Friday, 8 January 2021

Dear Friends 2021

Adelaide, January 5th 2021

Dear Friends,

First of all we want to wish you a happy and healthy 2021!

While it was disappointing we could not do all the travelling we wanted to do and see our (extended) family this year.. We have a lot to be thankful for.  Here is a little overview of our past year. 

We started 2020 in Durham North Carolina together with Steve’s family. Even though it was for a sad reason (memorial service for Steve’s mother who had passed away in October last year) it was wonderful to spend Christmas and New Year’s together after many years. When we got back home to Adelaide our friends Maryse, Jeroen and Lasse from Brisbane were here to greet us and we had a wonderful time with them too. So that was a good start of the year!

In March we got to go to WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) for the first time. -a 4 day festival in Adelaide. Which we loved!! It was right in time because after that COVID changed everything. Daniel still went to Brisbane and back to see his friends there but then we were all stuck here for a while. 

Steve’s dad had planned to visit us in April and we had planned to travel to Victoria together but of course that did not happen. Daniel and Nynke had planned to go to The Netherlands in August which of course did not happen either.. 

We did have some nice short road trips though and got to see a bit more of South Australia. Steve and I went to see the Southern Right whales at the Head of Bight in August which was incredible! And later, in October, Steve, Nynke, Wytse and Arwin went to Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges which was a great trip too. Arkaroola is a whole different world. Very dry and dusty but very special and it feels very remote. We really enjoyed camping out there, going on walks and 4W drives and seeing the endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies. It is a dark sky area but it was full moon when we went  - We want to go back in April in a week with a new moon so we can see a few more stars!  And it was fun to do some 4 wheel driving and put in practice the skills we had learned at a 4WD course in August.


  I got the tiny house finished up - at least the outside - in time for the winter, as you see here. (June-August, the rainy season here, not really winter).  We still have a ways to go to make it something we would really live in - it needs a kitchen, bathroom, table, storage, etc.  But I’ll take it slow and do that at a more leisurely pace since at the moment we’re just using it as a bedroom.  It does have the great advantage of getting us away from the noisy teenagers and gives them all their own bedroom (we only have a 3-bedroom house now).  

  The tiny house of course became my home office as soon as COVID hit, and after some adjustment I became really productive working from home.  So productive that I can’t figure out how I ever found time to commute, and like so many other people, I plan to continue working from home quite a bit more than I ever used to.

  Work has been incredibly intense this year for me - there are so many new opportunities and projects in the space industry in Australia and I’ve found myself very much in the middle of CSIRO’s space efforts.  We are finishing up the construction of our first satellite, started our new lab in downtown Adelaide, and we have hired now two full time staff to run the lab while I run around trying to write proposals and get more funding for future satellites.  I could not have dreamed of a more interesting or challenging career at this point!  I hope that through my work I can express my gratitude and help create opportunities for my colleagues equal to the luck that has come my way.

Nynke : I started the year in a new job that I ended up not liking. It was a job in disability support in a badly managed organisation. I quit right before the first ‘lockdown’ and was happy I did. It ended up a really relaxing time we got to spend with the family and getting lots of exercise. We went on a lot of very long walks and read lots of books. And of course I had a lot of time for gardening as well. I decided to start looking for a job again in the second half of the year and I have been working for Kalyra since August. Kalyra is an (well managed) aged care organisation and I work as a home support worker helping people wherever they need help. I have met a lot of wonderful people already (clients and colleagues) and really enjoy the variety of people and work I have to do. I currently work 2 ½ days per week which works out well. I still have enough time for gardening (see before and after photos above!) and also I am enrolled in the Diploma of Sustainable Living at the University of Tasmania (online studies) so that occupies my time as well and I love it! On top of that I am doing ‘end of life doula’ training and I have still been needing to drive Arwin around a bit for his activities. He will have a driver’s licence soon though!

Wytse (18): I believe South Australians have been exceptionally lucky in the pandemic, since we have not had any major outbreaks or lockdowns (besides a very short one). Because of these circumstances, my daily life was not impacted very much in the second half of the year. My main accomplishments in 2020 include finishing the UPP (University Preparatory Program) at the University of Adelaide, which allows me to start studying for the Bachelor of Health and Medical Sciences in the first semester of 2021. For me, this required going through a lot of challenges, including studying only online for several months.

Outside of university, I have been able to keep up a number of other activities. Over the course of the year I have been taking clarinet lessons, which has helped me a lot with playing with the Adelaide Youth Wind Orchestra (AdYWO). In the second semester, playing with AdYWO has been very enjoyable for me, but I have also enjoyed rehearsing and performing with the Unley Concert Band during the last few weeks of the year, and I may continue to do so. I have also been reading a lot when I have time to, and after a long time, I finished reading the Divine Comedy. Through the UPP and the groups I have been playing music in, I met a lot of interesting people, and this last year was very good for my social life overall. In the new year, I hope to refine my time management and researching skills to accomplish more at uni, and I plan to get together with a small group of musicians (possibly my dad and brother) to do some busking.

Daniel (18): I think 2020 was pretty crazy for everyone. We all had our plans ruined, but new ones popped up in their place. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have started studying halfway through this year, after a very boring half gap year (I’m now studying environmental policy and management at Adelaide Uni). I also probably wouldn’t have found the summer job I have - spa cover manufacturing has been busier than ever this year - or started practicing mandolin.

One of my challenges coming out of high school was finding myself as an individual. Joining uni clubs helped with this, as did the in-class university tutorials that came with living in relatively covid-free South Australia. One focus I rediscovered this year was reading and writing. Currently, I’m halfway through Robert Jordan’s amazing but long Wheel of Time series, which I’ve been reading while taking a creative writing minor for my degree. I also joined Brett McKay’s Strenuous Life this year, an online program which helped me challenge myself constantly and finished off with a night sleeping in a cave next to a waterfall. I’m improving fast as a rock climber, I got a lot of money from my summer job, I’m getting more confident with lead climbing, and my weekends have been getting more and more adventurous. Bring on 2021!

Arwin (16): 2020 Was quite an odd year. It had an average start for me, up until March. When we went to WOMAD, I got a djembe - an African drum. I also saw some inspiring musicians and bands. When the pandemic hit, I didn’t have a problem with self-quarantining, as I was already in an online school. During the first half of the year, I continued to play guitar and sing with my dad. I stopped doing drama classes, as the show was called off due to the pandemic, and I was not very interested in the shows to come.

School got a lot harder for me in the second half of the year because of a loss of interest, as I turned my attention to music. I managed to get through school, and I busked at the farmer’s market with my dad. It was a lot of fun, though it was nearly four hours. I plan to busk a lot more in the new year, as I continue to improve my singing and guitar skills. Some of my resolutions are: To learn piano or harmonica, to start a YouTube channel, and to read at least 12 books.

Lyra (9 ¼):  I like the beach, or anywhere I can play in the water, and hanging out with my people, and riding in the car, and rocks!

Coda (2 1/2 year): I love cuddles and people (especially jumping up and licking them!) and running around like crazy together with Lyra. I hate being in the car - I get sick everytime.

Book of the year:

Steve: The Great Divorce (C. S. Lewis)

Nynke: The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)

Arwin: Northern Lights (Philip Pullman)

Wytse: The Odyssey (Homer)

Daniel: The Shadow Rising (Robert Jordan)

Movie of the year:

Steve: Tree of Life

Nynke:  A Serious Man

Arwin: 1917

Wytse: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Daniel: Death to 2020 (2020)

Happy & Healthy New Year and Love from all of us, 

Nynke, Steve, Wytse, Daniel, Arwin Lyra, Coda and chickens

2 Medina street - Aberfoyle Park SA 5159 -Australia

Nynke:  +61 410 938 709  Stephen: +61 424 240 031  Wytse:  Daniel:  Arwin:

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Dear Friends 2019

Aberfoyle Park, January 1st  2019
Dear Friends,

First of all we want to wish you a happy and healthy 2019!

2018 was a year full of change for us (again!).. We moved twice and both were big moves. The first was a move from Brisbane to the Adelaide Hills to a house in the countryside. The second move was to our own house in the suburbs! Yes, we bought a house! That still feels a bit unreal but it has been really nice and a relief not to have to deal with landlords and inspections anymore!l

2018 was also a record year for visitors -we had Nynke’s sister, her kids Marrit and Tibbe- and her mother over in July (this was the first time they were in Australia!),  Nynke’s cousin Rindert in August and Steve’s dad in October. We also had some of our wonderful friends visit this past year - Maryse and Lasse from Brisbane came in April, Uli and her kids from Melbourne, Kristien from Boston and Marcin from Brisbane both came later in the year. We had a great time with all of them.  We are grateful to have so many good friends and family willing to make the trip to see us! And grateful for housesitters (thanks Sue and family!).

We initially loved our rental house in Bradbury -such a beautiful place surrounded by paddocks and trees -lots of koalas, possums, amazing birds, reptiles and cows and sheep. We even got our own sheep and had at some point almost 20 chickens including a rooster. And we fell in love with the Adelaide Hills, what a beautiful area! It turned out however that our landlord was a bully and we could not deal with that any longer and also the garden was too much work to maintain so long story short -we decided to buy a house! It turned out to be a very good decision. It has kept us busy with renovating and decorating and gardening but it is so nice to know it is ours and we can really make it our own home. We are back in the suburbs which definitely has its advantages. We are located pretty central - the beach, Adelaide Hills, the city and McLaren Vale are all not too far away.  We have a bus stop nearby and shops are in biking distance. The boys can be a bit more independent here which is nice. Also the neighbours here are all very friendly -we feel very lucky.

We got to do a bit of exploring again and went on three trips this past year - a week of camping out and bushwalking in The Grampians in Victoria in April -such a beautiful place with amazing views and beautiful walks and wildflowers. There were many more trails to explore we did not have time for-we will have to go back!!  In July we took Nynke’s family into the outback to Broken Hill and Silverton (and some interesting places on the way like Burra- an old copper mining town) - that was definitely a special trip. We stayed in the Silverton hotel surrounded by the ruins of the old mining town, art galleries, kangaroos and emus and did some sightseeing in Broken Hill as well. In October we went to Kangaroo Island for a week with Steve’s dad. Another special part of Australia! We loved all the wildlife - especially the sea lions at Seal Bay and the playful seals in Kingscote. The views and walks from the lighthouse at Cape Willoughby were also amazing and overall it was a very relaxing week and it is another place that we would love to visit again. Luckily it is not far at all from where we live now.

A few other noteworthy things -Wytse and Daniel started driving!- they almost have enough hours to be able to do their driving test so soon enough they will be able to borrow our cars and go places without our supervison!
And Coda joined our family in August. She is a flat-coated retriever puppy (same breed as Lyra) and we all fell in love with her (maybe Lyra not so much although they do like playing together sometimes). We also added a cat, George, to our family -but it has been hard to keep him indoors and he likes to kill birds so we might not be able to keep him unfortunately.

I spent a lot of 2018 driving.... Because we lived in the country for most of the year with no public transport nearby, I spent a lot of my time driving the boys to and from their school (bus stop) and activities. I already noticed a drastic change after we moved to our new house which is near a bus stop and places the boys can bike to. -it has frees up a huge amount of time for me. So far I spent most of that time getting our house organised and gardening. Our house came with mostly lawn around it and I want to change it into a permaculture food forest (lots of fruit trees) and plant lots of natives too. Finally I can put all my gardening courses and workshops into practice! In addition to gardening I started drawing again -I took some drawing classes with a local artist and loved it. I hope to do more of that this year as well.
I started the year volunteering in the Koala & Wlidlife hospital very Friday but because the boys had more and more things going on, I ended up doing it about once a month. I am still enjoying going whenever I can. I learned a lot about koalas and other native wildlife which I find fascinating.. I also started another volunteering job -at Rembrandt Living -a Dutch nursing home -I hope to continue working there one day a week.
I loved having so many visitors this past year and showing them around! Definitely a highlight of this past year!

For my birthday I got four sheep, and caring for them was a daily pleasure that I hope dearly to return to in the future.  Unfortunately, we had to give them up, but the process of finally buying a house in Australia was worth it all, and I have no regrets at all.  
This year has been full of changes at work for me as well.  Australia’s new Space Agency will now be in our hometown, and with my work on the infrared imager in CSIRO’s first satellite, my hands are very full indeed.  I still spend about half my time using spectroscopy and drones to analyse grapes and vines, which happily gets me out of doors and traveling around the wine regions of South Australia.  
Teaching the twins to drive has clocked up probably 100 hours of nervously sitting in the passenger seat, and I do look forward to handing them the keys letting them drive themselves!  I picked up my banjo a bit more often this year, and worked through a 3-finger banjo book so that I can now play “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, or at least the beginning part, slowly. I had a great time taking the twins to their first pop concerts - Daniel and I saw Kasey Chambers (a kind of Australian Melissa Etheridge) and Wytse went with to David Byrne, which was of course stupendous.  Next year, I’ll see if I can’t take Arwin to see AC/DC!

Wytse (16 ¾):
A lot of things have changed for me in the year of 2018. At the very beginning of the year, for example, we moved to Adelaide. Because I was too old to sail an Opti, I joined the junior 420 fleet at the Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club(BSYC). Because I had sailed so much before, I was able to learn the basics of this new class of boat pretty quickly. An unfortunate thing about sailing a 420, however, is that it has become too expensive for me to sail competitively. For this reason, I will probably start sailing a different class of boat in the 2019/20 season. A welcome change is that I started playing 1st clarinet in the Adelaide Youth Wind Orchestra(AdYWO). This is the best youth ensemble I have ever played in, and it was a lot of fun to play in the many different concerts we had this year. I have successfully auditioned for next year and I look forward to the next rehearsal. Late in the year, I have not been doing as much for homeschooling, but I made up for it by getting a job as a casual at CSIRO! The job is mostly doing computer programming and data analysis. I have also been helping to build thermal cameras. My plans for the future are to do the University Prepatory Program at the Adelaide University so that I can study for the Bachelor of Health and Medical Sciences. Hopefully after this I can do scientific research in a part of Biology, possibly neuroscience.

Daniel (16 ¾)
2018 was a big year for me, in a lot of ways! Learning to drive, looking for a job, thinking about university and beyond – as well as the challenges that came with moving to yet another city – kept my mind busy. On a positive note I got great grades at school this year, even though it was just my first year at Urrbrae! I still miss everyone in Brisbane, but taking care of native animals and helping take care of local wetlands as part of Urrbrae Agricultural was a bonus to moving city. Rock climbing became more and more important to me as the year wore on. A trip to two big Aussie rock climbing spots in April (Mt Arapiles and The Grampians) really helped me get motivated even though I only climbed at Arapiles, and not long before the trip a school climbing camp saw me climb a fairly hard route first try. I intend to participate in rock climbing competitions in the new year and just two weeks ago I felt motivated enough to make and use my own hangboard. Aside from climbing, probably the biggest adventure I had this year was close to its end, in a mountain range near Canberra called The Budawangs. I was ‘hired’ as tour guide for some family friends, and I had a great time with them revisiting a great place – it wasn’t my first trip there (although it was the longest and sunniest) and it certainly won’t be my last. Big thanks to the Moseleys – you were awesome!
Overall, my 2018 involved adventure and myself starting to prepare for my real life. Hopefully, 2019 will have even more.

Arwin (14 ¾):
2018 was quite an important year for me. The move to Adelaide really stands out from other times we moved, because by moving away from Brisbane, I left a lot of friends and risked the unknown. Luckily, I met some new friends soon after we moved. I also started a new drama class - it’s a lot more serious than the drama class I was in earlier. Currently we are working on a Peter Pan musical. Another class I started was medieval sword fighting. In the classes we use padded weapons and learn historical sword fighting techniques. Very recently we moved again from the country closer to the city. The move didn’t change much for me, except that I am closer to a bunch of different places, such as Gametraders, where I do FNM (Friday Night Magic). FNM is a weekly event at many game stores where you can play Magic: the gathering with other people. Usually at FNM we draft - a way you can play where you are given some cards and you build a deck from them. We went to FNM three times this year, and once I came first place! My highlight of the year was when I went to Brisbane for a week to visit some friends; Lasse, Ewan, Connor, Brendon, and Deva. I pretty much played games nonstop for a week (Especially Magic!) which is pretty much the best thing I can imagine doing.

Lyra (7 ¼):  I like the beach, or anywhere I can play in the water, and hanging out with my people, and riding in the car, and rocks!

Coda (6 months): I love cuddles and people (especially jumping up and licking them!) and running around like crazy together with Lyra. I hate being in the car - I get sick everytime.

Book of the year:
Steve: 12 Rules for Life (Jordan B. Peterson)
Nynke: The Wilderness Garden (Jackie French)
Arwin: Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
Wytse: The Divine Comedy
(Dante Allighieri)
Daniel: Mawson (Peter Fitzsimmons)
Movie of the year:
Steve: Spirited Away
Nynke: I, Daniel Blake
Arwin: Inception
Wytse: Castle in the Sky
Daniel: Inception

Happy & Healthy New Year and Love from all of us,
Nynke, Steve, Wytse, Daniel, Arwin Lyra, Coda and George - & many chickens

Our new address:

2 Medina street
Aberfoyle Park, SA 5159

Nynke:  (61) (0) 410 938 709 Stephen:

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Mental Benefits of Learning to Play Music at a Young Age

This is a research paper that I wrote for an online writing course. It was my first experience with strictly following writing guidelines(Including margins and spacing, although I could not preserve those settings here) and making citations. In this paper, I used the MLA guidelines. I like how the subject of the paper combines two topics that I am interested in.

Wytse Gensemer
Mrs. McKinley
Writing: Research Papers and Essays
5 October, 2018

The Mental Benefits of Learning to Play Music at a Young Age
There has been music in human culture for longer than you might think. Musical instruments are among the oldest manmade objects ever found. Music was developed long before agriculture, and it might even have preceded language, as it could have been one of the factors that helped to create language. A love for music has not been naturally selected against, meaning that it might be, or might have been, good for survival or breeding in the human population. Thus, it has been very important for early humans and much used in our culture (Levitin 250). As it is such an essential thing in our culture and our minds, music can have life-changing effects. Young people who play music can get the largest benefits from these effects, even if they only play music for one or two years. All children should start learning a musical instrument by the time they are eight years old, because playing music can help brain development in ways that can benefit their thinking, mood and social life.

Why eight years old? The reason why it is best to start learning music at a young age is related to neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s amazing ability to change, in both structural and functional ways, to suit the environment, making the different parts of the brain similar to muscles in that they grow and become more effective when they are used often. Neuroplasticity for different skills peaks at certain times, known as critical periods. During a critical period for a skill, experiences related to that skill have larger effects on brain development. After a critical period, those experiences have little or no effect on brain development. The critical period for many things, such as learning languages, happens at about six or seven years of age (Mundkur 855-56). Someone can still become a good musician if they started learning after this age, but they would not have some added benefits that they would otherwise have, such as the increased amount of connections across different parts of the brain.
One of the findings about brain changes in musicians is that parts of the corpus callosum are larger when the subject has been playing music for a long time (Jancke). The corpus callosum is a bundle of nerve fibers that link the right and left hemispheres of the brain with each other. Another finding is that musicians have a stronger link in between their auditory and motor brain regions than nonmusicians. These are both adaptations for playing music, but the strengthened linkage in the brain might also be useful in other tasks (Jancke). An increased amount of connectivity is helpful, but there are other changes that music makes to the brain, some of which can be more widely applied.
Besides making the brain more connected, playing music can help develop academical skills. Recent studies have shown that musicians have better working memory than nonmusicians. Working memory lets people remember things temporarily while they are thinking about something else, so improved working memory makes people better at tasks involving reading and math (Benefits of Music Education 3). Amazingly, another study compared IQ scores of two study groups: children who were taught music, and children who were taught drama, and discovered that, after one year, the group that was taught music had a slightly higher average IQ score than the drama group, suggesting that children who play music can do better academically (Schellenberg 513). There are many ways that music is good for thinking and intelligence, but these things also depend on mood and general wellbeing, which music can also affect.

There are many ways that playing music is beneficial with feelings. One benefit is relieving stress or decreasing depression. A study by Jaakko Erkkila and colleagues used 79 adults with unipolar depression. One group was given normal treatment for the depression, and the other group was given music therapy as well as normal treatment. The music therapy consisted of tasks related to making music, including playing simple melodies, singing and improvisation. Over six months, the music therapy group showed a much larger improvement than the control group. The difference between these results is considered to be clinically relevant (132-36). It can be very good for someone’s overall mental health that music works well against depression, but this is not the only time when it can strongly affect feelings.
Music is shown to create positive feelings as well as suppress negative ones. Part of the way that it does this is that it gives musicians a sense of achievement, which can be caused by learning to play a song, getting into an ensemble or performing. Something that a musician will tend to do, especially if they play in an ensemble, is listen to music more often. Music listening has many known benefits. This has been demonstrated by a Swedish study, carried out by Professor Juslin and his team. Several students carried small computers which made beeping sounds at random times of the day. When each student heard the sound, they answered questions about whether they heard music at that time or not, and how they were feeling. The results were that, in any situation, music made them feel happier or more relaxed than at the times when they were not listening to music (Powell 37). Happiness can be elevated by music for all of the reasons described above, but happiness sometimes depends on social contact, and surprisingly, music can benefit a musician’s life in this way too.

Social life can heavily affect feelings, which in turn leads to changes in mental health, and there are ways that music can help people have a better social life through changes in the brain. One of these changes is a better auditory cortex which leads to empathy. In one study, young children who played music for six months showed more improvement in discriminating tones in speech than children who did not (Moreno et al. 712). Because subtle tones in speech sometimes indicate how a person is feeling, this helps children who play music have more empathy. This has been shown in toddlers who played music together (Benefits of Music Education 6). The increase in empathy means that people who play music can do better socially, even though this is mainly with the people they already know.
There are ways that music can make a person more successful socially by meeting new people and bonding with them. A very common thing for musicians is to play together in a small group, band, ensemble or orchestra. This not only gives them more social contact, but it also makes people socially bond with each other (Tarr, Launay and Dunbar). This bonding can let people make new friends more easily, leading to a better social life.

Seeing what kind of changes music causes to the brain, both temporary and permanent, the conclusion is that music benefits a musician’s life in many aspects, including that they are able to do better academically, emotionally and socially. All of these benefits are related to important factors for the success of a person’s life and their wellbeing. Most of the benefits are caused by changes in the brain, so if someone learns music at a young age when they have more neuroplasticity, they keep the benefits for their whole lives. Efforts should be made to teach music to young children more in schools and at homes, and to make learning music more affordable, so that yet more people can enjoy the benefits it brings.
Works Cited
The Benefits of Music Education: An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research. Toronto, Canada: The Royal Conservatory of Music, 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Erkkila, Jaakko et al. "Individual Music Therapy for Depression: Randomised Controlled Trial." The British Journal of Psychiatry 199.2 (2011): 132-39. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Jancke, Lutz. "Music Drives Brain Plasticity." F1000 Biology Reports 1.78 (2009): n.pag. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Levitin, Daniel J. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.
Moreno, Sylvian et al. "Musical Training Influences Linguistic Abilities in 8-Year-Old Children: More Evidence for Brain Plasticity." Cerebral Cortex 19.3 (2009): 712-23. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Mundkur, Nandini. "Neuroplasticity in Children." The Indian Journal of Pediatrics. 72.10 (2005): 855-57. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Powell, John. Why We Love Music: From Mozart to Metallica - The Emotional Power of Beautiful Sounds. Great Britan: John Murray, 2016. Print.
Schellenberg, E. Glenn. "Music Lessons Enhance IQ." Psychological Science 15.8 (2004): 511-14. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Tarr, Bronwyn, Jacques Launday and Robin I. M. Dunbar. "Music and Social Bonding: "Self-other" Merging and Neurohormonal Mechanisms." Frontiers in Psychology 5.1096 (2014): n. pag. Web. 2 Oct. 2018.