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Why You Need Tammi Hartung's Books - Plus a Chance to Win a Free, Signed Paperback!

Hartung books
My own collection of Tammi Hartung books.

By Lisa Brunette

I've been fangirling author Tammi Hartung for some time now. I think you should share in the love, so we're running this giveaway, which I'll get to in a moment. I picked up a copy of her 2014 book The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature a couple of years ago at my neighborhood used book store, and I was immediately hooked. When I found out she'd also written on growing healing herbs and how to make use of native plants, my soul-sister crush was cemented.

Here's a list of just a few of the many things Hartung has taught me:

  • That plants signal their use somewhat metaphorically, through color, shape, and way of being in the world. This is called the "doctrine of signatures." A good example is the heart-hued, heart-shaped rose petal offering healing powers for the heart muscle.
  • Your quest for food plants does not have to be in conflict with your desire to help support wildlife. In fact, the two can coexist in a mutually supportive way.
  • It's surprisingly easy to grow, harvest, and make use of your own healing herbs as teas, tinctures, food medicine, syrups, poultices, balms, the list goes on.

An ethnobotanical herbalist and organic farmer, Hartung champions an approach to gardening that is gentle on the earth and its creatures. Her books are enormously helpful if you've wanted to garden but felt turned off by guides that call for fertilizer and pesticide use, or simply zap the fun and natural-world connection out of the endeavor. 

Now for a rundown of all four books, in order of publication date. I highly recommend every one. You can try scouring used book store shelves for them, but I've also provided handy links to the Amazon pages for each. We don't receive anything in return for including these links.

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Growing 101 Herbs That Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2000

Publisher's Description: What better way to take your medicine than straight from the garden? From St. John's wort to fennel, chicory to skullcap, herbalist and gardener Tammi Hartung introduces you to the special cultivating and care techniques required to grow 101 versatile and useful herbs.

How I've used this book: As a reference guide for the historical medicinal use of 101 herbs and for how-to's on handcrafting herbal teas, tinctures, and other products. It's illustrated and full-color, which helps you picture unfamiliar techniques and makes it an attractive reference.

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Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More Than 100 Herbs - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2011

Publisher's Description: Infuse your yard with the flavor, fragrance, beauty, and healing power of organic herbs. Whether you want to work herbs into existing flower or food gardens, grow them in containers, or plant a dedicated herb garden, Homegrown Herbs is your in-depth guide to everything you need to know about planting, caring for, harvesting, drying, and using more than 100 herbs.

How I've used this book: Same as the above, as I believe this is an updated version of the original. But they're definitely both worth owning. This one includes some helpful tips on harvesting and drying flowers and herbs, a list of edible flowers, a good assortment of food medicine recipes, and other additions.

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The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2014

Publisher's Description: Make beneficial wildlife part of your food-garden ecosystem: they'll pollinate your plants, feed on pests, and leave behind manure to nourish your soil. Tammi Hartung has spent years observing natural rhythms and animal habits in her garden, a peaceful place where perennials attract pollinators, ponds house slug-eating bullfrogs, mulch protects predator insects in the soil, mint gently deters unwanted mice, and hedgerows shelter and feed many kinds of wildlife. Her successful methods are a positive step toward a healthier garden.

How I've used this book: This book has formed the basis for my wildlife-friendly garden design at Dragon Flower Farm. It's why we have a brush pile supporting families of rabbits and other critters, a rock garden for snakes and reptiles, and a host of other features that encourage everything from opossums to monarchs to visit our garden.

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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2017

Publisher's Description: The plants in your backyard have amazing stories to tell and fascinating uses you've never known about. For millennia, we humans have relied on these plants to nourish, shelter, heal, and clothe us. Through captivating tales and images that illuminate our lost wisdom, Tammi Hartung reveals the untold histories of 43 native North American plants and celebrates their modern versatility.

How I've used this book: The prettiest of Hartung's works, the hardcover is a pleasure to leaf through for the luscious imagery, entertaining fun facts, and short tips on native plants we might actually take for granted. It's a bit of a fascinating history lesson, too, as told through flora.

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Tammi Hartung.

Just as I finished this last book in Hartung's oeuvre, I lamented she had no more, but then I discovered her blog, which is an extension of her work as co-owner of Desert Canyon Farm. As mentioned in her Amazon author bio: 

She and her husband, Chris, own Desert Canyon Farm, a certified organic farm since 1996 in southern Colorado, where they grow more than 1800 varieties of plants. They grow all types of herbs, heritage and heirloom food plants, native and wildlife habitat plants, edible flowers and more. In their flower seed production field, they grow over 60 varieties of perennials for a German seed company called Jelitto Perennial Seed Co., so seeds from Tammi's farm end up being grown by gardeners and growers all over the world!

Through the blog newsletter, I enjoy hearing about Desert Canyon's work across all four seasons, as well as getting to know Tammi and Chris, not to mention dog Shrek. Tammi's blog posts offer a glimpse behind-the-scenes for both the farm and her latest author project, a children's plant book. As an avid hiker myself, I also like the photos and accounts of their hikes through southern Colorado terrain, which is much more arid than my environment here in Missouri. Side note: Tammi is a friendly, responsive writer, too; I reached out to her to find out if I could buy her books directly through her instead of Amazon (the answer is no, as she directed me back to the 'zon), and we had a really nice exchange. She's also graciously provided signed copies of her wildlife gardening book, which brings me to the giveaway details...

And Now for That Chance to Win a Free Paperback

We're giving away two paperback copies of Hartung's third book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature, signed by the author. All you have to do if you're new to Cat in the Flock is sign up for our email newsletter. If you're already a subscriber, all you have to do is get one friend to subscribe to our newsletter, and both you and your friend will be entered into a drawing. The bulleted how-to:

  1. If you haven't already, sign up for our email newsletter. That's all you have to do! New signups from today's date onward are automatically eligible for the drawing.
  2. If you're already signed up, forward our newsletter, share a link to our blog, or somehow else get one of your friends excited about Cat in the Flock enough to sign up for our email newsletter.
  3. If you're getting a friend to sign up, mail us at this handy link to let us know you succeeded, and include your friend's email address used in the signup so we know to credit you and your friend!
  4. That's it! We'll reach out if you've won. For friends-telling-friends about Cat in the Flock, if one of your names is selected, you both get a copy of the book.
  5. The deadline to enter is Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

Good luck on the drawing, and in the meantime, I hope you check out Tammi's books and get as much out of them as I have. 

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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. But first, let's talk about 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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Retro, Handmade, Eco-Friendly: Our Top 5 Post-Holiday Etsy Finds

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Photos courtesy Birch Pack.

By Lisa Brunette

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

1. Handmade birch bark tree ornaments

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

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2. Retro 70s cast iron trivets

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

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Photo courtesy Pretty Leftovers.
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Photo courtesy Kitschy Vintage.

3. Felted garland

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

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Photo courtesy Handcrafted Buffalo.

4. Macrame candy canes

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

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Photo courtesy Frayed by Design Co.

5. Bubble light night lights

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

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Photo courtesy 1820 Lamp Company.

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

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

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4 Cost-Saving, Eco-Friendly Post-Christmas Moves You Can Make Right Now

Xmas Cards
Holiday cards deserve a second life.

By Lisa Brunette

Now that the gleam of Christmas has lost a bit of its glimmer, you might be looking at your living room full of spent wrapping paper and holiday cards cluttering the mantel and mentally planning when you're going to clean-sweep the whole thing and move on. Because if there was ever a year we wanted to move on from, it's this one, right?! But before you abandon the holidays, tossing everything into recycling and jumping feet-first into 2021, here are four cost-saving, eco-friendly moves you can still make as the whole kit and kaboodle winks out.

1. Keep Your Holiday Cards

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, and other winter holiday cards are often made of high-quality materials, featuring heavy card stock, embossed imagery, and other details that are just too nice to throw away. They deserve a second life. Consider framing them as holiday-specific art, using them in arts and crafts, or even repurposing them as gift tags next year. With a scissors and hole punch, you can turn one card into several cute gift tags. This way you save money on buying separate gift tags, and you also keep the cards out of the waste stream. Even though you might think you're a good eco person because you put them into the recycling instead of trash, recycling is not really the answer, as oftentimes that card isn't being recycled at all. We need to shift more toward reuse instead.

There's also the sentimental value - while we all want to Marie Kondo our way to clarity and spaciousness, it can be a beautiful thing to sift through old cards each year, musing on all the snippets of wisdom that Grandma took the time to impart before she died or the slices of life that come through in those old Christmas letters from the 1990s. Besides, with holiday cards waning as a thing, you might find these precious missives become vintage relics in no time at all.

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Repurposed ribbons and bows, with a gift tag made from a Christmas card.

2. Keep Your Bows and Strings

Along with cards-cum-gift tags, another opportunity to divert items from the waste stream surfaces when it comes to bows. If you're using fabric bows, yay you for the style points, but that should be an even greater incentive to keep and reuse them. Um, they are fabric, after all! Plus, a great many items packaged and mailed from retailers, especially before the holidays, come with nice fabric bows adorning them already, as in the image above. Every single one of those bows came from retailer packaging, even something as mundane as a package of socks! We repurpose them to wrap gifts every year. We even store them in a zip-locking type of bag that was used to ship a pair of sweatpants.

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This especially thick craft-style wrapping paper makes great 'brown' matter.

3. Compost Your Gift Wrap

Our compost operation is continuing to run through the winter, and I recommend you keep yours up, too, if organic gardening is your jam. Since almost all gardening activity has ceased now that it's officially the dormant season, we don't have the same ready access to 'brown' material that balances out all the 'green' coming from our kitchen in the form of fruit and veggie scraps. That's where wrapping paper comes in. Though it used to be a tree, it's now dead and, in our case, literally brown. Into the compost it goes!

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In our downstairs bathroom, an antique fishing tackle box and festive hand towel.

4. Stock Up on Christmas Stuff for 2021

You'll get the best deals on Christmas ephemera in the week just after Christmas, when retailers are eager to ditch their stock and mark items down as much as 75 percent. I've pretty much never paid full price for wrapping paper or Christmas cards because I always buy them after the holiday the year previous. You can sometimes get other items at a discount as well that are really only tangentially related to the holidays. This morning, in fact, I scored a rolling pin and 12x12 baking pan along with wrapping paper and Christmas towels from World Market (not a sponsored endorsement). Anthony's birthday is in January, which can catch me off guard, following so closely on the heels of Christmas, but I've learned to use this to my advantage. Last week I 'favorited' my top picks for him on Etsy, and then this morning, I checked to see which ones were offering the best after-Christmas deal and quickly snapped up just the thing.

Speaking of Etsy and deals, now is the time to order your own set of personalized Christmas stockings, as featured previously on the blog (totally an affiliate link this time) because THEY ARE NOW 50 PERCENT OFF. Not only is this a great deal, but by shopping Etsy, you're supporting small, independent makers of unique, handmade items. If, like me, you failed to take advantage of a parent who offered to teach you to sew, and now you do not know how to sew, you can still have a handsewn thing because of Etsy.

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The risk with my after-Christmas shopping approach is that you might lose out on certain items - ornaments seem to fly off the shelves before Christmas every time (much like they fly off our tree thanks to Chaco) - or that what's trending in 2020 might not be cool in 2021. But I note that the Christmas llama thing has been going strong for two years now and doesn't seem to be fading, and maybe that's because it's moving from trend to classic. If I have my way, it will... Besides, do you really care about what's trendy?

Happy New Year!

This post contains an Etsy affiliate link. If you make a purchase, Cat in the Flock may earn a commission.

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