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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.

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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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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First of all, I just want to say that this isn’t another satiric entry in the Occupy the Dollhouse series. This is real life.

I mentioned in my last entry that there were people who are totally miffed that, for the past few years, the Girl of the Year has always been a white doll and Grace Thomas is just the latest white doll to be given the Girl of the Year designation.

Here is why people are upset. The last part-ethnic (Japanese/Haiwai’ian/white) doll was Kanani Akina in 2011. The last fully ethnic (Latina) doll was Marisol Luna back in 2005.

As for me, the only Girl of the Year I was even mildly interested in was last year’s model, Isabelle Palmer, and that was because her backstory takes place in Washington, DC, where I currently live. When I saw the doll in person I passed on her because she just resembled another doll that I already owned and I didn’t want to spend the money on just a retread. My decision was further solidified when I saw that awful Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight movie on the Disney Channel last summer.

But had Isabelle been a non-white lower-class character, I may have been more interested and it’s possible that I would’ve bought the doll. Given the demographics of where I live, Isabelle could’ve easily been African American since that group has long lived in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area dating as far back as the 1700’s. Isabelle could’ve also been Latina since Washington, DC has a large number of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Heck, she could’ve easily been Korean or Ethiopian since there are sizable communities from those groups as well.

At least her backstory would’ve been more dramatic and compelling had there been a story about—let’s say—a dance student who was born in either El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala who was brought to the U.S. as an infant and she not only has to deal with learning her steps but also constantly thinking about how one wrong move could lead her and her family to be deported back to the original home country that she doesn’t know at all other than what her relatives have told her.

Well some American Girl doll fans are upset enough to start organizing an Internet campaign. This link has the full details on how you can get involved. Here’s the graphic that you can download for free if you want to take part via your own blog or favorite social media site. (And, no, I didn’t do this graphic either. I merely downloaded it from somewhere else.)

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All I have to say is that I wish the people behind this effort lots of luck. I can easily understand why a person of color would feel left out every year when American Girl comes out with a new Girl of the Year and she’s yet another white girl. With an increase in the population of people of color and with America being poised to become a majority-minority country, it just seems like a stupid business decision in the long run to have American Girl continue with having only white Girls of the Year.

I learned a similar lesson first-hand a few years ago when I first started selling my crafts at street festivals. I had started getting into buying used Barbie dolls from thrift stores then rehabilitating them into fairy dolls and I was even making a profit from doing so. When I was working this one festival, I had Barbie fairy dolls who were all Caucasian. There was an African American girl who came by the table who started to look at my dolls with a wide-eyed wonder. I knew she was interested. Her mother came over and looked at my inventory of all-white dolls and she asked me if I had any fairy dolls of color. When I said no, she took her daughter and walked away from my table. I basically blew a potential sale because I didn’t have any dolls of color.

Ever since that incident, I always made sure that I have at least one doll of color whenever I sell my dolls at various craft fairs because I wasn’t about to let my racial cluelessness blow a sale ever again.

When I took Econ 101 in college, we had to read a study that shows how racism—both overt and subtle—tends to have an adverse effect on businesses in the long run. This more recent report says the same thing. If American Girl is smart, it would at least try a Girl of the Year who’s also a doll of color. Because if it ignores the complaints of its fans, then it could lose business in the long run and that company would deserve it.

In the meantime, if you want more diverse dolls and are fed up with American Girl being slow with coming out with releasing a Girl of the Year of any other race besides white, there is this link on babble.com that has a list of 8 Diverse Alternatives to American Girl.

UPDATE (February 2, 2015): Someone has done some Photoshopping of her own two African American dolls to show what it would’ve been like had American Girl chosen a doll of color for its previous Girls of the Year and the results look interesting and lovely.

On New Year’s Day I decided to do something that I have never done before. After looking around at various options, I decided to try visiting American Girl Place on the day that the new Girl of the Year is formally put on sale for the first time anywhere in the United States. Here’s some background. American Girl originally started as an independently woman-owned doll company that specializes in selling historical dolls (along with corresponding books that describes the character that the doll represents and the era she comes from) to a target audience of girls from 8-12.

After Mattel bought the company, they decided to try something else. First they introduced a line of modern dolls wearing modern clothes that is now known as American Girl of Today. When that became a hit, American Girl decided to do a Girl of the Year where, for one year, a new doll is put on sale (along with related books, clothes, and accessories) then is retired after the year ends. This doll is supposed to represent a modern girl dealing with modern issues. The first and second dolls were slow sellers but when the company introduced Marisol Luna as its 2005 Girl of the Year, that whole line really took off into this totally annual hype juggernaut.

There seems to be an annual ritual where, starting in the fall, there are speculations among the American Girl message boards and blogs as to who will be the next Girl of the Year. Sometimes, as what happened with this year’s Girl of the Year, one of the Chinese factories that American Girl contracts with will leak pictures online through the Chinese auction site Taobao. The blogs and message boards will post those leaked photos, which, in turn, incites American Girl to have their lawyers issue one of those cease and desist letters saying that those photos must disappear or else. The vast majority of those online sites usually comply since most of them are run by individuals who don’t have the deep pockets to hire their own lawyers like American Girl does. So you get online pages like this one, which formerly posted the leaked photo(s) in question.

But then Amazon.com starts taking pre-orders for the 9-inch mini doll, and book versions of the Girl of the Year weeks before the official launch and the fans start writing more openly about this new doll since there’s no way American Girl would try to silence a big corporate behemoth like Amazon.

So the hype increases when, towards the end of December, American Girl starts dropping hints about the new Girl of the Year. The hype culminates on December 31—New Year’s Eve—when American Girl will send a representative to appear on ABC’s Good Morning America TV show and the doll is formally unveiled along with her name, just like what happened with the new Girl of the Year.

Then the newly anointed Girl of the Year formally goes on sale for the first time on January 1—New Year’s Day—and she’ll remain on sale until all of the dolls are sold out later in the year or on New Year’s Eve, whichever comes first. Then the cycle begins again starting in the fall when American Girl doll fans start to speculate on who will be the 2016 Girl of the Year and so on.

For the record, the 2015 Girl of the Year is named Grace Thomas. She’s described as someone who loves to bake and she has an entrepreneurial trait where she organizes her friends to start their own small baking business. At one point she also travels to France, which explains why her Meet outfit has her wearing an Eiffel Tower t-shirt with the words “Paris, Je T’aime” and why her separately sold Grace’s Welcome Gifts includes a beret. Having seen the doll both online and in person I have to say that I find her to be very cute. I love her long brown hair with the side bangs and a long braid down the side and I find her blue eyes to be very striking. She has the same first name as one of my late grandmothers and the same last name as two of my current online friends (a married couple whom I’ve only met in person twice because they live in Chicago while I live outside of Washington, DC). She’s into baking and wants to start her own baking business, just like one of my friends, an avid baker who has her own business called Dances With Loaves. She also hails from Massachusetts, a state I have travelled to a few times and I have always enjoyed my trips there. In addition, one of my friends from church is originally from a town located near Boston.

While the doll is gorgeous, her rollout has incited some criticisms, all of which are valid. There are the fans like this writer who remember the days when American Girl focused on teaching history to girls via their historical dolls and books who are miffed that the company seems to be more focused on the modern dolls like My American Girl and the Girl of the Year with more emphasis on clothes and accessories and less emphasis on history and how a girl can react to what’s going on around her. There is a photo comparing Grace with the previous Girls of the Year McKenna and Chrissa, while showing how similar the three dolls are to each other. Which brings up the criticism that, on a visual level, Grace seems to be a retread of earlier Girls of the Year. Then there is the most serious criticism of this new doll: Grace Thomas is the latest in a long series of white dolls that have been designated Girl of the Year. The last Girl of the Year that was at least part-ethnic (Japanese/Hawai’ian/white) was Kanani Akina in 2011 while the last fully ethnic doll (Latina) was Marisol Luna way back in 2005. The details of why that is a bad thing are so extensive that it would make this post extremely long but I highly recommend that you read AG Complaint Department: #AGDoCGotY: Because Representation in AG Lines Matter.

Even though I personally like the doll, I have no intention of getting Grace Thomas mainly because this doll, as the Girl of the Year, costs more than the other American Girl dolls. While the historical BeForever and the more modern My American Girl dolls cost $115 each, the most basic Girl of the Year doll and book set sells for $120. Personally if I want an 18-inch modern doll wearing modern clothes, I would simply go to the Target that’s located near my home and purchase an Our Generation doll for a quarter of the price of a single American Girl doll.

I had long heard that the American Girl Place stages this big event on New Year’s Day to celebrate the rollout of the new Girl of the Year but, prior to 2011 (when one of those stores opened at Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia) I didn’t have the chance to attend one. Even the first few years after the Tyson’s Corner store opened I didn’t go mainly because driving to that mall (as well as most of Northern Virginia) is such a nightmare that I would rather avoid altogether. Well, thanks to the opening of the new Silver Line Metro, I can now take a train to the mall without having to deal with the crazy drivers in Northern Virginia. So I decided to spend New Year’s Day checking out one of those Girl of the Year rollouts in person for the very first time and I took a lot of photographs.

The other times I took the Silver Line I usually arrived either around twilight or night. For once I managed to arrive while it’s still daytime so I took a couple of photos from the footbridge that connects the Metro station to Tyson’s Corner Mall. The footbridge extends over Route 123, which is one of the busiest roads in the area. Since the next two photos were taken on New Year’s Day, the streets look relatively empty by Northern Virginia standards.

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The last time I saw that Christmas tree located near the entrance to the footbridge was at night, when it was filled will all kinds of dazzling lights in a variety of colors. Viewing the same tree in the daytime is pretty interesting as well with the array of silver balls and ornaments.

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When I made my first ever trip to the mall via the Silver Line, I noticed the outdoor couches and I wondered if they would be kept outside all year round. It turns out that not only are the couches outside in the winter but there are heating tables in the middle of the two couches that put out flames so people can stay warm while sitting outside.

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The ice skating rink that I saw the last time was still there and it was filled with skaters on New Year’s Day.

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I went in the mall and I made my way to the American Girl Place, whose windows were filled with the new Girl of the Year.

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On the inside of the store there were many large Girl of the Year displays everywhere that it was impossible to ignore.

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The next photo shows the designated Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas. She looked very lovely in person and I mostly love her default Meet outfit. The only thing about her outfit I didn’t like is that big black bow located on the center top of the skirt. For some reason I thought that bow looked very awkward and out of scale in her abdomen area with the t-shirt bottom running up against that bow. If I somehow ever get that outfit (which is impossible since you can get it only if you pay $120 for the doll), the first thing I would do is to cut that bow off.

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As for the Girl of the Year celebrations, let’s just say that the store was incredibly crowded. I wasn’t able to see much of the activities because of the huge throngs of people. The next two photos shows the long line of people and their dolls waiting to get inside the American Girl Bistro along with all of the tables being occupied inside.

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In one corner of the store there was a place where people can take their pictures next to a standee of Grace and her French bulldog.

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Not only was Grace formally rolled out but her clothes, books, and accessories were also formally debuted on New Year’s Day. Grace’s outfits start at $24 (for her pajamas) and most of them are at least $30. As for the pastry cart that’s featured in the next two photos, that one costs $150.

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Grace’s line also has a travel set for sale that includes a rolling suitcase with a retractable handle, a luggage tag, passport, plane tickets, and a travel journal that costs $44. I took a close look at the suitcase and I have to admit that it looks pretty realistic (based on my own personal experiences with rolling suitcases). But it still seems pretty pricey for a doll-sized suitcase.

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One of the cheaper items in Grace’s line is this cute French bulldog, which is a relative bargain at $22.

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While most of the other American Girl dolls are sold in dark pink boxes, Grace is further distinguished as the Girl of the Year by being sold in a purple box. In any case I saw plenty of people pick them up. Heck, I saw one burly guy pick up three of those boxes (which costs him a total of $360). I would’ve loved to have gotten a picture of it but he kept on moving around and at one point he gave me this dirty look so I decided against taking that photo.

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The cheapest item in Grace’s line are the three books in her series. Each book costs $10.

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One of the most crowded areas of the store was this center display that featured Grace’s French Bakery. There were people constantly crowded around it while the employees were constantly applying germ-killing wipes to the items to prevent any kind of contamination.

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The next photo was one of the few shots that I was able to get of the inside of the bakery because of so many people crowding around it. It looks so interesting that I’ll probably go back to the store and photograph it at a later date when the initial Girl of the Year hype dies down.

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Some of the bakery’s contents were left outside as they were drying from being recently wiped with disposable anti-bacterial towelettes. I managed to get quite a few shots of the miniature pastries, signs, and baking utensils. I was totally amazed at the attention to detail and how realistic these miniatures looked. (Heck, there was even a miniature mobile tablet among the items.)

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I didn’t see a price tag anywhere near that bakery. I assumed that it must cost at least $200. When I got home and looked online, I found that Grace’s French Bakery, which includes over 60 accessories, costs a whopping $500. That’s a lot of money for a doll accessory. When I posted some of my photos of that bakery on my Facebook page while mentioning how much it costs, at least two of my friends who are parents of girls who are almost American Girl’s target age responded back where they basically balked at the price. I don’t know if too many parents are going to be willing to spend that much money on a toy bakery—no matter how well made it is—but that’s one of those things that I won’t know for sure until later this year. A lot of Grace’s smaller accessories were sold separately, such as Grace’s Paris Accessories set, which costs $32.

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For the girl who wishes that she could dress like Grace Thomas, American Girl have her covered as well. There were human girl-sized outfits whose prices ranged from $18 (for the pink beret) all the way to $48 for a red knit sweater that says “Love” in black letters.

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The “Grace Thomas is the 2015 Girl of the Year” hype was everywhere in that store. There was even a Grace Thomas sign on a shelf that was dedicated to the historical BeForever Civil War-era former slave doll Addy Walker and her accessories.

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There were such a scrum of people that the shelf space devoted to the BeForever mini dolls looked trashed. photo42

But when I came back to the area a few minutes later, I saw that someone had straightened that shelf so three leftover mini dolls were displayed upright.

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I have to admit that I liked the holiday gift boxes that housed the remaining mini dolls. (When I was there, Samantha was the only mini doll that was available in those boxes.)

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Since I now know what it’s like to be inside of the American Girl Place on the day that a new Girl of the Year goes on sale for the first time, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever do this again because it was way too crowded for my tastes. For the 2016 Girl of the Year, I’ll probably wait at least a month before seeing that doll in person—when all of the initial hype dies down.

After visiting the American Girl Place, I walked around the mall some more. I took this shot of the windows of a temporary Christmas shop that will probably be closed for the season sometime within the next week or two. (The store was holding a clearance sale when I was there.) The store featured a window display that’s decorated with ornaments reflecting the major NFL football team in nearby Washington, DC. (It’s a name that has long raised the ire of Native Americans because they consider the name “Redskins” to be a racial slur and the fight to get team owner Dan Snyder to change it has gained steam in recent years. It has even led to this hilarious South Park commercial.)

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I went inside the Lego Store, where I found this interesting kit. For around $70, anyone can buy a kit to recreate the famous cantina scene from the original 1977 Star Wars movie.

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I didn’t stay long in the Lego Store because, as the next photo shows, that store was just as crowded as the American Girl Place.

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Everywhere I went it was totally crowded. Finding a seat to take a rest was difficult. I was so glad that I decided to take the Metro because I can only imagine how crazy the traffic going to and from the mall was (not to mention the struggle to find parking). I found this interesting kiosk that sold locally made donuts called Naughty Girls Donut Shop.

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I didn’t buy anything this time around but I’ll probably try at least one of their donuts on my next trip to the American Girl Place so I can take more detailed photos of that $500 bakery for Grace Thomas. Although, after reading the ingredients for the donut in the next picture, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be brave enough to try the Wakin’ Bacon donut.

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I’ve just finished watching this movie on the Disney Channel called Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight, which is a movie made by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) and is based on a few books that were written to accommodate its current 2014 Girl of the Year doll, Isabelle Palmer. Yes, I purchased a historical 1970’s doll named Julie Albright from the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia the day before my hip surgery in 2011 (and it’s the same doll that my husband gave as the reason why he had to walk out on me and hook up with a woman with serious mental health issues—but that’s another story). Since that purchase I hadn’t even been interested in another American Girl doll before 2014.

I usually didn’t bother with the Girl of the Year doll before Isabelle Palmer was announced because I found that line less interesting than the Historical Characters. (I’ve always been a bit of a history buff ever since I was in elementary school.) The sole reason why I began to care about Isabelle was because her story takes place in Washington, DC and I live in the DC area. So I was curious as to how American Girl would portray Isabelle’s DC hometown.

I briefly thought about getting the Isabelle doll until I saw her in person. I decided to pass on getting the doll because she resembled my Julie Albright doll too much. Here’s are two comparison photos I took back in March of the two dolls on display at the Tyson’s Corner store.

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I ultimately got the Ivy Ling doll since she exists in Julie’s 1970’s era and, while I was re-reading the Julie books earlier this spring in preparation for my massive summer-long Throwback Thursday reviews of those books, Ivy’s character began to grow on me so much that I decided to save my money so I could buy the doll. I ended up buying Ivy earlier than I originally planned because American Girl announced that she is among four Historical Character dolls that will be retired by the end of the year.

Even though I decided against getting the Isabelle doll, I was still curious about her story, especially since it takes place in my hometown of Washington, DC. I kept on thinking about going to the library to check out one of her books but I kept on procrastinating. I think the fact that I read negative reviews like this one added to my procrastination.

Last month a movie based on the first Isabelle book was released on DVD but I didn’t bother with trying to rent it or find some way of seeing it until I learned that it was debuting on the Disney Channel this evening. So I finally sat down and watched it figuring that it would be a quicker way of getting the gist of Isabelle’s story than going to the library, checking out her books, and spending the time reading them. Here’s a preview of the movie.

Here are my impressions of Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight.

The movie started with views of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. At times there are shots of such DC landmarks like the U.S. Capitol Building but, to be honest, this story could take place in Peoria or Scranton or Raleigh or anywhere else in the United States because the city of Washington, DC itself is used so sparingly. One could easily compare this movie against other set-in-DC movies like True Lies and The Exorcist because the latter two movies actually wove the various DC locations into the actual story lines while Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight seems to keep DC at arm’s length because heaven forbid that the famous statue of Albert Einstein or the panda bears at the National Zoo get in the way of Isabelle fretting over whether she’s as good a ballet dancer as her older sister Jade.

A young blonde haired girl named Isabelle Palmer is a student at the Anna Hart School for the Performing Arts (which is obviously patterned after the real-life Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown) and, despite the fact that she’s fortunate enough to get into such an elite school, she has a lot of insecurities. Her older sister, Jade, is also a student at that school and she’s one of the best ballet dancers in a school full of elite performing artists. Isabelle spends much of the film fretting over not being as good as Jade and always being in Jade’s shadow as the younger sister.

Isabelle is also talented as a fashion designer and her main hobby is taking clothes she finds in thrift shops and putting her own final touches on them. Jade admits that she’s envious that Isabelle is so talented with sewing and I found myself thinking that Isabelle could go into fashion design and make a name for herself instead of doing something that makes her insecure and mopey while feeling like she’s in her older sister’s shadow. But, nah, that would be too easy of a solution for Isabelle.

Isabelle and Jade live in this giant house in DC that is so big that it just screams “RICH FAMILY LIVES HERE!” The girls’ father is an administrator at some unnamed workplace during the week and a rock musician on the weekend while their artistic mother restores antique textiles for the Smithsonian.

Basically Isabelle’s problems are First World Problems that affect the 1% like her family.

Anyway the plot thickens when a DC native named Jackie Sanchez arrives in her hometown. Jackie is a famous ballerina whom both Jade and Isabelle admires. Jackie decides that she wants to take part in a local DC production of that Christmas favorite The Nutcracker and she wants to hire students from the Anna Hart School of the Performing Arts. What’s more, those students who make the audition and become part of the cast will be eligible for another special treat: the opportunity to attend a summer session of this ballet school in New York City. However, there are slots for only four students so this Nutcracker production also serves as a competition on which four cast members who are determined by the director and Jackie Sanchez as the best dancers will go to New York the following summer.

If that isn’t enough, Isabelle has a nemesis who’s so resentful and jealous of her that she’s hell-bent on making Isabelle’s life miserable. Renata frequently bullies Isabelle and tells her that she’s nowhere near as good as her sister. Renata is an African-American girl with a big chip on her shoulders who takes her frustrations out on a white girl who has had all kinds of privileges handed to her based on both her race and class. In better hands, this subplot could have been a very interesting and absorbing story that could’ve served as a metaphor about the negative impact of prejudice based on race, gender, and class on American society. But this is American Girl we’re talking about, not a Spike Lee movie.

After the auditions both Isabelle and Jade learn that they made it to The Nutcracker cast. Unfortunately for Isabelle, Renata also made the auditions as well. Renata makes the most of this opportunity by psyching Isabelle out with her snarky remarks and bullying behavior while she’s also a brown-nosing suck-up with both the show’s director and Jackie Sanchez. At one point she even convinces the director to make the Snowflake Dance more difficult in an attempt to screw up Isabelle. She also reminds Isabelle that she had to audition three times to get into the Hart School and she ultimately got in as a younger sister of a current student.

As a result, Isabelle is feeling more insecure about her abilities as a dancer and more paranoid about being in her sister’s shadow and the rest of the movie is devoted to Isabelle’s negative perceptions of herself.

There are numerous musical numbers interspersed throughout the movie, which breaks up the scenes of Isabelle’s constant moping about her dancing abilities. Most of the music isn’t very memorable but the dancing is really good. The best of the musical numbers are the scenes from The Nutcracker but, then again, it would take a lot to really screw up Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

In a nutshell, this movie is a cross between Fame, Mean Girls, and All About Eve that’s more sanitized for the tween set.

There are some cliches in the movie as well, like when a nutcracker gets broken during an argument between the two sisters (which mirrors the famous plot of The Nutcracker). And everything gets neatly tidied up at the end when The Nutcracker is a smashing success, the main characters all have their major dreams come true, and a White Christmas comes to DC. The End.

Here’s the bottom line about Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight: The acting is okay but it’s nothing spectacular. The movie does have a lot of cliches (such as “believe in yourself”) and the ending is predictable where Renata and Isabelle make up and everyone gets what they want. Young kids will love this movie (especially if they are into ballet or even dancing in general) while the musical numbers will prevent most adults from going crazy while their children are watching this. It’s not the worst movie ever made but it’s not really that great either. While there are casual mentions of Washington, DC, it’s not a good reason for any Washingtonian to watch this movie because there are very few of such references. (That’s why I mentioned earlier that this story could take place anywhere in the U.S. and there’s very little about DC to really make much of a difference in terms of the plot.)  If you have young children at home, I would recommend renting this or try to see if the Disney Channel will repeat airing this movie instead of buying the DVD. If you don’t have any young children at home, then you can easily not bother with this movie unless you’re completely bored and there’s nothing else on television that you’re interested in watching.

In fact, the best thing about watching this movie on the Disney Channel is that it was followed by a Tinkerbell short that’s sort of a cute riff on the Food Network’s Iron Chef—complete with a hilarious ending. I found that short to be even more entertaining and enjoyable than that Isabelle movie.

Hell, if I want to watch something about someone’s First World Problems, I’d rather watch this video than sit through another airing of Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight.

I recently wrote a post about my trip to the American Girl Place in Tysons Corner, Virginia a few weeks ago. I wanted to check out this new 2014 American Girl Doll of the Year, Isabelle Palmer, mainly because her backstory is set in Washington, DC and I live outside of DC. When I saw her pictures online I felt that she resembled too much the one American Girl doll I actually own (Julie Albright, a historical 1970’s era doll) and seeing the Isabelle doll in person confirmed that to me. I decided to pass on getting the doll although I’ll probably go to the library and check out her book series at some point just so I can see how many DC landmarks are mentioned.

I’ve read the reviews of this doll online and I’m not the only one who sees Isabelle Palmer as a retread of other dolls that American Girl has already released. I’ve read posts on American Girl fan forums (like this one) that has complained about how American Girl has, once again, picked a white doll with platinum blonde hair to highlight as Girl of the Year. I’ve also read these blog posts that has complained about how not only is the Girl of the Year is yet another platinum blonde (like Julie Albright, previous Girl of the Year dolls, as well as certain dolls in the My American Girl line) but she is also a ballet dancer just like the previous 2005 Girl of the Year, Marisol Luna.

Breaking News: American Girl Puts Out a Boring White Doll As ‘Girl of the Year’

American Girl Dolls Now vs. Them: Pink Hair, Spa Pedicures, and No Sign of Samantha Anywhere

AG Complaint Department: Girl of the Year: Fifty Shades of White

Rambled Opinions and General Snarkiness: First 2014 Releases, WonderBread the Ballerina, and Super Bitching

Okay some people may say that American Girl don’t make dolls for adults, they make them for girls between the ages of 7-12. Well, that’s fair enough. It would be more accurate to see the response to Isabelle among American Girl’s target audience. I had a chance to see such a response in person. Many Barnes & Noble stores across the U.S. were doing a promotional campaign in conjunction with the American Girl of the Year 2014 doll. Here is what the ad copy said on Barnes & Noble’s site:

Girls ages 8 to 12 — Join us March 15 for a special American Girl Event. Truly Talented You features fun activities, puzzles and crafts inspired by the newest Girl of the Year. Bring your doll and your imagination.

Since I live in the Washington, DC area and Isabelle’s backstory takes place in Georgetown section of DC, I thought it would be interesting to gauge the reaction to this doll by going to the Barnes & Noble that’s located in Bowie Town Center in Bowie, Maryland. Besides, I needed to go to A.C. Moore store that’s also in the same shopping center because I needed to pick up a few items for a craft project that I’m currently working on. (I’ll more about that in a future blog post.)

Today I drove down to Bowie just in time for the start of the event at Barnes & Noble. I walked over to the children’s books area in the back of the store where I was greeted with this special display.

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This particular store is currently in the process of holding a special drawing where the lucky winner can win the Isabelle Palmer doll.

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For people who are dying to get ahold of the doll but don’t want to wait until they are lucky enough to win a contest (or trek down to the American Girl Place in Tysons Corner), the store had a few of the six-inch miniature doll version of Isabelle on sale for $25 each.

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I walked to the American Girl craft table where I saw this.

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Only two kids (a boy and a girl) and a store employee who oversaw the craft table. That’s it. This is in a store located in Bowie, Maryland, a town that’s just 19 miles (according to Google) from downtown DC, the setting for Isabelle’s backstory.

Granted I only visited one Barnes & Noble where I made my observation and there are several other Barnes & Noble stores located throughout the entire Washington, DC metropolitan area. I don’t have the time or gas to visit the other stores to gauge the other reaction to the celebration surrounding Isabelle Palmer and I can’t afford to hire people to visit the other stores so they could report back to me. (Since I began this blog four years ago, I haven’t made a single penny off of it.) It’s possible that other stores had better turnout than the Bowie store did.

But, then again, it’s possible that the other stores had the same dismal response as the Bowie store.

Heck, I found the fact that I noticed a new charging station for electric cars in the parking lot outside Barnes & Noble to be more interesting than the American Girl event inside the store.

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At least I found the things that I needed in A.C. Moore so my trip to Bowie Town Center wasn’t a total waste of time.

I had a full weekend. Last Saturday I participated in an all-day Women’s Retreat at my church. Yesterday was Sunday where I went to church service in the morning then spent the afternoon as a volunteer English tutor for recent immigrants at this program that my church has recently started. (I’ve been doing this for a couple of months and I enjoy it so far.) In addition I kept on hearing hype about yet another winter storm followed by yet another visit of the Polar Vortex that was going to start late Sunday evening or early Monday morning.

After a full weekend I was in the mood to do something totally frivolous and fun, especially since the weather forecasters kept on saying that there would be so much snow that I would be snowed in yet again. (The forecasters were correct. The snow arrived today and it has totally paralyzed the Baltimore-Washington, DC area to the point where even the Federal Government closed down.)

I decided to check out the American Girl Place in Tysons Corner. I haven’t been there in a couple of years due mainly to the fact that the entire area is currently undergoing this insane construction development and driving there is a total bitch while taking public transportation from my home to Tysons Corner is at least a two-hour commute going one way (with a round trip being four hours). But I wasn’t free from church-related obligations until after 4 p.m. and I learned that the American Girl Place would be opened until 7 p.m. On top of it, since I was driving late on Sunday the day before a major snowstorm, I figured that traffic wouldn’t be quite as bad and many people would be busy crowding the grocery stores while preparing for the snowstorm. I was proven correct because I had a relatively easy time finding parking compared to going to the same mall on a Saturday afternoon.

I’ll admit that I own only one American Girl doll. She’s a 1970’s historical doll named Julie Albright and I bought her the day before I was to undergo major hip surgery in September, 2011 and I was attracted by the fact that she wore a similar outfit to something I once wore when I was a child. I haven’t bought another American Girl doll since because I found that they are basically alike. Here’s a photo I took of a bunch of American Girl dolls during a visit to the American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2007.

American Girl Dolls

As the above photo shows, despite the variations in hair color, hair style, eye color, and skin tone, they are basically alike. They literally have the same faces. Last night I took another photo of a display of the My American Girl line and all the dolls in the below photo still have basically the same faces.

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There was another reason for my trip to the American Girl Place.  For the last few years, Mattel (which owns the American Girl doll line) have been releasing a special line called Girl of the Year. The concept is this: a new doll character is released along with books explaining her backstory and special clothes, furniture, and accessories. This doll is officially released in January and remains on sale for only one year. At the end of the year the doll and her related items are officially retired and she gets replaced by a new Girl of the Year. This year’s Girl of the Year made her official rollout on ABC’s Good Morning America.

I usually don’t pay much attention to the Girl of the Year. In fact, I hadn’t paid much attention to the American Girl line until they came out with a historical 1970’s doll and it reflected an era that I actually lived in as a child. (I had read various articles about those dolls in the past and I was impressed with the original idea of having a historical doll with a book so girls could learn about what it was like living as a girl during events like the American Revolution while the doll would be dressed in actual period clothes with appropriate accessories so girls could actually have a hands-on lesson about a certain era. While history was always one of my best subjects in school, I wished there had been similar historical play dolls when I was a child because I would’ve loved them.)

But then there was an article in The Washington Post that provided a local angle to the new Girl of the Year doll, Isabelle Palmer. Apparently this character is described as living in Washington, DC and she lives with her family in Georgetown. She is a dance student who attends the fictional Anna Hart School for the Arts (obviously based on the real-life Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which has a dance program). As someone who lives in the Washington, DC area, I was suddenly interested in Isabelle until I saw photos of her. She has straight platinum blonde hair like Julie Albright, the same skin tone as Julie, and the same face (with the slight toothy grin) as Julie. There are some superficial differences: Isabelle’s eyes are grey while Julie’s are brown. Isabelle’s hair has a side part while Julie’s hair is parted in the middle. Julie has a single braid in her hair while Isabelle’s hair have pink tips (which are actually hair extensions that can be easily removed if the owner doesn’t like them). Otherwise, Julie and Isabelle can pass as twins.

Seeing the Isabelle doll in person confirmed the resemblance to the Julie doll in my eyes. Here’s a picture of Julie Albright modeling a new 1970’s inspired outfit that comes with a macrame belt, a disco ball, and a mod poster.

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Here are some photos I took of Isabelle Palmer, where you can see the resemblance to Julie Albright.photo3

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I also have to admit that what I also found underwhelming the outfits available for Isabelle Palmer. Her dance practice clothes are so incredible dull and bland. The only Isabelle outfit I really loved was this totally gorgeous ballet outfit.

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I wouldn’t mind reading Isabelle’s book just so I can check out all the references to various DC area locations. But I’m definitely passing on the doll since she resembles Julie Albright too much for my tastes. (I’ve heard about doll collectors who have purchased two or three of the same doll so they would have twins or triplets. I’ve never been into that. Although other American Girl collectors could get twins by purchasing Julie Albright and Isabelle Palmer and treating them as twin sisters.)

I took photos of other things that are currently on sale at the American Girl Place that I personally found cute. Some of the more elaborate things (like a sailboat with enough room for one doll) are really impressive but I would never buy them because they are very expensive (with prices ranging from $200-300) and they are so big that they would definitely take up a lot of space in my townhouse. Others were very cute minis (such as a mini chocolate Easter bunny set) that I would’ve purchased on impulse if I’m not trying to be conservative with my money these days so I had to settle with taking pictures of them with my smartphone.

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I only bought one item at the American Girl Place: a set of three different colored hair extensions for a doll that cost $15.

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After I got home I clipped them in Julie’s hair and it worked out pretty well, despite the fact that I took the below photo at night under crappy lighting.

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Instead of spending money on a new doll with platinum hair and pink tips, I bought hair extensions for my platinum-haired doll and she now has purple, pink, and blue streaks. Before I start hearing protests of “How could you give a historical 1970’s doll colored streaks in her hair?” I have to say that the idea of doing this is not too far outrageous. Julie’s story starts in late 1974 and ends in 1976 (the year of the American Bicentennial). By 1977 punk rock had exploded in the U.S. followed by new wave music. There were punk and new wave bands who wore clothes that were different from the hippie and disco clothes of the era who sported names like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, Generation X, Television, Siouxsie and the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, Blondie, The Cars, Elvis Costello, Flock of Seagulls, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. And many musicians and their fans wore different hair colors. You can still look up punk hair styles on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Flickr to see all the hair colors that are out there and are still worn by punk fans today.

After I finished with visiting the American Girl Place, I briefly stopped by the Disney Store before buying some candy at a nearby candy shop (I figured that if I was going to be snowed in the next day, I might as well make it a bit more enjoyable with sweet treats). By that point it was around 6:30 p.m. and I knew that most of the stores in the mall would be closed in a half-an-hour so I decided to head home and wait for the snowstorm.

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