Restful Days and the 12 Parcels to Tiredness

Today is one of those days where I just have to be, do everything delicately and as I feel ready.  I need to rest and be quiet and be in my own protective bubble.  Over the years I’ve learnt not to push myself when feeling this way, to not pressure or force myself, just to rest up.  Its always a bit backwards on such days, especially when I know I have time pressures and so much to do.  But its best to shut off from that, not think about it, and to lie or sit quietly until it passes.

Importance of Care

The reason for this? A migraine.  And in many ways a self inflicted one.  The result of my wisdom tooth putting pressure on the nerve, causing me ear ache, not taking pain killers as soon as I felt the headache develop, and rushing about all day in the heat, being stressed and holding tension in my shoulders, and not eating or drinking all day, not exercising, and not having a good diet the past few weeks.  Its not about blame, but a reminder of why I need to pay attention to my body and it’s needs and to put that first more often, especially when rowing across the ocean or hiking across the arctic.  I’m learning that my body isn’t as resilient as it once was, and ever since I had Guillain-Barre I’ve become very sensitive to neglecting to look after myself 100%.  When I’m on form, eating a really well balanced diet and exercising I have incredible stamina and energy, but if I change my routine or skip breakfast or eat junk food I end up in trouble these days.  How things have changed from how I was as a teen and could go out clubbing all night and sleep on people’s floors! Though we were pretty poor and had heart problems in the family, so I was brought up on a basic diet that didn’t consist of processed or fast foods and was always low cholesterol and with no added salt or sugar.

The Wisdom of Wisdom Teeth

I hate headaches, because they invariably drag on, make me sick, and mean I can’t sleep, effectively losing two days for each migraine I have.  I really need to get back on top of those things, and I’m looking forward to being able to raise enough money to go to the UK so I can have the surgery to remove my impacted wisdoms.  I’m not one to take medicine as I generally believe that pain is there for a reason, the body’s way of telling you not to do something and to listen to it and change something.  But headaches are different, and having researched migraines when I was a Neuropsychologist and having so many young friends (in their 20s) now recovering from strokes, I’m reminded on a daily basis, how important it is to look after oneself and not to push on regardless.

I was feeling pretty rubbish yesterday, for a few days in fact, combination of things, but the mouth ulcers have been driving me nuts, making me not want to eat, and the heat adding to that and making me feel nauseas.  Not the best start for the day that followed, though thankfully my team mate Brigid was an absolute trooper, met me at Elvis for breakfast/lunch and having her around really reduced the level of crappiness I was feeling and knowing how much energy I would need for the day ahead.

First Parcel

It started off pretty well, especially given how wobbly and weak I was feeling, and I felt a whole lot better after eating together and catching up on Brigid’s news and adventures.  I’d received a slip of paper from a postal worker who came to the house, and it turned out I had a parcel.  I wasn’t expecting anything, and thought it might have been for Brigid, but with a ‘care of’ address or something.  So I took my passport, and with the help of my amazing neighbour, we arranged a taxi that would take us first to the post office (he ended up charging just 50gel for about 9hours of service, so I’ll definitely be using him again, and he also said he will drive to Yerevan and even France! He was far safer that many local drivers too).  We arrived through the Georgian Post door just as the lady was closing it and she told us it was lunchtime and to come back later.  I think she saw the glint in my eye, steam about to come out of my ears, and so just as quickly she reasoned that probably she could let us by.  And two seconds later we had our package, and as a bonus, there was no handling charge for it.  It felt like forever, waiting for the guy to process the electronic slip that needed signing for as we were curious who the parcel was for (me or Brigid) and what one earth it might be.  Who would be sending a parcel to me?? I never get care packages or letters or parcels, its expensive to post here, so who would do such a thing?? The box was turned face down, so all we could do, was to stare over the counter at the square brown box, willing the guy to hurry up with whatever it was he was doing.

As soon as he turned it over, I saw the ‘Taylors of Harrogate’ stamp, and immediately knew what it was.  But it was big for a ‘small sample of tea’.  A few weeks ago I’d been talking to Victoria from Yorkshire Tea about our ocean row and OPG, and though they couldn’t sponsor us financially (because they already support lots of local causes) they told us they could send us tea samples from time to time.  But when she said a ‘small sample’ I was thinking more along the one or two tea bag level, this far exceeded expectation (160 tea bags!).

On Being from Yorkshire

I’m a typical British tea drinker and a tea snob, and my family has been drinking Yorkshire tea forever, probably because my grandfather was a Yorkshire man, from Todmorden along with centuries of his ancestors, now all buried on the same Yorkshire hillside (my granny being a Lancashire girl from Accrington!!!).  How a couple got together from two such counties remains a mystery, since there has been a divide since the 1400s when the two royal houses of Lancaster, Lancashire (where I bought my house) and York in Yorkshire (where my aunt lives), went to war in the 1400s to fight for who would be the next King, known as the ‘war of the roses’.  Probably explains a thing or two about my temperament with a mixture of Yorkshire, Lancashire, McDonald, McEvoy, McAlpine from the Scottish ancestors, and Irish (Dublin, Fermanagh, and Waterford), Sheffield (where the Irish clan moved to), and French Celt on the other side!!  With Funeral Directors on the one side and sailors on the other, though I’m not sure I inherited the ability to use either a saw or embalming fluid.  Most of them it turns out, were Free Masons.

Anyway, parcel collected in record time, no charge, taxi waited, off to the next location: USA2Georgia with our slip from the Revenue Services that gave us tax emption on the parcels and off we went to Sabartalo to collect the parcels.  Wrong! We got there, we picked up three packages from downstairs with no problem at all.  Then we went upstairs to collect the rest which needed customs declaration, though it seems they had been randomly assigned to customs, and we’d already had another parcel delivered to the house.  The main reason for this, being that when we ordered everything, it was sent out randomly in different dispatches so when I came to declare it online, I had no idea what each package was, and because each box had been opened, it meant that what would have been one package, got split up into separate ones, so instead of receiving the laptop and three giftvouchers as one, it came as 4 items, and we ended up having to pay customs on educational gift vouchers that were given to us as part of an educational deal.  Two of them were clear of customs, the third wasn’t! So we paid for something that we hadn’t actually purchased, along with the shipping charge for it. Ouch!!! But, we sat and waited for a while, worrying how much the taxi was going to cost as we’d not expected to be quite so long, and now we were waiting to be served and it looked to be all very complicated.  Eventually we got served and the complications began.

We weren’t on the Revenue Services system as tax exempt.  OK, well maybe it was because the document was only emailed yesterday and they hadn’t updated the system yet??? Nope, it says you’ll get the answer on the 6th of August, you’ll have to wait util then to get your parcels. Lots of cursing amd sighing on our behalf.  A lot of faffing around, people calling each other, and a very helpful customer who also tried to help clarify everything, and lots of calls from USA2Georgia to the customs office to try and clarify things.  No go. So, after an hour or so, back in the taxi, dropped Brigid off at school to teach her mandatores, and I continued on to the Revenue Services, who it seems have now moved into their new office and there were workmen busy doing things around them and their shiny new booths and computers.

The Psychics!

The lady ‘Tamara’ we spoke to on the previous visits, and who had made our application, was away today so that was a shame, as she had been super helpful and very professional on our previous visits. So I found the central desk, waited to be served, and then discovered that I’d have to sit and wait with all the other people for an hour, bearing in mind that they hadn’t yet set up any queuing system, so it was reliant on the lady on the desk, who seemed to be responsible for doing everything, remembering which person was next in line and remembering to call you.  She told me I would be after that ‘gogo’, not actually pointing, and with the cultural annoyance of ‘gogo’ meaning girl and to me ‘girl’ is a child, not a grown woman, unless you want to be patronising.  I didn’t see any girls, but I did see a line of ladies and their husbands, so I was none the wiser, exactly which ‘girl’ was before us.  All I could do, was resort to staring at the ‘girl’ at the desk, and hoping that it wouldn’t end up the same as the ticketing system at Tbilisi City Hall, where we had waited about two hours, only to harrass the people in the office, who discovered that their machine was broken!

Eventually she called me over, bearing in mind that I’d given her no information whatsoever, she didn’t know my name, my company, or anything about me.  She called me to the front of the desk and announced to me that my application had been turned down.  I love the whole sense of privacy and confidentiality in Georgia! Only glad that I wasn’t getting a verdict of genital herpes or something, though I’m pretty sure that would be announced in the same way.  I wasn’t satisfied.  We spent a lot of money on four Revenue Services visits, we had printed every thing they had asked for, got it translated, notarised and paid for all of this ourselves.  What could they mean, turned down? Why? What should we do next? Who had decided this?  How did she even know who we were or what I wanted?  I needed answers in order to move forward, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being fobbed off, especially having not given any of my details and I’d never met this person before.  Sure I’m a foreigner and I stick out, but come on!  She called the lady we spoke to before, who was not here today apparently, which seemed a bit weird.  If she was on holiday, then why were you calling her???? Majorly confused!


She took me up some steps, and along to a booth, to a young girl, who looked terrified, and was plastered in make up and bright lipstick, which was probably as well, given that she looked about 12 years old.  I wasn’t immediately impressed I have to say, especially when greeted with a slumped over girl whining to the reception lady ‘ooowwww, ar minda’ like some stroppy teenager.  Followed by ‘ar vitsi’.  Basically ‘oh, I don’t want to’ and ‘I don’t know’ as in I don’t know anything about my job and I sure as hell don’t want to deal with a foreigner.  Such a shame given that I’d previously been impressed with the revenue services I’d received.  The reception lady, who was equally as young. but a whole lot more professional and was at least making an effort, coaxed her into at least printing off the answer and the reasoning.  It turned out that we had been turned down for tax exemption at customs, and after a lot of persuasion I was able to suss out that it was because we didn’t submit enough documents.  I appreciated that it would be hard for them to translate legislation speak Georgian into legislation speak English, but was appalled that the receptionist was the one trying to do everything, and without any help or even moral support from the girl at the computer, whose job it actually was.  I asked them if they could copy and paste the answer into google translate so that I could at least see for myself what was going on, especially since the document I have said we were cleared and I’d received no other information and they weren’t going to give me a copy of this answer until I literally had to demand it.  Translating it myself, would mean typing each character into google translate for myself, far easier for her to copy and paste from her computer, so I could see what it said and ask any questions I needed to, whilst I was here.  Apparently the other document was to say that we were registered as a charity with the revenue services, but what we had been turned down for was the customs exemption bit.  She refused to google translate for me, and instead continued to check her facebook page, leaning on her left elbow, avoiding all eye contact and sucking in air in a very annoying way.  I know so many young people in Georgia who would love her job and would be so great at it, and even my smallest attempts to speak Georgian were met with attitude.  I was pretty calm and reasonable up until that point, but the girl made me really angry, and so I called up my neighbour to see whether she would have more luck.  Make Up girl could ignore me as a foreigner, but she surely couldn’t ignore an older Georgian?  She didn’t want to, but I thrust my cell phone at her, determined that she should at least make some attempt at being a grown up and doing her job.  My neighbour rarely gets angry, and she was also  livid after her conversation.  I was going to get nowhere here, and the girl was still staring at her facebook page and looking as if she might just burst in to tears at any given moment.  I did telesales once, I was good at it, but I hated it, because I hated selling a product I didn’t believe in, and the whole fickle nature of the job.  If you didn’t make your quota of sales each week you’d lose your job, and you’d easily be pulled up for ‘negging out’, bringing a negative attitude to the office.  It was fast paced, they would play music at us at intervals, to try and hype us up, and they’d sit at the end of the table listening in on your calls and then telling you where you went wrong or why you didn’t get the sale.  You’d get rewards for each sale you made, and it was like selling your soul to the devil.  It was great money, but I hated it and I soon quit, as it was just a job to do before med school started as I could earn five times as much as I would in my Social Services job trying to put families and their teenagers back together again.  I saw on that girl’s face, that soul destroying feeling of being in a job that you hate and wondering whether there is a life out there somewhere or is this it for the rest of your days.  It made me glad to think that, no matter how stressful and frustrating my days are as Director of OPG, at least it is a job that I love and I don’t have superiors to answer to and I don’t have to sit and wonder when I can escape.  But it was also hard to feel sorry for her, with her bad attitude and reluctance to help.  I’ve noticed a lot of this recently, young people in jobs they seem to hate, deluded and tricked that there is life after education and study.  In the shops I visit, in the street, mostly young girls looking sad and unhappy, but not seeming to want to change it.  Maybe its just the heat of summer draining their energy, but I miss that work ethic.  Its a major difference between the British and Georgian cultures.  In Britain, its hard to get a job and there are always people who would jump at the chance of taking your job, so even if you feel shit, you rarely display it, because if you behaved like a lot of the guys in Georgia, you’d be instantly sacked, and if you get the sack, its hard to get a new job, especially as you need a reference from your last employer.  Employers frown upon people who have had too many jobs, regardless of the reason why. And one bad job can render you unemployable for the rest of your career, and everything should be added to your CV and future job applications.


But I had a serious problem now.  I’d left money in the budget to cover tax, but now we had spent half of it on translation and getting documents together, and travelling back and forth to the tax office.  Not to mention that I had postponed my flight to Latvia by a month, with fares increasing from 100euros to closer to 400euros, and this now meant that I could have taken the laptop when it arrived weeks ago, rather than waiting on the tax exemption.  I was concerned at how much the tax would be, and asked if I could borrow a calculator to work it out quickly, because if I didn’t have enough money for the tax, then I had a huge problem.  The items if not paid for, would be given to customs, but then I’d have to put in my report to Lush who gave us the money, that I had spent the money, but that we didn’t have the items because we didn’t have enough money for tax and that they had been kept by customs.  They cannot be sent back from the office to the sender.  The girls were annoyed with me now, they didn’t have a calculator, they didn’t know how to work out tax, didn’t know how much the tax was in Georgia, and wouldn’t use the computer’s calculator.  They were being intentionally difficult and complaining that people were waiting.  Tough luck! I’d waited an hour to be served, I’ve spent four days at your offices and you kept me waiting over a week for an answer that you can’t explain to me, or help me with, and you are purposely being difficult for no reason at all, you’ve time to play on your facebook, and if you just gave me the calculator instead of arguing about it then we could have sorted all this by now!  Now I was angry.  And I realised it was pretty pointless dealing with this idiotic girl who had no interest in anything other than her facebook page.

To-ing and Fro-ing

So off I went, back to USA2Georgia.  I showed them the document, and they translated it for me, and tried to think of different ways to help.  I couldn’t take the parcel, because they were for OPG, not for me personally, how could we get this all to work.  We spent ages and they were incredibly patient and helpful.  The office was a little less busy than before, and I think they could see how frustrated I was.  I needed to go back to Revenue Services, get my personal fiscal number, and a letter from them to explain that the items were for my project.  No that wouldn’t work, we’d have to try something else.  Back I went in the taxi to the revenue services.  Saw the same lady at the desk, sat and waited, and eventually got taken up the stairs to another booth, to a pregnant lady, and one who was calmer, more interested, spoke a little English, and also made efforts to try and sort things out.  I also had the number for the very nice lady at USA2Georgia who could talk to them and tell them exactly what I needed, if they started to be difficult.  I was worried now, because if I took the parcels under my own name and not as OPG, would I be breaking the law and how would it be financially when we either appeal the decision, or present our tax and accounts come April next year, when hopefully we should get the money back.  Doing it as myself could potentially create a problem and could get me in trouble.  This lady was fairly helpful, and soon enough I had what I needed.  Back I went to Sabartalo to the warehouse where my parcels had been sat for quite a few weeks now.  There was so much paperwork to do, all of which was made more complicated by the way things had been dispatched, as tax had to be paid per shipment rather than per items, plus there was tax on the transportation and on the free gift vouchers since according to Georgian law they are worth money.  Apparently the same, even it it had been a ‘spend $50 and get a free pen’ type voucher.  We were there for hours, and they even stayed behind three hours more after they closed, just so they could help me out, and we even had some giggles, and I was pleasantly surprised with how lovely they were and how incredibly helpful.  We talked about OPG and the row, and I left feeling as if I’d made two new friends, which was very unexpected.  I got freaked out at one point, as they explained that the only way you could make payment to the customs people, was by going to Rustaveli 24 hour bank and making a cash payment into the customs account.  OMG, another journey, to Rustaveli and then back for the parcels, sheessh!  But it was fine, apparently you can take the parcels but you have 30days in which to make the payment, bearing in mind that all the documents throughout the day were written in Georgian, and for those of you who don’t know what Georgian looks like it is like this: ჰდუჰდჰჰდჰჰოჰეოდგყგყგბცკრლეოტეყრყყ so not only, do I have to translate the Georgian letters into symbols I am familiar with, but I also need to know what the words themselves mean, plus all the legal terminology, so it creates a lot of extra annoyance, plus every conversation anyone has with other people, and on the phone, is in Georgian, so you have to work doubly hard to try and understand what is being said, what is the problem, and what can be done to resolve it, or what paper is needed, And in Georgia, there is a tendency for several people to talk at exactly the same time, and for people not to pay attention or listen, or at least appear to be not listening, which when combined with British politeness and manners, is quite irksome and against all the things I’ve been taught to do or not to do!

Sick of the Tax

I’m stressing now, because our tax amounts to some 900gel, which we would have had, if I hadn’t paid out for translations and notary services, and now I have to use my own money to make up the difference, which will really screw up our accounts and the report that we have to send to Lush who gave us the funds.  I’ve also forked out my own money for taxis and days lost, with the result that I don’t know whether I can go to Latvia now, and if I do, I might be putting myself in financially jeopardy longer term.  Its a huge lesson to learn, but has still saved us on buying any other way.  Its something that has to be sorted out, especially because we are looking for donations in kind for OPG and the ocean row, and applying for around 4million euros.  The food alone for the ocean row is worth over £21,000 and there is no way we can be paying tax on that kind of stuff, so we need to get it sorted asap.  On the plus side, we have 30days to make the customs payment, and I hope that I can find out what was the problem, and what can be done about it to resolve the issue.  Because we gave absolutely every document possible, and everything that they asked for.  Alternatively, I hope that we can claim it back in April.  Its not a big big deal, we can work around it, and it isn’t the end of the world, but its a massive frustration and extra stress and seems very unfair right now.  Even to just know the reasoning behind the decision would be a help, especially for applying in the future. And why tell us we had it, and then say we haven’t.  The technical side I can deal with, but being confronted by stroppy teenagers is not acceptable at all.  That really aggravated me, was totally unnecessary and is the kind of reason why Georgia gets a bad name.  If you want to attract foreigners to work and invest money in Georgia then you have to step up on the customer services.  They have so many good staff, yet they are let down by people like that who would be better off staying at home than being the face of the Revenue Services, and I really wonder how on earth she got that job, or why others are carrying her workload. If she is out of her depth and really doesn’t know anything, then why the hell hasn’t someone trained her and why has she been thrown in at the deep end.  Staring at your computer screen in tears helps no one, least of all the person themself.  Get the girl a mentor, teach her something, get her making tea for god’s sake, but please don’t put her in a job where she has no clue at all.  Give her a calculator at least, tell her about the rate of tax in Georgia, because I’m sure I’m not the first or last person to ask her, and even I know what the tax level is.  Teach her about work ethic, about not playing on facebook when there is a customer, teach her to give eye contact, to sit up straight.  Put her in the USA2Georgia office for a while, that will sort her out.  There she will learn super customer service, how to use initiative, how to be friendly and professional, and how to get the job done, that gives you this thing called job satisfaction, which means you go home happy and fulfilled.  Just place her there, for even one day so she can learn something, because clearly she learnt nothing at school.

Loveliest People in the World

I’m super, super thankful and very gobsmacked at just how amazing USA2Georgia were, and were throughout my dealings with them.  I was a bit frustrated at some of the website being in English and some in Georgian, but if I sent them an email they replied promptly and with a proper answer, or they directed me to where I could find the information if they didn’t have it themselves.  They told me what to do to make future purchases easy and to contact them before hand so they could help and make sure declarations and tracking numbers match.  They helped me in my dealings with the tax office, used their initiative, gave me a drink when they realised I’d been running about all day, they helped me carry the parcels, stayed three hours later than they should have, and looked at every single option, and making sure they did everything properly and legally.  They were far superior to any company I think I have ever met, in any country.  They understood that if I was frustrated it wasn’t personal, that it was the situation and they helped to manage that frustration.  They understood and they listened.


I left with all of my packages, and though the battle is not over yet, since I still have to tackle the tax, it is a little nearer to the end.  By the time I got home, did a lot of chores and things, I was exhausted.  I’m feeling crappy today, palpitations and headache and shaky from my migraine last night.  I’m not ready to tackle anything big today, I need to rest up.

Cosy and Restful

I’m snuggled up with Isla and Street Cat, who seems to respond to the name ‘Isla’ too and follows the dog everywhere, and I need to just sit quietly today.  I can’t think properly and I can’t do any mental of physical work right now.  It’ll pass soon enough, its just my body’s way of asking for a time out.  I’m ready to be in Latvia now, I need to be there, eating and resting and recharging as I work on the book.  Today is a day to just be, and to make a list of jobs that need to be done, so that when I’m ready, I can tackle them again.  But its all a good lesson and practice and though its a bit crappy, its just a normal part of life, you have to deal with it and move on.  And I’m lucky that I have the luxury of being able to do that, and now I have my Yorkshire Tea too, to be drunk and to melt away all my body’s aches and pains and to warm up every corner of my being.  Great things really do come in little packages.


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Travels are Almost A Go!!

At last it Came!

Its been another busy old week here, and today I was very happy to see that OPG got the tax exemption through from the government of Georgia.  This is a really big deal, as it means that anything we order for humanitarian/charitable work from now on is exempt from customs tax on arrival into Georgia.  This is huge, especially as a new NGO, with limited funds and having to watch every penny with a very beady eye.


It also feels better for other reasons too.  As you’ll already know, we recently received funding from Lush in the UK, our first grant application, and which we are immensely grateful for, even though they don’t like to shout about their charitable deeds because that isn’t what they are about.  We applied to them for specific items and for specific uses, and it might surprise you to hear, that I found the process of spending that money to be quite stressful and a massive responsibility, from a legal and a moral point of view.  Lush accumulates charitable money through it’s ‘Lush Charity pots‘, that means that a customer on reaching the shop, purchases that particular item because they want to give money to the causes that Lush supports.  The accumulated donations then get granted after an application process, and they support some really amazing causes.  I’m also one of those customers, and so I felt like I had to represent each and every customer who invested in us, and that our cause has to be equally as worthy as another.  That involved a lot of research and decisions on exactly what we really did or did not need for our work, and how to make that budget stretch in the best way possible, whilst also making OPG sustainable, environmentally friendly, and thinking about short and long term needs.


Choosing Computers

With that in mind, we decided on the computers we would need, and the camera equipment.  We decided on Apple, because we can network the computers together and they will be used for our everyday project sessions, office work, grant making, OPG International web site building, book publishing, educational outreach work prior to the ocean row, and the ipads will also join us on the ocean row itself (in special aquapac water tight bags).  They needed to be tough and durable, with different users in mind, including the intellectually and physically disabled children we work with, street kids, orphans, refugees, and more affluent children.  We need to be able to make high quality video footage, including 3D and 360 degree educational videos, and we need good storage for all our photos, video footage, and documents.  The benefit of Mac products is that they are all compatible with each other, and that means that the four main project leaders and ocean rowers based in the UK, Georgia, Sweden, and Latvia can automatically update anything on any of our networked iphones, ipads, or laptops.  As we grow and get more staff, we can add to that, even to the point where we can add our diaries and share audiobooks, music, movies, and educational apps.  That means that we can each be working with a different group of young people on different things, at the same time, and have access to all the course materials.  I’m no technical whizz and I’ve a lot of things to figure out, particularly in relation to spreadsheets and setting up financial packages, so its a huge learning curve now.  And also a step up for OPG in becoming a more serious charity.

Serious Money, Little Steps

Over the next twelve months, we’ll be applying for around 4 million euros, to acquire premises, and to pay salaries to our volunteers and so on so that means we need to get everything right and simple to use in terms of packages, apps, and documentation before we grow and get more zeros to stress over.  We’ll also be setting up scholarships for our first group of Oceans Ambassadors, coming back to us this year as Assistant Leaders, so that they can take GCSEs in subjects that interest them, and to get funds for their university education.  In another year’s time, they will hopefully be Project Leaders and we want to support them with references and applying for exchange visits, internships and other opportunities.  Right now I live off around 2gel per day, investing everything I have in project, because I love what I do and I see a great future for us, and its always good to aim high.  The next few years are really exciting, especially to think that we started just over a year ago as a little club at my school with a few 12 year olds who lead us and tell us what things they want us from us.  We may or may not get the funding we apply for, but that isn’t the point.  Its all about the attitude and the dream and stepping up to another level in what we do.  Last year we were a baby, now we are crawling, and taking our first steps towards walking.  Its an exciting time for sure.

Pitch Book

This week I’ve been working on our pitch book for sponsors for the ocean row and the arctic expedition, and its clear to me, just how entwined my passions are and how much I love OPG.  The aim of the two expeditions is to promote OPG and its work, to raise funds to continue what we do, and to reach as many young people worldwide as we can, especially those who don’t have access to the outside world or the chance to travel.  This is vital for promoting good environmental behaviour, as you need to think and understand your impacts globally to understand why changes need to be made.  This is a potentially massive campaign we are running here, a very serious one, but also fun and stimulating.  Looking at and analysing the best way to do things, just like choosing those first computers.  We chose them from Apple for lots of reasons, but also because we were able to secure educational discount from them, and vouchers that we can use to purchase applications, ebooks, tunes, and documentaries that we can use with our groups and to make life easier on every level.  Yes, we had to ship them from the USA, but it does mean that we will run as a pretty much paper free organisation and will be able to modify everything online, which will also save time and money and make us more efficient so that we can focus on what matters the most.  We went through a lot of hurdles to get that, figured out the best shipping, and the most cost effective and best value items, researching every option available to us.  So, to go through all of that, only to end up spending the money we saved on customs would have been incredibly frustrating, especially after all the agony of getting every single document and charity application translated into Georgian, notarised and included in our inland revenue application, spending money on extra services, and for converting currencies, etc, etc.  As a Lush customer, I would want every penny I invest, to go to that cause, that child, that project, not to be sucked up in tax and such things, though that does also have an important place in the economy and infrastructure.  It isn’t such a big deal for us as OPG, but for some charities, that is the difference in being able to feed a or provide medicines to a child for a year for every £1 not spent on tax at each stage of the journey.  Tax to convert the currency at the bank, transfer fee, to purchase an item, and then for postage and shipping.  That all really adds up, and I know I would feel like I did a diservice to the people I serve if I’d taken the easy option and just done things the quickest and most easy way.  That is the difference in being able to purchase two ipads receiving $300 worth of donated itunes vouchers and not having enough to purchase them – its huge!

The Next Step

Now we finally received our document, its just a case of getting everything to the customs department and collecting our items from USA2 Georgia where they have been sat waiting for us for several weeks.  Hugely annoying for me on a personal level, as its hot here and lots to do, and I was supposed to be in Latvia with my family from the 12th July, but instead have been waiting here and growing more and more impatient.  I’ve not been able to do any of the work I needed to do, since my laptop died a death, and just doesn’t have the strength to handle anything other than the most simple task, and even with that it crashes, and will only work with the battery removed.  The cursor picks up anything it wants, at random, deletes them and moves them, and my number 3 key, which also happens to be the ‘£’ symbol is also broken and doesn’t work.  Not great when you are putting together financial budgets, risk assessments, and sat in 40degree heat, being eaten by mosquitos.  Having a new computer, with memory and speed will be heaven, but is equally going to be time consuming for a while, like anything new.  The technology will be different, I’ll need to tidy up and transfer files, organise them, and set it up to a way that I like to work with, figuring out how the ‘Time Capsule’ thing works and networking everything together.  Those are the kinds of things that irritate me and which I have little time for, and just drive me nuts, but are essential for our everyday functioning.

Thankfully, once the computer arrives, it means that I can finally book my flight to Latvia, though unfortunately the prices have doubled now and I don’t have enough airmiles to cover the whole cost now.  That’s a personal cost, but was in the interest of OPG, and being able to visit family is a huge luxury.  So begins, a crazy week, as I need to get my dog to the vet for her blood test for the flight, book my flight, have my first haircut in well over a year and need to buy some clothes, things that I can’t afford, but which I’m beyond needing now.  I have one pair of shorts, have been living in them since about May, but will be going from near 40degree heat to Latvia’s 17degree heat.  I need layers, and I’ll be seeing people at the airport, etc, so I can’t really be seen in shorts full of holes and threadbare!!

The Book

I’m most excited about being by the sea, eating properly again, and enjoying being with my family and living off the land and having saunas and early morning swims.  The pace will be pretty intense still, but with a more relaxed environment, conducive for what needs to be done.  Pressure is on me, because the publisher needs my finished book ready for it to be printed in September, though I have been working on it in my head, I now need to get everything on paper, or rather the new computer, as its a special template that I have to upload my work on to, and it won’t run on my current one and there isn’t sufficient memory to run it.  That gives me less than a month to get all the artwork and writing done, and uploaded ready for printing by the 12th September and delivered ready for the next intake of students!  The book will be my top priority over summer.


Around writing for that, I also need to get training again as I stopped my yoga sessions, thinking I’d be off anytime soon and won’t be back with classes properly until I return to Georgia in September.  It should be fairly easy for me to structure my day though, doing yoga in the sand dunes, running on the beach, pulling tyres (if I can find one) and swimming in the sea with my step sister.  I’m looking forward to giving Isla some quality time too.  She’s such a good dog, loving and patient and uncomplaining.  Moving to Georgia has been horrible as a dog lover, as I no longer get to take her out on long country walks or runs, and there is no where to play with her off the lead.  We are constantly afraid of stray dogs and people are often scared of her.  So living on the beach again will be fantastic.  She won’t use her lead the entire time she is there, she can be free to come and go and walk on the beach as she pleases, and she’ll have everyone around to play with.  She’ll be sleeping with my sister, cleaning the baking bowl for my step mum, and being given fresh fish when the fishermen return with their daily catch.  She’ll get to play with all her other iggy friends, and she’ll spend hours sunbathing on picnic blankets and under her favourite apple tree, or teasing her boyfriend, an old jack russel called ‘Jackie’.  It’ll be great to be back in nature again, falling asleep to the sound of the wind, rain, and waves, and being able to see the stars because there are no lights for miles.  And I’m especially looking forward to moonlit skinny dipping sessions, honey and salt saunas, and the wind in my hair. I want to be out with my camera, pottering around looking for spiders to practice photography on, and hunting for snakes and lizards, during breaks from book writing.


Time is going to pass so fast over the next two years and its incredible to think how much there is to fit in, and to break everything down into stages.  I’ve been putting the book off in my thoughts, because I had to compartmentalise everything and make it into bite size chunks, hence why I couldn’t get a haircut or new clothes until I knew I would be off to Latvia.  I like closure on things and I have to mark off events, crazy I know.  Getting hair cut and some new clothes at last, marks the start of the next chapter for me, a kind of growing up as Project Director, something I probably developed from loving the start of the new term at school, especially September.  It was the one time of year, we we were guaranteed a hair cut and new shoes, and if we were super lucky, a new pencil case or pen.  September was the start of my favourite season, Autumn.  when its sunny, but the smell is fresh and new and clean.  I guess that is why I wanted to end the year here in Georgia, and then move into the next stage, by being in Latvia, moving forward again.  I’ve been in limbo here, and I’m eager to move on.

So that means writing the book, and getting fit.  Ready for September when I return to Georgia.  That will be another chapter, and an equally hectic one.  I will have a week to organise our OPG Award ceremony for the Ambassadors and need to take bookings and advertise the course for the new Ambassadors.  I will need to write a speech, find something posh to wear, and organise media coverage for the event, and to launch the row and pitch book officially.  In October, I need to get a huge funding application done, in November I need to visit London, so will need to find funds for that, and to get my wisdom teeth sorted.  Then I need to get the OPG International website finished and launched with a lot of media coverage and interviews in Australia ready for launch on Australia Day, the 26th January.


By February I need to be very fit, as I’m due to visit Norway with Hannah for our first training session for the arctic expedition, a world first attempt to reach a place that no one has ever been before.  Its huge and daunting, but equally yummy.  If funds or airmiles allow, then hopefully I can be back in Latvia over Christmas break, back on the beach, but this time pulling tyres over ice and frozen beach. We’ll spend two weeks in Norway, crossing a glacier, ice climbing, uses ice axes, pulling pulks, kite skiing, and learning rescue and survival skills.  I’m no where near ready yet, mentally or physically, so summer is going to be a good foundation for me, ready to train seriously and eating properly again.  In Autumn the film crew and archaeologists arrive to work on project!!


Then, come July, we’ll be busy training, fundraising, and attending conferences and talks for the ocean row and our boat will go on display in the UK and start its outreach campaign. Before we know it it will be June 2014 and we’ll leave California for Honolulu for the race, before continuing on for 6 months to row all the way to Australia.  Returning back to Georgia for a few months, before our arctic expedition in Spring 2015.  Then it’ll be time for me to settle down a bit and find some new challenges in life, providing that I haven’t been lost at sea or died in the arctic!  Though I wouldn’t care too much, because I’d be happy doing what I love, though I would prefer to live to a ripe old age and have hundreds of stories to bore my grandkids with.  And I’m quite looking forward to becoming one of those old ladies who can say anything she likes and be rude to people, and get away with it because I’m doddery and old and can’t help it!!

Marine Debris

But all this expedition stuff has a very serious cause underlying it – marine debris.  That is what OPG is about, and encouraging young people to think globally, building peace between cultures, and empowering young people.  This week, we launched our PADI Aware campaign, and if we get the grant, then we’ll be creating ‘Foldedsheet’ educational material about marine debris, to be given to International Award participants living around the Black Sea basin.  This will also go online and be available for download too, and the sheet itself will be on recycled paper with special ink.  Its a project that I am really excited about and a great platform for us in promoting our work and beliefs and reaching more young people.  Here are a few of the pictures so far:

Blog and Doodle Crew

Its so great to have my friend Helen involved, helping with the doodles, working with us for the book, and row, and everything, and I really hope it promotes her work too.  What I’m very excited about (I know I’m excited about lots of things right now!) is that Helen will be turning our expedition related blogs into illustrations, and she has already started.  I’m pretty amazed actually, as the ocean row website has had no less that 200 hits per day every day since we launched it, and we haven’t really been doing much as yet. But its so important to have for getting the kids involved and having something for potential sponsors to see, and to show that we are really serious about what we do.


This past week has been pretty full on expedition wise too. Seeking advice, trying to put together the route, and figuring out boats things, and costs.  It looked like we were set to go with Charlie, but then another boat builder came on the scene with an equally enticing option.  So now we have to figure out preferred materials, costs of each, and environmental impact of each, and which we can justify the most in terms of the footprint we leave.  Which will appeal to sponsors most of all, which will be most interesting technically, and how does everything fit together.  Right now, we are off the idea of carbon, and are looking at options for wood, something that may be more expensive, and though it is more traditional, is less popular these days.  We have to way up each material and design in relation to capsize and self righting, comfort, strength if we run aground on coral reefs (which is quite likely with our outreach work), weight in terms of safety, but also in terms of us powering it through our rowing actions and in being in a race and not wanting to be too slow at sea.  we’re not interested in competing race wise, but equally want to be efficient in our energy use and don’t want to be still at sea having eaten all our provisions! And the cost of food alone, will be about £20,000 so it all has a huge impact and bearing on the decisions being made.

We have found a boat designer in Amsterdam, and a boat builder, and a material that potentially looks good, so now we have to research, research, research, get costings and add it to the pitch book for sponsors, and to our grant applications.  All of which needs to be done quickly, because until we secure £300, we can’t enter the race, which means we can’t access all the resources available online for participants, and until we get the money, we can’t build our boat, which will take about 20weeks to build, and a few more to design.  So time is tight, even with the race not starting until June 2014.


Its important to get everything packaged together nicely as well, another reason why I’m so desperate for a functioning computer.  I need to overhaul our website, and plan our media campaign, and our funding applications.  That all takes time.  We need a PR company to help us, we have found one, and now we need funds to use her services for OPG, expeditions, and to handle our media enquiries, line up interviews fo us and so forth.  Things are going to get pretty crazy! We need it for sponsorship and support and investment in OPG and the expeditions, but its also one of those really scary things to do.  Putting yourself out there, in the limelight, making yourself vulnerable and open to haters and folk who want to give you a hard time for the hell of it.  So many things can go wrong, and we are learning as we go, putting our hearts on our sleeves, and doing what we think is best at each given moment. Its daunting and scary, but comes with doing new things and needing to get coverage.  We have to build people’s trust in us, in order to reach young people to promote the International Award and OPG as a tool for teachers, and to bring the world to the guys we work with here.  They are the most important thing, and what we do from here on, has an effect on them, and also what we are able to do for them in the future.  Its time to focus on getting tasks done, rather than worrying about what ifs, or worrying about what comes next.  That is why we need an PR person, who can take over that side of things for us, look over our documents and website, and advise us on how to promote ourselves in a way that is honest to who we are and what we are about. Helping us to manage our time as effectively as we can.  Once momentum gets going, we have to stay on a clear path and not lose our way, and time is going to speed up from here on.

And so, I am preparing myself for the next chapter, I’m looking forward to being back in nature and with family, and preparing myself for the journey ahead, taking each step at a time. And being back in Latvia, always reminds me and brings a great reality check, as I remember studying for y TEFL, and talking about my plans to teach in Georgia back in 2010, asking my step mum what it was like for her, to be teaching in Georgia back in the 60s, what were the people like, what was the country like.  I’m looking forward to having some grounding time, reflection time, and thinking about what the future might have in store for me. Where do I want to be in ten years from now?  Its nice to be going into a new space and culture, out of the everyday routine that I’ve developed, shaking things up, and creating a new routine for a new phase.


Posted in Death and Dying, Environment, Family, Four Birds a Boating/rOwPG, Health and Fitness, Insects, Latvia Life, Nature and Wildlife, and Seasons, Ocean Rowing, Oceans Project, Photos, Plastic Pollution, Snakes, Spiders, The Pets, TLG (Teach and Learn in Georgia), Wildlife, yoga | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A lovely blog on a subject that strikes many chords with me!!

Making a Difference

Do you remember that movie Corrina, Corrina? Maybe not. Well, in the movie, Whoopi Goldberg’s character has this magical ability to turn red lights green by blowing on them. Just a little puff of air and the waiting is over. Sometimes when I’m sitting at red lights, I try this technique. (To be honest, it never works.) Only when I have other people in my car does this become awkward. The problem is that I hate being stuck. I turn when I intended to go straight so that I can avoid just sitting there. I make Walmart runs in the middle of the night because an idea came to my mind and I can’t wait until morning to see it through. Once I know what I want or where I’m going, I’m ready to move forward.

I first came to Georgia last September and stayed until about a month…

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The Education Debate

Wisdom Teething!

I’m feeling a little out of sorts today.  The result of my impacted wisdom tooth playing up, pressing on a nerve, which gives me a muffled ear and a constant aching headache, and an annoying tendency to start biting my cheeks and inside of my lip when I sleep.  This is especially frustrating, because now I have three whopping crimson ulcers with large holes in the middle, which are making my lips very painful.  Now everyone thinks I’m in a bad mood because I don’t want to talk or smile, mumbled explanations seem to make the situation worse, especially when no one understands me, and then I really am in a grumpy mood!  I’ve also missed two Skype calls today that usually I’d have chopped my arm off for, because I couldn’t face talking and people thinking I was a miserable cow that never smiled or showed facial expressions other than a grimace (and a lopsided drool!).  It also makes eating really irksome, and to make matters worse, its over 40degrees in the house (joys of summer), and having the fan on has made my face and lips really dry and chapped.  I did put some lip balm on but then I had shiny lips that looked like I’d be kissing someone vigorously for a long time.

Now my glands under both sides of my jaw are sore, and at every bit of pain I’m getting palpitations, especially when trying to eat, drink or clean my teeth.  Its not really that bad, its not life threatening, its just one of those really annoying things that you get sometimes, and on the plus side, I keep thinking that life on a rowing boat in the Pacific Ocean can’t be any more uncomfortable than this!  And with each painful day, I keep telling myself its the healing that hurts and tomorrow it’ll be all done and back to normal again.  Seriously, if you ever wanted to torture someone, don’t bother doing anything else than giving them a mouth ulcer or two, it would work a treat I’m sure!!

More Latvia Limbo

I’m still a bit in limbo at the moment.  We had all the documents translated and notarised and traipsed up to the inland revenue office again, where we let them struggle with all the online uploading and application malarkey.  The plan being that we would hear the verdict within about two days.  That was on Monday, and today is now Thursday.  And even though we gave absolutely everything possible, there’s a little part of me that highly suspects they’ll just say no, just because, and then we’ll have to pay tax on the parcels anyway, and all my waiting around for the month and delaying my trip to Latvia would be all for nothing.  And I’ll be very cross at having to pay to get all those extra documents translated and notarised when they won’t be used every again.  On the other hand, if all goes to plan, we won’t have to pay tax and won’t have to go through this palava ever again.  Once we have the code, we then give it to customs, who will tell USA2Georgia that we can have our parcel and will hopefully deliver it to the house.  Then I just need to get Isla’s blood tests done for the flight, and book our tickets, though all the cheap fares have gone now and they all look ridiculously expensive.

Missing Yoga

In the meantime, all this limbo-ness has meant that I haven’t been buying food in, or cooking properly because every day I hope I’ll only be here a few more days.  That’s also expensive and hasn’t been great for my fitness, and because I keep thinking I’ll be leaving soon, I’ve not been to my yoga sessions either, so now I’m having withdrawal symptoms which also is making me frustrated.  Plus the stress is on me now to get lots of things done in a very short space of time, once the computer arrives and I get to Latvia as I have a book to write and publish by September, an award ceremony to organise and a host of other things.

Reality Check

But I had a bit of a reality check today.  I’m still waiting on news of my PhD in Sweden, turns out everyone is on holiday now.  I did hear something on the 115th, but it was in Swedish and not clear, so again its limboland.  I started to look into other options again, and the previous offers I had.  I’ve spent so much time on the PhD that I probably could have written and published one by now!  This week rather coincidently, I got some replies back from queries I made to potential supervisors back in April!!! Some have never even bothered replying, some have led me on a wild goose chase, but some things seem to be the same throughout….all of them want me to change my proposal what ever it is, and every time I basically seemed to ed up with something that is nothing like what I started with, has no interest in it for me at all, and is basically the Supervisors own research, that I would end up doing for them, with little support, and having to pay the privilege for.  Worse still, the cost of tuition in the UK has gone up to over £4000 per year, plus other fees, plus travel and accommodation, and money for the actual research itself.

Uncomfortable Boxes

I found myself getting quite disheartened, not because of the research or hard work in figuring things out, but because of feeling like I was trying to force myself to conform again and to do things that would leave me feeling cheated and unhappy, jut like medical school when I felt hemmed in and like I was missing out on my own life in my struggle to conform with some academic who had little in common with the real world or my reasons for breathing.  All my joy of learning was being sucked out of me again.  And what started out as something fun and fascinating and joyous was being bashed into something I no longer recognised.  My research is related to my ocean row and my arctic expedition, things I’m madly excited about, but somehow the academics turned them into the most boring thing ever.  I wasted a whole day trying to make things work today, and not just today.  How sad is that.

To Publish or Not?

Then I discovered that to publish articles and to do scientific research, you don’t even need to be doing a PhD, you can just do it yourself and submit papers to journals yourself.  Was that what I was interested in, having research papers published?? Actually, no its not.  Was it about having the accolade of being called Dr or having a PhD? No, in fact far from it as I tend to view people with PhDs negatively on the most part, rather than being excited or admiring them for it. How weird is that!  In fact most of the people I admire the most in life, don’t even have a degree, and they all seemed to have got by in life just fine, by following their dreams, doing what they want, and because of that energy, they do it well and people give them respect because of that.  Those who do have PhDs have honorary ones that they were given for services to the community or to science or whatever. So why did I want to do a PhD????? Good question!  I thought it would help OPG if I had one, simple as that.  I thought it would give us more credibility as an organisation.  As if rowing an ocean and walking to a place on the planet that no one has ever been to before might not count as something cool enough! I’m doing both of those things because they enable me to do what I love and to give something back, and my doing a PhD I just don’t feel as if I’d be giving anything back.  And giving is what makes me happy.

And just because something isn’t published in a yancy fancy scientific journal or whatever, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, nor does being published mean it is either.  In this day in age there are so many more written outlets, unlike previously where the only way to share such things was through journals aimed at peers.  Even scientists don’t always get their work published and everything goes through peer review.


I found myself back in a strange place, corresponding with PhD holders who were now lecturing young students.  I found myself apologising and justifying myself for not having papers published already and for not have hundreds of letters after my name, or the right letters for particular interests.  I started undervaluing all the strengths I do have and all the great things I’m involved with, and that was when I realised that this was the world I had escaped from, and I really didn’t want to be back in it, trying to be something that I am not.  Its been the same all my life.  I love to learn and I love to be creative, I loved Steiner school because we were free to learn in our own way and to be creative, and I’m still stuck in that place where I left Steiner school for a stuffy old state school where I didn’t fit in, and where learning became a chore rather than an honour.  I lost that passion and creativity.

Love Creativity

I’ve loved being in Georgia, and I especially love OPG and my life right now, because I’m free to do all the creative and learning things that I couldn’t do before, and I’m cross that here I am trying to climb back into a box that I hate, just because I’ve been brought up to feel bad if I do things just because I want to.  Why can’t I just row that ocean and enjoy being in the moment? Why does it need an academic or research label attached to it so that it can be justified? How did things get this way?  What did I learn from my degrees, and did I really enjoy them, or was I just trying to fit into society’s norms?  Sadly I think it was the latter.  Education is a great thing don’t get me wrong, but its certainly not the be all and end all.  Its highly over rated, and most of what I have ever learnt is from enjoying and living my life, rather than sitting and reading and memorising some dead person’s theories on what they observed back then in 1700 or whatever.  Life is constantly moving and changing, and its better to earn as you go, learn from your mistakes, and have survival skills, because the grades you get don’t matter, nor do qualifications always matter.  Yes they help you fit into society and tick boxes, but equally there are some fantastic people out there, who have done amazing things without ever having a degree or qualification to their name.  Its about your energy and attitude to life, that is what makes or breaks you.  Its sad when I think how many quality moments I missed with family or friends because I was always studying for something or other.  I like studying for sure, but there were times when I did it because I felt I had to, not because I wanted to, because fear of failing would have been awful.

But here I am again.  I should be excited and looking at boat designs, but instead I’m stressing because I don’t yet have my PhD sorted.  A PhD, that it turns out, I’m not really that interested in, but was pursuing because I felt it was something I should do, to justify my life being a happy one right now.  So I’m giving myself a kick up the bum and a sharp reminder to think carefully about what is most important to me right now.  And its simple, I want to do everything I can by OPG, I want to get to the point where OPG is financially stable and able to give me a salary to live off, I want to develop my creative side, to start drawing and painting again and to write books, even if no one ever buys them, I want to raise the funds so that I can go on the ocean row with my team mates, and I want to go on my arctic expedition and to enjoy training and getting fit again.  Its all very clear to me now, and a PhD doesn’t add anything to the equation, instead it takes away from my love of everything.  So with that, I’m going to stop pursuing it and trying to fit around people who I have no connection with.  Its a waste of time, energy, and money, its obviously not meant to be.  I need to refocus on what IS important in my life,

Posted in Being a Medic, Britishness, My PhD: Environmental Psychology, Ocean Rowing, Oceans Project, yoga | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment
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A lovely blog from my ocean rowing team mate, check it out.

Making a Difference

There is a show called “Mind Your Langauge” that aired in the UK in the late 70s. It was about a guy named Jeremy Brown teaching an English course to foreigners. It was a comedy, and the whole show was based on word play and misunderstandings of English words. When TLG asked me to teach the School Resource Officers (R.O.), or “mandaturi” as they are known in Georgian, over the summer, I had visions of being the new Jeremy Brown. However, I am half way through the experience and my mind is still completely intact. So I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Some of the TLGVs that were staying in Georgia over the summer were given the opportunity to work with these R.O.s in an intensive course of English training. There are several groups throughout Tbilisi. I am teaching a pre-intermediate group of around 15 people.

The most impressive…

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A very nicely written blog, really enjoyed it!

Making a Difference

I’m writing this post from somewhere above Iceland, en route to the United States for a month-long holiday. I think I’ll definitely go through a bit of culture shock, especially because I’m going straight from small-town Georgia to Chicago, the third-largest city in the U.S. But, it’ll be fun! School ended on 15 June, which left me a month of holiday before my flight. So, during that month, my host family and I travelled around the Kakheti region. Here are some highlights:

Ilia’s Lake, in the district of Kvareli. Ilia’s Lake is, well, a lake, nestled in the Caucasus foothills. It’s named after Ilia Chavchavadze, one of Georgia’s premier writers—he was prolific in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is still popular today. The lake’s surroundings are beautiful, and the water’s a comfortable temperature for swimming and boating. They also have a lovely bike path around the lake…

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