Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


When the shit hits the fan

I am a prepper’s wet dream.

I’m male. I’m a vet (and a combat vet). I was in Intelligence (and better yet Interrogation, with time spent instructing). I know how to make gunpowder, and turn that into grenades, bombs and rockets.

I’ve studied martial arts. I know how to use bladed weapons. I can ride a horse, and a motorcycle. I know how to make minor mechanical repairs. I’ve studied fortification. I can use swords, pikes, axes, knives, bows, crossbows and firearms. I’ve made cannon.

All of which makes their eyes glaze over as their breath gets short. They see me as some massive asset in the bloodbath they expect to come when The Shit Hits The Fan.

And they are wrong. Not only is that not the likely scenario, even if it were I’m not on their side. I’ve studied history. All those times of death and destruction from one end of, “the world” to the other… were not because society fell apart. Nope, the death and destruction were why society fell apart. The plague comes, people hunker down and try to ride it out (or they move to cities. France didn’t recover the population she had in 1300 until 1900, but the distribution of population changed, a lot).

Preppers don’t get that. Even the ones I’ve interacted with who seemed to get it (that more than just gun and guts are required), still fail to see how things work. I was on a couple of panels with John Ringo a few years ago. Now John seems a tolerably decent fellow, but in the course of a couple of hours of discussion I realised he’d picked up some of the same blinkered ideas that so many End of the World sorts have; mainly that the end will be sudden, and then it’s warlord city.

So when the conversation got to farming, he was dismissive of pretty much everyone; until I told him I’d run a small farm (and I do mean small about ½ an acre). That said, with a bit of work, and some knowledge of what was required, that’s enough to add a fair bit of food to the table for a family of six (which is what I was doing with it).

Some chickens, some attention to the compost and putting in a balance set of crops (such as with the milpa systems in Meso-America) can get a lot of food out of a moderate amount of land. It’s not that tricky to set up, and a small investment in practice (a working vegetable garden is often enough to see what’s needed), and some books are all one needs (that, and seeds).

Want to have fun with a prepper… ask them where they intend to get socks. Most clothes are pretty durable, so it will be a couple of years before the supply of pants, shirts, coats and hats run out. But socks, socks get a lot of wear, and (as one who spent a lot of time in the Army) if they don’t get washed frequently your feet rot. Also, if they don’t get changed/washed regularly, they wear out. I have a lot of socks, and I change them. A four day weekend means I pack six pair (yeah, I might obsess a bit about socks).

That’s where my predilection for books, and futzing, comes in. I’ve done a lot of crafty stuff. I was a machinist for several years. I can run a lathe, or a mill. I understand the basics of using brakes. I’ve done a bit of forging. I make yarn. In theory I can weave.

This is where the preppers fall apart. They think of marauders. They contemplate a world of scavengers, living off the plunder of those fools who didn’t prepare. They imagine Mad Max, and envision the wasteland of the 30 Years War. They forget it was marauding soldiers who made that wasteland.

They don’t know how to make things, and they don’t know how to run things. I’ve been fortunate. The choices I made in my life mean I’ve never been rich. I have (through good fortune, and the help of my friend and my partners) been able to live a life which allowed me to indulge in hobbies which are modern luxuries, but used to be essential skills.

Take my spinning. I have a wheel at home. It cost, all in, about a grand. I paid for about half of it, and my partners kicked in the rest (as an early holiday present). I spin when we watch television or when I need to take a break and compose my thoughts for some piece of writing. I use it as therapy when I see something ungodly stupid on the internet, and as a way to unwind at the end of the day (the moreso when the winter comes and I can’t garden). It is, for me, an interstitial pleasure.

For much of “civilisation” it was an interstitial need. Women did (and do, if you look at the Andes today, as well as the highlands of Afghanistan, parts of India, etc.) spin when they had, “nothing else to do” (women, largely, did the spinning, while men did the weaving). I’ve got a project on spindles right now. I have about an oz. of Merino/silk spun up. I think I might be able to get to an oz. and a half before the total weight is too much to keep working.

That oz. is about 450 yards of fine yarn. To make sock-yarn (you thought I’d forgotten the socks), needs three plies. It happens I intend to spin three singles (ea. of which becomes one ply), and then make some sockweight yarn. For the other singles I have alpaca/silk (80/20) and pure merino. Socks last longer when you have cellulose, like tencel, or bamboo, or silk in them, which is part of why I’m adding to this yarn; but mostly because the fibers I had were blended, and I thought they would be pretty together.

I do most of my spindle spinning (up to about .9 oz. before the spindle start to be too heavy to manage when the train slews) while I’m on the subway, so it really is interstitial. I’m making yarn when I don’t really have a task at hand. I could, read (or play games on my phone, but I do this (and it ties me into the work of women going back some 10,000 years, maybe more). I will probably sell this yarn, so I can afford to buy more fiber to make more yarn (it’s sort of Ourborosian).

So, to get 450 yards of sock yarn, I need to spin about 1,500 yds. of singles (because twisting them up to get the final three-ply will reduce some of the total yardage, which varies based on how tightly the yarn is spun). I’ve spun about ½ oz. of the second spindle in the past five days of commuting, but it’s the sort of thing preppers don’t account for.

They see cans, not chickens (to quote @civilwarbore), and don’t think about the nature of the lifestyle they imagine. Yes, one can be a marauder, if there is a stable society to pillage, but as with any predator, the prey can’t be depleted if they want to survive. Since the actual prey of Vikings, Mongols, Huns, etc. was the fruits of urban cultures, it behooved them to not destroy those cultures (which is why they tended to settle down, and set up shop… thus becoming potential targets for the next wave of marauders).

And they somehow think it’s impossible for people to co-operate. They ignore the aftermath of disaster. New York has a blackout… people come together. Post Sandy, when Lower Manhattan was dark… restaurants were running on cash, or tab. There wasn’t any light, but the gas worked. They didn’t have refrigeration, but they could get deliveries. I stopped into a liquor store, and they offered me lunch. The vast majority of people are, at root decent. Not saints, maybe not even nice, but decent.

So, when I said, in one of those panels, that while I didn’t have experience in lots of things (e.g. I’ve never tanned leather), but you should see my library, John Ringo laughed, and said that wasn’t going to be good for much. Perhaps, for him, it wouldn’t, perhaps he’s not good at research (one of his books says black powder has more energy than smokeless), but for me, they would be.

In part because I trust that other people will pitch in, that we can divide the labor, and find materials to let us make mistakes. Some things (like brewing, and pickling, and salting), I’ve already practiced. But when the “Next Dark Age” comes, it will, as with Rome (both of them) probably be more a gradual loss of the trappings of easier living than some cataclysmic catastrophe.  I know how to do more than I can do (run a herd of cattle, tend sheep, grow grapes, grow cereals, thresh grain, harvest corn, make pots, build ovens, dry lumber, felt wool, make a yurt; or a tipi, build a weir, build a dam, make a catapult (or a trebuchet), fashion bows, entrench a town, set an ambush, cook, knit, plough, sharpen, play pennywhistle, play baseball, football, soccer, skittles, turn wood, make glue, make wine, beer, and vinegar, press olive oil, prune fruit trees, &c. &c. &c.), and I can teach.

And for that, I am as prepared as I can be. Preppers aren’t. Because people who can do violence (and well) are easy to come by (e.g. me). People who can do the rest of it are more common than people think. People who can do both aren’t thin on the ground. And people who value comity will band together, where those who are good at violence will (in all probability) leave the plough as needed, to put paid to those who plan to live off the sweat of other’s labors.

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Summer colds


I don’t know if they suck more than winter colds (both are miserable) but they always feel as if they are more destructive of getting things done.  I don’t (quite) get the, “it’s just a cold”.  They knock me on my ass.  They do it in way which is worse than the flu; when one gets the flu, one knows one is sick.  Flat out, wiped out, no sense that one ought to be able to get anything done.

Not so with a cold.  It’s a lower key sapping of energy.  Yesterday was crappy.  I had no appetite, ached in minor ways, and had a headache to beat the band (from my sinuses rebelling).  I also had things which needed doing, because on Tues. I’d managed to bugger up a pair of errands.  So a pot needed to be replaced, and the correct guitar strings gotten.

That was it, done for the day.  Planting peppers… Nope.  repotting  the etrog?  Nope.  Eating?  Nope (I think that’s where, “starve a cold” comes from, making a benefit out of what happens when one has not the energy to make toast).  I got back and went to bed (no, I lie, I did manage to get on one make on the present yarn project; about 10 grams of cranberry corriedale for a 2×2 cranberry/silver grey cable; spun s/z/s, so as to be good for knitting: if I don’t have the sticktoitiveness required, it will be a 2-ply crochet yarn).  Reading, playing clicky games on my phone, soaking a really hot tub and napping away from 1400 yesterday to 1000 this morning was all I could manage.

Today I got coffee, and released some praying mantises (I bought the last pair of egg-cases from my local garden supply on Tues).  Nuked some Campbell’s (comfort food: now made for “peel/pop/eat”) and flopped on the couch. I’m done in.

It’s that sense of done in, when there are things I want to be doing outside (which is less a thing in the winter) which seems to make the summer cold more onerous.



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This and that

I realise I’ve let twitter become my everyday comments, and am therefore ending up making this, “serious”.  A retweet from @evilrooster reminded me this is not always the best of ways to look at things.

1:  It means the people who don’t follow my twitter don’t see what I say.

2: It means what I might want to say gets less said.

3: It means it’s harder for people to find the things I want to talk about.

4: I get lost.  I start to write large posts, and then don’t get them sorted until they seem pointless.

Work has been busy.  We have three people on vacation, and five quit; one of them the Store Manager (he got a better offer, and took it).  A beloved horse died; which was sad.  Everyone else was away from home for four days (not that I could really tell.  I worked eight days straight; through yesterday, and 18 of the past 21.  I’m getting pretty much full-time hours, but on a part-time schedule.  That’s what, “underemployment” looks like).

But all is not work.  I’ve gotten some spinning done (much while we watch Veronica Mars, which makes me think of Twin Peaks, without the supernatural aspects and a but more linearity of plot: The A-Plot is better framed, and the B-Plot carries the episode in a way that doesn’t leave one going, “Whuh?” about everything).  It’s not my best spinning: I grabbed the wrong fiber, and so it didn’t need to be as loose as I did it.  I plied it up yesterday (first use of my bulky flyer, it’s 6 oz of 2-ply) meant for crochet [spun s, plied z], and the tests I did while plying laid really softly on my hand.

I also got sent a package of fleece.  A rare breed, from New Zealand, Arapawa. That is because the internet is real life.  Some one saw me writing on about spinning and sent me a line asking if they could send me a fleece.  A rare fleece (… a rattlin’ fleece, from the flock down in the valley-oh! o/” ).  Now i want to get a drum carder, so I can see how it behaves.  First I need to scour the wool.  That sounded a lot more daunting six months ago, but I’ve been spinning more, and it seems more like breadmaking than floor-scrubbing (i.e. a little work, over a longer time, rather than a lot of work over a longer time).  The only thing I need is the detergent (as it seems the preferred home method has been made more difficult because dish-soap makers have added enzymes, which happen to attack the fibers, so I need to be sure my scouring soap is free of them).

But I am so chuffed.  It’s got such a nice smell, spicey, and earthy and cleanly acid; with a bit of heaviness.  Musky, I suppose, but not in the civet sort of way. It smells like happy sheep.

I’m also teaching people some basic swordplay.  Bought several new shinai, and am working with them on basic movement drills, and forms.  No one is in any sort of training to spar yet, but that will come soon enough.  They improve with speed.

Summer is fading, but the plants are still doing well.  Asparagus (what hasn’t been ripped out by someone/something) is thriving.  I should get to eat some next year.  I am worried about one of the blueberries, so there may not be any fruit on my present plants.  I’ll put in more.  I seem to have an olive from a cutting (though the transplant may have killed it, in which case I will be sad).  The dill is going to seed, and I have Calif. Poppies in seed, so the summer was a pretty good on in that regard.

The trick to blogging, of course, is to blog.

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Attention leads to intention

Nero Wolfe, half of the great detective created by Rex Stout (Archie Goodwin being the other half), spends two hours, twice a day with his orchids.  It’s not that he has 10,000 (he does) it’s that it pleases him.  Some of the time is spent potting, or breeding, but a lot of it is almost certainly spent just looking at the plants.  I don’t have that many plants.  I have a few, a couple of orchids, a grape, an olive, a pair of etrogim (in the same pot, for the nonce), rosemary, gardenia, some “Peruvian Sea Lilies”, Freesia, various pot herbs, etc.

I also volunteered for the position of gardener for our condo.  So I try to spend a few minutes a day with the plants.  Some of it is to work (the forsythia is horrid, and the junipers are overgrown, in part because of the forsythia:  As a Californinian my first question when pondering a planting isn’t, “will it grow here?”, but “will it take over?”.  The designer of the landscaping does not seem to have ever considered this).

Because I can’t just rip things out and go whole hog (though some forsythia may be removed, and roses put in their stead), and because I have to consider some of the plants  (rosemary, gardenia, etrogim) as indoor/outdoor plants and some (the grapes, the pomegranite, the olive) are actual bonsai, I am forced to do a fair bit of trimming/training/constraining.  Herb Gustafson tells a story about someone who was visiting him; this was a semi-professional visit.  Herb is a a really well known bonsaist (no, I don’t know him, but some years ago we were both active on the same usenet groups, about bonsai).  This was something of a squeeful visit, and something like the “martial artist meets the great master” moment.  They went out to look at the plants.  The guest was all sorts of eager.  Herb watered some, looked at some.  Pinched a leaf, here and there, and in a short chunk of time, they were done.

The guest was comfortable to say he was sort of amazed.  He’d been hoping to see some great secret technique (you know where this is going, right?)  He had.  Staying in touch with the plants is how to make them beautiful.  By looking at them, every few days (he has enough trees that he’d need the four hours a day Wolfe spends with the orchids, to see them all, every day) he can judge their state of health, see which ones need more water, which ones less.  Where a branch is starting to go the wrong way; which plants have developed aphids, or need to be turned, or….

Doing that is how I noticed the grape had buds.‡

Bud cluster

That was a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, as I was trying to decide which growth was going the wrong way/being too vigorous, I saw the buds had bloomed.

Blooming Grapes I

Grape flowers are dull. They start as little green lumps, like tiny grapes; which are so cute, then they open, and they get that little halo of non-petalled flowers. But those turn into grapes.

Grape in bloom

Spinning is sort of the same. I try, because it pleases me, to spend at least a few minutes a day playing with fiber. It gives me a better sense of what it does (building the sense memories needed to be able to do it with an absent attention, while not losing my active intention). Spinning is sort of like running, in that regard; any amount you do is improving to your technique, stamina, etc.. For Mother’s Day I told my mother I’d make her some yarn; she knits, and crochets. She wanted some 3-ply for knitting. Since I had empty bobbins this was pretty easy to start. I’ve now done 202 yds. of 3-ply 50/50 alpaca/bamboo. I also, finally, finished the project I’ve been doing on spindles since February

On the noddy

(it’s not as bad as all that, it’s been mostly spun on the subway, and I mislaid the last third of the fiber for about three weeks).

It’s very fine. I didn’t get quite the length I thought I had, the end result was about 260 yds. My mother’s yarn is 2.8 oz. The spindled yarn is 1.8. They are both 3-ply.

How fine is it?

This fine.

Penny for your thoughts

Have a close up, so you can see that it’s three strands in concert.

The wheat and the chaff

When all is said and done, the past few weeks have been pretty productive, though to look at the fruit of that labor

Five Skeins

it doesn’t seem like so much; until I consider that’s only about ten hours of wheel time, and about 20 for the spindle (the latter is also “interstitial” time, as it’s time I was also doing something else. So rather than read, or amuse myself on my phone I spun).

Where is my spinning? It’s in a pretty good place. The interesting thing about the middle skein, and the pair on the outside† is that they represent me starting to weigh out the fiber before I spin it. The singles I spun after that, in both cases, were almost the same length (to within a yard, or so). That means, on both spindle and wheel, I am being consistent for WPI. I need to work on the Twist Per Inch, so that my plies will be more even. On the spindle it seems I am not as steady, or perhaps it’s that I can put in more twist with a lot less torsion, but the plying of the spindled yarn wasn’t as regular as I would like.  On the other hand, the end result (at 260+ yards, isn’t so much less than I thought it was going to be after all)

I also learned that I need to have a box of some sort, if I want to keep spinning on the subway, as the latter part of the exercise was hindered by the fiber being a bit felty, which meant I had more breaks, and a harder time being even in the diameter.

But by doing a little, every day (or two), my habit gets better set.  The next yarn I make is also going to be a bit on the fine side (about the same as my mothers), and then I’ll play with making some a bit bulkier (because that fiber wants to be pretty softly spun, and fine yarns are trickier to pull that off with).  I’ve put one trick in the bag, now I need to add more.


‡All the photos are available in LARGE, sizes.  Just right click on them to see the finer details

† those two, combined, are the spindle spun yarn. I made a rotational error in computing the lay, so I plied about 25 yards into a really ugly single. I tried to unply it, but that wasn’t happening. So I played Atropos, and cut it. I then became Clotho again and respun it, into a very “arty” 3-ply).

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Gardening, and landscape maintenance

I just did about 2 1/2 hours of it. I’m tired.  I have some blisters (one is burst, which is no big deal; better if it wasn’t a bit dirty, but it’ll be all right.  The other never got enough damage to get filled, so it will be callous by this evening).

The eradication of the japanese knotweed proceeds apace.  I spent a chunk of Friday ripping all the aboveground plant out.  I also dug up a lot of the rhizome; as well as a lot of bricks.  Yesterday I saw that I’d missed some of the rhizome which was near the ground (not a huge surprise, it was like trying to play tug of war with the Midgard Serpent.  That stuff goes deep, and ranges far).  I spotted it because it was making new shoots.  Ripped it out.  If I keep on top of it I can probably starve it to death.

Chopped up about 60 gals. of forsythia (and some prostrate juniper, and a little bit of the japanese maples; to keep them in better shape).  Then I started to put in one of the blueberries.  That’s how I got the blisters.  I wanted to dig a hole able to hold about 20 gallons.  The plant is in a 3 gallon pot, so that would give it some room to spread, and let me amend the soil to make it more acidic, thus keeping the bush in better humor.  I dug one about 10 gallons.  I did have the advantage that the peat I added didn’t contribute to having too much spoil left over; because about 20 percent of what I removed was bricks and broken concrete (As well as the hood ornament of an ’80s Chrysler).  It was trying to excavate the larger pieces which caused the blisters.

So I have some asparagus in the ground (and some more to plant) and one of the two blueberries (blueberries are not self-fertile, in fact they require cross pollination; two bushes of the same variety will not fruit).  Some mesculin, and bulbs for next spring, are going into a separate planter.  Dill seed has been tossed about.  Garlic chives have sprouted, the grape has got nine bunches of buds.  I need to order some za’atar seeds, because the one’s I had don’t seem to have been fertile.  I nipped the first buds from the basil (I need to plant more, three is not enough).  I have the season’s first oregano drying already.

Life is good.

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Spring is here

And modern practice (greenhouse seedlings) means I have already made my first harvest. There is a bunch of oregano drying in the darker portion of the downstairs hallway.  The Etrog has decided to put out new shoots (the coldish nights, and some hellacious winds beat a lot of leaves off the tree with the fruit… the fruit which has been on the tree for 10 months… and won’t be ripe for Shavuot, caused a huge loss of leaves.  I was afraid that tree might not make it, but it’s come back).

The nascent bunches of grapes number at least nine.  The amaryllis is about to bloom, there are garlic chives in all their spiky glory.  I see some California poppy sprouts (seeds from last summers attempts at guerrilla gardening which appear to have not sprouted, and are now coming up; we shall see if they are allowed to reach flowering.  There are three in the one place, and one in another.  I also put a lot out in the past couple of weeks).

The only concerns are the forsythia (rambling, and overgrowing the back) and what looks to be a pair of incursions of japanese knotweed.  Which means I am going to be having some fun trying to contain it.  That it’s growing on the far side of the fence on the property line on one side, and in an access way we don’t own on the other is a problem.  That part of the eradication effort involves Roundup bothers me a lot.

Oh well.