Lifetip 6: Calibrate and compare

This lifetip was originally supposed to be titled ‘Create your own compass’.

When Jesse Frederik discussed this lifetip in a Rudi & Freddie podcast episode, he lamented that fact that people tend to prioritize whatever fact they encounter most often.

He described that, as a consequence, we only seem to talk about what everybody else is talking about. His tip was meant as an encouragement to always ask ourselves what is important to us individually and to talk about that instead.

This all rang so true to me. I could think of dozens of examples of people that followed their heart, going against the stream, and making the world a better place because of it.

Also, Jesse Frederik proclaimed that people should make their own estimates and assessments with the available facts. You can do that by asking yourself, what ‘a lot’ means to you (for example when speaking about money)? What is a ‘big’, what is ‘small’? What is ‘wealth’? What is ‘poverty’?

Is a billion dollars investment in military equipment ‘a lot’? Should the amount going towards education be equal to that or would that be ‘too much’? Is a farmer in Spain rich or well off? Is he still rich when compared to farmers in the Netherlands? Is he rich in comparison to you?

Those type of questions are crucial for people like Jesse Frederik, who make a living from the understanding of politics and economics. It must be so frustrating to realize that people (including politicians and people in positions of power) have lost sight of proportions.

In money terms, it’s like everything above a million is just ‘a lot’, putting millions and billions and trillions all on the same heap of unfathomableness. This lack of understanding that we have of amounts and dimensions, is something I will go into further on another day, in another blogpost.

Whereto does the compass point?

Allow me to bring the focus back to the metaphor of the compass and the suggestion to ‘make your own’.

This lifetip was pretty much ready to be packed and posted, when the pandemic took over our lives. From that moment on, all sorts of people started deciding they knew what was good for themselves and their families in ways that were hard to fathom.

All of a sudden, me telling people to stand up for their own truths and to ‘create their own compass’, suddenly sounded like quite a dangerous notion, or in the very least an incomplete one.

I guess I had never considered the possibility that the idea of having an original opinion and a rebellious mind could backfire this way. That sounds incredibly naive now, doesn’t it?

So I came to the conclusion that suggesting you can make your own compass, implies that it is up to you to decide what North is. That is really not a good idea at this particular time.

We already know where North is, as well as East, West and South. The wind directions are not up for discussion. These are facts, backed by science and carefully crafted compasses (and modern day global positioning systems). The compass is fine. you don’t need a new one.

At the same time, I can not ignore the importance of questioning absolute truths every now and then and to never settle for answers like “That’s just the way it is” or “Because I told you so”.

So I went back to the drawing board.

True North

Something that applies to all compasses is that they are of no use if you don’t know where you are or where you want to go. If you don’t know what the starting point is, then there is really very little point in knowing what North, East, West or South is…

I then renamed the blogpost to “Find your own true North”, which is more of an encouragement to figure out which ideas you want to guide you through life.

I also contemplated if it would be different if the lifetip would be ‘Calibrate your compass’. This wouldn’t require a whole new set of truths (aka a new compass), just a re-allignment of your values with the current one.

It also reminded me of Jack Sparrow’s ‘broken compass’, that doesn’t point towards the classical wind directions, but only towards the thing you desire for most in life.

The idea of having a compass but no idea of ones position or destination paralyzed my whole thought process for a while.

Explorers and cartographers

When I found my courage to continue with this post, I decided to investigate the compass metaphor a bit further. I realized that, as a tool, it is most useful when you also have a map. With a map, you can pinpoint your location (or so I’ve been told) and analyze what you would encounter if you were to go in this direction or that.

Once you’ve decided where it is you want to go, the compass can be useful to set your course.

The map we all have to deal with in our daily lives, is one of those computer-game-type-maps where you only get to see the areas where you’ve already been and only fill in the rest as you proceed.

This means you will inevitably be flying blind for a a bit, until you pass a certain threshold and the new borders of the map become visible. I guess that notion comes closest to the way the first explorers had to navigate.

The point beyond the furthest anyone had ever gone remained blank on maps for many centuries. Dragons were drawn into these unknown territories to discourage people to go any further down that unknown path.

The parallel between that metaphor and life is that we can’t really know anything about situations in the future, nor anything that we haven’t experienced first hand.

I have to suppress the urge to type something sarcastic after the previous sentence, as it is almost insulting to have to say it. As professor Redundant would say: you don’t know what you don’t know.

Compare maps & compasses

Basing your choices in life solely on what you have experienced first hand is not very practical, though.

As an example; if I saw somebody diving into a pond from a high cliff and not die, I would assume I could do the same and survive as well. I wouldn’t need to measure the depth of the pond or the wind or check if the water was of the right density. I also wouldn’t check if there were crocodiles, sharks or anacondas down there ready to gobble me up. I would instantly accept that the reality that applied to the first diver would also apply to me (and that I would have fun in the process).

But what about the person standing on the side of the pond refusing to take the jump, convinced it would not end well? What reality does he base his ideas on? Does he have different facts? What does his compass read and what does his map show? Can both realities be true?

If I were to speak to the bystander, I could encourage him by saying “Come on and jump in with me! Hakuna Matata. It is fun!”. With that, I would be assuming many things.

His answer could be: “I am so clumsy, I would surely trip before making the jump and hurt myself with the fall”. I could comfort him by saying (without lying) that I had very poor motor skills myself and that if I could do it, he would surely be fine as well.

If he were to say “sure, but I can not swim”, that would definitely change things. It would indeed be dangerous for him to jump in, without being able to swim, and very reckless of me to encourage him anyway.

Pushing someone who can not swim to dive into a deep pond, would be homicidal. One could say that, from where I stand (with my compass and my map), it is quite rare to encounter someone who can not swim. It is customary for Dutch children to learn how to swim at an early age. My frame of reference tells me that, being an adult equals being able to swim. The possibility that an adult may not be able to swim, would simply not occur to me.

So… long story short: when speaking to someone with a different idea or opinion, it is very useful to check if your maps and your compasses are based on the same parameters, for you could be having a very long discussion without realizing you are simply not talking about the same thing.

Trust the equipment

This leaves me with the dilemma that I don’t want to encourage people to embrace ideas that are just not true.

After thinking it over, I arrived at the conclusion that people that are embracing ‘true fake news’, are not using a compass at all (and the fact that there we live in an era where we have to differentiate fake fake news (which is true) from true fake news (which is fake) continues to baffle me, but no something to go into further here).

People that are not willing to base their life decisions on facts but prefer to rely on gut feelings, would never look at a compass to decide whether to go left or right. They navigate more like Sandra Bullock did in the movie Birdbox; moving around in fear with a blindfold on, shooting at scary sounds and hoping for the best.

A compass will always just do that one thing, which is show you what direction North is. If someone would say “I don’t want a compass that shows me what North is, I want one that always points towards the closest supermarket”, you can simply conclude that they don’t really want a compass. That is not what compasses do. Period.

That means that the compass metaphor stands and that “Make your own compass” is still sound advice. The definition of that device already encompasses (hehehe) its parameters as well as its scientific origins.

Check your coordinates

Along with the creation (or purchase) of a compass one must also be encouraged to figure out the coordinates of ones current location.

I suppose that means you must become conscious of your position, which you can only do by looking around you and retracing your steps to where you came from.

Which lessons did you learn along the way? Ideally you would also ask yourself which lessons you didn’t learn, but that is a tough one (that goes back to the lesson professor Redundant brought us earlier).

What are your values? By whom were they instilled in you? What are your life goals and how do you wish to reach them?

Let’s say your life goal is “owning a house, a pool and a golden retriever”. Do you want to achieve said goal by working your ass off and slowly climbing the corporate ladder? Do you want to marry a rich gal or guy who will make all your dream come true? Or would you rather rob a bank?

All these options are viable. All of them have their up- and downsides. Your moral compass can help you decide which method fits you best.

The triad of tips

Congratulations, you have reached the bottom of the page and the end of this blogpost. The conclusion is that this lifetip consists of a triad of metaphorical tips:

  • Make and calibrate your own compass to set your course.
  • Determine your coordinates to figure out where you are, where you came from and where you want to go.
  • Check and compare your map and compass to that of the person beside you, especially if you plan to go out on an adventure together.

For now, I will leave any further translation of these metaphors to your own personal lives to you.

Comfort Food

Food is a hobby of mine, but mostly from the receiving end. I like eating.

I like trying different and new things. I’m also quite open minded when it comes to what can be defined as ‘edible’.

Tragically, I suck in the food-making department. I am lazy and impatient. On top of that, I am really clumsy.

When I moved into my current home a few years ago I quickly realized I had to improve my cooking skills (and willingness), given the fact that I moved to a part of town with a very high takeaway density. My budget, my health and the environment would all suffer if I gave in to all that temptation.

So, I signed us up for one of those meal-kit providers. We started receiving the ingredients for three meals a week. At first, my boyfriend and I endured the food making process by cooking together.

After about six months we were confident we had learned how to cook. We even dared invite friends over for dinner (cooked by us!) and they hardly ever complained of stomach cramps afterwards.

One of my favorite dishes I learned how to prepare in that time was the Ptitim with mushrooms, tarragon and lemonzest ricotta.

So yes, this is happening, I am going to share a recipe with you.

I’ve seen a variation of this dish in a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, which is more of a stew but features many of the same ingredients.

Ingredients (for 2 people):

  • 4 medium sized shallots
  • 1/2 lemon
  • fresh tarragon
  • fresh chervil
  • 100g ricotta
  • 250g cremini mushrooms
  • 600g pecorino or grana padano
  • 170g Ptitim / pearl couscous
  • 600ml of vegetable stock
  • oliveoil
  • butter
  • salt
  • pepper

About the ingredients

Ptitim, which is also known as pearl couscous or Israeli couscous, is not an ingredient I was familiar with previously. It has become a staple food at our place ever since we learned about it though. If you can’t get your hands on this variety of couscous, any type of pasta would work for this recipe.

The dish also includes tarragon, which in Dutch is called ‘dragon’. As if that isn’t reason enough to put into a dish it also happens to be superduper yummy. It has a sweet, anisey taste which I really recommend you get acquainted to, if you’re not already. If you can’t get the fresh variety, the dried stuff also works.

Chervil is not as easy to find where I live, especially not in the fresh variety. I have been forced to leave that ingredient out completely on several occasions and the dish was still really good, so no sweat if you don’t have it. The tarragon is quite essential though, so do try to include that one in some shape or form!

Step 1 – the choppy stage

Cut the shallot into small pieces. The original recipe advised to cut them in quarters, but I prefer them diced into smaller bits, but that’s just a personal preference.

Grate the lemon for some lemon zest. The recipe recommends half a teaspoon, but zest is such a specific flavor I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want a bit more or a little less of that.

You will also need approximately 1 tablespoon of lemonjuice and I recommend making lemonade from the rest.

Cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on their original size.

Chop up the fresh herbs.

Step 2 – the part with the fire and the pans and the stirring

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan and add the shallot until soft (low heat, about 10 min) and then add the mushrooms. Add some salt and pepper to the pan and let it simmer for a bit (10 more minutes).

In the meantime, prepare the pearl couscous according to the instructions on the package. Make sure to use vegetable stock and not just plain water to cook the couscous in.

Step 3 – mixing the lemony lactose bomb

Mix the ricotta with the pecorino cheese, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Add in a sniff of salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Step 4 – bringing it all together

Decide which of the two pans is going to be the cometogether pan. I suppose this depends on the size of the pans you have and which one is your favorite.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the appointed pan and then throw it all together. You can keep some ricotta and some of the herbs separate, as a garnish (but I usually don’t care much for that).

My boyfriend doesn’t like his dish as lemony as I do, so I usually hold some zest behind for my plate.

Don’t feel disheartened by the way it looks, I assure you it tastes really good!


This recipe of my favorite Comfortfood is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month.

Alphabet so far:

Resilient Light

Back in the days when I used to work at the office, I walked up and down to flights of stairs multiple times a day. The kitchen, the toilets and the mailroom were downstairs. My desk and the printer were upstairs. I suppose all of those things are still where they’ve always been, but what can you be sure of these days…?

The distance from my bed to my workspace has been reduced to six footsteps. The toilet is somewhere in between the two.

When I realized how small my world had become I decided to take small walks through my neighborhood during my lunch breaks.

In March, the blossom from the nearby cherry trees drifted sweetly through my empty street. The trees themselves were locked behind the closed gates of Leiden’s museum of ethnology. It was like the scene from a dystopian Japanese animation film.

When the museum started allowing people back onto its terrain, I immediately knew where my next walk would lead me. I sniffed the spring air and stared at the cotton candy trees for a while, fully realizing it would be gone in a few days.

I continued my walk around the museum building, towards the back exit that would lead me back to my home, my desk and my ringing telephone.

And that is when I stumbled upon the museum’s stunning mural. It is hard to believe I hadn’t seen it before, but there was no denying it now. It was like an explosion of light, color and static motion. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

There was so much going on in that painting, I did not know what to make of it but I was certain it meant something and I wanted to know more.

The wallpainting was signed: Yatika Fields.

Luckily, Yatika Starr Fields was quite easy to find, so I decided to contact him. I received an elaborate mail shortly after, in which he answered all my questions and more.

He let me know he had made the piece in September 2019 and named it “Resilient Light: accommodating strength, our land, our hearts”. 

foto: Peter Hilz

Being a Native American artist, he incorporated a lot of elements in the mural from his culture, such as sage and cedar, to symbolize a moment of inner reflection, of purification and of healing. This applied to the physical space the art piece was made in as well as the place in time.

By adding these elements in the mural I am creating a space where this is a metaphor to the healing past, but also to bless the mural and the space in occupies.

Coincidentally, the museum building has been a place of healing ever since it was built in 1873. At first this was the case in the most literal sense, as it was designed to be a hospital. It served for this purpose for half a century, but being an academic hospital they soon desired more lab space, as well as more comfort for the patients.

The Museum of Ethnology moved in in 1935, just a few years before the beginning of the Second World War. I can imagine any study of cultures or ethnology would have required quite some sensitivity during that epoch.

It would be interesting to see what the exhibitions looked like in the museum in the period before, during and after the occupation.

This year, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the end of second world war for the Netherlands and we are only now starting to reflect honestly and truthfully about where we went wrong, what we could have done differently and who deserves an apology (and then some).

All though 75 years may sound like a long time to come to terms with major historical events, Yatika Fields’ mural demonstrates that scars from the past can stay open for centuries.

The piece he painted was in fact “in commemoration of 400 years of colonial presence in America”, as he put it in his e-mail response. The museum will shine its light on this occasion in its own way, as well as many other institutions across the globe, as part of the Mayflower 400 celebration.

As a Dutch citizen I could say Native American history and modern day US policies have nothing to do with me, but if the past few months have taught me anything it is that everything and everyone is connected.

Decisions and choices made by one individual have consequences that ripple out in every direction and continue to be felt 400 years later.

Yatika Fields even expresses this in his piece, as he explained to me:

The light in the mural is a metaphor to strength. It’s leaving the hand of one figure and in a manner of projection is being caught and illuminated by the others.

This is significant in the distribution of resources, tribal identity, cultural knowledge to keep us sustained spiritually to persevere in all the difficulties we face as a people in the county we are from, from the colonizers.

We still face these issues today, in the light of COVID19. Native communities and communities of color are being targeted with lack of federal and government aid.

The shells and nautical reference relate to early trade in the Americas and thus reasons of expansions. The ocean and water between were a catalyst to change, just as the tides change with time.

In a way, the shells and nautical references in mr Fields’ piece are part of my story too.

I am the child of a development worker, the grand daughter of a naval officer for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and the great grand daughter of a preacher who sailed to the Dutch colonies, with the bible in hand.

It’s not up to me to apologize for the choices of my forefathers. It’s not up to me to defend them either.

All I can do is shine a light on my own actions.

I hope to be able to keep my sense of wonder and take in what the world has to tell me; be it through the blossom of a Japanese cherry tree, the symbolism of a mural or the conversation with a fellow human being.

Bring in the cedar and sage. Let’s talk. Let’s heal.

UPDATE: See how the mural was created on Yatika Fields’ own website.