UncommonGoods, Uncommonly Good: Birthday Gift List edition

This post is sponsored by UncommonGoods.com. Find the best ideas for men, women and kids at UncommonGoods. They carry thousands of unique and unusual gifts, from fun jewelry and cool accessories to creative home decor and kitchen items.

I use to be the best wish list maker. No joke. And it wasn’t always those stereotypical what-every-kid-asks-for lists like puppies or ponies or rocket ships. (Though I totally had a puppy on my list until I was 14. And that’s because that was when I finally got one.) I always had the coolest, but within reason, toys and games. As I got older, my lists got better. I could actually fine tune my list based on which relative I was sending it to according to the likelihood they’d buy it for me. In my twenties, as adulthood kicked in and I got fewer and fewer gifts, I knew to ask for somewhat practical yet fun gifts. That’s how I ended up with a deep fryer one year.

This year, though, as I ready myself for 32… I’ve got nothing. Sure there are things I’d like, but nothing really “birthday wish list” worthy. Fitbit is a bit too on the expensive side. Roomba is on the beyond the expensive side. And the new tervis tumbler is just kind of meh. Plus, I can’t put those on a list and be like “oh hey, yet another tervis” because it’s the only affordable item I asked for.

Thankfully, though, through this partnership with UncommonGoods, I’m finding a lot of stuff that I might not have necessarily thought to get or ask for. UncommonGoods is a company that works to connect you, the shopper, with unique and fun goods from a variety of craftsmakers and artisans. (Coolest thing of all is that the whole shop was inspired by a Smithsonian Museum craft show!) They have a wide variety of items, in a vast price range. I was actually really shocked at how much stuff they have on their site. I wasn’t sure I was actually going to see everything! However, to help you guys navigate through it all, I’m going to highlight some items from their super helpful lists. And since my birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, why not look through their birthday gift guide? Now. They also have this broken down into birthday gifts for her and birthday gift for him — if splitting things up help like that helps you out at all.

It was really hard to pick my top favorites, but here are 9 items I really love!

UncommonGoods Birthday Gift Lists

  1. Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn Mug – I mean, who doesn’t want a giant rainbow unicorn for their coffee/tea/cocoa? It would just make mornings magical.
  2. Scratch Map – I’ve had my eye on this map for over a year now. Not even for myself, but for a couple of my younger sisters. It’s a super fun way to document your travels!
  3. Literary Candles – Let’s be honest, while all of these are fun, I most definitely want my home smelling of 221B Baker Street (which is a combination of Black currant tea and leather books)! Also cool and related: they have those amazing Literary Scarves! Something I also love.
  4. City Map Glasses – I am absolutely in love with the Chicago glass. I would likely even order extras just in case I accidentally broke this–heaven forbid!
  5. Foodie Dice – I. Love. These. I am actually 100% most definitely getting a set of these for myself for my cooking streams. It has a cooking method, a protein (animal and non), veggie/sides, spices, and carb/grains. I think it’d add a fun crazy element to my streams — the unpredictability of it all and having to come up with a recipe on the spot. I just love this idea.
  6. Flavors of America Salt Collection – There’s 11 different salts in this collection that span across the country. From Maine to California to even Hawaii. I’m a sucker for spices, especially salts. And I would love to explore these on various meals. (Or, ok, yes, I would my cross-country season fries.) This is just one of many spice collections from UncommonGoods I’d like to get.
  7. Scotch Infused Toothpick Gift Set – I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly. (For real, though, there were a lot of boozy gifts. Like a lot. I had a hard time narrowing it down so it wouldn’t look like I was some terrible alcoholic.)
  8. Homemade Gin Kit – Speaking of boozy… They actually have a lot of cool brew-it-yourself kits. Everything from different types of beers to kombucha to liquors. I’ve not had a huge amount of exposure to gin, but it’s something I’d like to try more of. In moderation, and stuff, of course.
  9. Novel Teas – Again another literary gift. There’s 25 tea bags, each with a quote from an author. It’s English Breakfast tea — aka caffeinated, so I can’t have it — but again, this is one that’s been on my eye as gifts for others.

Like I said, I had a super hard time narrowing things down. There’s just a huge wide variety of items on UncommonGoods. Yes, I’ll admit, something are out of my price range… but they do indeed have a lot of affordable items as well. And definitely a lot of items I’ll be (not-so) secretly wishing for this year!

Have you checked out UncommonGoods before? What’s your favorite item?

3 Great Games for the Book Club

This is a guest post by Reese Collins and contains affiliate links.

Being part of a book club is a great way to motivate yourself to finish books, and discussing the merits of each book you read is a pretty fun way to dissect a good book. Sometimes, however, you just want to shake things up and start doing things differently – forget the usual set up, and discuss a book or break the ice in a different way. Here are some book-themed games you may be able to enjoy with your book club!

via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

1. Extreme Makeover
One of the main points discussed by a book club is always the strength of the characterization of a novel. Many novels fall short of creating dynamic characters and end up with flat, one-dimensional characters, but when characterization is pulled off correctly, you get to see characters that can be thrown into any situation and still thrive. To test this out, you can play a game called Extreme Makeover to transpose characters from your favorite books into different settings. You can try to bring characters from the classics into the modern era, or put characters from modern books into the settings of classics.

2. Bad Book Bingo
If you’re tired of finding the same bad elements in books, a game of bingo may be just what you need. The game is similar to B Movie Bingo, which puts the worst elements of B movies into a bingo card so viewers can cross them out as they encounter them. Bingo operators have often seen book clubs as a potential market, with Gala Bingo regularly hosting online book discussions through their bingo games as well. Simply brainstorm with your book club to try and determine the worst clichés you’ve encountered in bad books, then create a bingo card and hand them out to the members of the book club as you assign the next book to read. As you read through the book, cross out all the elements you encounter, and when you meet up once again, compare bingo cards to see if anyone was able to get a BINGO!

3. Book Jeopardy
A game that tests general knowledge of books and literature, the only real rules to Book Jeopardy are: First, a person gives an answer, and the next person in the circle must ask a question that the answer provided by the first person would work for. Here are some examples from Good Reads:

Person 1 gives- Answer: Dumbledore, Merlin, Gandalf?
Then Person 2 gives- Question: What are wizards?
Person 1- A: Moby Dick
Person 2- Q: What is a book by Herman Melville? or Q:What is another name for The White Whale?
A: Silver
Q: What is a poison for werewolves? or Q: What is the name of The Lone Ranger’s horse?

Do you have any other games you like to play with your book club?

Opening the Vaults: how the 1893 World’s Fair paved the way to Chicago’s Field Museum, and so much more…

Chicago’s got a rich history. Ok, that’s practically an understatement. But, not many would contend that the 1893 World’s Fair — the World’s Columbian Exposition — was a pinnacle moment in Chicago’s cultural heritage.

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The Fair was a celebration not only of Columbus’ arrival in the new world, but also a celebration of the innovations of the time and of the vast world cultures. But before I jump too deep into this, let’s jump into a big part of the Fair that lives on today. The vast fairgrounds were beautiful, but sadly meant to be temporary. Only 2 of the more than 200 buildings remain, one of them being the Palace of Fine Arts. You might know it now as the Museum of Science & Industry. But before it became the MSI, it was the home to the Field Columbian Museum — which we know today as just the Field Museum.

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The Field Museum moved to it’s current location in 1921, and with it the vast collections which originated from the World’s Fair. The museum opened just months after the Fair closed as a means to preserve the various displays from the exposition and commemorate the Fair itself. In fact, many of the Fair’s directors and organizers became the museum’s first board members and curators. Over 50,000 items were donated or bought for the museum.

Field Museum 2013

Why is any of this relevant — other than the fact that, hi, this is pretty cool information… Well, that’s because the Field Museum has a new exhibit that is highlighting the World’s Fair and it’s crucial role in founding the museum. In the exhibit, Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair, you can find some artifacts that have rarely — if ever — been on display since the Fair.

Now, despite having lived in Chicago for over 6 years now, I haven’t been to the Field Museum since I was a little kid when my grandmother lived here. I don’t remember much, but I was very excited rediscover the museum as well as learn about its history. One of the cool things that they’re doing in correlation with the World’s Fair exhibit is an interactive app that allows you to go one step further in exploring the collections.

Field Museum App - Home page Field Museum App - Tours

The app has pre-loaded tours — though currently just the World’s Fair tour is operational — and as you continue through the various exhibits and halls in the museum you can scan QR codes which provide you then with additional information, videos, audio clips, and even appearances from the museum scientists. So as I walked through the Hall of Birds, I scanned the code for the Toucan and got to learn about the current research by the museum to learn about their DNA. Or scanning the Feather Mask in the Pacific Spirits exhibit to hear a conservator talk about the restoration of the piece. (If you scan the QR code by the totem poles in the main lobby area, you get this great 360° panoramic of their journey to the fair. As shown above in that first picture.)


Parakeet exhibit in the app Parakeet in exhibit

You can also create your own tours, which you can actually submit through the app for consideration by the museum for future tour offerings.

Along with the app, the museum also has interactive iPad displays in some of the exhibits which offer similar information (videos, maps, additional facts), as well as some games. In the World’s Fair exhibit, there are two interactive displays: one that allows you to “scan” Peruvian mummies; the other allows you to play Javanese percussion instruments. Both of these are adjacent to the actual items they’re exploring.

Peruvian mummies at the Chicago Field Museum interactive mummy exhibit at field museum

The World’s Fair exhibit goes beyond just showing off some of the museum’s original collections. It also discusses the progress made in research, but more importantly also in anthropology. The Fair showcased a lot of industrial innovations — things that brought us Juicy Fruit gum, Shredded Wheats, and PBR. But the Fair also was a show case of “exotic” worlds and cultures. Along with all the taxidermy of various strange and new wild animals — lions, giant seals, and echidnas — people were also on display at the Fair. Villages were recreated, and tribal people were there to show their “primitive” ways of life. A lot has changed since then, and now many native peoples are directly involved in shaping the way museums represent and showcase their culture and heritage.

I mean, let’s put things into perspective about 1893. Darwin had just come out with his theory on evolution of the species in 1859. Phosphorescent lightbulbs, a forerunner to florescent lights, were just being showcased at the Fair. Our understanding of dinosaurs was in its (fast growing) infancy. So many things were a complete mystery then. However, thanks to the Fair’s collections, scientists have been able to make huge steps in understanding these things. Even today, museum scientists are using artifacts and specimen from the Fair to further our knowledge.

I spent around 5 hours in the museum. (I definitely recommend making sure you wear extremely comfortable footwear.) I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what the Field Museum has to offer. If it weren’t for the 1893 World Columbian Fair, Chicago wouldn’t have this absolutely amazing institution.

Erini at the Field Musuem

The 1893 World’s Fair was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that people even mortgaged their homes for so they could afford to go. (True story.) But thanks to the Field Museum, we’re able to experience some of those same wonders from 120 years ago. And no need to mortgage your home either. Like the Fair, there’s a range in tickets, as well as discount days. (And hey fellow Chicago residents! You get a discount just for living here.) The Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair exhibit is open until September 7, 2014. However, as mentioned, a great number of the artifacts and specimen from the Fair can be found throughout the museum’s permanent exhibits. (Once I figured out how to find them, I sort of turned it into a game trying to find as many of them as I could.)

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I was selected for this opportunity by Clever Girls Collective, however all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Liberated Far-off Adventure: My Secret Language Name

Though I don’t hold much validity towards things like astrology — religious upbringing and all — but I’ve always found it some what entertaining as well as interesting. I mean, we’re constantly on this journey to try to figure out who we really are… and well, sometimes it’s just fun to see what the universe supposedly thinks we should be.

Again. It’s all just for fun.

According to the Secret Language Name system, I am a Liberated Far-off Adventure.  Now, this is all based off my birthday (June 13, 1984). So anyone else born on that same day — which the only person I could find (famous-ish) is Nery Castillo, a Mexican-Uruguayan footballer. This guy…

ANYWAY. Here’s what SLN says about me and my birthdate twin…

Ok, well, it actually breaks it down into the date, week, month, and season… But here’s the gist of it:

  • We’re prone to accidents. Um, accidents or random illnesses? Yes.
  • We’re seekers, absorbed in dreams of far off places. Seeker = Quaker, so yes. And definitely yes on the overactive imagination thing.
  • We believe that nothing is impossible and are attracted to taking risks. I can do anything!
  • “They are never happier when they are on the move: probing, testing, tasting and exploring the most interesting things life has to offer.” Yes. (Though, “probing”?? Only in the academic/intellectual way…)
  • We have a clouded self-image.
  • We have an “undeniable” tendency to please others.
  • We are independent spirits.

However… According to SLN, we don’t make good teachers. And you know what, I absolutely beg to differ. I just pulled out some of the things mostly that stuck out to me. They give you a lot to read through in your reports. And of course, yes, some of it rang true for me, and other parts I was sort of “ehh…” But you know, this is just for fun. So yes, I did find it fascinating. And so I checked out the reports for some of my family members…

My mom is “expressed dignity.”
My older brother is “original integrity.”
And my niece is “individualized fine appearance.”

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And if you want to find out what those mean… or, you know, get your own report… you’ll just have to go to SLN.ME and find out! Tell me who you are in the comments!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

UbiChamps: Just Dance Disney – it’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this post. Please click here to learn more about Ubisoft. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective. #UbiChamps

I am a huge Just Dance fan. And when I got the opportunity to get Just Dance Disney, I knew instantly that this game would be perfect for my niece!

G is 7 now, and she absolutely loves music and dancing. Also being 7 she’s still a big fan of Disney. Now, she won’t get this until Christmas—so this is sort of letting the cat out of the bag, but I’m very trusting of my friends and family that they won’t spill the beans!

It’s got some of the great classic Disney songs, like Be Our Guest (Beauty and the Beast), Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo (Cinderella), The Bare Necessities (The Jungle Book), and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins). It’s also got music from The Muppet Show, Lilo & Stitch, The Little Mermaid, Aristocats, and even “It’s A Small World” from the theme parks. Now, showing my age, it’s also got a good handful of new music from Disney Channel favorites that I personally wasn’t familiar with: Jessie, A.N.T., Wizards of Waverly Place, High School Musical, and even Hannah Montana. Best song name is from Phineas And Ferb: S.I.M.P. (Squirrels In My Pants). My niece, however, knows all of these.

There are also different game modes, which I’m sure would be a lot of fun in a multiplayer setting. Things like Balloon Pop and Freeze & Shake. Mostly they both involve shaking the wiimote at specific times, and in the case of Freeze & Shake, holding perfectly still when it says to.

Now, there is also a parents screen. This has some options as well as game info such as play tracker, progress, and medals so you can see how you’re kid is doing (and how long—and when—they’ve been playing). Disney Family has even included tips for healthy, active kids.

You can get Just Dance: Disney Party at amazon for Wii or Xbox.

This game seems perfect for kids ages 5-8. The songs are fun. The moves aren’t too complicated, but do progress appropriately. And the songs are more on the shorter side, around 2 minutes each. I know G is going to love it.

UbiChamps: Assassin’s Creed III for Wii U (and your chance to win a copy!)

Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this post. Please visit Amazon.com to get your own copy of Assassin’s Creed 3, today’s Gold Box Deal of the Day! I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective. All opinions are my own.

I have not played any of the titles in the Assassin’s Creed series. Primarily, that’s because most of these games weren’t released on the systems that I owned. But when I heard that ACIII was coming out on the Wii U, something really intrigued me.

I’ve played action and adventure games before, but I can’t remember the last time I played in an open world setting. (Which is basically a free roaming model where the player is able to go anywhere they want in the environment.) I also don’t normally go for these “slash & kill” games either. However, I’ve been wanting to expand my gaming horizons, so to say, and this game seemed like the perfect fit.

There’s good artwork, an interesting storyline (epic battle between assassins and the Knights Templar, with this one taking place during the American Revolution), and I’d been hearing some interesting things about the advancements in the game.

Not having played any of the previous titles does concern me, I’m curious as to whether or not this will effect how I do in this game (which is actually the 5th title in the series). And I am sort of nervous if this is going to feel like a “blood & guts”/”boys club” style game. But I’m not too concerned about that.

I’ve been told there are new features specific for the Wii U, but I’ve yet to read about them… so I’m sort of looking forward to that surprise. Especially how it might play into the multiplayer mode. I do know that the gamepad can serve to display the map as well as other tools, or you can switch to “remote play” which means you can play directly on the gamepad and someone else can watch tv.

Now, the really awesome thing? Assassin’s Creed 3 is the Gold Box deal of the day on Amazon! Which means you should probably head over to Amazon and snag yourself a copy of Assassin’s Creed III.

In case you’re like me, and want to see some gameplay before you decide on a game, check out my fellow gamer, TJ’s walkthroughs. I’d do my own, but I sort of lack all that fancy equipment. Plus TJ is more entertaining and often does accents. (Just skip to minute 9 of the first video for proof.)

OK. And the big important thing: Clevergirls/UbiChamps are giving away 5 copies of this game! TODAY! All you need to do is retweet this message below on twitter (of course):

Amazon Gold Box Deal of the Day: Assassin’s Creed 3! To buy: http://clvr.li/AC3Gold – RT to enter to win a copy! #AC3Gold

Ian does Chicago. (a British perspective on travel)

This post is underwritten by Deal Checker UK.

I’ve traveled overseas a little bit, but China and South Africa are quiet a bit different than the US. The language barrier alone is enough to cause a lot of travel difficulties. So I thought it’d be interesting to find out about traveling in a culture that’s might not feel too completely foreign, but is still pretty far away. Luckily, someone from that country just happens to be visiting right now, so I thought I’d ask him about the difference in traveling in the US and the UK, from the UK perspective…

Ian‘s here in Chicago from Liverpool, visiting friends–primarily some really great girl he’s dating… But he was kind enough to take a little time out to answer some questions for me.

So, what’s the biggest difference that you’ve noticed traveling here as opposed to in the UK?

It might sound a little silly but the answer is as a simple as organisation. It’s a little bit hard with size and scale of the UK to even one state here, so vast and different that comparing the Metra train line which you would use to go from downtown to the ‘burbs is like talking about me going from Liverpool to another city like Manchester (if I confused any American by not saying London then I’m sorry 😉 ).

Moving from Liverpool to Manchester, you have to get a ticket maybe a few days in advance or hope that you’re going to be lucky and manage to get a place to stand on a tiny ass local train by buying a ticket the day you want to leave. There is no buying a ticket on the train so if you are running late or have just enough time to make the train you’ve not chance after doing the great British past time of “getting in line”. You miss that train you’ll be lucky to get another one in 30/45 min .. and I do mean LUCKY, that’s even before I get into train line delays.

Here, Chicago I want to go from downtown to the ‘burbs simple, trains are frequent and during rush hour times more trains are put on. These trains a huge! At least 3 times the size of a train that would even run the length of England. You’ve got double decker trains, seeing one for the first time was amazing. I know you Americans like to do everything big but I mean come on, that’s just laughing at the rest of us. I’m running to catch the train, I’m going to miss this one but no, I make it on just in time. That’s fine, you have an amazing staff that walk up and down the train selling you tickets. Ok they can be sometimes a little bit more expensive but at least you have the option and the chance to get on the train. You are trusted. You manage to get on that train in England without a ticket… HELLOOOO fine.

All right, what about challenges? What kind of difficulties have you come across here in the states?

OK, it’s a new city and you have to understand being in a new city is a little hard at first but I’ve been coping. I’ve not got data on my phone over here but I do have Wifi. So taking photos of Google Maps which gives you the best and fastest route AND the times of trains or buses so you know when and where you have to be so you don’t miss anything (and the best thing it tells you the price). I can’t say I’ve noticed this in England but here it’s been a amazing help.

So the main problem has been once I can’t use the maps as a GPS anymore; I have gotten myself lost a few times downtown. Though even that hasn’t been a big deal, in fact it hasn’t been a deal at all. Chicagoan’s are some of the most amazing and friendly people I’ve met and each time I have needed directions someone has been there to help me. Though I tell you what I get massively confused when you give me directions in North, South, East and West … I know it’s simple but I can’t get my head around it, just say left after two blocks. Thanks.

So, even though you’re here for personal reasons, do you consider yourself a tourist?

I know I am a tourist. You’re new to a city, you have no real way of avoiding this fact. The old “you’re not from round here, where are you from?” “Liverpool in England” gets the same responses of “OH! The Beatles” or “Is that near London” every time.But I try to stay away from being a tourist. I love walking around the city, don’t get my wrong, the buildings are amazing to look at. The river and your food (oh god your food) are all fantastic things to see and do and it’s something you MUST do and see if in the city.

But I have always hated people thinking I don’t belong, it’s just me though. I’ve been to France and tried to blend in–if you’ve seen me I don’t look French and my use of the language is “I’m sorry my French is little sh*t” and “one beer and a bacon sandwich please.” But here it’s easy (long as I don’t talk) to pass myself off as not a tourist and I like that about America overall. Have to say, though, I took my girlfriend (who is an American and lives here in Chicago, why I came) on a river cruise for her birthday. It was all about the architecture. As the sun was setting and the sky was so amazingly clear it was a site to see–a site for any tourist and Chicagoan to see.

Ok, so say some of us here in the US want to go visit the UK… You’ve figured out how to find the cheapest holiday deals, what should we know before going over?

On the big train lines, from city to city … don’t expect staff to have a sense of humour. Really, you’d be lucky I think the amount is maybe 1 in 26 that will have a laugh and a joke, most of them are angry and bitter about having to work talking to strangers all day, mostly drunk ones going to or from football. If you’re lucky and get the one person, would you let me know what train that is just for future records, thanks.

A big thanks to Ian for helping me with this post! And for Deal Checker for sponsoring it.