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Top Picks from a Tech Guy: Our Systems Admin’s Favorite Goods

September 24, 2012

Greetings! My name is Jonathan, and I am currently on the Sysadmin team here at UncommonGoods. Around this time of the year, my team and I work extra hard to make sure your gift giving and receiving experience are the best you have ever had. But in the midst of all this preparation we still manage to play with the some of the many cool toys and gadgets we carry. Here are a few of my favorites.

Cube LED Alarm Clock
In Technology you can find just about anything to fit your needs even if your needs are to just to be woken up on time. This alarm clock keeps things simple. It serves its main purpose as an alarm clock and it’s aesthetically pleasing to boot. This battery powered box can be placed anywhere! No, really, you can put it anywhere without the worry finding a power source. So far this little box has woken me up out of my bed and onto my favorite part of the morning, the coffee part.
Wooden Gizmos

Mini Wooden Speaker
I like to listen to music at work, and usually I just go with my earbuds. But sometimes the whole tech team agrees that we need some background music. In that case, this little speaker is great.

MaKey MaKey
Even if you’re a beginner to the world of microcontrollers, you should be able to grasp the concept of this little device. Anything can be turned into a controller (no really, anything) with just a little bit of creativity. So far we have made buttons and triggers from simple objects such as marshmallows, fruit, doormats, doorknobs, cups of water, ink, and just about anything else we could find lying around. This is a great tool for children and adults alike who want to tinker with electronics without the risks of real power or breaking the device itself. I recommend this product to my fellow gamers, tech enthusiasts or anyone who likes to play with well, anything.



Message Stamp Kit
Let’s face it, birthdays are happening all around us. So if you have a stamp to say happy birthday for you–why not?! If you’re like me and have trouble finding the time (or space on the card with those good-wishes-packed company birthday cards going around the office all the time) to scribble a little something for someone on their birthday then this gift is for you. Sure, it would be easy for me to just send an email from my desk–but this feels a little more personal and it is just as easy. This handy box has helped me with greeting cards for birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs and those monthly letters to the in-laws. This kit contains the all-in-one emergency sentiments you could ever need; it can even go as far as calling it a Swiss Army sentiment box.

Mushroom Kit
Another non-gadget pick, but perfect for many tech department offices. We aren’t quite in the basement, but we don’t have a lot of natural light. I’ve been meaning to get one of these, because windows or none, it will be nice to get something to grow in our work space. (Especially something we’ll get to eat in a few weeks!)




If you like Jonathan’s picks, don’t forget to check out our other gadgets and tools.

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: ZinZig

September 10, 2012

Hello! My name is Melissa and I am a new buyer over here at UncommonGoods. I look for product for a number of categories, including and especially games and toys. Obviously, for these types of items, the question “is it fun?” comes up every time in our decision-making process. The thing about games is that the ideal way to determine how fun a game is going to be is not in reading instructions and checking it out alone at my desk at work – but rather with friends at home. Shocking and insightful observation, I know.

So, in an effort to do my job better (take note, boss!), make new friends (I just moved out to New York City to join UncommonGoods from sunny California – or, in my case, foggy San Francisco), and generally have fun, I decided to start hosting game nights to test the new product that I’m considering. When we were chatting about this in one of our sample review meetings, someone threw out the idea of sharing the experience with our UncommonGoods community, and Melissa’s Game Night was born.

Up first was ZinZig ™:
“ZinZig is the wine tasting and trivia game that will challenge your mind and palate. So sit back, relax, and sip your wine. You’re in for a Zin-ful good time ™!”

I bribed my friends over with offers of pasta & sautéed Brussels sprouts, convinced them that yes, it is a great idea to play a wine tasting board game on a weekday, and raced out of the office to get set up.
[Disclaimer: since I just moved to NY, my living room looks pretty sparse, I know — hopefully it will continue to get more interesting as these blog posts continue!]

Once I cooked dinner for the boys (note to self: make more female friends), I asked/told one of my friends to read out the instructions and help us get set up. Luckily for him, it was fairly straight-forward and user-friendly: the beginning of the game opens with drinking and testing all of the wines. We also each picked a winery as well as a figure to represent us on the board. We each started on the space of the Winery that we chose – since the board is circular, the location that you are on is not really important (until the end) – it is all about the squares that you land on. On each turn, you get a trivia card and have to try to answer correctly – once you answer, the square you are on determines whether you “Swap”, “Trade”, etc. There are a few wild squares (ie: Corked: Wine spoilage detected. Answer wrong and lose one bottle card), as well as my personal favorite – Sip and Savor – in which you “Sit back, relax, and enjoy your wine” while earning a free card.

Each trivia card has a ‘resource’ printed on the back; the point of the game is to collect one of each resource (barrel, grape, bottle, cork) to start production. Once you do that, you move to the middle of the board and go through the stages of production (crushing, fermenting, aging, bottling) by answering a trivia Card. The first player to complete production is the winner of the game. Even though I am overly competitive, I did not manage to win. The shout-out of victory goes to my friend Mike who came in from last to crush us all.

In terms of game play, I thought the range of the level of difficulty of the trivia questions was well-balanced and on the intelligent side. I am a fairly big wine geek, my friend Alex claimed to know nothing, and everyone else fell somewhere in between. All of us got answers right and wrong, which made it a fun learning experience as well. The game lasted roughly 2 hours, and a good time was had by all. This game was approved and is available now HERE.

Thanks to Barry, Matt, Alex, Gabe, Colin, Erik, and Mike for playing!

Gift Guides

Top 10 Baby Gifts from our Buyer

July 30, 2012

My name is Melissa, and I am the buyer for Children’s & Leisure product here at UncommonGoods. Basically, I am constantly on the hunt for new, cool, and – of course – uncommon items for our assortment. We scout trade shows, blogs, craft fairs, and more to find the best and most special product for our site and catalog. Kids is all about personality and I try to find awesome (and educational!) pieces that both kids and moms will love. Also, one of my favorite things about working at UncommonGoods is that we are really all focused on the inspiration, story, and artistry of our items – all of the vendors and artists I work with are so interesting and inspiring, and care so much about the quality and specialness of their product.

There is so much on the site that I am excited about, but I was asked to put together a Top 10 Baby Gifts list, and so here is my best shot (in no particular order):

2012 Birth Year Box – Kerri Lee’s amazing Birth Year Box is such a special gift for parents because it allows them to have a safe and beautiful place to store early memories. I love the sweetness of the dragon – I also just got a sneak peek of the 2013 Snake, and I really look forward to seeing what you all think! We also have birth year shadowboxes (similar to these keepsake shadowboxes) that are coming in for Holiday – get excited!

Birth Announcement Pillows – I love Lori Blum’s subway-inspired Birth Announcement Pillows – they are fresh and modern, yet timeless as a record of a parent’s special moment in time.

Baby Fortune Cookie Slippers – Della Slowik has some of my favorite quirky items – her Toddler Sushi Booties and Adult Sushi Slippers are a riot as well.

Organic Cotton Teethers Veggie Crate – These 100% Egyptian cotton veggies are so cute, and a perfect aww-worthy toy set. The carrot and mushroom both crack me up.

‘So My Story Begins’ Babysuit – I love this graphic – it always makes me smile. It also has one of my favorite customer reviews: “This baby outfit garners sounds of delight at baby showers. It brings a smile to everyone’s face as they immediately discuss how unusual it is. So My Story Begins has the potential to be an heirloom for the family.” (Cheryl from Capistrano Beach, CA)

Upcycled Sweater Moose Head – Josh Title’s cool Moose Head is a great decorative piece for a nursery made from discarded sweaters. These are eye-catching and quirky – we loved it so much we hung one up in the office!

Farmer’s Market Babysuit Collection – These Farmer’s Market Babysuits are truly all American, with 100% Texas cotton manufactured in Pennsylvania and printed in North Carolina. Make sure to check out the packaging, that is the selling point for me – what a perfect gift!

President Block Set – My favorite products are those that have both play and educational value – these are that, and handmade to boot. Other favorites along these lines are our Periodic Table Blocks and Nursery Rhyme Blocks. Stay tuned – we also just added some Egyptian Hieroglyphics Blocks and ABC Sign Language + Braille Blocks that I think are amazing.

Babiators Sunglasses – These are just cool, and a perfect mini-me moment. As one customer says, her baby “looks like his Daddy’s twin when they wear their sunglasses together” (Nana from Bryson City, NC)

Baby Shower Baskets: Take Me Home Outfit and Toy, Hat, and Bootie Set – These are brand-new to the site, and a couple of my favorite items, so I had to sneak in two for my last spot in the top 10! The toys are wonderfully soft and cuddly, and the hat, booties, and wrap sets are all of a beautiful and durable quality. I think these make the absolutely perfect baby shower gift!

There are so many more items that I love, but I hope this quick list helped you find the perfect items for you and your (or your friend’s or family’s) baby. I would love to hear if there any other items from our site that you all think are a particularly good baby gift – please share!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press

July 25, 2012

Research
Since I am naturally an ice cream mix master (my first job in high school was with Coldstone Creamery!), I chose the Cuisipro Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press for my experiment. Along with my mastered mixing techniques, I consider ice cream the seventh major food group and live off of the sweet stuff during the summer months.

Hypothesis
I think that I can make homemade ice cream sandwiches to cool off on a hot summer day.

Experiment
I knew this would be a fun project to work on during a hot Sunday afternoon with my brother, Colby. We first brainstormed what cookie and ice cream combinations would be the tastiest. I splurged on an Upstate NY favorite, Stewart’s ice cream. And we cheated a little bit on the cookies.

The first step was making the cookies!

Our little helper needed to take a break during the clean-up.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, we laid them out to cool. Note: I anxiously made the mistake of waiting only five minutes and I had a sloppy mess. You MUST wait for your cookies to be completely cool!

Once completely cooled, we started using our tools. Included in the package are three different sandwich shapes – a heart, a star and a circle. The directions are simple and printed on the back of the box – cut the cookie; scoop up the ice cream; cut the second cookie and twist the handle to press together; twist to release the sandwich.

Conclusion
What a delicious treat! We ended up with lovely heart shaped sugar cookies with black cherry ice cream, peanut buttery overloaded cookies with peanut butter cup ice cream, and star shaped double chocolate chunk cookies with a classic vanilla ice cream. After our sugar crash and hour-long nap from a hard-working afternoon, we went back for seconds!

I come from an awesome sweet-toothed family that celebrates spring with a party full of deserts, and I plan on making these for next year’s event. What a clever treat and fun activity!

Gift Guides

Our Top 10 Best-Selling Voter Favorites

July 18, 2012

Choosing new merchandise to feature on our website and in our catalog is definitely a lot of fun, but it isn’t always easy! Luckily, we have a community of design-savvy voters eager to help us out. Each week we add a fresh batch of potential products to our community voting app and watch as voters tell us what makes something unique, useful, and attractive enough to be considered an uncommon good.

Many of these voter favorites didn’t just get attention while under consideration, but also elicit fantastic feedback from actual customers now that they’re available for purchase. Here are just a few of those best-selling community picks.

10.) Cymbal of Love Pendant The winner of our 2011 Jewelry Design Challenge received a ton of positive feedback in the challenge’s semi-final round and it has since become a customer favorite.

During those early stages Monica told us, “This is fantastic! I also make jewelry and accessories from repurposed musical items, and this is both original and adorable.”

Now that the necklace is available for purchase, it continues to receive praise. Reviewers love the upcycled story, the craftsmanship, and the beauty of this handmade piece.

9.) Mushroom Kit We harvested a great crop of voter comments from this uncommon good. Our community was super excited about growing mushrooms at home, and now that this kit is on our shelves we hear some fantastic feedback from mushroom farmers across the country.

Mushroom Lover (an appropriate alias!) from San Diego wrote, “As a mushroom lover this is perfect, for others it is a fun and unique gift for vegetarians, gardners, and the hard to buy for person who has everything.”

8.) Quiet Courage Necklace Mary Steratore’s sterling silver necklace makes a lovely gift for a graduation or a new job or promotion. Our voters weren’t quiet when it came to sharing their opinion on this product, though. They spoke up to tell us they loved the combination of smokey quartz and garnet, the subtle yin yang charm, and, of course, the meaning behind this symbolic piece.

7.) Love is Art Kit This clever kit created a bit of controversy when we first asked our community what they thought.

“Eeek!” Amanda exclaimed along with her thumbs down vote.

Charli, on the other hand, voted thumbs up. “This is awesome for a cheeky bridal shower gift.” She continued by explaining that the kit is a great way to be creative and fun with your partner.

We’re pleased that since the product entered our assortment folks have tended to side with Charli. We continue to see great reviews for this product–though some folks are more modest than others. Juajua from Oregon explained, “We are a modest artsy couple and bought this for our wedding night. Super fun and a sweet momento. Was extremely messy and took a long time to clean off (not a bad thing). Since we are fairly modest, we are going to lie about the painting that we plan on hanging over our bed, and say that we bought it on our honeymoon.”

6.) Portable Ping Pong Set Our voters got excited about this easy way to take ping pong on the go. But one voter, Catherine, pointed out that it’s not just about portable play.

“LOVE this because I don’t have dedicated space for a ping pong table but this would be ideal,” she wrote.

5.) Himalayan Salt Tequila Glasses Our community thought these salty glasses were extra sweet. A few voters commented that, while they didn’t care for tequila, they liked the glasses enough to give it another try. Others mentioned that they could make a great gift for someone who has everything. Inspired by the enthusiasm of those who left comments, we couldn’t wait to try these out ourselves. Our customer service supervisor, Keshia, and her friends found that they met expectations when she conducted a very scientific (and, from the looks of things, quite fun) gift lab.

4.) Mother & Daughter Letterbook Many voters shared touching stories of mother-daughter relationships in their comments. Such as this story from Cherie, who said, “My mother is my best friend. These cards represent the priceless relationship that a mother has with her children, something to be cherished forever. A perfect gift for any mother — from new mommy to great-grand mommy!”

The Letter Book continues to be a success, and we’ve heard more touching stories of mothers and daughters creating memories over the last few months.

3.) Butterfly Puddler This functional piece of handmade stoneware garden art by Jo-anne and Gerald Warren received just shy of 1300 votes. Our community was excited by the beauty and purpose of this piece, but expressed some concern over whether or not it would actually draw those winged wonders. Based on feedback from customers who’ve purchased the Butterfly Puddler since it entered our assortment, the mineral-filled well does the trick when it comes to attracting butterflies.

2.) F Bomb One of our top-voted items, with over 1600 votes, this punny paperweight also received a plethora of positive comments. Several voters told us the image made them laugh out loud, a few mentioned friends with a penchant for that f word whom they’d love to buy it for, and others mentioned that they’d like to keep it next to a swear jar as a reminder not to drop the bomb at work.

And finally, our best-selling community-approved product…

1.) Corkcicle “This is the BEST IDEA EVER!!!!” wrote Debi. (Yes, she included the four exclamation points.)

“This looks great!” Kimber commented. “I run a wine cellar and know this would be a big hit. People are always looking for fun unique wine items. It would be a ‘must have’ for my collection.”

And during that voting phase Kimberly told us, “I was actually looking to buy this verses voting on it. Can’t wait to see when you carry it! I do a trial run of it and then get it for my wine drinking posse as gifts!”

Now that the Corkcicle has a place in our lineup, reviewers continue to write feedback so supportive it gives us chills. Customers confirm that it does make a great gift for wine lovers and it’s an essential to have on-hand when entertaining.

From this delightfully designed cork and ice cube in one to lovely handmade jewelry and everything in between, we’re proud to say these items landed in our lineup with the help of voters like you. Of course, these are just a few of the products that became uncommon goods through our community voting app. Remember to stop by each week for your chance to influence the future of our assortment.