Sorry, parents, one of this year’s hottest toys for Christmas is already selling out

It’s mid-October. Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? If not, you may already be too late to snag one of this year’s hottest toys.

It’s mid-October. Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?

If not, you may already be too late to snag one of this year’s hottest toys.

The L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise, which is sold at major retailers such as Target, Walmart, Toys ‘R’ Us and and is the equivalent of last year’s Hatchimal, is already nearly impossible to find.

I discovered this fact this weekend as I was searching for one for my daughter, who will turn 9 on Oct. 21 and asked for this for her birthday. Just last week we saw dozens of them at our local Target. When I returned to buy one, they had all disappeared.

So what is an L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise, you ask? Honestly, I have no idea. The L.O.L. Surprise brand taps into the insanely popular unboxing movement by allowing children (frequently elementary-school-age girls) to peel back numerous layers of surprises, such as stickers, charms and outfit accessories, before uncovering a collectible doll. The brand has been topping sales charts since it debuted in 2016.

Vanessa Lachey Hosts Launch of L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise and World's First Unboxing Video Booth
The L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise launch party was Sept. 29 in Los Angeles. Rachel Murray/Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

According to the L.O.L. website, its latest offering, the Big Surprise, “provides the ultimate unboxing experience” with “50 never-before-seen surprises inside.” All of those surprises are packaged neatly inside a large, glittery copper ball that can double as a purse and is sold for $69.99.

The L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise is one of this year’s hottest gifts. Contributed by MGA

If you can find it, that is. It’s currently sold out on, and, and an in-person search of local Target stores found only a handful left in the city. I found the last remaining few (there were five; I bought one) this morning at the Capital Plaza Target location, but it’s safe to say they won’t be there long. You can find them from third-party retailers on, but the sales prices there start at $114.

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The L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise is currently out of stock at all major retailers.

Think you’re the only one who may have missed out? Never fear. Apparently it’s an international ordeal.

Need a Plan B? Click here to learn about some of the other hot toys for 2017.


Saddest clown in the room: Austin entertainer reacts to circus ‘bombshell’

No one wants to be the sad clown. But when Rik Gern, aka Austin children’s entertainer Bonzo Crunch, learned earlier this week that Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey would close in May after more than 100 years in business, the tears of a clown were indeed shed.

“I came back from the Austin Symphony on Saturday night and had my email and Facebook page flooded with the news,” Gern said. “I cried myself to sleep. It was devastating.”

Gern, 59, has a long history with Ringling Bros. He attended Clown College in 1992 and toured with the company’s Red Unit from 1993-1994. From 2005-2006 he returned as a Goodwill Ambassador, driving his, er, clown car to cities ahead of the show to promote it. He had continued to do contract work with the company for Texas events.

“It’s been a part of my life for a quarter of a century,” Gern said. “It’s not just a company that went under; it’s a whole community. It’s like a small town being wiped off the map, and that’s very hard to take.”

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“Bonzo Crunch,” also known as Rik Gern, hands out plastic clown noses to kids at the Delray Beach Breakfast With Santa event in Delray Beach, Fla., to promote the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2005. credit: Chris Matula/Palm Beach Post

A lifelong fan of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, Gern started his official quest to be a clown in 1978. In 1982 he attended Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California and developed the persona of Bonzo Crunch, “a cross between the Cowardly Lion and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character.” There he met a “cosmic cowboy hippie” who invited him to New Braunfels to perform during the summer at Schlitterbahn, which he did for five seasons.


“When I was at Schlitterbahn we’d come to Austin to get food supplies and hear music,” Gern said. “After traveling with the circus and seeing 95 cities in two years, I still liked Austin the best. … You can march to your own beat.”

Life under the Big Top had its challenges, but Gern thrived.

“It was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week dream,” he said. “The great thing about traveling in a show like that is that your only responsibility is to show up and do your job well. You can be immersed in the world of clowning. I’d be practicing my lasso, somebody else would be practicing their tumbling. It was just great.”

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Rik Gern, aka Bonzo Crunch, on the job with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 2006. credit: Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post

Gern, who plays the ukulele in his shows and enjoys making “digital doodles” in Photoshop at his South Austin (where else?) home in his downtime,  admits that sometimes it’s tough to be a clown. The nationwide rash of creepy clown sightings last fall didn’t help.

“I have a pretty thick skin. I find Krusty the Clown funny, and I enjoyed the movie ‘Shakes the Clown’ quite a bit actually. But the recent wave was extremely malicious and I really resented it. It was people going out in real life and trying to scare actual children, and I find that contemptible,” he said, adding that he refuses any bookings in which scaring people is involved.

Gern, who now spends most of his time appearing at private events in the Austin area — learn more about him at — said despite the setbacks, he’s making a point to stay positive and keep clowning around.

“After the initial shock of the show closing it made me realize the circus arts are still alive, clowning is still alive, but in different forms,” he said. “I’m very sad, but optimistic. People need to laugh, so there will always be clowns.”

My kids slept through ‘Cinderella’ but you should still go see it

When I heard that “Cinderella” was coming to Bass Concert Hall Dec. 6-11 as part of the Broadway in Austin series, I couldn’t wait to take my 8- and 5-year-old daughters, both longtime Cinderella fans who had never been to a performance like this. When we walked in and spotted ballgowns and tiaras and Cinderella dresses at every turn, I could tell we were in good company.

Olivia Patino, 4, grandma Tressa Stanton, left, and mom Michelle Patino at Wednesday’s “Cinderella” performance. “I wanted to see her sing,” said Olivia. “I like when she’s going to the ball.” Kristin Finan/American-Statesman
It was fun to see the variety of ages in the crowd, especially the moms and daughters sharing a special evening out.

Bianca Sanchez, middle, and daughter Sophia attend “Cinderella” with friends Linda Hernandez and Danielle Mizerak. Bianca read “Cinderella” to Sophia earlier in the week to prepare her for the experience. “I love Cinderella, I love Disney, so I wanted to bring my daughter and best friends and make it a girls night,” Bianca said. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman
There were also some groups of college students celebrating the end of finals.

Friends Jialin Li, left, Sharon Leung and Allyson Szatny goof around before the Wednesday night performance of “Cinderella” at Bass Concert Hall. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman
My daughters, who had donned their best Cinderella shirts and boots for the occasion, were excited. The stage was beautifully set with an ornate village scene, as though the pages from their favorite fairy tale pop-up book had been super-sized and set inside the concert hall.

I hadn’t thought much about the 8 p.m. start time — my daughters would be so excited they would easily make it to the end of the show, I figured. And yet by the time the clock struck 8:30, both of them had turned into pumpkins, their heads resting heavily on each of my shoulders. The dim lighting after a long school day was just too much for them to take.

Which is a shame, because the show was fantastic.

The plot follows the traditional story line but with plenty of tongue-in-cheek and at times hilarious jabs at royalty, class and gender. The role of Ella (expertly played by Tatyana Lubov) is also written with an empowered bent — official merchandise kiosks sold goods with the tagline “This princess saves herself.”

The show was lovely to watch and filled with surprises — the audience gasped collectively as fairy godmother Marie (Leslie Jackson) transformed pumpkins, raccoons and foxes into magical ball necessities in front of our eyes while crooning, “All the dreamers in the world are dizzy in the noodle!”

Leslie Jackson plays fairy godmother Marie and Tatyana Lubov plays Ella in “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” Courtesy of Carol Rosegg
With its upbeat soundtrack and spectacular costuming, the show kept (most) younger audience members engaged for its two-plus hours but also provided plenty of subtle jokes to entertain adults. My only regret is that while my daughters were there physically, they didn’t see it. It was a treat.

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, I highly recommend it. Although if you’re taking the kids, you might want to consider a matinee.

Learn more about the show and buy tickets here. 

My daughter campaigned for a puppy for a year; watch as she gets one

Last fall, our 7-year-old daughter, Kona, began asking for a puppy. We thought it was just a phase.

Then she started researching pet ownership. And reading up on different breeds. And writing dog-fact-filled books.

A book titled “9 Things About Corgis” was part of the campaign efforts. credit: Kristin Finan

Every day, she would give us some kind of dog-related note. One day, I got out of the shower to find a drawing of a little girl and a dog taped to the mirror with a vaguely threatening message: “This better be my future, Mom.”

This was getting serious. Occasionally I would post photos of her notes on social media, and she instantly gained supporters among our friends.

“So is she getting a dog?” one of our friends asked in May. “It’s almost getting mean to string her along!” Others started using the hashtag #teamkona.

The fact was, while I appreciated her dedication to the cause, my husband and I had also recently taken in two infant foster daughters in addition to our two biological daughters and were still adjusting to being a household of six that included four girls under the age of 8. The timing just wasn’t quite right.

Kona disagreed.

“We have babys, so what?”

We were at a stalemate until late September, when a judge decided that our foster daughters, whom we had hoped to adopt, would go back to live with their biological family. We were all devastated, including Kona, who had loved those girls as if they were her own biological sisters.

Three days after they left, as we were settling back into a house that suddenly seemed eerily quiet, I received an email from a contact in Dallas saying she had an 8-week-old female Corgi puppy available. I hadn’t been in touch with her since April 2015. It was serendipity.

My husband and I agreed that we wanted to get the puppy for Kona, who we felt truly deserved it. For an entire year, everything in her world had revolved around putting in the work to get a puppy. She didn’t even ask for toys anymore.

I don’t know who was most excited about the puppy surprise, but I can tell you it was one of those magical parenting moments we’ll never forget. Check out the video below to see how it went.

Hey, moms, not enough to worry about? Now there’s ‘Mom Hair’

I hate to even link to this because I don’t want it getting any more clicks, but when I saw a New York Times article titled “Mom Hair: It Exists. Now What to Do About It” I was confused.

Was this an Onion article? Had they mistakenly written Mom Hair instead of Mom Jeans? What the heck is Mom Hair?

For Kirsten Bell, supporting actor in 'The Boss,' her main job is her family
Want a fresh haircut like Kristen Bell’s? Are you a mom? Then don’t bother, says the New York Times. credit: Universal Studios

According to Bee Shapiro, author of the article, Mom Hair is an absolute epidemic that’s sweeping the nation among new moms.

An actual quote from the article: “You’ve likely seen it at suburban malls: the longer-in-back, slightly–shorter-in-front bob that should read sleek but is inescapably frumpy. And even the city-dwelling mom isn’t immune. Perhaps she has added her own twists like blunt bangs or extra layering, but the ’do still falls short of flattering.”

As if new moms aren’t already being told by society over and over again that they’re doing it all wrong, now they’ve also got Mom Hair to worry about.

What’s that? You just left the salon, where you spent a glorious two hours by yourself(!), and, despite your sleep-deprivation and spit-up stains, are feeling pretty good? Think again!

“The first thing new moms want to do is cut their hair off,” the article quotes Juan Carlos Maciques, a stylist at the Rita Hazan salon in Manhattan, as saying. “They’re feeling lousy about their bodies, and they just want to get some sense of self again. But, usually, to cut off your hair is a big mistake.”

Everything about this article rubs me the wrong way. The continued need to criticize women and fuel the mommy wars by creating terms like “Mom Hair.” The insinuation that a mom who just gave birth has nothing better to do than fret about her hair because she feels so “lousy.” The suggestion that a woman’s post-birth hairstyle is so important that she should start planning for it during pregnancy. Give me a break.

Read the article if you want. Or ignore it, kiss that beautiful baby that you heroically gave birth to and give yourself a big pat on the back for being a damn good mom, no matter what the heck your hair looks like.

5 ways seeing Peppa Pig Live! is just like seeing your favorite band

From this spot, in front of this stage, I have watched my favorite band play music that inspired me to the point that it brought me to tears. I have sung along with my eyes closed to lyrics that have touched me at my core. I have discovered new artists that instantly made me optimistic about the future of Austin’s live music scene.

Now, I’m standing in the same spot, waiting on a giant cartoon pig to take the stage. Because kids.

I am here with my 4-year-old daughter, Mirielle, who is dressed proudly in her favorite Peppa Pig T-shirt, clutching her just-purchased $20(!) Peppa Pig light stick and eagerly scanning the stage for Peppa.

For the uninitiated, Peppa Pig is a British cartoon that features the daily life of the main character, Peppa, her family (Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig and little brother George) and various friends who come in a multitude of species. When I heard that Peppa Pig Live! was coming, I knew what to expect: annoying catchy songs, creepy giant puppets and an insane enthusiastic preschool audience eager to see the cartoon play out on a live stage.

Peppa Pig now has a live show. credit: Cartoon Network

On Wednesday night, when the tour visited ACL Live for one night only, we, along with much of Austin’s 2- to 4-year-old set, were excited. As I stood watching a gyrating carrot in a grass skirt sing about the health benefits of smoothies (“Smoothies, smoothies, soft and fruiiiiittty”), I realized it wasn’t that different from an adults-only concert (particularly if you’re a KISS fan). Here are five ways seeing Peppa Pig Live! is just like seeing your favorite band.

1. Lines. Lines. Lines. There are always lines. In most cases, the lines are for alcohol. At Peppa Pig, the lines are for mac and cheese and hot dogs. (The lines for alcohol at Peppa were blessedly short.)

2. There’s always a point where things get weird. Remember when your favorite singer turned his latest hit into a meandering 23-minute mash-up of “Free Bird,” “Uptown Girl” and spoken-word poetry? Parts of Peppa Pig Live! felt weird and meandering as well, from the black-clad puppeteers who couldn’t decide if they were supposed to be invisible or obvious to the crowd to set changes that instantly swept the audience from the schoolhouse to the fair with little explanation.

3. Someone’s going to spill a drink and lose a shoe. Usually it’s your tipsy friend with rum and Cokes and high heels. At Peppa, it’s your kid with orange juice and flip-flops.

4. The night will end with fast food and a random bathroom stop. Remember those lines? No one wants to stand in them, which means there will most certainly be a stop at Whataburger on the way home. Oh, and thanks to the lines for the bathroom, there will likely be an emergency bathroom stop as well. (Side note: Huge thanks to Alex at LACQUER nail salon for the emergency bathroom assist. We couldn’t have done Peppa Pig Live! without you.)

5. You’ll never forget it. Even if the guy standing in front of you partially obstructs your view, even if they don’t play your favorite song, even if it seems like there’s some lip syncing going on (Mirielle’s complaint about Mr. Potato), you’ll always remember that time you saw your very favorite act in the flesh (or felt).

Hey, kids, what’s on your summer wish list?

Have you been crossing out the days on the calendar as we inch closer and closer to the last day of school?

Have you been eagerly making plans with family and friends about all the fun ways you want to spend those long, hot summer afternoons?

Is a trip to the beach on your summer wish list? We want to hear about it.  Artwork by Kona Badgley-Finan
Is a trip to the beach on your summer wish list? We want to hear about it. Artwork by Kona Badgley-Finan

If you’re a school-age student who is excited about the endless possibilities that summer brings, we want to to hear from you. Please write us a letter — or make us a drawing — detailing what you want to do on your summer vacation and email a copy to by June 2. Some of the submissions will run in an upcoming section of the American-Statesman; even more will be featured in a photo gallery online at (Still want to share after June 2? Go ahead! We’ll add them to the gallery!)

Your submission can range from a dream trip you wish you could take (Disney World, anyone?) to something you actually plan to do (try 20 different snow cone flavors). No matter what’s on your wish list, if it’s fun and summerific, we want to know.