Smoky amethyst at Gypsum Moon Mine

We’re busy getting ready for our first dig, tentatively planned for this fall, and we’ve been working a new vein recently.

This is three of our team – Kay (sifting through recently excavated red clay for smaller points), and me (in the hole), and Marcy (doing the fishbelly flop in the recently excavated red clay, apparently a vitally important part of mining, just in case you haven’t read the Piggy Rockhound Handbook) – shortly before finding our first pieces of smoky amethyst yesterday.

We’ve been pulling out gorgeous clear and milky and smoky quartz points, but the purple had eluded us till then.

Pics of some of the smoky amethyst coming shortly, along with more details about this fall’s dig – leave us a comment if you want more info about that. We currently have an active list of participants, and plan to limit the number to 50 for the first dig.

Morels in the yard

We have morels!

I just found them yesterday, in an area of the yard we call Mikey’s Garden, where I know they’ve never been before, and from what I’ve read about them (see the great links, below) they’ll probably come back year after year now. So excited!

I didn’t see the little spider on the morel in the photo below until I looked at it later. I love how she blends in, and I’ll certainly be careful to try not to disturb her when we pick these.

Click here for some good info about identifying morels and even more important, identifying false morels, because those can hurt you.

Click here for an article on hunting for morels with a list of great mushroom-hunting tips.


1967: Duke Gardens and a wristwatch

In the very early spring of 1967, the year Kay turned 10, her nuclear family – her mom and dad, her older brother, and her – moved away from St Joseph, Missouri, where Kay had been born and raised up to that point, to Durham, North Carolina, over a thousand miles away. They left behind a big extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins, friends from their neighborhood and friends from school, and, hardest of all for Kay, her paternal grandparents. The move was somewhat sudden, and the reasons for it were murky, mysterious, grown-up reasons, which to Kay meant they were not really reasons at all, but angry secrets involving raised voices, slammed doors, hidden tears, and strange silences.

Shortly after the move, and just in time to celebrate Kay’s 10th birthday, her grandparents made the journey to North Carolina to visit them in their new home, and for a full week the whole family did all kinds of fun, tourist-y things, a welcome respite for Kay from not just the painful homesickness and the strangeness of everything new, but also from the boring business of unpacking.

When they visited Duke Gardens in Durham, Kay and her brother posed with their Grandpa for a photograph in front of the famous terrace gardens. Kay’s Grandma and Grandpa had given Kay her first wristwatch for her 10th birthday gift, a very big deal back in the day, and you can see her proudly wearing it in the photo: a tangible sign of her double-digit, big-girl status, one foot still firmly planted in the childhood, the other tentatively stepping out towards that murky mysterious land of grown-ups.

1962 and Sammy the brown tabby

This was our neighbor’s cat, Sammy, and I adored him. We had two Siamese cats who loathed small humans in my house, in spite of my persistent worshipful adoration, and we also suddenly (to me, anyway) had a brand-new baby, so I escaped next door as often as possible that summer.

Sammy, like most brown tabbies I’ve known, was sweet and cuddly and would fall over in a heartbeat for a brushing, a job which my lip-biting shows I took very seriously. Our elegant and aloof Siamese cats, on the other hand, never missed an opportunity to hiss, slash, and run, which I always took very personally.

I’ve had a couple of brown tabbies over the years, and they’ve all been similar in temperament to Sammy. This is Peanut, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge a few years ago (taken too early by coyotes, a sad story for another day) in his classic sleeping position, and I believe this series of photos is a clear indicator of his personality – Honey Badger, only super-sweet and maybe a few fries short of a happy meal.

1959 and the slippers that started it all

This is me, at my grandma’s house, in 1959, and you may be wondering whether I’m laughing hysterically, or crying hysterically. The answer would be, well, yes.

Those fabulous slippers were a gift to me from my paternal grandma and grandpa on my first birthday. Do they kinda look like baby Goofy or baby Pluto, just a little bit? I don’t remember whether or not they were supposed to be any particular character, or just cute little puppy slippers, but they were crazy awesome. From the moment I first saw them, apparently, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry, and so I would do both. Loudly, dramatically, and with gusto, alternating rapidly between the two extremes.

And thus, I believe, my lifelong love affair with footwear was born. The shoes! The boots, the booties, the sandals, the heels, the flats, the *cute* sneakers, I love them all.

Me, with every pair of L’Artiste boots ever made, and don’t even get me started on their booties…

Spotlight On: Gem Silica

Gem silica is a form of chalcedony, thought to be the rarest, partially due to such a limited supply. While small amounts of gem silica have been found in southern New Mexico, Mexico, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Peru, most gem silica came from locations near copper mines in Arizona that have now been depleted. When new pockets of gem silica are discovered in copper mines today, only the smaller mines that still use pick and shovel methods of mining can actually extract the gem silica. The larger mines, where the mining procedures are automated, simply destroy the pockets and continue mining copper.

This lovely rare gemstone gets its stunning colors from the presence of the copper, in the same way that turquoise and chrysocolla do, but because gem silica is substantially higher on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness than either of those minerals (gem silica 7 v. turquoise 5ish v. chrysocolla 3ish), it makes for much more durable jewelry.

The stunning color alone would make gem silica one of the most beautiful of all gemstones, but in addition to that, gem silica possesses a translucency that makes it almost appear to glow from within – very magical!


1962: peas and consequences

Yeah, yeah, the little red-headed kid’s super cute and all, and I know you remember having a stacking rings toy just like that one, but before you trip too far down your own memory lane, let me tell you the story of that end table there on the right.

My little brother, 1962

Our kitchen table, where we ate all of our meals, was just around the corner from that part of the living room, you see, and once a week my mother served peas at supper. She not only served them, she actually expected me to eat them, never mind that I hated peas like nobody’s business. Despised the little smushy grayish-green soggy balls of ick – I mean, these were canned peas, early 1960s commercially canned peas, and they were gross. My mother would have none of my pea-hating ways, though, and there were always threats of forcing me to sit at the kitchen table all night until I ate them. I’d eventually gag my way dramatically through a spoonful, sobbing, and end up getting sent to bed in disgrace, but at least I’d gotten away from those damn peas… until next time. And I always knew there’d be a next time.

I don’t know how the plan came to me, but it was so simple and brilliant and beautiful, and it quickly became my routine when faced with the dreaded legumes. I’d be left sitting at the table by myself, pouting, with those nasty peas. Momma would take baby brother over to the sink for a wipe-down, and, with her back turned to me while she was attempting to clean a flailing toddler, would lecture me on the health benefits of all vegetables, especially green ones, peas in particular.

And that’s when I’d make my move. I’d grab my bowl of untouched peas, leap lightly from my chair and around the corner, lift the lid of the end table, dump the offending contents of the bowl, and be back in my chair before Momma was halfway done getting my little brother’s face clean. See? Brilliant. I felt mildly guilty while receiving praise for being a good girl and eating my peas, but the relief at having avoided having to taste those peas always outweighed the guilt – a little bit, anyway.

Did I ever look in at the old peas while I was dumping subsequent bowls? Heavens, no, no time for that, and I honestly can’t say if it even crossed my mind, but I doubt it. I don’t think I gave a single thought to the fate of those peas once they left my possession.

I’m not sure how much time actually went by – linear time has never been one of my strong suits – but at some point my mother began sniffing at the air strangely when she’d walk through the living room, and it wasn’t too long after that that she found them. I was playing in the back yard when I heard the screams, and I knew instantly what had happened, although at that point I was unaware that quantities of margarine-soaked cooked peas, when placed in a covered warmish area and left to their own devices, will, over time, grow huge amounts of hairy mold resembling nothing more than a huge dead rodent, with an accompanying dead rodent smell.

I was headed at full speed towards our big forsythia bush that was in glorious yellow bloom and that I knew made a terrific hiding place when my mother hit the back porch, yelling my full name at the top of her lungs. To say that my blood ran cold in that moment is one of the great understatements of all time.

Of course I did the only logical thing: I blamed my little brother. The fact that he was just learning to walk seemed completely inconsequential – perhaps I was channeling the spirit of Kellyanne Conway-Future and her alternative facts, I do not know – and I went with my story hard.

Sadly, and much to my astonishment, my story did not fly with my mother – not even embellished with much waving of arms, eyewitness accounts of the many times I’d seen my baby brother do superhuman and evil things, ugly sobbing, tears, and big puppy eyes. I do remember my mother’s face and mouth shaking strangely after she spanked me, though, as she was sending me to my room, and her voice sounding funny, like she was choking or something. It wasn’t until many years later, when I had kids of my own, that I realized she was doing her absolute best not to give in to hysterical laughter.

Me, not thinking about peas.

February Birthstone Info: Carved Amethyst

February’s birthstone, amethyst, is purple quartz, 7 on the MOHS scale, which means it’s perfect for carving.

The word “amethyst” comes from a Greek phrase that means “not drunk.” The ancient Greeks named it that because they believed that amethyst prevented people from getting drunk no matter how much alcohol they consumed. They also believed amethyst prevented, or at the very least lessened the effects of, hangovers. So those canny ancient Greeks carved cups and bowls and goblets out of the stuff as drinking vessels for alcohol.

This is a carved amethyst bowl that I found in Amazon Crystals on etsy, and you can see more of it with details by clicking here.

Gorgeous carved amethyst bowl

The ancient Egyptians used it for jewelry, too, before the Romans.

Upper left: ancient Egyptian carved amethyst fish amulet. Lower left: ancient Egyptian carved amethyst beads. Right: ancient Roman carved amethyst intaglio.
This is a necklace made of stunning antique carved amethyst beads from Pansari Gems on etsy.

This is another particularly lovely vintage piece, carved amethyst beads in a 14 karat gold lavalier necklace, listed at Belmar Jewelers on etsy.

This is a necklace in our shop, multi strands of freshwater pearls with beautiful vintage carved amethyst beads from the 1960s – click here to see it up close and personal.

Kay’s pretty sure we’re going to find amethysts on our property eventually, because we certainly have plenty of quartz, and we have found the other minerals, like manganese and iron oxide, necessary to produce amethyst and smoky amethyst.  So we’ll keep digging, y’all.

Honoring my female ancestors: Pearl Brite

This is my maternal great-grandmother, Pearl Brite. What I know about her are simple facts, learned through internet research. She was born in Lawrence, Missouri, in 1884, and she died in 1939, probably in Oregon. She gave birth to my maternal grandfather in 1906, when she was 22, and they were living in Kansas in 1910, not too long before this photograph was taken. By 1920, they had moved to Portland, Oregon.

I love this photo a ridiculous amount, given that all I know about her are those basic facts – I didn’t know her, or my grandfather who was her son, and barely knew my mother. Pearl looks like an intelligent woman, a compassionate woman, a strong woman, a woman with a sense of humor in spite of, well, life, and someone I would’ve liked to have called friend.

She looks like a woman who would’ve marched with us yesterday.