Cat in the Flock Feed

Cat in the Flock's Most Popular Posts of All Time

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Repurposed frying pan bird bath.

 By Lisa Brunette

Cat in the Flock turns seven this year, so it's a good time to take a look at where we've been and what's resonated with you readers. What a wild ride we've had together! I launched this website in September 2014 as an author blog to support the release of my first novel, Cat in the Flock. That self-published mystery novel was enough of a success to warrant a whole series - the Dreamslippers - and the blog focused on it for the first few years. But then around 2017 I took my experience as a game storyteller and fused it with the work of mystery novelist to create two interactive novels in the mystery genre, and my game writing splashed onto this blog as a result. With the success of the game projects, I had the opportunity to launch my own game-writing company in short order, and in 2018, I split off Brunette Games as its own site. That left Cat in the Flock, which I pivoted toward the lifestyle content I'm passionate about, giving me a counterpoint outlet for the non-fiction stories I think about every day.

And Cat in the Flock is growing. As I mentioned when I listed our top five posts for 2020, last year we had seven writers produce a total of 52 posts. While monetization continues to prove tricky and elusive, we've enjoyed the opportunity to share the story of our quarter-acre suburban homestead and our quest to become more self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable, along with a broadening offering of others' stories of trial and triumph. 

So which missives stand out the most over the past seven years? I've kept track of analytics for the whole span, and I can tell you which of our posts had the highest number of page views, a good indicator of how popular they are with readers. Here they are, starting with No. 5.

No. 5 - The Birds Win Big

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Bird bath made from tempered glass pot lid and breeze block.

Our most-viewed post of 2020 is also the fifth most popular post of all time: Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. Especially in a year of extreme homeboundedness, the thought of quickly crafting attractive bird baths from castoffs you might have in your basement just struck a chord. We're happy to see the enthusiasm, as it's a huge win for the birds if more people put out and maintain bird baths.

No. 4 - A Born Entrepreneur?

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The interactive novel I designed and wrote for Daily Magic Productions.

Next up is a longform piece I wrote to explain the one-eighty I took in 2018 from professor to full-time small business owner. While it's really more of an origin story, if you will, for Brunette Games, I've kept it here on the CITF blog for posterity. It's an interesting read, if you're curious about the vicissitudes of publishing, the game industry, and business startups. While I've always thought of myself more as a creative-for-hire than an entrepreneur, and I don't even take the CEO title at the helm of BG, it's good to think about what makes me the type of person who consistently chooses to leave academia for the private sector, where, to quote one of my favorite classic movies, "They expect results."

No. 3 - Slip into My Dream

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Cover art for my first novel.

Considering that the whole reason for this blog's existence is the Dreamslippers mystery series, I guess I would've been disappointed if none of it had made it to the top five. But here at a solid No. 3 is the landing page for the series, a jumping-off point for each of the three novels, plus the boxed set with bonus novella. This year also marks the seventh anniversary of the release of the first novel in the series.

No. 2 - No Yoga Comparathons!

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My stepson, Zander, who's double-jointed, and me, who's not.

The top two posts of all time both share yoga as a theme, and they both bust some faulty assumptions about the ancient practice. In second place is Why You Shouldn't Compare Yourself to Yogi Superstars. In it I illustrate how body structures built into us from birth can largely determine what our yoga capabilities are, and no amount of yoga can ever change them. For example, in the side-by-side above, my stepson, Zander, who's double-jointed, can pop into reverse prayer pose despite nary a lick of yoga experience; whereas, I still find the pose challenging after 25 years of practice.

Yoga's dirty secret is that it can devolve into a high-pressured environment of endless yardstick-measuring, so I'm glad to see this piece, which published in March 2019, has legs.

No. 1 - The Real Reason You Can't Headstand

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Anthony and I demonstrating why props - even human ones! - make all the difference.

This might be the best article I've ever written for Cat in the Flock, and readers seem to agree. Like the above post on anatomical limitations to yoga poses, this one tackles some pretty damaging myths about inversions like handstand and headstand. I don't pull any punches about the irresponsible methods of some yoga teachers in shaming or guilting students into pushing themselves to get into poses that might be completely counter to their body's own structure and alignment. And hopefully, I've set quite a few yogis free with this declaration.

Do these results surprise you? What would you like to see us delve into on the blog in the future? Weigh in below!

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Cat in the Flock's Top 5 Posts of 2020. No. 1 Is for the Birds!

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Milkweed seed pod on a rose bush.

By Lisa Brunette

Two-oh-two-oh was a surprising year for Cat in the Flock, as between the extensive lockdowns and social distancing measures and our decision to forgo social media, Anthony and I found ourselves with more time to write. While our day jobs at Brunette Games never ceased, as its already established remote-work structure allowed us to continue working without fail, we saw family and friends less often, and most interesting activities outside the home were either canceled outright or made less attractive due to the requirement to wear masks and social distance. So, we opted to stay in. We published more on this blog in 2020 than anticipated, with a total of 52 posts, or an average of one per week!

What's most exciting about the past year at Cat in the Flock is that I saw the blog grow beyond me. The responsibility for those 52 posts was shared across 7 different authors. Notably, Anthony joined the fray, and his write-up on our bamboo squash tunnel was one of the most popular of the year. Besides the Anthony-and-Lisa duo here at Cat in the Flock, we also published posts from a former wildlife biologist, two award-winning travel writers, an acupuncturist, and a certified herbalist. One of these also made the top five.

All of our most popular articles share gardening as a theme, and with the combination of our own passions for the subject and a surge in interest due to stay-at-home mandates, it's not surprising to see why. Here are the top five posts judging by total number of page views, starting with fifth on the list and working our way to the top.

No. 5 - Native Plants As the Stars of the Show

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Quercus shumardii, or native Shumard oak, in fall color.

The very first post of 2020 was also our fifth most-viewed: Garden Stars of the Year: How to Win with Native Plants. It's basically a native plant gardening 'how to,' with suggestions for how to go about populating your garden with plants that have evolved to your geographic location's unique ecosystem rather than filling it with a lot of exotics. What can we say? We're still drinking the native plant Kool-Aid. Exotics are harder to care for, and they don't feed native pollinators, birds, or animals anywhere near as well as the plants our native fauna have evolved to consume. To us, going native is a no-brainer.

No. 4 - More Mushroom Mania

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Image courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

If you hadn't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with mushrooms here at Cat in the Flock, and our fourth most popular post reflects that. "Mushrooms Become Less Mysterious - with the Right Field Guide" is pretty much a love letter to both our stellar Missouri Department of Conservation and the mushroom guide it publishes, Missouri's Wild Mushrooms, by fellow St. Louis writer Maxine Stone. If you're anywhere in the Midwest, I highly recommend the guide.

New to the whole mushroom foraging idea? Check out this great piece by guest blogger Ellen King Rice that breaks down everything you need to know. And for funsies, you might also read our further account of mushroom foraging right here in the back 40 for the delicious and plentiful 'shroom known as reddening lepiota.

No. 3 - Farmer Bob's Jam

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Bob Frause in the garden. Photo by Sue Frause.

Over Sue Frause's long, award-winning career as a travel and lifestyle feature writer, she's amassed quite a following, which partly explains the popularity of the post coming in at the No. 3 spot, On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden. But I also think that asking a travel writer who's written about places hither and yon to turn inward toward her own backyard yielded just a truly wonderful piece about gardening, family, and what it means to call a place home. She mentioned to me how surprised she was by the response, and I believe her readers were hungry for this self-made profile.

The Frause's Whidbey Island garden is a very special place, just perfect for our regular 'inspiration garden' feature. It's inspired me ever since I had the pleasure of staying there back in 2008, and it continues to remind me of what's possible. 

No. 2 - Long Live the Squash Tunnel!

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Anthony and the freshly made bamboo tunnel.

As I mentioned above, Anthony's bamboo squash tunnel piece received quite a bit of attention, boosting it to second place for the year. It's possible that in a gardening-focused time of high unemployment, the prospect of a free bamboo tunnel for veggies was too strong to resist. 

Tragically, the squash tunnel fell victim to one of our dramatic Midwestern summer storms, but for a time, the arch anchored the garden, supporting cucumbers and, of course, squash, as well as providing birds with an interesting place to roost. Besides, it just looked so cool.

No. 1 - This One's for the Birds

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A surprise search-engine darling for us this year is Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. It regularly brings in readers in the same vein as the squash tunnel piece, as a highly thrifty way to get out in the garden and do something ecologically minded. 

I think what consistently puts this one ahead is that it's about a good, original idea: to use leftover tempered glass pot lids as reservoirs for bird baths. I've never seen anyone do this before, and it's surprising because it works so well. I still have four variations of them in the garden this winter, and the birds continue to use them on a daily basis. They're easy to clean and care for, and the tempered glass ensures they stand up to the extremes of winter and summer weather.

There you have it. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up the once-per-week pace in 2021, especially since Cat in the Flock still doesn't earn any income for us. On that note, if you're a fan of our content, consider popping a few into our tip jar - and tell your friends about us. The more the merrier in this flock!

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Super-Easy DIY Rehab of This Sweet Mid-Century Modern Swirl Lamp

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By Lisa Brunette

I've been obsessed with so-called 'Millennial pink' for some time now, and I'm not even a Millennial. My pink preoccupation reached its zenith this fall when I finally got around to rehabbing a Mid-Century Modern swirl lamp I'd rescued from a junk shop. And how delicious is that sweet lamp? It's like Willy Wonka meets 'I Dream of Jeannie.'

True Millennial pink, however, is the pastel version, which you can see in that coaster next to the lamp above. A note about that coaster: It's actually a 1920s vintage enamel ash tray made across the river in Belleville, Illinois (where I went to high school), possibly at a company called Peerless-Premier, which still exists. But I opted for Barbie pink as a reference to the focal point in our living room, a painting given to us by Anthony's mother when she died in 2011. It was painted by the Puerto Vallarta artist Marta Gilbert

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A habit of collecting original art is one of the many things I had in common with Anthony's mother, A. Grace. I've written about her previously on the blog, as she inspired the character Amazing Grace in the Dreamslippers Series. She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American descent, specifically the Zapateca and Pueblo tribes. Honoring that heritage was central to my design for our living room at Dragon Flower Farmhouse, which I'll show you more of in next week's post. For now let's just say there are pink hues throughout, captured most dramatically in the painting that inspired it all and with this lamp.

I spotted the lamp on the top shelf in a back corner of a junk shop here in Maplewood. (Sadly, the place no longer exists, another pandemic casualty.) The lamp had no shade, and as you can see, the white paint had chipped off in a few places, but I saw a diamond in the rough. It only cost me $7 (USD).

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Its genie-lamp shape really did remind me of the fantasy sit-com from the 60s, 'I Dream of Jeannie.' I'd debated about what color to paint it for some time, as the pink in the living room is balanced against its complementary hue on the color wheel, green. But in the end, the pink won out. Those swirls just take me in a delectable candy direction, and I couldn't fight it. 

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Fortunately, all I needed was enough paint to fill a sample size, so I didn't have to invest in an entire gallon of princess-room pink that I wouldn't otherwise have a use for. (I know; you pink lovers out there are going, 'Oh, but there are so many uses!'). 

There was no need to use spray paint this time, as the ceramic lamp would easily take latex. I always use low-VOC brands, to minimize the off-gassing from the volatile organic compounds in most house paint. 

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It was easy - and fun - to brush this luscious pink onto the lamp, and it only took one coat. I managed this in a weekend afternoon while also making my first sourdough pizza crust from scratch (!), a topic for another post. I used tape around the base of the lamp, but honestly, I wish I hadn't. I always do much better cutting in without painter's tape, which always pulls some of the paint off when I remove it. I have a pretty steady hand and was trained to paint by my ex-husband, an artist and professional painter/exhibit builder. So, yeah, who needed the tape? Not me.

Here's the finished base. 

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After that, all it needed was a shade, which I purchased online, choosing a large white drum style, which to my eye balances that curvy base without detracting from it. The lamp makes me happy every time I look at it, and these days, we could all use little glimpses of joy in our lives. My six-year-old niece squealed when she saw it, too; it's her favorite color, of course.

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What's new in your DIY world? Post pics below.

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The Secret to Our Six-Pack Marriage

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By Lisa Brunette

This month marks our sixth anniversary; here we are at our wedding in Seattle back in 2014. I chose this image to front the post because it captures the secret to our success as a couple: We both have a good sense of humor, and we're not afraid to laugh at ourselves, either.

You'd have to be able to chuckle in the face of adversity to weather the slings and arrows of the past six years. It's been a tremendous time of change as we've taken on challenges that seem more befitting twentysomething newlyweds, rather than second-time-around middle-agers like us.

While we married six years ago, we've been a committed couple for nine, and in our first year together, we lost Anthony's mother, A. Grace, to pancreatic cancer.

A truly independent soul, she'd wanted to change her name to just "Grace," but authorities said she had to at least have an initial along with it, so she chose A, and when asked, she would say it stood for "Amazing." So it was with a sense of charmed destiny that we held our wedding at a spiritual center where we'd found community, its name the same as hers.

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Grace made a deep, lasting impression on me in our short time together. Perhaps as a way to keep her with me, I named a major character in my novel series after her. The Dreamslippers series launched the month before our wedding.

A mere five months after our honeymoon, Anthony and I made the decision to move away from Seattle, the place we'd both called home for a decade. As a federal grant manager, his gigs were all term-limited to the length of the grant, usually two to three years, and his grant ran out. Not finding opportunity in Seattle, he cast a wider net, and a position presented itself in a little town called Chehalis.

It was both difficult and easy to leave Seattle. Difficult because of family - my stepson, then in high school - and friends it would be tough to be further away from. But Chehalis is only an hour and a half from Seattle, so we reasoned that these days, that's basically commuting distance, with regular train service between to ease the matter. Still, the decision was not taken lightly. Here we are with Zander at our wedding. 

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And here are my sisters in crime, with whom I shared many a drink and a laugh during years of losing loved ones, divorce, career drama, dating at middle age, and just living, the four of us exploring together all that Seattle has to offer. It hurt to leave them.

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So, in what way was leaving Seattle an easy decision? Anthony and I had been priced out of the housing market, and as Gen Xers, we'd consistently got the short end of the stick, surviving long periods of war, recession, and the dissolution of that nice little thing called pensions, with Social Security not likely to be there for us when we need it. Anthony and I were in our forties and staring into a future that showed little promise of that thing our parents' generation enjoyed: retirement. 

We'd also seen the city change dramatically in our decade as Seattleites, and not usually for the better. I describe this in two farewell pieces I penned for the blog - Bye-bye, Bartell... And Seattle, Too and Seattle, A Love Letter.

We were able to buy a house in Chehalis, a burg of only 7,000 people located at the midpoint between Seattle and Portland.

My working life changed tremendously with the move. I continued to write and edit for the game company where I'd managed a team for the previous four years, but I stepped down from the role as supervisor, passing the baton to my number one hire. I worked 3/4-time and remotely, with once-a-quarter visits to the office. I now also had the responsibility of novelist, as Cat in the Flock had proved just successful enough to push me to write followup books in the series. 

Here's my work crew at our wedding.

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When Anthony first introduced me to Chehalis, I had been very skeptical. It's in a county with a relatively high unemployment rate, and its landscape has been ravaged by meth. But the rural vibe had a certain appeal, and what sold us on the plan was the cute Craftsman house we were able to purchase for a mere fraction of the price it would have fetched in Seattle. We found there a friendly, supportive community, and for awhile, it looked like we might stay.

But then that light bulb of an idea blinked off, in a hurry.

I'd made a solid decision to exit the game company after five years, bolstered by the success of my first novel. Unfortunately, a year after Cat in the Flock released, the self-publishing bubble burst. So I turned to the freelance writing that had provided an income in the past, both journalism and game writing. However, another problem surfaced: Anthony's grant would come to an end, and contrary to what his boss had promised him during the hiring process, she was not going to retire and vacate her (permanent) position. Also, the college president who'd foreshadowed great things for Anthony was, um, fired. With few job prospects in our vicinity, we were in danger of soon finding ourselves without health care and other benefits. Efforts to turn up other opportunities failed.

We'd also, truth told, had a rough time of it in Chehalis. Zander fell into some wrong crowds back in Seattle, and we had to resort to some pretty drastic interventions in order to get him back on track. Of course we blamed ourselves even if it wasn't our fault, and it didn't help that the kid's mother tried to cast blame on us as well. We moved him to Chehalis with us, and he finished his last year of high school there. We also suffered a series of major health problems, and unfortunately discovered that Chehalis' medical offerings left a lot to be desired as we found ourselves taking frequent (and expensive) jaunts to Seattle to see specialists we wouldn't have to report for malpractice.

I know, this all sounds a bit too grave. Here, look at this fun piñata pic from our wedding!

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Fortunately, our extensive efforts to circle the wagons around Zander paid off. We're the proud parents of a hard-working, upstanding, promising young man. He's enrolled full-time at University of Washington and works as an assistant manager in a grocery store. During this very trying spring, he donned a mask and continued on as an essential worker. He also turned out to support his community during the protests that held Seattle for much of the spring. He visited us for two weeks this summer, one as our official intern at Brunette Games.

But back to Chehalis. With the books not earning an income and the full-time job prospects for us both slim, Anthony and I again began to plot our next move. We scoured the scene for opportunities in Walla Walla, his home town, and St. Louis, mine. We got a hit in St. Louis.

After I spotted the university's call for applicants to teach game design in late spring 2017, things moved rather quickly. They offered me a position as visiting professor, and I'd need to start work in St. Louis in July. That left us no time to sell our house, get Zander off to college, pack up, and make the cross-country journey. It proceeded about as awkwardly as you can imagine, with Anthony and I living apart for three months, me trying to string together affordable Airbnbs and having some truly awful experiences (drug deals, broken appliances, and dirty dishes, oh, my!), and the two of us having to put our Chehalis home onto the rental market when it wouldn't sell.

Feeling blue again? Check out this place setting from our wedding.

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I wish I could tell you that St. Louis and this teacher gig were the answer to our prayers, but they were... most decidedly... not.

Fortunately for me, two of the games I'd consulted on and written as a freelancer gained attention, one for its experimental innovation and the other for its commercial success. Suddenly, I had opportunity out the ying-yang, just at a time when I realized the university had overstated its promise of release time for such professional pursuits. Soon I'd have not just a full-time job's worth of game writing on my hands, but enough to hire additional help. Still, I loved teaching, and I had really wanted the university role to work.

But in early 2018, I withdrew my candidacy for tenure. It had become clear that the department's toxic environment would only bring me intense frustration in the years ahead. I also had no respect for the other visiting professor in our rather new, rather small program, and I did not relish the idea of trying to work with him for the long haul.

I ended up dodging a bullet. By spring, my office was barraged with complaints against that other professor, one of them a very serious allegation of sexual harassment. I don't want to spend more ink on this than I already have, so let's just say that I was monumentally relieved that I'd already made the decision to leave. That individual is no longer working at the university, thank goodness, but the fallout will be long-lasting.

Now I know you really need to see this pic of what a little girl looks like when she sees the bride for the first time.

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So in 2018 I hired some of my former game design students, as well as the Seattle-based editor of my books, and we were off to the races as Brunette Games, official. We've been thick with clients and games ever since. By 2019, I was already overwhelmed with the demands of running a business as well as a team, so I cast a sideways glance at Anthony, who worked for a micromanaging boss he didn't respect. He'd landed a position at a local non-profit, but obviously, it was the wrong fit. 

He had a decade of experience in grant management, preceded by a decade in the game industry as a brand manager. We'd already taught together when, in my final semester at the university, we linked my course in narrative design with his course in tabletop games, and it was a huge success. We had a solid marriage built on trust and communication. Surely we could work together, too.

It's been a year and a half since Anthony joined Brunette Games, and we have no regrets. I'm not going to sugarcoat how excruciatingly stressful it can be to go into business for yourselves, but somehow, it's easier knowing you have each other's backs. 

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I call this our "six-pack" marriage for the six years packed full of major life events, and not any other reason. We certainly aren't sporting six packs here, and since we've both lost the ability to drink, we can't count on a six pack to ease our pains. 

But we can crack a joke like anyone's business. We never forget to laugh, or to reach for each other's hand.

P.S. Who took our lovely wedding photos? Alexandra Knight Photography.

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Tell Your Friends - Sign Up for the Newsletter, Get a Free Ebook Boxed Set

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Tell your friends: When they sign up for the Cat in the Flock newsletter, they'll receive a coupon code for a FREE copy of the entire Dreamslippers Series on ebook - that's all three books plus a novella. The coupon is good through Smashwords, and the ebook will download to any type of reader. The ebook boxed set normally retails for USD 9.99.

The Dreamslippers Series was published through our Sky Harbor Press imprint between 2014-2016 and is available in print and audiobook as well. The series tells the story of a family of psychic dreamslippers - folks who have the ability to pick up other people's dreams. 'Amazing' Grace and her granddaughter Cat McCormick use their ability to solve crimes, and that isn't easy with a gift you can't really control.

If you're already a subscriber, and you'd like the same deal, just email us using this handy link, and we'll send you the coupon code with instructions as well. Make sure to request the ebook boxed set in your email message. 

There's no set deadline for this freebie deal - it's just the new offer for signing up for the newsletter - until we decide to turn it off. Happy Good Reading Times, y'all!

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