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Santa Claus Baby New Year

Since today is New Year’s Day, which ushers in a brand new year, I’d thought I would write about what I recently did for myself on Christmas Day.

I haven’t opened a wrapped gift on Christmas Day since 2011. It was three months after I underwent hip surgery. For my birthday on December 15 my husband surprised me with a new iPod Touch. Ten days later on Christmas Day, I opened a wrapped gift and found that he gave me a new iPad. With a new iPod Touch and a new iPad, I felt really blessed to have two new Apple devices on top of my ability to walk slowly improving after my hip surgery.

It all came crashing down just three days later when my husband came home from work, announced that he was moving out, then ran out the door before I could even respond. My iPad stopped working altogether just three years later. My iPod Touch still works even though it has older software (I can’t install the newest version of the iOS software because the hardware is now considered old).

Over the last several years, before my marriage fell apart, my mother would send me a $200 check for my birthday and a $200 check for Christmas but that was it for gifts. (She also used to send my husband checks as birthday and Christmas presents until he left me.) At least I could treat myself to a nice meal or some nice clothes for myself. The checks stopped in 2016 when my mother’s health deteriorated (she’s currently struggling with multiple sclerosis and it’s gotten to the point where I can only talk to her on the phone for no more than 2 or 3 minutes because she gets tired).

After my marriage ended I usually went to my support group’s annual post-Christmas party where we have a white elephant gift exchange. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t even get a wrapped gift.

There were times when I miss getting a wrapped gift that i would open and I would be surprised with what I got. I finally decided to rectify that situation.

For the past few years there have been the rise in popularity of blind boxes which housed some kind of a collectible item. One can find them in comic book stores, Target, Five Below, Walmart, and other similar stores. Two years ago I purchased a cheap blind blister package that had a Hatsune Miku keychain inside. The outer pack showed photos of six possible designs that I could get and I didn’t know which one I got until after I brought it home and opened it. I only purchased one keychain because I wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of possibly getting a duplicate because I couldn’t see what I was really purchasing until after I purchased it.

I used to collect Wacky Packages as a kid and they were in blind packages. The difference was that Wacky Packages were basically flat stickers. If you ended up getting a duplicate it was no big deal. You could trade it with a friend but if you couldn’t find any friends willing to trade with you, you could always use that duplicate as a sticker. I remember plastering my notebooks and other items with my duplicate Wacky Packages stickers. When it came time to clear out my childhood home after my mother decided to sell it, I found an old 45 r.p.m. record case that had a Wacky Packages sticker on the bottom for Neveready Batteries (a parody of Eveready Batteries).

But 3D objects in blind packages were another matter. If you ended up with a duplicate 3D object, chances are that you will have a harder time with getting rid of it. Most stores will not accept returns for purchasing a duplicate. You could sell it on eBay but you may or may not get anyone willing to buy it. If you’re lucky enough to have a fellow collector willing to trade with you, you might unload your duplicate that way. Or you could wrap it and give it to someone as a birthday or Christmas present. Or even donate it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

Yet I could see the allure of buying a blind package an opening it on Christmas as a substitute for opening a wrapped present. There weren’t too many blind packages that really excited me enough to consider doing this until I learned of a new line of dolls that were released by Just Play a few months ago called Hairdorables. Hairdorables are a series of small dolls with huge amounts of hair that is as big as they are. Not only did the dolls skin and hair come in a variety of colors but I found their faces to be totally cute—complete with impish smiles. Each doll and her accessories comes in a blind box where you don’t know which doll you get until after you buy it and take it home.

The dolls were released in August but, for some reason, the local Target in my area didn’t start getting them until mid-December. Meanwhile I kept on reading about these dolls online until I finally saw the boxes in real life. I purchased a Hairdorables box from Target on Christmas Eve. (The local mall was far less crowded on Christmas Eve this year than in previous years.)

I brought the package home and waited until the following day to open it. Here’s the Christmas tree along with the box still in its plastic Target bag.

Here is what the package looks like. As you can see, you literally don’t know which doll you’ve actually purchased until after you open the box.

The back of the box shows a list of 36 possible dolls that could be in that box.

Here’s a close-up of that box where you can see the Hairdorables available in a variety of hair and skin colors.

One of the side panels of the box tells the story of Hairdorables.

The story goes like this:

Hello influencers!

It’s your time to SHINE!

Meet Noah and the #Hairdorables!

Noah is a super sweet girl with a talent for styling hair. When she posted her front braid tutorial for fun, she never imagined it would go viral!

Since then, Noah has loads of inspiring friends who love to share their passions, so when she asked them to contribute to her channel, they all yelled out a resounding YAAAAAS! Check out the Hairdorables channel on YouTube!

They are dolls for the Internet age that are packaged in such a way as to make filming an unboxing doll video very easy. I chose to shoot a series of still photos instead of making an unboxing video because there are already so many unboxing Hairdorables videos out there and I wasn’t in the mood to make a new video. You open the box a certain way, starting with the yellow pull tab at the top of the box.

Once I pulled down the pull tab I found that the box reveals two compartments that you pull slightly apart.

As you pull the compartments apart you see that there’s a piece of paper in the middle being flanked by the two compartments where the doll and her accessories are held. Basically you are instructed to open the box in a certain order where you open the side containing the doll last. It’s designed to build up suspense to the ultimate surprise—which doll you received.

As for the paper in the middle, one side has a promo drawing of the Hairdorables.

The other side has a checklist of all of the Hairdorables dolls that are available in its first series (while implying that there will be a second series along with more subsequent series).

I didn’t look too closely at the checklist because I’ve read other people’s accounts about unboxing the Hairdorables and I learned that if you study the checklist too much, you will figure out which doll you received while you’re unboxing the accessories. I really wanted the whole experience to be a surprise so I only glanced at it quickly.

I also want to take the time to say that even though the Hairdorables checklist (which you can view online here) says that there are 36 dolls to collect, it doesn’t mean that there are 36 different characters. There are actually 12 different characters with each character having three different variations where each variation will wear a different outfit and have different accessories.

Getting back to the box, once I removed the checklist I found that there is actually a little backdrop where you can pose your Hairdorable doll. I like the idea of reusing the box for play since it would generate less trash than a typical doll box.

The box instructed me to open the left compartment of the box first. The compartment have four smaller sections that are in exact numbered order.

I opened the door marked with the number one and I got a small plastic bin with a top wrapper that had this pun: “Hair we go!”

I got a pink hair comb and a tiny square of tiny stickers.

So I opened the door marked with the number 2 and got a bin with this pun, “You go curl!”

I got a pair of winged sneakers (which looked really intriguing because it reminded me of the winged sandals of the god known as Hermes or Mercury in the Greco-Roman myths) and another sticker.

The stickers could be peeled then folded in half in order to create a tiny smartphone for the doll.

The idea was pretty neat in theory but it turned out to be impractical in reality after I unboxed the doll because her hands were unable to hold the tiny smartphone.

It was time to open the door that was marked with number 3. I got a bin with this message: “[heart] UR Style!”

I got a pair of white angel wings along with another sticker featuring two of the Hairdorables dolls and the hashtag #BraidsRule.

Then it was time for me to open the door with the number 4. I got the bin with this pun: “Sheer Genius.”

I got another sticker with two of the dolls and the hashtag #VacayAllDay. But it was the hairband that really thrilled me. It’s a mint green hairband with a unicorn horn! It brought back memories of when I unsuccessfully tried to market myself with my 1990s Unicorn With An Attitude animation series. I was also intrigued because I once read a series of books by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball about the adventures of Acorna, a humanoid girl born with a unicorn horn.

After opening the first four compartments it was time to unbox the doll herself.

I opened the door and I got another plastic bin.

Removing the plastic bin reveals more box graphics that suggests a clothes closet.

The bin wrapper had yet another pun: “Let’s see what’s in hair!”

Here is my new doll as she was packaged in that bin as shown from the front and back.

I removed the doll from the bin and found that there was also a small card that reveals which doll I received. One side of the card mentions that her name is Willow, her favorite color is mint green, and her motto is “Style is a state of mind!” The other side shows a cute drawing of Willow.

Once I removed the doll from her bin I put on her winged sneakers, angel wings, and unicorn hairband. Willow has an oversized head on a small, thin body. Here is my new Willow doll placed against her backdrop. I found that the doll can’t stand on her own but I could lean her against the backdrop to make it look like she’s standing. I ended up having to use the flash for the next two photos because the area was a bit too dark (even though I had turned on all the lights on the Christmas tree and opened the blinds on a nearby window to let natural light in).

After that last photo I decided to move everything outdoors. It was sunny outside but the temperatures were in the low 40s. At least I could take better photos of the doll and her background. According to the checklist I got the Willow Wings variation doll and it’s also supposed to be her signature look. (I learned that the dolls designated to be “signature looks” tend to be more common to find than the other variants.)

Willow is incredibly cute with a very impish smile. Her brown skin and pastel rainbow color scheme kind of reminds me of the Studio Mucci Instagram account. Of course her unicorn headband is to die for!

Willow is among the smaller dolls I’ve purchased. Here is how she stands against the 1/6 scale dolls. In this photo she is flanked by Clawdeen Wolf of Monster High and Barbie. As you can see, Willow looks like a toddler compared to those dolls.

Willow and the other Hairdorables are definitely 1/12 scale dolls. Here is how she stands against my other tiny dolls. From left to right: Dollcena Disney Hawaiian Harmonies, Little Pullip Alice Fanatica, Willow, and a Bobobie Sunny Asian ball-jointed doll.

Willow has a mass of long hair that reaches to her feet. I’ve dealt with doll hair over the years but I have to say that her hair is the softest doll hair I’ve ever felt. I really love her pastel highlights that make her hair resemble cotton candy.

I really loved the doll that I received even though getting a unicorn girl was definitely the luck of the draw. The most controversial part of Hairdorables is the fact that you literally don’t know which doll you’ll get while the package costs nearly $13 per box. (Most blind box packages cost anywhere from $3-8 depending on the size of the item inside.) I’ve read reviews online from parents who purchased multiple Hairdorables boxes for their children only to get duplicates.

I’ll admit that I’m still pretty ambivalent about blind boxes in general. While it was fun finding out which doll I got, I had also only purchased just one box. If I had purchased two or more boxes and I ended up getting an exact duplicate, I don’t think I would have been as enamored with the concept. I think just limiting yourself to only one box is the best way to get maximum enjoyment from opening a blind box.

While there are other blind boxes who put codes on their packages that hint at what’s inside (such as the Lego Minifigs blind packages), so far Just Play has not released any hints on how people can avoid inadvertently purchasing duplicate dolls.

I’ve read about some people saying that the best way of telling the boxes apart is to weigh them. Apparently different boxes have different accessories so it affects the weights. Then you somehow sneak a scale into the store and weigh each box to discover which doll that box may have. This method only works if you have purchased at least three or four Hairdorables boxes (while hoping and praying that you didn’t purchase any duplicates) so you can weigh them at home and write down the weight of each doll box with a certain doll inside. Then you would take your scale and list to the store, weigh each box, and compare that weight with what you have on your list. The big problem with that method is that not everyone can afford to use this method, especially since the boxes cost $13 a pop. On top of that, you would have to carry a scale into a store and weigh each box while hoping that a store employee doesn’t decide to confront you while you are doing it.

There is an alternate method is to see the imprinted lot number that’s located next to the bar code of the box.

Next peek at the back of the box to see what the background looks like. You may need to use a flashlight or use the flashlight that’s on your smartphone for this step.

The theory is that if the lot number and background matches, chances are that it’s a duplicate doll and you shouldn’t buy it. This video from the Up and Play YouTube channel demonstrates both the scale and the peeking at the background methods.

There is one major limitation with the idea that a different background means a different doll: That theory doesn’t always work. This blog post on the Toy Box Philosopher site mentions buying two Hairdorables packages with the same background but with different dolls and accessories.

I had thought about testing that idea out by buying a second Hairdorables box, which I would open on Little Christmas (January 6). I was thinking about replicating my childhood when my family used to celebrate that holiday by refilling the stocking with candy, small toys, and practical items (such as a pair of socks or underwear). Some years I would get a small package while other years I only got my stocking refilled.

But then I decided to ditch that idea when I learned that the second series of Hairdorables will be officially released later this month. I decided to just wait for the second series and bypass the dilemma of whether to buy a second Hairdorables Series 1 box and risk getting a duplicate doll. I just only hope that the Target store in my area can get the new dolls much sooner than the four months it took before that store even received its first shipment of the Series 1 Hairdorables.

The YouTube channel My Froggy Stuff managed to received advance copies of the new Series 2 dolls and made this video.

Based on the video, it looks like the biggest improvement is that this new series of dolls will each come with a doll stand. That is a great idea since my own doll can’t really stand on her own. Like the previous series, the new Series 2 doll boxes will also have backgrounds that can be used for displaying the dolls or playing with them.

Like I wrote earlier, I think it’s a good idea to have the boxes double as a display area for the dolls. The only disadvantage is that the boxes tend to take up space, especially if you own more than two dolls and you don’t have much space in your home. I found this tutorial on the American Girl Outsider blog on how to break down the backdrop so it won’t take up as much space in your home. You’ll need to scroll down to the bottom of that blog post in order to get to the tutorial.

I have to admit that it was pretty fun to once again unwrap something that I didn’t know what was inside until after I finished opening the box.

To learn more about Hairdorables you can either check out the official site or you can visit this site that was set up by a fan called the Absolute Hairdorables Wiki.

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After a few weeks working on this video, I finally managed to upload it last week on the observed Veterans Day holiday (which was on Monday this year because the actual holiday itself fell on a Sunday this year). And I’m only getting around to writing about it the day before Thanksgiving Day. In some ways it’s more appropriate to write about this video now than during Veterans Day.

Here’s some background. Way back in 2016 I did a series of tutorials on how to take a Barbie and customize her into a comic book superhero known as the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. As I wrote at the time, I was inspired to make this video tutorial series after reading the comic book and seeing letters from some fans clamoring for Squirrel Girl stuff to buy while other fans wrote about how they took matters into their own hands and made their own Squirrel Girl stuff. One guy went as far as take a female action figure and customize her into Squirrel Girl.

In the meantime Target got a shipment of the latest Barbie dolls known as Made to Move Barbie. These Barbies had more articulated joints than the average Barbie doll so they could make all kinds of poses. So I had an idea of using one of these Made to Move Barbies as a blank canvas to customize as the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

After doing a lot of research on the web for various doll clothing patterns and doll customization tutorials, I filmed my four-part tutorial series, uploaded them on YouTube, and moved on to other things. I didn’t get too many hits for my tutorial series, which was a disappointment because I tried publicizing it on social media. But I didn’t let it get me down too much. I was satisfied with my tutorial series because I not only demonstrated my artistic and crafting ability but I also demonstrated my ability to teach others.

The following year (late 2017) I sold my customized Squirrel Girl doll at a craft show. I did it because I was looking for things to sell and there are times when I do sell old finished craft projects just so I can earn extra money while having more space in my house. I felt okay with releasing Squirrel Girl to a new home, especially since I have videos and photos to remember that doll by.

So a couple of months ago I attended the weekly animation meetup that’s held at the Greenbelt Makerspace where the person who leads the group showed previews from various animation shows that were debuting either on network television, cable television, various online streaming services, or some combination of the two or three. Among the various previews was a show called Marvel Rising and my mouth almost dropped when I saw that Squirrel Girl was among the characters on that series.

Before you know it, a line of Marvel Rising dolls were released and, yes, there is now an official Squirrel Girl action figure doll.

Ironically I decided to attempt a customized Squirrel Girl doll two years ago because there were no official Squirrel Girl dolls that were already in existence. I generally tend to shy away from doing my own customized versions of popular characters like Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, or the two princesses from Frozen because it’s generally cheaper to purchased the mass-produced version from the store than to buy something handmade by me. I already have a big enough struggle with convincing people that my prices are higher than Walmart because 1) I live in a country with a high cost of living, 2) I make a lot of things by hand and I don’t have machines that can churn stuff out in large numbers in less than five minutes, and 3) it takes time to make things that are eye-catching and high quality without having people get on my case for having a handmade Superman action figure on sale for twice what the mass-produced version costs at a discount big box retailer.

So I did a video about the customized version of a lesser-known superhero with a smaller but dedicated fan following only to have Marvel decide to hyper her in a bigger way two years later. If I had a crystal ball that accurately predicted the future two years ago, I would have ditched the idea of doing that video tutorial series.

But then I came up with an idea for another video, one where I would compare the official Squirrel Girl doll with my original customized Squirrel Girl. I thought it would be a cool idea for a video for my YouTube channel.

So I went to Target and purchased the $19.99 Squirrel Girl doll. I shot footage of unboxing her, did a review of the doll, then compared the doll with my original customized doll from two years ago.

The big challenge was that I no longer have the other doll because I sold her. But I have another Barbie with articulated joints that I purchased just a few years before I did my Squirrel Girl series. I bought her at the time because I thought about making doll clothes to sell at craft shows, which I never acted on due mainly to the fact that I currently don’t have a sewing machine. But this Barbie came in handy because she has just as many articulated joints as the other one. (I was even able to identify which Barbie I had thanks to the Adventures in Barbie Collecting website.)

The biggest irony about finishing this video is that I finished it on the same day that the death of Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee was announced. The official Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s Twitter feed made a couple of nice tribute tweets to Lee.

So here’s my video about my reaction to finding out that, at long last, there is an official Squirrel Girl action figure doll that was released two years after I did my original four-part customization tutorial. Enjoy!

In case you missed my original tutorial series, here’s the original playlist of the entire series.

Or you can read the individual blog posts about each episode of this series.

The First Video
The Second Video
The Third Video
The Fourth Video

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The American Revolution’s greatest leader was openly gay.

The hidden problem of homelessness on college campuses.

Ex-KKK member denounces hate groups one year after rallying in Charlottesville.

The violence Central American migrants are fleeing was stoked by the U.S.

Monica Lewinski says unexpected headlines trigger her trauma. Here is how she copes with them.

Who needs Barbie? These high-tech dolls teach girls how to code.

Japanese-Americans imprisoned in internment camps in the 1940s watch the crisis stemming from the current detention of immigrants in camps with heavy hearts.

How America treats its own children makes it an outlier.

The Muslim World War II heroine that time forgot.

So we’re gonna pretend these refugees aren’t a result of our actions in Central America?

Study finds that most manufacturing jobs are dead ends.

There’s an obscure Monopoly game rule that changes the whole game—and you probably had no clue it existed.

A Holocaust survivor says that America feels like Germany before the Nazis took over.

Sex robot can now refuse to have sex if she’s not in the mood.

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Study confirms this method of repelling ticks really does work.

Serfdom in the Magic Kingdom: Disney workers rise up against poverty-level wages.

Dolls Who Code: Barbie-branded coding lessons start this summer.

The Trump-Russia-NRA connection: What you need to know.

You might be a genius, if you share this key trait with Leonardo da Vinci.

Want to stop fake news? Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.

Why Mike Pence won’t be president.

Black man graduates with law degree and MBA from two different schools on the same day.

Remembering Kent State 45 years later.

“Jesus never charged a leper a co-pay”: The rise of the religious left.

Lewis Carroll’s haunting photographs of girls, including the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.

The renegade sheriffs who are part of a law enforcement movement that claims to answer only to the Constitution.

A lynching’s long shadow.

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For the past couple of years I’ve been taking the Gateway Arts Open Studio Tour and I’ve been blogging about these tours in May, 2016; December, 2016; and May, 2017. For this year’s tour there was some Facebook drama. From what I was told, the people who organized the previous Open Studio Tours had been dragging its feet about organizing a new tour for 2018 so some of the artists who had participated in the previous tours decided to take it upon themselves to organize their own art tour that was scheduled for the day before Mother’s Day. The organizers of the Open Studio Tours realized that they were lax about organizing a tour for this year so they decided to organize an official tour that would coincide with Mount Rainier Day (which is an annual neighborhood celebration) on the following Saturday while putting out promo materials claiming that this year’s walk would be a two consecutive Saturday walk beginning with the one that the artists themselves had organized on the day before Mother’s Day.

So naturally there were accusations of cooption. On top of it some artists questioned the wisdom of scheduling the second Open Studio Tour on the same weekend as Mount Rainier Day because it might draw crowds away from the artist studios who happened to be located in towns north of Mount Rainier (such as Hyattsville and Brentwood). Some artists decided not to participate in the second Saturday’s Open Studio Tour while others decided to participate on both Saturdays.

As for me, I wasn’t able to make it to the first Saturday’s Open Studio Tour because I had opted to attend the Greenbelt Green Man Festival, which was scheduled the same weekend. I was amazed at reading all of the Facebook drama but I ended up going to the Open Studio Tour on the second Saturday mainly because I’ve enjoyed the previous ones. The silver lining to all of this controversy is that, thanks to the artist boycott of the second Saturday tour, it made my decision as to which studios to actually visit much easier.

The only downside is that it had been raining that day. Fortunately it wasn’t raining too heavily so I was able to carry my umbrella, which I used at times. There were also times when there was no rain at all. At least you know why all of the outdoor photos I took that day featured clouds and wet ground.

I also must warn you that there are some images in this post that are definitely NSFW.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

I first stopped at the Renaissance Gallery in Hyattsville.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

The Renaissance Gallery is located on the lower level of the Renaissance Square Artists Housing, which provides affordable housing for working artists.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

Renaissance Gallery features the art of Pepe Piedra, who is a painter.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

 

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

Pepe Piedra can be seen painting at his easel in the next photograph.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

Afterwards I drove south to Brentwood, where I visited the art that was on display at the Brentwood Arts Exchange.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

Located on the upper level of the Brentwood Arts Exchange Building is the 39th Street Gallery and Studios, which is a separate gallery/studio that featured even more art, including paintings of the famous artist Frida Kahlo.

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

What I saw at the Gateway Open Studio Tour in Brentwood, Maryland on May 19, 2018. #OST2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Next I drove less than a mile north of the Brentwood Arts Exchange where I went to ezStorage.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

ezStorage is a nationwide chain of storage facilities. What makes the Brentwood, Maryland location of ezStorage unique is that it has allowed artists to operate studios on the lower level of the building. Some of the studios were closed that day because some of the artists had opted to boycott the second Saturday of the Open Studio Tour.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

There was one studio that closed early due to a family emergency.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

There were a couple of available spaces where one can set up his/her own art studio.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

There were a couple of ezStorage studios that were opened that day and I was fortunate to be able to see some of the art that was created in that location.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

I drove on south until I reached Mount Rainier, where the traffic was clogged because it was also Mount Rainier Day. I managed to find parking a few blocks away from the main action on Route 1 so it was okay.

I was initially surprised to find that ReCreative Spaces was on the list of participants in the Open Studio Tour because I was told that the place had to close down earlier this year because operating it wasn’t sustainable.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

I went inside to find two people associated with ReCreative Spaces who told me that the person who was in charge of the place has since moved on but there are new people who are thinking of ways to somehow revive the place. ReCreative Spaces had some art on display but it was all on the lower level. The place was empty of most furniture and there was nothing on the upper level. Only time will tell whether ReCreative Spaces will be revived to its former glory or not. At least the art that was on display that day looked nice.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

I went on to the Gateway Media Arts Lab, which had a variety of art on display by local artists.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

I saw portraits of famous people like Prince, Tupac Shakur, and Redd Foxx.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

I also saw more art based on Frida Kahlo.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

I also saw this mixed-media art piece featuring a Barbie doll and the Minions from the Despicable Me movies.

Gateway Open Studios Tour, May 19, 2018

The last place I visited on the Open Studio Tour was at Joe’s Movement Emporium, which has this gorgeous butterfly mural outside its doors.

Gateway Open Studio Tour, May 19, 2018

I didn’t stay long in Joe’s Movement Emporium because it was towards the end of the day and I really needed to use the bathroom. I managed to view the art that was on display in the hallway.

Gateway Open Studio Tour, May 19, 2018

While I was in Mount Rainier I checked out Mount Rainier Day, which is an annual neighborhood celebration. There were activities for children, live performances, and people walking around dressed up as Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man.

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

One of the lanes that comprise Route 1 was temporarily shut down in order to make room for vendor booths which sold a variety of handcrafted goods and services. That turned into a traffic snarl as the cars had to share one of the lanes for the duration of the festival. But there were a variety of nice stuff available for sale.

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

Mount Rainier Day

The Mount Rainier Public Library was actually giving away free books to anyone who was passing by.

Mount Rainier Day

I browsed the tables until I found a copy of Marguerite Henry’s classic book Misty of Chincoteague. I read that book as a child (along with its sequels Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal) and I loved it. I had also made numerous visits to what the books says is the birthplace of Misty, Assateague Island. (Although the official Misty of Chincoteague site said that the real-life Misty was born in captivity in Chincoteague.) In any case, you can see the Misty of Chincoteague book among the pile of books waiting to be taken away to new homes.

Mount Rainier Day

I had a good day walking the Open Studio Tour despite the Facebook drama. Hopefully there will be another Open Studio Tour next year with less online drama than this year.

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Ramadan

A look at the digital ruins of a forgotten future called Second Life.

U.S. mints coins for Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit that might not happen.

Fewer tourists are coming to the U.S. and experts say that it’s largely Trump’s fault.

Barbie “Shero” doll with a hijab honors Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Martin Luther King may have been killed by a Memphis police officer, not James Earl Ray.

How white Americans used lynchings to terrorize and control black people.

Laminated jewelry crafted from vintage books by Jeremy May.

A look at the guerrilla grafting movement—secretly grafting fruit-bearing trees onto ornamental city trees in order to feed the poor.

A Princeton sociologist spent 8 years asking rural Americans why they are so pissed off. Hint: It’s not about the economy.

The surprising secret to aging well.

New York City has genetically distinct “uptown” and “downtown” rats.

Why the DNC is fighting WikiLeaks and not Wall Street.

How Australia all but ended gun violence.

83,500 vintage sewing patterns put into online database from Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick, and Simplicity.

Stunning images of pagan costumes worn at winter celebrations around the world.

Watch the illustrated version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic.

The bots that are changing politics.

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Ramadan

This year I took part in the Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, which was put on by the Greenbelt Makerspace in Greenbelt, Maryland. The weather was warm yet windy. (At one point a guy who had his table next to mine had mounted his iPad on a tripod. He had to leave his table for a moment and a gust of wind blew over the entire tripod—iPad included—and smashed the glass on the screen.) Here is my vending area at the festival.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Yes, I used Giant’s off-brand version of Oreos to entice visitors to my area. (LOL!)

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

The thrift shop Barbies that I refurbished as Fairy dolls made their appearance along with other arts and crafts I have done in the past.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

I brought back the doll couch that I made from a broken Dance Dance Revolution dance pad. I had two American Girl dolls—Julie Albright and Addy Walker—sit on the couch along with a stuffed lion that I got from Build-a-Bear Workshop. (I wanted to show that this couch could seat stuffed animals as well as dolls.)

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

A Barbie doll models this “fur” coat that I knitted using fur yarn.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

I attempted to do a live demonstration at my booth where I would crochet a small amigurumi bunny rabbit. I had this ambition that I would finish the rabbit by the end of the festival. Well, I ended not finishing it mainly because I had to tend to people who were browsing my table and there were times when I toured the rest of the festival. I would finish it later on.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Here are my photos of the rest of the festival which I took while I was going to and from the bathroom. There were 3D printers that printed various 3D items, musicians playing live on stage, children playing with Legos, woodworkers, a sewing demonstration, numerous computer demonstrations, and an information table that dealt with things like composting. There were vendors that sold jewelry, knitted hats with matching knitted scarves, and ceramics.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

This boy was checking out a table where one can play music with oranges that were connected with some kind of an interface with a computer.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

When I first started going to these maker events, I saw 3D printed items in only one color. At this event I saw 3D printed items based on Winnie the Pooh and Snoopy and they were 3D printed in more than one color, which was cool.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

This year there was an attempt to include the Greenbelt Library in the festival even though the building is located a few feet outside of Roosevelt Center (where the festival took place). Phil Shapiro brought his portable wind tunnel where he enticed families with young children to check it out. I happened to take this photo of him during downtime where he was reading.

Greenbelt Spring Maker Festival, April 14, 2018

He had me use his phone to film him sending paper streamers through the wind tunnel. He later uploaded the footage I shot on YouTube while he added some music in the background.

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Back in January I shot some photos at a Toys R Us in Annapolis, Maryland. At the time Toys R Us had announced a closure of around 200-300 stores across the United States. I had heard rumors that those closures were going to be the first in a wave of closures that will eventually end Toys R Us as a business. I picked the Annapolis store because I wanted to take photos of a store that wasn’t on the list of stores that were closing so I could document what a typical Toys R Us store was like on an average business day. I also wrote about my own memories of shopping at various Toys R Us stores since my own childhood along with the factors that led to Toys R Us to file for bankruptcy then start closing some of its own stores.

I honestly thought that the rest of the stores weren’t going to start shutting down until summer at the earliest. Imagine my surprise when Toys R Us announced last month that it was going to just liquidate all of their stores (including its Babies R Us stores).

Like I wrote back in January, Toys R Us originally started in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC in the space that’s now inhabited by Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. Local station NBC4 recently ran a news story about Toys R Us’ DC origins that’s definitely worth checking out. There’s another page on the Ghosts of DC site that goes even further. It traces the entire history of that same Adams-Morgan building starting from 1907 when that address was listed as the site of a birthday party for twin brothers in The Washington Post‘s society column.

Toys R Us’ original founder, Charles Lazarus, died at 94 soon after the chain announced that it was liquidating. I know that he was at an advanced age but sometimes I wonder if he had died of a broken heart. It must be really tough to see your life’s work just metaphorically go up in smoke like that, especially after being in business for 70 years.

I recently started a new day job where I’m doing office work for a therapist who also happens to have financial investments and rental properties on the side while also dealing with his late aunt’s estate. He gave me this comic that he clipped out of a newspaper about Toys R Us.

While I’m not denying that the playing habits of children are changing but I learned that there is another factor behind the demise of Toys R Us. This video thoroughly explains why Toys R Us are literally closing up shop and it had little to do with other factors frequently cited (such as kids being more into smartphones and tablets than traditional toys, competition from other big box retailers like Walmart, and competition from online retailers like Amazon) and more to do with some disgusting Wall Street shenanigans where the executives at the top are making off like bandits while thousands of their employees are being laid off.

I decided to make to make a return trip to Toys R Us on a Friday afternoon. The day before I had a successful interview that led to the day job that I’m currently working at. Despite my good mood I was still struggling with a head cold when I went. I decided to go anyway despite being tired and sick because I wanted to go to check out the going out of business sale before most of the inventory got sold. I decided to go back to the same Annapolis store that I went to in January just so I could take more photos comparing the store in its beginning death throes with the earlier January photos. (You might want to flip between this post and that post for comparison.)

One man was standing at a corner near the store with a giant sign reminding drivers that Toys R Us is having its going out of business sale.

The signs in the Toys R Us window were cheerfully touting its products, especially with the upcoming Easter holiday.

It sounds strange to see a “Now Hiring” sign when the store was going out of business. I later read that Toys R Us was looking to hire temp workers who would help with winding down the stores.

One of its entrance doors didn’t work and it sported a handwritten “Out of Order” sign near the floor. Given the fact that this store will soon close, I don’t anticipate that door being repaired anytime soon.

Here is one of the signs announcing that this store was going out of business.

Despite the fact that the store would soon close, I saw a whole array of Easter-related candy, baskets, and toys available for sale.

I saw this sign promoting the Toys R Us mobile app that included a game. I wonder how much longer this app will work once Toys R Us closes its doors for good.


I read articles that said that one should expect empty shelves because a number of vendors had cut ties with the company before the company decided to close down. Sure enough, I saw far more empty and half-empty shelves than I did back in January.

There were a number of Toys R Us exclusives that were still in stock.

There were a number of toys that were still available the day I was there including dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, and more.

Compared with my earlier trip in January, I saw more people in the store this time as employees were busy and shoppers were milling around.

There was a long line at the checkout line. That was due to the fact that there were only two cashiers working the cash registers. They worked fast enough that I was only in line for about 15 minutes.

I made one purchase during that trip to Toys R Us.  It’s a Harley Quinn doll.

Here’s a photo of the entire long Toys R Us receipt.

Here’s a closeup of the top half of the receipt. This one is trying to encourage me to share my feedback about that store in order to have a chance to win a $500 Toys R Us gift card, which is pretty ironic since the entire store chain is in the process of closing. As for the Toys R Us gift card, I had heard that Toys R Us will soon stop honoring gift cards altogether.

Here’s the bottom of the receipt. I saw that same Harley Quinn doll at the Target that’s located closer to my home for $20.99. I had heard complaints that Toys R Us is more expensive than the other retailers but when I was there I saw that Toys R Us was selling that doll for the regular retail price of $19.99 (which was $1 cheaper than Target). With the going out of business sale, I got 10% off, which meant that I only paid $17.99 for the Harley Quinn doll, which meant that I save $2. Sweet!

When I was at Toys R Us in January I was offered a free frequent rewards card, which I took. I ended up not using that rewards card when I purchased the Harley Quinn doll because it would’ve been pointless since Toys R Us is closing soon. Here’s a photo of that card, which is colorful.

I never got around to completing my member enrollment online mainly because I rarely go to Toys R Us these days. It was just as well since it would’ve ended up being for naught.

This week Toys R Us put up this notice at its website announcing that it was no longer going to process online purchases and customers should go to the bricks and mortar stores if they want to purchase any remaining toys in stock.

Passover

Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson and other historic women are being made into Barbie dolls.

We are isolating ourselves online and it’s making us politically dumb.

How a democracy dies.

One man’s story about the time that his father fought the CIA’s secret war in Laos.

10 things to know about artist Suzanne Valadon.

The religious right isn’t doing much for religion.

A white mother went to Alabama to fight for civil rights. The Klan killed her for it.

Palestinians stand up to Israel. Will the world follow suit?

Botcheck.me is a browser plugin that predicts whether a Twitter user is a bot.

1984 quotes that are horrifyingly relevant today.

Why it’s time to cut ties with the digital oligarchs and rewire the web by ordinary people instead of corporations.

Why this brown woman is breaking up with the Democratic Party.

You can reuse old resistors as jewelry charms.

The Koch brothers are the cities’ new obstacles to building broadband.

Why the lost kingdom of Patagonia is a live issue for Chile’s Mapuche people.

A conservative estimate on how many animals have died for the sake of Damian Hirst’s art.

E.T. stars in an adorable new picture book and he’s never looked cuter.

What both sides are missing about Net Neutrality.

19 YouTube comments you’ll see on every music video.

10+ translation fails that will have you rolling on the floor laughing.

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Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.

UPDATE (April 10, 2018): I made a return trip to the Annapolis Toy R Us store where I was able to compare what I saw on that subsequent trip with the photos I took for this blog post.

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