A Beacon of Hope in My Home Town



A lot of junk flows into my email inbox on a daily basis and most of it gets discarded. But when I received an email about The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. with the picture above, I was intrigued. Who are these people? Where are they from? And why are they holding entrenching tools? I figured I needed to find out answers to these questions. This is what I discovered.

The people pictured above all work at the Lighthouse’s manufacturing facility in the Rainier Valley. This facility is one of many locations the Lighthouse operates on the West Coast. The Lighthouse is one of the largest employers in our country of Americans who are blind and the number one employer of Americans who are Deaf-Blind. The employment opportunities that the Lighthouse provides for people who are blind are critical. Seven out of every ten working-age Americans who are blind are unemployed. Of adult Americans who are Deaf-Blind, eight out of ten are unemployed. And nine out of every ten American adults are unemployed who are blind with an additional disability. Not surprisingly, given these grim statistics, one-third of adults in this country who are blind live in poverty. The Lighthouse tirelessly works to provide Americans who are blind and Deaf-Blind with employment, including in my hometown of Seattle.

I called the Lighthouse and asked if I could tour their manufacturing facility. They said that would be fine, and on the appointed day I arrived bright and early to start my tour. As I exited my car a fellow with his trusty service labrador, who looked quite a bit like my labrador Bo Bo, walked past and entered the Lighthouse building. Andrea Travis, Events and Annual Fund Coordinator, greeted me at the front door and started me on the tour of the facility.

My first stop was at an absolutely amazing Okuma machine operated by Dan Porter, who has worked at the Lighthouse for about eight years now.



The Okuma machine is a computer numerically controlled milling machine that produces metal parts that are used by The Boeing Company and other aerospace manufacturers. Boeing is a long-time customer of The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. In 2013, Boeing was responsible for 18% of the Lighthouse’s revenue. Dan explained to me that the equipment he was operating had been fitted with screen-reading software known as JAWS that spoke all of the information that was displayed on the screen and required to run the machine.

The Lighthouse facility looked like a lot of other manufacturing facilities I have visited, but there were some important differences as well. On the floor of the facility, textured and raised walkways helped employees who are blind navigate their way around the facility. Lots of the machines for drilling, cutting and other operations are retro-fitted with systems that voice text or increase font size and screen contrast to provide information that the operators need to carry out their tasks. And there are a lot of tasks to be carried out! The Lighthouse facility is a very busy place.

After Andrea showed me around to a lot of the manufacturing centers, we finished up my tour by chatting with Andrew Stauffer who showed me the many systems he has on hand to handle the requests for orders he gets each day. Andrew had an amazing zest for what he was doing, as did everyone I met the day of my visit to the Lighthouse. For many people who are blind and Deaf-Blind, employment has been difficult for them to access for most of their lives. Now that they have been given the opportunity to work, they have seized the opportunity with gusto.

The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.’s main goal is to create jobs for Americans who are blind and Deaf-Blind. Last year they created 15 jobs in the Seattle area. They broke ground on a nearly 50,000 square foot expansion of their manufacturing facility at Inland Northwest Lighthouse in Spokane, WA. The Lighthouse needs more workers because they produce an amazing number of products, many of which are used by men and women in our military: canteens, hydration units, stuff sacks, utensils, canteen cups, and the entrenching tool being held by a Lighthouse worker in the first picture in this post.

The workers at Lighthouse for the Blind don’t want your sympathy, they want your business and support. For those who work in government, there are a host of SKILCRAFT office supplies also made by the Lighthouse. Workers at the Lighthouse make wallboards, easels, paper cutters, hanging file folders, spring back binders, In-Out boards and more. As I left their manufacturing facility in Seattle, I was humbled by the commitment of members of my extended American family who work at the Lighthouse to show up each day and put in an honest day’s work despite circumstances that I am not sure I would have the courage to deal with. I encourage you to buy SKILCRAFT products and find out more about the amazing Americans working at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. by taking a tour for yourself. If you are interested in a visit, please visit www.thelighthousefortheblindinc.org.  Or give Andrea Travis a call at (206) 436-2253.

Go Lighthouse!



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American made suits for you and me!


Made in the USA Suit Jacket - Club Monaco Suit Jackets - Club Monaco

In the past I have written about my two favorite firms making men’s suits in the U.S.: Hart Schaffner Marx and Joseph Abboud.  Well I recently found about another source of suits made by members of our extended American family.  Club Monaco is producing some very stylish suit jackets and pants.  I suggest you stop on by their website if you are in the need of some very snazzy threads.

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A tip of the cap to Ebbets Field Flannels!

San Francisco Seals 1940 Ballcap

I’ve written before about the amazing firm making vintage sports caps and apparel in Seattle, Ebbets Field Flannels.  Well, right now Jerry Cohen has a great deal going on his vintage baseball caps.  His “Ballcap Mystery Grab Bag” special gets you three vintage caps, albeit of Jerry’s choosing, for only $60!  Such a deal!

Ballcap Mystery Grab Bag

And while you are at it, now is a perfect time to stock up on Jerry’s Vintage Baseball Sweatshirts before Spring Training rolls around.  Normally $69, they are on sale for a measly $35 while they last.  How about a Seattle Indians sweatshirt?

Seattle Indians Red Ball Pennant Sweatshirt

Or maybe a New Orleans Pelicans Baseball Club sweatshirt?

New Orleans Pelicans Vintage Sweatshirt

It’s up to you which of the 17 Vintage Sweatshirts you want, but don’t wait too long to decide.

Now get shopping!

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And the winners are!

I recently learned about a great competition for outdoor products being made in America. The American Made Outdoor Gear Award is the brainchild of the paddling firm Kokatat, where 150 members of our extended American family have been making all things related to paddling and kayaking since 1971 under the leadership of Kokatat founder and president, Steve O’Meara.  I wrote about Kokatat in 2013.    Each year Kokatat awards the American Made Outdoor Gear Award to the company with the best “Made in America” story.  The American Made Outdoor Gear Award trophy is known as Sassy, which may stem from the fact that the trophy is a hand carved, 3-foot-tall redwood Sasquatch.

One of my favorite Washington manufacturing firms, Liberty Bottleworks, won the Sassy in 2013.

Kokatat organizes the Sassy competition in a logical manner.  There are four categories of companies:  companies with less than 11 employees, companies with 10-50 employees, companies with 50-100 employees and companies with 100+ employees.  As many as 300 American outdoor gear manufacturing companies seek to compete for the Sassy in each category!  Category winners each year get a smaller Sassy to show off in their office.  The companies in the running for awards this year were as follows.

1-10 employee category finalists

The American Mountain Company makes very cool coats, sweaters and gloves for those Americans that like to climb to the highest peaks.

Topo Designs makes all sorts of outdoor gear in Denver, CO.  I have my eye on their fleece jacket.  The jacket is sewn in Denver of Polartec fleece made in Lawrence, MA.

Fleece Jacket

Vedavoo makes packs and other gear in Lancaster, MA.  A lot of their products are designed for fishers, which I am not.  But their Tightlines Sling Pack looks like it would be great for carrying my iPad mini around town.

TIghtlines Sling Pack - Olive

Voormi makes wonderful Merlino wool garments in Pagosa Springs, CO.  By using their Wool.Unteathered process, Voormi’s wool garments are amazingly soft and machine washable!  I would love to get myself a Men’s Drift Jacket.

Members of our extended American family working at Zootility in Sommerville, MA make the amazing PocketMonkey tool that has ten different (screwdriver, phone stand, hex wrench…) features.  You need a Pocket Monkey and at ten bucks it’s a steal!

PocketMonkey Basic

10-50 employee category finalists

Hyperlite Mountain Gear employees produce great tents, packs, sacks and other gear in Biddeford, ME.  If my old Moss tent ever gives up the ghost, I might need to buy a Hyperlight Echo II Ultralight Shelter System.

Misty Mountain climbing gear is produced in a town in North Carolina with the lyrical name of Banner Elk.  I am a hiker, but if I ever do decide to get into climbing, the first thing I am buying is a Misty Mountain Cadillac climbing harness.

United by Blue makes all sorts of cool clothing and bags in Philly, but I was immediately drawn to their Gram Axe.  I could use it for cutting up fire wood harvested from the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Sylvan Sport of Brevard, NC makes GO trailers to haul anything you want and when you get to where you are going, the trailer transforms into the coolest camper you could imagine.  Definitely check out the videos on Sylvan Sports website.


Dahlgren Footwear, produced in West Linn, OR makes super socks for hikers like me and you.  Did you know that your foot produces one pint of perspiration a day?  Dahlgren Footwear socks are great at wicking that perspiration away.  And they are pretty stylish as well!


50-100 employee category finalists

Duluth Pack, surprisingly located in Duluth, MN, makes all sorts of cool packs and bags in their factory that has been in operation for over 125 years.  I would say my favorite is the Scout Pack; very old school.

Polar Bottle has been making their insulated water bottles in Boulder, CO since 1994. They make models from 12 oz to 24 oz, a custom 24 oz bottle and an 22 oz Ergo bottle.  Pretty snazzy bottles huh?

Green and Yellow Halftone Ergo Insulated Water Bottle

Sterling Rope makes their outstanding climbing ropes in Biddeford, ME.  As I said before, I am not a climber, but if you are, you should check out Sterling Rope.  And don’t leave the summit without a Sterling Rope F4 Decent Device!

F4 Descent Device picture

I featured Stormy Kromer on a post on my blog two years ago, so I was glad to see them as a finalist for the Sassy.   Ya just gotta love their hats!

The Original Stormy Kromer Cap

Timbuk2 sources a lot of their bags from overseas, but if you order one of their custom bags, it will be built in San Fran.  You could go with a USA bag, or a German Bag.

Or any other bag you could possible think of.  It’s up to you.

100+ employees finalists

Cascade Designs is the umbrella firm for a bunch of outdoor brands whose products are manufactured in my hometown of Seattle.  Therm-a-Rest makes the world’s best sleeping pads for backpacking.  I have a NeoAir Trekker like the one pictured below.

Platypus makes great hydration products; my favorite Platypus product is their GravityWorks filtration system which lets gravity, as opposed to you, do the work of filtering your water.


Hummingbird brand bags are super durable.  If you need rugged bags that keep your stuff dry, look no further than the Hummingbird Carousel Zip.

SealLine is the firm to know if you are into kayaking or other water sports.  But even for Landlubbers like me, SealLine has lots of products I could use like their Seal Pak Waterproof hip pack.

Given the appalling state of my knees, hiking poles or a staff are required equipment for my hiking trips these days.  Tracks hiking staffs are very nice; I think a Sherlock staff is in my future.

Jackson Kayak, makes all sorts of kayaks in Sparta, TN: whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, kid’s kayaks, you name it.  I think the only Jackson Kayak model for a fella like me is the Kraken.

Do you agree?

The Lion’s share of L.L.Bean’s products are made overseas, but they still make a lot of boots in Maine, along with some bedding.  I would parade around in a pair of Bean Boots.  How about you?

Lifetime Products of Clearfield, UT are known for their awesome basketball hoops,


but they make so much other great stuff: tables, chairs, outdoor storage sheds, outdoor furniture, playground equipment and kayaks.  Some Lifetime Products tables would come in handy today for your Superbowl party.


You could load it up with all sorts of goodies.

We all want to be satiated when we see this again this evening.


For almost anything you need a light to do, Princeton Tec of Trenton, NJ has got you covered.  They make amazing lights for under the ocean,

for hiking or climbing,


for biking,


for working,


and even for fighting.

The winners of the four Sassy categories this year were:

1-10 employee category: Voormi

10-50 employee category: Dahlgren Footwear

50-100 employee category: Polar Bottle

100+ employee category: Hometown favorites Cascade Designs

And the Grand Prize winner is………..

Sterling Rope

Cheers to all those American firms making great outdoor products that entered the 2015 American Made Outdoor Gear Award competition, congratulations to the category finalists, the category champs and the overall champ Sterling Rope.

I will leave you with a quote from the President of Polar Bottle, Judy Amabile.  “For us, keeping our manufacturing in the United States has been a no-brainer. From a business standpoint, it reduces shipping costs, lets us manage our inventory and quickly adjust production to consumer demand, and helps us ensure the quality of our products. Most importantly, it has allowed us to create more jobs in the United States and ensure the people who produce our bottles have a safe working environment and are paid a living wage.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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I admit it, I’m a scaredy cat!

For the last few years, I thought I should open a shop in Seattle that would sell nothing but consumer goods made in America.  I would sell tools, boots, clothing, cookware, dog toys, you name it, all made by members of our extended American family.  But I didn’t do it for a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with.  Mostly I was afraid I wasn’t up to the task of running a store.  Luckily, there are a few people in Seattle with more nerve than me.  Three of them recently opened The General Store Seattle and they are bound and determined to succeed selling goods only produced in the U.S. and more particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

The General Store Seattle is owned by Claire Jones, her father Mark Jones, and Claire’s friend from college Morgan Dolan.  Mark Jones was a City Development Officer who focused on small business and inner-city neighborhood development.  They chose to open their store in the hipster neighborhood of West Seattle. If you want to buy what they have on offer, you can do it both in person and online.  You can get your paws on your online purchases by picking em up at the store in West Seattle or getting them in the mail.

Since Claire lives in Seattle year round, she is the day-to-day steward of the Store.  Claire has always been interested in buying local.  Once she moved to Seattle, she kept up that practice.  She soon realized that it was relatively easy and relatively inexpensive to buy primarily local items for everything in her life, it only took the effort and time to commit. Realizing that not everyone had the time or inclination to follow in her footsteps, she and her partners decided that they would make it simple for us.  Thus, The General Store Seattle was born.

The General Store Seattle Triumvirate want their store to be more than a store.  To quote Claire, “we want to become a go-to resource – a one-stop shop if you will – for all things local. Part of this plan is creating a sort of collective or club, something akin to the Seattle Good Business Network’s “Think Local” program (a three-year campaign started in 2011 that educated the public about the personal, economic and community benefits of thinking local first). Our program can envelop existing collectives such as Food Hubs and CSAs in the region as well as co-ops, local craft shows, etc. We could then develop and organize our own trade shows or conventions to highlight local producers, businesses, and companies.”  Sounds exciting to me.

Some of the goods on offer at Claire’s general store that grabbed my attention were the Out of the Woods in Oregon cutting board in the shape of the Evergreen State,

West Seattle Tea Towels,

and Vegan Herbal Bliss Bath Salt Blend.

God knows I never use bath salts that aren’t vegan!

The General Store Seattle has a nice supplier page that lists whose goods they are selling and links to the supplier’s website.

So if you live in Seattle, I urge you to stop by the store for a visit and purchase some great products made by members of our extended American family living in these parts.  And even if you don’t live in Seattle, you can buy products made by residents of Cascadia by shopping the General Store Seattle’s website.

Now get shopping!


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No heavy lifting required!

I love hunting for products made by members of our extended American family.  Clothing, shoes, appliances, furniture, you name it.  Over the last three years I have written hundreds of posts on this blog about products I have found.  But hunting for American products may not hold the same allure for you.  Sure, you want to support your American brothers and sisters by purchasing the products they make, but you have better things to do than scouring the internet for American products.  So I want to make it easy for you.  If you want to buy American furniture, but you don’t want to phone every furniture store in town, just go to Room&Board

Room&Board was founded in 1980 and more than 90% of what they sell is made by members of our extended American family. Room&Board works with over 50 American companies located in a slew of states.  Companies like Shell Lake Woodcrafters who have been building furniture in the north woods of Wisconsin since 1991.  This is the Shell Lake Woodcrafters Linear Cabinet with steel base sold by Room&Board.

I actually met Gat Caperton at the Grand Opening of the Room&Board store in Seattle. Gat and local craftsmen in the Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia hand build all sorts of beautiful furniture.  His firm makes some simply beautiful pieces, such as the Hale Bed, that you can buy at Room&Board.

A firm featured at Room&Board that I can personally recommend is Wood Castle, which hails from Albany, Oregon.  We bought two Wood Castle chest of drawers and a side table.

I think that Wood Castle’s Calvin Armoire, available on the Room&Board website, is a work of art.

So if you want to buy furniture made for Americans by Americans, just go to Room&Board.  And now is a great time to shop Room&Board since they have their 2014 Clearance going on!  You can order your American furniture online at Room&Board, set up a time to have it delivered, then use the time you saved to pay attention to other classic American concerns.

Can you say Super Bowl repeat?

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American pens for the New Year

Writing implements have changed greatly over the centuries.  The first “pens” were made from reed straw or bamboo.  The Ancient Egyptians were writing with ink on papyrus as long ago as the 4th century BC.  It is thought that the New Testament of the Bible was written with reed pens.

Reed pens were replaced by Quill pens in about the 7th Century and were the pen of choice for the next thousand years.  Starting with a Goose wing feather, a Quill pen was created by carving the barrel or shaft of the feather.  Only the sharpest knife, a “penknife”, could do a competent job of carving wing feathers. Our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence with Quill pens.  Their signatures on that document surely proves the validity of the quote attributed to Lord Byron:  “One drop of ink makes thousands, perhaps millions think.”

Most of us don’t have a ready supply of reeds or Goose wing feathers handy, so we rely on modern-day ball point pens or their equivalent to write our shopping lists, reminder notes and Holiday cards.  Finding pens made by members of our extended American family can be a bit tricky, but I recently came across two firms still making pens in America.


Garland Writing Instruments, formerly Lew Manufacturing Co., was founded in 1927 by Louis Lanoie. At first the company manufactured pen parts that were used by many of the major pen and pencil manufacturers throughout the United States and Europe. In the 60’s, Lew Manufacturing started making complete pens and pencils and changed its name to Garland Industries. Garland products are out of this world.  No really!  Garland pens were essential tools that have flown on both the Apollo moon missions and many of the Space Shuttle missions.

Garland Writing Instruments still designs and manufactures its pens at its 45,000 square foot historic mill located on the Pawtuxet River in Coventry RI. All of their USA-made products are designed and manufactured in their 45,000 square-ft facility. Garland manufactures six pen collections in the U.S.; Colour, Revere, Monogram, Tuscany, Signature and Founder’s.  All of the pens in these collections allow you to design your own unique look and message through Garland’s customization processes.  Garland pens can be recognized by their unique flared top design; the design is so unique that it is a registered trademark of Garland Writing Instruments!  I have to say my favorite Garland collections are Revere,


and Signature.



National Pen

Another firm making pens on our shores is National Pen.  In 1966, Tom Liguori and Paul Stabile founded National Pen as a producer of personalized writing instruments.  In 1976, the operation was moved to San Diego, CA.  In 1982, National Pen purchased its largest competitor, U.S. Pencil and Stationery Company, located in Shelbyville, TN. If you are looking for promotional pens made by members of our extended American family, National Pen can deliver.  They make promotional pens that celebrate last year’s Superbowl champs.

And this year’s soon to be Superbowl champs.

Oh sorry, that’s the same team.

National Pen’s best sellers are the Contour pen,

Contour Pen

the Colorama pen,

Colorama Pen

and the Superball pen.


No matter what National Pen or Garland pen you buy, you will be getting a twofer.  You will get a great pen and your order will ensure that members of our extended American family working at National Pen or Garland will keep taking home a paycheck.

Now get shopping!

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