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Oct 09, 2018

Visit Roadside America: 5 Unique Stops throughout the Southwestern US

It's a big country, the USA. And the myth of the open road remains strong, even if it will be self-driving cars that move us there. A little bit of research about roadside attractions in America will yield a host of unique and bizarre results. So here are a couple unique sites located off the beaten path that are worth visiting in the American Southwest.   

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Sep 12, 2018

Meet Angelo Pellegrini, the Original Maker Almost No One Knows About, but Totally Should.

You can barely imagine what the world was like in the proto-suburbs of the Pacific Northwest for a child who had traveled there––entirely on his own, with his mother at home and his father awaiting him––from a small Tuscan village. This was before "a small Tuscan village" was even a thing on the radar of America at large. And it was before America had its culturally and politically dominating century. It was before anyone knew what the Pacific Northwest would become, foodwise.

And yet, that is where Angelo Pellegrini settled. His childhood of 12 or so years in Tuscany gave him an uncanny experience to bring to pre-depression America, including an adult life that coincided with the Cold War in which his heritage could not have been less relevant. He was born at just the right time to enjoy America in a way that few others had. But he was also born just a bit too early to have been the celebrity he would have been if he had emerged in the age of Alice Waters and the Food Network.    

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Aug 29, 2018

Truth, Justice, and the American Cheese

Image: Andrey Arkusha/Shutterstock

I remember when the cheese lovers started telling me what was "real" cheese and what was "fake." I remember taking them seriously because they were talking about cheese cultures (ha. pun!) I knew to be important: Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish, etc. "Cheese is alive!" these experts insisted. And anything that was not the product of natural fermentation and cave-aging was unacceptable. Eating the rind was important. The worship of bacteria in the process was expected. The presence of insect larvae was not necessarily a negative. Out of a world that had room for Cheeze Whiz, handi-snacks, and this bit by Mitch Hedberg, the celebration of authentic, non-adulterated cheeses was completely legitimate. 

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Aug 01, 2018

For the Love of Dogs

Friends are important. And long-standing friends are so rare and so precious that they can hardly be overvalued. But if humanity, as a species, were to name one friend that had been there since the very beginning, it would be certainly be...well, dogs. They were our evolutionary companions from early on. They are a part of our mythologies, our legends, and our tall tales

But while we can imagine that people have always loved their dogs, there's actual evidence to back it up as well. As Indiana Jones would tell you, archeology is the path to many abilities some would consider to be unnatural. (Wait, I think I messed up that quote

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May 25, 2018

Old School Burns: Ancient People Had Some Amazing Insults and Jokes

Here's something that is completely useless for your everyday life. It will not help you dress well, or create a perfect mothers day gift, or fix your shoelaces, or build a dynamically-planted garden, or anything of the sort. But if you are at a dinner party or out with friends or in a mixed group and you wanna bring out something funny, erudite and pretty out of the ordinary, nothing works like an unexpected joke from an ancient figure whose quotes usually end up chiseled into marble.

Fair warning: some bawdiness follows. Despite the editors of ancient manuscripts, real people in the ancient world weren't above off color jokes.

 

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Mar 02, 2018

The Surprisingly Fascinating History of the Bowtie

What clothing item has something in common with freelance warriors, the Rat Pack, and a famous scientist from a beloved 1990's kid's show? Yep, you're staring at it: the bow tie.

Let's take a few minutes to dive into the fascinating world of this one-of-a-kind accessory.

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Feb 28, 2018

Looking for a Bit of Process Inspiration? Watch These Historic Pathé Craftsman Videos

If you’re committed to greatness in your craft, there’s no better way to improve than to mimic the masters. But if you need general inspiration to help you keep going in your pursuit of excellence, it’s helpful to watch any kind of expert at work.

In 2014, the newsreel archive British Pathé released 85,000 high resolution historic films to YouTube. Among these are a fantastic collection of newsreel footage from postwar factories all around Great Britain. It’s mesmerizing and, if you’re a maker, a bit humbling to watch these skilled men and women exercise their trade with such aplomb. (Not to mention, the peppy English narrators, using that classic clipped 1950’s news reporting style, are really funny.)

Thanks to the wizardry that is the Internet, there are hundreds of them available at your fingertips today.

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Jan 18, 2018

That Time When I Found My Grandfather's Letters from WWII

“… my landlady, by the way, doesn’t like the Germans because when some playful Nazi pilots lived in her house some months ago, they threw a hand grenade into her chicken coop, and they had to eat the winter’s supply of chickens all at once.”

This is one of my favorite lines from our family's treasure: my grandfather’s back-and-forth correspondence letters during World War II. Frank T. Waters was an editor of the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. At several instances during the war, he sent correspondence back home to his mother, family, and friends sharing daily life overseas and fighting the biggest war of the 20th century.

Going through these letters is a truly amazing glimpse of a soldier's life during war-time Europe in the 40s. I counted 207 letters, official correspondence, orders, postcards, etc, so far. Reading these, I discover my grandfather was smart, curious, and pretty funny. Here are some of my favorite bits:

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Jun 09, 2017

How I Crafted a Custom Civil War Sword Display Stand for a 150-Year-Old Family Heirloom

A few weeks ago I got a text from a buddy. He had just moved and was setting up the new house. He told me "I think this time around I want to make sure my sword has a place."  By his sword, he meant his 1865 Union Artillery Saber that had been with him since the 1st grade. (Talk about high expectations when the parents give you a sword at age nine). But the issue was that he didn't have a good way to display it, and the  cheaply made, $30 online holders just didn't seem fitting. That's why he called me up, and asked if I could help. I gladly accepted the challenge, and came up with this beast. Here's how I did it.   

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May 18, 2017

Eat This: 5 Authentic Cowboy Recipes to Make in a Cast Iron Skillet

Cowboy StewThere is nothing like a long day of hiking or horseback riding to get you in the mood for some good, hearty eating. And so the American West's roving cattlemen and cross-country venturers created a long tradition of fantastic, simple meals meant to fill you up on the trail. So bust out that cast iron skillet and prepare yourself for some authentic cowboy eating.   

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Mar 20, 2017

Beer Talk: What is a Cream Ale, and Is There Actually Cream in It?

Two fun facts: 1) unlike most styles, the cream ale is original to North American, born in the US in the mid 1800s; 2) the cream is, of course, an ale, but it is inspired by German lagers and "drinks" like a lager — it's light, crisp, and goes down easy. Okay, so that's what I do know; here's what I don't: what is a cream ale? And is there actually cream in it?    

Spoiler alert: no, there isn't. Cream ales are simply light American ales that have an additional fermentable sugar sources like corn or rice to lighten the body. This makes the beer ferment faster, and therefore more economically; their overall lightness makes them easier

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Jan 12, 2017

This Nearly 2,000-Year-Old Piece of Advice May Help You Wake Up & Get Out of Bed in the Morning

If you're a morning person — congratulations. Seriously, we're legitimately happy for you. The ability to sleep well, feel rested, and then be ready to get going nice and early is a real gift, and you're lucky to be wired that way.

For the rest of us, mornings can be rough. Especially in the wintertime, when it's dark, and cold, and tens of thousands of years of natural selection are encouraging you to stay hibernating so you can protect your genes from freezing off. 

But, of course,

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Dec 14, 2016

Is this the Craziest Find at a Street Market... Ever?

I am such a sucker for antique stores, obscure markets, and garage sales. I love pouring old and odd things -- the weirder, the better. I've bought pocket-sized trinkets all over America, many of which neither I nor the store clerk was able to figure out what they were. But this one really beats them all...   

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Nov 08, 2016

How "Man Caves" Took Over America's Basements

How do you feel about the term, "man cave?" I have mixed feelings on it myself. One the one hand - like "girlfriend" or "foodie" - it's easy to use it colloquially since everybody has a general sense of what you mean when you say it. On the other, I haven't really worked out for myself all the connotations that come with its use, since it sometimes seems to me like it implies that one can't be a man outside of his man cave (or at least that its a necessary domicile of rejuvenation), Or that the rest of the home is then outside of his purview. Or, all spaces for men must be themselves a cave, involving sports memorabilia and beer signs. In that way, I mostly see the term "man cave" as potentially condescending. Now obviously that's a drastic oversimplification, but I've been thinking about the word recently a fair amount.

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Nov 02, 2016

You Want to Explore the National Archives' Huge Collection of Vintage GIFs

Oh, just imagine the possibilities...
The National Archives and Records Administration recently opened up a new wing of their department by partnering with Giphy. That's right, our government branch tasked with preserving the media that documents the American experience is now transferring its seminal work into GIFs...   

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Sep 26, 2016

The Surprisingly Fascinating History of the Tailgate

These days, the word "tailgate" conjures up images of cooler and pavement, jerseys and face paint, grills and foldable chairs. But, despite its current association with parking lots and sporting events, it's actually got quite a rich history. Like, older than you think. Like... 1861?   

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Sep 20, 2016

The Everyman’s Guide to Classic Film Noir

The term film noir (or “dark film”) was first coined in 1946 (though not used commonly for many years) by French film critic Nino Frank to describe the emerging genre of gritty films that proliferated in the American studio system during the 1940’s-50’s featuring hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, and doomed anti-heroes.   

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Aug 23, 2016

An Original History of the Baseball Bat

From Roy Hobbs' “Wonderboy” in The Natural to Tom Cruise’ thinking bat in A Few Good Men, baseball bats hold a special place in the American masculine consciousness. A versatile weapon on the field, the baseball bat embodies an element of the American dream wherever it goes. The lone batter, a man himself against an entire team, hoping to hit it big.   

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Aug 22, 2016

How to Eat, Exercise, and Live Like Walt Whitman

Guys guys guys-- did you know Walt Whitman published a fifty-thousand word serialized guide to "Manly Health & Training" that has recently been compiled by a PhD candidate? It started in 1858 in the New York Atlas but was pushed deeper and deeper into the newspaper with each issue due to lack of interest. However, it's great for both its practicality and its utter impracticality,

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Aug 11, 2016

Meet One of the Few Jukebox Repairmen

Meet Perry Rosen, a jukebox repairman keeping mechanical music alive in a mostly dead industry. But as we all know, there's a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead. And that makes it all the more fascinating...   

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