• To Walk in Beauty

    Petaluma, CA

    A gorgeous spring day in Sonoma County!

    Contemplating my own mortality is not something I enjoy. I know intellectually that I’m going to die someday, like we all are. But when you’re faced with a situation that forces you to confront your worst fears, well, it makes you think.

    Sunday night I was flying back to California from Chicago. We were a little late leaving as they had to de-ice the plane before we took off, but that went smoothly. About 2/3 of the way through the flight, somewhere over Utah, I heard and felt a loud thunk, and I knew right away it was not turbulence. I looked around me and no one seemed concerned, so I went back to reading my trashy novel. About 20 minutes later the pilot came on the intercom and told us that loud noise was the compressor on the #2 engine stalling, but it was working normally now. He said they were monitoring the situation, and were still continuing on to San Francisco. But about 45 minutes later as we began to descend, the plane began shuddering a bit and then the lights flickered and all the TV screens went black. This was alarming to me, but the cabin was eerily quiet. A few minutes later the pilot came back on and told us that the #2 engine was not digging the altitude change so they shut it down, meaning we were flying with only one engine. He said we were still scheduled to arrive on time on San Francisco, and although they were not anticipating any problems with landing, a crash crew would be standing by just in case. The pilot seemed calm and not at all alarmed, which was reassuring.

    Still, you just don’t ever want to hear a pilot on a plane you are on ever saying anything containing the words crash crew.

    The cabin was still pretty quiet, except for some hushed conversations, which I was grateful for since I don’t think it would have taken much for me to completely freak out. I know these planes can fly just fine with one engine (I read after that they can even take off with just one too), but all I could think was, What if what is wrong with the #2 engine is also wrong with the #1 engine??!? What if there’s a catastrophic failure? Oh my god, what if we crash? I’m not ready to die, dammit, I’m about to get married! I have shit to do still!

    I thought about reading to distract my thoughts but figured if we were going to crash, I didn’t want my final act to be reading some crappy book. So I closed my Kindle and instead thought about my life. I thought of my loved ones, my family, my fiance and my friends, and I knew that if I died this night, I would not die unloved. I thought of all the amazing things I have gotten to do…I’ve traveled the world, gone sky-diving and scuba-diving, climbed mountains, rafted rivers, explored caves, met amazing people, enjoyed good health. I have been so very lucky in my life.

    But despite all these happy and grateful thoughts, I still was not ready to die, I fiercely wanted to live. I still have so much I want to do, places to go (the Galapagos, Patagonia), jewelry to make, a man I love dearly and want to grow old with.

    As you’ve probably guessed by now, we did land safely and smoothly. Everyone on the plane applauded when we did, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one on that flight who had been contemplating their own mortality. I was so very happy to be on solid ground. I got home late, after midnight, took a wonderful hot shower and fell gratefully into bed.

    California Poppies

    California Poppies

    The next morning I went for a hike. With some recent rain everything was damp and cool and green, the sun was shining. There is nothing like Spring in Sonoma County, with the emerald green grass, the blooming California Poppies, a Bewick’s wren singing from the oak trees. Except for the 4 years I was traveling, I’ve lived in this gorgeous area all my life.

    As I walked I thought of my upcoming move to Illinois…Spring comes later there, it had snowed the day I left, and everything is still brown, the trees are bare. And Illinois is so flat, I know I’m going to miss the hills and the mountains here, and the California summer, with its fog-cooled mornings and sunny afternoons. But I can’t help thinking there’s a lesson here, about finding beauty wherever it is you walk. In realizing how amazing it is just to be alive, to be walking on this earth amongst those we love, surrounded by so many amazing things, breathing in the fresh spring air. There will be new places to explore, new people to meet, new birds to discover. A life to forge with the man I adore. I will find beauty there, too.

    As I Walk with Beauty

    As I walk, as I walk
    The universe is walking with me
    In beauty it walks before me
    In beauty it walks behind me
    In beauty it walks below me
    In beauty it walks above me
    Beauty is on every side
    As I walk, I walk with Beauty

    ~A Traditional Navajo Prayer

  • Clutter!! And big life changes ahead…

    As much as love making jewelry (and oh, how I do love it) one of the things I don’t love about it is the amount of clutter it inevitably gathers. Half-finished pieces, pieces I finished but didn’t like and need to take apart, bits and bobs of beads, gemstones, and metal scraps, pieces of wire too small to use, etc etc. Right now since I am working out of a one bedroom place, there really is no demarcation between my work space and living space, which is a bit of a pain. So every now and again, I get the urge to de-clutter and organize everything, since I live in a small space.

    One of my favorite books, and I’ve had it for years, is Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever.

    Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui

    Clear Your Clutter!

    I love this book and re-read it every year or so, and it always helps me. What I love most about this book is the sense of freedom, lightness and joy it brings. She basically gives you permission to get rid of anything in your life that you do not find beautiful or useful, and she makes a very strong argument about all the negative psychological and physiological impacts that clutter can have on you. Clutter can make you:

    • feel tired and lethargic
    • can keep you in the past (the clutter leaves no room for anything new to come into your life)
    • can affect your body weight
    • make you feel confused
    • cause procrastination, disharmony and depression

    There’s more but you get the drift. All I know is, that when I get rid of things that no longer serve me, I feel lighter and more upbeat. She talks about making do with less, something I agree with in spirit if not always in practice.

    The book goes through all the different kinds of clutter and what to get rid of, what you should keep. It’s so worth it!  She does touch on aspects of feng shui, which I find interesting but don’t really use since my place is so small and I am limited in the changes I can make.

    So anyway, de-cluttering has been on my mind, since I have a BIG life change coming up…next month I will be moving to Plainfield, IL!! I mentioned in an earlier blog post about getting engaged (!) and it has been great. But we have been living apart for the last 2 years while he has been on a project in Oklahoma. He has just started a new 2 year project in the city of Lockport, Illinois, just outside Chicago, and I have decided to move out there to be with him. It’s a huge change, as I have lived in California my entire life. My family is here, and many friends, so that’s going to be tough, but I am so excited for us to begin our lives together!

    Still, there’s this…

    Petaluma and Plainfield

    Petaluma and Plainfield

    I’m trying not to stress about my impending move but it’s hard…so much to do! But I keep thinking of the old adage, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    So right now I’m trying to focus on getting my place de-cluttered as much as I can so I have less crapola to move. Wish me luck!

    I did spend the other day finishing a couple of new earrings, which should be up in the shop soon…

    Sage and stone earrings

    Sage and stone earrings

    I took copper sheet and sawed out the shapes, formed them to give them a graceful curve, drilled holes, filed and cleaned them, and then torch-fired layers of enamel in pastel brown and a sage green. Sterling silver feathers flutter below. They remind me of hiking in the high desert sage.

    Flutter earings

    Flutter earrings

    Love how these turned out….sterling silver sheet, sawed into this wing shape, and rose-cut garnets. I call them Flutter earrings because they remind me of butterfly wings.

    So back to de-cluttering! More updates soon…

  • Welcome 2015!

    Looking back at 2014, I can say it was a great year for me! My business grew, and I nearly doubled my sales income from the previous year. I added some new skills to my metalsmithing repertoire (teaching myself metal sawing and riveting) and improved upon other skills (soldering). On the personal side, I have a new adorable niece, born to my sister and her husband in April…I even got to watch the birth, which was amazing. I don’t have any children so this was probably one of my last chances to witness birth, and it was pretty miraculous to watch.

    My adorable new niece!

    My adorable new niece!

    I also got engaged (!) this year to my sweetie Sean…we haven’t set a date yet but we’re thinking in the spring. I would love to get married in Yosemite, so we’re hoping to make that happen.

    We spend Christmas with my family, but the day after Christmas Sean and I went up to Burney to spend some time with his. I always love to go up there, no matter what the season. It’s a gorgeous area up in Northern California, situated roughly between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen, with views of both mountains at once in some places.  I was fighting a cold, so we spent a quiet New Year’s Eve, but New Year’s Day we decided to go to Burney-MacArthur Falls Memorial State Park to get some fresh air and check out the falls.


    It’s a very popular spot, justifiably so, and there were a surprising number of people out there braving the cold conditions. We walked along the path at the bottom where you could feel the mist from the falls. Because of the drizzle, the path was covered with ice and treacherous…I nearly fell on my ass several times. But it felt good to get outside and breathe the clean mountain air.

    Burney Falls

    Me and Sean

    As we walked on the path that follows the mountain stream below the falls we saw a bird called an American Dipper, also called a water ouzel.

    American Dipper

    American Dipper

    Although they are pretty nondescript to look at, they are so cool to watch. They love mountain streams with cold, clear rushing water, where they feed on small underwater invertebrates by actually diving into the water and swimming by fluttering their wings, so it looks like they’re flying underwater. We stood there for several minutes, watching the little guy fearlessly jump into the rushing water.

    American Dipper feeding

    American Dipper feeding

    Pacific Crest Trail

    Pacific Crest Trail

    On the way back to the car we crossed over the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes right through the park…I got a little excited when I saw the sign, having just seen the movie Wild, based on the wonderful book by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir about her hike along the PCT. If you haven’t read it yet, it is a great read and she is a fantastic writer. The movie is also great, and if you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend seeing the movie first, then reading the book. Everytime I watch this trailer I get choked up…

    So now I am back home contemplating the coming year…I have been working on some new pieces that I hope to get up into the shop soon. I recently purchased some gorgeous irregular cut gemstones…I got lapis stones in a beautiful bright blue color, shimmering labradorite ones, and also carnelian, green onyx and blue chalcedony. I made a couple of rings and they turned out really well…I’ve been wearing them almost every day.

    Labradorite ring

    Labradorite ring


    Lapis ring


    I also have made a few pairs of enamelled leaves…I took small fine silver leaves I formed from real leaves and used bright green transparent enamel. They catch the light beautifully and make me feel like I’m wearing springtime on my ears…

    Fine silver leaves with enamel

    Fine silver leaves with enamel

    So watch this space for more to come…when I get off my butt and take some more photos I will get these and more in my Etsy shop. Hope everyone has a joyful 2015!

  • My 10 Favorite Places in the World

    Well lately it has been pretty exciting in my world! I flew to Oklahoma two weeks ago to visit my sweetie Sean…he took me eastern Oklahoma to this very charming cabin near a place called Tenkiller Lake (apparently named after a prominent Cherokee family who owned land around the lake). One evening he invited me to go sit on the knoll and watch the sunset with him, and then he surprised me with a gorgeous ring and a proposal! Of course I said yes! The ring is so beautiful, the stone was left to him by his much-loved grandmother, and he had in set in white gold. It’s perfect, exactly the style I would have picked for myself. So needless to say, I have been smiling a lot lately!

    Me and my fiance!

    Me and my fiance!


    So…on to my list!

    When people find out that I spent 4 years traveling solo around the world, their first question almost invariably is, “What was your favorite place that you visited?” This is a surprisingly difficult question for me to answer because I loved so many places for so many reasons…some were just gorgeous, some places I just met so many great people they made it special. But for my own amusement, I have decided to try to narrow it down to 10 places/experiences that were special to me. And maybe inspire someone else to take their own journey! These are in no particular order…


    Aitutaki, Cook Islands

    Aitutaki, Cook Islands

    Just in case the picture doesn’t convince you, let me just state unequivocally that the Cook Islands are GORGEOUS. Turquoise blue water, white sand beaches, amazing sunsets. It was the first place I went to on my world trip…I landed there planning to stay a week. I ended up staying a month and loved every minute of it. Awesome.

    Me on a beach in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

    Me on a beach in Rarotonga, Cook Islands



    Located in the state of Queensland, north of Cairns, this is a place I loved for the stunning scenic beauty of its jungles and beaches, but also for the great time I had with the people I met. This was another place I went intending to stay a few days and ended up staying for six weeks.

    Kayaking off Cape Tribulation

    Kayaking off Cape Tribulation….looks awful, doesn’t it?

    I stayed at a place called PK’s and so many friends, some that I am still in touch with 10 years later.

    The gang at Pk's...

    The gang at Pk’s…

    The jungle there is fascinating and its a great spot to visit the Great Barrier Reef, as it’s just off the coast there. I spent one magical day snorkeling there, floating above giant clams that were 5 feet across, and listening to the parrot fish crunching on the coral. It’s definitely worth the drive up from Cairns to visit.


    It wasn’t just the places I visited (which were amazing) but the whole experience of riding the train was wonderful. I caught the train in Beijing, China, and stopped in Mongolia (see #4), then in Siberia (see #5), then across Russia to Yekaterinburg (where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were assasinated), Moscow and Saint Petersburg. I would spend hours standing at the window just watching the scenery go by. The train stops in many small towns across Russia, and when it does the babushka would come on the train, hawking cups of wild berries that you could buy for the equivalent of 25 cents, and selling their hand-knitted shawls and scarves. I really wish I had taken more photos at those stops but I did not…guess I’ll just have to go back someday.


    Wildflowets Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia

    Wildflowers Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia

    Me on a Mongolian pony

    Me on a Mongolian pony


    My ger in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

    Another stunningly beautiful place…I stayed in a ger (basically a yurt but the Mongolians call them a ger), galloped a Mongolian pony across the steppe (a dream come true for me), got to attend the Nadaam Festival in Ulan Bator (the capital of Mongolia) and watch Mongolian wrestling…

    Young Mongolian wrestlers getting ready to compete

    Young Mongolian wrestlers getting ready to compete

    and go hear some Mongolian throat singers. Here is what it sounds like (it actually looks like the same place I saw them)

    I would love to go back to Mongolia someday, it was really an amazing place.


    I had always dreamed of visiting Lake Baikal, the deepest and largest lake by volume in the World. It holds 20% of the world’s unfrozen water, and is also a stunningly beautiful place…I think I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

    Me on the shores of Lake Baikal

    Me on the shores of Lake Baikal

    So many wildflowers!

    So many wildflowers!

    Lake Baikal

    Lake Baikal


    Again, I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves…

    Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

    Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

    I was terrified but we made it!

    I was terrified but we made it!

    The Remarkables, Queenstown, NZ

    The Remarkables, Queenstown, NZ

    Franz Joseph Glacier, South Island, NZ

    Franz Joseph Glacier, South Island, NZ

    I could post more but must move on…


    When I was there you could still see damage from the Balkan War, but it did not detract from the beauty of this ancient walled city on the Adriatic…

    Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Dubrovnik, Croatia

    View of the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik

    View of the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik


    My trip to South America was great because I went there with my younger brother and sister, who are adventurous souls like me. We hiked to Macchu Picchu, then travelled around Peru for a couple of weeks. Then my brother flew home and my sister and I continued on through Argentina, and also sneaked over the border into Brazil to see the other side of Iguacu Falls. Some highlights…

    Macchu Picchu

    Macchu Picchu



    Cusco, Peru

    Cusco, Peru

    Iguacu Falls, Argentina

    Iguacu Falls, Argentina


    Again, I could post many more but must move on…



    Eiffel Tower Paris, France

    Eiffel Tower Paris, France


    I spent 6 wonderful months studying Italian and living in an old stone cottage amongst the olive trees In Florence, Italy. So many wonderful memories…the people I met, the FOOD, the scenery, the language…

    Me at Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy 9/5/2005

    Me at Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy 9/5/2005

    My little stone cottage just outside Florence I rented for 6 months...Bagno a Ripoli, Italy

    My little stone cottage just outside Florence I rented for 6 months…Bagno a Ripoli, Italy

    Damn, that was harder than I thought…I could have kept going. So I guess I have to add a caveat that these are only some of my favorite places, and I am not including favorite places in the US…that will have to be another blog post as I have traveled quite a bit around the USA as well.

    Thanks for reading…hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-tour. Sure made me long to travel again!

    “Happiness is the journey, not the destination…”Tweet: Happiness is the journey, not the destination...

  • A new direction…

    Tyee Lake, near Bishop, CA

    Tyee Lake, near Bishop, CA

    Yes, it has been awhile since I have posted here, but I have not been idle! I’ve done a little traveling, taught myself some new skills, and am jazzed about the new directions my work is taking. So it has been an exciting summer here!

    In late August I took a camping trip with my sweetie Sean and a few of his friends to Bishop, CA, a gorgeous area about 45 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes, CA. While Sean and the boys took their dirt bikes out to the desert, I went hiking in the eastern Sierra Mountains, the John Muir Wilderness area. The weather was amazing, and the hiking was stunningly beautiful. One of the hikes was to Tyee Lake, see the picture above. It was so tranquil there, and the water was so clear and still I could see trout swimming around…wish I had brought a fishing pole!

    The following day did I slightly longer hike towards Bishop Pass…didn’t quite make it to the Pass but ended up at a gorgeous lake called Long Lake…

    Long Lake, John Muir WildernessI wish I could have taken more pictures but my iPhone died right after I took this shot…I was so bummed but glad I got at least this one! It was such a great trip, I found myself really inspired by the beauty of the area and I was eager to get home and back to work.

    For the longest time I felt so limited in my jewelry making by the fact that I hated sawing metal. Awhile ago I had bought an inexpensive saw frame and some saw blades, which are surprisingly thin and flexible, and it basically sat in a drawer for a couple of years. But when I got into enameling, I really didn’t like that I was restricted to using only pre-cut copper shapes-I wanted to make my own. So I pulled the saw out, bought some copper sheet metal and tried to saw it….and it was a bit of a disaster. I discovered that I totally sucked at it and I broke saw blade after saw blade. I was really discouraged until I did some research, and learned 2 things…one was, I was sawing the metal completely wrong, like I was sawing a piece of wood. But that’s not how you saw metal, you hold the saw in a pistol grip and move the saw up and down. Duh. The second thing I learned was that my cheap-ass saw also sucked, so I looked around and ended up buying this (definitely-not-cheap) badass saw by a company called Knew Concepts…

    knew saw

    Love this saw!

    Quaking Aspen leaves

    Quaking Aspen leaf

    It’s made of aluminum and is super light and stiff, and it makes sawing a breeze…now I LOVE sawing! I have been having so much fun sawing out all kinds of different shapes out of copper, bronze and silver. On my hikes in the John Muir Wilderness one of my favorite trees there were the Quaking Aspen…I loved hearing the whisper of the leaves in the breeze.

    Cottonwood Tree leaf

    Cottonwood Leaf

    I also loved the Cottonwood Trees that grew in the campground…for some reason the shape of the leaves just appealed to me. So after I got home, I sawed some leaves out of copper sheet, then enameled them with layers and layers of different shades of greens and yellows, trying to capture the essence of the colors.

    This is what I came up with…

    Quaking Aspen

    Quaking Aspen leaf earrings…hand-sawn copper, enamel and sterling silver


    Cottonwood Leaf earrings…hand-sawn copper, enamel and sterling silver

    Back in June I wrote a blog post about a backpacking trip I took in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness, and I talked about fishing for rainbow trout. Ever since I held those gleaming fish in my hands, I have been wanting to make a piece of jewelry to pay tribute to these beautiful fish. So now here is my new favorite piece of jewelry…Rainbow Trout ring

    It’s a ring, handcrafted out of several layers of sterling silver sheet, and featuring a bright cobalt blue cabochon of kyanite, which represents the kind of clear blue alpine lakes where you find this fish. I don’t have it up in my shop yet, I want to tweak the design a little bit.


    Another piece of jewelry that I made using my new-found sawing skills is this pendant, featuring a raven caught mid-flight, sawn from sterling silver sheet, with a sparkly 6mm sunstone cabochon alongside. It also features rare Sleeping Beauty turquoise and black spinel beads. As much as I love this necklace, it is up for sale in my Etsy shop…I will be sad to see it go…

    I plan on spending the next couple of weeks sketching out some new ideas, which will hopefully be up in my Etsy shop in the coming months. I am so excited about this new skill, and the new possibilities for my work…stay tuned!


  • Fire in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness

    The Eiler Fire seen from the west

    The Eiler Fire seen from Hatchet Mountain Viewpoint…the mountain to the right of the fire is Burney Mountain

    In my last blog post I talked about my backpacking trip to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness, where we camped at Eiler Lake. I was back up in the Burney area this past weekend and this is the view that greeted us Saturday afternoon going east on Highway 299…a huge plume of smoke coming out of what looked like the Thousand Lakes Wilderness area. We had already heard of another fire in the area, further east of this one called the Bald Mountain Fire, which was also huge, but this was a new one. We found out it was called the Eiler Fire, and when this picture was taken it had already burned about 7000 acres…looks like the fire originated right around Eiler Lake and right away I wondered if it had been backpackers at the lake that started the fire. With this awful drought, everyone knew it was going to be a bad fire season and all it would have taken was one careless camper.

    In a press release yesterday, they stated that the fire was originally listed as lightning-caused but the status has now changed to ‘under investigation’. As the weekend progressed the fire tripled in size to over 22,000 acres, and at Sean’s parents house in Burney, ash began to rain down on us and the sky darkened from the smoke. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a forest fire this big and it was spooky! On Sunday, after the fire tore through the nearby communities of Hat Creek and Cassel and burned homes and a restaurant, they told the residents of Burney to prepare for possible evacuation. So we helped them clear leaves, trim branches too close to the house, and pack some belongings. I tried to wonder what it would be like, to come home and find your house and all your belongings burned to the ground. I hope I never find out!

    View from Black Ranch Road, northeast of Burney

    View from Black Ranch Road, northeast of Burney

    By Sunday night the fire was working its way towards Burney…in the picture below, you can see Burney in the lower right hand corner of this picture. Luckily the prevailing winds were blowing the fire away from the town but it was nerve-wracking seeing it so close. IMG_3122


    As of yesterday (Wednesday August 6th) the fire was 35% contained and has burned 31,085 acres. It appears that Burney is safe for now…still, it is only early August. The fire season is not over yet!

  • Backpacking in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness…

    Eiler Lake, Thousand Lakes Wilderness, CA

    Eiler Lake, Thousand Lakes Wilderness, CA

    I just back from 3 wonderful weeks of vacation and thought I’d share some photos from my trips. I went up to Burney for about a week with my sweetie, Sean and then on a cruise to Alaska with my parents. I’ll talk about the cruise in my next blog post, but thought I’d share some photos from our backpacking trip.

    Sean and I decided to go to  backpacking for a couple of days in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness which is in Northern California not far from Lassen National Park, a gorgeous area. Sean grew up near there, in Burney, but he hadn’t been up to the lakes since he was 11 years old. So we loaded up our old backpacks and headed out…the hike to the lake was pretty short, only a few miles, which was good since neither one of us had been backpacking for years. The hike in went pretty fast but there were LOTS of mosquitos. We found an awesome spot to camp along the first of the lakes you come to, Lake Eiler, nice and flat and grassy right on the edge of the lake…what a view (see above)!

    We brought a couple of fishing poles and a bunch of flies and did some fishing…had fresh trout for dinner and it was delicious. The tiny little bones were difficult though!

    Me and a couple of rainbows I caught!

    Me and a couple of rainbows I caught!

    The wind picked up in the afternoon and it got pretty cold but there was plenty of downed wood in the area and we built a nice fire…


    The next day we took it easy, did some more fishing and relaxed. I hiked to the other side of the lake and did some birdwatching…saw quite a few birds and lots of woodpeckers, including a Red-breasted Sapsucker, a Hairy Woodpecker and a White-headed Woodpecker, all gorgeous birds!

    Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.25.40 PM

    Red-Breasted Sapsucker

    Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.26.09 PM

    Hairy Woodpecker

    Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.24.54 PM

    White-headed Woodpecker








    We camped there for two nights and then hiked out and went back to Burney. A couple of days later we decided to ride up to the top of Burney Mountain…it’s 7,863 feet high and the view from the top is amazing. Sean took his dirt bike and I rode an ATV…

    Top of Burney Mountain

    Top of Burney Mountain

    At the top you have a panoramic view of both Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. There is a fire lookout up there, built in 1934 and rebuilt in 1960, still used to this day.

    View of Mount Shasta

    View of Mount Shasta

    Panoramic view of the lookout, Mount Lassen and a toilet.

    Panoramic view of the lookout, Mount Lassen and a toilet.






  • My Brunei Adventure

    Despite my best intentions, I have not been posting here as often as I should…things have been busy but that is no excuse, because everyone is busy these days.  But hey, here I am with a post, although it has nothing to do with jewelry! But that’s ok, this is my blog and I can write whatever I like…so I want to tell you about my trip to Brunei…

    I have mentioned before in this blog, that between 2003 and 2006 I traveled around the world for a few years (and it was awesome). By the time I stopped I had been to 38 countries, and one of those was Brunei Darussalam in 2004. It was not a place I had planned on going, although I of course had heard about the Sultan, who I believe at one point was the richest man in the World (now, despite having a net worth of around $20 billion, he only ranks 40th). Brunei is a pretty small country, located on the island of Borneo. I was trying to get a flight from Darwin, Australia to Bangkok, and the cheapest flight I could find was with Air Brunei. And it included a free stopover in Brunei, so I thought, why the hell not?

    Brunei sunset

    Sunset in Brunei

    I arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan (the capital) on April 15, 2004 and checked into a dubious hostel…it was a total dump with sketchy people, but for 6 bucks a night I could hardly complain. The first night I was there was actually pretty great…I had gone to the tourist agency and booked an evening cruise up the river there that took you past the Sultan’s Palace…

    The Sultan of Brunei's Palace

    The Sultan of Brunei’s Palace

    (which apparently has 1,788 rooms) and they promised we would see some proboscis monkeys also. It was a lovely evening, with flocks of egrets flying by as the sounds of the evenings call to prayer drifted through the trees. They took us up the river into the mangroves and sure enough we quickly found a group of monkeys. They are very strange looking creatures, as large as a man with their orange fur, pot bellies and big noses. I finally found a large male feeding on the mangrove leaves and got a good look (only the males have the big noses). I figured they must be self-conscious about it…I mean who wouldn’t be, having this thing on your face that looks like a flaccid penis?

    Proboscis monkey

    Proboscis monkey


    Pardon the crude analogy but I mean, come on…how would you describe it?

    The next day I signed up for a jungle trek, hoping to see some more wildlife, as I heard there were supposed to be sun bears and other kinds of monkeys there as well.

    Me and some carnivorous plants

    Me and some carnivorous plants

    Our leader was a guy who called himself “Jungle Dave”, who I would discover cleverly hid his sadistic tendencies under a guise of friendliness and local knowledge. What I thought would be a leisurely stroll through the trees turned out to be a sweaty slog over steep terrain through thick, hot, humid jungle. After an hour I was completely soaked with sweat-my sodden cotton cargo pants clung to my legs as I slipped and tripped through the thick foliage. Twice I was stabbed by vicious thorny plants when I grabbed them for support without looking first.

    Dirt and leaves stuck to my skin and wet hair. Halfway through the day as the heat cooked my brain and we saw no animals of any kind except one kingfisher, I began to get very cranky. Every time “Jungle Dave” would point out some supposed animal sign, all I could think was, “This guy is full of shit, there’s no animals in this %$@*# jungle, just bugs, mud and carnivorous plants.” I began to have futile fantasies of ice cold beers (there is no alcohol in Brunei) and long cold showers. 

    Finally the day ended without seeing any animals. Jungle Dave said it was our fault for not walking quietly enough and suggested I come back and do the overnight camping trip with him….I thought I restrained myself admirably by not choking him out. 

    The next day I went to the tourism bureau and found out that I pretty much had exhausted my entertainment options in that tiny little country (did I mention there is no alcohol there?). So I took their suggestion and jumped on the next ferry to the Malaysian island of Labuan, only an hour away. There I treated myself to a four star hotel that only cost me $46 US a night…the hotel I stayed at had an enormous swimming pool and my room had air conditioning, TV, toilet paper(!) and a king-sized bed. Oh, and a poolside bar. So I sat and had a Heineken, then spent two very relaxing days doing very little and life was good again.

    So, the reason I am writing about my trip there is that the other day I had read online  that Brunei had just adopted sharia law. Sharia law is an Islamic criminal law that includes punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as rape, adultery, and sodomy. Then today I stumbled across another article about Brunei on the Daily Beast, written by an American woman who had been the mistress of the Sultan’s brother, and apparently had also been ‘given’ as a gift to the Sultan as well. It made me a bit sad that the country has adopted such an extreme set of laws…the people I met when I was there were quite friendly and seemed eager to show me their country and attract tourists. Although all the local women I saw wore headscarves, I saw no burqas, and no one paid much attention to my Western clothing. I am very glad I got to see Brunei when I did, as I don’t think I would feel comfortable going there now.

    Anyone else out there been to Brunei? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments. Thanks for reading!

  • Spring 2014 Color Trends – Energizing Orange

    A gorgeous spring day with blooming California Poppies...

    A gorgeous spring day with blooming California Poppies…

    Spring has finally come to Northern California! After a cold and scarily dry winter, a couple of weeks of much needed rain fell and now everything is in bloom! The picture above was taken on a hike in Helen Putnam Park here in Petaluma…the hills are turning green finally!

    As you can tell from my Etsy shop Silverly Jewelry, I adore color, and one of the big color trends of this Spring is bright, energizing orange. Confuciansim, the ancient Chinese philosophy system, sees orange as a color of transformation, symbolizing light and fire, spirituality and sensuality. In Asia the word for orange is saffron, which was traditionally used to dye the robes of Buddhist and Hindu monks. If you have ever been to Thailand, everywhere you go you see all the Buddhist monks wearing orange holy robes…and some sculptures as well…I took the picture below when I was in Thailand in 2001.

    DCP_1107Pantone has released it’s Spring 2014 Color Report and here are the colors…I love them all and plan on incorporating as many as I can into my Spring Collection…

    Pantone Spring 2014One of my favorite stones, which also happens to be perfect for this season, is Carnelian. It gets its name from the red-orange Kornel cherry, and is variety of chalcedony and a micro-crystalline quartz. It gets its reddish tint from the iron oxides in the stone and varies in color from bright orange to a reddish-brownish-orange. It was believed by the Romans to be a stone of courage, able to increase confidence and strength. The ancient Egyptians put it on mummies to help them in their journey to the afterlife. Some people believe it can be used to enhance self-esteem and increase energy…these are good reasons to wear it but I just love how it looks!

    I have lots of carnelian stones, and will be using them more and more…I am also planning on doing some more enameled pieces as well.

    Here are a few pieces I am offering in my shop right now…

    Hand-forged sterling silver earrings with carnelian

    Hand-forged sterling silver earrings with carnelian


    Sterling silver carnelian ring

    Sterling silver carnelian ring


    Silver carnelian earrings

    Silver carnelian earrings












    Of course, orange is found in many places in nature, you don’t have to look far. Several days a week I go hiking at a local County Park called Helen Putnam, which is where I took that picture above with the California poppy…and I also heard an Orange-crowned Warbler singing…

    Orange-crowned Warbler

    Orange-crowned Warbler

    and saw a Ring-necked Snake. The one I saw was tiny, only about 6 inches long and was crossing the trail.

    Ring-necked Snake

    Ring-necked Snake

    So what do you think of this color trend of orange right now? Do you ever wear orange, either clothing or accessories? I really like it, I think it’s a fresh, vibrant color for this gorgeous spring weather, and I’m finding more and more reasons to incorporate it into my wardrobe this season.

  • The Holiday Shopper’s Guide to Jewelry Metals

    Fine silver leaf earrings with 24k gold accents


    The holidays are fast approaching and this is the time of year when lots of people will (hopefully) be buying lots of jewelry. But it can be a little confusing as to what you are buying especially when it comes to metals-there are many kinds used in jewelry! So here is a list of the most common ones and some of their properties. It’s not an exhaustive list but it should help clear up some confusion…let’s start with the easy ones…


    World's Largest Gold Bar

    World’s Largest Gold Bar

    Gold is an element, and its symbol on the Periodic Table is Au (from the Latin name Aurum), and is of course known for its bright yellow color. It is considered a precious metal, as it is valuable and highly sought after…and expensive! The price fluctuates daily but as of this writing, gold is $1227.50 per troy ounce (one troy ounce = 1.10 ounces = 31.103 grams). While I was looking up gold in Wikipedia I learned an interesting bit of trivia…”Most of the Earth’s gold probably lies at its core, the metal’s high density having made it sink there in the planet’s youth. Virtually all discovered gold is considered to have been deposited later by meteorites that contained the element.” Wow, who knew…so that means people are walking around with extra-terrestrial jewelry…that’s pretty cool.

    So when you look at gold jewelry you hear words like ’14 karat’ and ’24 karat’ gold…here’s what it means. 24 karat gold is pure 100% gold. Because gold is such a soft metal, as well as expensive, you mostly see 14 karat gold, which is an alloy of 14 parts gold to 10 parts other metals (58.7% gold). This makes the product a little harder and more durable. And affordable.

    I don’t work a lot with gold because it is so expensive, but sometimes use it for a process called keum-boo, which is pure gold leaf bonded to pure silver. It’s actually quite easy…you take a piece of fine silver, heat it to 500-700 degrees (I use a hot plate), add a piece of 24k gold foil and use a metal or stone burnisher to rub it on the surface of the silver, where it will chemically bond. If you are interested in the process, artist Celie Fago has an excellent book on it…you can check it out here.

    Here is an example of some keum-boo I did on some fine silver leaves I made….I offer them in my shop and you can find them here.

    fine silver leaf earrings with 24k gold

    My handcrafted fine silver leaf earrings with 24k gold accents

    What is white gold? It is an alloy of gold and at least one white metal, usually nickel, manganese or palladium. Its purity is also measured by karats. Rose gold (also known as pink gold and red gold) is an alloy of gold and copper…the higher the copper content, the more pronounced is the red color. A common alloy for rose gold is 75% gold, 25% copper. Red gold is a 50/50 mix of gold and copper.


    OK, silver is clearly my favorite metal…I love its bright white reflectiveness, its relative affordability, and it’s pretty easy to work with. Although silver is much much cheaper than gold (silver is $19.36 a troy ounce as of this writing), its price does tend to fluctuate quite a lot, as you can see from this chart I took from the Rio Grande website (this is where I buy pretty much all my metals and everything else-they are awesome!).

    Silver prices 2010-2013

    Silver prices 2010-2013

    As you can see, it was up to almost $50 a troy ounce in spring 2011! It sucks for us jewelers when the price spikes like that…we have to raise our prices to compensate or we lose money.

    Pure silver is also an element, and its symbol on the Periodic Table is Ag (from the Latin argentum) and it also possesses the highest electrical conductivity of any metal (a question I once embarrassingly got wrong while playing trivia-I thought it was copper). Almost all silver used these days is recycled or recovered as a by-product of gold, lead, copper or zinc refining. Besides being used for jewelry, it has tons of other industrial and even medical uses. Interesting bit of trivia…a bill passed in March 2012 makes silver (and gold) legal tender in the state of Utah.

    There are several types of silver that I work with…sterling silver, fine silver and argentium silver.

    Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper, which is why you see sterling silver stamped with 925. It is pretty much the standard silver you will find in most jewelry, as it is harder than fine silver. Because of the presence of copper in sterling silver, it does tarnish more readily than fine silver and is a little more difficult to work with than fine silver. This is because when you heat it up, you get what’s called firescale, which is a red, purple or blackish stain on that appears on the surface. This is from the reaction of oxygen with the copper in the alloy when it is heated…this also what happens when your jewelry tarnishes, albeit at a slower rate.

    Also, because of the presence of copper in the alloy, even sterling silver can turn your skin green, especially if you are wearing a wide ring band on your finger. It’s harmless and is caused by the chemical reaction between the acids of your skin and the metal. The best way to avoid this happening is to try to keep lotions, soaps and other chemicals away from your rings, and remove them before bathing or swimming, particularly in salt water.

    I love sterling silver though, as it is fun to work with and beautiful to look at. It makes lovely strong, durable ring bands and chains. I work with it in wire and sheet form and also in clay form (which is what I use to make my sterling silver Leaf Ring).

    I will cover Precious Metal Clays in a future blog post but here is a picture of fine silver and sterling silver clays.IMG_2376

    Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver (I have no idea what the other 0.1 is). It is slightly whiter and softer than sterling silver and tarnishes less readily than sterling. Because it is pure silver, you don’t get firescale when you heat it, and you can actually fuse it without using solder! If you are interested in doing this to make jewelry (this is how I got started making rings) there is a great book called Silver Wire Fusing that explains it all step by step. You can get it on Amazon here…I highly recommend it.

    I work with fine silver in wire form (to make rings), and as Precious Metal Clay…an example of this are my fine silver Leaf Earrings.

    Argentium silver is a new form of silver, created in the 1990’s…to make it they have modified the traditional alloy of sterling (92.5% silver + 7.5% copper) and replaced some of the copper with the element germanium (not the geranium flower!). Because it contains at least 92.5% silver, it is still referred to as sterling silver.

    The advantages of Argentium silver are that it does not get firescale when heated, and it can be fused without solder like fine silver, and it tarnishes less readily than traditional sterling silver. It is slightly more expensive than sterling silver, and I sometimes like using it for ring bands as it is a little easier to solder.


    Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.01.56 PMAlthough I love platinum, I don’t work with it for reasons I will describe in a minute, but it’s worth mentioning as it is a commonly used metal for jewelry. Like gold and silver, it is an element and its symbol on the Periodic Table is Pt, from the Spanish platina, which translates to “little silver”.

    Platinum is more expensive than gold ($1364 per troy ounce as of this writing), as it is one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust. Only a few thousand kilograms are produced annually. It is also the least reactive metal, and extremely resistant to corrosion, which makes it valuable for many industrial uses. It is slightly harder than pure iron.

    Why don’t I work with platinum? Well, besides being crazy expensive, it has a crazy high melting point which makes it very difficult to work with. Here’s a little comparison…

    SILVER     1763° F    (962° C)

    GOLD        1948°F     (1064° C)

    PLATINUM      3215° F     (1768° C)

    Twice as high as silver! But I love the color of platinum and wish I had the skills and tools (and the money) to work with it…

    Rhodium is closely related to platinum and like platinum, is rare and expensive. I mention it here because it is also used in jewelry, but almost always as electroplating over white gold and platinum to give it a more reflective, whiter surface, and on sterling silver to protect against tarnish. You almost never see solid rhodium jewelry, not so much because of its cost, but because it not only has a higher melting point than platinum (3565° F!), it is not very malleable at all so it makes jewelry hard to fabricate.

    I hope this helped! I know it can get confusing out there, and it’s hard to know exactly what you’re buying. Next time I will cover some very common, less expensive jewelry metals  (what they call base metals), which are copper, brass and nickel or german silver. Feel free to let me know in the comments sections if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them!