Art Feed

The 'COVID Cabana' Might Just Save Us All

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We outfitted our 'COVID Cabana' space with old lawn furniture, a tiki bar from a friend, and an area rug. All photos by Sue Frause.

By Sue Frause

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the United States in January of 2020, my husband and I were mildly concerned. But even more so when the first confirmed case in the U.S. was diagnosed in our home state of Washington. That patient was being treated at Providence Medical Center in Everett, less than an hour away from our home on Whidbey Island. It was a little too close for comfort. In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee initiated a Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in our state to fight the virus. And since then we’ve been adhering to the basic guidelines of wearing masks, washing hands, and staying six feet apart. Plus a whole lot more. 

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Kids to the rescue again, donating a BAR sign they didn't have room for. Farmer Bob outfitted it with lights.

Summer was easy, as we spent a lot of time outdoors, occasionally gathering with family and friends at our home or theirs. But when the cool, wet weather of autumn arrived, all that changed. It was the season to hunker on down indoors. Which for us, meant not having friends or family over for in-house gatherings, and not going to theirs. It was going to be a long winter.  

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Our son and his wife gave us their never-been-used gas fire pit to cozy up the space. S'mores, anyone?

 Here on Whidbey Island and beyond, along with the proliferation of alfresco dining options, people were creating outdoor spaces where gatherings would be much safer than in their homes. That’s when I realized we had the perfect space to put together a venue where we could invite folks over to share a glass of wine or two. Our Covid Cabana was born! 

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Farmer Bob's barn was built in 2005 with the help of friends and relatives. Our Covid Cabana may be seen in the forefront before it was transformed.

Its location was ideal - a 7 x 14 ft. covered area off the side of our barn. When we built the barn in 2005, the original plan was for the space to house our chickens. But my husband, aka Farmer Bob, soon realized it wouldn’t be such a great spot for a flock of egg-laying hens. So over the years, it has morphed from a carport to a storage area for picnic tables, lawn furniture, and our tiki bar. A loft above it housed even more outdoor goods. 

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Farmer Bob created this temperature-controlled wine room located inside the barn, just steps away from our Covid Cabana.

 But in November, all that changed when we transformed the catch-all space into a cozy Covid Cabana. The best part of the process was being able to use everything we had - we spent zero dollars in creating a comfortable space for up to six people. Here’s what we recycled:

  • Two teak benches that seat four, with a matching coffee table
  • Two outdoor chairs
  • Area rug
  • Tiki bar with two stools 
  • Bar sign
  • Strings of lights on a dimmer
  • Gas fire pit 
  • Grapevine wreath

When summer arrives in June of this year, Farmer Bob plans to build and install six barn doors on the two open sides -- making it an all-season, indoor/outdoor space. And I’m hopeful that sooner than later, we can change its name from Covid Cabana to … Cozy Cabana!

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Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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'Cat in the Flock' Featured on Shoutout Miami!

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By Lisa Brunette

Though I call the Midwest my home and the Pacific Northwest my second home, my writing chops were forged during the two years I attended graduate school for an MFA in creative writing at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida. That tropical locale made its mark on me in more ways than one. When I close my eyes and travel back to the Miami of my memories twenty years ago, I'm awash in sensations: the flash of shocking royal blue as a flock of wild macaws flies overhead; the salty scent of the sea breezes, carrying hints of spicy aromas from Caribbean flora; the staccato rhythms of samba, salsa, and Cuban rhumba blasting from open cabana bars and car windows.

My second novel, Framed and Burning, is set in Miami, and if pushed to say so, I think it's my best of the series. It captures the light and dark sides of Miami's culture, the authentic and the plastic, the natural and unnatural.

So it's a terrific honor to have Shoutout Miami publish a full feature on Cat in the Flock - as well as my day job biz, Brunette Games: "Meet Lisa Brunette: Novelist, Blogger, and Game Storyteller." The feature is part of a series on "Thinking through the first steps of starting a business." Those featured in the series with me include an art dealer, a fitness coach, an interior designer, and more.

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Miami keeps wanting to claim me.

Three years ago, I was the subject of another Miami-themed feature story, this time in VoyageMIA, "Conversations with the Inspiring Lisa Brunette." It's been instructive to compare where I was then to where I am now. Brunette Games has grown from a solo act to a team of 10 (five writers, five voice actors), and Cat in the Flock has fully morphed into a lifestyle blog with seven authors writing at a rate of one article per week.

One thing that hasn't changed: I can still manage the inversion pose that tops the VoyageMIA piece (also below), only these days I give Anthony's back a break and use my FeetUp yoga prop instead.

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From back in our acroyoga days.

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Using the Japanese Art of Kintsugi to Keep Instead of Discard

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By Anthony Valterra

America - land of the free, home of the brave. America's myths tend to center around the idea of resistance. We see ourselves as the lone holdouts. The ones who will stand against tyranny and injustice. We are the brave soldiers of the Revolutionary War standing up to the tyrant King George the III. We stood up to the Nazis and then the USSR. We see ourselves as tough and unmoving. And that is still part of our culture.

This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world -- "No, YOU move.”

~Captain America~

Around the 1920's Western Civilization started discovering Eastern philosophy. A new way of dealing with events came into being. The concept was that the oak tree breaks in the storm, but the reed bends and springs back. This idea began to become more and more mainstream with the introduction of Confucianism and Taoism. But it really gained ground with the introduction of Eastern-style martial arts such as Tai-Chi, Wing Chun, and Bruce Lee's Jeet Kun Do.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

~Bruce Lee~

Maybe we have reached the point in our culture where it is time to start looking at a new metaphor. The oak, no matter how strong, can break. And the reed can only bend so far, or it can be cut. In the end we may need to realize that anyone, and anything, can be broken. And once broken, some things can be repaired. But even the best repair will leave evidence of the break. Then what do we do? Right now our culture tends to see the broken and repaired as either something to be ignored, pitied, or tolerated. But what if we saw this process as a natural thing? Everything and everyone will be broken at some point. Nothing is immortal. Nothing is perfect. Perhaps there is a beauty in this process. 

I first encountered the Japanese art of Kintsugi while reading Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan by Azby Brown. Purely by coincidence, Lisa and I  vacationed at the Pacific Coast, and I got to see an example of the art form. It was amazing. I was entranced by what looked like a bolt of gold lightning flashing across a beautiful ceramic bowl. I also loved the idea that what was broken can be mended and be all the more beautiful for enduring that process. 

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. 

~Ernest Hemingway~

Personally, I tend to see the path that our world is on as "unsustainable." Kintsugi touched me on a number of levels all at once. I decide I wanted to share this idea with Lisa. And what better way than giving her an example of the art. Now, I am no artist. But I can "Google" with the best of them, and I found an artist who could do the work. I got Lisa this bowl.

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It is gorgeous. And being a wise and sensitive soul who has had more than her share of brokenness, she loved it. So, much so that this year, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said she wanted the broken pestle of a marble mortar and pestle she owned repaired using the Kintsugi method.

You see... you get something started, and then it's on you to keep it going. But now I was in a pickle. When I bought the bowl above, the artist supplied both the bowl and the repair. This was a particular and personal object. And try as I might, I could not find an artist who would do a commission for anything less than a small fortune.

Remember how I said, "I'm no artist?" Well, needs must. I bought a clear epoxy that was designed for use with stone. Then I bought "gold" metal fine powder. Not real gold. I would have bought real gold, but I couldn't find it in powder form. I mixed the two together, glued the pestle together, and... taa-daa!

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It's not perfect. It has a bit of a junior-high-school-girl-taking-a-home-crafting-class look to it. But Lisa loved it. Because she is wise and sensitive. And because all of us are broken, but when we are repaired by love, we end up all the more beautiful for having undergone that journey.

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The Perfect Valentine's Day Gift: A 'Queen's Gambit' Chess Experience

Chess Set
A vintage Soviet-era set.

By Lisa Brunette

I don't think I'm overstating it to say that The Queen's Gambit is the best series Netflix has ever offered. Anthony and I finished it last night, and wow. I can't think of a better viewing experience. It has everything: a gorgeously flawed heroine you can't help but root for, well-developed supporting characters, a story arc that manages to be surprising and satisfying in one go, and a stream of sumptuous sets and costumes (especially in the later episodes). Judging by its enormous popularity - it's the most-watched show in Netflix history - many of you feel the same. 

If you've just binged it yourself, you might be looking for a way to extend the good feels, but with no plans for a season two - that arc was magically complete - I suggest in place of further bingewatching, you bring chess into your life as a special Valentine's Day experience. The classic two-person game is the perfect way to show your loved one you want to spend quality time together.

As it so happens, I did a deep-dive into the Etsy vintage chess offerings in search of a post-Christmas birthday present for Anthony. After an exhaustive search, I settled on the set above. This was before we watched The Queen's Gambit, so it was by serendipity that I'd picked out a classic Soviet-era set reminiscent of the sets depicted in the final episodes of the show. This one's from the 90s, but it has the same reverse detailing you can see in the queen and king in both black and white, and it's carved from wood.

Chess Set Black

Chess Set White

Now Anthony's a fervent tabletop gamer, and chess is soundly in his wheelhouse. But as surprising as this might sound since I literally own a game-writing studio, I'd never played before! But now I can cross that one off my bucket list. I'm an instant fan, for the combination of strategy and concentration. I love it.

Which is a good thing, because look how happy Anthony is with his new chess set.

Chess Anthony

While mine was the only one of its kind available, don't worry, as there are plenty of other options to choose from. If you like the vintage Soviet-era style, the Etsy shop ChessUSSR offers several, including this beauty, an antique set from the 1950s.

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Image courtesy ChessUSSR.

ChessUSSR also sells those delightful Mid-Century Modern chess clocks, as seen in nearly every episode of The Queen's Gambit. The vintage ones are rare items and don't come cheap, but for you hardcore chessheads out there, why not help preserve a piece of chess history? If you're going for the complete Valentine's Day experience, get the chess set plus the clock. It'll add to the ambiance!

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Image courtesy ChessUSSR.

If the Soviet style isn't your cup of tea, here are a few options that take the chess aesthetic in a completely different direction. 

First, I had this hand-carved stone Mexican set favorited for quite some time because, you know, PINK. But this was a gift for Anthony, not me, and while he's the type of awesome guy who doesn't even flinch at some pink in his living room, I do know where to draw the line. But maybe it's just the thing for your valentine?

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Image courtesy TeotihuacanMxArt2.

Next up is an incredible mesh of nature and games. Plants and flowers are sealed in epoxy to create these whimsical pieces that are just as pretty for display as they are pleasing to play. They are handmade, unique, and nature-inspired, so I felt they deserve inclusion. For the gardener/nature-lover valentine on your mind, they're perfect.

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Image courtesy EncasingNature.

Finally, staying with the handmade ethos, I offer you this set, hand-carved from olive wood for a sort of Game of Thrones-meets-The Queen's Gambit vibe. It was my runner-up choice, as it's just so gorgeous and yet... dare I say... manly? 

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Image courtesy MbgArtGift.

To complete your Valentine's Day 'Queen's Gambit' experience, how about some chess-themed cookies? I stumbled onto this cool set of cookie cutters fashioned with the help of a 3-D printer. While I wish they were metal instead of plastic, they're still on my favorites list because Valentine's Day is coming up, and Anthony's never met a cookie he hasn't liked...

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Image courtesy EZHCookieCutters.

I've included affiliate links in this post, so if you purchase via the links, Cat in the Flock may get a commission. But the truth is I would've happily crafted this roundup even without the affiliate bump. Many of our small, independent operators are the ones who've suffered during the COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, so I'm only too happy to support their work. But this ain't charity, either; I've become more and more aware of the superiority of handmade and vintage items and am happy to turn you onto some great things you might love, too.

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Retro, Handmade, Eco-Friendly: Our Top 5 Post-Holiday Etsy Finds

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Photos courtesy Birch Pack.

By Lisa Brunette

As suggested in our last post, the best time to shop for holiday items is in the weeks just after the previous year's holidays. We've been taking advantage of some great sales this week from the comfort of our own home, in our jammies, because you know, 2020. I've singlehandedly scoured the Etsy holiday shop for great deals that fit the criteria retro, handmade, eco-friendly, so you don't have to. Here's what's in my shopping cart right now. Maybe you'll even get them before I do!

1. Handmade birch bark tree ornaments

Finnish company Birch Pack offers these delicate ornaments made of the top layer of birch bark from already felled trees. According to the shop's site, "Birch bark has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial characteristics." You can order them in several different designs, such as the tree below, or an assortment, as pictured above. Right now they're 50% off, too.

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2. Retro 70s cast iron trivets

Cast iron has been making a huge comeback with the homesteading/bespoke/back-to-basics movements, and with its durability, timelessness, superior cooking and toxin-free qualities, it's easy to see why. You might've heard I'm stalking the Etsy pages for a Dutch oven, but until then, maybe I can feed the cast iron need with one of these fun trivets. But I'm torn between the Christmas tree and winking Santa. I swear my mother had one when I was growing up...

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Photo courtesy Pretty Leftovers.
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Photo courtesy Kitschy Vintage.

3. Felted garland

As you might've seen, I like to drape our pipe-pole Edison bulb chandeliers with felted balls at Christmastime. Felt is a warm, renewable resource, and just like the birch bark ornaments, they give a natural feel to your home. I've let our dramatic stair railing go naked each year so far, but next year, I'm thinking they're gonna get felt up. How do you like this peppermint-themed felt garland

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Photo courtesy Handcrafted Buffalo.

4. Macrame candy canes

Speaking of warm and natural, another trend from the 70s that has made a comeback we can be happy about is macrame. It's been around for a bit now and seems destined to become classic, as evidenced by these make-you-wanna-smile macrame candy cane ornaments. If you've been following along the blog, you know all about our pink living room by now, so of course we need to get these in pink and white stripes. Which is a good thing, because at 30% off, the red and white options are already sold out. Long live pink!

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Photo courtesy Frayed by Design Co.

5. Bubble light night lights

The same fabulous human being who gifted me the KISS Rock 'n Roll Over ornament mentioned in our holiday tour post also gave me a bubble light night light long ago. I set that beauty up as I moved to various homes across America - from Miami, Florida, to Seattle, Washington - until it finally expired just before we moved to the Midwest in 2017. So I've been without this crucial item for a couple of years now. When I saw this Etsy retailer had not one, not two, but three different bubble light night light color options, I hit 'favorite' right away. Red and green seems classic - that's what I had before, but the red/yellow and green/yellow options are equally fab. And at 10% off, I might have to once again say yes to the bubble.

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Photo courtesy 1820 Lamp Company.

I hope this roundup inspires you. Especially with small, independent retailers getting hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and quarantines, it feels important to highlight their work. When it's handmade, antique or retro, or eco-friendly, that's even better, in my book. Happy post-holiday shopping to all, and to all a good buy!

Note: This post contains Etsy affiliate links. If you make a purchase, Cat in the Flock may earn a commission.

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Interested in cast iron? We've got a whole series on that.