19 September 2012

Membership has it's privileges...

My love affair with American Girl dolls goes back to when the company was called The Pleasant Rolland Company after the founder. Catalogs came out with these delightful dolls and their accessories from different times in American history - there were no stores; it was all mail order. My favorite was Samantha and I got my first doll, Samantha, in December 1987 when we were living in Norway. Mike's folks brought her and all her furniture and accessories on a flight from Dallas to Germany where we met them for a week's vacation in early December. There was also a Samantha doll that Santa would be giving Jennifer soon. When Mattel bought the company, I feared quality would go down and prices up, but fortunately that never happened. Throughout the following years, Addie joined our ranks as well as a Bitty Baby when they were introduced. I still have my dolls and furniture - my Samantha is even signed by Pleasant Rolland.

Last Friday night, Mirai and I attended a very fun "gala" for Hermann Memorial Children's at the new American Girl Store opening in Memorial City. I had received an invitation from the Dallas store that was received the day I was to respond - and I read the email late at night. Gasp! What did I miss? Would I still be able to go?? Was it too late??? (cut to "long night of wondering if priorities were right but still sleepless as mind raced with fear that my opportunity was lost forever...")

The next morning, I called BRIGHT and EARLY (no mean feat for me, I guarantee) the phone number indicated. After a bit of a shuffle and a promised "we'll call you back", I did get a phone call with a "Yes, you ARE on our list - just had to make sure and our system is acting up today".

I've never been the person who went clubbing but I've seen it on TV. Girls wait outside in their skimpiest "best" waiting to be picked to go into said club based on their looks I guess. Either that or they are "on the list". So imagine how I felt to know I was on "THE list" at the American Girl Store for the pre-opening Benefit! Don't get me wrong - it came with a price (aka "donation") to Hermann Memorial Children but, still, I was "on the list". (Did I mention I was on "the list"?) Squeeee!!!

We arrived about ten minutes prior to opening time and checked in. Yes indeed, I was ON the list. :) We got in the queue and waited with all the other super excited, can't believe we are here other little girls, moms and grandmas. There were even a few dads and papas. A children's choir, all outfitted in "American Girl - Houston" t-shirts was singing for every one's enjoyment while we waited. Elsewhere, lines were beginning to form for obtaining timed entry tickets for the Grand Opening that started the following morning.

Six-thirty arrived and we started moving into the store which is Retail Mecca to the American Girl Aficionados of the world. We were greeted by a team of managers that were from other stores across America. Wait staff held aloft trays of deletable foods - crab cakes, meatballs on a stick, coconut chicken and pigs-in-a-blanket. Food stations were set up throughout the store with different cuisines - one had mac and cheese, mini hot dogs, fresh fruit and jello jigglers. Others had Chinese food, salads, carved beef, hamburger sliders, and 'decorate your own cookies'. In the Bistro, a dessert buffet was set up as if all that other food wasn't enough! Pink lemonade was in abundance as well.

Soon after we entered the store, greeting and being greeted by staff,  I hear a voice, "I KNEW you'd be here!" I look up and it's Liz,  a manager from the Dallas AG store! She comes over and gives me a big hug before introducing me to the Houston store manager. We visited a bit and she even held Mirai's doll so Mirai could get more food from one of the stations. After sampling the culinary delights, we wandered the store and selected a "few" (cough, cough...) things. I also kept an eye on the Silent Auctions that were located in a cordoned off area just outside the store benefiting HMC. I had my eye on two sets in particular so started doing my part by bidding them up fast. It's for charity so the bids needed to reflect that, right?

Mirai decorated her own cookie (as did I - delicious homemade style sugar cookies just like you make at Christmas!) They had cookies cut in heart and circle shapes as well as big bowls of butter cream icing in pink, green and yellow. Choices of embellishments were aplenty - Mirai went straight for the pink crystal sprinkles. A quick trip back to check the Silent Auction bids and we headed back inside to look around some more.

Several girls visited with Mirai and she with them. Moms stopped to talk with some of the girls as well and there was a definite festive party feel and "doll camaraderie" that was inclusive the entire night. I only witnessed one incident where an adult acted rude to the staff, acting 'put out' about something petty. The rest of us glared at her for her impudence. :) Such behavior was unseemly at a Benefit, especially one held in a store that creates products to actively encourage kind and polite behavior of girls and young ladies.

Liz came back over to introduce me to Chris, the manager of the Bistro. She knew I was planning a birthday party there for Kennedy's 8th birthday next month and wanted to make sure we  met so all my concerns could be addressed and needs met. I admit it was a bit heady to be introduced to so many people as if I were a VIP or something instead of just a gramma who still likes to play with dolls! 

I got in the checkout line as the time for the closing of the store was fast approaching. Staff came over to let us all know the Silent Auction was closing in minutes. I was 3rd in line to reach the checkout but left the queue to make sure I was getting at least ONE of my auctions before they closed. I was in luck - I was the last bidder on both of them. I loitered a bit while Mirai personalized a zipper canvas bag waiting to see if I'd won for sure. The 10 second countdown began and...I WON THEM BOTH!!

One item was the new Caroline doll with her accessories, skiff and the entire boxed set of books, signed by the author no less. I didn't realize the part about "signed by author" until Sunday, oddly enough, when I noticed both writing on the exterior of the box and the ribbon on the book box not tied well. I untied the ribbon, pulled out a book and, sure enough, it had been signed by Kathleen Ernst. Each book (all six) were signed as well as the book box. Woot!

The other auction set included the new VW Beetle car, the dolls Ivy and Julie, the car wash set and the books for both Ivy and Julie. The car is a lot of fun - it has working headlights, radio, horn and ignition/running "sounds". They even got that hollow muffler loud engine sound that I remember VW Bugs making! It will be fun to see the boy's reaction to the car as that was what got their attention when we went to the Dallas store. If a Matchbox car holds interest of a young man for hours, imagine the delight in one that is much larger!

I got back into the checkout line which, so soon to closing, was about 20 people deep. Mirai was a bit "partied out" by this time. It was 9pm - the party was slated to end at 8:30 but they "soldiered on" as there were so many in line still. I found a bench where Mirai could sit and I could still keep an eye on her. It took awhile to get to the registers, but everyone was in a great mood, there was much laughing and visiting and before I knew it, I was finished and they were helping me to the car with my purchases and auction items. As we exited the store, Mirai got a "goody bag" with several books and a doll sized t-shirt with "American Girl - Houston" printed on it. I got a big hug from Liz before I left and an admonition to not forget to visit them at the Dallas store!

All in all, it was a magical evening, the 2nd "Happiest Place on Earth" (Disney parks being the first obviously...) Some individual highlights for both of us include:

Mirai - decorating her own cookies; personalizing her canvas zipper bag; the Jello jiggler "orange slices" and the different food stations; the goody bag

Cheri - winning the silent auctions, getting invited in the FIRST place to attend, being recognized by Dallas store friends, getting to go with Mirai to such a fun party!

The next day, I find that quite a few "friends"  had been joy-riding all night. Oh dear...

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