Archive for February, 2011
Cashmere wool, usually simply known as cashmere, is a fiber obtained from Cashmere and other types of goats. Garments made of cashmere were once only available to royalty because the rarity of the wool increased its value. Napoleon is said to have popularized the use of cashmere as shawls or wraps when he gave his second wife, Empress Eugenie, seventeen of them. Victorian England prized the famous “ring shawls” woven in the Indian State of Kashmir.
Despite the glamour associated with cashmere, it hails from humble beginnings. Cashmere is the wool or fur of the Kashmir goat. Kashmir goats are primarily raised in Mongolia, but many are bred in Iran, Tibet, India and China. American herders have also joined the international cashmere production market in recent years.
Cashmere is harvested from the goats during their annual molting season through the shedding or the shearing of their down. In the frigid high desert climates where most of the goats are raised, the dense inner coat guards against harsh winter weather, but once seasons change, goats begin to lose the protective layer of down.
There are five primary steps to cashmere production:
• Sorting, scouring
• Weaving or knitting
The finest cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of the goats, but a lesser grade is also taken from the goats’ legs and backs. Longer fibers from the belly and throat area make the wool especially soft and cause less “pilling” when the fibers are woven into garments such as sweaters, shawls, capes, dresses, and coats for both men and women. The shorter fibers from the backs and legs are heavier and less expensive, making it easier to afford a luxury garment. Cashmere comes naturally in white, gray and brown, but the wool is easily dyed, which explains all of those Ann Taylor cardigans in assorted Easter egg colors.
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Labyrinth is a word of pre-Greek (“Pelasgian”) origin absorbed by classical Greek, and is apparently related to labrys, a word for the archaic iconic “double axe”, with inthos connoting “place” (as in “Corinth”). In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it after he built it. Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a skein of thread, literally the “clew”, or “clue”, so he could find his way out again.
THE earliest structure of any kind to which we find the word labyrinth applied was a huge building situated in the North of Egypt, a land always noted for its stupendous monuments, and was probably constructed more than 2000 years before the commencement of the Christian era. The Hopi Indians of North America had a symbol for Mother Earth known today as the “Classical Seven-Path Labyrinth.” It was this symbol of the Mother which identified the sacred in nature – the spiriling form found throughout nature. Labyrinths were woven into objects to personify man’s connection to his source and were often placed at sacred places in nature to remind him of this union. When one walks the labyrinth it is in recreating this very ancient expression of thanks and remembrance of the divine in all things.
In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.
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The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is the most numerous in the plant kingdom. There are about 25,000 to 30,000 known species of orchids around the world. Orchids are found in all continents except Antarctica, from hot tropical jungles to the cold climate in North America. However, some orchids are found only in certain region of the world and nowhere else, for example, the Vanda genus colonizes only South East Asia.
Orchidaceae are a morphologically diverse and widespread family of monocots in the order Asparagales. It is currently believed to be the second largest family of flowering plants (only the Asteraceae is larger), with between 21,950 and 26,049 currently accepted species, found in 880 genera. The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. It also encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species).
The name “orchid” comes from the Greek “órkhis”, literally meaning “testicle”, because its root has a similar shape. The orchid has a well-known relative, whose extract can be found in almost every home, the common vanilla plant. What is less well known about the orchid plant is the extent of the orchid plants’ uniqueness in nature. Surprisingly, orchids are fairly easy to grow. Orchids are easily distinguished from other plants, as they share some very evident apomorphies. Among these: bilaterally symmetric (zygomorphic), many resupinate, one petal (labellum) is always highly modified, stamens and carpels are fused, and the seeds are extremely small.
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Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2nd in the United States and Canada. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.
Actually, Groundhog Day grew out of the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of Fersommling, a Pennsylvania Dutch social event in which food is served, speeches are made and one or more g’spiel (play) is performed. The Pennsylvania tradition grew out of the ancient European weather lore where a badger was the prognosticator. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas (February 2) and it also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and involves weather prognostication.
This event is typically attended by the Fancy Dutch as opposed to the “Plain sects” of the Amish, Dunkards and Mennonites. Only German or Deutsch is spoken and those speaking English pay a penalty, usually a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table. Another tradition is the singing of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, in Pennsylvania German. There also are lots of Pennsylvania German conversation and even more food – ham, chicken, potato filling, pie and other traditional goodies.
Fersommlinge continue to be held throughout eastern Pennsylvania as a means of preserving the Pennsylvania German dialect and culture. For example, the Berks County Fersommling, which started in 1937, annually attracts more than 700 participants, most of whom are of Pennsylvania German ancestry.
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Anabolic steroids are man-made substances related to male sex hormones. They were initially developed in the late 1930s primarily to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes do not produce sufficient testosterone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. However, scientists soon discovered that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals.
This discovery led to abuse of these compounds by bodybuilders and weightlifters and then by athletes in other sports, known colloquially as “juicing.” However, using anabolic steroids to enhance athletic prowess is truly a Faustian bargain. Abuse of anabolic steroids has been linked with many health problems. They range from unattractive to life threatening and include:
• Acne and cysts;
• Breast growth and shrinking of testicles in men;
• Voice deepening and growth of body hair in women;
• Heart problems, including heart attack;
• Liver disease, including cancer; and
• Aggressive behavior.
Anabolic steroids can be taken orally, injected intramuscularly, or rubbed on the skin when in the form of gels or creams. These drugs are often used in patterns called cycling, which involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. Users also frequently combine several different types of steroids in a process known as stacking. By doing this, users believe that the different steroids will interact to produce an effect on muscle size that is greater than the effects of using each drug individually.
Another mode of steroid use is “pyramiding.” This is a process in which users slowly escalate steroid use (increasing the number of drugs used at one time and/or the dose and frequency of one or more steroids) reaching a peak amount at mid-cycle and gradually tapering the dose toward the end of the cycle.
Ergogenic uses for anabolic steroids in sports and bodybuilding are controversial because of their adverse effects and the potential to gain an advantage conventionally considered “cheating.” Their use is referred to as doping and banned by all major sporting bodies. For many years AAS have been by far the most detected doping substances in IOC-accredited laboratories. In countries where AAS are controlled substances, there is often a black market in which smuggled or even counterfeit drugs are sold to users.
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