The Uncommon Life

Giveaway: Show Us Your Colorful Mug Shot!

May 18, 2012

The original Face Mug has gotten a lot of attention since he first looked at us with those wide eyes, flashed that perfect (for stuffing with cookies) smile, and landed in our lineup.

We’ve heard gifting stories of how he’s made loved ones laugh, suggestions for filling him with different drink and treat combos, and some interesting alternate uses–like a business card holder with candy on top or a cheerful place to pot a plant. But one thing we’ve heard time and time again is that folks would love to see this character in color.

While Mr. Mug isn’t exactly on hand in color just yet, he is available for purchase on pre-sale and can be yours as a set of two in warm or cool colors. And, to add to the fun, we’re giving away all four to one winner!

Entering is easy. Just send us your best, most colorful mug shot. Use colorful props, bright outfits, and bold backgrounds. Or, take a photo with a color-altering Instagram filter, edit with your favorite program, or come up with something even more creative!

Post the photo to our Facebook timeline and we will post it in our Show Us Your Colorful Mug Shot album.  Share it with your friends and get them to “like” and comment on your photo. Tell your friends to tell two friends and so on, and so on… because the photo that gets the most Facebook love wins a set of these technicolor mug!

We’ll announce the winner on June 1, so start snapping, editing, and spreading the word!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Claudia Pearson

May 17, 2012


When the second floor of Claudia Pearson’s Brooklyn brownstone opened up, she knew it would be the perfect place to set up a studio. Claudia was using a corner of her family’s apartment to create illustrations for books, magazines and the merchandise she was creating. Space was getting tight as her two sons and business were growing so moving to the downstairs was an easy decision.

Claudia is the designer behind these graphic market totes*. She’s definitely not a new name around Brooklyn flea markets and I have admired her commercial work and illustrations for cooking magazines, so I was excited to visit her sunny studio and learn about her craft and her business.

Continue Reading…

Maker Stories

Classic Keys for the Modern Memorandum: Jack Zylkin’s USB Typewriter

May 11, 2012

When I was a kid, my mom had a beautiful old typewriter. I remember carefully inserting bright white sheets of paper, punching those big, round keys, hearing that delightful ding and the unmistakable sound emitted when I pulled back the lever, and the smell of a fresh, inky ribbon.

Although it may not always be practical to type hard copies these days, with liquid paper being more work than hitting backspace and all, just looking at a typewriter does bring happy thoughts to many who have used one, and some who haven’t–but see them in old movies, in antique stores, and on our some of our favorite period TV shows.

Balancing that need to keep an electronic record of our documents with the desire to capture moments in the creative process from a simpler time, inventor Jack Zylkin developed a product that celebrates the best of both worlds–the USB Typewriter.

Delighted by this innovative combination of past and present, I was excited to learn more about what drives Jack’s designs. He happily shared about his inspirations, collaborators, and what’s to come.

Q.) You said that you invented the USB Typewriter as a ‘statement about the disposable nature of modern communication and modern communication devices’. What is it about the typewriter, specifically, that you find so intriguing?

Many people have found that the overstimulation brought on by computers and electronic gadgets, whether it be emails, tweets, viral videos, or other distractions, interferes with the creative process. People dread the boredom associated with being “uplugged”, but without boredom there would be no daydreaming!

While computers and cell phones are increasingly used for consuming media, on a typewriter, there is absolutely nothing you can do except create — it forces you to hone all of your focus and heart onto a single, blank page. Still, the convenience of saving and editing your work on a computer, as well as being able to share ideas and inspiration online, is also an indispensible part of being creative.

With my USB Typewriter invention, I hoped to have the best of both worlds — while writing, you can turn your computer screen off and enjoy a sublime writing experience, directly connecting with a printed page and nothing else. Then, when your draft is finished, you can save it to a computer, edit it, email it, and so on. Even after your work has been polished and spell-checked, you will still have the original hardcopy you typed, to keep as an artifact of your first draft, or to mail to a friend. Hopefully, having a beautiful typewriter permanently on your desk –instead of a computer keyboard — will encourage you to turn the computer off altogether now and then, too!

Q.) You helped found Hive76 in 2008 and designed the USB Typewriter in 2010. How did working with a collective of artists, engineers, designers, and other creative folks influence your invention of this product?

I would never have been able to make the USB Typewriter without Hive76. They not only provided the tools, the parts, and the workspace, but also a group of enthusiastic hackers to encourage me and offer advice. For example, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones and such, so I never would have had the idea to use an iPad with the USB Typewriter — that was actually fellow Hive member Chris Thompson’s idea. And the idea to print my own circuit boards came from a class we taught at Hive76 on making your own guitar effects. Ultimately, its just a really fun place to hang out, which gave me that extra encouragement I needed to come there after my day job night after night.

Q.) This invention takes an old standard and connects it with a “newfangled contraption”, creating something beautiful and functional. Are you working on any similar concepts, or is there another modern marvel with an old-school throwback you’d love to see materialize?

I have a lot of balls in the air right now. I try to just sort of make whatever idea pops into my head, so there is no recurring theme to my inventions. For example, I am very close to finishing work on a futuristic new board game with a very cool electronic twist, which I just filed a patent for…but right now I am working on a cheap word-processor that has an e-ink screen. E-ink would be so beautiful to type on — the next best thing to actual paper!

Q.) If you were to write a novel using the USB Typewriter, what would your first line read?

“Blank pages are the best kind. Write your own story. The end.”

Now that’s a statement we can stand behind! How about you, readers? We’d love to see the first lines of your novels. How does your story begin?

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Celebration!

May 4, 2012

Background: The Himalayan Salt Tequila glasses, $30, are a finely veined, translucent appearance of rose quartz, but they are actually carved from the highest quality, food grade, Himalayan pink salt. They are long lasting and won’t be easily dissolved. They are also 100% antibacterial!

Hypothesis: I have a hard time replicating that perfectly salted glass look that all of my favorite restaurants and bars have effortlessly achieved each time I stop in.

Every time I have tried to do it at home when hosting a girls night in or on my way out with some of me fave gal pals I find myself either:

1-mistakenly forgetting I handled salt and rubbing my eye (ouch)
2-making a mess of my counter/floors
3-having some of the salt crystals make a run for it before I even hand it off to my friend/guest

I predict this will no longer be a problem for me now with these beautifully hued Himalayan Salt Tequila glasses

Experiment:

To ensure that this truly works I will need the following ingredients

-A bottle of yummy tequila
-Lime
-Four Himalayan Salt Tequila glasses
-A few friends 21 and over


Next step is the use of the shot glasses followed by fun times!



Conclusion:

Everyone really loved the Himalayan Salt Tequila glasses, so much so we had quite a number of rounds of shots. (I mean we wanted to make sure they really worked well). What I loved about them was how much of a conversation starter they were. I also liked the fact that I didn’t have to try so hard to perfect the salted rim effect, it was just pour and go.

As weird as this may sound the only thing I didn’t like was how salty they were. After a few rounds if you let the tequila sit for like a minute or so in the shot glass the salt dissolves a little more causing the shot to be all types of salty. This was not the case for all of the shot glasses strangely enough, just one of them did this. This one glass was sort of reshaping before our eyes.

Side note: Be sure that you let them drain out so that the bottom doesn’t dissolve sooner. The liquid pooled just a little on the bottom. Rest assured though these glasses aren’t dissolving anytime soon but when it does start to you get a shot glass that holds more tequila along the way!

My friends and I can’t wait to use these again.

Maker Stories

Made (Green) in the USA

May 3, 2012

Our friends at Green 3, Jim and Sandy Martin, have helped us add some fantastic uncommon goods to our assortment. From adorable babywear like the gnome babysuit and hat and matching blanket, to the perfect-for-a-breezy-spring-day reclaimed t-shirt scarves, to the summer-friendly update on the popular recycled sweater skirt, the recycled bridesmaid dress skirt, the Martins know eco-friendly fashion.

Sandy and Jim. photo via Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce

Jim works closely with our product development team to create unique clothing and accessories exclusive to UncommonGoods, like the bridesmaid dress skirt and the comfy, casual recycled dress shirt robe. We love that these products come from recycled materials, and many are even created with the help of organizations working with disabled adults.

“My wife Sandy started the company,” he told us. “She grew up on a farm in Michigan and saw firsthand the negative implications on the farmer’s health when they are exposed to chemical pesticides on a daily basis. She felt strongly that her company would focus on sustainable fibers that caused the least damage possible to the environment.”

Causing less damage to the environment means using organic cotton, like that in Green 3’s babysuits, and reusing materials when possible.

Sometimes those materials, like the sweaters used to make recycled sweater scarves, come from thrift stores. Others are leftovers from apparel manufacturers. “We actually look at what types of fabrics are available to us, and then design into the fabric,” Jim explained. “Certain fabrics lend themselves to specific applications and steer us into new product categories.”

Clockwise from top left: A Green 3 Artist hand-drawing a graphic / Green 3’s warehouse storing reclaimed and excess fabrics / Tina, an in-house sewer at Green 3 headquarters.

Once the fabric is in hand each piece is inspected individually to insure it meets aesthetic and quality standards. Thrift store items are washed before being deconstructed and prepared for cutting and sewing, so even though the garment created may be made from secondhand materials, it’s as good as new.

The processes of selecting, inspecting, and preparing fabrics and creating the final products are all done in the United States. “Sandy and I had both been in the corporate apparel industry for over 20 years. During that time we watched a steady flow of jobs going overseas,” said Jim. “We just felt strongly that we could do it here and bring a few jobs back. What we’re finding is that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. More and more like minded companies are partnering, and quickly it is becoming more than just a few jobs. In our community alone we employ 20 people. But our network of partners employs thousands.”

One partner helping Green three create handmade upcycled products for uncommon goods is Aspiro, a non-profit organization offering job training and career options to cognitively disabled adults in Green Bay, Wisc. “We contacted Aspiro after learning of them through a news report,” Jim said. “Their facility has been doing cut and sew work for years and they have a highly skilled labor force. When we toured the facility and saw the pride and passion of the workers, and how this opportunity for independence positively impacted their lives, we knew wanted to support the initiative any way we could.”

Reclaimed T-shirt Scarf / Dress Shirt Robe / Recycled Sweater Scarf / Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt / Gnome Babysuit(TM) & Hat / Gnome Blanket

By partnering with Green 3 and other apparel manufactures, the skilled sewers at Aspiro earn fair wages and are given opportunities for independent living.

Thanks to these dedicated workers, secondhand and leftover fabrics, and the imaginations of Jim, Sandy, and the talented designers at Green 3, we’re always seeing updated products and trendy upcycled fashions. Which Green 3 design do you love most?

Gift Guides

Happy Birthday May Babies

May 1, 2012

Does someone you love have a birthday this month? Enter them to win a shopping spree at UncommonGoods. From now til May 31, you can tag your friend in this photo on our Facebook page and they’ll be entered to win. Leave a comment to let us know why your friend or family member is special to you, and why you hope they have a great birthday. Be sure to include their birthday! We’ll pick one lucky birthday girl or boy to receive a gift card to UncommonGoods.

And here’s the best part— you can enter as many times as you like. So if you, your mother, sister and best friend forever are all May babies, you can enter each time. If there’s no more space to tag a friend’s name, just leave a comment on the Facebook post.

You can also double your chances of winning a birthday prize for your favorite people by tweeting:

Hey @uncommongoods! Help me wish my friend @name a very happy birthday. http://unc.gd/JDvfrB

Is your birthday in May? You should enter yourself too. We know UncommonGoods shoppers are great when it comes to finding perfect gifts for the people they love, but we wouldn’t want you to forget yourself.

Treat yo self!

Congrats to our April winner: Dottie Filla Hibbeler, who was nominated by her sister Patty.

Patty says: My beautiful sister Dottie Filla Hibbeler would love an Uncommon Goods gift spree for her April 21st birthday. She is a wonderful gift giver and I’m sure if she won she would get me a cool Tocky alarm clock for nominating her. Right, Dot?

The Uncommon Life

Checking In With American Forests

April 30, 2012

I asked our friends at American Forest last month what they’d been able to do with our Better to Give donations over the past year. Turns out they’ve planted more than 59,000 trees across the US. Isn’t that incredible? And it’s all because of you. Each time you pick American Forests at checkout, we donate $1 to their tree-planting programs. Thanks for your loyal support!

Since 2010, UncommonGoods has helped support the planting of more than 59,000 trees through American Forests’ Global ReLeaf® program. This partnership has planted trees in critically important locations that span across 6 states and 9 separate ecosystem restoration projects. American Forests is proud to have planted the following trees on behalf of UncommonGoods and all of their respective customers and employees.

Name: Spotted Owl Habitat Restoration in Angeles National Forest– 210 Trees
State: CA
American Forests is partnering with the USDA Forest Service to replant areas of Angeles National Forest that have been damaged by wildfires. It will take three years to replant all of the damaged areas. In 2011 project work will include growing seedlings, preparing the site, and planting and monitoring. This project will work to restore the critical habitat for the California Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) and other threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species. The Spotted Owl’s primary habitat is forest areas that include Douglas fir.


The wildfires destroyed 10% of that habitat within Angeles National Forest. This project will also protect the local ecosystem. The site is part of the watershed at the headwaters of Los Angeles River. Soil erosion has negative effects on aquatic species in the Los Angeles River so the newly planted trees will prevent soil in and around the planting site from eroding into the river. The planting will also help prevent future wildfires by restoring the site with native tree species before the land can be taken over by non-native grasses.

Name: Poe Cabin Fire Restoration – 22,691 Trees
State: ID
American Forests is teaming up with the USDA Forest Service to replant areas of the Nez Perce National Forest that were damaged by wildfires. Planting trees at this site offers numerous benefits, including a decrease in soil erosion which will lessen the amount of sedimentation being deposited into the area’s water sources. This in turn will help to protect anadromous, fish that live mostly in the ocean but breed in fresh water, fisheries located along the Snake River. Deer and wild turkeys will also benefit from this project. Reforesting the area will provide these species with places to hide and keep warm during the winter months. Part of the reforestation project encompasses the Pittsburg Landing Road, which allows access to the Snake River. The river provides a host of recreational activities and is a popular tourist location. This project will plant tree species, including the severely threatened whitebark pine, a species found in the western US and Canada that is threatened by wildfires, mountain bark beetles, and blister rust. American Forests is sponsoring various projects to reforest white bark pine this year.

Name: Kraft Springs Fire Rehabilitation – 8,470 Trees
State: MT
American Forests is partnering with the USDA Forest Service to reforest areas within the Custer National Forest. This area has been damaged by multiple wildfires, occurring in 1998 and 2002. The area continues to see an increase in wildfires due in part to a changing climate which has created warmer and dryer conditions. These conditions have allowed wildfires to burn with previously uncharacteristic severity. As a result of the wildfires, forested habitat has been reduced by 69 percent. Reforesting this area with ponderosa pine will increase habitat and food supply for elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, and goshawk.

Name: The Chiginagak Volcano Valley, Alaska Native Tree Restoration Project — 6,613 Trees
State: AK
The Chiginagak Volcano Valley in the Alaskan Peninsula was damaged by a lahar flow that greatly decreased the wildlife population and destroyed much of the foliage. The lahar flow also reached creeks, contaminating them with sulfuric acid. The purpose of this project is to restore the native habitat and protect the water by replanting 350,000 trees.

The trees to be planted are Alders, Poplars, Willows, and dwarf conifers to ensure native species diversity. This project also benefits the area economically. The rivers and streams damaged by the lahar flow feed into Bristol Bay, which supports a large fishing industry. Repairing the ecosystem will bring back fish into these streams and ultimately into Bristol Bay.

Name: Showerbath Wildfire Reforestation — 2,000 Trees
State: ID
Approximately half of the planting site was harvested in the early 1970s and unsuccessfully replanted with Douglas-fir Seedlings. The mortality of that planting was very high because of the harsh conditions created when most of the overstory was harvested. This project will plant 63,000 Douglas-fir and Lodgepole pines over 210 acres to continue to protect many species of wildlife, improve watershed conditions, and to keep the Salmon-Challis National Forest enjoyable for recreational use.

Name: 2010 Kirtland’s Warbler Habitat Creation — 5,500 Trees
State: MI
This reforestation project in the Huron Manistee National Forest is designed to plant 402,000 trees over 369 acres with the state of Michigan and the US Forest Service in order to provide habitat restoration for the Kirtland’s Warbler. The Kirtland’s Warbler is an endangered species song bird which requires both the particular Jack Pine specie to nest in and scattered openings of land to fulfill their habitat needs. The trees themselves must be in the range of 4-15 years old for the Kirtland’s Warbler to nest in, making the effect of this project not fully seen until down the road. These specific conditions that the Kirtland’s Warbler requires will be put in place to combat the ever increasing encroachment of human inhabitation on the bird’s habitat. The trees for this project will be planted in the spring of 2010 by local contractors.

Name: Cave Gulch & Maudlow-Toston Fire Rehabilitation — 7,500 Trees
State: MT
This project will reforest an area of the Helena National Forest that was burned in the 2000 Cave Gulch and Mauldow-Toston fires. Roughly 40,000 acres of National Forest Lands’ were burned by these fires located in the Big Belt Mountains. Over 400 acres of this land will be planted on with 130,000 Douglas-fir and Lodgepole pines. This project hopes to improve the local watersheds, which contain critical fish-bearing streams that are also important to the other wildlife in the ecosystem that count on these fish for food.

Name: WildEarth Guardians 2010 New Mexico Riparian Restoration — 200 Trees
State: NM
WildEarth Guardians aims to plant over 65,000 native shrubs and trees across four distinct watershed located in total throughout the state of New Mexico. These four project areas are located along the Santa Fe River, Bluewater Creek, La Jencia Creek, and the Rio Puerco. All of these watercourses have seen intense historic disturbance regimes, including domestic and wild ungulate overgrazing and browsing, destabilized stream channels and banks, non-native shrub and tree establishment, extreme temperature loading and fluctuations, and impacts of off-highway vehicles. These impacts have resulted in degraded stream and riparian area functionality. The goal of this project is to restore function to the area by undertaking a variety of proven restoration measures, including non-native species removal, stream channel and bank stabilization, native species reforestation, domestic and wild ungulate control, and prohibiting off-highway vehicle access.

Name: Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge — 5,859 Trees
State: TX
American Forests continued the partnership with the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge for the 14th consecutive year by supporting the on-going reforestation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This area is one of the most biologically diverse regions in all of North America and is also one of the poorest, though fastest growing, regions in the United States. The reforestation of this corridor benefits the unique wildlife of this subtropical region, including endangered species such as the ocelot and jaguarondi. More than 490 species of birds and about 40 percent of all North American butterfly species (300+ species) live in this four-county project area. This project helped maintain a bountiful and biologically diverse land as a key component to the area’s ecotourism industry.

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