Sapphires! Ooh… PRETTY!

I had some gorgeous pics of our sapphire haul from Gem Mountain in Montana that I wanted to post along with some info about Gem Mountain, so Tynan, my oldest son, pitched in and threw together a quick little outline/report on sapphires to add. Normally I don’t accept Wikipedia as a reference source, but since it’s spring break and he was doing voluntary research, I allowed it this time. 🙂

Gem Mountain Sapphires

Gem Mountain is a Montana sapphire fee dig mine open to the public. You keep whatever you collect out of the gravel that is brought to the public sifting area. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and extremely helpful. If you’re anywhere near the area (within a few hours), I highly recommend going out there for at least a day trip. Gem Mountain has two stores (one in downtown Philipsburg, Montana, the other on location at Gem Mountain in Montana) where you can buy jewelry, gravel for at-home sifting, and more. They have gemologists on-site to evaluate your sapphire haul.

The pictures below are raw, rough sapphires that our family mined from Gem Mountain gravel. I personally love the way they look straight out of the earth. While faceted sapphires are dazzling, there’s an amazing beauty in raw gems.Faceted stones are perfect for red carpet moments, while raw stones are perfect all of the time. Like your favorite pair of tailored-fit blue jeans!

We purchased a large lot of gravel and spent weeks sifting through it. I understand that picking through gravel with tweezers for hours at a time is not for everyone, but it’s quite possibly one of my favorite pastimes. This is not all of the stones that we picked out of the gravel; many have been turned into jewelry, and we have another bag waiting to be seen by the gemologist at Gem Mountain for heat treating and cutting the next time we head over to Montana. Can’t wait!

When we pick up our next humungous load of gravel, we’ll be offering ‘Mini Miner Kits’ from Nomad Dreamer Supplies, our jewelry supply store. They’ll include a small amount of gravel (a pint), a sifter, and tweezers. We guarantee at least one sapphire will be included. We won’t be sifting through the dirt before hand at all, simply dropping one in from our personal stash. You never know how many you’ll find! These kits will be perfect for your mini miner. Our boys love to find sapphires, but their attention span doesn’t last for more than a pint or so.

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Here’s a bit more info about my favorite precious gemstone, courtesy of Tynan.


star of bombay

Star of Bombay: 536 Carats, largest star sapphire in the world (second largest of all gem quality sapphires), appraised price at roughly $400,000.

logan sapphire

Logan Sapphire: 423 carats, largest faceted gem quality sapphire in the world, its price faceted sold for $1,000,000.

black star of queensland

Black Star of Queensland: 733 Carats, largest gem quality sapphire in the world, its price is unknown as it is owned by an undisclosed private party.

Element: Corundum

Color: Traditionally blue, but found in all colors except red (that’s ruby)

Where Found (large deposits): Thailand, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Tanzania and Australia

Where Found (small deposits): United States, Cambodia, Nigeria, Kenya and China

Note: Parts of India, Cambodia, and Myanmar (Burma) are world famous for the finest, deepest (in color), largest sapphires, however these are found in small deposits that have been either exhausted or not tapped or produced on the market

Interesting Facts: Second hardest gem stone on earth (after diamond), totally unaffected by all chemicals except extremely hot alkali metals

Sapphires are generally heat treated to deepen their color.

Montana Sapphires

sapphires 2All major mining ventures with the goal to tap into Montana’s sapphire deposits have been economic busts, however small scale mining ventures of the unique Yogo Sapphires (found only in Montana) have been relatively successful. Yogo sapphires are very fine, found with a “corn-flower blue” color only found naturally in Yogos. Yogos are remarkably clear with a mixture of light color and a quality of clarity that makes the Yogo unique and prized among the world’s sapphires. However, Yogos are infamous for their extremely small size and a shape that makes them generally uncuttable. The largest Yogo ever found was 19 carats in size and was cut into an eight carat stone. When cut, these stones catch a high price on the market and are accepted by the international gem industry as some of the finest sapphires in the world.


What’s In a Name?

I get a LOT of odd looks when I tell people that one of our family businesses is named Hammered and Chained Jewelry. Joe and I were aware when we chose the name that it was tongue-in-cheek, that the name might appeal to a totally different crowd than we intend to appeal to. So, why did we choose it? And what were we thinking?

Put simply, the words ‘hammered’ and ‘chained’ describe our jewelry making techniques. Joe creates chainmaille jewelry, and I enjoy metalsmithing with my torch and growing supply of jewelry hammers.

To understand the deeper level of our name is a bit more of a stretch. Joe and I have been in love since I was in ninth grade, back in 1993. I don’t care what anyone else says, I loved the 90’s. We did all of the things that kids of the 90’s did in the Great Northwest; we wore flannels & Birkenstocks; we listened to Nirvana, STP, & Pearl Jam; we smoked a LOT of pot & drank even more Denny’s coffee; and through the years of high school we put each other through overly dramatic angst-ridden hell, as only teenagers can. Through all of it, though, we were the couple that our friends talked about when they talked about real love, the stuff that lasts. My parents, on the other hand, talked about codependency and scary statistics about short-lived high school relationships.

In an effort to broaden our horizons as all teenagers are told they should, we decided to pursue separate destinies after I graduated in 1997 but stayed best friends. We were like a rubber band trying to escape from itself; we always ended up back with each other, even when we tried to be with other people.

In my search to find a world outside of Joe, I ended up with a boy that had been a good friend for a long time. I was lost and didn’t know what I was doing. I found myself pregnant from that relationship in 1998. When I went to tell Joe that I was pregnant and moving back to my parent’s house to start college, he informed me that he was seeing another girl as well. I moved to Arkansas, utterly lost, alone, scared, and pregnant.

A week after I moved, Joe called to tell me that the girl he was seeing was pregnant as well. Neither of us intended to stay with our bio-baby-‘rents. We stayed in touch, across hundreds of miles and quickly changing lives. Every time we talked we would make sure the other one knew that they were loved.

Fast forward through single attachment motherhood in Arkansas, college, and various pathetic attempts at trying to make my life work with other men. I came back up to visit friends for the summer of 2001 and ended up staying at Joe’s apartment with my son, Tynan, who was 2 at the time. It was perfect; like finding the missing puzzle piece under your couch that you’ve been trying to find to complete a puzzle you’ve been working on for ages. I couldn’t focus on anything when I went back to Arkansas; the other end of my soul was calling me back.

I moved back up to Washington within three months of visiting, and Joe and I have been married ever since. His son (my stepson), Riley, is two and a half weeks younger than Tynan. They’ve been brothers since they were two. Then came Damon, and years later, Ben.

Most people aren’t comfortable with the idea of a knowingly codependent relationship. I understand the logical side of that argument, but I also understand that I’m not myself without my husband by my side, pretty much all of the time. Despite the years of trying to live different lives, we belong together. We’ve endured pain from each other and others’ perceptions throughout the years. Judgement and old drama have tried to hammer us down, but we remain chained together (in a good way). Whatever we do, we do together, and that’s the way we choose to stay.

Back In the Day, ca. 1994

Back In the Day, ca. 1994

Still In Love, 2013

Still In Love, 2013

Making Crayons


Ben tests out our work

Ben and I made crayons today. He’s desperately been needing mommy time (this social media/blogging/internet-foundation-building thing takes serious time!).

We have billions of little bits of crayons in a tub that we’ve been adding to for years, all from restaurant and various activity packs.

Ben wanted rainbow stars for the first batch, so we used a latex mold that I snagged from Goodwill for $.99. We started by selecting the colors of the rainbow– ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), peeled them, and then I chopped them up. We talked all about rainbows and primary and secondary colors while we worked.

After we chopped the crayons, we put the layers into the mold. We decided to start with violet on the bottom and then work our way up to red, which created a few really nicely layered crayons. We also made some crayons with different tints of the same colors, which we just poured into the molds randomly to create a marbled effect.

After the molds were filled, we placed the mold on a baking sheet and baked at 200° F for about 15 minutes. When the crayons were fully melted, I pulled them out (very carefully, as we had some overflow!) and let them sit to cool for about 45 minutes.

We lost some of the arms off of the stars, since that particular mold gets rigid once it cools off, but the more flexible vehicle mold that we filled next worked perfectly.

So, there you go! You don’t need a fancy boxed ‘crayon maker’. You just need some dedicated molds (even a muffin pan would work) and some stubs and bits of used crayons. I don’t recommend using the molds for food afterwards, as there’s always some dye left over, no matter how long you soak them in hot water.

Lessons in color, up-cycling, creativity, and just plain fun times. Do make sure that your little one doesn’t attempt to grab the crayons when you pull them out of the oven, though– the melted texture is very conducive to inquisitive fingers!

Bits of used crayons

Peeling the papers off


Talking rainbows


Filling the molds


The filled mold– pre-baking


Post-oven, cooling off

An Impromptu Day of City Rockhounding & Portland Awesomeness

IMG_2371Boys searching for rocksIMG_2379

It’s Spring Break! We’re taking the week off from our regularly scheduled activities to make way for some family fun time.

On Monday, I shut the computer down and we headed to a local park to find some rocks for tumbling and jewelry making. The river-beach we ended up at has lots of IMG_2398chalcedony, agates, jasper, and even some of Joe’s beloved carnelian.

The boys had a blast finding stones, throwing boulders into the river, chasing ducks, and generally getting dirty.

Once they’re tumbled, we’ll have some new earrings in our jewelry store, Hammered and Chained, & some new stones in our jewelry supply shop, Nomad Dreamer Supplies.



After we filled our pockets (I’ve got to remember some coffee cans next time) with stones, we headed into Portland for Powell’s City of Books and Voodoo donuts. Cliche to those of this area, but it’s our spring break tradition to load up on books and sugar-laden pastries.

By the time we returned home, we had some exhausted boys, a tumbler load of stones, and tons of new reading material. Not to mention a box of some crazy donuts– crunchberry, bacon maple, and of course, some raspberry filled voodoo dolls!

Cuttin’ Rings

Cuttin' Rings

Damon (10) & Joe (the husband) are cutting thousands of rings for our jewelry supply shop & to make more chainmaille jewelry for our jewelry shop and the quickly upcoming Made In Vancouver, USA Mother’s Day Event & Sale. They’ve been working non-stop all week!

Vibrant Colors and Sepia Tones

My husband, Joe, and I are dropping our boys off tonight for 24 hours of no-kid time. This is the second time in two months, but also only the second time in the last 5 years. Last time we sat in content elation, peaceful with the stillness of the world. Driving around after our dinner was so odd– no chatting, screaming, or constant “mommy, mom, mommy, mommy!” The world looks different without kids in tow; I noticed more of our surroundings than I had in ages without the intense constancy of putting out fires, answering questions, and singing songs.

What do people without children do? Calm peace is amazing, but an ongoing life of that would seem to me to be like a sensory deprivation chamber. How long can you sit and hear your own thoughts, be concerned only with your spouse and yourself? When the kids are screaming, I find my mind wandering to that contently quiet place without children. But when I look over and they’re playing legos or making chainmaille while making up songs with each other, the contently quiet place seems so blank.

I’ll say it again: motherhood drives me insane while maintaining my sanity. So tonight, Joe and I will be calmly wrapped up in each other; conversation, a beer, a movie that’s not made for kids. Our world will take on the sepia tones of adulthood. And tomorrow we’ll pick them up from the sitter, hug them, and the intense vibrant colors of our life will flood back in.

The Best Toy In The World Is…. A Flax Pillow??

The Best Toy In The World Is.... A Flax Pillow??

So it turns out that the oddest things really are the best toys.
Ben (4 years old) has latched onto a flax seed pillow that I recently got from The Rarest Bird on etsy:
I thought it would be great for my sore back, but it really does work better as a helmet, shield, boat, and weighted shoulder bag. And in case you’re wondering, that’s a sword made by my other son, Damon, from a branch. Action figures? No thank you, Ben will take his flax pillow and branch every time.

Update on Ben’s flax pillow obsession: I decided that I wanted mine back, so I ordered him his own from The Rarest Bird. Much to my surprise, he chose the lovebirds fabric rather than the Surf Ninja fabric. He’s had it for just under 24 hours and hasn’t released it. Bonus (for me, not for my husband, Joe who hates flowery smells): he always smells like lavender!

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My Dreams Versus My Reality, From a Parenting Perspective

I like to say that motherhood drives me insane while maintaining my sanity. I think that nails it. I can’t imagine my life without my four boys and the beautiful mess of our current suburban life, but I do dream (guiltily) of the day when my husband and I will wave goodbye to our youngest and pack all of our belongings onto an RV and set out to live our own life. Or maybe it will be a yurt in the forest. That’s a long dream away… it has some time to develop.

Raising our boys in this day and age has been an ongoing battle of conscience. When we first got married and started on our family, monetary restraints kept us from purchasing the land that we wanted for our boys so desperately. So we settled into suburbia, where the jobs were plentiful and the rent cheap. Now, 12 years later, our boys are settled into their lives and the community, and it doesn’t seem to be in their best interest to leave the life that we’ve established here.

My dreams of country rough-and-tumble boys have moved aside for the reality of our tech-savvy genius bookworms. They don’t know how to make forts from wood they’ve cut themselves. They do know how to build forts on the computer with their physics and engineering games. Not quite as useful from a survival standpoint, but they are establishing the tools that will help them to survive in this new world of technology. I do rail against that a lot of the time, but not educating them in how our culture is beginning to work would be to put them at a disadvantage, knowing that they are who they are.

One of the hardest parts of parenting that I’ve experienced so far is reconciling the person that you want your child to be with the person that they really are, deep down inside.

My boys and me in Yellowstone NP
See the disgruntled look in the middle there? That’s what we get for taking the technology away to view natural wonders. Yellowstone NP, 2012