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Santa Claus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramadan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I saw a kiosk that was selling Emoji pillows.

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

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I took a few miscellaneous photos.

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

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