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Rocks Of Ages

Common RocksOne year, when my sister and I were little girls, my parents bought the family a rock polisher or tumbler. It was neat to see what rocks would look like once they were all polished and shiny — who knew those boring, everyday rocks would be so cool? Even glass from Coke bottles was neat polished!

For many hours we’d all stop at any place and look over the rocks, picking up the neat ones, guessing what they’d look like, and trying to compete for the best agate. Maybe we’d find an arrowhead or even a fossil!

Back then, I could easily tell you the difference between igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks; which were most plentiful in our area; and which looked the neatest once polished. I could also name quite a few ‘fancy’ rocks which I had only seen in the lapidary (where we went to get the rock polisher supplies — i.e. bags of grit or sand).

Polished RocksWe looked forward to trips to Lake Michigan, local rivers, local parks — even a simple trip to a gravel parking lot meant possibilities…

Unfortunately, rock picking lost its cool factor once two things happened:

1) My parents never bought us all the jewelry findings so that we could make the nifty jewelry that we saw in the lapidary shop.

And 2) Our parents sent us into the freezing waters of Wisconsin in fall to retrieve rocks.

The actual cold feet combined with the knowledge that we never make the fine things to wear gave us the proverbial cold feet and we eventually refused to pick those rocks.

My parents would just say we girls grew out of rock picking; that they were never so mean to us. (I’ll admit we grew from little girls to teens who wanted jewelry more than spelunking duties, but my parents were still mean — that water was cold!)

Whichever way you look at it, the rock polisher began to gather dust, as did all those bags and boxes of collected rocks. My knowledge of rocks became just as dusty.

Flash forward to my mid-twenties.

My Pretty Rocks (Bathroom Display)It was the 90′s and ‘New Age’ was all the rage. Once again, rocks and minerals held new possibilities. No longer just pretty they were purported to have healing properties due to their spiritual vibrational activities. Once again, I was hooked on rocks.

Only now that I was in my 20′s, I had some money to spend. So I bought books on identifying rocks, minerals and gemstones; books on the spiritual and healing properties of them all; and glorious photography books featuring rocks and minerals. And this time rock collecting meant I could also buy the rocks themselves.

I read the books and at this time, again, I could tell you much about rocks. For example, I could tell you all about agate, how to identify them from the not so appealing outside, how they formed, as well as which type was good for healing what ailment (and where to place them).

Bathroom With RocksThen life kids happened, and I put all the rocks and books on rocks on shelves where they quickly gathered as much dust as the old rock polisher. The same can be said of my knowledge of rocks.

Flash forward to the present day.

Now we have kids. The kind of kids who are curious, full of questions, and yes, the sort of kids who pick up stuff and bring it home.

My display of ‘pretty rocks’ sits in the bathroom: Smithsonite, Rhodonite, Cornelian, Amethyst, Quartz etc. And on the floor next to it, the larger rocks hubby and the kids have brought home from walk-abouts (mostly granite and a few pieces of your garden variety white gravel).

Kids Rocks in BathroomAs another summer approaches, I’ve been thinking about these kids… What to do with them so they don’t run in and out the door 30 times an hour telling me either A) they are bored or B) they want a dozen Popsicles for the neighborhood kids. What to do with them that is fun for all of them and for we parental units. Rocks are starting to look like the answer.

Even if the kids weren’t already grabbing ‘really neat rocks’ from every rest area on I-94 or picking the gravel-drive empty (and placing it all on the bathroom floor), I think they’ll enjoy rock collecting. You travel with your folks by foot, by car, and you spend time together hunched over staring at the ground talking — that’s a lot of one-on-one time. Then you get to go home and discover what they are, which involves more talking and one-on-one time. Kids love one-on-one time. Of course it helps that this is something you all can do together, but which they may actually be better at. Kids like that too.

Baby Girl With Rocks, circa 1930's - Click To See LargerHey, if this picture of a little girl with her jar of rocks from the 1930′s is any indication, kids like to pick up rocks. Some things never change, right?

For the most part we’re prepared; Derek likely remembers all that igneous and sedimentary stuff, and we all know I’ve got the books to help us out with the trickier stuff. Now all we need is that rock polisher…

And no, I’m not worried that the girls will outgrow all this too quickly.

1) They’ve got grandparents who will splurge on buying granddaughters jewelry findings so they can make all the nifty jewelry they want.

And 2) They’ve got a little brother who would love nothing more than to make them squeal as he jumps into the frigid waters to retrieve rocks. In fact, I may have trouble getting that boy to stay out of waterways — and mud, don’t underestimate this boy’s love of mud.

So you don’t need a crystal quartz ball to see that there’s a rock polisher in our future.


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Chris I enjoyed this essay. Thanks. Our parents got us a rock polisher when we were kids and it was fun seeing the rocks from rough to gems. I want to get one for my kids. Some are toys and some cost a lot more but seem to be for more serious people. I will probably get one of the kids tumblers to see how much they are interested. May 4th, 2009 at 9:43 AM

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