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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.

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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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Santa Claus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They look pretty good together.

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

A few days before my birthday on December 15 I decided to take the Silver Line Metro to Tyson’s Corner Mall in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia because I got some birthday money from a relative and I wanted to spend it on myself. I also heard that the mall was having something called a Christmas Market & Winterfest and it’s currently being held only on the weekends before Christmas.

This was my second trip on the Silver Line Metro since it opened. When I previously arrived two months ago, the plaza outside the mall greeted Metro commuters with all kinds of interesting stuff like giant sized chessboards. The chessboards and other outdoor stuff were replaced with the tents of the Christmas Market & Winterfest, an ice skating rink, and a large Christmas tree. It’s really cool that the mall does special things like this that makes it convenient for people who choose to commute via Metro instead of driving their cars to the parking garages.

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The largest tent belonged to a vendor that I recognized from going to the Christmas Village in Baltimore just five days earlier. The next photograph shows the back of Käthe Wohlfahrt, which specializes in selling handcrafted Christmas decorations from Germany.

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The next photo shows the front of the Käthe Wohlfahrt tent. As you can see, the front entrance resembles the entrance to the one in Baltimore.

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Like the Baltimore location, the one in Tyson’s Corner also didn’t allow photography but you can see what Käthe Wohlfahrt sells on its website. While I was there, I found this really small yet delicate looking lace moose ornament that I purchased for around $6. Here is what that ornament looked like after I took it home.

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I also walked past the ice rink, which was really big. It was opened to the public and I saw plenty of people using it when I was there.

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Inside the mall there were people trying out the free Microsoft Xbox demo of the video game Just Dance.

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Inside the mall there was a temporary Christmas store that was only opened for the holidays. There were plenty of cute items on sale, such as this Christmas stuffed animal based on the Internet celebrity Boo the World’s Cutest Dog.

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This next photo shows the ever-popular Elf on the Shelf, which brings to mind my own vintage elf decoration (which I wrote about last year).

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This Christmas store had a huge selection of ornaments and decorations for people with all kinds of various interests.

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There were even nutcrackers that represented various sports teams.

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There were also Department 56 buildings that represented all kinds of structures. There were even a few pieces based on the town of Springfield on The Simpsons.

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The next photo shows a temporary display where Nintendo was demonstrating its latest products to the general public.

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I finally arrived at the American Girl Place, whose front display had dolls decked out in the latest sparkly Christmas outfits that were on sale.

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The next two photos showed its special store exclusive Christmas outfit that were modeled by two different dolls.

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Every time I go to that store I always come out with a bunch of photos. I especially love the BeForever line (even if I’m not a fan of the name) because I’ve always been a history nerd and this line focuses on dolls representing girls who grew up in the past and it features historically accurate clothes and tiny accessories. I’m not quite as big of a fan of either My American Girl or the Girl of the Year (mainly because they represent modern girls wearing modern clothes—if I wanted such a doll, I would simply go to Target and buy an Our Generation doll for a quarter of the price of one American Girl doll) although they look lovely. But I definitely love BeForever. If money and space were no object, I’d buy all of the BeForever dolls along with the clothes and accessories. Since that’s not the case for me, I have to make do with these lovely photographs that I took.

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I still love those human clothes based on the BeForever dolls. I still wish someone would make these clothes in adult sizes because I definitely would buy something like the outfit in the next photo that’s based on Kit Kittredge’s Meet outfit.

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There was a funky Christmas tree in the store.

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The most awesome Christmas item that’s currently available for 18-inch dolls is this horse-drawn carriage. It looks incredibly gorgeous in real life. However, this carriage would take up a huge amount of space in my living room so there is no way I could ever buy this even if I wanted to. Besides, this is way out my tight budget. According to the American Girl website, the Pretty City Carriage costs $275 while the horse is sold separately for $98. I have to admit that I’m totally impressed by the attention to detail on the carriage.

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Despite the glittery mall with its upscale shops (such as Michael Kors and Coach) I saw at least one store that was having a going out of business sale.

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I recently took advantage of a rare opportunity of seeing the clothes that were made on Project Runway in person. The clothes that were created on the American Girl episode are currently on a short tour of the American Girl Place stores across the United States and they came to the one in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

It also gave me a chance to finally try riding the new Silver Line Metro, which was recently opened a couple of months ago. This new line has a stop that’s right at the Tyson’s Corner Mall itself, which I think is great because I’ve long hated driving there due to the horrendously clogged traffic on the major highways getting there, the poorly laid out parking lot, and the crazy drivers battling each other for those parking slots.

The clothes were only displayed for two days in the middle of the week (October 1 and 2 fell on a Wednesday and Thursday this year), which I thought was strange considering that American Girl’s core customers are girls between the ages 8-12 and this exhibit fell at a time when children were attending school during the day and having to deal with homework at night. From an adult’s point of view, the timing was great because the store was less crowded than it usually is on the weekends (especially Fridays and Saturdays). As a result I could leisurely view the clothes on display and even take photos of them without dealing with crowds of kids.

Basically when one gets off at the Tyson’s Corner Metro Station, one reaches the mall by crossing a pedestrian bridge over Route 123 then one arrives at this really pleasant looking plaza outside the mall entrance, which includes paved walking paths and couches placed outside for people to sit on.

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The next few photos look like I got some close ups of the local wild birds. In reality they are some life-sized bird statues that look incredibly real.

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The plaza has giant-sized boards where people can play checkers and chess using large playing pieces. There is a ping pong table that people can use. There is even an outdoor playground for young children that is located next to the Shake Shack.

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When one enters the mall, this Tesla car dealership is the first store one sees. (I find it strange to see a car dealership inside a shopping mall because I’ve long adjusted to car dealerships being these large parking facilities that are separate from shopping malls.) Tesla is among the first electric cars that have gone on sale in the U.S.

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I saw this store that had these freaky looking clothes. I couldn’t tell whether they were the latest in trendy teen clothes or Halloween costumes.

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There were people who tried out the video game “Just Dance” that was playing on the X-Box Kinect that was placed outside the Microsoft Store.

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The main reason why I went to Tyson’s Corner on a Wednesday night was to visit the American Girl Place, where I could see the dolls model their latest BeForever outfits and accessories.

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In the center of the store was this display featuring the 1970’s historical Julie Albright doll sitting next to her bed with the beaded curtains.

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Julie is sitting in a doll-sized egg chair. I remember seeing egg chairs from my childhood (probably either on television or in a store catalog) even though my family never owned one.

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The original egg chair had stereo speakers built in so people could listen to their favorite tunes while resting in the chair. The American Girl version also have speakers built in so owners can plug in their favorite MP3 media players.

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I love the miniature food that’s available as part of Julie’s accessories, especially the miniature Jiffy Pop popcorn pan. I used to love it whenever my parents popped Jiffy Pop popcorn because when the popcorn popped, the aluminum foil top would expand into a giant ball, which I thought was incredibly awesome. The only downside is that only half the kernels would pop, leaving plenty of unpopped kernels. (Sometimes if we were lucky, we would get 75% of the popped kernels. But I remember that was pretty rare.)

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I thought that the tiny stuffed monkey displayed on Julie’s bed was incredibly cute.

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The next two photos show the main reason why I made the special effort to go to the American Girl Place on a Wednesday night.

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Seven of the eight outfits that were created on that Project Runway American Girl episode were on display.

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Curiously the one outfit that was not on display was that notorious pink onesie mess that caused Sandhya to come in last place and be cut from the show. It was supposed to be based on the Caroline Abbott doll but there was literally no connection between that awful outfit and the doll who’s supposed to represent the War of 1812. Basically the only way anyone can see Sandhya’s losing fashion disaster is online. (By the way, the Project Runway stills showing the young models wearing the clothes came from online screenshots. I’m only posting them here to show the comparisons between what the outfit looked like on the mannequins in the store when I was there and what they looked like when worn by the models on that show.)

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Not only did the poor young model had to wear that thing on the runway while humiliating herself in the process, the outfit was plunged so low at the top that if the top hem had been any lower, one would’ve seen the girl’s prepubescent breasts. (And that’s not to mention that long buttoned slit in the back rear end that the wearer would have to undo every time she needed to go to the bathroom since the outfit is a onesie that’s similar to what babies wear.) Basically that outfit was a pedophile’s dream come true. I think there was a reason why American Girl didn’t include that outfit as part of the American Girl Place tour.**

The next lowest ranking outfit was on display. It was what Emily designed based on the Rebecca Rubin doll. That one was also a mess but it’s still nowhere near as awful as the one that Sandhya did.

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The judges were hard on Emily because she sells a children’s clothing line on Etsy so this competition should’ve been a slam-dunk for her. Instead she did this outfit where, if viewed from the side, it made the young model look pregnant.

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After viewing the outfit in real life I found that the top looked very cute. But that skirt in that ugly olive color with layers of bulky tulle was another matter—it was a total disaster.

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I think that replacing that skirt with a different one in a prettier color (like purple, which would match both the top and the Rebecca doll’s Meet outfit) and without the tulle (which is something that a young girl would not normally wear unless she was going to be a flower girl in a wedding or celebrating her First Communion) would be a major improvement and could even be attractive to young girls and their parents.

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Sean did an outfit based on the Julie Albright doll that also landed him among the bottom ranked contestants. The outfit was a jumpsuit that would’ve been more appropriate for a toddler than an elementary school student.

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The only redeeming part of that outfit was the very cute jeans jacket, which Sean totally screws up by creating this messed up peace sign that’s missing one of the lines.

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Good grief! The peace sign is the one sign that’s incredibly easy to remember and replicate and Sean totally screws it up! I was glad when Heidi Klum schooled Sean for that major error during the critique phase of the competition.

Viewing the outfit in person I found the fabric to be incredibly cute. Had the fabric been used for the top only and it was paired with pants in the same fabric as the jacket, it would’ve worked really well.

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I tried to get a shot of the infamous messed-up peace sign but the clothes were displayed very close to the wall and the area was roped off so people couldn’t get too close to the clothes. This next shot was the best I could do.

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Alexander did this outfit based on the Kit Kittredge doll. My only problem with that outfit is that the model was way too young to wear such a skin-tight sexy outfit.

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Viewing it in person, I found the outfit to be really cute. I think it would’ve been perfect for a young woman between 18-30. It was just inappropriate for an elementary school-age girl.

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Viewing this outfit in person gave me a chance to actually see some of the work that went into making it. The next photo shows a detail of the stitches surrounding the armhole. I had to keep in mind that the designers had less than 24 hours to create their outfits so it was interesting to see the attention to detail despite the intense time-crunch of the competition.

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Amanda designed this outfit based on the Addy Walker doll. I thought that this one was among the better outfits that came out of that episode.

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The outfit looked just as cute in real life as on television.

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The one detail I saw that I didn’t realize while watching the TV screen was that the jacket also had different fabric on the inside, which was pretty cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if that jacket had been constructed as a reversible jacket.

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Char did this really cool and funky outfit based on the historical Native American doll, Kaya’aton’my. It reminded me of something that Cher used to wear back on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in the 1970’s yet it was still cute and appropriate for young girls.

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That outfit was even cuter in real life than on television. If someone ever makes an adult-sized outfit like that, I would be very tempted to buy it for myself.

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Another outfit I really liked was the one that Korina did based on the Josefina Montoya doll.

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I found the outfit to be just as cute in real life. I loved the layered squares on the skirt, which reminded me of one of Mondrian’s canvases.

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Last, but not least, is the winning outfit that Kini designed based on the Samantha Parkington doll. Not only is that outfit very beautiful but the young model totally rocked that look on the runway.

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The outfit looked just as lovely in real life as on television. Kini definitely deserved to win this challenge because I loved this outfit. This was another outfit that I would consider buying for myself if someone ever makes a version for adults.

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After I left the American Girl Place, I ate dinner at Wasabi once again. (I just can’t get enough of seeing food being delivered on a conveyor belt. Fortunately the food is excellent because the conveyor belt could’ve been a tacky gimmick had it served McDonald’s-level fast food.) After dinner I decided to leave the mall but I had to go to the bathroom first before I decided to board the Metro. I saw this really cool looking kids’ play area that was put up by National Geographic.

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I also liked the atrium-like roof on the top level of the mall. I found it very attractive.

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By the time I decided to head home it was nighttime. There were still plenty of people on that plaza who were doing things like playing with the oversized game pieces and hanging around on the outdoor couches.

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I came across this mourning dove that is yet another one of those lifelike bird statues that are placed along the plaza.

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The last photo shows the new Tyson’s Corner Metro Station and the pedestrian bridge over Route 123 that links the station to the mall.

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The Project Runway clothes are currently touring the United States so for more information on future stops and dates, click here.

**UPDATE (October 16, 2014): I was watching last week’s episode of Project Runway (I can’t always watch new episodes on Thursday nights because I’m usually attending weekly meetings for people who are separated or divorced) when I saw what happened to Sandhya’s losing design. This challenge involved taking the losing designs that led to previous designers being cut from the show and incorporating it into a new design. Sean was assigned Sandhya’s mess of an outfit to redeem it into a more fashion-forward outfit for adults that’s supposed to be based on what the remaining designers saw on a tour of the streets of New York City. So this explains why Sandhya’s outfit wasn’t part of the American Girl/Project Runway tour. Sean’s redemption of that outfit earned him a spot among the finalists of that show who would be showing their outfits during New York’s Fashion Week.

Here is the original outfit as designed by Sandhya.

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And here is what Sean did with that outfit.

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While I’m still not really that crazy about that outfit (mainly because of all that Pepto Bismol pink), Sean did an excellent job with his redesign. Had the outfit been in a more flattering color (like purple or blue), it would’ve been a really awesome one. But I have to admit that Sean did a great job with what he was given in that episode.

UPDATE (November 1, 2014): Not only did Sean do a great job with reforming Sandhya’s losing design but he ended being the winner of this season of Project Runway.

For years I’ve been watching Project Runway mainly because it’s one of the better reality shows currently on the air. This one is a competition and there’s more of an emphasis on the process of designing and creating an outfit that’s cutting edge and fashion forward than on people’s private lives. I don’t always blog about that series mainly because I tried that for another reality show competition, Work of Art, where I live-blogged each episode for the two seasons that it was on the air. I burned out on doing so by the end of the second season and I vowed that I wouldn’t do it again. (It turned out to be moot because no new seasons have been produced since 2011.) I prefer to just watch and enjoy a TV show because I just don’t do so well with multitasking.

This season of Project Runway is a really interesting one. Last week they had a challenge where the designers had to create an avant grade outfit then the models had to walk down a special “rainway”, which is a runway doused with heavy amounts of rain. (You wouldn’t believe what a struggle it is to spell rainway thanks to autocorrect. Hello, autocorrect, there are times when I spell words a certain way and they are not misspellings.) There were two winners of last week’s challenge but I really preferred one of them.

The guy designed a nice dress in all white that was pretty but the white color made it look a bit on the bland side. But then he sewed packets of Rit dye in various places of the dress so as the model walked down the rain-soaked runway, the dye would activate and the dress became a lovely multicolored one. That was an awesome idea that was also very risky because had the dye failed to activate, it would’ve been a total disaster.

This week’s episode was the one that I saw hyped in the store window of the American Girl Place the last time I was in Tysons Corner Mall.

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Last night’s episode was the one that had the American Girl-themed challenge. The episode began with a trip to American Girl Place on 5th Avenue in New York City, which brought back memories for me because of the times I went to that store whenever I went to New York, the last time was in 2011. (Even though the Tysons Corner store is nice, the one in New York City is still really gigantic and massive and it makes the Virginia store seem small and puny by comparison.)

The designers had to create clothes for girls that were inspired by the historical doll in the BeForever line but still had to be fashionable by today’s standards. At one point I expected a twist where Heidi Klum would drop by with a surprise where the designers had to add an additional outfit for the doll. (Project Runway has dropped such twists in other challenges in the past where the designers had to produce one extra outfit for another model and drama ensues from the stress.) But that didn’t happen this episode, which surprised me in a way.

The results were all over the place. I rolled my eyes at the designer who was assigned the 1970’s Julie doll because he created a jumpsuit that he said was inspired by the 1970’s. As someone who was a child in the 1970’s, I can tell you that the only kids who wore jumpsuits in that era were babies and toddlers, not American Girl’s target audience of 8-12 year old girls. Worse, the guy designed a really cute jeans jacket that had a peace sign that was missing one of the lines. (He told the judges he intentionally eliminated one of the lines in order to be original. Ugh! He was rightfully schooled by Heidi Klum for that mistake.) The guy who created that hot mess was spared being eliminated because there were outfits that were far worse than his.

I agreed with the judges eliminating the woman who created an even worse fashion disaster based on the Caroline doll (although I have to say it was based very loosely on that doll) that looked like a cross between a pink flamingo and something that a child would create for her Barbie doll using scrap pink fabric leftover from her mother’s previous sewing project. On top of it, that outfit was constructed as a onesie. Newsflash to that designer: The only time that an elementary school girl ever willingly wears a onesie is when she’s dressed as a clown for Halloween.

The other woman who barely survived the cut should count her blessings because her dress looked like maternity wear for young girls. (Whenever there was a side shot of the model wearing that one, the skirt was so puffy that she looked pregnant.) She should’ve known better than to design a disaster like that because she is already a children’s clothing designer who has a following thanks to her Etsy shop DevonRose.

The one who won created a really cute outfit based on the Samantha doll and that young model totally rocked that look as she walked down the runway.

You can now watch last night’s episode online right here. You can also read an interesting recap on Entertainment Weekly‘s website right here.

The clothes that were created on that episode will be going on a short tour of the American Girl stores throughout the United States and here are the dates of when they will be displayed in each store. I’ve already marked my calendar for the dates when they will be in the Tysons Corner store because it’s a rare opportunity to actually see the clothes created on Project Runway in person.

UPDATE (October 12, 2014): Since I wrote this post, I’ve visited the clothes that were created on that episode in person when they arrived at the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

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