This family has been designing fireworks shows for 166 years. They explain how it's done.

Phil Grucci is rewarding himself after a three-mile run. He left work at 2:30 a.m. and had to be back at 8. But the run couldn't wait.

Phil Grucci (center-left) accepts an award for pulling off the largest fireworks show in history. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.


"I got my three miles in, then I put a nice New York bagel onto the plate. I do that so I can have a bagel," Phil told Upworthy on his way out of the kitchen.

He could be forgiven for keeping an extreme schedule. It's three days before the Fourth of July, and it's Phil's job to coordinate and execute dozens of fireworks shows across the country.

"We have to make sure that a load coming up from our Virginia factory makes it through the city by six o’clock in the morning," he said.

Because of security concerns, no explosives can be moved through New York City during rush hour — 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

Making sure that Phil's trucks make it over the George Washington Bridge with enough time to reach their destination on schedule requires careful planning, and the margin for error is razor-thin.


The George Washington Bridge. Photo by Jim Harper/Wikimedia Commons.

"It’s critical to hit that window before that closure happens," he said.

Every Fourth of July, millions of Americans watch fireworks explode — from beach blankets, out windows, or on TV.

Photo by Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

We watch them explode. We ooh and aah. We eat our soft-serve ice cream.

It's amazing.

But most of us have no idea how it all works.

"We start with a blank piece of paper."

Phil is the CEO and creative director of Fireworks by Grucci, a company that has been designing and producing fireworks shows since 1850, when Phil's great-great-grandfather began launching them over the Adriatic Sea in Bari, Italy.

Since then, no two of the company's fireworks shows have been the same.

Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

"People don’t generally understand the amount of effort, and certainly creativity and planning, that goes into any firework performance," Phil said. "You don’t just have the fireworks sitting on the shelf labeled firework show A, B, C, D."

When work begins on a new show, Phil meets with a team of designers — a "think tank" — to start sketching out the show length, music required, types of fireworks needed, and dramatic arc of the show.

A Grucci fireworks show in New York City for Chinese New Year. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

Their ideas become a large spreadsheet, which then becomes actual, real-life explosives, specially manufactured at the Virginia factory, which are then transported by truck to the launch site and assembled by a team of dozens of pyrotechnicians — all in preparation for the big moment.

The process takes months. The show is often over in less than 20 minutes.

"It’s a tremendous honor for us to have that ability to be on stage — even though it’s not us personally — for our art form," he said. "Our imagination is on that stage for that 20-minute period of time."

For a firework event to succeed, it needs an emotional arc — a bold opening, followed by rising action, with a peak somewhere near the middle before "intermission," Phil says — like a Broadway show.

After the break, he explains, the tension should ebb and flow, until ratcheting up for a spectacular closing sequence, which should leave no doubt that the show is over.

"When we put on a good performance, a fantastic, well-thought-out, well-choreographed program, the show could be six-minutes long, and when the audience walks away fully entertained ... they think the show is 30 minutes," Phil said.

And the individual fireworks? They're "characters."

A fireworks show over Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

"If you envision a stage, and you envision a blank script, the characters that are going to perform on that stage, in the form of choreography and dance, if you will, are the fireworks," he explained.

With each new performance, there's new fireworks technology for the team to learn.

"Recently, we developed another type of shell with a microchip built inside of it," Phil said.

While a traditional shell can explode up to a half-second off from the desired time, Phil explained that the detonation of a microchipped shell is predictable down to the millisecond.

"You can control where you can place a dot in the sky, at what elevation."

Each of these miniature dots, or "pencil bursts," creates a single dot. Connect 1,000 or more, and you can create fascinating, abstract designs in the sky, like the 600-foot high American flag the Grucci team created for a show commemorating the 200th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The American-flag effect. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

The company is also investing in ways to make its product more environmentally sound in order to remain sustainable for the long term, including biodegradable casings, smoke reduction, and removing certain chemicals from the manufacturing process.

"That's just as important as the aesthetic side," he said.

"I’m out in the water, so the service is a little sketchy."

Lauren Grucci is on the phone from a barge in the middle of Boston's Charles River. She's a member of the sixth generation of Gruccis to enter the family business.

Like her father, Phil, she's starting as a pyrotechnician, working with a team of 25 people to stage a show for an audience of an estimated half-million people.

A Grucci crew poses. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

"It’s a little hot out, but we were here last year, so we’re kind of familiar with it," Lauren told Upworthy.

For the ground teams, Fourth of July fireworks shows are like a gauntlet.

The shows are longer. The days are hotter. Everyone is out working. And there's little time to catch your breath.

"We’re out here all day, so it’s a lot of passion and a lot of stamina."

Each member of the team does a little of everything. They lift boxes. They set up the launch site with cranes. They hook up ordinance to computers.

"There’s a camaraderie that comes with it because you know that it’s kind of like a big family," Lauren said.

For Lauren, that includes her real-life family as well.

"There are some times when I’m on a show, and the pyrotechnicians are my uncles and my cousins and my brother and my friends," she said.

Phil Grucci (center) with family members. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

Working closely with her relatives has given Lauren some of her most treasured on-the-job memories — like the time she climbed the outside of a hop storage tower at Dublin's Guinness brewery to photograph a show with her cousin.

"We were kind of always raised to just do it; say 'yes,' and figure it out after."

It's a value, she explained that was instilled by her great-grandmother Concetta, who helped manage the shows when she was a baby.

Concetta Grucci and her husband, Felix, (far left) at the company's first factory. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci, used with permission.

"She was at every event, talking to whoever, whenever on stage. She just had a really great spirit and had a really great attitude about everything," Lauren said.

She thinks about her every time she launches a "gold willow" firework.

A golden "weeping willow" firework. Photo by Epic Fireworks/Flickr.

"That was her favorite shell, and it reminds me a lot of her."

Both technical know-how — and passion for the work — are passed down through the generations in the Grucci family.

"As a 6-year-old, I’d go out on the barge with my dad, and it was the coolest thing in the world to be out there with the guys and setting up the fireworks show," Phil said.

Too young to sail out with the boat, he would hang out on shore with his grandfather, watching his dad set them off from the barge.

"People that would come up to him and congratulate him and give him great wishes and congratulations, and that’s how I got hooked," Phil said.

He explained that his grandfather encouraged him to embrace change — atypical for the patriarch of a long-running family business.

Phil's grandfather, Felix Grucci, Sr. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci, used with permission.

"He began with shooting fireworks and lighting them with a cigar or a very tightly wrapped burlap bag," Phil said.

Of course, things are ... a little different these days.

"Now we’re shooting and displaying our fireworks with laptop computers."

He said he hopes his children and nephews will continue to embrace new technology as they move into leadership roles.

Perhaps most importantly, Phil hopes that — no matter what technological changes come along in the next 10 to 20 years — fireworks audiences continue to enjoy the show, blissfully unaware of the elaborate, frenetic ballet happening behind the scenes.

So if you spend this Fourth of July on a beach blanket, eating your soft-serve, not worrying about how the fireworks exploding above your head got there, that's by design.

Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/Facebook, used with permission.

As long as you leave wanting just a little bit more, Phil considers his job done.

"For me, that’s what the thrill is about. That’s what keeps you here at 2:30 in the morning and back in here by 8 the next morning to keep the machine going."

Cats are notoriously weird. Everyone who's had cats knows that they each have their own unique quirks, idiosyncrasies, preferences, habits, and flat-out WTFness.

But even those of us who have experience with bizarre cat behavior are blown away by the antics this "cat dad" is able to get away with.

Kareem and Fifi are the cat parents of Chase, Skye, and Millie—literally the most chill kitties ever. They share their family life on TikTok as @dontstopmeowing, and their videos have been viewed millions of times. When you see them, you'll understand why.

Take Chase's spa days, for example. It may seem unreal at first, but watch what happens when Fifi tries to take away his cucumber slices.

When she puts them back on his eyes? WHAT?! What cat would let you put them on once, much less get mad when you take them off?

This cat. Chase is living his best life.

But apparently, it's not just Chase. Skye and Millie have also joined in "spaw day." How on earth does one couple end up with three hilariously malleable cats?

Oh, and if you think they must have been sedated or something, look at how wide awake they are during bath time. That's right, bath time. Most cats hate water, but apparently, these three couldn't care less. How?

They'll literally do anything. The Don't Stop Meowing channel is filled with videos like this. Cats wearing glasses. Cats wearing hats. Cats driving cars. It's unbelievable yet highly watchable entertainment.

If you're worried that Kareem gets all the love and Fifi constantly gets the shaft, that seems to be a bit for show. Look at Chase and Fifi's conversation about her leaving town for a business trip:

The whole channel is worth checking out. Ever seen a cat being carried in a baby carrier at the grocery store? A cat buckled into a car seat? Three cats sitting through storytime? It's all there. (Just a heads up: A few of the videos have explicit language, so parents might want to do a preview before watching with little ones.) You can follow the couple and their cats on all their social media channels, including Instagram and YouTube if TikTok isn't your thing, here.

If you weren't a cat person before, these videos might change your mind. Fair warning, however: Getting a cat because you want them to do things like this would be a mistake. Cats do what they want to do, and no one can predict what weird traits they will have. Even if you raise them from kittenhood, they're still unpredictable and weird.

And honestly, we wouldn't have them any other way.

True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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You know that feeling you get when you walk into a classroom and see someone else's stuff on your desk?

OK, sure, there are no assigned seats, but you've been sitting at the same desk since the first day and everyone knows it.

So why does the guy who sits next to you put his phone, his book, his charger, his lunch, and his laptop in the space that's rightfully yours? It's annoying!

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There have been many iconic dance routines throughout film history, but how many have the honor being called "the greatest" by Fred Astaire himself?

Fayard and Harold Nicholas, known collectively as the Nicholas Brothers, were arguably the best at what they did during their heyday. Their coordinated tap routines are legendary, not only because they were great dancers, but because of their incredible ability to jump into the air and land in the splits. Repeatedly. From impressive heights.

Their most famous routine comes from the movie "Stormy Weather." As Cab Calloway sings "Jumpin' Jive," the Nicholas Brothers make the entire set their dance floor, hopping and tapping from podium to podium amongst the musicians, dancing up and down stairs and across the top of a piano.

But what makes this scene extra impressive is that they performed it without rehearsing it first and it was filmed in one take—no fancy editing room tricks to bring it all together. This fact was confirmed in a conversation with the brothers in a Chicago Tribune article in 1997, when they were both in their 70s:

"Would you believe that was one of the easiest things we ever did?" Harold told the paper.

"Did you know that we never even rehearsed that number?" added Fayard.

"When it came time to do that part, (choreographer) Nick Castle said: 'Just do it. Don`t rehearse it, just do it.' And so we did it—in one little take. And then he said: 'That's it—we can't do it any better than that.'"

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