Operation Honeycomb Update

When I started Operation Honeycomb in November of 2010, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to give up ice cream and my other impulse candy purchases.  I’ve definitely cheated a few times, when I felt like life was too stressful and I “earned” a treat, but I’ve felt guilty every time, and for the most part, I’ve succeeded in my goal.  Most importantly, my sister, Yvonne Riziki, is able to receive financial, emotional, and educational support because of my incredibly small sacrifice.

Yvonne Riziki, DR Congo

Yesterday, this beautiful woman put a big smile on my face.  I opened my mailbox to find a handwritten letter from her.  In the letter, she shared a bit about herself and her family, and gave me a small glimpse inside of her world.

In her own handwriting

Lately I’ve been absent from blogging as I’ve been trying to meet demands in my personal and professional life, but receiving this letter yesterday gave me a much needed pick me up.  It was encouraging to be reminded that I am making a difference.  A family of five in Congo is benefiting because instead of buying ice cream every week, I’m sending a little money their way, so that the woman of the house can receive an education and support group in her community.  I don’t really miss my little luxury.  This is beyond worth giving it up.

Anyone else have an Operation Honeycomb of their own?

Posted in apply to any cause, inspiration, women | 2 Comments

Beware of Rogue Organizations

This has recently been an issue at the forefront of my mind.  It’s easy to get fired up about a cause, and less easy to actually get involved.  I can empathize – it’s much easier for me to send money every month than it is to spend several hours actually getting my hands dirty.  But it’s important to do your homework before you write that check.  All too often, those behind these organizations prey upon unsuspecting, well-intentioned citizens who are just trying to contribute to what they believe is a worth-while effort.

Though this abuse occurs across a wide spectrum of aid and non-profit organizations, the clearest examples to me, as an American, are the animal liberation extremists.  It’s easy for most people to empathize with animals – many of us keep pets and see animals as similar to children: helpless, voiceless, and often exploited.  But it is important to recognize the subtle difference between ‘animal welfare’ organizations and ‘animal liberation’ organizations.

Simply put, animal welfare is the human concern for the physical and psychological well-being of animals which may be used to somehow enrich the lives of people.  This might include introducing more humane care practices when dealing with food animals, creating protocols such as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that regulates the use of laboratory animals, and establishing authority in situations of abuse and hoarding in communities.

Animal liberation gets a little trickier.  This movement consists of groups and individuals who feel as though animals should never be used for human means – to include clothing, food, labor, research, and entertainment.  You might be inclined to jump on board with this idea at first, but hear me out:

  • Without the use of animals, humans would not have survived and evolved as we have today.  Our earliest tools consisted of bones, meat helped us to become the intelligent creatures we are today, hides from animals allowed us to protect our skin against the elements.  Not convinced we still need animals in the modern world?  Pollinating bees account for a whopping 1/3 of our agricultural produce.  Think you’re avoiding animal products by being vegan?  Unless you’re only eating foods that don’t require pollination to produce food – think again.
  • Working animals have a long history with people.  Cats and dogs domesticated themselves, because each species (human + feline and human + canine) benefited the other.  Agriculture relied for centuries on animals to aid in cultivation.  Currently, we use dogs and rats to detect bombs and termites.  Extreme health benefits have come from animal research – and I don’t see too many people refusing health care when they need it because it was developed using animal experimentation first.

Does this mean I advocate cruelty and torture practices?  Absolutely not.  I feel as though many of our current methods of caring for the animals we use aren’t as good as they could, and hopefully someday will, be.  I believe that we should be striving for stricter ethical codes and work tirelessly to minimize pain, suffering, and discomfort in these animals.  But I do feel as though we need them, and we shouldn’t give them up.

Not everyone agrees with me.  These groups are the “radicals,” the “extremists,” and yes, they are terrorists.  I don’t feel the need to identify these organizations, because I’m sure many of you could name a few: they typically can be found carrying signs with graphic images, demanding that organizations working with animals discontinue their work, share often exaggerated, outlandish, and unsubstantiated stories of “torture,” and sometimes even release or steal animals from facilities and threatening or endangering the lives of researchers.

These people are skilled at pulling at the heartstrings of their donors.  They have awful stories, terrifying pictures (many of which are not even associated with what they’re protesting), and declare loudly that animal use and abuse needs to end.  Here are some questions you can use to identify them, before you throw your hard earned money away on terrorism:

  • Are they offering an alternative/solution?  More often than not, these organizations have no viable answer.  They have produced no research and have no solutions.
  • Are they misrepresenting something?  Do a little research.  Check into things on your own.  Don’t assume that a photo they’re using is current, associated with what they are protesting, or real.  Don’t assume that they fully understand the practices which are occurring.  If you have any shred of doubt or skepticism, hold off on sending that check.  Just because they’re a large organization doesn’t make them credible either.
  • Are they using shock and scare tactics to spread their message?  This is what defines terrorism.  Spreading personal information (home addresses, telephone numbers, etc.) of the accused animal abuser and creating graphic displays to show the public are destructive and can create trauma.
  • Do they provide opportunities for rebuttal/explanations/criticism?  I’ve recently encountered organizations which are careful to censor any opinions (and especially facts) contradicting their point.  A good organization wants to be proven wrong if at all possible, and certainly can stand up to the heat if they have their ducks in a row.

This doesn’t mean that action shouldn’t be taken when needed and appropriate.  But good organizations offer realistic, viable alternatives, solutions, and help; they do not engage in slander, do not resort to shock and scare tactics and their claims are backed up by reliable evidence of abuse.  Don’t support blindly – be aware and informed about the organizations that get your name and funds.  Skepticism is underrated.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Are you a current supporter of an organization I’ve described, or have you been in the past?  Has this opened your eyes to something that you previously didn’t recognize?  Do you disagree with any of my points?  Share your opinion!

Posted in animals, apply to any cause | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Where is HoneyB?

I’ve been gone for awhile, but I haven’t abandoned this little blog just yet!

Since February, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a really great project.  I’m working with the experts at UF’s VETS Disaster Response Team to learn everything there is to know about large animal technical rescue.  Why?  So that I can write the textbook and curriculum for it to be taught in Homeland Security courses across the US.  Pretty sweet gig, right?!

Here’s what I’ve been up to in the past few months:

Rappeling six stories down the side of a building


Learning how to build and use mechanical advantage systems


Learning low angle rescue techniques


Learning high angle rescue techniques

Honestly, it’s been a wild ride.  I’ve grown to have a whole new appreciation for the emergency service providers in our communities.  This has been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had, and I’m thrilled to be a part of a project that is going to help save the lives of animals, as well as protect the people who are working to rescue them.

I have my book written and now it’s a matter of putting it into FEMA format and running some test classes to see how it works.  But I’ll be back before too long!

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Nuclear Energy and the Crisis in Japan

As the lucky girl who married a scientist (and a physicist at that!), I’ve had quite a different take on the mainstream media reports of Japan’s nuclear crisis.  The message of this post is, “don’t panic!”

Nuclear energy, done correctly, is one of the cleanest and safest (while still being efficient) forms of energy available today.  The technology we have now is vastly different than the technology from decades ago.  In the cases of Chernobyl and Fukushima, the plants were significantly outdated.  Chernobyl’s disaster was the worst nuclear meltdown in history, and scientists and engineers took note – it is highly unlikely that the world will ever see another like it.  Fukushima was built in the late 60s, and even in spite of it’s archaic design, still managed to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami reasonably well.  If it had been up to more modern standards, I imagine we’d be hearing significantly less about it.

Nuclear energy is scary.  Radioactive isotopes can be incredibly dangerous.  There is certainly reason to fear meltdowns, but you should consider a few factors:

  • Three Mile Island’s meltdown in 1979, perceived to be one of the scariest nuclear disasters next to Chernobyl, resulted in 0 deaths, counting workers and those in the surrounding community.  Read more about what happened here.
  • In coal mines in the US alone, just in the last decade, 68 miners died as a result of collapses and explosions.  Learn more about mine disasters here.
  • In the last decade, 10,000 additional miners have died from black lung disease.  Learn more about black lung disease here.
  • Most of us remember all too vividly the 11 lives lost in 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, and the massive damage it did to wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 devastated wildlife in Prince William Sound, and is one of the worst oil spills on record.
  • Oil has been a source of conflict in Africa and the Middle East for as long as its use has been known, and it is impossible to count the lives lost over such conflicts at this point.

The unknown is terrifying, and nuclear power is no exception.  I urge you all to turn off FOX, CNN, NBC, and your other news media sources.  Educate yourselves.  Read about what’s happening from the perspective of nuclear scientist, rather than a journalist.  MIT’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Department has set up a great blog that I recommend you add to your readers, so that you can better understand what’s happening in Japan now.  Read through the previous articles.  Learn the terminology.  Keep the panic button tucked safely away for now.

In the meantime, I hope that you are considering making a donation to the Red Cross to help the people of Japan, whose lives are forever changed.  As a global community, it’s important that we stand and help our neighbors however we can in times of crisis.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Operation Layla

I’m hopping on this train a little late, as I’ve been without internet for a few days while attending a conference.  I have to say how awestruck I am by all of the incredible people who were getting down to business and made all of this happen in a mere 48 hours!

There’s a woman named Layla that you should know about.  I’ve been reading her blog for some time now, and she’s sassy, witty, has great taste in music, and a great love for her new husband.  But Layla’s had some major obstacles to overcome.  At age 30, she was diagnosed with early onset cervical cancer.  She had an operation to remove the cancerous tissue, and 3 years later is still cancer free.  The bad news is, the surgery came with complications.

Layla has severe pain.  She can’t work, can’t enjoy her relationship with her husband, can’t even do simple every day tasks.  She needs surgery to correct the problem, but without access to health insurance, has to pay for it out of pocket.  Lucky for Layla, she’s got some amazing friends.

Within 48 hours, her friends on the internet raised $4500 – enough to pay for her surgery and anesthesia!  If that doesn’t restore your faith in the kindness of people, I don’t know what will.  But it can’t stop here.

Layla is going to need to pay for pre-op and post-op appointments, biopsies, pain medications, blood work, etc.  She and her husband could sure use the help.  Every dollar helps, and if you can make a contribution to help a girl get herself back on track to enjoy her life again, you’ll be a hero in my book.  Learn more about Operation Layla here.

In a country where we have such excellent medical services available, we ought to be ensuring that people have access to them.  If the insurance companies won’t do it, let’s show the world that we haven’t lost our humanity.  Layla, we’re with you.

Posted in helping people, humanity, inspiration, women | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Visiting a Local Farmer

Here in Florida, a bill has recently been introduced by Republican Senator Norman (SB 1246) which will make photographing any farm in the state without previous written consent of the owner a felony.  The bill defines a farm as “any tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals, or the storage of a commodity.”  In my opinion, the best way for the agricultural industry to protect itself is by making operations transparent.  People ought to know where their food comes from and how it gets to their stores.  An operation running effectively and correctly shouldn’t have to hide their practices.

Luckily, I happen to live near one farm whose owners won’t be enforcing this anytime soon.  Laughing Chicken Farm has an open door policy, and Bill and Robin Popp are happy to show visitors around the farm, and give them a taste of what it’s like to raise chickens.  We’ve been buying eggs and chicken from them at our local farmer’s market for months now, so it was exciting to get some time to head out to the farm for a visit to see exactly where our meals were coming from.

It didn’t take much time before we realized that Bill and Robin are originally from the same city we grew up in – and as luck would have it, their son even went to the same middle school where my husband and I first met!  Robin personally took us all around the property, showing us each step of the process and answering all of my questions with a friendly smile on her face.  She and Bill only moved to this property two years ago, and now support their family entirely from the farm!

The first step in the process is to order recently hatched chicks through the mail.  After hatching, the chicks spend the first few days of life sustaining on the yolk they’ve been eating, and don’t have any food or water requirements, so overnight mailing works out perfectly.  Then they move into a little chick house, where they start growing.  Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it!

These little guys are ravenous!


All of these birds are the same age – the broilers just grow much, much quicker than the layers!
These guys are just too cute not to show off!

Once they outgrow their first little chick house, which doesn’t take long at all, they move out to what Bill and Robin call a tractor, which is a covered, protected coop on the ground.  In addition to their specially formulated feed, Laughing Chickens get to enjoy the weeds and grasses and bugs beneath them as they please.  Each day, the Popps move the tractors to a different spot, both to keep the chickens in a clean environment and to allow them new forage material – because after one day, they’ll have gobbled up pretty much everything!


Getting bigger!

A view inside the tractor just before we helped move them to a new foraging spot.

After just 8-9 weeks, the birds are ready for processing.  That’s really all it takes!  Each chicken eats about 10 pounds of feed in his or her lifetime and ends up weighing 5-6 pounds.

These guys are just about all grown up.

If the birds aren’t processed for food at this age, they’ll very quickly die of a heart attack.  Broilers have been selectively bred to grow quickly and efficiently, and part of that is that their little hearts just don’t make it past 9 weeks.  Because they grow so fast as it is, growth hormones have never been and will never be used in the industry, because any quicker and the process would be detrimental.


The Processing Area

On Tuesdays, Bill and Robin process the birds.  The birds are placed four at a time in clever little boxes that Robin devised out of laundry baskets and closet racks, and they have four cones where the birds are each exsanguinated, quickly and humanely.  From that point, the birds are placed in a scalder for a few seconds to loosen the feathers, and then placed into a plucking machine, which removes the feathers within seconds.  From that point, the parts you’d rather not eat are removed, and the bird is ready to be packaged and sold.

They also have a bunch of laying hens that enjoy free access to the outdoors and are protected from predators by an electric fence.  Robin keeps several different breeds of birds, mostly just because she enjoys the variety.

They also raise rabbits, and had some sweet little newborn bunnies for us to see.


Look at those little pink babies!

The Popps are happy to show off their farm because they said they appreciated all the help they’ve been given in learning how to raise chickens.  They have a loyal fan base (they always have a line when the market first opens!), and some happy little animals.  If you ever have the opportunity to go and meet a local farmer, I strongly suggest you take it.  The learning experience is too important to pass up!

Note: I was not given any payment or incentive to write this post.  I simply wanted to share some information about small-scale chicken farming and applaud a couple of farmers that I think are doing an excellent job.

Posted in animals, food | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A Letter from Bill Gates

A good honey bee knows how to spread news about good things to the rest of the hive, so that everyone knows where the new and exciting flowers are.  I recently found an especially sweet flower, that I hope gets you buzzing.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is so inspiring to me.  I’m fascinated by two people who have taken their wealth and decided to do such incredible things with it.  It’s a refreshing change of pace from the Charlie Sheens of the world.  The truly incredible thing about this giving couple is not their check writing capabilities, but rather how absolutely involved with and devoted to their causes they are.

Health is most absolutely a priority for the Gates.  In his recently released annual letter, Bill discusses what is currently happening with respect to eradicating polio – a disease very nearly wiped off of the planet, save for four countries, reducing instances of malaria, and preventing AIDS.  He has long supported vaccines, and is playing a role in the development of new and more effective immunizations as well as driving the costs down to make them more accessible to those in developing nations living in poverty.  An interesting study has shown a distinct correlation between IQ and disease.  Illness is a key problem for the healthy brain development in young children.

Two issues discussed in Gates’ letter that were of particular interest for me were his highlights on agriculture and education.  After becoming involved in some of my favorite causes, and serendipitously finding someone in my personal network who helped me open a whole new door, I have found myself on the track to earn a Master’s in Agricultural Education.  Food insecurity in developing parts of the world, particularly throughout Africa, ought to become an issue more people consider.  With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, sustainable, safe, and available food should be a priority.

As a future educator, it should come as no surprise that I strongly feel as though the world needs to invest in education, including here in America.  Education needs more attention in the US, which has one of the poorest systems amongst developed countries.  There is currently a flurry of activity, noted in my state of Florida, which I fear may be a hasty reaction to a well-intended, though not necessarily accurate documentary recently released, but that’s another discussion.  Worldwide, education is the key to promote better diplomacy, better economies, better food resources, better health, and better lives for us all.

The work of Bill and Melinda Gates to promote better health care and education to those who need it most is truly admirable.  Their tenacity and determination should be an inspiration to us all.  Though they certainly have access to more resources than anyone reading this blog, I firmly believe that we can all easily contribute in small doses, and together make a huge impact.  You can help a person far from you protect themselves against malaria, help a child gain access to education, provide a vaccine.  You can help in America, volunteering at local libraries, schools, soup kitchens and hospitals.  Don’t underestimate the gift of your time.

Get pollinating!

Posted in apply to any cause, humanity, inspiration | 2 Comments