends who lately has made it her mission to advocate that schools emphasize cursive writing more. (Apparently cursive writing isn’t taught quite as intensively since computers have made their way into the curriculums.) She talks about how wonderful it is to learn cursive. Personally I disagree with her because I struggled with it in school. I think just enough cursive writing should be taught so the kid will learn how to sign his or her name when he/she reaches adulthood.

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This Classroom Set includes flashcards, which I definitely remember (even though I wasn’t born in the 1950’s). While the teachers sometimes used them in school, I tended to use them at home in the evenings and weekends to practice things like certain words or multiplication tables. I’m currently involved with my church’s program to teach English to recent immigrants and we use a curriculum that includes flashcards.

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The Classroom Set also includes a map of the United States, which is fascinating to look at because this particular map shows Alaska and Hawaii as U.S. territories. That’s because Maryellen’s story starts in 1954 and Alaska and Hawaii wouldn’t become states for another five years. My parents were both taught in school that the U.S. had 48 states. By the time I started school, I was taught that the U.S. currently has 50 states. So it’s a bit of a generation gap. (LOL!)

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The Bottom Line: I think Maryellen is cute and some of her accessories remind me of my own childhood because they were still around in the 1970’s. Plus there were my own memories of watching 1950’s nostalgia TV shows like Happy Days and that variety series featuring the band Sha Na Na. Maryellen represents the era that my parents grew up in. But I’m still not going to rush out and buy her because she costs $115 and her accessories are pricey as well. I also have to keep in mind the limited space in my home so I’m not going to buy a larger doll unless I fall head over heels in love with it. Julie still speaks more to me than Maryellen does because she represents my own era of the 1970’s. If my mother falls head over heels in love with the doll after I show her the catalogue, I may buy it for her as a surprise Christmas present. (Or I may just buy the cheaper mini doll version for her instead.) Otherwise, I’ll pass on ever buying that doll.

So the store’s main emphasis was on Maryellen because she’s new. The current Girl of the Year, Grace, had mostly been shunted off to the side—including her $500 bakery. She only has a few more months to go before her reign as Girl of the Year ends and she is permanently retired along with that $500 bakery.

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There are a few new items that were released as part of Grace’s line. There were travel accessories for kids and even a travel-themed stationery set, which all have the Eiffel Tower motif. I thought they were cute.

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There’s also Grace’s Charm Bracelet and Jewelry Keeper for humans, the latter of which looks like the Eiffel Tower. The bracelet is cute but I wouldn’t pay the $60 retail price for it since I can find similar charm bracelets at Target or Claire’s for way less. (Especially since that bracelet—like everything else that American Girl sells—is made in China very cheaply and the prices are just overinflated because it has that coveted American Girl name attached to it.)

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I came close to buying a special rubber spatula for humans that’s part of Grace’s line (and released as a joint project of American Girl and Williams-Sonoma) because part of the proceeds from the sales were going to the anti-poverty group No Kid Hungry. But then I saw the $12 price tag per spatula and I balked because I can buy two or three rubber spatulas at Target for the price of one. I ended up just taking pictures of the spatula instead.

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I focused the bulk of my attention on Maryellen on this trip because she is new. There were furniture and other accessories released as part of the other BeForever doll lines but the only one I took photos of was this vanity set for Julie. I used to see similar funky colorful furniture in other people’s homes when I was growing up.

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This vanity set comes with this funky owl clock. While I never had an owl clock as a child, I had a round funky yellow clock that was a wind-up and it was made in West Germany. (Yes, that was back when the Cold War still raged on and Germany was divided into two countries.)

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I generally tend to ignore the modern girl line (which originally started as My American Girl, then the name was changed to Just Like You, and it has now been just relaunched again under a new name: Truly Me) because each doll costs $115 and the modern accessories and clothes are expensive as well. My attitude is that if I was going to buy a modern 18-inch doll with clothes and accessories, I would rather buy them from Target, Walmart, or Michaels Arts & Crafts for a fraction of what American Girl charges. (Besides all of these companies manufacture these dolls in China.) But I have to admit that the Halloween costumes are pretty cute even if they cost about as much as a Halloween costume for a real child.

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There is a modern living room set that’s similar to what’s in the 1950’s Maryellen line except this set evokes the latest technology that would’ve been unheard of in Maryellen’s era.

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This modern doll and her dog are all settled in on the pink couch as they are about to watch a 3D movie. (Note the 3D glasses.)

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The entertainment console set includes a pretend flatscreen TV set, a pretend DVD player, a few pretend DVDs, and a pretend remote control. The closeup shows the kind of movies that a doll can watch on this entertainment console set.

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Even though the popcorn machine was displayed with the entertainment console, that one is really sold separately. It is cute looking and the popcorn looks realistic. But that popcorn machine looks pretty big for an average home and it looks like it would be more appropriate for a pretend movie theater than a pretend living room.

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I eventually left the mall around 2:30 p.m. because I wasn’t in the mood to endure the Capital Beltway’s notoriously horrendous evening rush hour traffic. I purchased a couple of items from the American Girl Place.  One was call Doll Photo Shoot and it included two books (one on still photography and the other on making videos). It also included two large backdrops that are folded up neatly (so they can be stored easily) that one can use in photography. Those backdrops are worth the purchase alone because I can always use them in future photography projects (and they don’t have to involve dolls either).

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I also got this book, which is a mystery featuring the former Civil War-era slave Addy as she solves a strange riddle that evokes her slave past. I’ve since read it and I found it much better than any of the Julie mysteries (which I reviewed as part of a series of reviews I did regarding the 1970’s Julie character last summer). Unlike most of the Julie mysteries, where I figured out what the real deal was just two or three chapters into the book, I was kept in suspense all the way until the very end. And the ending evoked the less-than-savory aspects of America’s slave past and lingering racism that still remains unresolved to this very day.

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