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Learn the Skills to Inherit Property! The SKIP Kickstarter

Say you dream of a homestead of your own but have no idea how to go about getting one. You need land, but that's expensive; you need skills, but those are hard to come by. What if I told you there was a program designed to earn you both?

It's called SKIP, for Skills to Inherit Property. And there's a Kickstarter going on right now for the SKIP bible - a book pulling all the SKIP lessons into one volume.

Here's creator Paul Wheaton to explain the idea behind the SKIP program and book:

Millions of people are blocked from homesteading because of the sheer expense of getting started.  And millions of elderly people are frustrated that they cannot find somebody worthy to pass their homestead to.  Every year hundreds of thousands of homesteads are abandoned - with the government taking possession about half the time.

Other homestead owners are looking for land managers or caretakers.  Or some sort of collaboration.  But their efforts have led to horrific results from dishonest or even criminal people - so their homesteads are, effectively abandoned.

People with homesteads are seeking people with REAL experience and skill.

People seeking homesteading opportunities want to build REAL experience and skill.

This book is an attempt to bridge these two communities.  People seeking homesteading opportunities are provided a way to accomplish hundreds of things and document them for free.  Eventually, they will be able to peruse hundreds of homestead opportunities.   And people with homesteads will be able to peruse hundreds of homesteaders that have proven their worth.

Active homesteaders use SKIP to build their skills for their own benefit.  The verification of their skills lends weight to their words on our forums.  Some people already have land and use SKIP to build their skills for caring for their land.

One thing we can tell you is that we've personally benefitted from our involvement in the permaculture community responsible for this Kickstarter, Permies.com, our weekly go-to for support of our gardening and permaculture projects. Whether it's helpful hints for going sugar-free in our baking, a possible remedy for galls, or a fantastic discussion on honeybees vs. native bees, Permies is the one online community we can count on.

Here's a handy link to the Kickstarter, where you can learn more!

Thumb-Kickstarter-link-button


A Small, Good Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change - Without Breaking the Bank or Changing Your Diet

Pipewrap6

By Lisa Brunette

It's become fashionable these days to opt for trendy eco-solutions, such as driving a hybrid gas/electric vehicle or becoming a vegan. I'm guilty as charged - we still own a Toyota Prius, and I was a vegetarian for about 13 years, and a vegan for a good portion of that. However, as is the case with a lot of shiny new objects, they might not do any more good than the original thing they replaced, or the gain is minimal at best and usually involves some tradeoff.

Without traveling too far down the rabbit hole, you probably have already heard that the Prius (and other hybrids like it) isn't all it's cracked up to be when it comes to eco-friendliness. Its mass production, which requires parts from all over the world shipped to assembly plants all over the world, itself carries a huge carbon footprint, and of course its expensive battery is comprised of toxic materials. Even the Prius' energy-efficient status has been a matter of debate. There's a now-infamous Top Gear episode that illustrates all of this, fashioned for its gearhead audience, of course, but the point is that the Prius ain't no eco slam dunk.

And neither is going vegan. While a lot of ire has been directed at meat-eating due to methane's effect on climate change, the truth is livestock is a relatively minor contributor in the overall picture of emissions versus heavyweights like energy use by industry and transportation. Check out the below chart, showing data compiled by the independent, reader-supported organization Our World in Data (shared via open access through the Creative Commons BY license).

Emissions-by-sector-–-pie-charts

 

Given the above, let's say you decide to replace your meat protein with plant-based sources. What little you remove from that 5.8% currently in the Livestock & Manure category gets shifted over to the other categories under Agriculture, Forestry, & Land Use - that is, unless you plan to sustainably grow all of your plant-based protein sources yourself, or commit to sourcing them all from completely sustainable soybean farms and tofu makers using artisan, small-batch techniques, etc., and not from the usual suspects, since soybeans are a huge monoculture crop, and these contribute to soil depletion and water-supply contamination. You see how it is.

It's not that I'm against vegetarianism or veganism. If that's what you want to do, there are a lot of reasons for you to do it, and more power to ya. Not everyone's health supports that diet (mine doesn't, as it turns out), but if yours does, yay for you. Just don't think you can switch to veggie burgers and then call it a day on the climate front.

What's most interesting about the above emissions data is that such a high percentage - 10.9%, or nearly double what's attributed to livestock and manure - comes from residential buildings. But don't waste time feeling guilty about that; rather, think of it as an eco-opportunity: Now this is an area where an individual can make a big difference - and without a whole lot of effort. That's encouraging!

I realize this was a long lead-in to the small, good thing I promised you with the headline on this post, but I really wanted to make the case for it since what I'm about to suggest you do might make your eyes glaze over. I mean, if energy efficiency were as sexy as Priuses and vegan cafés, we might not be in this climate change mess in the first place.

And here it is, my big eco tip of the day: WRAP YOUR PIPES.

Pipewrap1
On the left, an insulated, or "wrapped" pipe. On the right, not wrapped.

That's right. I said wrap your pipes. Not your windpipes or your half-pipes. Your water pipes, the ones in your house. The ones coming up from your basement or crawlspace, the pipes that bring water to your bathtub, kitchen faucet, washer, dishwasher - you name it. I'm suggesting you insulate those pipes so that when the water's heated by your hot water heater, it doesn't cool off while it's making its way to your shower head.

Pipewrap2
Voila! Both pipes wrapped. Yeah, you can wrap the cold ones, too. Colder water when it's hot out!

It's funny because I'm old enough to remember the 70s, when many people did this kind of thing like it was a given. But for some reason, hardly anyone does it anymore. But I just know you're going to, because it's easy, it can make a clear, positive impact on climate change, and to top it all off, it will actually save you money.

What if you don't own your own home? Ask your landlord if you can wrap your apartment building pipes in exchange for money off your rent. Keep your receipts and show him. Tell him to compare his utility bills before and after.

Pipewrap3
Pipe wrapping, in process.

OK, so how do you wrap your pipes? It's pretty durn easy. Don't hire someone to do this; you can do it yourself in one afternoon. The steps:

  1. Measure your pipe diameters. Our house is 117 years old, so we had several pipe diameters from different eras. This is important to know because the insulation tubes come in varying diameters. Make sure you get the right size. 
  2. Head to your local hardware store (ours has been in business as long as our house has stood here) and buy the pipe wrap tubes. They come in convenient sheaths that look like super-skinny pool noodles, but with a slit down one side. The slit has adhesive on both sides under a strip you can remove just as you get the pipe cover in place. There are also elbow joint-shaped covers and T-joints. You might need those.
  3. Come home and wrap the pipes, cutting them to size, bending them if need be. Even though the pipe covers stick together with that adhesive strip, you might also want to wrap the pipes with duct tape. We did.
Pipewrap5
The pipe wrap, like so many skinny pool noodles. Photo bomb, courtesy Chaco.

And that's it. That's all you have to do.

We spent just over $100 for the pipe wrap and tape, nothing more. And we've already seen results.

I launched us into this project at the very beginning of February, just as the forecasts for severe winter storms were trailing in. After we wrapped the pipes, we had single-digit and below-zero temperatures (Fahrenheit) for more than two weeks, with a foot of snow on the ground (a lot for this area). The cold temps persisted through much of February, and you know about the power outages in Texas and other parts of the country.

Amazingly, though, our water bill was 30% lower this February than last February!

Pipewrap4
A finished wrap job.

I will admit our gas bill (which covers our household heating) was higher this February than last, but the weather was a real anomaly, so that's not surprising. Our gas bill for March was 20% lower than March of last year, and I think that's more representative of what we will see outside of rare weather events.

One thing we discovered is that you can't get cocky about your utilities, though. We saw that February water bill, got too excited, and turned our hot water heater thermostat really low. Unfortunately that encouraged us (mostly me) to run the water too long, waiting for hot water. So our March water bill was only 5% lower than last year's. Lesson learned; it's a balance.

Also want to compare this return-on-investment to the quote we recently received for solar panels. Those would cost us $8,000 (!), and it would take 20 years to pay off our investment, and that assumes the solar panels never need to be replaced or repaired. (Right.)

Even if you're not ready to jump up and throw a pipe-wrapping party just yet, I encourage you to have a look at your water pipes. It's instructive to see where the water comes into your residence from the outside main and where it goes once it's here.

Also want to credit John Michael Greer's outstanding book Green Wizardry for planting the energy-efficiency seed; in other words, reminding me of what I should have already known, having grown up in a time when energy efficiency was on everyone's mind, as it should be.

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More DIY (Recycling and Repurposing) Bird Bath Fun!

Twig bird bath
Photo courtesy Austin Durant.

By Lisa Brunette

You might remember that super-popular post from last year on taking found items you might have lying around your basement or garage and repurposing them as bird baths. It was the No. 1 article from 2020 and the fifth most popular read of all time here at Cat in the Flock. Well, when I shared it with my online permaculture community, aka, the 'permies,' I was thrilled to see it inspire a couple of pretty cool extensions on the theme.

First up is the rustic twig bird bath above, made from a terra cotta pot water dish and found branches. This one's from Austin Durant, of San Diego, Calif. He must be great at Jenga to get that dish to balance so well on the twigs. Here's another look.

Twig bird bath 2
These photos also by Austin Durant.

You can tell Austin did a good job because the birds found the bath and began using it.

Sunday-birdbatch

In fact, they started to queue up for the whole bird bath experience!

Thumb-birdbath-queue

By the way, Austin is not just a bird lover; he's also the founder and chief fermentation officer at the Fermenter's Club. Their mission:

To improve people’s lives by teaching them why and how to make and enjoy fermented foods; and to create communities that are connected through their guts.

Fermentation is one of those skills Anthony and I are currently developing toward our overall goal of becoming more self-sufficient, as it gives us another method for preserving the food we're growing ourselves. The Fermenter's Club offers online classes in everything from how to make fish sauce to kombucha and sourdough bread. We haven't tried any of the Club offerings yet, but now that we know about it...

So the other bird gift to come out of my DIY post is this nifty feeder created by Stef Watkins of northern New Mexico. She made it out of the following:

  • a plastic tennis ball tube
  • a lunch takeout dish
  • a small branch (for inside the tube)
  • one screw
  • string
  • birdseed
Reclaimed plastic bird feeder
Photo courtesy Stef Watkins.

What's brilliant about this feeder is that Stef's not just repurposing but reclaiming two plastic items that would otherwise have gone into the waste stream. She gets major points for this one!

Now that you've seen where this whole thing with recycling for the birds can go, what do you have to show? Post your examples in the comments below!

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How to Cook a Perfect Pot of Rice Every Time

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By Lisa Brunette

It's tempting to buy prepared foods, whether that's shelf-stable packaged stuff or frozen. We're all really busy of course, even if we're working from home these days because you know, working from home is still working. But what if I told you the only thing standing between you and healthy living was a mere 15-20 minutes of cooking time per week?

Yeah, that's right: You can just say no to the 'ronis and the helpers because chances are, they're not really saving you any time at all. 

It takes just 15-20 minutes to cook up a simple pot of rice, and then you have a grain that will last you all week. Rice is versatile enough to use 3 meals a day - just add fruit, milk, maybe some nuts, and maple syrup, along with a little flax meal, for breakfast. 

I bet the prepared foods aren't saving you any money, either. There's a serious markup on those things, and to make matters worse, what you're paying for isn't even really 'food' at all, but a lot of fillers and additives that are almost wholly divorced from their origins as plants or animals.

Making your own grain every week (it doesn't have to be rice) is a great way to save money and eat healthier. It can also have an impact on climate change to cook grain from scratch rather than rely on highly processed ingredients that likely traveled long distances and couldn't have come into being without fossil fuel-based agriculture. Even better if your grain's local and organic, but you know, we're not purists here. Try your best.

1_2 cups rice

Now for the steps toward rice nirvana:

1. Measure the right ratio of rice to water. If you're starting with 2 cups of white basmati rice, as shown above, that means a corresponding 3 1/2 cups of water. Pay attention to the directions on the package. Brown rice will have a different ratio, as will wild rice, etc.

3_water for rice

2. Place the rice and water together in the pot, and feel free to add a flavoring or fat. Some good candidates: stock you've prepared ahead of time yourself (a worthy endeavor and vastly better for you than any stock or bouillon you can buy; we will cover how to do this in an upcoming post, but it's easy, I promise); beef, duck, or other fat; bacon grease, olive oil).

4_coming to boil

Use a large enough pot, with a lid that allows some steam to escape so the pot doesn't boil over. This can happen even in the simmer stages, so it's key to have a good quality pot with steam holes in the lid, such as the stainless steel one shown here, which I've had since a friend of mine bought it when she came to visit me in the early 90s. She took one look at my paltry kitchen cookware, pronounced it deficient, and went out and came home with this. The lid was missing for a time when I left it at a post-wedding party at another friend's house; but that friend recovered it years later when packing to move. And that is the story of this pot. Back to the rice: Next, bring the pot to a boil.

5_simmer covered

3. Just as it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to low and cover. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. A timer is a great thing here, especially if you are working from home. You can start the rice, put the timer on, and voila! You've got rice in 15 minutes.

If you need it to go longer than that, never fear. Sometimes I turn it to the lowest setting and simmer for a full 30 minutes because that works better for my timing, and the rice turns out perfectly.

It's really that simple. You can even store the rice in the same pot you made it in. You can now whip up quick meals by adding veggies and a protein to that rice in a variety of ways. Our favorites:

  • Sauté kale and bacon together and mix it with the rice
  • Steam broccoli, brown ground beef, and mix it with the rice and a little tamari or coconut sauce
  • Cook chicken thighs, onions, and olives together and serve it on a bed of rice
  • Serve shredded, sautéd cabbage and carrots with peanuts on rice

As an added note, learning to cook grain yourself from scratch (four ways) is part of my Permies.com certification in food preparation and preservation. This is step one for me; next up is to show you how I cook it in a crockpot, which for me means a nice homemade rendition of a favorite from Seattle's International District restaurants: congee. Stay tuned...

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The 'COVID Cabana' Might Just Save Us All

Bar1
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. 

Bar 1
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.  

Gas Fire
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! 

Barn
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. 

Wine Room
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!

H-l-about

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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