Finding your sorbet…

“You should try to find your sorbet”, my therapist said to me with a serious look as I had answered all the questions in the questionnaire.

“My sorbet?” I ask surprised. I knew the word ‘sorbet’, but I had never heard anyone use it in English. Frozen fruit pulp seemed somewhat odd in this context. I could not hide the confusion in my facial expression.

“Are you familiar with fine dining”, he continued. “Those menus often have seven or eight courses. Somewhere in the middle, they generally serve a small course – often a sorbet – to cleanse the palate and prepare your senses for the next part of the dining experience. What you need is a palate cleanser.”

So I should eat sorbets because my brain feels frazzled, what is this guy on about?

“You are a highly sensitive person. Your brain is more sensitive to emotional and social stimuli, and the highly sensitive brain processes them differently. This may explain why you often feel overwhelmed and anxious,” he said, whilst writing down a title on a piece of paper.*

“Finding the brain’s equivalent to a sorbet may be a good step towards feeling more in control and less overwhelmed.”

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*The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. hsperson.com

Troubleshooting

Sometimes it feels like all I do is extinguish fires.

Today in particular, everything was in flames. The day started with a meeting regarding issues around our newly appointed PhD researcher. She’s currently stuck abroad for corona-related reasons, which makes her life, and by association also our lives, more difficult than necessary. We prioritized some urgent aspects to be arranged – out of necessity by me – in preparation for her field research this summer.

During this meeting, I received an e-mail telling me that our climate cabinet was giving all kinds of alarms. Argh! I decide to pour myself a coffee, and then get over there to fix things. Self-care is important…

Pretty much while I’m taking my first sip, I get another notification informing me that alarms are blaring in another climate chamber facility and we cannot enter (where another PhD researcher had seedlings to water and hundreds of root samples to wash). So, ARGH!

I drank my coffee. I casually fixed our cabinet (no clue, don’t ask). Ate Chocoladekrapfen (Thanks Maxi!). The engineering company fixed the other alarms. Submitted a long-due manuscript in between. Washed roots to make up for lost time.

All fires extinguished.

Weekend time!

Germany you should – a series (part 1)

When we decided to move to Germany (well, Freistaat Bayern really), I expected very little difference with my home country, the Netherlands. We’re neighbours. How big of a difference can there really be?

The answer is quite a bit.

As part of my recently started daily blog endeavour, I thought it would be a good idea to include a recurring series based on my observations as a not-too-distant foreigner in Germany. Many things are much better here in Germany, whereas other things are absolutely terrible here compared to the Netherlands. I will include things that stand out in this country, good or bad, funny or sad (but hopefully predominantly funny).

This one needs hardly any introduction (or maybe it does in Germany).

Reliable internet. Usually quite rare. ‘Connection unstable’ is my Zoom welcome message. The ‘up to 500 Mbit’ packages offered by several providers the German networks often cannot even provide 1%… Inventing the word Funklöcher (which has no English equivalent) does not make your coverage better! Instead, why don’t you just work on improving mobile coverage and cable availability, at least within city boundaries?

Germany you should really fix your internet!

(This post may take a while to upload)

4G coverage by all networks in the general Freising area – I live in the westernmost point of town, where only digital sadness is available

Hit submit

Publishing something is not easy.

One of the things that I find most difficult about publishing a manuscript, in the form of a manuscript, or, heck, even a simple blog post, is hitting the ‘submit’ button.

When you write, even if it is a scientific manuscript, you bleed on the paper. At least that’s what it feels like to me. Your thoughts take form in the written word. Everything you write becomes a small part of you. It is your view on the subject. It is almost like it is your thought baby. When I write, I go through phases, ups and downs. My thoughts basically go from a very excited voice inside me telling me “this is the best thing you ever wrote” to an anxious voice  going “my god, this shit is horrible, people will forever take you for a fool for writing this”. Back and forth. Multiple times a day.

The writing part is easy. It is the mental hurdle that needs to be overcome. I have several finished manuscripts that I haven’t submitted anywhere (for about a year), simply because my anxious brain got the upper hand.

But soon I will hit submit – so stay tuned…

An ecologist’s recipe for horrible sleep

One of my favorite aspects of being an ecologist or entomologist is the fact that I get to do some pretty nice hands-on experiments with living plants and insects. Most of this hands-on work I really love doing. Yet, while performing some specific tasks you can just feel that it is bad for your brain.

Today was one of those days…

In a running greenhouse experiment we measured a series of plant traits.  The plants that were measured will form the fundament of a series of greenhouse and field experiments for several PhD projects. The trait data collected today will hence serve as a good background knowledge on the founding mothers for our future work. I think this will be incredibly insightful.

I nicely divided the list of traits to be measured by me and our lab technician. She would focus on the ‘whole plant traits’, such as height, leaf number, number of stems, etc. I decided that I would focus on the leaf specific traits. I work on Tansy, which has compound leaves, consisting of pinnae.  Leaf length, leaf surface area, and the worst part, the number of pinnae. Roughly 25-30 pinnae per leaf.

My brain is absolute toast!

   

Plenty of pinnae

Stabbed to death

I am not so sure what to think of the corona vaccination programs. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an antivaxxer or some kind of science sceptic. Quite the contrary. Science is a huge part of my life. Also, vaccines are life savers. Count me in on getting vaccinated. Get your shots too, please!

Yet, there is something that bothers me pretty much every time I watch the news.

I bloody HATE needles!

I have been afraid of needles all my life. I have literally fainted at every injection I have had since I was a child. It has not gotten better as an adult, I have just gotten smarter. These days I ask if I can lie down while I am stung. That sort of works.

There is such a bad stigma to vaccinations, and I think fear is a huge part of people not wanting to get a shot (or two!).

Please, stop showing people getting violently jabbed with needles the size that could be used to kill someone. No, shots from fifteen different angles do not make it better!

Help the tryphanophobes like me to get mentally prepared!

This vaccination program needs some serious PR work done.

Gratitude

The day that I first saw her. It sometimes feels as if it was yesterday. This new girl that moved into the corridor that I lived in, in a student housing flat. She was so sweet and vibrant. Youthful, but mature. Smart and beautiful. We were so young!

It didn’t take me long to fall desperately in love with her.

I had never been much of a ladies’ man, but I figured that if I would be nice to her long enough, that could work. After several months of being nice, I certainly gained a friend. I was otherwise not on her radar… I had to do something! Just before Christmas, I had gathered all my strength. I expressed my feelings to her, and as this was 2009 and I was a fool, I did this via MSN.

The result? A hard and immediate rejection. Those holidays I spent heart-broken. It is unclear to me what I did after that made her change her mind, but something did, as she completely turned around. Today marks our eleven-year anniversary. My best friend, an awesome wife, a wonderful mother, and here to stay.

I’m grateful for every day spent together with her.  

Two hundred

From today, I wanted to give myself a new challenge.

Two hundred words a day. Every day.

Writing is part of how I make a living. An essential part of life as an academic. However, sometimes work activities just carry you away from this important aspect of the job. Teaching, supervision of graduate students, carrying out experiments, administrative tasks – all of these necessities can be distractions that hamper the creative writing process.

But here’s the thing. Writing is a skill that needs to be trained and maintained. It is almost like a creative muscle. If you let it atrophy for some time, even if only for a couple of weeks, you’ll lose the flow. For this reason, it is important to write regularly. I would even stretch and claim that you should write every day. More than a couple of standard e-mail answers preferably. Writing a small piece of text every day will be good for you, regardless of your profession. It will train your creative muscle, it will improve your ease of writing, and it will give you a new purposeful addition to your daily schedule.

There you go.

Two hundred words a day. Every day.

Ready, set, go!

A new chapter…

On the 16th of November we packed all our belongings into a moving truck. After a tough day of hard work, and a quick wipe-down of the place – to give subsequent inhabitants a pleasant entry – we closed the door to our beloved Wageningen apartment behind us. It wasn’t easy to leave the apartment. It was also strange to leave Wageningen. I had lived there for thirteen years, Heike – my wife – a bit less, but still more than a decade. We studied in Wageningen. This is where we fell in love and spent ten years together. This is where earlier this year we got married and then became parents to our beautiful son Rafa. Wageningen was truly where we were at home. But the time had come. After studying and completing my PhD contract (I’ll do my best to defend my work on the 4th of December, a few days from now), it was time to start probing around for new opportunities. New adventures. I got a wonderful opportunity to further my own line of research in a group in Germany. This job would mean a great couple of years in a good group with lots of potential to collaborate with new people. It also meant we had to move about 750 kilometres away. To Freising, Germany.

And so we did…

On the early morning of November 17th we left the house of my parents-in-law, where we had spent the night after packing. It would take us about 9 hours to get there with the moving truck. Me and two in-laws would drive the truck with all our stuff. Heike, Rafa and her mother would go by a smaller vehicle, containing mostly plants and enclosures for my lizards. My brother and two friends, who had helped packing the truck, had asked me the day before whether the right hind tire needed more air… I said then that it was probably fine, as it was a rental truck and the rental guy probably knew about this stuff. However, after five hours or so on the road, I was driving the truck and I noticed it started to get more and more wobbly. We soon stopped for a quick sanitary break at a shabby German road side toilet and we all agreed there that it looked like the tire was flatter than before and that we should soon stop at a better stop where we could look at it. That stop was about 5 kilometres further, at Rasthof Wurzburg-Sud… When we stopped the car the tire was even flatter! Within 15 minutes of parking it, it stood on the rim. On the positive side; the tire could have blown up while driving 100 km/h on the highway. We were at least safe and sound on a parking lot with a restaurant.

The rental company had rented us a truck with an inaccessible spare tire (broken mechanism), with a tire that had 0 profile on it. Therefore, we spent the next 26 (TWENTY-SIX) hours waiting for someone that could get our wheel off, bring it to a tire shop, have the shop put a new tire on, and bring it back to the truck. This could have been done in two hours. Bear in mind, this shop was only 2 kilometres away. We waited 24 hours for the person… The fix was done in a little over an hour (and that’s because not the tire but the rim was broken, and this had to be replaced and taken from another shop, which was also a few kilometres away).

So, long story short. My wife and the baby had to sleep on the floor of our new empty apartment together with her mom, and I spent the night in a Best Western with her sister and her mothers partner… plus two hysterical cats, a bunch of geckos and tarantulas that had to be kept warm. Conclusion; Best Western had a good German breakfast.

A day later than planned we finally arrived in our new home. By now, I can safely say that we have settled into our new home. The new chapter can start!

 

 

We saw the birth of a hurricane!

The past few days just flew by.

Poof. Gone!

After our slightly disappointing encounter with Mahahual, we went further south, to Bacalar, and later Chetumal. In Chetumal we hopped on the ferry to San Pedro. Of course we had la Isla Bonita high on our list of things to do in Central America.

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Nope, just kidding. We only stamped our passports to enter Belize there and continued our ferry ride to Caye Caulker.

On Caye Caulker they all say go slow and now that it is slow season, they probably want you to go even slower. It is an interesting place. The white beaches are dotted with palm trees and simple shacks where various vendors sell their products. The population is about 1500, but I get the idea you only actively see about 50 or so people. About 25 of those are crazy Rastafarian folk that clearly smoked and drank themselves to Korsakoff syndrome. They speak to each other in riddles and to others in rhymes that make snoop dogg seem like nothing. On the day we arrived, we saw the beginning of what a day later turned into hurricane Michael, which hit Florida this week.

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In Caye Caulker, our main aim was to scuba the blue hole and the meso-american barrier reef. Spoiler alert. We didn’t. It being slow season, most of the diving companies were closed or only went for local dives. The only place that handled longer distance dive sites have us a pretty unfriendly vibe and overall poor impression. The type of people that dive to make big bucks with minimal input. I don’t support that sort of shit. I want my dives to be an experience from start to end and for me the company (business and people) is a part of that. Maybe we’re just spoiled shits and had excellent experience in various places before. So be it.

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We saved ourselves some money and went for a snorkeling trip instead. We hung out with a local kid named JR for a while and his uncle ran a snorkeling company. The next day we went out on the water and saw Loggerhead the Hawksbill sea turtles (sea turtles are awesome). Other than that we saw a bunch of fish and heaps of beautiful corals. Yay.

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After 4 days of going slow, we were pretty much standing still, so it took us some effort to drag our asses to the ferry terminal (well… terminal, more of a wooden mini pier, really). Off to Belize city!

Belize city, from what we hear everywhere is more or less the capital city of gang violence and shootings (don’t worry mom, we took the bus straight out). We took a dirt cheap old school bus-like vehicle to San Ignacio, which took us about 3 hours. Here we will live for a few days, and San Ignacio’s is a friendly town and the center of many adventure tours. Today we made a trip to the ATM cave, which surprisingly only took money instead of dispensing it. Totally worth it though. This cave is one of the most spectacular caves in the world apparently. I’m no expert and our guide was, so I’ll take his word for it. An awesome cave system full of shiny crystalline structures and Mayan artefacts, including human sacrifices. The cave is a strict no photo zone because some respectless piece of shit (or plenty of them actually) dropped cameras on human sacrifices, breaking skulls and bones. This sort of stuff makes me feel bad for being part of the ‘tourist’ category.  I wanted to respect these rules, so use Google for an impression of ATM cave. I was pretty overwhelmed by it all. Luis, our guide was also a cool guy with knowledge of botany and anthropology so talking to him about the country was very nice.

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This is probably the best thing about traveling in Belize. Apart from it being pretty, English is the main language, along with Creole, which is pretty much broken English (as the locals say). This gives us a pretty good chance for interactions with locals. We have tried in the past with all means available, but Arabic, Thai, Bahasa or Khmer aren’t exactly my strongest, so this is usually hard. Traveling Spanish speaking countries is easier, but still, we’re not fluent, but we get around. I think this is what makes Belize a great experience. The locals are such a great source of  insight into the country. And apart from some gang violence they are all so respectful when talking to and about each other.

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I can’t help but think. What beautiful people :).