The Uncommon Life

From Puppies to Pistols: Six of History’s Most Uncommon Gifts

December 14, 2017

Today, few things say “holiday season” so well as Christmas trees, carols, and gifts. So what if we told you that none of those traditions have actually been around for very long? Christmas trees didn’t catch on in the US until the turn of the 20th century, and caroling—at least as we know it—was a distinctly Victorian invention. As for Christmas gift-giving, that’s a new tradition, too, popularized by wealthy 19th century New Yorkers.

Image our surprise, then, when we set out to assemble a collection of history’s strangest Christmas gifts and came up with—get this—absolutely nil. Lucky for us, diplomatic gift-giving is a time-honored custom, and one that’s sprouted plenty of oddball stories… just the thing to will all that pre-holiday shopping stress away.

And so, to celebrate the coming of the holiday season and all the good-natured gift-giving that goes with it, we present—with, um, minimal comment—six of history’s most uncommon gifts.

No. 1: A Live Puppy

You can’t archive a dog! Featured good: Pedigree Poem Pillow, $90

In theory, a puppy isn’t all that odd a gift, but bureaucracy can make anything weird. In 2005, then-President George W. Bush received five gifts from Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov. Among them? A black-and-white Bulgarian shepherd puppy dubbed “Balkan of Gorannadraganov,” or “Balkan” for short. Valued at $430, Balkan was one of many thousands of presents Bush received throughout his tenure as president, most of which were sent to the National Archives to await the opening of his presidential library. For goods worth $305 or more, that’s standard procedure, and in order to hang onto anything above that threshold—a risky move, as costly gifts may sway foreign policy decisions—presidents and their spouses are required to purchase the gifts back from the US government.

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Will Our Homemade Tortilla Kit Smash the Competition?

December 12, 2017

Hadley, UncommonGoods’ Junior Content Creator, thinks about tortillas. (Note the glint in her eye.)

Product

Homemade Tortilla Kit

Research

I’m an avid cook, and so is my boyfriend, Royce. We often make dinner together, and eight-ish times out of ten, we make one tasty thing: tacos. (Curry’s a common winter dish, too, but I digress.) I’d been talking Royce’s ear off for months about how we should try making our own tortillas, but we never got around to it. It follows, then, that I got pretty pumped when I saw our new Homemade Tortilla Kit for sale. It felt like I’d finally found my chance to force us into making our own tortillas, a project that would otherwise have continued to elude us for, you know, more months.

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Maker Stories

Makers Joining Forces:
A Brief History of WomenMadeLA

December 11, 2017

From left to right, Debbie, Sashee, and Lori

Three women, three companies, and three uncommon goods that represent the food we grew up loving, by Debbie Mullin

Two years ago, in the infancy of our businesses, the three of us—Sashee Chandran, Lori Sandoval, and me, Debbie Mullin—kept running into each other. We were handing out samples at the same market, renting time at the same commercial kitchen, and neighbors at the same gigantic trade shows. When the three of us finally sat down to chat about our LA-based companies, we realized they all faced the same exciting but daunting challenges with growth—expensive LA real estate, setting up distribution, finding good employees, etc.—all on top of being women and minority-owned businesses. Each of our companies needed so much to keep growing, but we didn’t know how to afford it all at once.

Enter: WomenMadeLA. The three of us joined together a year ago to form our collective and formally support one another through shared resources for our quickly growing small businesses. Since then, WomenMadeLA has moved to a large downtown office to accommodate growth, and has even added new companies. The collective now employs three full-time staff for all our photography/video, graphic design, and social media needs and to keep all WomenMadeLA products looking as good to their customers as they taste at home.

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Gift Guides

Last-Minute Gifts
that Don’t Feel Last-Minute

December 8, 2017

In the whirl and swirl of holiday cheer, sometimes picking out just the right gift can fall by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean you love them any less! This year, we’ve got just the trick to making it seem like you picked out their gift far ahead of time. Focus on their interests, and it’ll make any last-minute pick feel of-the-moment. So skip the grocery store fruit cake, and click your way to the perfect personalized present with this handy guide.

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Can a Self-Watering Pepper Planter Be Trusted?

December 4, 2017

Data scientist Dr. Ken proudly displays his wee peppers. Spicy!

Product

Self-Watering Pepper Planter

Research

House plants that enter into my care rarely thrive. More often, they have the sort of existence Thomas Hobbes (no, not that Hobbes) might have written about—that is, “nasty, brutish, and short.” And while I’ve tried many different types of plants, the problem is always the same: water. Some occasions it’s too little too late, others it is a root rot-inducing flood. Frequently, it’s one followed by the other as I overcompensate. Whatever knack is required, I don’t have it, and I was ready to give up on the idea that anything could grow in the barren desert landscape of my living room.

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Gift Guides

Solve for X-mas: Gifts for the Math Geek

November 30, 2017

Listen: Number crunching isn’t for everyone, but those who take to it tend to have a palpable passion, much like the author of this gift guide has for, you know, crunchy treats. If you’ve got a loud-and-proud math geek on your holiday shopping list, though, chances are you’d like to leverage that love and find them a mind-blowing, formula-friendly gift. Thankfully, here at UncommonGoods, we’ve got plenty of playful stuff for the calculator crowd, from neckties to specially decorated drinking glasses, and we’ve collected ten of our favorite specimens here for your reference. Read on for figs. 1-10.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration:
Meet Debbie Mullin

November 30, 2017

If you’ve never tasted the glory that is Vietnamese coffee, we encourage you to locate your nearest bánh mì place and order one immediately. The delectable combo of Vietnamese-grown coffee and sweetened condensed milk may seem simple, but trust us: It’s genius, just like maker Debbie Mullin’s new-to-UG Vietnamese Coffee Portable Pour Overs, which allow you to indulge in the drink’s sweet, creamy, caffeinated goodness wherever you go, so long as “wherever” has hot water.

We first saw Debbie’s pour overs in the kitchen here at our Brooklyn office, and with one sip of her tasty, tasty coffee (and an extra indulgent lick of any sweetened condensed milk that didn’t make it all the way into the mug), we knew we had to get the inside scoop on her product—what it is, where it comes from, and how she decided to make it. Read on for more on the birth of Debbie’s business, complete with an account of her recent visit to Saigon and a brief summary of what it’s like to grow up in a Vietnamese-Chinese-Jewish-American household… food-wise, anyway.

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Design, Maker Resources

11 Things You Didn’t Know about Handmade Jewelry

November 30, 2017

Handmade jewelry has been a sought after closet “staple” for decades. Whether it’s the only kind of jewelry you buy or something you picked up on vacation, you have at least one piece of handmade jewelry. What is it about something that’s made by hand that draws our attention? My theory is that an artisan’s personal connection and love of their craft transforms ordinary objects into jewelry masterpieces. Still, most people don’t understand the true value of handmade jewelry compared to its mass-produced counterparts. There are many reasons why handcrafted jewelry is more of an investment than pieces that are produced in mass quantities, so we thought we’d break it down for you! Below are 11 things you didn’t know about handmade jewelry.

“I get to hatch an idea for a new piece and BOOM! I can make it appear. Feels magical.” — Britta Ambauen

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