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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.

Things have blown up on the Internet over what the hell happened in Paris yesterday on Friday the 13th. To some extent I can identify what Parisians are currently going through because I live just 20 miles from the Pentagon, which was one of the terrorist targets on September 11, 2001. Anyone who was anywhere between New York and Northern Virginia on that terrible day 14 years ago would understand what the people in Paris is going through.

Last night I went to Artomatic because there was a DC Drink and Draw event that I wanted to check out. In the midst of consuming my one beer (I tend not to drink too much these days if I’m driving) I decided to do this Paris themed art that also tapped into an old literary character from my childhood.

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It’s Babar the Elephant crying as he’s holding a newspaper with a headline announcing the terrorist attacks in Paris. Babar was created by a Freanchman named Jean de Brunhoff. I used to check out many Babar books out of the library when I was growing up. (I read the English translations of those books.) I loved reading about how Babar became King of the Elephants. I even used to watch the TV specials that were based on the books when I was growing up. So I thought it was appropriate to have Babar cry over what happened in Paris since he originated in France.

This morning was Saturday the 14th so I decided to do this photograph as well.

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The Eiffel Tower is actually a hand soap pump that I purchased from Kmart when that particular store was having its going out of business sale earlier this year. The doll is the mini doll version of American Girl’s special 2015 Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas. I purchased her earlier this year at Target for a fraction of the cost of her 18-inch counterpart. This photo is not only a response to what happened yesterday, it’s also the latest entry in my ongoing Occupy the Dollhouse series (which I update every now and then).

It’s very appropriate that Grace should be part of the Internet response to what happened yesterday in Paris. Her default meet outfit includes a t-shirt which features a drawing of the Eiffel Tower that says “Paris, Je T’aime.”

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Ironically my church is having its annual auction next week and it plans on serving a French dinner as part of the occasion. That French dinner was decided on months ago so it’s a sad irony that it’s now running concurrent with the aftermath of what happened in Paris.

I have never been to France and I’ve always wanted to go there. My great-grandfather, Wilhem Karle, was an ethnic German who came from the Alsace-Lorraine region that’s now a part of France. (How an ethnic German came from what is now a French state is an entirely different story.) I also want to visit Paris. I’ve seen replicas of the Eiffel Tower at both King’s Dominion and the French Pavilion located at Disney’s Epcot theme park. It would be cool to see the original. I want to visit the Louvre and see the famous Mona Lisa painting as well as other great works of art housed there. I want to visit the area where the famous Moulin Rouge nightclub is located. I want to walk along the Left Bank and visit the cafes in the area.

Despite yesterday’s terrorist attack, I still want to go to Paris. If someone were to offer me a chance to go to Paris tomorrow I would jump at it. Washington, DC didn’t die when one of those airplanes hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 so I’m expecting the same from Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And here she is on top of the bakery cart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The roof panels are removable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have anyone checked out today’s Google Doodle, which celebrates the fact that the Eiffel Tower in Paris opened to the public for the first time on this day in 1889?

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I’ve never been to Paris but I’ve seen a couple of Eiffel Tower replicas. One is a life-sized replica at King’s Dominion near Richmond, Virginia where people can actually ride up to the top. The other is at Epcot located in the World Showcase area at the French Pavilion. It’s located behind the theater where the Impressions de France movie is shown. Unlike the King’s Dominion one, this Eiffel Tower is mainly for show and is off-limits to the public.

I would love to see the real thing in Paris but money is pretty tight for me at the moment.

In any case, since today is an Eiffel Tower anniversary, I’d thought I’d highlight something that I currently have on sale in my Spoonflower shop. It’s called J’Aime La France outfit for 18-inch dolls (such as American Girl) and it’s my riff on the default Meet outfit that the 2015 Girl of the Year Grace Thomas wears. Prices for my outfit range from around $10-$17, depending on which fabric you select. All you have to do is sew it yourself. You can see a few dolls model the outfit below, which was produced on the Basic Cotton.

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See more close-up pictures and read more about this outfit right here. Buy the outfit right here.

Mardi Gras

I went to the American Girl Place on New Year’s Day and again in the middle of January. I took a liking to the new 2015 Girl of the Year doll, Grace Thomas, because of her lovely combination of beautiful blue eyes and brown hair that’s incredibly soft to the touch.

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I was briefly tempted to buy this doll on the spot until I saw the $120 price tag. I decided to just content myself with taking pictures instead.

But then I went to Target last week and I saw something amazing. Target has the Grace Thomas doll. If that wasn’t enough, Target only charged $25 for the doll. With a price like that, I decided to go for the doll this time.

Here is what the doll looks like in her box.

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The doll comes with a book with the simple title of Grace.

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Here is the doll and book after they were liberated from their box.

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Grace looks incredibly cute and lovely in person.

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Her hair is not only very soft to the touch but it’s also has some really nice highlights in her brown hair.

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I especially love that braid that goes down the length of her hair.

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It’s pretty awesome that I bought this doll for $95 less than I would have had I bought her at the American Girl Place. But there’s a catch with buying this doll for $25 at Target.

Here is Grace standing next to my other American Girl doll, Julie Albright. Okay, I’ll admit that the Grace doll that’s sold at Target is the 6-inch mini doll version. If I want to get the 18-inch version, I would still have to go to the American Girl Place and pay $120.

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Yet, curiously, the mini doll version of Grace isn’t sold through American Girl at all (either online or at the American Girl Place). Anyone who wants the mini doll Grace has to go elsewhere. I first saw this mini doll at a Barnes & Noble but I didn’t buy her then because I didn’t feel like dealing with those pushy store clerks who frequently try to convince people in the checkout line to shell an extra $25 for that membership card (which I’ve already ranted about a few days ago). I was thrilled when I saw that Target sold this doll as well so I bought her. (Amazon.com also sells the mini Grace doll.)

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The mini Grace doll comes with a miniature edition of the book Grace. However, the book is an abridged version, which means that the book ends halfway through the story. (I briefly thumbed through the book and found that it ends at the moment after Grace and her mother arrive in Paris to visit relatives and before the two of them meet their French relatives.) Basically, if you want to read the story in its entirety, you will have to get the regular-sized version of this book from your local library or bookstore. The small book fits in the palm of my hand.

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I attempted to read the book but the type is pretty tiny. I think the book makes a fine doll prop but I wouldn’t try to read it.

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The mini doll stands at six inches tall. The next photo shows how Grace measures up against other small dolls. From left to right: Little Pullip, Grace Thomas, Ever After High, Blythe, and Barbie.

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Comparing the mini doll to her 18-inch sister, I found that there were a few minor differences between the two, other than the tiny abridged version of the Grace book that I’ve already mentioned. While the 18-inch doll wears the Meet outfit (consisting of a t-shirt and skirt) as separates, the two separates are sewn together as one outfit for the mini doll. (Actually that makes sense since the doll wearing it is so tiny that it would be easy to lose a separate t-shirt or skirt.) The 18-inch doll comes with a charm bracelet, while the mini doll doesn’t (probably because making a bracelet that small would’ve been difficult at best). In addition, American Girl has an offer for the 18-inch doll where, for a few dollars extra, Grace’s ears could be pierced and have some special earrings that were made just for her (including ones shaped like the Eiffel Tower, a blue bow, and a red heart). There is no such offer for the mini doll because making earrings small enough for a six-inch doll would’ve been difficult at best.

The other issue is that, unlike her 18-inch counterpart, American Girl does not make clothes or accessories for the mini doll. The good news is that there are some Etsy stores that have filled in this gap regarding finding clothes for those dolls. Check out the ones sold by Hole in My Bucket, Maggieruthcreations, leiraycnan, and so much more!

The bottom line: The mini doll is a great alternative to people who want the Grace doll but balk at paying $120 for the 18-inch version. The details on this tiny doll are really stunning. The mini doll is also great for those who already own the larger Grace doll because she could serve as a lookalike doll for the larger doll, which would be pretty cute.

What’s more, Grace is supposed to be interested in baking and the 18-inch doll’s bakery accessories are totally expensive (such as this $500 bakery). With the mini Grace one can find smaller bakery sets for way less. One example is the miWorld Mrs. Fields Cookie Starter Set that looks like a bakery and costs $14.99. Another is the miWorld Sprinkles Cupcake Bakery Starter Set that costs $12.99.

And those two are just the tip of the iceberg. Check out this Pinterest page featuring nothing but miniature bakeries. With enough research, one can come up with a decent bakery for the mini Grace doll at a very affordable price that’s way under $500. (Heck, it’s possible that one could even put a tiny bakery together for under $50.)

Last week I made a rare appearance at the Barnes & Noble that’s located at Bowie Town Center in Bowie, Maryland.

For most of my life, it would’ve been unthinkable for me to say that I rarely go to bookstores because I was literally raised on books. Even though my parents only had high school diplomas, they both loved to read books. For many years my mother was a member of the Book of the Month Club (which, in those pre-World Wide Web days, meant mail order). One of my grandmothers lived with us while I was growing up and she used to love to read books as well even though she dropped out of Catholic school after the 8th grade.

Sometimes, as an occasional Sunday afternoon treat, the family would head to the News Center, which sold newspapers, magazines, and paperback books. (I never saw that store carry any hardcover books.) The News Center was a small locally-owned store located in Glen Burnie that was allowed to legally open on Sundays because it had few employees. (Maryland had the Blue Laws in effect at the time.)

As an adult I continued to go to bookstores. One of the things that drew me to my future ex-husband was that he was an even bigger bookworm than me. (His late mother worked for a few years as a children’s librarian for the public library in Armonk, New York from the time that was shortly before his father left her for someone else to her remarriage when she moved to Phoenix.) We used to frequently go to Crown Books (which sadly became defunct because certain members of the family who ran the chain started feuding with each other in a drama that was straight out of some reality television show). When Borders started opening stores in the DC area, we would go out dates to the one nearest our home.

In the meantime Barnes & Noble also started opening large stores in our area. While I liked going to Barnes & Noble, I preferred Borders, especially when Barnes & Noble began this annual membership program where members would get 10% off the retail price of books. Borders also had such a membership program. The difference is that Borders’ program was free while Barnes & Noble charged $25 per year. Of course it was a no-brainer which store’s membership program I preferred.

What made shopping at Barnes & Noble even more annoying is that the store clerks constantly pressured customers at the checkout line to pay the $25 for the membership. To be honest, I didn’t do enough shopping at Barnes & Noble to even justify paying such a fee, especially when Borders’ membership program was free. (I later learned that there was a reason why the Barnes & Noble store clerks were so pushy about the membership program.)

But then Borders came out with something called a premium membership where, for $15, one got to save more money on books. When the clerk pushed that membership upgrade, I decided to give it a shot since it was still cheaper than Barnes & Noble.

But, then, just three months later, Borders went out of business. I was pretty peeved since that store clerk had sold me that premium membership that ultimately lasted no more than three months. But then I got a letter by both e-mail and snail mail announcing that the Borders premium membership was being converted into Barnes & Noble membership. I eventually received a Barnes & Noble membership card so I decided to give it a try since the membership was good for one year.

In addition, I had undergone hip revision surgery in 2011 and the outpatient physical therapy clinic that I used was located near a Barnes & Noble store in Bowie so I had more opportunities to shop at that store. I found that, even with a membership card, I didn’t buy a lot of books. After my husband walked out on me just three months after my surgery, my Barnes & Noble membership had reached its end so I opted not to renew because I didn’t make enough purchases to justify the $25 membership fee. I also stopped purchasing anything other than drinks from the Starbucks cafe located in the store because I didn’t want to have some store clerk push me into renewing.

In addition there was another reason why I didn’t renew my membership card. I’m going to show you with some pictures that I took with my smartphone.

The next two photos show a line of 18-inch dolls on sale known as espari. The dolls are cute and I like some of their clothes. They are cheaper than the American Girl doll. But here’s the thing: I don’t go to bookstores expecting to shop for dolls. I go to bookstores expecting to shop for—well, um—books!

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Then there are the American Girl dolls. Okay, Barnes & Noble only sells one kind of American Girl doll—namely, the small 9-inch mini doll version of the 2015 Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas. And the mini doll comes with a miniature version of the book Grace so, at least, there’s a more rational reason for Barnes & Noble stocking this doll as opposed to the espari dolls which, as far as I can tell from looking at the packaging, doesn’t even come with a book.

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And then there’s a large rack devoted to toys based on the television show Doctor Who.

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And there is a section devoted to classic board games like checkers and chess.

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Basically the toys and games outnumber the books. On top of it, at least a quarter of the store is devoted to Barnes & Noble’s own e-reader, Nook, which has failed to catch on compared to the Kindle or iPad.

So, walking around inside Barnes & Noble, I see less books and more stuff of the kind that I would find at Target or K-Mart. And even the few books that this store has on hand tends to favor bestsellers or ones written by celebrities. A case in point: here’s a series of young adult novels that were written by Jeff Probst, who’s more well-known as the host of the CBS reality show Survivor. Judging by the covers in the picture below, it looks like Probst basically based his books on his experiences with working on the Survivor show.

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I’m not saying that bookstores should never stock bestsellers. But I miss the days when I used to leisurely browse Borders where I bypassed the bestselling racks in favor of other shelves to see what was there. From time to time I found a hidden gem that I found interesting enough to purchase. While the books I picked weren’t bestsellers, I still enjoyed reading them. Sadly, due to Barnes & Noble’s insistence on stocking Nooks, toys, and games at the expense of actual books, the days of looking for those hidden gems are now long gone. Seeing greater floor space devoted to non-book items was a major factor why I decided against renewing my $25 Barnes & Noble membership fee and why I haven’t made any purchases at Barnes & Noble since 2011. If someone recommends a book to me, I can generally find it much easier at Amazon.com than at a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble store.

Going through that store I find myself wondering why Barnes & Noble managed to hang on while Borders is now gone. Between the lack of actual books and the clerks trying to push membership cards on customers at the checkout line, I have totally lost enthusiasm for making any kind of special trips to Barnes & Noble. These days I see articles on how Barnes & Noble can reverse its decline and become relevant again.

As for me, I would only consider buying another book from Barnes & Noble if that store would do just one thing: Get rid of the annual $25 membership card. Instead, institute some kind of pricing policy like “Buy 3 books, get 10% off” or something like that. Crown Books used to routinely offer books at a discount and it did it without requiring anyone to join any kind of membership. Ditto for Amazon.com. Borders initially started its membership program to be free. Even its premium membership was cheaper than Barnes & Noble. Just once I would like to purchase something at Barnes & Noble without having a checkout clerk trying to push me to pay an additional $25 for its membership card.

In other words, if Barnes & Noble continues with pushing its $25 membership card, I’ll take my business elsewhere—online to either Amazon or Powell’s Books.

I’ve recently put something new up for sale in my Spoonflower shop. I was inspired to create this outfit on yet another Fat Quarter (similar to the Women’s History Project outfit) after I checked out the original Girl of the Year rollout at the American Girl Place on New Year’s Day. Basically the new Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas, wears this default French-inspired Meet outfit in the photo below.

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By the way, the pink beret the doll wears in the above photo doesn’t come with the doll. (You have to buy that one separately.) This page on the AG Wiki shows exactly what Grace wears when you pay $120 for the doll (which is pretty much the only way you can get the outfit).

Here is my take on the outfit, called “J’Aime la France”.

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“J’Aime la France” comes on a Fat Quarter. All you have to do is cut it and sew it.

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I decided to make a lower-cost French-themed outfit for American Girl or any other 18 inch dolls. My target market is those who love both Grace Thomas and her default Meet outfit but can’t afford to pay the $120 to get both. In addition, you can buy this outfit without having to buy another doll, which is great for those who already feel that they have enough 18 inch dolls without adding more.

In order to get the whole outfit, you have to buy a Fat Quarter. Prices are based on the quality of the fabric you choose and they range from $9.45 (for the Basic Combined Cotton) to $17.10 (for the Silk Crepe de Chine). I ordered a test fabric in the Basic Combined Cotton and I have to say that the results look really fine, as you can see in the next photo.

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For the outfit itself I based the color combination on the French flag. (Yes, other countries besides the United States use red, white, and blue in their flags, too. See the United Kingdom, Liberia, Australia, Norway, North Korea, and other flags listed in the Wikipedia.)

Like Grace Thomas’ t-shirt, this t-shirt also has the Eiffel Tower on it. I used public domain photos of the Eiffel Tower under construction from 1887-1889 and I tinted them red in Photoshop. I originally got the idea to use those photos because I remember when my then-husband and I used to eat at a French restaurant called Cafe de Paris (which is now sadly closed) and there was a framed picture showing the various photos of the Eiffel Tower when it was originally under construction. I’ve always loved that picture and I was glad that I found a creative way of incorporating those vintage photographs.

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For the skirt, I used the fleur de lis along the bottom hem. That symbol is practically iconic in French culture. That symbol is even prevalent in the former French colonial cities I’ve visited (St. Louis and Montreal). And that symbol is used as part of the logo for the NFL team the New Orleans Saints, which is based in another city that was also once a French colony.

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Here is how the outfit looks on various dolls. When I was reading about Grace Thomas, I read that this doll’s face uses a type of mold known as the Josefina Face Mold. A number of dolls besides Grace share that same mold. One of those dolls is one that I happened to own—Julie Albright. Here she is modeling the outfit below.

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Actually if you compare the two photos of Grace and Julie, they have enough of a facial resemblance that they could easily pass as sisters  or cousins.

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Other type of dolls can also wear this outfit. Here’s how it looks on an African American doll named Addy Walker.

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Before I get some ignorant yahoos sending me messages saying “Why would a black person care about France?” or “Only white people live in France,” listen closely. Contrary to what some Americans may believe (especially among the Tea Party crowd), Europe isn’t 100% white and it hasn’t been in a long time. When I made my first (and, so far, only) trip to London back in 2007, I saw people of all races mingle on the streets (including Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans, and Caucasians). And the same is true for France as well. I still remember when a black French skater named Surya Bonaly made an impact in a few Winter Olympics back in the 1990’s. More recently a mixed-race woman named Flora Coquerel won the Miss France beauty pageant in 2013, which spurred all kinds of racist backlash. (Sadly, some white French can be just as racist as some white Americans.) In addition, France has had colonies throughout much of Africa.

Here is how the same outfit looks on an Asian American doll named Ivy Ling.

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Like Africa, France has had colonies throughout Asia as well, including parts of China (where Ivy Ling’s family is originally from).

The one added bonus about ordering this outfit on a Fat Quarter is that if you have a doll-owning child who is also very crafty and/or is a budding fashion designer, you can give that child the uncut Fat Quarter as is and the child can cut and sew the outfit for him/herself. You can order “J’Aime la France” right here.

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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