May 18, 2012

Honey Harvesting | D-I-Y Honey Press

This morning's project, thanks to my amazing husband Margo, who never ceases to amaze me with his combination of creativity and practicality.
My father-in-law has a beehive on the property. The first year that he tried to approach the hive (in all the wrong ways, against my advice), he, my brother-in-law, and my husband Margo got attacked by some very angry bees. From then on he hired a fellow to come to remove the honey-filled frames from the hive—his payment is a portion of the combs and honey. The first few times honey was harvested, we were given a bit of comb with honey, and I found it a bit difficult and messy to strain even small amounts by hand. So when my husband showed up two days ago with a bucket with three entire frames full of comb and honey, I knew we were going to have to come up with another solution to extract the honey.

I got the number of a local beekeeper who said using his centrifuge wasn't a good option because he only ran it with 17 frames inside. Plans for a D-I-Y centrifuge built with a 50-gallon drum and bicycle rims looked cool, but a bit much for our purposes. It was looking like we might have to do it by hand again, but I was reluctant and Margo said his brother was having quite a time with the mess on his hands for many other frames that he'd been working on extracting for days. Meanwhile, we didn't have *too* much time because we didn't want the honey to crystallize in the frames.

We browsed a few plans for presses. One utilized an automobile jack to provide the pressure force and looked pretty functional. It must have inspired Margo because when I asked him if he thought we could do something similar, he replied "sure" and a couple hours later he had a wooden press structure of his own design finished. We often sketch plans out before making stuff, but in the interest of time, he didn't draw anything up beforehand, just sort of eyeballed it (so, sorry there's no schematic). The jack presses a platform upon which sits the honey collecting basin basin up from below.
From above, an adjustable height arm hung from a short piece of galvanized metal tube provides the upper fixation point for a removable wooden plank that's the top pressure plate for the comb honey.
The comb honey is cut up (important to expose many surfaces to release the honey from the cells) and packaged into drawstring cloth filter bags (since I haven't found cheesecloth locally, I made them myself from sheer polyester fabric that's durable enough to withstand multiple pressing to strain materials like infused herbal oils)
The comb honey is sandwiched between the top plate and a bottom plate with legs (all pine board). 

The honey oozes out from the bag, off the planks and into the basin. I only got to try one pressing with my husband before I had to go to work this afternoon, he did the rest of the bucket and in the end it produced about 4 liters worth of delicious mesquite blossom honey. We think it was well worth the effort as our extraction process was more efficient and easier to clean a larger amount than the by hand method.
Total cost: $0 USD/MXN, all scrap materials (pine board, screws, galvanized pipe, car jack, rubbermaid basin, scrap fabric & hemp twine)

May 10, 2012

Gracias por mi cafe...Feliz Dia de las Madres

Today is Mother's Day in Mexico. Instead of of every 2nd Sunday, their date is May 10th. Margo asked me what i wanted today, that he had to work but would be home early to go out to eat. I told him I'd love some pancakes for breakfast. 

So when I came downstairs, there was a stack of blueberry pancakes in a pan on the stove, and a to-go mug of coffee nearby. Margo had already left though. I thought, oh, how sweet, he left me coffee too, and so thoughtful to put it in a to-go mug so it wouldn't get cold. My daughter and I ate the pancakes and I sent him a text message to thank him for the breakfast, to which he responded, "enjoy it."  Then I heard his truck in the driveway. I met him at the door and said, "Sorry I didn't wait, I didn't think you were going to join us" He responded, "no I just came back because I forgot my coffee." You should have seen the look on my face. But we both had a good laugh about it, including my daughter, who was watching us from her highchair as her Dad hugged me goodbye. 

I think the point is to not take ourselves too seriously, but also value ourselves as women and mothers. For me, it was easy to laugh off the coffee mixup because I feel valued every day—as partners my husband and I make equal contributions to raising our daughter and I don't feel put upon in this family. On the other hand, it's been up to no one else but me to make the effort to take as much care of myself as possible. I feel good about the sacrifices I've made because they were made consciously and of my own free will.  Don't get me wrong, it's nice to be celebrated, but ultimately our value as mothers shouldn't boil down how many roses we receive or how fancy of a dinner we are treated. It actually occurred to me to say thank you to my daughter this morning, for giving me the opportunity to experience one of most meaningful things I've ever done in my life: motherhood.

Feliz Día de las Madres a todas mis amigas mamás, que disfruten este día y todo el año al máximo y que nunca olvidemos de cuidar a la mama de tod@s, nuestra Madre Tierra. p.d. gracias a mi amiga Miriam por este imagen, no se quien es el autor pero me parece muy bella.

May 1, 2012

The Power of the 'Net (vote for me if you haven't yet, please! :-)

Note: if you just clicked to vote, the link's at the bottom of the post! :-)

It never ceases to amaze me how the Internet allows me to maintain one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Mexico. I know, this is going to sound like an Internet commercial. Whether it's video chatting with the fam over Skype, or keeping tabs on friends via Facebook, or just imagine—how did we survive without EMAIL? Well, I did survive for four years without Internet, actually. It's just that in those 4 long, dry years of having to use only cybercafes down the street, I developed such a craving for connection with the culture I'd left in the U.S. that when I finally got it back, it probably looked like a long dried-up alcoholic going back to the bottle.

When I told a friend a couple years back how happy I was to be getting Internet the week before my daughter was to be born, she chastized me a little, saying the first  month was for bonding with my baby. Well, I did bond quite intensely with my daughter, but felt guilty enough about my time spent sending pics to my circle in the U.S. that I mentioned it to my mom. She responded simply that the person who'd poo-poo'd my Internet zeal probably had never lived far away from her family or in a foreign country for any significant amount of time. About her, who knows. Some people might be happy to be distanced from people, have an excuse to not be in touch. But for me, all I know is that I am truly grateful for a way to stay in touch with the community that I love so well that otherwise I'd have no means of staying connected with.

I was reminded of this when driving to work the other day, when I almost hit a huge cardboard box with styrofoam peanuts spilling out all over the highway. My immediate thought was, oops, there goes someone's Mother's Day present. Countless times before, Margo and I tried to send a box from the U.S. to Mexico, or someone tried to send us a package or a letter from the States to here, with no luck. The Mexican Postal Service, which must rely on burros to some extent (the four-legged animals, not people, lest anyone think I'm insulting postal workers), is notorious for mysteriously losing mail, or delivering mail many months later. Needless to say it's easy to quickly get fed up with this option and my penpals quit palling me. Fedex and UPS are out of the question, charging more than 30 dollars for a mere envelope.

Makes you wonder how NAFTA is such a moneymaker, with all that international transport that's cruising up and down the continent, huh? Share a little of the cheap freight fees with the little people, guys!

Anyways, to make a long story short, all these years of staying connected online have led to me sharing a good deal of my life online, both the personal and the political. I now blog regularly on two blogs while maintaining my projects website. The other day, my coauthor of Amor and Exile, Nate Hoffman, nominated me for a Netroots Nation Scholarship as an Immigration Scholar. It's an opportunity to attend a national progressive conference in Providence, RI in June, and meet other grassroots/online activists. I wasn't 100% it was something I could be competitive at, but, at least in these first 24 hours, I've been pleasantly surprised.

Not only was I surprised at the application/profile statement I was able to put together, and that among the many hats I wear I actually am a bonafide blogger, but I am totally touched by the outpouring of support from my community who's voting for me. In an exile situation that is often disorienting culturally and professionally, even if I don't win the scholarship, it'll be heartening to know that at least some of my efforts to clarify who I am and what I stand for are reaching their target—my extended community.

p.s. if it's May 2 or prior, you can still vote for me at