Gift Ideas Feed

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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How to Shop Like a Pro at Estate Sales

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Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.

By Anthony Lee

Editor's note: We're thrilled to bring you guest blogger Anthony Lee, owner of Yard Sale Radar. Yard Sale Radar is a hobbyist-owned business that takes the hassle out of finding or advertising yard and estate sales. The website runs like an app and allows people to search for garage/yard/estate sales based on their locations or with a zip code. Save time and money by easily posting your listing and appear to anyone searching their listings for a yard sale in your area.

If you love the thrill of the hunt that comes with thrifting and yard sales but aren’t visiting any estate sales, you are missing out on an opportunity for amazing vintage finds. Estate sales are like yard sales, but instead of just browsing items they’ve set out on their driveway, you’re perusing through the entire property. They’re usually held for a number of unfortunate reasons. Sometimes the sellers have a need to downsize, or the owners may have passed away. Be that as it may, estate sales provide a unique opportunity for people to walk through a home and find really interesting, affordable goods. Lucky for you, we’ve got some great tips to make sure you go through your first estate sale like a seasoned pro. 

Planning Ahead

First things first, planning ahead is essential. This is especially important if you’re going to visit more than one estate sale in a day. There are some amazing resources for estate sale enthusiasts that make preparing your itinerary a breeze. Yard Sale Radar provides tons of information about America’s top estate and yard sale cities like Denver, Seattle, D.C., and more. Our site allows you to find estate sales in any given zip code. We suggest finding the sales you want to go to in your area of preference, plugging them into Google Maps, and planning your trip a day ahead. Try to get there 30-minutes earlier than the sale begins so you can get first dibs.

Remember, cash is king. Professionally managed estate sales are more likely to accept different payment methods such as credit and debit cards. However, most sales operate on a cash-only basis. Having cash on hand may also give you some negotiating leverage for snagging an item on the spot. So definitely plan a stop at the ATM on the way to your first sale. 

Estate sales are also not baby-proofed. These homes likely have stairs, sharp corners, hard floors, and fragile items throughout, so it’s probably best to leave your two- and four-legged little ones at home.

Pro-tip: In addition to the items within them, many of these properties are for sale (sometimes for epic prices). If you are interested in the property, too, see if they have a listing online. Usually, they’ll have photos of the home, and you can use this as a guide to where the items you desire may reside within the home.

Dress the Part

If you’re on the hunt for clothing items, make sure you wear something that makes it easy to try things on and bring your own bag. For instance, sandals so you can easily slip them on and off to try on shoes or shorts and tank tops so you can slip clothes right over for easy try-on’s. Make sure your shoes are comfortable if you plan on visiting several estate sales in one day. These properties are often large and require lots of walking or waiting outside. As for bags, the most common go-tos are Ikea’s hefty, blue totes. These are great to pile in items at estate sales. If planning on purchasing furniture or larger items, don’t forget to pack your measuring tape. 

Getting There

The driveway is usually reserved for sale workers, so make sure you park in the designated area. (If needed, you can pull up your car to load it later). If you see a line of people waiting outside, walk over to the front door to ask a worker how the estate sale is organized. You may have to put your name on a list or take a number and wait. If there’s no line at all, you are welcome to walk right in. 

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Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.

Time to Shop

Kindness goes a long way. Try to make friends with the workers or people running the sale. They can give you great tips and great deals. If you are searching for something specific, like jewelry, high-end bags, or vintage clothing, kindly ask one of them if there is a designated area for those items. Certain items are sometimes sorted into their own sections. Otherwise, go straight to where you think those items might be. 

Remember that estate sales are sometimes being held for unfortunate or tragic reasons. It’s important to remain respectful and compassionate during your visit. This was once someone’s home, and owners may be grieving or have emotional ties to items being sold, so keep that in mind when you’re walking through their homes and handling each item. 

Don’t skip the places you think might have the least desirable items. You can find unexpected gems in unlikely parts of the house like the basement and even utility rooms. Always remember to scan the patio and yard for planters, plants, and patio decor. Everything is fair game unless marked otherwise. 

Don’t rush. Before checking out, take your time doing one more pass through the entire house. You never know what you are going to miss, especially on tables cluttered with items. 

Estate sales are no-refund, as-is sales, so inspect your items carefully. If you’re purchasing electronics, don’t make the rookie mistake of forgetting to test them beforehand. 

Negotiate

The first day of the estate sale always has the most merchandise, but the last day always has the best deals. If you like multiple items, you can try to bargain for some amazing bundle discounts. Always be courteous, don’t haggle, and ask discreetly, “Is this the best price?” or “Do you negotiate?” If you’re rude to estate sale organizers, they can ban you from future sales so think twice before you bicker with them.

Have Fun

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your wardrobe with vintage designer pieces or make your eclectic home decor dreams come true, estate sales are one of the most underrated places for collecting unique and rare finds. You never know what you’re going to uncover. Happy hunting!

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Once You Bake Your Own Sourdough Pizza Crust, You're Ruined for All Other Pizza

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One of our recent triumphs, baked on a pizza stone.

By Lisa Brunette

Now that I've explained how to make your own sourdough culture, argued for why baking this way is totally the move, and showed you how to bake a basic bread loaf, it's time for the coup de grace: pizza dough.

Your own sourdough pizza crust will be just that, a crust made from flour, water, and salt, with yeast and bacteria from the sourdough starter. It will not contain added chemical substances or highly processed foodstuffs to make it move more efficiently through industrial machines, to artificially soften or rise better, or to "taste" more palatable after all the nutrients have been stripped away, like every convenience pizza you've ever had delivered, eaten in a restaurant, or heated up from a box.

But making pizza dough is actually easier than making bread. You can create a batch ahead of time, freeze it, and then you've got several balls of dough that just need defrosting before you roll them out for your Friday night pizza.

Step 1: Mix the Dough

  • Start with a full activated culture that's already gone through a culture proof, as described in step 1 here in my instructions for making bread.
  • Mix together the culture, 7 c (980 g) flour, 2 1/2 c (600 ml) water, and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Knead it for 30 minutes to develop the gluten. I turn it out on a floured surface for this, as kneading it in the bowl is just too awkward.

A note about flour: I've used both unbleached all-purpose white flour and whole wheat flour, as well as a mix of both. You might have to add more water for whole wheat, something you can sense if the dough is too hard and thick instead of a nice doughy mound you can easily knead. For pizza, you can also use pastry flour. In all cases, I prefer organic, non-GMO if I can get it.

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Here I am in my natural habitat, kneading dough.

Step 2: Proof the Dough

  • Next, put the dough back into the bowl, cover it, and proof for just 4 hours at around 80°F (or 27°C). In the winter, I've set the bowl on a heating register to keep it warm, and that works well. In spring, I use the same Himalayan salt-lamp nightlight method I use for proofing cultures, as described in my post on how to make bread, and this works great, too.
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A ball of pizza dough at the start of its first proof.

Step 3: Punch and Proof Again

  • The dough will have risen. Next comes my favorite part: You punch the dough with your fist to knock it back. This move makes you feel like a baking boss!
  • Then divide it into 6 equally sized balls, arrange these on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and proof for another 4 hours at room temperature.

They'll rise again, forming 6 nice, puffy dough balls. You can use these to make 6 pizzas right away, or freeze 5 for later. I wrap them individually in plastic wrap and then store them in a repurposed mineral salt bag in our basement freezer. 

Sourdough_pizza

The bag is perfect because it's stiff, and the dough balls get held in place like you see above until they can fully freeze. To defrost, just take a ball out of the freezer before you head to work in the morning, and by the time you get home, it's ready.

Step 4: Form the Pizza

Next comes getting the pizza into that classic pizza pie shape. If you bake it on a pizza stone, the stone will need to be preheated, so you'll definitely want to proof instead on a peel or other surface. Sprinkle the proofing surface with coarse-ground flour, semolina, or regular flour to keep it from sticking when you transfer it to the stone. This is really important! We've had quite a few mishaps when the dough stuck to the surface of our cutting board. But if you're baking it on a metal pizza round or cookie sheet, go ahead and form it there. 

  • Press the dough ball with the heel of your hand to flatten it. 
  • Keep pressing until a ridge forms on the edge.
  • Hold the ridge in both hands, lift the dough, and let its weight stretch the crust.
  • Turn, press, and pull until you have a 10-inch circle of crust.
  • Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour for a final proof.
Pizza dough rolled out
We form the pizza on this peel, sprinkled with coarse-ground whole wheat.

I highly recommend baking it on a pizza stone, like this vintage Pampered Chef stoneware pizza round for sale on the Etsy shop Nonna's Kitchen Table. The pizza never sticks to the stone, it cooks the pizza evenly, and there's little cleanup afterward.

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Image courtesy Nonna's Kitchen Table.

The baking stone gives you a perfect crust bottom, to rival any restaurant. To alleviate the problem with transferring the pizza to the stone, though, we've purchased this awesome peel from the Etsy shop Ziruma. It's a beautiful piece to display in your home kitchen, with its (sustainably harvested) teakwood grain and manta ray shape.

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Image courtesy Ziruma.

Step 5: Bake!

  • Transfer the pizza to the stone or other baking surface, add toppings, and bake for 7-9 minutes at 500°F (260°C).
  • When the edges turn brown, it's ready!
Toppings going on
Pizza toppings going on. This one had garlic scapes, onions, oregano, and mushrooms from our garden, as well as uncured bacon from a local source.

I promise you'll be ruined for all other pizza once you taste your own homemade sourdough crust. And your body will love you for avoiding all that extra food gick in the commercial pizzas.

Finished pizza
The finished pizza.
Slicing pizza
The crispy crust slices easily.

 

Pizza bottom
Here you can see the bottom is done perfectly.

 

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

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Happy National Poetry Month! Welcome to Our Great Poetry Giveaway.

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As a welcome gift in honor of National Poetry Month, all new subscribers to our blog newsletter throughout the month of April will automatically receive a FREE ebook copy of Lisa Brunette's award-winning book of poetry, Broom of Anger.

Both new and existing subscribers will also be entered into a drawing to win one of two free signed print copies of Broom of Anger. Drawing to be held in May. The poems in the collection are themed on nature, yoga, trauma, and the healing process. The title is an homage to the writer Zora Neale Hurston, who famously said, "Grab the broom of anger, and drive off the beast of fear!"

So tell your friends to subscribe, and stay tuned for the results of our giveaway! You can also check out some of the poems from the collection as published here at Cat in the Flock:

Moving Away

August

The Open Door

The God in Me Salutes the God in Her

Noticing

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3 Great Gifts for Gardeners from Small, Indie Shops

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By Lisa Brunette

Springtime is a great point in the year to remember the gardener in your life - yes, even if the only gardener in your life is you! As the soil warms up enough for seeds, and bare bark begins to leaf out, we gardeners get ridiculously busy and might not have time for self care as we're busting sod and ripping open seed packets. Even if there's no gift-excuse day coming up, like a birthday or anniversary, a sweet little basket of gardening gifts is just the thing.

With that in mind, I've put together a trio of my favorite things - gardening items I've personally, thoroughly tested and love. I recommend these without reservation, and in fact all the below links are both 1) stuff I am currently using, or exactly like it and 2) items available right now in Etsy shops. I'm including affiliate links, by the way, so if you do purchase them using the links, Cat in the Flock might earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. So you can support this blog, show small, indie shops some love, and get a great garden gift, too!

Gift Idea No. 1: Name That Plant

Copper Label
As a way to train myself to learn them, I like to write the Latin names for native plants in permanent marker on these elegant copper labels.

Last week, I gave a tour of our garden to a local journalist interviewing me about the Shutterbee project, and it was really handy to have so many of our plants labeled for quick reference. I use these copper labels only to identify native perennials, which warrant the permanent treatment. They're real copper and weather well to a lovely patina as the seasons change.

You can order the same through the Etsy shop TheCelticFarm - they come in a pack of 30. Just remember to pick up a permanent marker somewhere, too.

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Photo courtesy TheCelticFarm.

I don't bother to label annuals, as it's just not cost-effective since they're short-lived and change location each year with our rotation gardening. For those I find it's better to keep a planting chart (digital spreadsheet) and gardening diary (spiral where I paste seed packets with notes).

Gift Idea No. 2: Quick, to the Bat House!

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Our bat house.

It sucks (and I don't mean 'suck' as in vampire!) that bats got a bad rap just because of our overactive imaginations and superstitions. Bats are safe and worthy pollinators to encourage in your garden. Here's the official word from the Missouri Department of Conservation:

Bats are an important part of the natural world. Bats that feed on fruit are the primary means of seed dispersal for some species, and nectar-feeding bats are responsible for the pollination of many species of plants. In fact, more than 400 products used by humans come from bat-pollinated plants. These products include bananas, avocados, cashews, balsa wood and tequila.

Missouri bats help control nocturnal insects, some of which are agricultural pests or, in the case of mosquitoes, annoying to people. Many forms of cave life depend on the nutrients brought in by bats and contained in their guano.

In our yard, bats pollinate and eat our native passionflower vines. (We have two.) One of my favorite things to do at dusk in summer is to sit in the garden and watch as the bats come out, flittering overhead.

You can get your own bat house from JoesWoodWorksITC - this one is made out of cedar and features a double chamber.

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Image courtesy JoesWoodWorksITC.

Once you get the bat house home, here are some handy tips for how to hang it properly.

Gift Idea No. 3: Face Plant!

Face_plant

You might remember our face plant pot from "After a Lifetime of Frequent Moves, The Importance of Staying Put." Besides the awesome visual pun in 'face plant,' these just look really cool because whatever you plant in the pot becomes the hair atop the face. Think ChiaPet, only a lot less kitschy.

Unfortunately, mine was a recent casualty when I accidentally kicked it while trying to perform what my physical therapist calls "that kicky thing you do with your leg." Yeah, it's something I do to manually adjust my right hip (scoliosis issues). Too bad the plant pot bit it in the process.

Luckily, Etsy has a few replacement options, most notably these rather more whimsical versions from vintagebohemianstyle.

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Image courtesy vintagebohemianstyle.

You can find more recommendations on my Etsy 'favorites' page, most notably some wonderful wearable wool in the form of a 'coatigan' and some merino wool long underwear. I like to buy a lot of things out of season when it's cheaper, and wool's a good one for that tactic. 

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