The 31st Annual Great Dickens Christmas Faire

Last weekend, Beth and I decided to continue our annual visit to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party.  I wrote about this last year, too, and won’t spend a lot of time on it here, only to mention that we had a great time in spite of the gate cost.

What amazes me every year is that in an era of mass commercial production of goods, there exists an entire subculture economy of people who still hand-craft their products.  We had a pleasant conversation with a couple who make clothes and sell them not only at the Dickens Fair but all of the Renaissance Faires and SCA events, too.   You can visit their website at

The cost of these goods is considerably more than what you’ll find at retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.  Quality hand-crafted goods will always be more expensive.  But if you’re the kind of person who would rather buy the cheap plastic crap at those stores, then the Dickens Fair/Renaissance Faire/SCA really isn’t for you anyway.

We spent most of our time taking in the stage shows and other presentations, which were free if you don’t count the gate cost.  We splurged and bought some roasted chestnuts and fudge, but for the most part the food was way over priced, and the argument could not be made that it was hand-crafted.


Review: The Colony

The Colony

Discovery Channel

“Reality TV”

From the network that gave us Mythbusters comes a show that seems to be a fusion of Junkyard Wars and Survivor. The show takes 10 people of varied backgrounds – a physician, a nurse, a handyman, a marine biologist, a couple of engineers – and sets them in a world where most humans have perished from a global virus.   Each episode has started with a head shot of Adam Montella, a “Homeland Security Advisor,”  telling us “We are on the edge of a global catastrophic disaster.”  The background shows a grim picture of Century City in ruins.

The “world” where these 10 survivors spend the next 10 weeks is located in an abandoned warehouse park on the edge of the Los Angeles River.  They are cut off from communication, electricity, and running water.  They must solve the problems of shelter, food and water and even the occasional “marauder” in the archetypal form of a motorcycle gang.

If you read the credits carefully, there is a disclaimer reading, “The participants in ‘The Colony’ experiment are presented with situations that were created by the producers.  They receive support from off-camera experts when their health and safety may be in danger. Viewers should not attempt to engage in the activities depicted in the experiment.”  So, they aren’t really cut off from the world.

I don’t believe this show was envisioned to be an actual show about people surviving.  You know they are going to survive for ten weeks, or they wouldn’t have a show.  There are experts on hand to advise and help the cast with their projects.  However, it does provide a vehicle for inspiring discussion about how people react in extreme conditions.

There are ethical questions to consider:  Is it really okay to steal food from somebody else, knowing that you may have condemned them to death by starvation, just so that you can have another day’s worth of food?  Would it have been better to invite the guys who owned the goats to join them in the Sanctuary?  (Not in the script, though.)  In order to survive for long, they are going to have to reinvent agriculture, a very labor-intensive activity without 21st Century technology to help.  They’re going to need every hand they can get come the harvest.

Questions of desperation: How hungry do you have to be to eat a carp caught in the Los Angeles River?

Questions of personality: Okay, the handyman is probably over-reacting in order to get more air time on the show.  Do you notice that the camera rarely focuses on the quieter, more rational types?  The handyman is an a-hole, but his skills are necessary for the survival of the group.  When does one side of this equation overrule the other?

The show offers a lot of instruction — I didn’t know about the wood gasifyer, but, day-um!  How kewl is that?  I suspect that the little two-stroke engine that they attached it to won’t last long on that fuel, but it’s still a good idea!

I don’t believe this show will offer a lot in the way of plot twists and surprises, but it’s still good fodder for discussion of human nature and survival.

Wooden Arrows. Worth the Effort?

This weekend, January 17th and 18th, will be heavy with archery.  In fact, I’ll be surprised if I can tote this load successfully.

On January 17th, I’ll be participating in Darkwood‘s Winter Archery Tourney and Hawk’s Feast. This means using a longbow and cedar arrows.  The very next day is the Cabin Fever Shoot, where I’ll be using a traditional recurve with aluminum arrows.

I have often threatened to start a Yahoogroup called I Hate Wooden Arrows, though truly only in jest.  They are a pain in the pancreas and frustrating to use.  They warp and break easily, they absorb and lose water even if you seal them carefully, and you have to make your own.

You are welcome to purchase wooden arrows from the archery store, and you’ll be lucky to get a set that come anywhere close to being matched for spine and mass.  Then you’ll have to resort to memorizing which ones shoot high, low, right, left and any combination of those.  If you want to minimize this inconvenience, you roll your own.

Which means finding a good source of port oxford cedar, investing in some specialized tools and the tools to make some of these tools, and spending a lot of time getting it right.  At first, you’ll waste a lot of time and energy making very expensive kindling.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find an artisan who has been doing this for a couple of lifetimes to help you out.

Eventually, you’ll start cranking out some pieces of art that look suspiciously like cedar arrows.  Then you start thinking, Do I really want to shoot these arrows?  Can’t I just put them on display somewhere?

When your arrows break or get tweaked, it hurts all the more because they are something that came from your soul, not just your wallet.

I have been laboring to make a set of arrows for use at Darkwood, and have managed to get them to within ten grains and five pounds spine.   Knowing that if I don’t hit the target, they’ll likely shatter on a rock will do wonders for my aiming ability.

What a Friend We Have in Cheeses!

We just spent an hour turning a gallon of raw, whole milk into 3/4 lb of mozzarella cheese. How kewl is that?! Would it be trite to say that it’s the best mozzarella I’ve ever tasted? Well, it isn’t. Next time, less salt.

We also made a mess out of the kitchen, and our hands smell like spoiled milk. But we had a great time, and ended up with that old familiar good feeling, “Hey! I can do this!”

We started off like any 21st Century American – we did internet research. We stumbled upon where we were able to order all the neophyte cheese making stuff.

We bought the milk from a local dairy. We are great fans of keeping things as local as possible. Fortunately, California is one of those states where we can buy raw milk. Let’s hear it for happy cows! We also have plans to experiment with goat’s milk.

Now we know just enough about making cheese to ask the musical question, “How did primitive peoples ever figure this out? And how did they do it without thermometers and microwaves and stainless steel?” So, the next item on our cheese-making to-do list: take a tour of some old country cheese mill.

One of my ulterior motives behind this cheesy affair is to have something to trade with the neighbors. The guy across the road from us likes to go crabbing, and he often brings us part of his catch. Even though he doesn’t expect anything in return, I can now offer him cheese in return. We’ll get a barter micro-economy going on our block. Who needs a global economy?