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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

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.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Molecular Gastronomy Dinner Party

June 21, 2012

Background Research
Wikipedia says that “Molecular gastronomy is a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.”

Huh?

I have heard of this food science. I have heard of different restaurants in metropolitan areas around the world, maybe even in not-so-metropolitan areas. I have seen it done on one of those cooking shows. Many friends have gone to wd-50 in NYC and said it was interesting. My friend Stephanie had a 12 course meal of different foods reconstructed at a resort in Mexico. The pictures were awesome. I mean a lemon meringue pie that looks like a SOS Sponge awesome!

Walking at the NY Trade Show I see some fun pictures of crazy foods and then a kit. I can do this at home? Yes please! I couldn’t wait to try out this new product.

Hypothesis
I will be the new Wylie Dufresne, with the help of some friends, and make a meal that will impress the masses. This will all be accomplished in 1 night without a culinary class and with little cooking skills. My most impressive meal is chicken and rice.

Experiment
Materials Needed:
1 Molecular Gastronomy Kit with all its contents
Blender
Roomy Fridge and Freezer
Hand Blender
Lots of Bowls
Stove
Lots of Pots
Friends
Wine (just in case it all goes wrong)
Ingredients for all recipes (frozen chocolate wind, arugula spaghetti, balsamic vinegar pearls, goat cheese raviolis, raspberry raviolis).
Extra ingredients to pair with the yummy food
TV
DVD player
Timer
Scale if you want to be exact

Step 1: I watched the DVD to pick the recipes I wanted to cook and get all the instructions.

Step 2: I Gathered friends and all materials.

Step 3: Watch DVD of all recipes with friends and decide what recipe has the longest cooling time and do that one first. (FYI: Chocolate wind had to cool down in the fridge and then sit in the freezer for about an hour.)

Step 4: Start cooking/ being a scientist.

Goat Cheese Raviolis

Chocolate Frozen Wind

Arugula Spaghetti

Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

Step 5: Make everything look pretty for the cameras.

Goat Cheese Raviolis with tomatoes and basil / Arugula Spaghetti and Balsamic Vinegar Pearls with Tomato / Frozen Chocolate Wind with Raspberry Raviolis

Step 6: Enjoy!

Thanks for your help Nate and Stefanie and Morgan and Sorayah!

Conclusion
The kit has very thorough instructions that walk you through each step by showing you and some great music to keep cooks dancing. It makes the process easy and super fun! And the balsamic pearls and arugula spaghetti looked the best! But maybe I need some more snacks when things are cooling in case guests have not had a snack before the party. I think I just need one more party and a little less wine, and I can open my own restaurant! So fun!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Beer Tasting Tool Kit

June 14, 2012

When most of us are confronted with the prospect of working over the weekend it often involves shuffling plans and muffling expletives. Luckily, at UncommonGoods we treat it like any other weekend and turn the mundane into a festival of flavor and fermentation. What follows is our rigorous “testing” of the Beer Tasting Tool Kit.

Hypothesis:
With this Beer Tasting Tool Kit my friends, colleagues, and I will be able to distinguish the difference between dunkels and doppelbocks, lagers and lambics. If not, we will have a good time trying!

Experiment:
We assembled a team of 8 imbibers to evaluate a cornucopia of beers springing from Brooklyn to Bavaria and beyond. The kit includes numbered paper bags for each bottle to encourage blind taste tests. Maybe it was this brown-bagging or the lack of a spit bucket, but this was surely no wine tasting garden party. With a pitcher of water and plenty of snacks on hand, we were ready to get started.

Adhering to the kit’s main tenets of “See, Smell, Sip, Swallow,” we began with the bag labeled #1. After each sampling we filled out tasting cards, measuring the levels to which we detected specific flavors (Creamy, Bitter, Hoppy) as well as notes related to the 4 S’s (Stephanie noted one beer’s smell was akin to “shoes” whereas I found chocolatey hues!). Comparing our notes after each round was as much fun as tasting the beers (some of which were downright painful…I’m talking about you Mr. Double IPA).

Conclusion(s):
We were learning a lot and every new pour made us thirsty for more, but unfortunately, the game came to its inevitable end when we ran out of beer. Perhaps most telling was the fact that our palates need some refining—we were all over the map in describing the taste impressions of each beer. But with further studying of the kit’s super informative fact book and a few more sessions of Saisons and Scotch Ales we will all be beer-tasting connoisseurs!

Gift Guides

Finding the Perfect Wedding Gift for a Special Couple

June 8, 2012

Someone very important to me is getting married. Weddings are a big deal, and I’m thrilled, but I’m also a bit overwhelmed. Why am I overwhelmed when it isn’t my wedding? Because I’m now tasked with finding the PERFECT wedding gift.

Finding that gift that says it all shouldn’t be that hard, right? After all, I have known the guy his whole life. So before I get into the details of my quest to find that best-wedding-gift-ever gift, here’s a little background info.

Beau (soon-to-be groom), Cassie (me), and Luke (baby brother) sometime in the late ’80s

When I was almost 3 years old, my life changed–big time. I went from being an only child to the proud owner of my very own little brother. Luckily, since I’d only been on the planet a few short years, I hadn’t gotten too used too cozy in that only child role.

Growing up with a brother not much younger than me was great. We went to the same school, share friends, have similar interests, and–on account of the whole same parents thing–can really relate to each other. Somewhere along the way, we even got another little bro to share.

Fast-forward 20-something years. Now I have a husband my own and my brother, Beau, has a smart, charismatic, funny fiance. This wedding gift has to show Beau how much I care, that I’m happy for him, and that I can’t wait for Bobbi to be a part of our family.

Beau and Bobbi

First I made a list of things they like, in hopes of getting gifting inspiration. They both love fishing (they’re actually having a fishing-themed wedding) and other outdoor sports. They also both love cooking. Beau loves history and archaeology and he works for the railroad. Bobbi works in financial management and she loves crafting and DIY projects.

Vases for the candy buffet (fill with Swedish Fish, gummy worms, and Goldfish crackers) / Inspiration for the theme / Card basket and photo for the gift table/ Cattails for the centerpieces. Photos by Bobbi Dahnke

Starting with their professions, I thought Beau might like the Railroad Date Nail Cufflinks, and I could pair them with a necklace for Bobbi, like the Cymbal of Love Pendant or the Links of Love necklace.
Next, there’s Bobbi’s specialty. I could just give them a wad of cash with a nice card and a joke about how she’s in charge of the money. But, on second thought, while they might enjoy the dough, it’s probably not right for this special occasion.They do both like cooking, so something like the Artisanal Bamboo Salt Chest, an Elevate Carousel Utensil Set, or a Recipe Box and Card Kit, while not extremely personal, would be much-used by my brother and sister-in-law.

If I really wanted to focus on “personal” I could make them something myself. I would love to put together a scrapbook, create a quilt (if I knew how to quilt, of course), or paint their portrait (again with the “if I could do that sort of thing” thing). Unfortunately, me creating a beautiful handmade gift probably isn’t going to happen.

The next best thing is finding a lovely handmade gift handmade by someone else, but expressing what I want to say. Something that really says, “Welcome to the family.” A Wedding Wishes Vase is a great choice, because it’s a way for me to share how I feel about the happy couple and let others do the same. I also love the Personalized Tree Anniversary Plate and the tree fits nicely with their outdoorsy wedding theme. Another of my custom favorites is the Personalized Photo Wall Art. Since she’s choosing to change her last name, it would be a fun way to say “Now you’re a part of team Tweten.”

So, which of these wonderful gifts did I decide is perfect for my brother and his beautiful bride-to-be? I can’t say, because the wedding hasn’t happened yet (and because, to be honest, there’s a wee possibility that I haven’t decided). All stressing aside, though, I know they will love the gift no matter which product I choose, because it’s coming from me. (Not in a weird “I’m so great they’ll love anything I pick” way, but in the way that you hang indecipherable drawings from children on the fridge because they were made with love.)

I’m looking forward to celebrating their special day with them, wearing a fancy bridesmaid’s dress, and–like I watched my little brother grow up–watching two people in love grow old together.

Gift Guides

Wedding Decor Picks from Maggie of Rustic Wedding Chic

June 8, 2012

As the founder and editor of Rustic Wedding Chic I constantly hear from brides who are looking for fun, upbeat and unique items to add into their wedding decor. Trying to find the best wedding decor items is no easy task which is why I took the time to collect a few of my favorite uncommon wedding goods.

Squirelly Love
Perfect for a cake topper for a rustic wedding or I think this cute little item would look great on the head table or your sweetheart table right in front of you and your new spouse.

Ceramic Love Vase
A perfect vase to have on your special tables such as your cake table, guestbook table or line a few up along the place card display.

Bucket of Joy & Love
The name says it all. On your wedding day you should be filled with joy and love so why not showcase how you feel with these cute vases which would be really cute carried by your flower girls.

Family Tree Picture Frame
A wedding is all about merging two families together so why not showoff your new family tree. This would be really cute displayed for your guest to see as they eneter your wedding reception.

USA Scratch Map
How great would it be to have this fun map up next to your guestbook with a little sign that ask your guest to scratch off the state where they are from. This would be a fun way to see where all of your guest have travel from.

Lovebirds
Another great looking wood sculpture that could easily be used as a cake topper or just fun to have around on your wedding tables. This item would be super cute located close to welcome signs.

Mango Wood Bowl with Bark
The wood bowl makes for the perfect place to display items at your wedding. I used a similar style bowl to hold personalized napkins at my wedding or this would be a great ring bearer bowl.

State Pillows
Showcase the state where you and your spouse come from by displaying these state pillows at your wedding. At my own wedding I had a CT pillow placed on my chair and a NH pillow placed on my husband chair at our wedding reception.

Sustainable Picnic Plates & Cups
Having an outdoor wedding or rehearsal dinner often means searching for cute paper dining products. These picnic plates are super cute and eco-friendly.

Calla Lilly Drinkware Set
Add some wildflowers to this pitcher and drinking glass set and you have an instant country chic wedding decor item.

Moss Terrarium Bottle
If you are searching for a unique centerpiece idea look no further then these moss terrariums. These bring not only a very tranquil feeling to your table but they bring an eco-friendly feel as well.

Place Card Stamp
Part DIY, part pre-made this place card stamp is the perfect project for a rustic bride. Pick out some great recycled paper or shipping tags and stamp away.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Father’s Day Puzzle Project

June 8, 2012

Every year for Father’s Day I get my dad the same thing – a store bought tie. This year I decided not to add to the mountain of ties in his closet, but instead give him a unique gift we could create together. The vinyl collection puzzle was that perfect unique gift – what’s better than some quality father-daughter time, while creating DIY wall art!?

Background Research:
Many a family game night during my childhood was spent working on puzzles. You would think that putting together puzzles would be a calm activity; however, in my family it is practically a competitive sport. Each piece was quickly put in place as we raced to see who could put in the most pieces in our 250, 500, even 1000 piece puzzles. It was a fun challenge that we could compete in together!

Hypothesis:
The Vinyl Collection Puzzle will be not only a great father-daughter activity, but also a great DIY Father’s Day gift.

The Experiment:
On a slightly overcast Saturday – perfect for a family afternoon indoors – my Dad and I set up an old folding table in the basement, opened the box, and got down to work*. Now, I am sure everyone has his or her own unique “puzzle-ing” style. My Dad insisted (like he always does) that we start with the edges, and then work our way in.

While working on the puzzle, I got to spend some quality time with my Dad! I heard about some of his records and we even took a break to look at some of them. (Disclaimer: The Bruce Springsteen Collection is actually my Mom’s…she had a New Jersey roommate in college.) The vinyl collection of the puzzle is quite unique and diverse, but my Dad found a tape version of one of the records in the puzzle (Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits)!

My Dad and I were not the only ones working on the puzzle – we had a little “helper.” She decided to walk through the center of the puzzle taking some of the pieces with her. Beware of these four-legged “helpers!” Despite this adorable distraction, after a few hours, my Dad and I finished the puzzle. (Disclaimer: My Dad is incredibly good at puzzles!)

The next step was to create the wall art that would become my Dad’s present. I set out to my local arts and crafts store to buy a picture frame. I chose to get a nice black frame that was 18” by 24” – the dimensions of the puzzle. The tight fit holds the puzzle between the glass and the backing, which means the puzzle can be mounted without being glued together. (You never know when you might want to take down the puzzle and put it back together again!)

When putting the puzzle into the frame, make sure to take extreme care. (You don’t want the puzzle to fall completely apart and you’d have to redo it, unless you are a master puzzler who enjoys the challenge.)

*Helpful Hint: When beginning the puzzle find a large poster board to do the puzzle on, the sturdier the better. When you frame the puzzle, the poster board makes it easier to slide the puzzle to the backing of the frame.

Finally, we attached the framed puzzle to the wall with standard picture frame hooks. Then stood back and admired our work!

Results:
The finished product is not only a beautifully completed puzzle, but also a piece of wall art. It now hangs in my family’s basement so that my Dad will see it every time he (and anyone else) hangs out down there, which is pretty often!

Conclusion:
The vinyl collection puzzle is a great family activity for anytime, but especially this Father’s Day. Even if you aren’t able to make it home to spend time with your Dad, a DIY activity like this puzzle is a great Father’s Day gift. To all the fathers in your life, I wish them and you all a Happy Father’s Day! I hope your day is full of memories and perhaps a few DIY craft presents!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

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