The Gemstone Education – Pearl: The Treasures of the Sea

Pearl, the birth stone for month of June, is among the most timeless, classic and treasured of all gems. Through out history, these noble gems have been associated with wisdom, wealth, purity, romance and mystery. The ancient Egyptian were buried with them. In Rome, Pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and status. The Greeks prized them for their beauty and association with love and marriage. Medieval Knights wore them in battle as a talisman against injury. And, during the renaissance, some European countries banned all but nobility from the right to wear them.

It is hard to believe that such a luscious, beautiful gem come from such humble origins. A natural starts out as a grain of a sand or microscopic worm that works its way into an oyster and can not be expelled. To protect its soft body from this irritant, the oyster secretes a smooth, hard crystalline substance called nacre. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the foreign object and hardens, ultimately forming a pearl. In general, the thicker the nacre, the richer the glow of pearl, which can greatly enhance its value.

Although early pearl gathering depended on divers braving the oceans’ depths to retrieve these treasures, the vast majority of pearls today are grown, or cultured, on pearl farms by surgically inserting a small shell bead, or nucleus, into the mantle of an oyster.

Even though pearls are harvested en masse on pearl farms, producing a quality pearl is an extremely rare event. It is estimated that half of all nucleated oysters do not survive, and of those that do, only 20% bear marketable pearls.

Pearls, the recommended jewelry gift for couples celebrating their third and 30th wedding anniversary, are cultured in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and kinds:

– Akoya Pearls are the classic round pearls found in most quality pearl jewelry. They are mainly grown in the waters off Japan. They come in a range of hues, including white, cream, pink, and peach.

– White South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other and other areas of the South Pacific and are prized for their large size.

– Tahitian pearls grown in French Polynesia, Can be very large and come in a range of natural colors from gray to black to green to purple. Because of their large size and unique dark colors, they command very high prices.

– Mabe pearls, grown in Japan, Indonesia, French Polynesia, and Australia, are usually flat backed because they form against the inside shell of the oyster rather than within oyster’s body. They are often used in earring and rings.

– Freshwater pearls are grown in bays, lakes and rivers primarily in Japan, China, and United States. They are often irregularly shaped, of various colors, and are less lustrous than saltwater cultured pearls; hence, they are substantially inexpensive.

When shopping for pearls, five factors that determine value are luster, surface brilliance; surface cleanliness, absence of spots, bumps or cracks; shape, generally, the more rounder he pearl, the higher its value; color, pearls come in virtually every hue of the rainbow, and a few others, too; and size, the average pearl sold is 7 – 7.5 millimeters, but these gems can be as small as 1 millimeter or as large as 20 millimeters. High quality pearl strands will feature pearls well matched in these characteristics.

Because pearls are soft, ranking 2.5 – 4.5 on the Mohs scale for hardness, they require special care. Natural oils from the skin, as well as hair spray, lotions and cosmetics, can dull their luster. Like other jewelry, they should be cleaned with a soft damp cloth and stored in cloth or cotton away from other jewelry to prevent scratching. Also, avoid allowing your pearl to come in contact with harsh chemicals, which can erodes its surface. And, if worn frequently, pearl necklaces should be brought to a jeweler once a year for restringing to prevent strand breakage.

How To Learn More About Wine

We’ve discussed before how elusive-and therefore daunting-wine can feel. And, while we’ve heard from many people a desire to know more and be more confident in their choices, there seems to be a disconnect between that desire and reality. We suspect that’s because the wine industry overall seems to project an “all or nothing” stance, meaning, either you become the connoisseur or you resolve yourself for a life of ignorance. Not so! As we’ve suggested, a little knowledge goes a long way, and, for the majority of us, it’s all we need in order to fully enjoy our wine experience. While I’m sure our readers agree that this blog is the be-all, end-all to wine education, we thought it prudent to discuss the various options for learning more about wine so that you can pick and choose your own path.

1. Tastings – A good first step, and a typically low-key experience. You can find tastings at local restaurants and other venues. In New York City, Wendy Crispell organizes entertaining boat tours around Manhattan Island that feature wine and cheese pairings and discussion. With most tastings, the focus is on fun first, education second. These are a great way to meet other like-minded wine drinkers while learning about wine. Often the buzz hits after the 2ndtasting, so the learning will be more high level.

2. Classes – More formal, classes offer added structure to the wine education process. Quality programs are offered at culinary schools and wine associations around the country. You might be in class with chefs and other professionals who need the learning for their work. These classes can get into the various nuances available in wine, and the focus is on education first, fun second. Often you’ll be asked to spit out each tasting in the provided spittoon, but, surprisingly, that doesn’t stop the fun. The expectation for learning being higher, these classes are often more expensive than the traditional tasting. We have done our training at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City; their wine program is top notch.

3. Associations – There are many wine associations open for membership. Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) is one such association. Events, discussions, and a whole community are built around the love of wine. To find an association near you, use google: a search like “Virginia Wine Association” is a good start. These associations are non-profits, so you can feel good about your membership.

4. Books & Magazines – If you find this sort of thing interesting, there is no limit to the number of books and magazines out there. We have just two that have become our staples: Oz Clarke’s “Let Me Tell You About Wine” and Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion to Wine.” Clarke’s is a beautiful picture book, short, and succinct and perfect for us when we were starting this journey. Robinson’s is a tome of detailed information and almost too much for the casual wine fancier, but it is a big help when we’re doing our research.

You’ll want to double check what sort of information you’ll be getting in a magazine or book. We don’t find one-off reviews very helpful because for most of us, we don’t care how a particular wine from a particular vineyard from a particular year rates. Instead, we like lifestyle pieces and info about regions and information that helps us make connections.

5. Websites & Blogs – Same as Books & Magazines, really. Google “Wine Blog” and you’ll find a plethora of information. Remember the source: it’s much easier to launch a blog than get your book published.

6. Practice – This is critical. You have to go out and try what you’ve learned. So, we know that 2010 Finger Lakes Rieslings have peach in their flavor profile. It’s what we were told at tastings when we were up there. So, every time we taste a 2010 Riesling from that area, we look for peach. If it’s there, we go “yup!” and if not, we go “hmph.” We expect Zinfandels to be lush and fruity, so, when I tried Carol Shelton’s creamy “Wild Thing” Zinfandel, I recognized something was different. It takes practice and exposure to start to make the connections you need to have to understand wine better.

You’ve already started your wine education by reading posts like these; why not augment by adding one or more of the above suggestions to your “wine practice.” Overall, just have fun and, remember, you don’t have to know everything there is to know in order to appreciate wine. Keep it simple and put the focus on enjoyment.

Short Hair Today, Long Hair Tomorrow-How Do Celebrities Get Sexy, Long Hair Styles So Fast?

No longer do you have to wait years for your hair to grow out to have a long style. You can go and get long hair right now using extensions. According to Julien Guyonnet, Creative Director at Antenna salon in London, hair extensions are perfect for transforming short hair to long hair, adding volume to thinning hair, growing out layers, a bad haircut and even adding highlights and lowlights without any chemical processing.

Julien Guyonnet explains that most people want the best style available in the fastest time possible. Everyone is in such a rush so they have to be practical. In reality, hair extensions are the only way to have long and healthy looking hair. To achieve that kind of thickness isn’t available in any other way.

What are hair extensions?

Extensions involve attaching human or synthetic man-made hair near the root to create a natural-looks like it grew out of your head—look. The extensions can be attached in 2-4 hours and will last anywhere from 3-6 months at which time they need to be removed and/or replaced depending on the method used.

There are many different extension methods to choose from these days. The hair can be attached strand by strand or in wefts (tiny little curtains attached together at the top). Some of the many attachment methods available today use keratin based adhesives, glues, heat seal, tiny locs and even string. And if you’re not ready to permanently attach something, you can always try clip-in hair extensions that are easily removable.

The Facts of Monofibre® Hair Extensions

Julien Guyonnet uses the Monofibre® hair extension method that was invented by Simon Forbes of Dome Cosmetics over 20 years ago. This method uses man-made Monofibre® instead of human hair. It is so silky and smooth that you can’t even tell it’s not real.

The Monofibre® is attached near the root using a gentle heat that creates a heat seal between the extension hair and the natural human hair. The natural hair needs to be at least 3-inches/ ~8 cm. long to attach the extensions. It is suitable for all hair types as there are no glues or bonding materials used in the application.

Julien Guyonnet has attached Monofibre® hair extensions to clients that want a new look with longer and/or thicker hair and even clients suffering from all forms of hair loss due to cancer and certain treatments.

Hair loss clients usually have fine or brittle hair that can be further damaged if heavy human hair extensions are attached. The extra weight of the human hair can pull out the natural hair causing severe damage and even permanent hair loss. Monofibre® weighs about 1/3 of the weight of human hair and puts less stress on the natural hair.

The extensions can take between 2-3 hours to attach, depending on the requirements of the clients. A partial transformation would take roughly 1 hour and volumising would take between 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Monofibre® comes in many different colors and 2 different textures, classic and wave. The classic texture works on poker straight and semi-straight hair while the wave texture suits all curly hair types.

Monofibre® extensions can last up to 3 months at which time the extensions are completely removed and replaced with new hair. The hair can be removed and replaced during the same appointment so that a continual look is maintained. Most salons offer a tidy-up service to keep the style looking immaculate in between replacements. The costs for extensions can vary from salon to salon, but are much cheaper than human hair extensions. At Antenna Salon, Monofibre® extensions are very affordable. Prices start from £195/~$347 US.

Advantages of Monofibre®

The Monofibre® extension method has many advantages over methods using human hair, Julien Guyonnet explains. Monofibre is much lighter in weight and shinier in texture than human hair. And unlike human hair that has a mind of its own, the fibre holds a style until you take it out. Fibre is also non-porous, so it doesn’t absorb any hair care products in any way. He adds, “Because of its versatility, Monofibre® extensions can be manipulated into Avant-Garde styles such as dreadlocks, braids, etc.”

Julien Guyonnet continues, “I have tried using human hair for extensions and found it really an awful experience. I didn’t like using the glue and solvents. Actually, I felt quite ill through it all.” He feels that Monofibre® extensions are the safest method for natural hair and the most interesting since one can blend the hair with a variety of colors. The sky is the limit when it comes to creativity.

Another big advantage of Monofibre® extensions is the training and education that a stylist must go through in order to be qualified to do hair extensions Julien Guyonnet came to London over 9 years ago to learn everything about Monofibre® extensions from Antenna Salon.

He started out his career by training in France for 3 years at a Hairdressing Institute followed by 2 years work experience in Parisian salons on the Champs Elysées. He trained as an assistant using Monofibre® extensions for 6 months.

After completing the Dome Academy 4 day foundation course he became a qualified stylist in Monofibre® extensions. A year after that he became a senior stylist at Antenna and was doing 10 extension clients per week. Two years later he became the Creative Director at Antenna Salon in London.

Celebrities Wearing Monofibre® Extensions

Monofibre® extensions have become even more popular as many celebrities, such as Vanessa Feltz, Peaches Geldof and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson are wearing them. Julien Guyonnet attached 12-in./~30 cm. extensions to Peaches Geldof’s medium length bright blonde hair. He also added some lowlights for a more subtle effect. She has been wearing Monofibre® extensions for about a year.

When asked why she wanted to get extensions, she says, “I wanted extensions because I thought it was a really fun, sexy look. I was making a documentary at the time and doing TV work, so I wanted to look glamorous! I’ve always loved long hair so it seemed the perfect way to do it as my hair just wasn’t growing fast enough.”

When she first got the extensions Peaches Geldof was bleaching her shoulder-length hair bright blonde. Because of all the bleaching, her hair was not in very good condition and she was concerned about further damage from extensions.

Peaches Geldof made the decision to go with Monofibre® extensions for several reasons. First, they are more ethical than human hair. She did not like the idea of having someone else’s locks glued to hers. Second, the extensions are much lighter in weight and attached in a way that would not cause further damage to her already-damaged hair. And third, she could continue coloring her hair and not worry about damaging the extensions since they are non-porous and will not absorb anything.

Peaches Geldof mentions that one down-side of getting extensions is the up-keep. She returns to Antenna Salon for a tidy-up every month. The extensions last around three months before they need to be removed and replaced. She adds, “No matter how you look at it, having long hair is expensive and time-consuming. Whether you are getting extensions, regular blow-dries, color or highlights, you will need to invest time and money for the best results. I feel that extensions are well-worth the time and money. I was able to get a glamorous look in just a few hours, instead of a few years.”

The daily hair styling routine is fairly uncomplicated. Peaches Geldof takes us through a typical day– “When I have the extensions in, I usually wash my hair with products designed for extensions, such as Antenna’s aftercare products from Dome Cosmetics. I then follow with a deep-conditioning serum or masque as my hair gets quite dry. I spray my hair with a heat-protection spray and blow-dry my real hair, and the extensions which are already straight.”

Many other Antenna extension clients have nothing but good things to say about Monofibre® extensions. Charmaine Rose, Extreme Makeover 2005 contestant says, “My hair has never looked better than when I started wearing Monofibre® hair extensions. They are much easier to maintain than I imagined. I feel and look much more feminine and I highly recommend, when in London, booking an appointment at Antenna!”

More about Dome Cosmetics

Founder Simon Forbes invented Monofibre® extensions over 20 years ago by fitting two things together. He picked up old implements and introduced new technology and knowledge to these instruments to find that they can be incredible things.

Simon Forbes says, “If you’re going to be a hairdresser you’re lumped with the human head. You’re stuck like an artist with the same medium which is hair. That was the starting point for Monofibre®. It is very versatile and doesn’t have a mind of its own.”

The Monofibre® is designed in England and manufactured in China. It has a proprietary element that results in the highest quality acrylic fibre. The hair provides a soft silky feel that is incomparable to other inferior quality fibres on the market today. Monofibre® gives length and volume, as well as color and texture and so in itself it transcends fashion. The extensions are for anyone, including those suffering from hair loss. There are no side effects in the short or long term.

Simon Forbes adds, “What I’ve never been really able to understand is how someone can wear second-hair (human) on their head. I mean it’s the last thing I’d want to do is wear somebody else’s hair. If the hair is coming from people who have had some terrible misfortune in their lives,…then to stick it on a woman’s head with glue (who probably has a £2000 Chanel Hand bag hanging from her shoulder )…there’s something very immoral in that.”

Simon Forbes recommends the use of the Dome Aftercare product range to keep the extensions in pristine condition. The range consists of Frequent Use Shampoo, Intense Conditioning Treatment, Daily Care Mist and a soft bristle Dome brush. An aftercare leaflet is also included to give you top tips on how to maintain your Monofibre® extensions

Simon Forbes sees a continuing growth of extensions as a service. It is a source of revenue for salons that potentially outperforms any other service within the industry. Dome Cosmetics continues to train and certify hundreds of stylists every year in Monofibre® extensions.

Opportunities Abound For Students In Yucatan

Students and teachers looking for a distinctive trip would be wise to put the Yucatan on their wish list, its unique combination of archeological, geological and natural biology translating into a rich educational experience, among them the Mayan pyramids and the amazing freshwater sinkholes known as cetones.

A visit to Chichen Itza must surely include seeing the famous Mayan pyramids, 1,500-year-old structures, located only 75 miles from Merida. The pyramids are divided into three sections, a North grouping of structures distinctly Toltec in style. The central group appears to be from the early period. The southern group is known as “The Old Chichen.” All three can be seen comfortably in one day.

The most famous of the Mayan pyramids, Chichen Itza has been studied extensively and is the most popular Mayan ruin in Mexico. An early morning or late afternoon visit will avoid the punishing midday sun.

The main attraction is the central pyramid, El Castillo del Serpiente Emplumado, which means “Castle of the Plumed Serpent,” referring to a popular deity in Mesoamerican cultures. Among other names, the Mayans called this god Kukulkán. While it is sometimes possible to visit the inside passageway of the pyramid, visitors who are claustrophobic may want to skip that part of the adventure.

Inside visitors will find a narrowly enclosed staircase that leads to a chac mool, an altar where offerings to the gods were placed. Climbing to the top of the pyramid is no longer allowed.

Just beyond El Castillo is a large ball court where Mayan men played a game called pok ta pok, the object of the being to hurl a ball through a ring that was mounted on a wall, seven meters above the ground.

At the entrance to Chichen Itza, there is an informative museum, a dining room, clean restrooms, a few gift shops and vendor stands.

Exploring the Cenotes

These freshwater sinkholes are a true wonder.

The Maya called them dzonot (ZO-note), which the conquering Spaniards translated as cenote (say- NO-tay.) Giraldo Diaz Alpuche, was a military commander in the 16th Century who was greatly impressed with these underground caverns and pools, and he tried to explain the meaning of the word cenote in the Spanish language as meaning “deep thing”. The Motul dictionary, a dictionary of Mayan hieroglyphics, defines dzonot as “abysmal and deep”.

In the Yucatan there are over 3,000 cenotes, with only 1,400 actually studied and registered.
These structures were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle. They were the sacred places of the Maya for that reason, but also because they represented the entrance to the underworld.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers; all the fresh water rivers are underground. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collects. The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is a crystal clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 78 degrees.

Stalactites and stalagmites form inside the cenotes and in many, holes in the ceiling allow the sunlight to filter into the cenotes, giving the scene a magical feeling. The cenotes of Yucatan are a natural treasure that should be seen by all, keeping in mind that they should be protected so that man does not destroy in a few days what nature took millions of years to create.

There are four different types of cenotes – those that are completely underground, those that are semi-underground, those that are at land level like a lake or pond, like the one at Dzibilchaltun and those that are open wells, like the one in Chichen Itza. Some of them are accessible for swimming and cave diving, but only with a professional guide.

A day trip visit to Cuzama is a car trip of about 45 minutes from Merida and to the cenotes. Students visiting the cenotes will be able to enjoy the peace of the Yucatan countryside, and have a refreshing swim in three different cenotes. The first one, Chelentun (Chay-len-TOON), has the easiest access with cement stairs and handrails aking it easy to go down for a swim in the crystal clear water.

A second cenote, Chansinic’che (Chahn-seen-eek-CHAY), is a bit harder to get into. A hole in the ground and a ladder made out of railroad ties is the access, with visitors descending the ladder for about 10 meters or 30 feet for another swim.

The next and last cenote is Bolonchoojol (Bow-lawn-chew-HOLE), an impressive cenote that is the subject of many pictures used for publicity on cenotes in the Yucatan. The entrance is also a hole in the ground with a railroad tie ladder.

The hole may look narrow but inside is a huge, well-lit cavern with the crystal clear blue toned water of the cenote. In the middle of the cenote the stalactites have formed what looks like a huge tree.

A nearby restaurant at Hacienda Tepich (Teh-PEACH) serves international and Yucatecan cuisine using chicken, pork, beef or rabbit. Tepich is on the way back to Merida, after Acanceh, about 24 kilometers or 18 miles from Cuzama.

Teachers planning a student tour to the Yucatan will want to include the Mayan pyramids and the cenotes on their itinerary.