The Uncommon Life

Dad Jokes & Dancing Spiders: An Uncommon Knowledge Roundup

February 22, 2017

Uncommon Knowledge Roundup

Common knowledge. You know, the sort of stuff you’re supposed to learn in the school of life—like don’t put your tongue on the flagpole in December. Uncommon knowledge, on the other hand, is a more elusive matter. It’s the kind of facts that might make you lose a little sleep wondering why, how, or even what the heck? Our designs often inspire such tantalizing trivia and these Uncommon Knowledge highlights illustrate those quirky connections. And to keep things extra-uncommon, we’ve added a fresh batch of bonus facts. With this uncommon knowledge in mind, any of these goods are conversation-starters.

 

How Romantic is the Animal Kingdom?

Snoozing sea otters holding hands, penguins proposing with pebbles, and puppies that believe in chivalry—the animal kingdom is full of aww-worthy stories. For humans, romantic inspiration can be as simple as a walk through snowy woods. Read more >

Extra-uncommon knowledge: Male peacock spiders really know how to bust a move in their efforts to woo females. Their courtship dances include fancy footwork, rapid vibrations, and a rainbow abdomen flap that they raise like a flag.

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Maker Stories

Spread the Word: A Conversation with Eliza Todd about Art, Language, and Life

February 20, 2017

For Eliza Todd, creating art is so much more than a career. “It’s a way of figuring out life,” the artist says. On a plot of conserved prairie, the Illinois maker creates her one-of-a-kind designs from calendars to dining ware. Most days, she wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and works up to 14 hours, taking breaks for walks with her husband or to spend time with her two sons. “I’m still in the process of turning this into a life… For years I didn’t do art.” Twenty of them to be exact. She was in the computer industry, but when her younger son was born, Eliza stayed home and decided to go back to her artistic roots. “It’s a risk. Like anything when you try something new, putting myself out there was terrifying.” For her first project, she gathered blocks of wood and covered them with a thick resin that created a cool effect. Other people thought they were pretty cool, too, and so she took her works to some local Lake County shop owners who immediately fell for the designs as well. “It was scary,” she said, “but fortunately, worth it.”

Eliza Todd

The more Eliza practiced, the more her creativity wheels spun, and they’ve taken her from local painter to national glassware designer. It’s a love story that began, as many of them do, with words. “I started collecting these antiquated words,” she recalls. “Some of them are morbid or sick. Some are from the 1800s or 1600s. It was a dark time! But there’s a lot that are really interesting or funny or beautiful. I leaned toward the positive and collected them in a journal.” Then she thought, “I need to incorporate these into art!” The first word she really took to was efflorescence, a word she describes as “blooming, coming into your own.” Then came crapulous which, Eliza admits, still makes her giggle. The adjective means “tipsy,” which made her think, “This would be perfect on a glass.”

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The Uncommon Life

Supporting Survivors and Spreading Hope through RAINN

February 17, 2017

At UncommonGoods we strive to use our business as a force for good. One of the ways we do so is by giving to non-profit organizations that we care about through our Better to Give Program–which lets you chose a non-profit partner to receive a $1 donation (at no cost to you) each time you shop.

As the leader of our Sustainability Steering Committee, I am proud that our relationships with our Better to Give partners go beyond the monetary donations we make, by having elements that include volunteer outings, speaker sessions, and attending off-site special events hosted by our selected non-profits. While all of these areas are partially what makes it an absolute blast to work for UncommonGoods, what is most inspiring is hearing about when our team members take it upon themselves to support our Better to Give partners outside of our organization.

Tanya Castin, UncommonGoods Merchant Assistant and RAINN volunteer

Since October, our Merchant Assistant, Tanya Castin, has been devoting her nights and weekends to becoming a volunteer working with one of our Better to Give partners, RAINN.  Last month, Tanya completed her training and is officially an online hotline staffer for RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline. After her first night, Tanya and I caught a Nets game and stopped in at a local brewery to catch up on what made her decide to do this and what the experience is like.

A speaker session with RAINN’s Development Director Chelsea Bowers that we hosted back in August prompted Tanya to get involved. “Just hearing stories about our team members’ experiences with sexual assault and being aware of the statistics [related to sexual abuse] pushed me into taking action,” she explained. “Being an online hotline staffer was something that I didn’t know was an option, but when I found out about it through our guest speaker, I looked it up online and found that they had one slot open in a New York City-based training over a weekend, so I signed up.” Signing up was the first step toward a large undertaking. To be a hotline staff, RAINN’s requirements included an in person weekend training session (16 hours split between a Saturday and Sunday), followed by a robust online training program.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Rachel Kroh

February 16, 2017

Rachel Kroh - UncommonGoods

If you’re not sure if you’re the kind of person who was actually born to be an artist (or if you’re the kind of person who should pursue it as a career, anyway) visiting the French countryside is a great way to go and figure it out. Printmaker Rachel Kroh did it, and ended up becoming a full-fledged working artist, with a studio and a business of her own.

Rachel’s prints, which come to life with woodblock printing and the use of an Indigo press, are unique, comforting, and undoubtedly special. We love to learn the stories of artists who are new to our assortment, and to share those stories with our readers. Check out our interview with Rachel to hear more about her journey to self-employment, how art meets religion in her craft, and the one quote from a college professor that reminds her to keep going.

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Design

The Couch Bowl: Taking Comfort Food to the Next Level

February 15, 2017

*Editor’s Note: The Couch Bowl is coming soon to UncommonGoods’ assortment. Get it first by pre-ordering here.

A background in engineering helps product designer Thomas Both visualize forms in space and think critically when contemplating his prototypes. It also leads him to ask some important questions: What’s the geometry at work? How might I build this? What’s the negative of that shape? What would that connection look like?

Sure, those are things an engineer would definitely ask when building a complex machine, but how does that influence something as seemingly uncomplicated as snacking? Well, when you think about it, snacking isn’t always that simple. We’ve all been there: balancing an overflowing dish and squirming around trying to get the blanket just right, while simultaneously looking for a video to stream and hoping that you’re not about to start a cheese puff avalanche. (You know that if one puff rolls off Snack Mountain, many more are sure to follow.) In this case, figuring out how to simplify the process of holding a dish, getting comfortable, and delivering that oh-so-tasty food to your face is actually a design problem. A problem that Thomas solved with the Couch Bowl.

Thomas Both

“The point of view is that almost all dishware (particularly in Western society) is designed to be used sitting at a dining table, yet often we don’t eat at a dining table,” Thomas explained. “We stand at a cocktail party, or sit in the living room, or lean against the counter in the kitchen–but we are using the stuff made for table dining. So what if we could create dishware designed for eating without a table?”

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The Uncommon Life

The Road to Romance and a First Date on Ice: Our 2017 #UncommonDate Winners

February 14, 2017

Last Valentine’s Day, we asked you to tell us about your most uncommon date. We loved reading about all the disasters and happily ever afters so much we had to do it again. This time around, we received over 75 entries ranging from adorable to downright cringe-worthy.

After hours of deliberation, we managed to select two winners and three honorable mentions.

Grand prize winner number one, Eileen Field, shared a slightly illegal and very romantic blind date story with us via our blog:

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Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Recycling Books & Spreading Literacy, One Pin at a Time

February 13, 2017

You can never have too many books, right? Well, actually, you kinda can. With hundreds of thousands of new books published each year, and with many library shelves so overwhelmed that librarians are often forced to throw books away, even those of us who feel sentimental about the written word and the pages that hold them have to admit: we’ve got a problem.

So what to do with all of those outdated encyclopedias and forgotten math textbooks? Aren’t there any other options aside from trashing them? Recycling, of course, comes to mind. But the bindings of many books, especially hardcovers, contain adhesives that can’t be recycled. So the inside pages can go, but then what happens to the rest?

Enter Laura Bruland Shields. A long-time book-lover herself and an artist at heart, she’s taken on this wasteful problem and is making beautiful solutions every day – in the form of one-of-a-kind, laser cut accessories made directly from books that would otherwise be thrown away. On top of that, she takes a portion of the proceeds from her business and donates them to benefit literacy and girls’ education around the world.

When we learned about Laura’s story, we knew we had to feature her in our Uncommon Impact series – her values as a maker and ours as a certified B-Corp company are a perfect match. We love that she thinks ethically in the way she makes her products and uses her to success to benefit a cause she’s passionate about.

Read on to hear from Laura directly about her creative process, some of her favorite book-titles-turned-accessories, and how her business is helping to spread a love of reading worldwide.

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The Uncommon Life

A Force for Good: Why We’re Doubling Our Donation to the IRC

February 9, 2017

Jodi Hilton/IRC

As an independently owned business, we have the ability to support causes we believe in and to impact the world in a positive way–so each time you shop at UncommonGoods, we donate $1 to a non-profit partner of your choice through our Better to Give program. Although the donations are at no cost to you, your purchases have allowed us to donate more than $1 million to our partners since 2001.

Last summer, we were proud and honored to welcome the International Rescue Committee to the Better to Give program. Since June 2016, we’ve raised $57,000 (and counting!) for their mission to aid refugees and families afflicted by conflict around the globe. But there’s still work to do.

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