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Why Slip ‘N Slides are the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Summer

The sun beats down on an arid, neighborhood. Staying inside in the AC feels like a waste of summer, but if you go outside, there is no oxygen… only the thick, putrid stench of your own relentless sweat. You can only lie there, face down in the grass, baking in the sun. In the distance the Johnson kids can be heard splashing around in their new pool. They sound so happy… and cool. Your tongue is swollen with thirst and you know there is an abundance of water inside the house but all you can think about is the blistering sunlight and the Johnsons’ pool and you’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe, and how to be happy, and how to ride a bike which is ridiculous because they always say you never forget how to ride a bike but they are wrong because they’ve never been this hot before and you know that if you tried to ride a bike your legs would turn into jelly and melt all over the place and then dad would have to wash the driveway which would be a pain because he would have to find the hose—

HOSE.

A common garden hose provides the essential water supply that flows through any Slip ‘N Slide, the very veins of summer itself. Forget the Johnsons and their pool. You have your very own waterpark in your backyard!

There are so many fantastic things that make a Slip ‘N Slide a Slip ‘N Slide. Where do I start? Waiting for your turn to shoot across the lawn on a wet piece of plastic is like waiting for a rollercoaster at a theme park.

Dangerous? Yeah probably. But what fun would it be if you COULDN’T go flying off the thing and get grass burns up and down your body?? Everyone wants to be the fastest Slip ‘N Slide-r, especially when there’s an audience… and there WILL be an audience. As a kid, I remember getting our Slip ‘N Slide out and suddenly there would be five extra kids in the yard. Half of the time I don’t think I even knew them, but it’s basic math….

Summer + Slip ‘N Slide = Party

And everyone is invited.

Mass Ave Toys: A Dream Come True

Over the weekend I visited my sister and her husband in Indianapolis. The city was alive with excitement; filled with crazed Big 10 fans, Comic-Con attendees, and jolly drunks dressed in all shades of green. In other words, THE MOST PEOPLE-FILLED TWO DAYS OF MY LIFE.

Luckily, hidden in the city on the quirky stretch of road known as Mass Ave (Massachusetts Avenue) was a fantastic little toy store. When I say “fantastic” I mean it was the coolest brick-and-mortar establishment I have ever laid eyes in all my years of living. And when I say “little” I mean jam-packed (from floor to ceiling!) with top-notch toys. My only disappointment was the lack of imagination behind the name: Mass Ave Toys. Doesn’t sound too groundbreaking, right?

But as I walked around the store (or zigzagged between hordes of old women and toddlers, rather) I realized it would take days to look at everything in detail. There was soooo much to take in: wooden toys out the wazoo, kites hanging from the ceiling, puppets of every variety, kids’ books, puzzles, maps, classics, robots, fire trucks, instruments, candy, rocking horses—

I need to stop or I’m going to hyperventilate.

And did I see one single Barbie or other such equivalent? No, sir. They weren’t needed. In the beautiful disaster of colors and fun and plastic and noise that is Mass Ave Toys, Barbies would be white noise. A knickknack on a shelf. A discount shelf. Or a “free” shelf. Or in the garbage.

Where was I?

This place is 100000% specialty toys. I can’t wait to go back and chat with the owner on a slower business day, if possible. It would be interesting to see what their average day is like. From what I could tell, the store is in decent financial standings, prices are reasonable, and customer service is great. The next time you find yourself in Indianapolis, check it out!

(Follow me on Instagram for pictures from my Indy adventure!!)

Mass Ave Toys is the toy store of my dreams, perfect in every way. And if loving a business entity is wrong, I don’t want to be right….

55 Years a Square

Barbie is 55 this year. Ew. To celebrate this occasion, I believe some Barbie bashing is in order.

The iconic doll has been in the news lately due to the creation of the new “Lammily” doll that is a more realistic version of Barbie. Lammily’s body proportions are based off a 19-year-old girl’s physique, with stouter legs, a Barbie vs. Lammilybroader stomach, and a neck that could actually support a head. When asked about the unrealistic measurements in a recent interview, Kim Culmone, one of Barbie’s lead designers bashed this new doll, because it’s not

“normal” either.

Very clever. Be that guy and raise the philosophical question, “Well, what exactly IS normal?” Ugh. We get it. It’s 100000 billion percent impossible to create a doll that pleases everyone. We come in all shapes and sizes…

Some people are squares.

Like Barbie, for example.

Total square.

But wait a second guys… did you know that you can be something BEYOND your jeans size? I’d like a Barbie who comes from the lower/middle class, one that can’t afford to wear the most extravagant clothes out there, one that works three jobs, one that looks tired. That would be a real Barbie. Because Barbie can be anything she wants to be, right? So who says she has to be successful and popular? Maybe she just wants to stay at home and NOT go out clubbing with Ken? Give her messy hair, worn clothes, a beat up car, student loans…

Make Barbie look realistic? No. Make Barbie BE realistic. Make her a relatable, real person. This doll has such a huge impact on young girls. Not just body image, but overall attitudes about life. No more bull about being a pink-suited astronaut. No. When would that ever happen? I’m pretty sure the suits don’t come in pink. (See what I did there? THAT’S called being realistic.)

If Barbie wants to be an astronaut, cool, whatever. But I want to get to know her! What did she do in high school? What college did she attend? Let’s have a doll version of her OCD dorm roommate, or her least favorite professor! I could go on and on…

Toys like Barbie should tell a story. Real ones. Not just fairytales.

Heroes in a Half Shell… TURTLE POWER

Action figures will always be a fundamental staple in the world of toys. If you’re one of those people who defensively insist that action figures aren’t toys, well okay, whatever. They ARE toys. And if you keep them in mint condition, they can become extremely valuable collectables.

Personally, I firmly believe that toys are meant to be played with, and therefore unpackaged (GASP). That being said, I refuse to open Pez dispensers. I’m not a hardcore collector or anything, but I think it’s a cool concept and I really dislike the taste of Pez candies….

Does Brianna have a point? Hm.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the first action figures I was exposed to as a kid. My brother and sister were hardcore fans, so naturally we had all the toys. It might have been because they were muscular turtles (or maybe simply because they weren’t my sister’s Barbies) but these guys fascinated me. They were so life-like… to the point where I didn’t even play with them. One Raphael action figure talked to me on several occasions, I swear. Not even joking. So yeah, “playing” with Ninja Turtles meant getting them out and looking at them, observing them. I’m pretty sure those darn things were (and continue to be) living, breathing creatures, but that’s a discussion for another day.

According to Toy Time! by Christopher Byrne, Ninja Turtles had a falling out in the early 90s and were only just revived in 2012 when Nickelodeon launched the horrifically animated remake. I read that and thought, wait. What. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. THAT’S A LIE.

I mean, the Turtles have become part of pop culture, something the young people think is “cool” (even though they have little to no knowledge of the subject). But for me, they’ve always been present as well as relevant. Not that I’m an expert, but ya know. It’s like, they shaped the decade or something. Ever met someone who thinks they’re dumb? No. Of course not. What kind of monster could hate on mutated turtles who talk like surfers, eat pizza, and use martial arts to kick butt? You still see them everywhere – t-shirts, toys, school supplies, you name it.

Sure, the original TV show isn’t on anymore. They’re not as popular as they once were, but that doesn’t mean everyone forgot about them.

They are still loved.

So COWABUNGA, DUDE.

Everyone Loves a Slinky!

Slinkys. Just about everybody has one. Think. When was the last time you saw one of these? Can you even remember? Maybe not. These little guys are so timeless they blend into the background, but odds are, there’s always one not far away.

A few weeks ago I went into a panic because I couldn’t find mine. I thought, “Really? I know I have one somewhere!” It turns out, it had become a cup holder on my desk. I had been storing my numerous flash drives there for months! It was right in front of my face and I thought I had lost it…

But this got me thinking, that’s not necessarily bad. On some subconscious level I made a point to keep it around. And why not? I have some good memories with that Slinky! When I was a kid, wind suit pants were dangerously popular (or they were hideously out of style and Mom just bought them anyway?). They were fantastically friction-free, so I would slid down the stairs on my caboose with them quite often. Sometimes I would race my Slinky down the stairs, of course I always won, but that’s one of those memories that has always stuck with me. I mean, what other toy can move like that? I have 3 siblings, but I played with that thing all the time. Other than the strange smell it leaves behind on your hands, it’s golden. Metaphorically speaking.

The Slinky was first introduced in the early 1940s. The creator made sure they were affordable for everyone, because there shouldn’t be a price on playtime. Can we take a moment to appreciate how AWESOME that is?? Obviously, the 1940s were a tough time for everyone, but today Slinky remains an affordable toy. Did the Slinky sell out? Do they walk and talk and have built Wi-Fi? No sir.

In other words, the Slinky is the inanimate embodiment of everything I love about toys. They’re simple and fun. Sure they get tangled from time to time, but will it go up in smoke if it falls in the bathtub? Are there any little pieces you might lose? Any assembly required? Nah. (But a killer staircase is nice.)

There is a lot that can be learned from the Slinky. It is flexible, resilient, timeless. It adapts, stretches, but most importantly, it bounces back. It’s powered by its own momentum. What a beautiful metaphor. What poetry.

So be a Slinky in everything you do.

Woot woot! It’s Almost 2014!

Hey kiddos! Unless you live under a rock that has internet access, you probably know that tomorrow is the last day of 2013. (Now I’m re-thinking that joke… If you have internet access, you more than likely have a handy dandy virtual calendar… or a real one. Nevermind.)

A new year means a lot of things for people… Unrealistic weight-loss goals. Empty promises to quit smoking. Checks written with the wrong date. You get the idea. For me, 2014 means NEW TOYS. (For this blog I considered ticking off the popular toys of 2013, but it’s better to look forward and be hopeful rather than look back on all the electronic gizmos and get angry.)

Next semester, I only have 3 classes, all of which are online. I’m guessing that I’ll have some free time to journey to toy stores and see what’s what. This way I’ll be able to see what the market trends are in smaller scale stores (as opposed to Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us). I’ll talk to owners, Instagram my findings, and get lost along the way because I don’t have the greatest sense of direction. I’m also interested to know how demographics play a role in the success of an independent toy retailer…

Another ambition for the New Year is to obtain part-time employment at the nearest Toys “R” Us, which just so happens to be in Fort Wayne, 50 minutes from my house. A lot of you might be saying, “That’s a terrible idea!” Very true, it might be! Quite frankly, I love my current job, so believe me when I say that this will not be permanent! Taking on a second job in another city will indeed be stressful, but I would like the experience. I’ll be like a secret agent, working undercover to learn the enemy’s weaknesses. And I qualify for the job. Boy, do I qualify. I can count change and be friendly; two essential characteristics of a cool employee, in my opinion. Oh yeah, and if there’s an employee discount, I’ll explode with happiness and rainbows.

Of course, the good ol’ blog will continue to be a priority. I’m still new to all of this stuff so I hope to become more technologically literate as well as find video editing software that doesn’t make me turn into the Incredible Hulk and smash stuff.

That’s all for now! Happy New Year!

IT’S CHRISTMAS

Please allow me to be the ten trillionth person to wish you a merry Christmas! I hope it has been filled to the max with sugarplums, warm feelings, and unhealthy food.

Every year, I’m up and at ‘em by 7 am to creep into the living room and marvel at the presents under the tree. And every year it’s the same. I can feel the magic of Christmas, pure Yuletide adrenaline, coursing through my veins. So what’s all this crap I hear about people not being excited for Christmas? If one more person tweets something like, “Christmas makes me wish I were a kid again” I’ll go bananas. Come on, dude. Christmas is for EVERYONE. I realize some families aren’t able to exchange as many gifts as they would like, but happiness and holiday cheer are free. We all have problems. I get it. That’s one thing. But it’s ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY to have the attitude that some people have these days. You know who you are…

Children are born with a special kind of magic. (Not just wizards, but muggles too!) This magic fuels imagination. In other words, it’s the stuff that makes being a kid so darn fun. Sometimes, when kids grow up, they lose their magic and no longer find certain things special anymore, which makes everything pale in comparison to their childhood. For example, Andy the Adult might not care what a Christmas tree looks like because none of them hold a candle to the trees he had growing up. This is where the “back in MY day” speech comes in… So basically, these people live in the past. It’s cool to reminisce and what not, but some people go out of their way to point out the flaws in present day Christmas-y stuff. It’s like saying “I know for a fact that this Christmas will not be as good as the year I got that bike so I’m going to be a humbug and use social networking websites to whine about how I hate growing up.” Sounds pretty uncool to me.

So my question for you is, where is YOUR magic? If you still have it, that’s outstanding! Hold onto it and don’t you dare let go, whatever you do. This magic doesn’t simply pertain to Christmas alone, but everyday things as well. Such as…

Blowing bubbles in milk
The post office
Tiny versions of normal-sized stuff
Shooting stars
Telling campfire stories
Finding change on the ground
Making that duck bill thing out of Pringles

If you don’t think at least two of the things listed above are cool, then I’m sorry, but you’ve lost your magic. Really, I’m very very sorry.

Anywho. Christmas. May it always find its way into your heart and give you the warm fuzzies. I hope with every fiber of my being that one day I will be able to bring the joy of Christmas to others through the everlasting whimsy of toys. When it comes to Christmas and the toy store, I have so many ideas it’s insane! I constantly find myself saying, “Oh, that would be cool in the toy store” (to the point where I’m sure my family members roll their eyes at the word toys). But seriously. We’re talking train sets, fake snow, a real live Santa, you name it! So brace yourselves. The toy store will live and breathe Christmas magic.

Once again, I wish a merry Christmas to you and yours, whether you still have your magic or not. If you don’t, there’s hope for you yet. No need to worry. But you’ll have to work hard if you want to be one of the magical cool kids. They’re easy to spot. Usually they are the ones enjoying life the most.

That is my wish to you this holiday season. Enjoy life.

God bless!

Coloring Outside the Lines

Lately I’ve been obsessed with coloring books. There’s something about the smells of crayons that makes my brain mega happy. *sniff* Ahhhhh. Growing up, there was an almost permanent spot in our back room devoted to coloring. Tupperware containers overflowed with all the Crayola products you could ever imagine. Coloring books were plentiful. I would color for hours and hours and hours…

Does the average child consider coloring as a possible activity? Do they? I really don’t know. What if coloring books die out? You can scoff all you want, but think about it. Coloring encourages the use of motor skills and creativity. Without it, all the refrigerators of the world will be bare. We’ll have an EPIDEMIC of naked fridges on our hands, people.

Coloring books provide a set “drawing” for the artist to fill in. This involves planning out which colors look best in certain locations (unless you go with the toddler approach and scribble on every page in the book with the same crayon and all of your siblings hate you for the rest of your natural life). It was nice for me to have something to work with already so I didn’t have to deal with the nerve-wracking pressure of producing a Mona Lisa quality piece of refrigerator art. That’s the magic of coloring books! It’s like you’re a master cartoonist who can draw anything in the world, from Barbies to dinosaurs, in the blink of an eye (or the turn of a page). But really, you take someone else’s creation and make it your own. Who says elephants HAVE to be grey? Make it purple; nobody is going to stop you. And Cinderella? Go ahead and give her Joker make up. Because, why not??

Coloring books mean freedom of expression without borders. Because not everyone is Picasso.

The selection of coloring books readily available is dwindling. Crayola is obviously the mighty Kong of the children’s craft universe. So most likely your options are, “Jungle Animals” “Monster Trucks” “Princesses” and “Dinosaurs” all cleverly named by the classic coloring company. I’m sorry, but if I have to leaf through another coloring book full of the same puppy in 86 different poses, I will blow a microchip. Coloring book subjects are so predictable I could puke. How many trucks can one kid color before he starts to snap his crayons in anger? Maybe kids are losing interest in coloring because they have a right to do so.

Toy store proposal: quirky coloring books.

Let’s have a variety available! Not EVERY coloring book is princess themed, believe it or not. While browsing Amazon earlier today, I found several non conventional books… The best one was called “Fat Ladies in Space” and no it’s not offensive to overweight women. It’s a body POSITIVE coloring book. And the title is hilarious/interesting. Another was “Unicorns are Jerks” and it features different examples of the unicorns (yep, you guessed it) being jerkburgers. It discourages poor etiquette and, once again, it’s a hoot.

Cool coloring books are a cool idea for cool kids who like being cool. And I’m cool with that.

P.S. Have a very Merry Christmas! 🙂

“Gay Rights” for Toys?

Labels. We slap them on just about everything from food to people. Well ladies and gremlins, one type of labels might disappear forever in the near future.

Gender labels. More specifically, TOY gender labels, are falling out of fashion as more and more corporations join the “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign, which discourages toy stores from separating toys into “Boys” and “Girls” sections. An interesting concept for sure, but I have mixed feelings on the subject.

I’m all for equality among the sexes. Women can work on cars and men can be nurses. That’s cool. I’m no stranger to being treated like a second class citizen based solely on the fact that I am a female. Like really, dude? You somehow managed to figure out I’m a woman, but you can’t gasp the fact that I’m also a human being, JUST LIKE YOU. It’s 2013. Come on.

So clearly the feminist in me is like, “Yeah! Who says little girls have to play with tea sets? Bring on the dinosaurs!” And little boys, feel free to play with dolls. That’s totally fine.

But wait, hold the phone. “Let Toys Be Toys” simply pertains to labeling aisles and sections of toys, not the toys themselves. Last time I checked, a lot of the big toy items have products geared more toward a specific gender. For instance, the new Nerf Rebelle collection. Pink Nerf guns with names like “Heartbreaker.” I don’t know what’s worse, the cliché names or the darts that look like something Avril Lavigne inspired. Which gender is more likely to take interest in these doohickeys? Even if all the stores in the world abandon the concept of “Boys” and “Girls” sections, some toys will stand out to one gender quite obviously.

Nerf Rebelle for girls. Yeah, because no girl ever wanted to play with regular Nerf guns? Sigh.

Nerf Rebelle for girls. Yeah, because no girl ever wanted to play with regular Nerf guns? Sigh.

Example. The Barbie aisle is pink. BARBIE is the girliest thing ever. She’s a symbol of the “perfect woman.” You don’t have to put a label on Barbie and Skipper to know that they are more likely to appear on little Susie’s Christmas list. Granted, Billy could have some interest in these (ridiculous) dolls. But the odds don’t look so great.

Part of me can’t help but wonder, is there some OTHER reason behind this labeling deal? Because it kind of feels like a way for companies to reach out to children “questioning their sexuality” and let them know that it’s okay for girls to play with Monster Trucks. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but these are CHILDREN. The other day I walked into the BOYS section of Toys R Us and bought a medieval bow and arrow play set for myself and guess what? I DIDN’T burst into flames, or get struck by lightning, or anything. Anybody can buy any toy they wish, regardless of what section it’s in. So yes, girls can play with swords, and boys can play with ponies. No worries. But don’t get all mad about how girls and boys are being told what they have to play with, what they have to like, what they have to BE. It’s up to the child. I grew up with my fair share of “masculine” toys and it didn’t drastically control how I turned out. Sure, I’m not super girly, but I’ve certainly uttered the words “Crap, I broke a nail!” before. If Susie grows up to be gay but she’s scared to come out of the closet, I really doubt that fear stems from getting a Polly Pocket out of the girls section rather than a Polly Pocket in the a section that has no gender affiliation.

Lastly, “Let Toys Be Toys” just sounds wrong to me. Do toys suddenly have sexual preferences? Uh… No. Give me a break, people. There are more constructive ways to spend your time. If you think THAT’S the biggest problem in our world today, I feel sorry for you.

The Return of the Toy Blogger

Captain’s log. Stardate 91560.35

If anyone out there is still listening, I want you to know that I’m alive. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks and unfortunately, blogging fell by the wayside. But now that THE SEMESTER IS OVER, I’m back, and I promise never to leave you again <3

So. Only 10 days remain until Christmas. If that doesn’t stress you out, then God bless you. I often find myself overwhelmed with the number of family traditions there are to tend to, in addition to the usual Christmas shopping and the like. My family is psychotic when it comes to Christmas. We’re talking Christmas cookies, a real tree, over-sized stockings, the whole 9 yards. It’s probably weird.

Let’s face it, Christmas is awesome. But you know what’s not awesome? (I’m going to sound like an old timer, but stay with me, okay?) A lot of the big toys nowadays STINK. Xbox, Skylanders Play Station 4. Don’t get me wrong, I adore video gaming. But it is CONSUMING the lives of children. What kind of memories will these little guys have from their childhoods?

“Daddy, tell me about what it was like when you were a kid?”

“Well, Billy Jr., I stared at a screen and yelled profanity at other people through a headset. Ah, youth…”

LAME.

My fear is that this lifestyle will become more and more acceptable to the point that babies are raised with a controller in their chubby little hands. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like a life lived to its fullest.

Please, please, PLEASE. Think twice before buying video game related presents. ESPECIALLY if you’re buying for a younger child. We want kids to use their minds.

Example. One of the usual morning customers at the coffee shop where I work told me an interesting story yesterday. He said that his wife made their grandkids read as punishment for bad behavior. WHAT. Excuse me while I angrily wave my cane at these “rotten kids.” And while they’re at it, they can GET OFF MY LAWN. Please. Stop the insanity. Video games are fun, but you have to know when to say when.

Don’t trade the real world for a simulated one.