Saturday, October 18, 2014

Birthstones: Turquoise (December)

If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do.

According to the Kansas City list, December has a few choices (turquoise, blue zircon, tanzanite; lapis lazuli prior), but we'll start with turquoise.

Turquoise is a secondary mineral; instead of forming under heat and pressure like silicates, diamonds, or corundum, it's the result of weathering and oxidation on copper deposits. Its chemical formula is CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·4H2O, making it a hydrate. On a microscopic level, turqouise looks something like this:

If you want to peek at most of the modern Kansas City birthstones under an Internet microscope (metaphorically), this Japanese website (in English) has a really handy list!

Turquoise forms in arid regions with histories of volcanic activity, and because its formation is highly irregular, the stone can vary significantly in its color and characteristics. Thus, it's become common to refer to turquoise by its mine or place of origin, as turquoise pieces from the same mine share similar characteristics.

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise

Kingman Turquoise

Bisbee Turquoise

Turquoise is one of the oldest precious stones known to civilization and was found and used all around the world, even in ancient times. The ruling classes in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Egypt, Persia, Tibet, and China (just to name a few) used it as adornment and often as a magical talisman or good luck charm. The oldest known turquoise mine was operating in Egypt as far back as 5500 BCE.

The English word turquoise comes from an Old French word for "Turkish," turqueise. World-renowned for thousands of years, turquoise nonetheless did not make its way to Europe until well into the Common Era via Turkey, though the stone itself originated in mines in Iran. Other, older names for turquoise include callais (according to Pliny the Elder), pirouzeh (Persian, "victory/victorious"), firouzeh (Arabic), and teoxihuitl (Aztec).

Since it's such an old stone, traditions and beliefs about turquoise abound. In Ancient Persia it was believed to be a talisman against, and also a harbinger of, death: it was worn for protection, and a change in the color was believed to be a warning of imminent doom. Turquoise can absolutely change color, but this is the natural result of exposure to radiation (even just sunlight) or chemical reactions with cosmetics, perfumes, or the oils of the skin.

The Zunis and Apache tribes in the New World also sported turquoise. According to Apache lore, turquoise improved aim. The Zunis believed that it improved a horse's sure-footedness and prevented the rider from being injured from a fall or throw.

Turquoise is a soft, porous mineral—about a 6 on the Mohs scale. It can absorb perfumes and scents very easily; if turquoise is going to be part of your ensemble on a night out, apply any perfumes/hair sprays/etc. before putting on your jewelry. Do not store turquoise in airtight containers (like opal, it needs some ambient moisture), and be careful not to leave it with particularly malodorous items, lest it pick some of it up. It is also very susceptible to the solvents used in most cleaning solutions; instead, it's best to clean turquoise with a soft toothbrush and plain water.

Because turquoise is so soft, it often undergoes treatments to increase its hardness and durability. These include waxing and oiling (using wax or oil to fill the natural fissures of the stone), backing (using adhesive to attach a thin slice of turquoise to a more durable back), and stabilization (similar to waxing and oiling, but using an epoxy or sodium silicate instead). Dull pieces are often dyed with Prussian blue to enhance their color. Gemologists can determine what treatment a stone has been subjected to, but those tests are often destructive (ruining the color of whatever portion is tested). There is also reconstituted turquoise: flakes and turquoise powder useless on its own combined and suspended in a resin. This often referred to as "block" turquoise, or sometimes just "block."

Naturally, turquoise being so popular, it is often imitated. Not all reconstituted turquoise contains any turquoise at all: often, block turquoise is nothing but resin and dye. Howlite, a white, porous stone with gray veins, is often dyed to resemble turquoise. Some stores are up front about this and some are not. I've also noticed that people on Etsy will tag anything veiny and light blue as turquoise, though if you read carefully it's "turquoise variscite" or "teal howlite" or whatever. Read those item descriptions carefully! And there is no such thing was "white turquoise": I suspect that's a sexed-up term for howlite.

Friday, October 17, 2014

101 in 1001: Lothlorien!

I made it safely through Moria and past the Balrog to get to Lothlorien!

Soon I'm going to have to decide which route I want to take first: go with the hobbits to Isengard to Isengard! Or go with the rest of the Fellowship on a slightly different route to Isengard?

I have also accomplished a few other things that are much less dramatic: eating loads of fresh produce (grapes and smoothies are my favorite summertime snack), blogging regularly, finally getting a new images for my blog header/Etsy banner/FB photo, etc. That last one is probably the only other thing that's at all interesting. Now everything matches across all my platforms: Facebook, Etsy, the blog, and Twitter. It's convenient to have a boyfriend who enjoys working with the GIMP and graphic design!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Read Play Blog October: Halloween!

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence Books & Read Me Away.

What game character would you like to be for Halloween?

I'm actually out of costume ideas for Halloween this year, which is unusual for me. I'm pulling together a few things from my closet and going as a cowboy (because I will be out this year, not like last year where I stayed in with JV and some friends and watched Nicolas Cage movies). I guess you could kind of read it as John Marston from Red Dead Redemption, but since I've never played the game I can't really claim any sort of costume cred. I think I'd like to play it, but I am fail at aiming. Which is too bad because Red Dead Redemption, GTA San Andreas, and the Saints Row games look like so much fun! Argh.

One year in high school—I think it must have been senior year, in any case it was right when Wind Waker had come out—I was Link, and I went pretty hardcore with that. I made a slap-dash green tunic and hat (with a sewing machine and everything) and shield, bought a sword and a blonde wig, and carried a boomerang and a bottle of red fruit juice with me. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of that costume!

Otherwise the games I like to play have totally customizable and thus totally unrecognizable characters (Demon's Souls, Fallout 3) or they have an epic loot system (Diablo 3, War in the North) which makes a recognizable character impossible because there's just too much to choose from. I do like Marcassin's outfit in Ni no Kuni. If I had to pick a character from a recentish game to cosplay I think it'd be him. He's not the world's most interesting character, but I like his look.

But I can't top this freaking awesome cosplay!


I have been totally immersed in Diablo 3 so I will recommend War in the North for all you Diablo-style loothounds. That's what JV and I played before he picked up Diablo 3 and it's equally as satisfying. It takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe so the book parallel is pretty obvious! You play as a human/dwarf/elf team working in parallel to Frodo and the Fellowship to take down evil in Middle Earth. Yeah!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What I Read: Grabben i graven bredvid (Benny and Shrimp)

This week's selection is not a book I would have ever picked up willingly; it was required reading for my Swedish class.

It's a romcom? Oh, ugh, I thought. But I took a closer look at the back cover and saw numerous positive reviews. "Grabben i graven bredvid kommer säkert att bli en modern klassiker." ("The Guy in the Grave Next Door is sure to be come a modern classic.") Maybe it won't be so bad, then.

False alarm. False hope, more like.

I can't imagine a situation where my fellow anglophones would ever come across this book—it came out 15 years ago and is hardly The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (though that book is also a hot mess but that's a rant best saved for another day)—but if you do, I would advise against picking it up unless you need some mindless entertainment to pass the time. You know, like a trans-Atlantic flight or a hospital waiting room, and the battery on your Kindle is dead and so is your mp3 player and you can't sleep and you finished your Sudoku book and the only other things available to occupy your time are back issues of celebrity rags and Good Housekeeping.

I had a lot of problems with this book. I'm sure if I'd read it in English I'd only have more; I won't pretend that the literary nuance of passages here and there didn't elude me. I'm good, but I ain't that good. Nonetheless, there were other problems that were so stark I couldn't help but notice them, even through the hazy fog of my nonnative Swedish.

The story is a love story between Benny, a dairy farmer, and Desirée, a cosmopolitan Stockholm librarian. They meet in the graveyard where Desirée comes to mourn ("mourn") her late husband and where Benny tends the grave of his parents.

It's a cutesy conceit and I was willing to give it a chance, but it never picked up from there. The rest of the story is your typical mismatched odd couple love story. A chance for some great character study, not to mention commentary on class and education and what society does and doesn't value, but nope. Mazetti seems to think that so long as you insist that two characters are totally different from each other, you're spared the task of actually characterizing them.

Benny is as dull as dishwater, but I'd take him over the hysterical (and I'm using that word with all of its original sexist connotations, here) stereotype that is Desirée any day. Desirée is baby-crazy and talks endlessly about her ovaries and biological clock. Desirée and her ~BFF~ Märta (who is equally hysterical) spend their evenings drinking wine and gossiping over their men and their sex lives. Desirée is the emotional, artistic one in the relationship. And so on.

 The magical sex trope is one I'd like to see die. See, Desirée wasn't really in love with her late husband. How do we know? Why, she never enjoyed the sex. How do we know that she's not really interested in the coworker she starts seeing? The sex is mediocre. And how do we know that Benny is ~*~The One~*~ for her? Because all of a sudden she's having the best sex of her life!!!! People absolutely have different chemistry with people: two people can have really dull sex with each other but incredibly hot and immensely satisfying sex with other people. Stuff like this—"it's never been like THAT before"—is a grown-up version of the "true love's kiss" from the old fairy tales, and it's just as ridiculous.

The problem with the odd couple love story trope is that you have to have enough of a connection between these two opposites for the romance to seem plausible. Novelty wears off quickly, and if there's no rock-solid connection underneath the novelty then the relationship falls flat and, in the case of fiction, so does the story. If I can't imagine what brings these people together, then you have failed as a writer, and there is no way I can imagine or understand what Benny and Desirée like about each other or see in each other.

The best thing I can say about Benny and Shrimp is that it is a quick read, and a short one to boot.

Monday, October 13, 2014

All Food is "Real" Food

"Real food." This is a phrase I see a lot in my Internettin': on Facebook and blog posts, on Twitter, on professional ("professional") articles.

I can't stand it. First of all, unless you're having a pretend tea party with a child, all the food you're eating is real. It exists. It can be eaten. It has calories, (some) nutrients, and if you eat it you will at least keep from starving to death. (I also have a serious bone to pick with the market's decision to use "organic" to refer to a specific subset of food, but that's a rant for another day.) Some food may not be up to your standards of what is nutritious, or healthy, or whatever, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Second of all, there is a serious level of inherent snobbery in describing some foods as "real" and implying that others are fake or fraudulent. Usually the snobbery is intended to be self-directed, like, "Oh, I lost some weight after I decided to eat more real food"—implying that you think your eating habits of the past are subpar. But language like this cannot ever be only self-directed. There are always going to be people who now eat like you did. Language like this damages other people.

Third, it ignores the economic reality for many families: prepackaged foods and meals (the implied Other to the raw, unprepared, straight-from-the-plant-or-animal goods that are "real foods") are an essential staple of their survival, both in terms of sustenance as well as mental health. Preparing food is a ceaseless and often thankless task, especially when you're talking for an entire family, and assuming that low-income parents who may be working physically demanding jobs (and maybe even two or three of them!) should somehow find it in their psychic reserve to spend the rare moment of free time they have doing more work is grossly insensitive. Yes, cooking from scratch is cheaper—if you only consider the money. Cooking costs time and energy, too (that's part of the price you pay for ready-made food: the convenience) and unless you happen to enjoy cooking as a hobby, that is not time or energy well spent.

"But I'm not saying they should!" you insist. But every time you talk about how you and your family usually only eat "real food," you are inviting the comparison of someone worse off, someone whose Tuesday night savior is a can of Dinty Moore (this was the case in my house growing up) because there is no time or energy to make something "real." Judgmental language naturally invites comparison and it makes it clear on which side of the comparison your sympathy lies.

This is especially potent in parenting. There is, no doubt, an entire book to be written about the role of authenticity when it comes to raising children. A whole chapter could be spent on "real" food, and how advertising, the media, and society constantly reaffirm love is paired with authenticity and what society deems to be the best, healthiest foods, while neglect or, at best, parental inability, is paired with the inauthentic, and the lower-class "fake" foods deemed to be unhealthy or at least not sufficiently "healthy."

People have an overwhelming need for labels for everything in life, and the food they eat falls under that category: vegan, vegetarian, real food, organic food, paleo, low-carb, no-carb, and on and on. But more than any of those other labels, "real" food brings with it a nasty Other, an implied Less-Than. Don't be that asshole. Stop calling your specially-designated dietary selections "real food." It's all real food.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Item: Black and Blue Pi Wrap Bracelet

Not a color combination I usually go for in my wardrobe, but I think the look in this one is quite dramatic!

The latest jewelry from Kokoba: black and blue wrap bracelet in twine and agate, with pi.
Black and blue wrapped pi bracelet
The dyed blue agate looks very bright here, but in typical light (and against the skin) it's more navy-colored, or even black.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Trek Thursday: Where No Man Has Gone Before

#59: Where No Man Has Gone Before

In case you forgot: A member of the Enterprise crew catches some condition that gives him mirrored contact lenses and incredible psychic powers. Kirk tries to figure out how deal with this threat, eventually killing him. A pretty lady psychiatrist dies in the process.

This episode is the second pilot; its original airdate as the third episode must have confused the heck out of its contemporary viewers, because the differences are significant. Spock is pissy and irritable, and his dynamic with Kirk just doesn't feel right. The chief medical officer is played by the bland and forgettable Paul Fix, and the costumes are some of the ugliest sweaters ever to grace a television screen. The "person with godlike powers" trope is going to get some more mileage before the series is over, unfortunately, and this isn't really the most compelling variation on the theme. The appeal of this episode, and why it isn't rated any lower, is in its value as the second Star Trek pilot. This is what the show almost was.