Announcements Feed

Cat in the Flock Guest Author Launches Season 2 of 'Fly Brother' Docu-Series

You might remember Cat in the Flock guest author Ernest White II from this piece posted back in March, "Will We Ever Get to Travel Again?" Or maybe you've seen him on TV. His "Fly Brother" travel docu-series has aired on both PBS and Create TV in the U.S. He's also host of the travel and culture-focused Fly Brother Radio Show, and he's a voice actor for our other business, Brunette Games. Now "Fly Brother" is headed into season two, and it promises to be every bit as fun and funky as the first season, judging by the trailer above, which had us all chairdancing here at the office.

Ernest has also launched a production company, Presidio Pictures, which centers narratives from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, and senior/elder communities, while providing worldwide audiences with enjoyable, empowering entertainment.

Cat in the Flock is a proud supporter of the "Fly Brother with Ernest White II" crowdfunding campaign via the Filmmakers Collaborative. We hope you'll check out Ernest's show, and please support the campaign to keep a great series going strong.

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The Cat in the Flock Farm Named 'Monarch Waystation'

Monarch Waystation

We're excited to share that our garden has been designated as a Monarch Waystation by the non-profit Monarch Watch. Here's a description of the program:

Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to mountains in central Mexico, where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world's greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss at overwintering grounds in Mexico and throughout breeding areas in the United States and Canada.

Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall. Similarly, without nectar from flowers, these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico. The need for host plants for larvae and energy sources for adults applies to all monarch and butterfly populations around the world. (From the Monarch Watch website)

Besides the above sign, we also received a certificate of appreciation, but for us the real reward has been witnessing first-hand how the old adage is true: If you build it, they will come. Or rather, if you plant it, they will come. We've planted close to 150 native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses over the past three years, including a few varieties of milkweed, the monarch's preferred food. The results have been evident in the monarch (and other) pollinator species clearly supported by our garden.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.

Last summer, a monarch chrysalis even formed an attachment to one of our garden chairs. The chair is set under a pergola and upon wood chips instead of paving. We opted not to add "impervious surfaces," which are hardscape surfaces water can't penetrate. The increase of these types of surfaces in urban areas has contributed to runoff, stormwater, flooding, and other problems. It seems the monarchs treated the chair as if it simply blended into the natural environment, which is how we hoped the garden would be!

Here's the caterpillar going into its chrysalis stage.

Monarch caterpillar

And here's the chrysalis.

Monarch chrysalis
Chrysalis on garden chair.

Our Monarch Waystation designation comes fresh on the heels of achieving Platinum Status in the Bring Conservation Home program. Inveterate gamers (who need to level up and earn all achievements) and collectors (who need to collect aaaall the badges), of course we had to display the two signs on the fence near the entrance to our back garden. 

2 signs

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Winners in Our Poetry Book Giveaway, Free Poetry Ebook, Twinkl Poet Spotlight

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By Lisa Brunette

You might remember back in April we ran a giveaway for a signed, paperback copy of the poetry collection pictured above. I'm pleased to announce the winners:

Marsha Pipes

Jolie Eason

Congratulations to both for the win! They're apparently too shy for a photo op here like we did with the wildlife gardening book earlier this year, but I can share some tidbits about both winners. Jolie let me know she's already lost the poetry book to her teen daughter, who can't put it down (yay, teens reading poetry), and it turns out that Marsha and I...

...used to dance together! I didn't realize it when her email address was chosen at random - her address doesn't contain her name - but we danced together at a studio in Centralia, Washington, called Embody. Marsha further made my day by telling me she actually had already purchased a copy of Broom of Anger from the brick-and-mortar bookstore in that area, Book 'n Brush, which sells them. I sent her a signed copy anyway and told her to gift the other one to someone who might like it.

And that's the story of our giveaway.

But you have another chance at nabbing a FREE ebook copy of Broom of Anger, as I've added it to Smashwords' Summer Winter Sale. So you can still pick up a copy gratis if you head to the Smashwords page by July 31.

Lastly on the poetry front, I want to share this great spotlight Twinkl (a resource for teachers) published in celebration of poetry and prose, including yours truly. It's nice to be listed among the authors there, and they also posted my poem, "The Eyes Have It."

Happy poetry-reading, y'all!

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The Cat in the Flock Farm Goes Platinum!

Lisa and Anthony BCH Platinum
Here we are, proudly showing off our new 'platinum level' yard sign. Photo courtesy Dan Pearson, of the St. Louis Audubon Society.

By Lisa Brunette

Back in the fall of 2018, we signed up for the St. Louis Audubon Society's Bring Conservation Home (BCH) program. A couple of "habitat advisors" came out to survey our garden, and they provided us with a list of recommendations for making it more wildlife- and pollinator-friendly. It was a long list, too: Our one-quarter acre was comprised of mainly invasive plant species run amok, a huge expanse of turf grass, and a smattering of exotic ornamentals that did little to feed native insects and critters. Everyone agreed there was much work to be done.

The BCH program certifies participant gardens in three tiers - silver, gold, and platinum. Most people slowly make their way through the levels, many staying at silver or gold for some time. Less than 2 percent of gardens in the program have achieved platinum status. But ours got there this spring!

That's right; we leapfrogged right over silver and gold and landed on platinum with our very first certification.

Admittedly, due to COVID-19, the BCH advisors could not come out to survey the garden through all of 2020. So we had 2 1/2 years to get to platinum. But our friends at the Audubon Society say it's "amazing" that we've reached the highest level in less than 3 years, a rarity. From their final assessment report:

Your backyard has undergone an astonishing transformation to a wonderland that invites people in to explore its treasures. Congratulations on platinum certification.

BCH Platinum Sign

How did we do it? By following the Audubon Society's recommendations very closely, and supplementing them with a crash-course in permaculture techniques.

BCH's criteria begins with an account of the invasive species present in your garden. When we bought the property, much of the greenery onsite made the Audubon Society's list of "thug" plants:

  • Winter creeper 
  • Japanese honeysuckle, both vining and bush (don't call this one 'honey')
  • Sweet Autumn clematis (not very sweet, as it turns out)
  • Tree of heaven (better to think of it as tree of hell)

Here's a photo to show just how thick and well-established the honeysuckle was. Honeysuckle grew over nearly the entire garden perimeter; this is just one side.

Honeysuckle 2018

It was a painstaking process, but we removed all of the invasive plants. Here's the same spot as above, in mid-removal.

Honeysuckle-be-gone2018

We continue to control invasive species by pulling out any seedlings that try to gain a toehold. All 4 thugs listed above are on our regular weeding rotation. As we removed all of those, another invasive showed up to test us: star of Bethlehem. We didn't know what it was at first, but when we finally ID'd it, out it went as well.

The second set of criteria for achieving conservation status with BCH is to plant native species, and to do so along all four canopy layers in order to get to the platinum level. This dovetailed well with my independent study of permaculture, which also draws on the power of canopy layers to create healthy ecosystems.

Our native layers begin down at your feet, with a lovely ground cover mix of wild violets and geraniums. These rushed in once we suppressed the turf lawn through sheet-mulching. Here's how they looked this past April, now well-established, thriving, and providing a key food source for fritillary butterflies. So much better than grass!

Violets in spring 2021
Our native ground cover mix of violets and geraniums.

The next two layers are in the middle, and that means tall grasses and wildflowers, shrubs, and understory trees. We capitalized on the $1-per seedling offerings of our own Missouri Department of Conservation as well as native plant and seed sales, not to mention outright giveaways, sponsored by Wild Ones St. Louis, the Audubon Society, the World Bird Sanctuary, Missouri Botanical Garden, and Forest ReLeaf.

One of my favorites is the nitrogen-fixing shrub Amorpha fruticosa, or false indigo. I learned from a Gateway Greening lecture back in 2018 that if you add these to your orchard, the nitrogen-fixing ability boosts the health of your fruit trees. We have several distributed amongst our pear, apple, and plum trees. They also attract pollinators in droves, and the purple spikes are lovely.

Amorpha fruticosa 2021
Amorpha fruticosa, or false indigo, is a beneficial native plant for the home orchard.
Bee on false indigo
A brown-belted bumblebee on false indigo.

Of course, the wildflowers are everyone's favorite, whether pollinator or person. Our purple coneflowers, yarrow, milkweed, bee balm, evening primrose, and others are as crucial to our conservation garden as they are beautiful. This 'Balvinrose' yarrow was a rescue from a big-box gardening center. I wasn't sure it would make it, but set down in the right place, and it's thriving.

Balvinrose yarrow

Not only does it thrill with its delicate, lacy leaves and eye-popping fuchsia flowers, but the tiny bees like this metallic sweat bee love it for the pollen and nectar.

Small bee on yarrow

The fourth canopy is tall trees. Ours is comprised of a forest grove of sycamore, oak, tulip poplar, black gum, red cedar, and persimmon, which once mature will range in height from 35 to 125 feet. We planted these in our northeast corner, where they won't shade the sun-loving plants but will provide a natural screen from the neighboring apartment building. Lucky for us, that site is entirely free from power lines.

Tulip poplar in tulips
A tulip poplar, springing up amid tulips.

We also received high marks on the next three criteria in the BCH program:

  1. Wildlife stewardship - We offer bird baths and houses, a bat house, a rock snake habitat, and a brush pile that rabbits have made into their warren. We've planted flowers to specifically feed hummingbirds and pollinators, and we provide habitat for songbirds. Chaco, as you know, is indoor-only, and the birds are all the better for it.

  1. Stormwater management - We installed a French drain, double rain barrels, and a rain garden. Our whole enterprise is organic, with no pesticide use (outside of one application in 2018 to kill invasives) and no outside inputs for fertilizer (we use compost).
  2. Education and volunteerism - Besides my volunteer work as a citizen scientist in the Shutterbee program, we also support all of the organizations you see in the sidebar, and we think of all the gabbing we do about our garden on this blog as education, too.
Rain barrels
My brother Chris scored these rain barrels for us when his neighbor moved last spring and didn't want to take them with him.

Here's a 'before' picture out the back stoop in 2017, when we bought the place.

Back stoop 2018
Nothing but lawn... and more lawn... and maybe some ornamentals, planted in big, fat circles.

And here's a recent photo, from July 2021.

Back stoop 2021
Canopy layers, an orchard, an herb mound, and 77 percent of the property is "naturescaped."

We love our garden, which not only provides food for wildlife and pollinators but feeds us, too - both our bellies and our souls.

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The Dreamslippers Series Featured on the Foodie Lit Blog

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Lisa Brunette's award-winning mystery series, The Dreamslippers, is featured this month in the 'Foodie Lit' section of the Expand the Table blog. Author Susan Weintrob reads and reviews books, offering her review in tandem with a recipe on Foodie Lit. She chose to pair the first novel in the series, Cat in the Flock, with a recipe for eggs Benedict done three ways. It's a dish main character Cat McCormick enjoys on a date in one of the book's tragicomic scenes.

The Dreamslippers solve crimes using yoga and meditation, along with their special ability to 'slip' into your dreams. But that isn't easy. Cat McCormick comes of age both as a Dreamslipper and a private investigator in this debut. Following a mother and daughter on the run, she goes undercover in a fundamentalist church.

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Susan writes:

Ethics are an important component of Cat in the Flock. As a victim of trauma, Lisa knows firsthand about those who psychologically and physically damage victims. The victims presented in Cat in the Flock are drawn with depth and sympathy and an understanding of the fear and distrust victims have of others.

Author Lisa Brunette has created a fabulous granddaughter/grandmother PI series who both have an unusual gift; dreamslipping, which allows them to dream others’ dreams—and solve crimes with the knowledge gained!

You can read more at Foodie Lit, and I know you can't wait to try the 3-in-1 recipe for eggs Benedict done with corned beef, smoked salmon, and veggie-style.

Blogger Susan Weintrob is a regular contributor to online journals and newspapers as well as a book reviewer and contributor to indieBRAG, a global independent authors' organization. They sponsor the indieBRAG medallion, which is awarded to the top 20 percent of indie-published books each year. All three books in the Dreamslippers Series have won medallions. indieBRAG president Geri Clouston and Susan Weintrob have also coauthored a cookbook; Eat, Read, and Dream is available via Amazon and Book Baby.

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