ANTS, ANTS, ANTS & more ANTS

US Dept of Ag photo, via Wikimedia

US Dept of Ag photo, via Wikimedia

Last week our new deep-well pump quit working. Much to my relief, it did not need replacement. Our electrician put his fancy meter to work and determined that the problem was in a circuit breaker :  yup, ants had crawled in there for some mysterious farming, or partying. I don’t know if the ants were Crazy (doubtful) or just hungry, or maybe having a rave or an orgy in there. But Rolando installed a new breaker, and the pump was back.

Just before he connected it, I put some drops of clove oil on the breaker.  In October I had experimented with oil of clove for protecting our bed, where ants were invading our sheets, and biting me at night! At a loss, and not wanting to fumigate, I knotted a piece of yarn around each leg of the bed, and saturated it with oil of clove which I got at a local alternative pharmacy :  Super Naturalista, c.56 x61y63, in Centro.  This was just a hunch, based on knowing that bees and ants are very sensitive to aromas. It has remained effective for several months now, with nary an ant in the bed.

Our ants may not be crazy, but they’re not welcome in the house. When they invade the kitchen we feed them boric acid which we bought at a regular pharmacy, (Comercio San Cristobal, c.69 #441 x48, Centro) mixing the powder into a paste with simple syrup, about 1:1 until well blended. We put it in a bottle cap. They take it back to the nest, and then vanish. Boric acid is very safe to handle. Sorry, but we’re not running a food pantry for insects, although I do appreciate the way they clean most things in the backyard. . . .

. . . . Except for the leaf cutter ants which like to chew our Bougainvillea. There is an excellent remedy called Trompa which we get at Home Depot. It’s a biological agent which is apparently designed expressly for leaf cutter ants. It incorporates the fungus the ants routinely make for food stores from the leaves of your landscape plants. The manufacturer adds a bacillus thuringensis bacterium to their food which sickens the entire colony. Leaf cutters do their work after dark. Simply spot them with a flashlight, and put a small pile of the pellets on one of their pathways. Be sure it remains dry. If your plants are showing serious depletion of leaves, with big bites out of some remaining leaves, they are likely  the culprit. This stuff really works, and it’s safe.

Carnaval: kids on parade

Popeye knows it's hard to resist a sailor in uniform.

Popeye knows it’s hard to resist a sailor in uniform.

You've got mail?

You’ve got mail?

Front row seating, thanks to Billy.

Front row seating, thanks to Billy.

Praying for world peace.

Praying for world peace.

The toucan and the princess.

The toucan and the princess.

Say "queso"

Say “queso”

Queen for a day

Queen for a day.

After the event a pair of  marchers take a yoga nap.

After the event a pair of marchers take a yoga nap.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom…

Snail Mail arrives, eventually, mostly

Snail Mail arrives, eventually, maybe. (photo by macrophile, flickr, via wikimedia)

Learning to adapt is an important part of entering a new culture.  The pace is different. (Not better; not worse.)  This will require some adjustment. Your mileage may vary. Our absentee ballots were mailed October 3rd from Buffalo. As we had been instructed to contact the Board of Elections if they didn’t arrived by mid October, we did so. They sent another pair. One of the four eventually arrived before Christmas – the other three are still missing in action.  Next time we may choose to vote electronically, which means we won’t get to vote in local elections up north, but at least our ballots for federal elections will be timely.  

Today, February 11, two Christmas cards dropped thru the slot — a few days ahead of Valentines Day, but late for Groundhog Day. Carnival starts tomorrow, with the children’s parade, a favorite event. We’ve been invited to a reserved table at an excellent location for taking pictures. Stay tuned.

There’s much to be grateful for in email, including online billing and speed of communication. 

Mail may diminish in importance for you here.

Mail may diminish in importance for you here.

Je Suis Charlie [We Are All Charlie Hebdo]

Photo by JulianColton, Wikimedia

Photo by JulianColton, Wikimedia

If any idea becomes too sacred for discussion or critique, we are all endangered. It’s a sad day when anyone is murdered for shining the light of reason in dark places. If ideas cannot be discussed critically, truth is imprisoned and decapitated by dogma. I live in a nation where the profession of journalist is one of the most dangerous jobs around. If we cannot protect, globally, those willing to examine ideas, opinions, facts, activities, without reservation, we risk losing more than our heads – we risk losing our minds, and our liberty. Philosopher CS Pierce said those who love truth are destined to agree. 

So, what’s the point – how is this my problem?  This quote from pastor Martin Niemöller (1971 version) helps us grasp our duty:

When the Nazis came for the communists, I did not speak out; As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Editorial cartoonists around the world today, January 8, 2015, are standing up against intolerance, in solidarity with each other. We all need to stand together, regardless of profession. (Type the date into the search field to see some of their efforts.) It should be noted that at least one Muslim recognizes the danger and is calling for solidarity, as well.n-CHARLIE-HEBDO-570

 

PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS

Cleared for takeoff on runway 3-w.

Cleared for takeoff on runway 3-w.

The day after Christmas they arrived. We had driven beneath a cloud of locusts on our return trip from Mayapan, 28 kilometers south of our home in Merida, on December 23. That encounter was brief. This one was a bit more dramatic and lasted longer – four hours for the majority, and more than a full day for stragglers.

Oddly, they didn’t eat much of anything in our yard. They covered our annona tree, but left the leaves untouched. But the neighbor’s banana tree was shredded. Our housekeeper recommends roasting and eating them. Last year we found them available as a topping for pizza!

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Hoppers decorate our annona tree.

 

Bite-sized: about three inches long.

Bite-sized: about three inches long.

170px-Skewered_locusts

Skewered and roasted

They swam and pooped in our pool!

They swam and pooped in our pool!

What's left of the neighbor's banana tree.

What’s left of the neighbor’s banana tree.

 

THE LIGHT RETURNS

Winter solstice afternoon at Mayapan, Yucatan

Winter solstice afternoon at Mayapan, Yucatan

Winter solstice.  The shortest day of the year is over.  We made the brief trip from Merida to the ruins at Mayapan, with friends Pat and Carlos, to pay our respects to the cosmic clock which the ancient Maya spent so much time studying and honoring thru architecture. The ancients carefully planned and built pyramids to serve as giant sundials which would instruct future generations of the cycle of seasons. On the shortest and longest days of each year, the Kulkukan pyramid at Mayapan, 28 kilometers south of Merida, puts on a solar display (December ~21  &  June ~21) which required major calculating, engineering, and sweat. (It’s not an easy matter to relocate a huge stone structure one degree this way, or that way, so it’s best to be exact from the start.) 

Subtly, over a three day period, K’iin, Sol, Sun, casts a shadow along a corner of the pyramid, onto the staircase, which looks to one’s imagination like a serpent very slowly slithering down the great stonework stairs. This pyramid is smaller than the one at Chichen Itza. That one alternately does it’s shadowy slither at the equinoxes twice yearly (March ~21  &  September ~21). The serpent-shadow effect at both is visible a day or so on either side of the precisely demarcated solar event.

Shadowy serpent descends the staircase to announce seasonal change

Shadowy serpent slithers down the staircase to announce seasonal change. (Astro observatory in background.)

For those with good balance and stamina, the pyramid is still climbable – but very steep. Coming down can be more terrifying than going up. Don’t loose your head by trying something beyond your ability safely to complete.

King of the castle surveys the kingdom

King-of-the-castle surveys the kingdom

A bas relief carving displayed on the backside of the mound. "You'd lose your head if it weren't attached!"

A bas relief carving displayed under thatch, on the backside of the mound. “You’d lose your head if it weren’t attached!”

Speaking of heady events of light and shadow, when Moses met God at the burning bushhe asked God his name. The reply is variously translated as I am who I am;  or  I will be who I will be – perhaps implying  don’t be impertinent by asking such a question –  but pay attention, and discover who you are.  In other words, grasp your assignment.

And, of course, Jesus said of himself I am the light of the world (v.12). But he also said you are the light of the world (v.14). So this doesn’t sound like an exclusive club of one member only. Einstein was fixated with understanding the nature of light, and changed the world thru his quest, bringing us into the modern electronic era. If I were to invest more thought and energy into my understanding of who I am, maybe it would change my world, my experience, and my way of seeing you. Perhaps some of the cycles of life would begin to come into focus and reveal their meaning to each of us.  

It’s doubtful that Jesus was born on December 25, in a stable. The date had long been associated with a pagan holiday celebrating the return of the light. And the word stable is a mistranslation of a Greek word which means guest room in a home. But let’s not quibble over mere words when we can enjoy the light.

A 15th century nativity scene by Paolo Schiavo.   Merry Christmas to all; and to all, good light.

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¿¿ Where’d ya get that hat ??

A snow-covered car drives on Broadway, a few miles from our house. Foto: Gary Wiepert/AP

A snow-covered car drives on Broadway, a few miles from our house. Foto: Gary Wiepert/AP

 

 The fotos above and below provide persuasive evidence of why we winter in Merida, Yucatan. Our region up north (Buffalo NY) is known for its lake-effect snows. This blizzard will remain in the record books as being one of the biggies. Many towns got over five feet of early snow in less than three days. And there are a few reports of more than six feet! (Click sound bar for short tune fitting of the scene.)

A neighbor who lives across the road from us has this to say about the depth of snow, which is difficult to measure due to blizzard-force winds: i would have to say 5 feet easy…might even be closer to 6. actually when i think… its gotta be more.we had 5 foot on wednesday into thursday…then got another 1-2 on thursday afternoon. i have to admit…its a bit hard to get my head around it. National Weather Service reports that Cowlesville, a hamlet located about three miles from us, got 88 inches over three days; but again, it’s difficult to measure. We even made news in Sweden, which is rather remarkable. 

Foto: Lindsay DeDario/Reuters

Foto: Lindsay DeDario/Reuters

Foto: Derek Gee/AP, The Buffalo News

Foto: Derek Gee/AP, The Buffalo News

Moisture rises into cold winds, to be dumped as snow on Buffalo

Moisture rises into cold winds, to be dumped as snow on Buffalo. Foto: Lindsay DeDario/ Reuters

Buffalo is well-equipped and expert at snow removal. Foto: Gary Wiepert/AP

Buffalo is well-equipped and expert at snow removal. Foto: Gary Wiepert/AP

Foto by Mark Mulville, Buffalo News

Foto by Mark Mulville, Buffalo News

SNOW MAP     TO LOCATE OUR FARM, FIND THE LARGEST CIRCLE.  FIND THE 11:00 POSITION ON THE EDGE OF THAT CIRCLE.  We’re in Erie County. Cowlesville is just over the border, in Wyoming County.   Get that located in your mind at 11:00, just inside the biggest circle.  (88 inches is 2.24 meters, which is 7 feet 4 inches. That’s snow!)  Now click the pink link.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEXICAN THANKSGIVING: “Day of the Dead”

 

A real taco, from scratch

A real taco, from scratch:  taste the love!

Yes, they may share a calendar date, but noDay of the Dead is not the rough equivalent of Hallowee’n, but rather, of Yankee Thanksgiving – it’s all about family and food. Halloween, the second most commercial holiday up north, is macabre, dark, excessively indulgent. Day of the Dead recognizes that survival has been based upon sacrifices made by ancestors, which is to say that it is centered on gratitude, giving of thanks. ¿What better way to express thanks than to infuse food with love for sharing with those so dear to us?

We had a close-up look at this celebration in a pueblo southeast of Merida on Saturday. Our housekeeper, Mundy, invited us to her parent’s home to partake of this harvest remembrance. It doesn’t get any more grounded and real than this. Her father, Desiderio, is a milpero, a real hardscrabble farmer, who grows corn, beans, squash, sweet potato, melons, and such, for the family. They raise their own meat and poultry. And they also have a little manufacturing business, making clothing and thus  providing employment for their neighbors. It was a great honor to be invited to this feast. And it was so delicious, being entirely prepared from scratch in their outdoor kitchen. (So basic: food, clothing, shelter, family, love.)

 

Tia Juanita cooking relleno negro, a turkey blackbean stew

Tia Juanita cooking relleno negro, a turkey blackbean stew

Like many such feasts, this one takes much advance preparation. But many hands make light work. The menu includes handmade tortillas, from their own corn; black beans blended with hardboiled eggs from the chicken pen; turkey; chicken; vegetable topping, called cortado (chop, in English); and Coke (along with a chocolate cake brought by us – the only items not made from scratch).

 

Mary takes a taco lesson

Her first lesson in tortilla making, from a maestra

The altar, and prayers of thanksgiving inviting the ancestors to come and dine.

The altar, and prayers of thanksgiving inviting the ancestors to come and dine. (Socorro, Mundy’s mom, at left.)

Food for the departed

Food for the departed

Desiderio stirs the drying corn, while Mundy's children watch

Desiderio stirs the drying corn, while Mundy’s children watch

The Maya teach their children they are made of corn (elote).

The Maya teach their children they are made of corn (elote).

Juanita makes pibes, a corn and meat pie, for baking underground.

Juanita makes pibes, a corn and meat pie, for baking underground.

This is a long-running feast, which lasts for several days. The next event will be baking the meat pies for tomorrow’s event. (These folks know how to celebrate!)

 

Mundy's sister, Aurelia, grooms her daughter's hair.

Mundy’s sister, Aurelia, grooms her daughter’s hair.

Mundy cleans up.

Mundy cleans up.

After a short walk, we were taken by bici-taxi into the village to see a local cenote.

After a short walk, we were taken by bici-taxi into the village to see a local cenote.

And now we are well-schooled on being grateful for our ancestors!

It reminds me a bit of a rock tune, which almost sounds like a hymn today.

 

 

 

EMAIL NOTICE

Dear Reader,  On September 4, WordPress made a major change which seems to have disrupted some of my communications. (The lack of blogposts lately is not their fault. We’ve been very busy setting up house and applying for permanent residency.) UPDATE:  Now solved. Comments made on the blog will reach me quickly

 

THAT GIANT RADIATOR IN THE ROOM

¿ Can't take the heat?

¿ Can’t take the heat ?

¿ Elephant ?  What elephant?  Don’t think of an elephant!  There is no elephant!*  Silently repeat after me: there is no elephant. there is no elephant. there is no elephant.   ….. .. .. ………

It occurs to me that a huge savings could easily be realized across the warmer regions of the world by insulating these flat concrete roofs which shade us and keep rain off our heads. The problem is called thermal mass; and the concept is that of absorption-and-release. The more mass an object has, the more energy it can hold and release. Therefore, the concrete ceiling overhead in your bedroom is a gigantic radiator, soaking up solar energy all day, and releasing it overnight into your sleeping quarters. If you don’t believe me, some afternoon climb up and touch an interior ceiling, the other side of which has been baking in the sun. Don’t burn your hand! Insulation is a low-tech answer.

So, rather than paying the carbon industry over-and-over to cool your bedroom, why not pay a local mason just once to prevent it from becoming hot? This idea dropped into my consciousness this morning, after a lovely, restful sleep last night – our bedroom having been cooled by a substantial shower late in the day. As folks from New England say Dawn broke over Marblehead (my gourd) revealing to me the idea of insulating the ceiling against the heat from the roof, which radiates into our sleeping quarters.

Last year we had a mason build a patio roof for a small courtyard, which space was entirely too hot and bright to be of any use. A friend suggested we use a styrofoam material to form the mass of the roof, instead of using concrete, which has been the older practice here. But technology is advancing. A few streets away there is a masonry supply, Angel Verde, which carries styrofoam block panels in various thicknesses, designed to fit between vigas (precast concrete beams). So we used this material to form the major portion of our patio roof, thereby reducing the mass of that overhead “radiator” by many tons. (NB: the foam gets covered with a metal lath called malla, pronounced just like the people, the Maya), and skim-coated with a masonry finish. It can be walked upon, but is not load-bearing for additional floors or stories.) And now this patio space is the coolest, most delightful space of the entire home – and we’ve added screened protectores to keep out skeeters, critters, varmints, and other intruders. 

So, my latest curiosity has me researching interior and exterior foam-insulation applications for existing concrete roofing/ceilings, to ward off that herd of elephants (Sol, or Sun) so ready and willing to deliver oppressive heat into our living quarters. If you move in this direction, and learn something worth sharing, please submit a comment for us. For example:  be sure you’ve thoroughly addressed any water leaks before insulating from the interior, if that’s how you decide to proceed. And be sure you’ve provided some conduit for electricians to snake wires to various destinations for fans and lighting. 

As they say, If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. (And don’t move to Yucatan if you’re not prepared to deal with it! But do come. It’s so lovely!)  Energy efficiency and comfort can be improved for the entire planet if we would simply stop throwing money at our problems, and instead, ponder other approaches.  But first, define the problem, rather than merely treating a symptom.

*[Media spinmeisters mostly majored in hypnotism, and minored in 3-card monte. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” say they. ]  So, dear reader, compare sources. Do your own thinking. Hey! Maybe that elephant is really a Rhinoceros.