Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Part II
continued from this morning’s post

Yes, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I do hope yours has been, too.

We were a very small family this year, but we used Great Grandma's silver and china and lace tablecloth and felt very lucky and happy.

The car is—so far, at least—undamaged.

The pie was good.  Exceptionally rich and creamy and very tasty.

The new batch of rolls was just right.

The cauliflower survived today’s mishap.  Oh, right, you haven’t heard that one.  Because of dietary restrictions, we have mashed cauliflower rather than potatoes.  I cooked the cauliflower carefully, drained it, mashed it, added just a touch of butter since it’s a holiday dinner, and sprinkled the merest touch of salt and pepper over it.  No problem, right?  Wrong. Problem.  The top of the pepper container fell off.  Fell Off!  Aargh!  Depositing several tablespoons of pepper over the cauliflower.

But today was a good day, and I carefully scooped the pepper off.  We had less cauliflower than planned, but it tasted good.

And the company was wonderful.  We sat around a beautiful fire—limited to the fireplace, fortunately—and enjoyed being together.

So Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

Happy Thanksgiving?

Part I

Yesterday I went out to do last minute errands before starting to cook. After the last stop—as far away from home as possible, of course—I got in my car, sighed with relief that I could now go home, and turned the key.


An hour later, I was squashed into a tow truck with two very nice tow truckers on the way to the auto mechanic.

The auto shop came through beautifully.  They’ve been doctoring my aged Miata for quite a few years—I believe they actually stock parts just for my car!  So I went home, and in a couple of hours, all was fixed.

So now I could start the pumpkin pie?


The non-starting was fixed, but the alarm system didn’t work.


It can wait until Monday.

Pumpkin pie.  Yes!

Pumpkin pie is in the oven.  I’m putting away ingredients.  And it hits me: I made the pie with whipping cream instead of half-and-half. Oh, double *xl//zgrn.

Moving on, it was time to make the rolls, the time-honored holiday rolls made from Grandma’s recipe.  I’ve made them hundreds of times. What could go wrong?
Leaving them in the oven too long, that’s what.

So here it is, Thanksgiving morning. Has the car been trashed or stolen?  Is the pie edible?  Is the turkey thawed? Is there time to make more rolls?

To be continued...

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Midnight in Ruby Bayou

If you were going to write a romantic suspense novel, could you find a better title?

Faith Donovan creates “...exquisite jewelry studded with fabulous gems...”  

That’s a quote from the cover of Midnight in Ruby Bayou by Elizabeth Lowell, and while I’m definitely prejudiced in favor of gemstones and exquisite jewelry, this sounds like a description that would tempt anyone!  

Faith Donovan makes the jewelry. Owen Walker knows just about everything with respect to rubies. When Faith designs and makes a wedding necklace for a friend, using rubies that have been in the friend’s family for generations (maybe), she’s sucked into family secrets and scandals and becomes the target of some very nasty would-be jewel thieves.  And the FBI.

Owen to the rescue!

While he’s saving her—and the rubies—we also get a goodly helping of  two Mafias, since they think Faith has the Sunrise Ruby,  an exceptionally fine and large (almost 26 carats) stone which sold for over thirty million dollars.  Add a lot of fictional history to a chest full of more superb old rubies, and it’s easy to understand why Faith became a target.

Of course I love the parts with Faith sitting at her jeweler’s bench making that exquisite jewelry or discussing some of her creations with Owen. And I love the way Owen can talk about rubies without making it an  “As you know, Faith, all rubies are...” conversation.  The gemology never gets in the way of a thumping good story.  I just love the book!

An oldie but definitely worth reading.

Monday, September 2, 2019

God's Own Jewel Box

The dazzle, the glitter, the romance of gemstones and jewelry—who can resist it?  The Big Four of precious gems…diamonds sapphires and emeralds and rubies.  The whole shimmering galaxy of semi-precious stones in all the colors of the rainbow.  Peridots and amethysts and tourmalines and citrines and…and...and...  The mystery, the allure, the thrill of finding something so beautiful, so rare, cannot be overstated.  Small wonder then, that gems and jewelry are a staple in romance novels.  I am a gemologist by trade, and thought it would be fun to review some romance novels that focus on gems and jewelry.

Going straight to my keeper shelf, I found seven novels by Elizabeth Lowell/Ann Maxwell about gems.  According to her website ( she started publishing in 1975 and began using the Maxwell name in 1982.  All told, she has written seventy novels in several different genres. Most important for our purposes, she does her homework with respect to the gemology.

The Diamond Tiger, originally published in 1992, is one of my favorites.  What did I love so much about it?  First, we have a competent, successful, independent heroine who isn’t pushy about it.  Then, of course, there’s a fantastically strong, capable, untamable hero.  Yum.  And Australia.  (I’m fascinated by Australia, but will probably never go there because I’m terrified of snakes, of which they have an excessive assortment.)  And finally, the frosting on the cake, we have diamonds.  Alluvial diamonds, which in my imagination are fist-sized, rounded chunks of fabulousness.  What’s 
not to love!

My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that the event that sparked this story was the 1925 discovery of alluvial diamonds in Namaqualand in Africa by Dr. Hans Merensky.

PLOT:  Erin, a successful photographer, inherits a (lost) diamond mine in Australia.  (Yes. Australia has diamonds.)  She hires Cole, a mysterious geologist, to help her find the mine, not knowing that he actually owns half of it.  They go to Australia, where they run afoul of diamond cartel operatives and end up on foot in the Outback.

DISCLAIMER:  In the interests of accuracy, let me point out at the start that nowhere does the author say or imply that the diamonds were fist-sized.  That was entirely my own wishful thinking.

THE TEXT:  Maxwell introduces the diamonds on the first page of chapter one when the hero gets his first look at them.  “Light rippled and shifted as nine translucent stones tumbled over one another with tiny crystalline sounds.”  “The first impression was of large, very roughly made marbles…”  In this first encounter with the diamonds, Cole is shown nine uncut diamonds by his ex-partner, Wing.  In this scene, Lowell establishes the size (large marbles) and origin (roughly made spheres, i.e. alluvial, which means the diamond crystals were carried by a stream and rounded by knocking into each other and rocks) of the gems.  She goes on to note that the ‘marbles’ feel slippery and are heavy for their size.  Cole exhales on a clean, chipped part of the stone, but no moisture collects on it.  (This is a valid indentifier.)

On page two, Cole uses one of the crystals to scratch a piece of lead crystal glass.  I haven’t been able to find a hardness for lead glass, but any diamond will scratch any glass.

Finally, Cole uses his loupe (a 10x magnifier used by gemologists and geologists) to examine the stone.  He is particularly impressed by the refraction (the way the stone interacts with light) and by the color.  This stone is described as the intense green of a river pool and a pool of intense emerald light.

In a discussion with Wing, Cole explains that the diamonds are alluvial, and the two discuss the possible origin of the stones, with Cole arriving at the conclusion of an unknown location in Australia.

THE GEMOLOGIST’S TAKE:  Large marbles, alluvial, slippery, heavy, no moisture--all these are characteristic of diamonds.  Moving on, it would be hard to get a fine scratch with a rounded stone.  If he did achieve a scratch, it would be hard on the presumably expensive goblet.  So yes, she’s right about diamond scratching glass, but the test might not work as described. As for refraction, the reason diamonds are cut the way they are is to increase refraction and thereby maximize the brilliance of the stone, but the way diamond interacts with light is distinctive enough that my answer is yes, she got it right. 

The color.  Well.  Green diamonds are usually greyish or yellowish green.  I was prepared to state that natural green diamonds were never that intense a green.  However, according to the Gemological Institute of America, intense deep green color in a diamond is extremely rare, which makes it sound possible.  So my answer is...maybe.
As for determining a diamond’s source, yes.  Cole’s statements were somewhat generalized but correct.  With today’s sophisticated analytical techniques, it could be possible to be even more specific.

Skipping over a few hundred pages of diamond industry politics, action—and sexual attraction—we find Cole and Erin stranded in the Outback without water, food, transportation, or weaponry.  Fortunately, they’ve been left to die, so the latter is not an urgent problem.  At the time.

THE TEXT:  The rainy season begins, providing the water they so desperately need.  Once thirst is slaked, they notice that there is no run-off, which leads them to a cave.  It proves to be the entrance to the diamond ‘mine’, actually a cave.  They explore even though there is danger of flooding in the tunnels now that it’s raining.  Cole stops at a pothole in the rock of the tunnel floor and scoops out the pebbles that have collected there...and finds a diamond.  Further exploration leads them to ‘God’s Own Jewel Box’, a pothole filled with tins full of diamonds, diamonds her grandfather had collected.  Mission accomplished, but safety not yet achieved.  (The final thirty or so pages make for a suspenseful conclusion.)

DID SHE GET IT RIGHT?  Well, yeah.  I’d have to say that over-the-top as this part of the book is, the gemological and geological details are believable.  Diamonds would collect in potholes as rainy-season waters flooded through the tunnels and rooms of the cave, just as gold nuggets collect in above-ground streams. 

It’s a beautiful fantasy with a happy ending.  Enjoy!  I surely did, and it’s on my keeper shelf.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

8 Things You Need to Know About Buying Gemstones/Jewelry

1.         The Four Cs for buying diamonds are pretty well known by now, but just in case you missed the memo:
Carat    Size of the diamond by weight. Here’s a link to a great chart showing what different cuts and sizes look like: size chart. Just remember that size isn’t everything! Some people prefer a smaller, more sparkly (yeah, technical term) stone to a larger, duller one.
Color   Ideally, white diamonds are colorless. This is measured by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) on a scale of D to Z, D being colorless. Most people don’t detect faint amounts of color in a stone; the usual threshold of visibility is around K to L. Fancy Color diamonds are another matter.  The more color the better!
Cut       The amount of sparkle a cut stone has depends on the cut. Angles between facets and precise alignment of facet junctions can best be judged by a gemologist. Note that older/less modern cuts can be very charming, and really sparkly, especially in candlelight.
Clarity  Inclusions, cracks, feathers, the list goes on. If you can see stuff (another technical term) with your naked eye, you may want to move on to a better stone. Clarity is graded from Flawless (and really expensive) down to I3, which means not only can you see the problems, but they affect the integrity of the stone.

2.         Size matters. Some sizes are more popular and are priced accordingly, especially for diamonds.  For example, a one carat stone may cost more per carat than a stone that weighs 0.85 or 1.21 carats. (Numbers selected at random to illustrate smaller or larger.)

3.         These days, many—most?—stones on the market are treated in some way. It’s good to know what the treatment was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy.  Reputable jewelers reveal treatments.

4.         To look more knowledgeable, hold a jeweler’s loupe, that funny little magnifier, close to your eye and move the stone closer until it’s in focus.

5.         ‘Peridot’ is pronounced ‘peridoh’. Chalcedony is pronounced ’kalsedony’.
6.         Identifying a stone by color is not reliable.

7.         The ‘big’ precious stones are diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Semiprecious stones are often gorgeous and much easier on the pocketbook. (Mostly.)

8.         Don’t try to fake knowledge you don’t have!