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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!

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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

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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.  

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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Using the Japanese Art of Kintsugi to Keep Instead of Discard

Header with reeds

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!

IMG_1263

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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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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