Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Memphis...and us with spots.


Back in the middle of July, Nathanael and I took a long weekend to help Nathanael's brother Gabriel and his fiance Nelly (who has since become my sister-in-law, yay!) prepare their apartment in Memphis...so they wouldn't arrive after their honeymoon and have to sleep on layers of cardboard on the floor...not that anyone would do that of course...cough cough....  

Nathanael and I are very excited that they will be moving so close.  Even though a few years ago 6 hours away did not seem "so close", now that we have lived at least 18 hours from immediate family (and 10 from some extended family) for two years, we are ecstatic to be able to drive to see them for an occasional long weekend.  Plus they're super fun!

On the way to Memphis Friday, with the help of some scrap paper, sharpies and safety pins, Nathanael and I took advantage of Cow Appreciation Day.  (Really, who could turn down a free chicken sandwich and a free reason to to wear a costume on an ordinary day?)




That baby in the background came as a farmer, and the rest of his family members were cows.  When the family was getting out of the car (really well decked out as cows), the 3 year old boy asked, "Where are we going, Mom?"
(Oh I love children!)

When we arrived, we helped with moving large pieces of furniture, and organizing...


Then we got some authentic Memphis barbecue.


These wet wipes were very necessary for eating ribs.

On Saturday morning the guys picked up a washer and drier while the girls spruced up and decorated.  Then, around lunch time we got some very good news.  This is photo shows our happiness when we got the phonecall telling us we would all be Aunts and Uncles come March.  We were so glowing that we blurred the picture.


In the afternoon we picked up some supplies at Lowe's...well, the others did; Nelly and I had better things to do.



I love how this picture shows how oblivious the rest of the family was to our escapades.
Nelly and  are going to have fun being related.

On Sunday morning we visited The Blue Plate Cafe in downtown Memphis for breakfast.  As it turns out, The Blue Plate Cafe is just the place


to be fed as though you are an army.
The egg based breakfasts for one person (breakfast burritos for example) came with sides of beans, biscuits and a stack of pancakes.


If you ever visit, you might want to split a meal with a friend...or a few friends.

After breakfast we wandered the downtown a bit and took some fun pictures.



I have no recollection of what was going on, but I thought my Mom might appreciate that one.





(This is not in downtown Memphis, but I had to sneak this one in here because it is a bit of show and tell.) Back in the apartment, this is Gabe's desk which he and Nelly topped with a layer of pennies and then epoxy. They also painted it black with copper fixtures. This picture doesn't capture how super it is.


We had such a restful and soothing weekend.
I love these people.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Diamond Hunting in Arkansas


Though I was thrilled to finally get to camp with Nathanael, the thing that really drew us to Arkansas was diamond hunting.


Crater of Diamonds State Park claims to be the only diamond mine in the world where average people can dig around (with a state park entrance fee) and keep anything they find.  A former diamond mine, the park has been open to the public as a state park since 1972.  Nathanael and I thought diamond hunting sounded like a really fun thing to try out, and a neat way to get to know this part of the country a little bit.

From Crater of Diamonds State Park Website
The raw diamonds typically found in the park are rounded, feel smooth, and have a metallic shine that makes them stick out from the other rocks they are among.  The most frequently discovered diamonds in the park are white, then brown, then yellow; though there are different shades within those categories. 

As evening fell on the first day of the hunt.

The park website is fairly detailed, but before embarking on our adventure we weren’t sure exactly what to expect.  We were both a little concerned that the high temperatures might make the day of digging feel really long, but we were pleasantly surprised by the visitor friendly arrangement of the diamond field.

The morning of our full day diamond hunting.

Notice the funny green tint of the soil?  The diamond rich soil within the "crater" is distinct from the light brown soil elsewhere in the area.


If you are in the mood to get a tan, you can dig and sift through the soil in full sun, but most people choose to sift for diamonds using water, which actually makes it a wonderfully cool activity for a hot day.


The park has two large pavilions, each with  ~2.5ft deep troughs of water where you can use successively smaller screens (your own or rented) to remove the large stones and dust, and allow you to sort through clean small stones to look for something shiny.


Additionally, since diamonds are dense, they will shift to the very lowest part of your screen as you sift your rocks in the water.  To take advantage of the density even more directly, some people have circular screens called sarucas that they would use to sift and spin the rocks in order to move the densest stones to the very center.
We rented square screens from the park.


After gathering buckets full of soil (step 1), we had one screen with wide mesh to remove the large stones and break up clusters of clay (step 2), and then a fine mesh so that the small rocks could be washed of clay (step 3). 

Removing the large stones and breaking up chunks of clay.

After the small rocks were sifted, we flipped them onto the provided wooden counters to look through them very carefully (step 4).





Usually, if you didn't flip the screen with too much force, the densest stones like quartz or jasper would be on top.


 Step 5, A glowing diamond! Ok, ok, it's quartz.

For most of the day I was under the pavilions, sifting the bucket loads of soil that Nathanael dug for me, so with my arms in the water, I stayed perfectly cool.


But after more than seven hours being wet, my hands were very pruney and also a bit raw from rubbing the rocks through the screens.  So I took a break, and Nathanael continued on until park closing time at 8pm.

At this point my hands had recovered from their prune-ness and I was building sandcastles with my sifted rocks.

We did not find any diamonds during our hunt, but not for lack of trying.
We did encounter a lot of pretty rocks,

Nan's pretty rocks.

and a lot of interesting people. 

There was a large boy scout troupe that had camped across from us, and their leaders had the good idea to give them each the goal of collecting ten different varieties of rocks.  There were a lot of families, sometimes working in teams, and often multiple generations sifting for diamonds, including one grandpa that insisted his 4 inch kitchen strainer was totally the way to go. 

My pretty rocks.

There were some people who came from far away, like the family who came from Ohio for the weekend, or the teacher from NYC who was there for a week and was pretty intense about the whole deal (he taught us about the sarucas ).
Our pretty rocks.

  And then there were people who came a few times a year, and kept diamonds from past years in little boxes in their pockets, and in hindsight had something gambler-ish...or even Gollum-ish about them.  They really made Nathanael and I think about how there are many fun and carefree activities in life which can, if we are not careful with ourselves, lean toward obsession.  It made me wonder which activities in my life would draw that kind of tendancy out in me.  I think in making myself or my home look good I can probably border on that kind of attitude, but I will be watching...

My satisfied prospector after a long day of work.

Have you ever hunted for precious metals or minerals?  
Are there any little known adventurey places in your home state?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Camping in Arkansas


Remember how I wanted to get some time outdoors? Well, on a weekend between our other travels, Nathanael and I decided to take a 6 hour trek to Arkansas to camp at Crater of Diamonds State Park, somewhere we had been really wanting to visit.

 But I can't tell you about the diamond hunting in this post. Not yet. That portion of the trip will have to wait, because this post is going to have too many pictures of camping to make room for any of the others.

 When I finished my Masters Degree, my parents gave me a tent as a graduation present. My family did a good deal of camping while I was growing up, so it was an exciting present for them to give me right before Nathanael and I got married. But, even though we are getting close to completing our third year of marriage, this trip was the first time we had been camping together. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. As a result, my photo documenting makes it look like “Nathanael’s camping adventure storybook”. I am still developing the goal of getting more pictures of us together.


Nathanael getting out the tent.


Nathanael scoping out the tent pad.


 Nathanael putting the tarp down.


Nathanael laying the tent down.


Nathanael putting the poles in.


The tent popped up, 


and the fly on.

 When we planned our trip, we discovered that the park (or maybe the state?) had a burn ban. Some part of my mind assumed that driving mostly north for six hours, and going to a campground to be surrounded by trees would somehow grant at least slightly less heat and humidity than the 99 to 109°F that we had each been working in all week, but as we began setting up our tent I wondered if we would fall asleep, or just steam cook all night in our spacious shelter. 
I did help with the tent assembly. Really.
You can see evidenced by the following:


Nathanael’s knot to keep the fly attached to the stake


Sarah’s knot. 

 Nathanael asked me what kind of knot it was. That’s just it, it’s a Sarah knot. 

 Nathanael and I took a short walk, then spent two hours doing some diamond hunting. As the 8pm closing time drew nearer, intense winds and horizontal rain gave everything a thorough soaking, and cooled the night down significantly (cooled down = good sleep).  For dinner we filled tin foil packets with potatoes, carrots, onions, ground beef and seasonings. To my hungry self they were the best food ever. (“We should make these all of the time!”)

 Nathanael had coordinated all of the food for our weekend away, and when I awoke in the morning he was coaxing his home made wood burning backpacking stove to sit in the low-air-flow grill area and burn charcoal for the cooking of chocolate chip pancakes.



My morning view. Ahhh.

The fire ban rules required that we not cook on the ground, and that our fire not burn wood, so the stove was not using all of its typical high heat potential. It was fun to watch Nathanael’s pancake arrangement, and it was a delicious start to a long day of hard work.


The camping stove poised for pancakes


Nathanael tending pancakes


Our vintage maple syrup, from a case of them saved by Nathanael's grandparents.
(Wise grandparents.  If you're going to save a case of something, real maple syrup is the way to go.)

 For lunch we took a break for some ham sandwiches,


 and moved our tent from the camper site it was on, to a primitive site (made for tents, but without a spout or grill, so we walked across to the camper sites when we needed to cook).

When we moved it we just took the stakes out and carried it a few hundred feet away, which was certainly faster, though more of a workout then taking the tent down. When you are holding an already constructed tent with your arms spread wide to hold the poles there are a lot of muscles being used (and a lot of balance skills failing if you are me). What is even better though, is with a tent as large as ours it looks like you are carrying an elephant, so despite the slightly tired muscles you feel really strong. (Ok, so I felt strong, Nathanael probably had a better grasp on reality.) 



Coordinating sheets. That’s right. We that’s how coordinated we are.
 In actuality, the sheet matching the tent was completely accidental, but from here on out that will be deemed the camping sheet. 

 When our day of diamond hunting was done we followed it with a late dinner of chilli with fritoes. We discovered that you can have too much cheese on your chili, and we were also teased by surrounding campers, “Do you have other people staying with you in that tent?”, “Do you think that tent’s big enough?”. A six person tent is plenty spacious for the two of us right now, but we plan to have some little people in there with us someday, so we are glad my parents have our long term camping career in mind. 

 For our final morning we had bacon and eggs for breakfast,


and fashion.

 And then packed things up for the trip home. We are still reading the C.S. Lewis space trilogy and just finished the second book, Perelandra. It was intense. If you are unfamiliar with the writings of C.S. Lewis (thanks for asking Liesl!) , I would recommend starting with his most well known work, the Chronicles of Narnia (I prefer them in the original published order instead of the currently published order, because it leaves more surprises to be discovered, but that is really up to your preference). Though it is a children’s series, there are some really beautifully presented truths throughout the series, which is one of the reasons I always think of C.S. Lewis’ (and George MacDonald’s) books as “teaching fiction” rather than plain fiction or fantasy. If you prefer to read one of his adult books, The Five Loves (non-fiction), Mere Christianity (non-fiction) and The Great Divorce (fiction) are also fine works.  C.S. Lewis books have been available at every public library I have visited (which is quite a few now!), so be sure to take advantage of that!


I would love to hear about your summer adventures, and maybe get some ideas!  Have you spent some time sleeping outdoors this summer?  What have you been reading?

Do you have any favorite camping foods or fun tips?

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