Saturday, August 30, 2014

Noah's Class Trip

Noah's school group put together a family Saturday activity.  The entire family was invited, but Lexi had a birthday party that day, so Chad stayed with her.  So, it was just Myra, Noah and I.  The bused us to a nearby city, where we boarded this little barge boat.  The boat trip took us through some of the canals and lakes in the area, before dropping us off to have lunch.  It was wet and rainy, but quite scenic.  Mostly the kids just thought it was so fun being on the boat. 

We ate lunch in the rain and then started walking along a country lane to another area where there was a nice beach and playground.  It was a very pretty area. 

But, along the way, our group was attacked by a swarm of bees.  The kids were just walking along in a group chatting and the adults were a little way off.  When we started hearing the kids screaming.  We ran back to them, only to find ourselves surrounded with a swam of wasps.  Noah's teacher said this particular wasp builds their nests in the ground and are very aggressive.  And indeed, the wasps continued to chase us down the road for quite some time.  It was pandemonium.  Kids screaming and crying and running around.  Amazingly, only 3 of the kids were stung.  I thought for sure it would be way worse, there were wasps everywhere.  As I was trying to get Myra out of the middle of it, I was swatting wasps away and I still can't believe I didn't get stung.  But, poor Myra was stung 5 times!  Twice on the head, twice on the back and once on the leg.  It was obvious they were so painful, she was crying and just wanted to go home.  The bad thing was that when the wasps attacked, Myra was holding a little burr she had found and when the wasp got her in the back of the head, her immediate reaction was to reach back with her hand, so them she had the burr all tangled in her hair.  I was trying to get it out to look at the stings, when I found a wasp still tangled up in her hair.  This was probably 5 minutes after the initial attack.  It was very traumatic.  We got the kids cleaned up best we could and then headed back to the bus.  Unfortunately, one of the girls was stung in the mouth and started having difficulties breathing.  We didn't really think she was having an allergic reaction, but that due to the location and how worked up she was, it was making it hard for her.  But, it was decided to call an ambulance, just to be sure.  They took her to the hospital and I heard later she was just fine, not an allergic reaction, but just the swelling from the actual sting.

I took this picture just moments before the wasp attack.  The hive was off to the right of the path, near that tree.

The ambulance pulling away and a very sad looking Myra.
All the excitement wore Noah out.
Anyway, it was quite the dramatic outing. It was fun to begin with, but a real bummer by the end.  Myra was a bit sore for the rest of the day, but just fine after that.  She was a real brave girl.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Noah turns 5

Noah had his 5th birthday this year.  Wow, where has the time gone?  I admit it was a hard birthday for me. My baby is 5! =''(

He was super excited though, of course!  He had a fun day at school, sharing brownies and playing with his friends.  Chad came home early and we went swimming.  Then we had Noah's favorite, Pizza, for dinner.  He opened presents and we had cake.  His theme for the year was Lego's, specifically Star Wars Legos.  He got a lot of Lego's for his birthday, exactly what he wanted, and was ecstatic. 
I'm so grateful to have had Noah in our family for 5 years.  He's is such a sweet, super little guy.  We love him so much!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


My has started 3Z this year.  She would be in 4th grade in the US and it kind of freaks me out how old she's getting.  How did she grow up so quickly?  Myra, of course, loves school.  She's always happy to go and see her friends and comes home every night with hours worth of stories to tell.  It's so nice having such a happy child, she makes everyone around her smile.

Here are Myra's stats for the year:

Age:  9 years 4 months
Height: 54.5 inches (4ft. 5in.) (71%)
Weight: 71.4 lbs. (63%)
Hair color: Strawberry Blonde

Grade:  2Z (3rd grade)

Teacher:  Maiken

What I want to be when I grow up:  A Teacher

Animal: Cats & Dogs
Food: Taco Soup
Game: Killer Bunnies
Toy: Big Stuffed Dog
Thing to do: Spend time with my family
Book:The 5 Kingdoms
Color: Purple and Blue
Movie: The Croods
Primary Song: I am a Child of God
My best friend is: Marie
Other friends I like to play with: Michael, Otto, Oliver and Lasse
Things I like to do with my friends: Play football (soccer) and Play crazy games
If I had a pet it would be a: Dog
named: Camille
What people like about me: That's I'm friendly
Things I can do really well:  Help Cook and playing with other people and helping others to be happy


Lexi started grade 1Z this year.  She has really struggled with wanting to go to school.  I don't really know why, she usually comes home happy, but she hates going in the morning.  I feel so awful, I send her out the door upset nearly every other day.  I'm hoping it gets better, so we'll see.  She's such a sweetie though and has a lot of friends at school and her teachers really like her.

Here are her stats for the year:

Age: 7 years 5 months
Height: 45.5 inches (3ft. 8in.) (2%)
Weight: 41.4 lbs. (4%)
Hair color: Blonde/Brown

Grade:  1Z (2nd grade)

Teacher:  Mads

What I want to be when I grow up:  A Diamond Miner
Animal: Pigs
Food: Grapes
Game: Killer Bunnies
Toy: Hippo (stuffed hippo toy she received when she was first born)
Thing to do: Swim
Book: Put Me in the Zoo
Color: White
Movie: OZ the Great and Powerul
Primary Song: I am a Child of God
My best friend is: Amanda
Other friends I like to play with: Silke, Emilie and Daniella
Things I like to do with my friends: Play Hopscotch
If I had a pet it would be a: Horse
named: Snowflake
What people like about me: My freckles and they think I'm cute
Things I can do really well: Backbends and making friends


Noah has started his 3rd year of Sproggruppen here in Denmark.  It's basically day care, they don't do much learning, except for the focus on getting the kids to speak Danish, which he's doing really well with.  He's one of the oldest in his class now and I think he misses a couple of the older girls he played with all the time before.  It's crazy to think that if we hadn't moved here, he could have started Kindergarten this year.  With his birthday being so late, we had thought about holding him back a year anyway, but now we will just start him in Kindergarten when we move back to the US.

Here are some stats for him this year:

Age: 5 years
Height: 44 inches (3ft. 6in.) (40%)
Weight: 39.4 lbs. (41%)
Hair color: Red

Grade:  Sproggruppen

Teacher:  Dorte & Emma

What I want to be when I grow up:  A Singer and a Football Player

Animal: Cats and Dogs
Food: Pizza and Spaghetti
Game: Wii Sword Fighting
Toy: Legos Star Wars
Thing to do: Go out on trips and stay at hotels
Book: My 5-year-old book
Color: Dark Blue
Movie: Star Wars
Primary Song: I am a Child of God
My best friend is: Iqra
Other friends I like to play with: Belal, Amal
Things I like to do with my friends: Play with Toys
If I had a pet it would be a: Cat
named: Max
What people like about me: I'm cute (haha, same answer as last year)
Things I can do really well:  Help others clean up (Oookkaaayyy, yeah right!)

Back to School

The day after returning from Germany, the kids all started back to school.  It was a little chaotic and kind of sad, the summer was so short!  Myra is now in 3rd grade and Lexi in 1st grade, here in Denmark.  Although if we were in the US, they would both be a grade higher.  Noah is still in the same Børnehave, preschool/daycare class.  He's one of the oldest this year and I think he's a little bored with it.  His teacher is very impressed with how well his danish has progressed though.  Can you believe how big these kids are getting?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Society for Invertebrate Pathology 2014

Usually when I meet someone new and they ask me about my work, I try to respond with the most basic answer I can - "I am a biologist. I study fungi that kill insects. Farmers can use it as a bio-pesticide". This is usually met with an insincere "that's interesting" and change of conversation. This, among many, is one reason I look forward to the annual Society for Invertebrate Pathology (SIP) meeting: it is one of the few places where I can tell a new acquaintance: "I am looking at how several species of the entomopathoginic fungus Metarhizium interacts when applied concurrently with the mycoparasitic fungus Clonostachys rosea on wheat seeds to mitigate two separate pests - root herbivores and the fungal-plant pathogen Fusarium culmorum.”  And instead of a blank stare they’ll answer with something like “do you know if both the biocotrol fungi are endophytic in your system?” 

I think Shannon always feels bad that I have to go and sit in meetings all day, listening to scientific talks – but really I find associating and interacting with people from all over the world who are doing similar research as me to be very refreshing. I always finish the week exhausted but eager to get back to work.
SIP flag
This was my forth SIP meeting so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.  First off, in order to justify it as a work event and not just a social gathering, nearly everyone that attends presents something they are working on, either as a scientific poster (think science fair for grownups) or a 15 minute oral presentation.  
Martina Flagiarda, a master student I worked with. This is her poster that I helped with.
A summary of what you are going to present has to be submitted usually 4 months in advance.  Last March, as we were preparing our abstracts, my professor suggested I apply for one of the student travel awards – an award given to a few students with the best applications.  I was fortunate enough to be selected as the winner for the fungal division. I was excited to have received the award but also a bit nervous because I had based my application on a preliminary study and was hoping that I could finish the experiment in the few months before the meeting. This ended up being more of a challenge than I had expected, as my first attempt failed completely and I was left with no results and only 6 weeks left. Luckily, with some careful planning and a team of hired students, I was able to finish with 10 days to spare.

I had decided to give an oral presentation this year.  I have had a lot of opportunities to stand in front of groups and talk, so usually I approach presentations with the confidence that as long as I know my story and I have the PowerPoint slides, I’ll find the words when I am up there.  However, as I prepared for this talk I realized that this approach was probably not going to work this time. First of all, the system I was using for my experiments was complicated with lots of different organisms being added together, whenever I had tried to talk about it to people previously they had gotten lost very quickly; secondly, since in the next 6 or so months I am going to need a job, I really wanted to stand out at this conference.

The first thing I decided was that I need to have very sharp PowerPoint slides that clearly showed was I was doing with very few words.  I am not very artistic, but to accomplish this I downloaded a trial version of adobe illustrator and started watching YouTube videos every night to figure out how to use it.  I know a lot of people probably could have created a flash animation that demonstrated the whole process I used in the same amount of time I spent on my simple illustrations, but I was quite pleased with how they turned out.
One of the images I used to explain what interaction I was interested in.

The next thing I did was to put a lot more effort in to the actual presentation. I watched several YouTube videos on how to give good presentations (YouTube is so great). I scripted most of what I wanted to say, with exactly the wording I wanted to use – I had a hard time coming up with a good intro and changed it several times. And then I practiced: by myself, in front of my colleagues, I even enlisted my wife and kids – the kids ended up being more interested in the laser pointer and how the cat reacted to it, but you take what you can get.  I was surprised how much this all helped, I always thought that if I practiced and memorized my lines it would make me sound artificial, but actually I think it helped me to sound more authentic.  

The conference started on Sunday night. Unfortunately, my talk was not until Wednesday, so I spent most of the meeting anxious to get it over with.  Despite my nervousness, I had a great time. I have gotten to know a lot of people from all over the world and this is one of the few places that I actually get to see them.
Everton and Alessandra - Brazilian friends I worked with in Logan
There were also a lot of really great sessions. I was particularly interested in several of the talks from industry representatives discussing the growth and future of the biocontrol industry – which is the side of the research that has always drawn my fascination.  From the Danish group I work with we had 10 participants attend the meeting, several of us gave talks or presented posters. Overall, as a group we all did very well representing Denmark. Which was a good thing since the President of the society is from our lab.
Jørgen Eilenberg just finished his term as president of SIP
Each year at the conference, on Tuesday afternoon, we have an excursion to some local attraction followed by a BBQ. This year’s excursion was really awesome. We took a 3 hour boat ride up the Rhine River, which is just amazing – every time the river bends there is another castle ruin – and then we toured an old castle and had the BBQ in the castle courtyard.  It was definitely a once in a life time experience.

Several of us from the danish group. photo by Erin Morris
With having spent several days prior to the meeting touring Germany and because of all that is crammed into each day during the conference I never got the chance to look at my presentation after leaving Denmark.  This added to my nervousness as I stood to give my talk but the presentation ended up going really well and I received a lot of good questions, complements and feedback afterwards – really I was just glad to be done with it.

Thursday is sort of a winding up day with some business meetings and down time, this gave me a chance to see my family while they were awake (most nights I got back to the hotel pretty late). Then Thursday evening we had a more formal banquet followed by a dance – I know its hard (and probably a bit humorous) to imagine 400 scientists on a dance floor but it happens.  

During the conference all the student presentations are judged and at the banquet, awards are given to the top three oral and poster presenters.  There were about 60 student participants so I was quite surprised when I was awarded the first place oral presentation prize (tied with another student).

Award presentation. Photo by Thomas Guthmann
Overall it was a really great conference. I got to talk with a lot of old friends and I met a lot of new ones.  While nobody offered me a job after I graduate, I think I got as much exposure as I could hope for. I came away with a lot of new ideas, appreciation for the work others are doing and a renewed confidence that my research is interesting and important to at least a few people around the world.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Germany 2014 - Part 5

With Chad's meeting over (he'll write a post about how that went) and the kids and I being thoroughly sick of McDonalds, we were excited to hit the road again.  We packed up and decided to drive up the Rhine River.  I was very excited to get to see this area, since it's just covered with old castles!  We took a ferry over the river and headed to the city Rudesheim am Rhein.  It was a very touristy city, with a lot of river cruise participants meandering around, but, it was also one of our favorite places of the trip.  Why?  Because of the incredibly awesome tram ride we took up the hill, over the grape vineyards. 

The gondola ride takes you up to the top of the hill to the Niederwalddenkmal monument.  The monument, built in the late 1800's to commemorate the foundation of the German Empire, was very impressive.

 But really, the ride up to it and back down was the highlight of the day.  Noah couldn't quit exclaiming, "That was so awesome! That was so awesome!"  The town of Rudesheim had a few fun streets to walk down and the kids bought a couple of fun souvenirs. 

After lunch, we headed back up the river.  We didn't really stop again, but it was a very enjoyable drive.  The river and surrounding hills were so beautiful.  I've decided one of my life goals is to take a Rhine River cruise.  As we drove, we saw castle after castle.  It was really fun. 

These pictures were all taken out the car window as we drove by the castles, so they aren't great.

After leaving the river, we drove through to The Netherlands, stopping briefly for dinner (at KFC!) and then on to our place in Belgium.  We found this really fun camping resort to stay at.  We got our own 2-story cabin, complete with 3 bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom and a BATHTUB!!!!! (We don't have a bathtub here in Denmark, so I definitely took advantage of having a tub!) When we arrived, it was pouring rain, so it was a little hectic, cold and wet getting checked in.  But, it was very exciting getting settled in for the night.  The next morning, we got up and went a exploring a little.  The resort had a lake, bike paths, playgrounds, boating and a large indoor area that included a koi pond, soft play for the kids, a bunch of restaurants, a store, ping pong tables, a spa and not to mention, a huge swimming area, with a wave pool, lazy river, and several slides.  We spent all day long swimming, playing in the soft play and ping pong table area and then some more swimming.  We were quite sad we had only 1 day there, it was a very fun place.  And although we spent our entire trip, seeing old castles, churches, museums, etc, the kids favorite part was definitely the swimming. 

The Koi Pond was really fun.  The fish swam up as soon as they saw you approaching.  They even had a couple of turtles for us to feed.

We could not figure out what this sign meant.  Any idea?

After a sad good-bye to the resort, we drove straight home, back through Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and up through Jutland back home.  The highlight of the day was finding a Carl's Jr in Kolding Denmark!  After waiting nearly an hour for our "fast food", we were still happy about finding a taste from home.  It was a long day of driving, so it was nice to make it back home.

 The trip was wonderful.  Germany is a really beautiful country and I hope to spend more time there in the future.