Mother’s Day is coming!

What’s up you buttercups today I’m here to remind you all that Mother’s Day is approaching! Sunday, May 10th, you need to be prepared. Now, we’re closed on Mother’s Day because it is a Sunday but also because – let’s be honest – it’s parent’s buying stuff for kids here so there’s little point to it. But!! Don’t you worry because we still got you covered for this year’s Mother’s Day presents (look we know a lot of people out there rely on school projects to be gifted but school isn’t in right now so what is a significant other to do?)

Here’s what you do: make your own art projects at home for Mom! See, we got a buuuuuuunch of art stuff for you to use: everything from finger paints, crayons, colored pencils, drawing paper, painting paper, coloring books, clay kits, models, generic paint, and a bunch more that I’m not going to list because you can just go to our online shopping website to look for yourself! Just check under the “Art” tab and search from there.

Well now that the kids’ gift are covered, what about you? Well how about that old standby of flowers? Yeah suuuuure you could get her a dozen roses from Fred’s at the last minute if they still have any, but how about some flowers that actually have meaning? Three really come to mind: the day lily, pink carnations, and orchids. In China, the day lily is a symbol for motherhood while the orchid is a symbol for “many children”. The orchid was also a strange part of the culture of ancient Greece: if the father ate large, new orchid tubers then the child would be a boy, if the mother ate small orchid tubers the child would be a girl. They are edible by the way but I don’t personally recommend it, they taste nasty. Finally, the pink carnation: often considered to carry the greatest significance to Mother’s Day. According to Christianity, the pink carnation first appeared from the Virgin Mary’s tears after she wept for her son, symbolizing a mother’s undying love for their children.

Yeah I know this is a long one but bear with me it’s definitely worth it. Okay, the last gift I have for you is a recipe for my toffee chocolate chip cookies (seriously people love them so much that’s all anyone asks for when I go to a bar-b-que). Don’t worry they’re actually very simple to make. Here we go!

So, you’ll need to melt 1/2 cup of butter in a medium to large bowl. After it’s melted, add 1/2 cup of white sugar, 3/4 cup of brown sugar* and a teaspoon of salt, mixing until the butter is combined then add one egg. Beat until it’s a nice paste-like texture. Add vanilla extract (I never measure but at least a teaspoon), and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Combine. Add 1 and 1/4 cup of flour, fold until combined (it’s gonna be very thick so it might take a while to get all the cumblies). Add chips to flavor. Let chill for at least 30 minutes to bring out the toffee flavor in the dough**. Bake at 350 for 6-12 minutes (seriously, start with 6 and work up, don’t just go to 12) until edges are just starting to turn gold. Let cool for 2 minutes before removing from pan. Each batch makes 11 – 15 cookies depending on size.
* – feel free to use either light or dark brown sugar depending on taste, dark brown will have a richer toffee flavor. If you don’t have dark brown but want to add more flavor then mix in a teaspoon of molasses.
** – if you don’t care too much about the toffee flavor then feel free to skip this

Don’t worry, you got this! So long as you remember the day: this Sunday, the 10th of May. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some cinnamon rolls to make for my Mama.

Cinco de Mayo

Literally meaning “Fifth of May”, this Mexican holiday is naturally celebrated on May fifth. Originally, Cinco de Mayo was meant to celebrate the victory of the Mexican Army over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. Often confused with Mexican Independence Day (September 16th for anyone wondering) or even Día de Muertos (October 31st through November 2nd), for the most part Cinco de Mayo has become a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, more so in the US than in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States originated in California. During the 1960s, Mexican-American activists used the day as a mark for Mexican pride during the civil rights movement. Celebrated with parades, traditional Mexican folk dances, food, and other festivities, Cinco de Mayo is an earnest show of patriotism for many Mexican-Americans.

How do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? I’m glad I made you ask random person reading this. In Mexico, most Cinco de Mayo celebrations occur in Puebla: the battle is reenacted and parades are thrown with people dressing in traditional attire, street vendors selling patriotic clothing or amazing food, and in general a good time is made of it. In the United States, we celebrate in a similar way – minus the battle reenactment – with dancing, folk music, and feasts! Oh my word I would kill for some flautas with refried beans and from El Puerto’s.

I really shouldn’t write while hungry.

However you celebrate, just remember to stay safe and have fun! Also that if there’s any excuse to skip your diet then this would be it. Yummy!

May the 4th be with you

Happy Star Wars day everyone! “Why is today Star Wars day?” you may ask. Well it’s officially my job to tell you, not just because I get paid to run this blog, but also as a massive borderline insufferable nerd who has nothing better to do but read and watch movies. Anyways, May the 4th sounds like “may the force” get it? Get it? Anyone? I’m not apologizing for any puns so buckle up for this ride!

What’s the temperature of the inside of a Tauntaun? It’s Lukewarm.

Speaking of Luke, did you know we have a Star Wars Mad Libs?? Yeah that’s right, you can make Yogurt ride on Luke’s back through a Pirate Ship.

Mad Libs not enough for you? We got a bunch of action figures! Finn, Jyn, Cassadin, Vizam, Unkar, and wow do I hope I’m spelling those right. Seriously I think Lucas Company just slam their palms on a keyboard to come up with names at this point not that I would blame them but it still makes pronouncing them hard. What do you get when you mix a bounty hunter with a tropical fruit? A Mango Fett.

What do Gungans put things in? Jar Jars.

Have my puns turned you to the dark side yet? How about a fun Star Wars fact instead to end things! In the original trilogy, the Sith were just called “dark jedi”, in fact the term “Sith” wasn’t used until the extended universe book series!

May the 4th be with you!

Hey there, May Day!

Spring is finally here: most of the snow has already or is in the process of melting, the sun actually brings warmth, the mosquitoes have returned from the winter prison to suck our blood bleh beh bleh. In many European countries, the return of spring is usually celebrated on May first on the holiday May Day. Isn’t mayday what pilots yell when they’re crashing in movies? Well, yes but that comes from something else entirely. What is May Day? I’m glad you asked imaginary other half of this conversation.

You may not be familiar with the celebration of May Day but I guarantee most people have seen something like the image above somewhere in popular culture. In everything from horror movies to TV sitcoms, the image of people dancing around a painted pole while holding colorful ribbons. It’s like ancient tether-ball but with a lot more running around and less hitting. The maypole is the most recognized aspect of the celebration, normally accompanied by flower crowns and May Day baskets.

Similar to Easter baskets, May Day baskets are normally comprised of flowers and various treats such as candy or little toys and are either left at the front doorstep or hung from the doorknob. It’s just the cutest little celebration!

This is also the perfect time to reuse those clunky, left over Easter baskets you might have. Just load them up with some sweets, stuffies, and sunflowers and gift them to someone to brighten their May Day! A secret, surprise kindness can brighten anyone’s day. Please note to leave the baskets at the door, don’t hurl them from the road and hope for the best.

Australian Days at The Toy Quest

What does Australia have to do with a toy store in Fairbanks, Alaska, you may ask.

Well, did you know that Shane (one of the owners) use to be a wildland firefighter and is still a wildland fire medic? Did you know that Kyndall (the other owner) is a biologist? Needless to say, the devastating wildfires in Australia hit home to us in so many ways. We’d like to do our part, and the beautiful thing as a small business owner is that you can do so in many ways.

On January 25th, 2020, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., we will have a free in-store event where kids (well, really ANYONE) can make a thank-you card to Australian first responders and decorate a boomerang. This was a long fire season in Alaska, and by the end, Shane and the rest of the fire crews were EXHAUSTED (that is putting it very mildly). This is nothing compared to what the first responders and animal rescue folks are facing right now in Australia. I know when we have fire crews around Fairbanks, everyone asks what they need, and they always respond – thank yous. They have socks. They have food. They need and want the encouragement to keep going. So that is what we are going to do!

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My sign from this past summer for firefighters on the Shovel Creek Fire.

Secondly, from January 24th through February 2nd, 2020, we will have 10% off regularly priced animals and public safety toys. We will match the 10% with a donation to two Austrialin fire relief charities.

The first charity is WIRES Wildlife Rescue that is helping to rescue and saving animals throughout Australia that have been impacted by the wildfires.

The second charity hit really close to home. We will be donating to the families of Australian firefighters Samuel McPaul, Geoffrey Keaton, and Andrew O’Dwyer, who died in the line of duty while fighting Australia’s unprecedented and devastating wildfires. Firefighter McPaul left behind a pregnant wife, and Firefighters Keaton and O’Dwyer left behind young children (this is Shane’s worst nightmare every time he heads out on a fire).

So join us when it is -20F out this weekend to help send some thank yous and relief down under.

 

Head of Marketing. A Scientist.

If you are reading this, I must have got your attention somehow which is impressive. Everyone is trying to get our attention these days. That is part of marketing. It is a necessary evil. It is how businesses let you know that they exist and of community events going on. It is also overwhelming and exhausting. I simply want to hear music on the radio, to see what my friends are up to on social media, and watch my TV without constant interruptions.

Now that we have a small business, one of my primary duties is marketing. No worse of a person to do it then someone that 1) hates marketing and 2) is a scientist. Let’s talk about #2.

Scientists are not known for our marketing. Case and point:

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That doesn’t get me excited or make me want to read it. It is a very standard journal article title. Here are two of mine: Managing and preserving the University of Alaska Museum’s rapidly growing Genomic Resources Collection. And Using the online collection management system Arctos to manage the University of Alaska Museum’s rapidly growing archive of cryopreserved genomic resources. Needless to say, I haven’t had people beating down my door over those.

However, media outlets take meh and make it hip, so you want to actually read it. So that mid-Cretaceous embryonic-to-neonate snake in Amber? Much bigger deal than the above title suggests.

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OR

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My goal this year is that I need to break out of my science marketing shell. To report more than merely the facts. Add some excitement and pizzaz, spark your curiosity, do something to get your attention, something to entice you to come to check us out.

We carry a broad range of stimulating and engaging toys.

So I went to a marketing talk by Mammoth Marketing put on by Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation for some ideas. They encouraged us to be surprising, twist your message a bit, and have courage.

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I hope you follow along as I learn how to market and where to market. I have a feeling some things will be a flop and other advertisements, you’ll all be like “wow.” Perhaps one day I’ll be a legend like the Tip Top Chevrolet ads.

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Giving Thanks

I often find myself reflecting on the year as it winds down. This year, I feel overwhelming gratitude. We welcomed two new members into our family – Nova (pound puppy) and Nolan (son). We started a new venture – The Toy Quest. We’ve learned, stretched, and falling a few times this year but we always had friends, family, and our community there rooting for us.

A big thank you to everyone that has supported us this year! We appreciate every one of you! From our family, friends, customers, sales rep, employees, and advertising team advisors. THANK YOU!

I also want to give a shout out to a few other local businesses that I love and help make Fairbanks the vibrant and unique city I love. Small business help give Fairbanks that unique flair. I know that a lot of love and long hours go into making them successful, and I appreciate it!

If Only A Fine Store, Lane’s Quickie Tacos, Fireweed Baby, Sipping Streams, Little Owl Cafe, Happy Heart Massage and Postpartum Care, The Plant Kingdom Greenhouse & Nursery, Cold Spot Feeds, Goldstream Sports, Co-Op Market, The Woodway, Metropolitan GarageIn My Element

I know sure I forgot a few so feel free to drop your favorite local business(es) in the comments!

 

What do you get by shopping local and small year round?

I’m very onboard the Shop Small & Local Movement. Perhaps that is because I grew up the daughter of business owners, that I’m currently a small business owner, or that I personally know a lot of the small business owners in town. However, if you are not in one of those three camps – you may wonder what is in it for you beyond being trendy? I’ve compiled several, hopefully, persuading arguments for stepping away from your Amazon shopping cart and heading to one of your small, local businesses.

  1. Investing in your community. When we first started in Jan., my husband quickly realized that we get almost a request weekly for donations or sponsorship. While we cannot support every community event or organization, we try!  This year, we’ve sponsored a youth basketball team, donated raffle items to the Barnette PTA, we are always behind the library reading program, we’ve given to the Ronald McDonald House, Lighthouse Christian School, Alaska Firefighters (husband was a firefighter in his previous life), Pioneer Home, Boys and Girls Club, 4-H, Tanana Valley Fair, Run for the Refuge, and Santa’s Helpers. That is what I can think of off the top of my head!?!?! You support us and we invest it back into our community.
  2. Support your neighbors. If you shop local year around, you’ll get to know us along with the other small business owners. I bet you’ve never met the owners of Freddies or Wal Mart. You too can get to know your local business owners by shopping small and local. We are a hard-working, community loving group of people.
  3. Local owners buy local services themselves. We buy our gas, our groceries, our heating fuel, repair our vehicles, go to the dentist, etc. in Fairbanks. Money spent locally most often stays local (unless I get to go on a vacation! woot!).
  4. Greater Access to Product Diversity! We have access to a lot of vendors that the box stores do not. A lot of the products we carry are not available on Amazon or in big box stores (part of the purchasing agreement). Granted, it goes both ways with some stuff not available to us little guys. Of course some overlap. But really, we got a lot of diversity and things you may not know that you need! Invisible ink? Sticky poo? A unicorn slap bracelet? Two Brothers bow?
  5. Supporting Fairbanksan Unique Identity and Character! I know people talk about how’d they’d love a Target in Fairbanks but you can find Target everywhere (well, except currently Fairbanks). Boring. Imagine living in a place with nothing but box stores and strip malls. Bleck. The Toy Quest is only in Fairbanks. Right by the Farmer’s Market that is loaded with local goodies. Across from the Woodway that sells amazing woodstoves (I know I have one in my house, see #3). Long day at the toy store, calls for some Little Owl coffee from next door. Newest love has been Just the Tips Cafe up the road. Those are places you won’t see anywhere else but here. Longtime love, If Only a fine store downtown. Fairbanks is Fairbanks because of its people and amazing small businesses.
  6. I borrowed this directly from a “10 reasons to shop locally”: You’ll get amazing toys. Walk into a toy superstore, and you’ll find aisles of pink and blue plastic that’ll end up at Goodwill by spring. Instead, at an independent toy store, you’ll find toys that will spark kids’ imaginations, help them learn and be a lot of fun. Locate one at the American Specialty Retail Store Association website: http://www.astratoy.org/find-a-store.asp.  YES!!! We have carefully curated the toys we are bringing to you versus a blanket order for our 500 stores.Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 1.01.01 PM
  7. You Matter More. This was also swiped from another site. “We talk a lot about exerting influence with your purchasing choices, or “voting with your wallet.” It’s a fact that businesses respond to their customers but your values and desires are much more influential to your local community business than the large big box stores.” Another yes! Wal Mart, Freddies, and McDonald’s won’t notice if you stop shopping with them. Every person that walks in our door matters. No matter if you don’t spend a dime because we hope you will tell your friends and perhaps they’ll spend a dime. We are striving daily to improve your experience and our customer service because we want you to have a good time when you are with us.
  8. Access to Experts or Bring in Yours. Earlier this year, Shane came home with two new games that we got for the toy store. As he plopped them on the counter, he announced, “It is my job to know how to play these.” Okay, we loved a good game before we bought a toy store but we take it even more seriously now (the toy business is serious business). We know toys. Even better, you can bring in your toy expert to see what gets them excited. It is much more fun than showing them pictures online. Children and toy stores are magical.
  9. It is really fun! Yes, you may come in as a screaming child is being carried out of the store but that is because they were having FUN at the store on the play tables. You’ll see adults get excited about toys that had as kids OR wish they had as kids. You’ll hear pop-guns going off, see remote control cars zipping around, or someone rocking out on a roll-up drum.
  10. It’s good for your health! Should I talk about the dangers of sitting and spending too much time on a screen? Or focus on the benefits of walking around and socializing with real humans?
  11. It feels good. You are helping out local people who need your patronage. You are supporting your community. This made me chuckle and may be too much of a stretch but “Small-business owners are the embodiment of the American Dream; supporting  them makes you part of the dream, and that’s a good thing.”
  12. More services! We have to offer something that online and box stores cannot offer. We try our hardest to be competitive when it comes to price and inventory but that isn’t enough sometimes. Some of our extra services, we offer free gift wrapping, free layaway, accepts home-school purchase orders, has a frequent buyer card, and coming this spring – Birthday Registry!

Okay, I’m running out of steam so we are stopping at 12 very convincing reasons why you should shop local and small year round! Have I convinced you yet that quirky, local businesses like ours are worth your time? I hope I have and I hope to see you out and about at one of our amazing Fairbanksan businesses!!

 

Is there room for brick and mortar toy stores in the digital age?

I have to admit that sometimes I panic and think “what did we just do?!?!?!” in regards to my husband quitting his job and us purchasing The Toy Quest from my parents. I wonder what is our future especially since it is so simple to pop onto Amazon in your PJs and do all of your shopping. Granted, we won’t judge if you pop in here in your PJs – just saying. But honestly, is there room for brick and mortar toy stores in the digital age? Is the Shop Local Movement enough and will it continue?

I stumbled across this article as I was looking for blog fodder that claims that

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Toys “R” Us closing was a boon for us since we got a bunch of their shelving. Woohoo, granted it was a lot of work.

The quotes from the other small toy store owners in this article rang very true – either in what we do or what we want to do in the near future. For example, not going with the very trendy toys but have the classics like wooden trains, whoopie cushions, and jacks. We have the silly stuff that you may miss on Amazon like Emoji sticky poo.

 

A lot of times, we may not be cheaper than online behemoths or box store giants, but we are trying oh so hard to be competitive even if we won’t be able to always have the lower price. However, we offer a lot of things that online and big chain stores don’t provide. You can come in, ask about the product, touch the product, and maybe discover something better/different than what you were thinking of.

We are trying to create a warm and family friendly place where you can relax. In fact, I highly recommend grabbing a cup of coffee from Little Owl next door at the Artisan Courtyard then coming to let your kids play on our play tables while you relax.

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We’ve been thinking of events similar to the book signing we had in August.

 

We offer free gift wrapping that makes getting to birthday parties a breeze, and we will be creating a birthday box registry this spring to make it even breezier!

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We aren’t in it to become filthy rich (though that would be awesome). Our goals are to help Fairbanks keep its small-town feel with along with all the other fantastic local businesses, we want kids to have the magical experience and memories of their local toy store, we want to help parents play with their kids and watch as they develop into amazing human beings, and want to have fun doing it. I’m exhausted at just thinking of everything we want to do. And perhaps one day, my anxiety of being a small business owner will subside.

 

 

 

 

Toys help bring us together.

I lay in bed this morning, trying to catch a few zzzs while Shane took the morning shift with our 5-month-old son. I could hear his high pitched shriek followed by endless giggles. As much as I desperately wanted sleep, I couldn’t get enough of how delighted he was to be playing with daddy. As much as daddy would love to sleep in past 4:30 a.m. he also admits that he loves his special morning time when it is just the two of them.

For me, this is what toys are about. Time spent together whether it is playing a board game with family and friends, having tea parties with my nieces as they prepare me a pizza with lettuce, or reading my son his wordless crinkly book. Toys are a prop to help children learn and explore their environment, and who better to go exploring with than you! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published some guidlines on picking out the best toys for you kiddos – something those in the toy business have known for awhile. The best toys don’t have to be costly or extravagant or trendy. As the AAP states “A toy’s most important attribute is its capacity to bring the parent or caregiver and the child together in playful interactions that are warm and full of rich language, supporting the parent-child relationship and the child’s social-emotional and cognitive-language development.”

Play isn’t frivilous, there is a lot of learning going on. Stuffed animals, play food, dolls, and cars help children imitate and practice real-life. Motor skills and problem-solving are developed with blocks, puzzles, and trains. Crayons, clay, and musical instruments build creativity. Expand your child’s language through reading and board games. Bow and arrows, sleds, balls, push toys, balance boards, and hula hoops get kids moving. You don’t always have to get them something you think they’d like; if you get them something you like – they’ll love playing with it with you.

My Christmas wish is not to sell out the entire store (though that would be grand), it is that everyone slows down a bit and plays together. And it doesn’t have to be at 4 a.m.

 

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Grandma and Nolan playing together at Mother Moose at the Noel Wein Library.