It’s a long distance in both directions

When we left the Netherlands and moved abroad to live in Bavaria, we figured that we would be happy anywhere. Home is where the heart is, right? As long as we had the family together, all would be good. A pretty serious mental breakdown after a little more than a month in this new environment made it clear that home was not necessarily where the heart is. Happiness wasn’t just dependent on having the family together (although it means a lot, probably most, and was my main driver for a quick recovery).

We had never given too much thought to what the consequences would be. We thought we would find ourselves in the Netherlands five or six times a year. The pandemic quickly changed this z and made it so that we have only been to the Netherlands three brief times in more than two years. We have met some friends in the middle, and some have come to our place. We never even thought about the fact that no one comes to your birthday. Or worse, to your kid’s birthday. Two consecutive birthdays without guests. Just mom and dad. This year there will be mom, dad, and sis. We were the first to get married and have kids in our circles. Then we left. The last time I have seen most of my friends is at my PhD celebration party, more than two years ago. Very few of them have seen our daughter. It’s a long drive, just to go for a baby visit. That we totally understand and expected.

Many of our friends followed our lead. Some got kids too, others got married. Even more are getting married in the near future. Kids may follow. Bachelor parties, wedding celebrations, baby showers, newly born baby visits. We – or maybe I speak for myself only – had not really taken that into account. I guess the distance goes both ways. It’s far to visit us, but equally hard to visit others. Being far away from friends and family, exacerbated by limitations imposed by the pandemic, make us miss out a lot. Or at least it feels this way. Several friends have become parents, moved into dream homes, are getting married. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the newborn friends. Haven’t seen the dream houses. Although we try to attend weddings, but it’s more difficult to attend other related aspects. (We missed two dear weddings over the years due to them coinciding with the final two weeks of both pregnancies.)

It’s bizarre how much you take these things, the important life events of friends, of the people dearest to you for granted. When you live in your home country there’s no questioning whether you will attend. However, when you live far away it’s not a given, and these events induce great fears of missing out.

We have grown to like it here. We are certainly happy, but some days you just want to go home and be with friends. This weekend was a bit like that for my wife and I both…

I hope one day we will be back, cause we have some catching up to do.

Was social always this exhausting?

This pandemic is detrimental to my social skills, or at least to the way they affect me and my mental state. I was never the most extraverted person. Not a fantastic person on parties. But I could hold a conversation without problems, and they would often give me energy. I also greatly enjoyed coffee breaks at work, and the chats I had with colleagues (best ideas are born during coffee breaks).

This has changed a bit.

We have taken contact limitations quite seriously over the pandemic. We rarely have people over. We rarely go out with others, aside from a small selection of people with kids of the same age, with whom we mostly meet outside.

Yesterday, we had some friends over from the Netherlands. They were on their way to Austria, for which they needed PCR tests. We deemed it acceptable to have them over and offer them out guest room. They stayed for breakfast this morning and continued their journey.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved it that they came by, left home a day earlier, basically just to visit us. I loved having people over, in the safest possible way, and now with testing and self testing becoming such a standard, I’m glad that these things are finally easier. I miss friends. Nevertheless, from halfway through the morning, my head exploded with overwhelm. Massive headaches. A good dose of ibuprofen helped me through the day and it relieved the pain, but it could not mask the extreme exhaustion that I felt, and still feel. Seriously. This pandemic took away my social sponge – the part of me that sucked up the energy from social activities, and used them to feel good.

I’m not sure I’m alone in this. Maybe I’m extreme in the limits I have set? Maybe I am my own problem. I hope that when this pandemic is over (and hope it will be soon, ugh), people are still people, and will not have turned into overwhelmed and socially awkward zombies. I’m sure that I have to work on this myself.

Frustrating

They say the Dutch are a very direct and to-the-point people, especially in conversations. No bullshit. You know exactly what you have. I never thought much of it when I grew up in the Netherlands, but I guess it’s true. I’m probably a good example of a Dutchy that is too honest for his own good. It makes for easy blogging, but I’m not sure it’s always the right thing. Since I have moved to Germany, I actually started noticing how direct the Dutch are. Or rather, how far from direct the Germans are. Germans are never to the point. They arrange meetings to arrange meetings about meetings. Everyone’s running in circles. Nobody is straight with you. It’s really quite a culture shock.

The Dutch will tell you when they disagree with you. However, I would say that this is often very civil, no anger, no hate. In Germany, if people disagree with something, they don’t speak it out. There is no conversation. Instead they sit on it and let it simmer and stew. Hate starts to build up, but even then, not a word is spoken out. It’s noticable in the every day actions. Stonewalling of people that you disagree with, passive aggressive notes to communicate with people you dislike, hand signs to strangers, random cursing in the streets to people that don’t behave like you had hoped, a general vibe if being offended or frustrated. It is so much more commonplace in Germany than in other countries. Always rushed, always annoyed, always angry at people. Every other house has some version of a fuck off sign. It’s bizarre.

So many examples…

No matter how fast I drive, people will push to overtake me asap. Everyone in front of them is a nuisance.

No matter where you bike, you will get cursed at. You don’t bike on the sidewalk, but you don’t bike on the street either. Best go away!

No matter where you live, you will have a neighbor that finds something to hate about you. Especially in a building with multiple tenants.

No matter where you park, it’s not good. Some signs say they will slash your tires if you park somewhere, which greatly illustrates the welcoming vibe.

I never experienced much of this in 33 years in the Netherlands, but really, two years in Germany often make me feel bitter.

Everyone’s so frustrated here – it’s frustrating!

A ten-fold increase in luck!

This is sort of an update on this post of a couple of days ago.

No matter how bad your day is, if you get the news we got today, it will always get better.

As I wrote a few days back, our campervan died, and needed some repairs with a hefty price tag. Now, I wasn’t there to speak to the mechanic, and my wife – being German – intuitively is the better person to make technical calls in Germany. My German is alright, but I sometimes get lost, especially on the phone. In short, our car was not watertight, and because of it, water entered the electric circuitry.

The mechanic explained to her that the process of finding the leak would be long and tedious, and replacing the electronics would probably also cost the same as the work hours. He then quoted a price, and apparently presented it in an extremely apologetic way. The quote my wife heard him say was 13.000 euros. He added that this was a wors-case scenario.

Now I don’t know shit about cars, but I immediately thought: WOW. That’s a lot of money. I knew that whether we would make the repair or not, we would have lost the money, as the valuable campervan would lose exactly that amount in value if we’d sell it in its current condition, or otherwise we’d lose it if we’d repair it. There was no win. I was pretty devastated. We agreed that whatever it would cost, it would be worth it, as we love this home on wheels.

The mechanic also said that there was a staff shortage and the repair would take at least until mid next week, as he had only 30 percent of his usual staff and could not spend full days on it. Covid? Not sure.

Then, yesterday evening, I was doing some back of an envelope calculations. I figured that even if the mechanic would cost 100 euro per hour, a full week would not cost 6.500 euro (half the quote). For the sake of the argument, I hypothesized that this dude that had lots of work and little time would perhaps spend a quarter of his hours on our car. Given forty hours of, say, 100 euros, that would be 4000 euro. I also deemed it very unrealistic that all the wiring in the car combined would be worth more than one thousand euro. Especially considering that it only concerned the dashboard wiring. So, I pretty quickly convinced myself that this 13.000 must have been a mistake. I asked Heike whether it was possible that she misheard, maybe? Heike agreed with my thinking process.

Today she called the dealership again and asked about the status, and weather they could give a more precise estimate of the price tag. The phone lady mentioned that the car was almost ready, and that the final quote contained one zero less. In fact, it was even slightly cheaper than that. So indeed, there must have been a miscommunication of the quote.

I blame the Bavarian language. Bavarians are absolutely incomprehensible, and the phone doesn’t make it any better. Needless to say, this repair was still expensive, but a whole lot more affordable. And definitely, totally, absolutely worth it. It feels like someone just gave us a 10K present, and that makes the day feelba whole lot better (and it already was a pleasant day).

The good side of breakdown?

For weeks I have been on a zero movement regime in my life. This wonderful regime included taking the bare minimum steps needed on workdays, and if possible, also on other days. I strived for less than 2000 and succeeded on most days where I home officed and would not need to leave the house. Obviously I also encouraged myself on becoming a hermit throughout this process, so I would not even like leaving the house. The pandemic has been extremely helpful. In addition, I overloaded myself with work, so that I would always find a good reason to bring my son to daycare by car, and certainly do the weekly shopping by car. On top of that I always insisted that I had an excuse not to do any form of exercise outside work hours. Exhaustion, child care, writing, watching TV, Twitter. So many excellent excuses to be found. I have successfully gained about twelve kilograms of body weight over the past two years, so you could argue that my approach has been wildly successful.

It’s also fucking unhealthy. And never really a goal of mine obviously. It was, however, a result of the past year, and one that just sort of snuck up on me and gradually got worse.

I’ve struggled in this pandemic to keep moving. In the first year, I did yoga almost every day. Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube helped me through life when I was at my most miserable (meltdown January 2020). But then my physical and mental health state improved. At some point I even felt good. I was really getting into shape. My wife even told me all the time. I don’t know why, but it felt that the goals had been met, and I started looking for excuses. Like my wife’s pregnancy yoga – also on YouTube – replaced my routine, and became an excellent entry into the excuse cascade. From there, of course it went into a downward spiral. Since the baby is there, I’m just exhausted all the time. I never feel like doing any moving anymore. I used to boulder a lot. Also gave that up since the pandemic. I’ve turned into a slug. And although I know it’s terrible, I postponed any action.

But then our car died last week. As I wrote yesterday, this will be expensive and I hate it. But it also forced me to dust off my (excellent) bike, and the slippery German icy winter roads also forced me to dust off our (excellent but heavy) children’s trailer. For three days now, I’ve been doing everything by bike, which is not that special obviously. However, I also drag with me a trailer that either has a child, work material, or groceries in it. In the hilly town of Freising this is a surprising exercise. I was actually dreading the whole experience beforehand. I was sure that it would be awful. I had told myself for two years that this trailer was terrible and that cycling in Freising was not optimal (this is still true, coming from one of the most cyclist-friendly countries in the world).

Now I’m three days in. Well… I hate to admit, but I’m somewhat enjoying the experience. The inner Dutch likes cycling a lot (heck, I’ve done several cycle trekking holidays). Having no other alternative pushes me to go this way, and it feels quite good to cycle up and down hills with heavy cargo. As there’s no other alternative, work has to wait, so in a way it’s even good for some breaks that include physical exercise. Maybe I’m back on an upward trend? Who knows?

I’m gonna get ripped!

Is this what they call bad luck, or is it worse?

It really doesn’t matter how good your day was. When you get informed that your three year old campervan slash mode of general transportation needs repairs that could amount to approximately one-third of the price you bought it for, your day is pretty much ruined.

We bought our Ford Nugget campervan in April 2021 at just over three years old and 38.000 kilometers driven. This was a young car and one that we hoped to enjoy for the next decade or more. It was expensive for us, but it was an investment that we deemed worthy. We wouldn’t ever be able to afford a house in Bavaria anyway, so we thought we might as well buy ourselves a mobile house, so we could get out a lot.

We used it a lot. It is amazing.

Now last weekend it spontaneously died on us while underway in Berchtesgadener Land. We weren’t sure exactly what happened, but we were unharmed, and got delivered home safely by the German road assistance association ADAC. Our car was dropped at the dealership, as this problem probably would need a Ford specialist to solve. Over the past couple of days, a mechanic has looked at it, and we were quite curious to hear what he had to say today. You already know it isn’t going to be good.

It wasn’t good.

Our car must have a leaky sealing somewhere, perhaps at the windscreen, or the hood. God knows. Wherever it leaks doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it does. Apparently so much humidity built up inside the vehicle’s electric circuitry that all of its wiring was heavily corroded, and likely most of it needs to be replaced. He managedetonget it to run again, but this is something that needs to be dealt with, obviously. The mechanic ensured us that this was nothing we could have prevented, and none of it was caused by our most recent getaway in the cold. Instead he told us that this is likely the result of either a faulty windscreen repair (it was replaced last year by a professional company, after a stone hit it), or a faulty assembly by the factory in the first place. He also mentioned that Ford does not cover water damage, even if it were their fault. Isn’t that great?

In other words: someone fucked up his job somewhere, and we don’t know who it was, and we couldn’t have known that he did, and it now ended up on our plates. With this fuckup he jeopardized our safety, killed our car, and will likely cost us in excess of ten thousand euros. Thank you, you unknown piece of shit, whoever you are, for bringing this sort of horror into our lives.

The mechanic will try his best to document the process of finding out where exactly the water entered, so perhaps we can try a claim with the insurance of the windscreen company, if it turns out they did a poor job. I think our chances are slim.

Whatever the outcome: Fuck! Just Fuck!

To end on a positive note: the rest of the day was pretty great.

I need distraction!

I, uhm, I discovered a weird thing today.

I may be a bit addicted to work…

This is not to say I’m a workaholic. Not at all. I love work-life balance, and I think I do a reasonable job at staying within the contract hours most weeks. But I noticed quite clearly today that when I opened my office door, I felt good about it. My brain needs to be stimulated, in order for it not to start attacking itself. Almost like how the immune system starts generating autoimmune reactions in a too sterile environment. It’s a weird thing, this brain. It never ceases to amaze me how it’s my best friend and my worst enemy. Finding the balance between those to is important. And my brain was in a state of increased self-attack. Time to start distracting, and what better way than with work?

I was happy to be back today. After two weeks of not touching it, I wiped the dust off my laptop, and started it up. Starting off with my weekly team meeting is always a positive start, and as we have started a new experiment today, the meeting was extra useful for me. What better way to start then with a useful thirty minutes with friendly faces?

The hour after, I finished some minor editorial revision for a paper recently accepted in Functional Ecology. I’m super happy about this one, as it was work executed by a former master student, who has left academia. Nevertheless, it’s great if a successful project – with some polishing obviously – ends up in a nice journal. I also had never published in the journal before, but this was not for lack of trying. I like the journal a lot, but thus far it didn’t seem to like me. I’m glad that I know took the final steps needed to add a paper in the journal to my resume. Although it was literally only 45 minutes of work, my mind blew it up over the holidays to a huge week-filling task. That’s my brain. It sometimes gets seriously impossible to listen to my mind. Ugh!

After another Zoom meeting with a small project group (which was good, but nothing to write about yet), me and part of the team met at our climate chamber facilities. A new experiment was planned, and there were pots to be filled. A nice set of 336 2L pots is now sitting quietly in one of our climate chambers. The second chamber will become available tomorrow, and from then, we can distribute all pots, water them, acclimatize, and basically the real thing can start. So far so good. If all goes well, I will be sowing next Monday! That’s usually the most nerve-wracking part. You never know with seeds. Although I usually don’t have problems with them, I chose a couple of species I have not worked with before – expand the horizon. Hopefully they germinate just fine. I’m already relieved to have full pots in the chambers.

For two weeks I was looking up to this day with anxiety, only to find out that it was a great day, and that I quite enjoy this part of my job. I need it. My brain needs it. Food for thought!

‘Smonday’

I recently saw this thing make the rounds on Twitter about ‘Smonday’, loosely paraphrasing, it meant the horrible feeling you get on Sunday, when you’re already worrying about the workload on Monday. I have written about Smondays many many times before, albeit I had no word for it yet. As I’m a regular experiencer of Smondays, I’m particularly pleased to learn that 1) a term has now finally been coined, and 2) that I’m not alone, and maybe not as broken as I thought I was.

Anyway. This Smonday was slightly more Smondayesque than your average Smonday, because, well, I’ve been literally doing absolutely shit, nada, gar nichts, on my academic work over the past two weeks. I intended to do some clearing of shitty – but nonetheless important jobs, like uploading datasets to Dryad, and resubmitting a minor editorial revision of an accepted manuscript. I somehow didn’t manage to do any of that. Until this afternoon I did absolutely nothing. Nothing! (And to be honest, that’s how it should be, so I’m really quite fine with it. Maybe even a bit proud?)

The closer I came to Monday the 10th, however, the more severe the Smonday feeling became. It already started at least a week ago or so. The not doing anything part – however important it was for me and my brain too – didn’t really help. The Monday only became scarier, as the shelves remained full, while new tasks piled up. Academic life is fun, eh?

The real reason – I think – why I feel this way more than on the usual Sundays (even including some sleepless episodes at night), is that I’m starting a new experiment from tomorrow. Although I arranged all the needed elements, some things were still in the pipeline for longer than expected. For instance, Hermes delivery struggled big time to follow my instructions for a drop-off location, resulting in my experimental seed material to be delivered yesterday – a good ten days later than originally indicated. As you can imagine, I was slightly worried! But the seeds are now on my desk. I have them. I am quite certain I can start off tomorrow afternoon. This afternoon I finished a detailed planning, and I think everything is going to work out great.

Deliveries from Cruydthoeck make me feel like a kid in a candy shop

But of course, no matter how much I prepare, my mind plays tricks on me. It keeps firing all these questions to make me very confused.

Like, do I have enough pots?

Do I have enough soil left from previous experiments?

Do I have enough support to help me out with the work?

Did I plan everything meticulously?

Can I pull this one off?

Even though the answer to all these questions is clearly yes, my mind keeps telling me no. It is the same thing over and over and over again. To be honest, I’m not even sure it will ever go away. Well, it does go away, once the seeds are in the ground. But it will be back, no doubt.

But no matter how much I worry, excitement and curiosity always prevail and get me through it. I love executing my own experiments. It’s the main reason I’m still around in academia. And this experiment in particular is close to my heart, as it is supposed to further my own new little research line on the effects of artificial light at night on plants and the phytobiome. Yay!

Stay tuned for more in-depth updates. I will probably have more to rant about as the experiment evolves over the coming weeks!

On Monday, we’ll feed the beast…

Two weeks of holiday break are slowly coming to an end. It’s safe to say that with two kids under two that were sick for a total of nine days, there was little resting possible. Luckily, we managed to sneak in a quick getaway into nature. Nature always heals the mind and soul. It’s really the only thing that always, no, ALWAYS works. It didn’t help that our campervan spontaneously died on us as we were returning from an otherwise fantastic trip, and we had to arrange emergency transportation back to our home. We ended on a stressful note. But we’re safe, the car is in one piece, and we’re all where we are supposed to be.

I have said it before, and I’ll repeat it here. Anyone who expects young parents to be rested after two weeks of holiday is quite the fool, that A) has never had kids, or B) has had little input in raising them. I am not rested, and will not be rested on Monday morning. My resting starts then. I am going to need a week of recovery. This sounds horrible and all, but it isn’t meant to be that way. I absolutely love my kids, being with them, and taking care of them. But I can’t deny that the continuous 110% attention they need from both parents at this age is very exhausting. Rewarding too, but exhausting nonetheless. I had a great holiday break, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Now I need a real break! On Monday, we can bring our son to daycare again, and our five month old daughter alone is a little easier to handle for us at home during home office.

On the one hand, I’m looking forward to next week, as there are exciting things waiting to be executed with the team (more on that pretty soon).

Yet, I feel quite conflicted about it, too.

I’ll be sending my son into daycare again, and this of course at the worst possible time. Covid numbers are – again – rapidly increasing in Germany too. Omicron is rolling in, and I would not be surprised if we start seeing 100K+ daily cases here within a week. Without a vaccine or anything hopeful on that end in near sight, or masking in place to protect the little ones, I feel guilty for sending them into the danger zone. We have a very small day care group, regular testing, and a group of highly responsible and communicative parents. We do the best we can, and it’s so much more than many other places are doing, but still, these little muppets are sitting ducks. It’s only a matter of time before one of them will catch it somewhere and drizzles all the others in a fine aerosol of covid cough. That’s just the reality of the situation. It feels like a ticking time bomb. Can we please acknowledge that?

All over the internet, people keep regurgitating this ‘omicron is mild’ crap. Today my mother even told me, this variant is only a mild cold. No mom, you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. From what I’ve seen over the weeks, it’s much more easily transmittable, has partly dodged vaccine efficacy, and sends more young people, including kids, to hospital. There’s very little positive about that. So fuck off with that mild virus crap. This may be true if you have had three jabs, but that isn’t the case – and will not be the case anytime soon – for kids below five. We as a society are basically collectively sacrificing our kids to covid. Whatever happens to them is seen as very superficial collateral damage. A risk society seems willing to take.

On Monday, schools and day cares open again after holidays. A nice mixer. Fresh blood for the beast!

And this makes me very very nervous.

That went a little different than I had hoped

This morning,we woke up to wonderful weather at the Königssee RV lot. We decided then and there that this was a great reason to take the Jennerbahn all the way to the top of the Jenner. Blue skies and snowy mountains. What else could you wish for?

Well… It turns out that there was a lot left to wish for.

Like a safe drive home.

Around 1pm, we came back from the mountains, packed up the van, and prepared to leave, and make our way back to Freising. A nice and early trip home is also nice, especially if you have kids that get tired early. All good and underway, until about fifteen minutes into our drive the car computer system informs me that the pre-collision assistance was turned off… Hmm. I hate it anyway, but decide to check. I parked the car and cleaned all sensors. After this, all was good and the car ran smoothly again – for about another 20 minutes. As we were literally leaving Berchtesgaden – for which we would take a few kilometers of Austrian road – the campervan said no. Whilst driving about 90 kmh, all lights on the dashboard suddenly started flashing, and before I could even respond to it, the engine simply shut off. This also blocked the steering wheel, and the breaking system. It was sheer luck that there was no traffic when I passed the opposite lane, and managed to stop the dead car in a construction bay.

That was very scary.

This was at 2.30pm or so. We just got picked up by our second tow truck, just before 8pm. The first one simply towed us away from the road, to a safe place where we could wait for our home delivery tow service. We’re currently about an hour into our drive back with two incredibly kind souls from ADAC that will drop our camper at the Freising ford dealership, and us at home. Edit: 23.30pm and we’re safe at home, with the car at the garage.

Tow truck 1
Drop-off in a safe space
Pickup by tow truck 2
At least I don’t have to drive back myself…

I’m not sure what happened to the car. I’m just glad I managed to get the unsteerable vehicle – with my family in it – safely to the side of the road. Had there been a truck coming from the other side of the road, our story might have ended very differently. I’m just glad we’re alright!

Edit: I’m also glad that the backup battery worked, so we had convenient waiting, and stationary heating.