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...

13 September 2012

School days...Public School Days that is...

Mirai is officially in Kindergarten. "Real school" as some refer to it although I'd challange someone to the death if they said that to me last year when Mirai was in Miss Boo's pre-k at Yellow Brick Road. If that wasn't "real school",  I don't know what is. Last year's pre-k is what has made this year's transition to kindergarten seamless. And I do mean SEAMLESS. I was the one intimidated by all the 'process' of public education - the enrollment, where to go for leaving off and picking up, orientations (and the lack of obvious notification thereby missing most of it), school handbooks and the (now I know annual) mountain of papers that come home that first week spelling out the consequences for non-compliance to a myriad of rules put in place, I'm sure, by past lawsuits and enforced by the Law of the Land. Yes, heady stuff indeed.

You see, my "original three" went to school overseas in private International schools. They were more of community than an Institution. And America was still considered a "Christian Nation" so there was more conservatism than not. The schools in which our children were enrolled did not "teach to the test" to obtain federal money. We were indeed fortunate that Amoco paid the fees for these private schools overseas which gave our children a solid educational foundation and a sense of the aforementioned community. But I digress. This is about Mirai and Kindergartin.

Her first day of school was flawless. I had bought a 'time timer' that helped her with time management. And I highly recommend these! I put 10 minutes on and placed the clock where she could see it. 10 minutes to go to the bathroom and brush her teeth. She needs this because, otherwise, she'll come downstairs and curl up in a fetal position at the foot of the stairs and just go back to sleep.
Then I'd set 10 more minutes to get dressed and come in to do hair. Then 10 more minutes for breakfast. Worked. like. a. charm...
There is homework every day which is a new concept for me. "Back in my day", kindergarten was a vehicle by which children learned three things basically:
1) Wait in line
2) Don't eat your crayons
3) Spell your name
Today's Modern Kindergartener must know their alphabet before the first day of class and, hopefully, all their numbers. They must already be independent. In other words, today's kindergartener is my 2nd grade. AND they (both the school and a lot of parents) are already wanting to identify "gifted" students and put them in special programs. I'll hasten to add right now that I'm not against challenging kids to do the best they can and continue to reach. But these are FIVE YEAR OLDS. I'm foreseeing burnout by 8th grade at this rate. Since when did being competitive in the world have to start at five years old? And I know a lot of "successful" folks that had a great childhood, unfettered by a push to excel that started in kindergarten. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox...for now.
For her birthday, she'd received a Skippyjon Jones backpack and that one is her favorite. As long as they don't throw Physics textbooks into the mix this year, I think Skippyjon will do just fine, thank you very much.

Day One she marched into that classroom and never looked back. I did not go in with her past the door to her room, and Day Two I just dropped her off near the door to the Kindergarten wing. When school is over, she comes bounding out full of information about what happened that day. I asked her what her favorite thing was - "Snack time". Of course. There's plenty of time to let her know later that one cannot get a degree in Snack Time (although going to a Culinary Institute would be close I guess...) The first week she got to be the "go bag"  person which took me a while to figure out - she kept telling me, "I carry the black bag everywhere we go". Okay. And what's IN this black bag? "I don't know - paper and books?" Ms. Fyke confirmed that when they go from class to class, there is a bag that carries all the papers and things they'll be working on and a student is selected each week I'm assuming to carry out the courier services. Mirai was honored. 

With Mirai being one of the youngest (if not youngest) in her class, with a July birthday, I had some reservations about her readiness to be in kindergarten but those doubts have been laid aside as I see her blossom and grow in her new environment. And, having done this before, I know to sit back and enjoy the ride because it won't be long before she's in less innocent environs. Vive kindergarten!

10 September 2012

"Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get married..."

Where does one begin when the last post was last YEAR? I guess randomly. So here goes!

This past weekend was the wedding of a dear friend of ours (and Mirai's "nanny"), Amanda,  to her best friend, Manny. And Mirai was the Flower Girl. Last January, after a fairy tale proposal - literally, a fairy tale proposal in front of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World, Amanda asked  Mirai to be her flower girl. I'm not sure Mirai really grasped the concept of what that meant - she just knew it was something special, that Amanda wanted her and she was content.

A dress style was selected almost immediately - a Marie Antoinette style dress. It would have to be made - the only one "ready-made" was from an outfit in the UK. Between shipping costs, the possibility of it not fitting and returns added to the very real fact that Mirai is a GROWING girl, it was decided that the dress would need to be made. Tonya Mayberry, fellow Christian, good friend, and excellent seamstress was asked to make the dress. About a month ago, I went shopping with Julie (Amanda's mom - also fellow Christian and good friend - don't know about the "excellent seamstress" moniker however -ha!) to get the beautiful Dupioni silk in ivory that would be the main fabric of the dress. And, sure enough, the measurements taken at the beginning of summer were vastly different from the taller and more rounded Mirai of late August. I scoured the internet for just the right shoes finding lovely kid leather ballet slipper flats (with ribbon ties no less!) in a soft silver grey.

The first fitting was almost better than the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique at Disney when the "reveal" happened. Julie, Amanda and I were just wowed by this dress! I think Mirai thought it was a real princess dress although I could hear in my head what would come when it was being fitted ("It's scratchy!").

The dress fitting itself was great fun mainly because Amanda was getting her wedding gown fitted as well! Those two girls are peas-in-a-pod! A few adjustments were needed and we left the dress with Tonya. The shoes were a perfect compliment and we left.

Unbeknownst to Mirai, I'd commissioned a "mini-me" dress for her American Girl doll. When I went to pick up Mirai's dress the next week, the doll dress was finished as well. How adorable was THAT??

We didn't give her the doll dress until the day of the wedding, which was last Friday. She loved it! I did caution her that the doll could NOT go down the aisle with her at the wedding which was a good thing - because that doll was a constant companion the REST of the time!

We headed to the wedding venue arriving mid-afternoon. After her hair was done, it was almost time for the formal photos before the wedding. I wasn't there for those but heard that her doll was in many of them - oh dear, sorry about that, Amanda!

Amanda's bridal attendants were so caring of Mirai, watching out for her, giving instruction when needed and reining her in as well. All-in-all, I think Mirai behaved very well for a five year old "in the spotlight". Let's just say we had some preconceived concerns that never came to fruition.

This may well be my favorite photo from the time up in the Bride's Salon before the wedding. My "two girls", both excited and anticipatory, albeit for different reasons, but still so animated and happy!

Some final hair adjustments by Amanda before heading down.

I'm sure there will be more photos later but these are the ones I took. It was such an honor to be involved in this wedding in so many ways, to feel included in family and to share the joy and happiness of this great day! Congratulations to Amanda and Manny - may your years be long, your disagreements few, your friendship always growing and your love always deepening. Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!