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High Tea

17 Apr

Oh hello! Is this thing still on?

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I’ve been wanting to throw an elaborate tea party on a scenic vista for a long time, and a few weeks ago I finally got the chance.

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We headed up to Turtle Back Dome and laid out our spread, which included these awesome baby chick deviled eggs that Katie made.

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There was sparkling conversation.

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There was music.

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There was art in many mediums. (Jacqueline had the brilliant idea of painting her nose to be The Nose on El Capitan, although I think if we want to get really specific I think her nose is actually the Great Roof.)

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Sunset was pretty splendid.
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Over all I’d say it was pretty spectacular. There aren’t nearly enough tea parties in my life.

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P.S. Pictures are compliments of Daniella’s phone since I failed to bring a single functioning camera.

One Dead Person Who Is Definitely On the Invite List to My Imaginary Dinner Party

30 May

Today I want to talk about someone I admire. She lived over a century ago, her name was Lydia Maria Francis Child, and she was a 19th century badass.

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Portrait from her collected letters

Most people have never heard of her but they probably know the first verse of a poem she wrote:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Knowing only that, you would probably picture her as a silly Martha Stewart-esque house wife. Cheerful, rosy cheeked, with an annoying inclination for “the way things used to be”. This picture is far from correct.

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Hale Farm and Village

I learned about Child when I did an internship at Hale Farm and Village years ago. I was encouraged to read her book The American Frugal Housewife Dedicated To Those Who Are Not Ashamed Of Economy. At first I only paged through it, unimpressed by the random list of tips for 19th century housewives. But when I finally read it properly I was grabbed by her introduction. In it she says:

“The writer has no apology to offer for this cheap little book of economical hints, except her deep conviction that such a book is needed. In this case, renown is out of the question, and ridicule is a matter of indifference.”

“The information conveyed is of a common kind; but it is such as the majority of young housekeepers do not possess, and such as they cannot obtain from cookery books. Books of this kind have usually been written for the wealthy: I have written for the poor.”

Every piece of advice in the book is intended to be one hundred percent practical. Child is practically poetical on the topics of frugality and economy, and she had little patience for frivolousness or vanity. When writing about how to maintain combs she advises:

“The jewellers afterwards polish them by rubbing them with dry rouge powder; but sifted magnesia does just as well- and if the ladies had rouge, perhaps they would, by mistake, put it upon their cheeks, instead of their combs; and thereby spoil their complexions.”

That, my friends, is nineteenth century sass.

There are even a few tips and “receipts” that are still practical, or at the very least intriguing, including one that has been all the rage on pinterest. Rather than a modern day Martha Stewart, think of her instead as the life-hacks queen of the 1830s.

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Hale Farm and Village

Of course, the majority of the book is outdated today. Very few of us need her advice for keeping butter in brine, making our own lye from ashes, or her three different preventions for lockjaw. (I like to think that if she were alive today, we would share zealous opinions on the subject of anti-vaxxers.) The America of Child’s Frugal Housewife was very different from our own, and struggling with it’s own contemporary issues. Yet, even today, her devotion to economy is still valuable. American Frugal Housewife was a great success for Child, and led her to publish other domestic manuals.

But she didn’t just publish domestic manuals. In fact, she was a prolific writer who published works in a wide variety of genres. Over her career she authored works of historical fiction, children’s literature, comparative history, political opinion, and romance. More importantly, she was a driven activist, fighting not only for women’s rights, but also for the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and against Indian removal. Certain aspects of her activism make me think that she would be right at home among modern feminists, particularly the way that she campaigned for the rights of less privileged minorities. She seemed to understand that there was a connection between white supremacy and the rights of women. That was something that other prominent feminists didn’t always get.

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Photo shamelessly plundered from Wikipedia

She gets even more badassery points because she managed to use her writing to support herself through her husband David’s rocky legal and political career, even during a period of time when he was jailed for libel.

Sure she is not without her flaws. Her style of writing, while probably entertaining for her intended audience, today seems a bit trite. Today’s women might be annoyed by how freely she issued parenting advice considering that she did not have children herself. But I admire her because she didn’t shy away from controversy, and used her talents to create positive change.

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From a letter about John Brown to Virginia Governor Henry Wise.

In a society where talking about money was borderline profanity, she saw that women with limited means couldn’t learn how to manage their households. So she wrote a book for them. She wanted children to have both constructive ways to play, and reading material that was entertaining and educational. She published several children’s books and took on an ambitious project: the first American magazine specifically for children. She saw that slavery was entrenched in American culture and scandalized polite society by writing against it, advocating for the black right to vote, even for interracial marriage. She was unapologetic about her controversial beliefs in a society that expected women to fade into the background.

And Lord help you if you ever found yourself at the receiving end of her sarcastic italics.

~Robin

From Reading Green to…. Sleeping Outside

20 May

The day April posted that she was going to take on a challenge to read harder I found myself squirming with guilt. Should I take on the same challenge? I love reading, and I should try to diversify what I read.

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To tell you the truth I feel like I already have. During our month long earth day celebration I read several books that would not have gone to on my own. For the most part, they were great. I was glad that Earth Day gave me the incentive to pick up treasures like The World Without Us, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Trash (which I thoroughly enjoyed but never got a chance to review.) Still by the time the end of April rolled around I was counting down the days until I could put the blog reading aside and finish the Magicians series and dive into Wildwood.

But there was another thing that drove me nuts all through the month of April: I was spending way too much time chained to my laptop. I wanted to get out more, but April is a busy time for me, and I’m a slow writer, so I spent the majority of my limited free time staring at a computer screen and slowly going crazy. In a few months I’m going to start taking classes for grad school, and I’m sincerely worried that it’s only going to get worse.

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Less of this….

But I just happened to wander over to Semi-Rad that day and Brendan had issued his own challenge. Spend 31 Nights between now and September sleeping outside. Quite honestly, accepting his challenge feels a bit like cheating. This challenge is genuinely impossible for people who don’t have the money or the means to get them to a park that allows camping. Not everyone has a backyard to sleep out in, or they live in areas where it’s unsafe to sleep outside. I just happen to be one of the lucky people who occasionally gets paid to sleep outside. And my backyard is a park. I’m spoiled, and it’s something of a travesty that I don’t enjoy it more often.

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So I’ll take that challenge. Even though I probably should be setting goals that are just a little bit harder, I genuinely want to do this. Because even if it only manages to drag me away from the glow of the computer screen and into the outdoors for just one night, I won’t regret it. Not even a little bit.

~Robin

P.S.
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Definitely more of this.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

7 Mar

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At least a decade ago, April invited me to go to go see a play with her. The play was called “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” I was over Shakespeare after reading his plays in high school. I was eventually convinced to tag along for the usual reasons: all of my friends were going, and April promised it would be more entertaining than reading Shakespeare in English class. (Although in retrospect, watching bread grow mold would have been more entertaining than revisiting my high school Shakespeare units.)

It totally changed how I felt about Shakespeare. It stepped away from the boring, over-acted, flowery-beyond-comprehension, Shakespeare of my twelfth-grade English lit class.

It was funny. It approached it’s subject with love and a whole lot of irreverence. Unlike my English teachers they didn’t shy away from the “sword and buckler” jokes, and they didn’t mention iambic pentameter even once. I liked it so much that I convinced my family to go with me to see it a second time. It was a turning point, after that I actually liked Shakespeare.

Fast forward a decade, minus a few weeks. I relapsed into a spell of Shakespeare obsession, and I began to wonder if I could ever see a live production tCWoWS(A) again. This led me to google, where I made a most miraculous and unexpected discovery.

It’s on YouTube.

Do yourself a favor and watch it, especially if you are like I was, and are Totally. Not. Interested. In. Shakespeare. If you aren’t willing to commit to the whole hour-and-a-half production, fast forward to 8:50 to see their hilarious 12 minute version of Romeo and Juliet.

May the Bard be ever in your favor.

~Robin

P.S. If this has piqued your interest in Shakespeare, I can’t recommend highly enough Bill Bryson’s book Shakespeare: The World As Stage. It’s the only thing I’ve read about Shakespeare that isn’t completely pretentious.

Photo Adventure: New Toys!

1 Mar

My brother (the great enabler of all things involving photography) gave me new toys for the holidays.

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I was excited to play with them, but I was hopelessly lost at first. (After several minutes of struggle, I finally realized why I couldn’t get any of my new filters to attach to the lens; there was already a UV filter on it. Yes, I’ve had this camera for two years. No, I never noticed it before.) I’m going to be the first to admit that I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I am having fun.

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Half Dome through a fisheye lens

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El Capitan and the Three Brothers with a wide-angle lens

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Yosemite Falls and the Merced River with a ND8 Filter (I think.)

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El Capitan, with orange and blue filters

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El Capitan and the Three Brothers, with fisheye? wide-angle? I don’t know.

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Tenaya Creek. I’m not even going to try and guess what I used here.

I still have a bunch of macro lenses to play with!

~Robin

Photo Adventure: Aspens

29 Nov

I came back from vacation all excited to share my adventures and then, well, November happened.

I don’t know how all those NaNoWriMo writers do it. I would love to join in and churn out a novel one November but ever since my freshman year of college November always blurs past in a streak of papers, finals, meetings, seminars, long work days, and minimal daylight hours. This year I’m barely managing a blog post.

So, my apologies for being late, but here are a few photos from my October adventures in the Eastern Sierra. You may notice a theme.

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Aspens at June Lake

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More Aspens at June Lake (Also doesn’t this picture remind you of The Road Not Taken?)

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Kelsey and Rebecca Among the Aspens

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Aspens at Convict Lake

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More Aspens at Convict Lake

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Aspen Leaves on the Shore of Convict Lake (Also, More Aspens on the Opposite Shore)

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Aspens From the Ground Up

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Devil’s Post Pile; Cool, but Sadly Lacking in Aspens

~Robin

My #HeForShe Moment

25 Sep

Even though I absolutely love my job, I try not to talk about it much on this blog. I’m going to break that self imposed rule for a moment because something happened a few weeks ago that was so positive and inspiring that I wanted to share it. I put it off for awhile because I couldn’t find the right words. Then this week my Facebook feed exploded with posts about Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N.

I knew I had to sit down at the computer and wring the words out somehow, because what I was trying to say so closely echoed her purpose.

It happened at a staff training, and the topic was how to deal with difficult clients. We shared difficult situations we had experienced with clients and gave each other feed back. As you may have guessed already, we are a touchy-feely let’s-talk-about-our-feelings and hug-it-out kind of group.

While the training didn’t provided a thunderstruck revelation, I walked away from it with new ideas. Then, as the session ended and we transitioned into other topics, Steve, one of the men I work with, raised his hand. I can’t quote his exact words but what he said was essentially this:

“I just want to recognize, especially for the other guys here, that many of the women who work in this organization have had their authority questioned or diminished by clients because they are women. It’s not something that I know how to fix, but it’s something we should be aware of and try to think of ways to work together and be allies for them.”

I was floored. Here’s why.

First of all, even as a woman and fairly well informed feminist, gender was the last thing on my mind. It was clear that the most upsetting situations I had been in were when clients questioned my judgement, ignored me, or dismissed several years worth of experience. These were the events that stuck with me, that still made me feel lousy months later. At the time I even noticed that some of these clients interacted differently with my male colleagues. Yet when we discussed how to work with these clients, my focus became what I should have done differently, and not that I was treated differently.

More importantly, I was floored because even though I hang out with a touchy-feely crowd that values diversity, I had never heard a man that I actually know speak up for women like this. It’s not that my male friends or co-workers don’t say positive things about women, but it was the first time I’ve heard one of them speak up to acknowledge gender inequality.

Steve seemed nervous to broach this topic, uncertain and careful of the words he chose. And while I can’t speak for them, I don’t think it sounded like he was accusing the men I work of having it easy. He didn’t use that horrible, loaded, gut wrenching word “privilege.” Yet he acknowledged that inequality exists, and that some of the solutions offered in our training wouldn’t be effective if screwy gender dynamics were working against you.

Then he encouraged us to challenge that. He didn’t say that the women needed to just work harder to get along with difficult clients, or that the men we work with should step in and fix it for them. He invited everyone to fight this problem together.

His handful of carefully chosen words couldn’t go back in time and change the actions of these clients, but they did make me feel better. And they open up the possibility that in the future I (and my co-workers) would be more understanding when we see someone struggling with sexist clients.

And, damnit, being touchy-feely doesn’t mean that we aren’t smart. Even if we don’t find a magical solution that fixes the problem, I feel better knowing that our brilliant collective mind is working on it.

So, why did I feel the need to share this?

In part because I hate the word “privilege,” and the confrontational ways it is often addressed. I think it’s important thing to be aware of, but I want to see how we talk about it change because, frankly, phrases like “unpack your privilege,” make me want to run away screaming. I really admire how Steve managed to acknowledge privilege in a gentle way. Rather than shutting people down, his comments created further discussion and they also made me reflect on my own privilege.

I also wanted to share because I have felt crushing frustration after seeing the ugly backlash against women and feminists. The positive words of a single individual might be a small victory in the long run, but they are worth celebrating.

Finally, I hope that others will be encouraged to speak up in similar situations. This is exactly what the U.N. HeForShe campaign is advocating. It was a powerful thing, to hear someone else speak up for me. It’s not that I needed Steve’s words to validate my own experiences, but it is a personal relief to know that the people I work with (of all genders) are aware of this imbalance of power.

I went to Steve later, to tell him how much his comments meant to me. Steve works with children in Vietnam suffering from Agent Orange exposure, and he told me that his perspective was greatly changed by the experience of realizing that he had something in common with someone with fewer opportunities.

So speak up, even if you are nervous or fumble your words. Even if you are laughed at or not taken seriously. Someone will hear you, and I can now say from experience that even if it doesn’t change someone’s mind, it will mean the world to those that you are defending.

To get involved with the HeforShe campaign check out their homepage, or the UN Women page. There is also an awesome blog post about privilege that I think everyone should read.

~Robin

I hear things are just as bad up on Lake Erie

4 Aug

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Put-In-Bay from Perry’s Monument

As I write this my friend Laura is on an adventure kayaking in the Lake Erie Islands. Laura set out on this adventure several reasons, some of them deeply personal, but one goal of her journey is to reconnect to the place she grew up, which incidentally, is also the place I grew up.

So our home was on my mind yesterday when this article came across my newsfeed. A quick summary: The City of Toledo has told about 500,000 residents that they can’t drink their tap water, due to high levels of toxins caused by algal blooms in Lake Erie.

Lake Erie already had a bad reputation when it comes to water quality, and this isn’t completely unfounded. The most famous incident happened in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River became so polluted that it caught fire near it’s confluence with Lake Erie. Although this fire was only one of several that happened on the Cuyahoga, it gained the most public attention. The fire certainly tarnished Cleveland’s reputation. It’s what led Dr. Seuss to include the line “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie,” in the first published editions of the Lorax. I travelled all the way to Germany in 2006, and when one man learned I was from Cleveland the next thing he asked me was “Didn’t your lake catch on fire?”

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Station Road Bridge, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

However, something good did come out of this fire. It sparked river cleanup efforts, both at the local and national level, and was the main cause for the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. It also led to the creation of a National Recreation Area (now a National Park) that is very near and dear to my heart; Cuyahoga Valley. Dr. Seuss even removed the line from later editions of the Lorax after Ohio Sea Grant wrote to him to tell him about improvements on Lake Erie.

Even knowing this, I didn’t need the Reuter’s article to remind me that while pollution on Lake Erie has greatly improved, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

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Lake Erie from Kelley’s Island

I remember taking a trip with my family to a beach near Point Pelee on the Canadian side of the lake in the late 90’s. There were dead fish, hundreds of them, floating in the water and washed up on shore. In what has to be one of our more questionable life decisions, we still went swimming. Today the Ohio Department of Health publishes beach advisories based on bacteria levels, and these are reported rather matter-of-factly on local news stations.

Even today Lake Erie is still plagued by a number of environmental problems; combined sewer overflows, invasive species, agricultural runoff, loss of coastal wetlands, and contaminated sediment. A few news sources have also connected climate change with the recent spike in algae related toxins.

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East Harbor State Park

After so many decades, we Ohioans have just become pretty numb to it all. Maybe we just feel like it’s all too hopeless. Maybe it’s because we were hit so hard by the economic recession that we aren’t ready to tackle environmental issues. Maybe we’ve decided that Lake Erie simply isn’t beautiful enough to be worth saving.

The drinking water ban lifted today when tests indicated the toxins were back to lower levels. I hope that, like the Cuyahoga River fires, some positive change can come out of this. Environmental problems, including algal blooms, have gone unnoticed on Lake Erie for so long. I hope this changes. Because Lake Erie is worth saving. It’s where we get our drinking water, where we go to swim and boat and play, and it still has an important part in our economy.

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Lake Erie Sunset, Old Woman Creek

And yes, it is beautiful.

~Robin

Wonderland

31 Jul

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Eagle Peak during and after the El Portal Fire

This community never ceases to amaze me.

The first thing I did when the fire started was run into the house and grab my laptop bag, my fire box, my guitar, and the bridesmaid dress I’m wearing to April’s wedding in a few weeks.

I probably would have kept packing like this except at this point my neighbor Claudine came over, and pointed out that the fire was only a few feet away from another neighbor’s house where no one was home. She rallied a crowd of folks who sprang into action, contacting the people who lived there and rescuing their stuff. Claudine’s house wasn’t that far from the fire, I am floored by her selflessness in checking in on her neighbor’s before thinking about herself.

Similarly, Andy abandoned all of his valuables to run to the neighbor’s houses and helped them fight the fire off with garden hoses. We lost no structures in El Portal, and while a lot of that can be attributed to luck, favorable winds, and a quick response from fire crews, I think Andy the flip-flop clad firefighter can take a small portion of the credit.

The community of Foresta had it worse, although I was stunned to learn that they lost only one building. Watching the fire blaze up the hillside we were certain it was going to be much, much worse. It easily could have been.

Unfortunately the one house that did burn was a duplex and was occupied by some friends of mine. They are the nicest people you can imagine, and it broke my heart to hear that they had only minutes to evacuate and lost nearly everything to the fire.

Fortunately this community rallied like no other. Online fundraising campaigns were started for the Martel Family and the Laizer Family, with goals of raising $5,000 dollars. While I’m sure that seemed like an ambitious fundraising goal, it is only a small fraction of the actual financial cost of rebuilding a family’s life.

Both campaigns blew past those goals within a few hours.

This is what I love about this community. We choose to work and live here because it’s breathtaking and beautiful, and many of the people who live here have managed to accomplish some truly impressive feats. But when things go wrong here they often go wrong in big and dramatic ways. So when this community of people who are drawn to the spectacular and sensational get it in their heads to help each other out….Let’s just say that those fundraising goals didn’t have a chance.

If you would like to contribute to the fundraising campaigns I know both families would greatly appreciate it even though they have surpassed their fundraising goals.

~Robin

P.S. I don’t want to forget to appreciate the firefighters and various responders who have been working hard to contain the fire and save structures. We are extremely lucky that there have been no major injuries associated with this fire.

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Eat the Strawberry

28 Jul

There’s this story that you may have heard before: The short version sets the main character in a grim situation, an avalanche coming from above, and a mountain lion creeping in from below. In the last few moments of her life she looks down and sees a single strawberry at her feet and reaches down and eats it. And it was the best strawberry she ever tasted.

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My own personal situation is not nearly so grim. I had over twelve hours between the beginning of the fire and evacuation. I was able to pack a lot of stuff into my car before I left. It’s a strange and humbling mental exercise to think about what you would grab if you had only minutes to evacuate. It’s practically ridiculous when you have half a day and a huge car to fill.

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I was also extremely fortunate to have someplace to go. Some friends have a wonderful farm about an hour away in Cathy’s Valley. They graciously accepted a huge caravan of us at 4:00 in the morning.

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The next morning we started pacing around early, trying to get what information we could, and trying to decide what to do. We were relieved to learn that El Portal had survived the night, but there was sadness for friends in Foresta who lost everything in this fire, and still a lot of worry for the remaining houses there.

Not long after posting pictures, I hit the wall and could not stay awake any longer.

When I finally woke up I couldn’t figure out what to do. We were still under evacuation I wasn’t sure if I could go back home, or if I would be able to do anything while I was there. I was still exhausted and just milling around trying to decide the best course of action.

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Finally my friend Glikin asked if I wanted to help them with harvesting. I was happy to have something useful to do, and he set us to work in the strawberry patch, inviting us to eat any of the ones that were partially eaten or flawed.

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Can I just say that I have total strawberry envy? My strawberries look nothing like this. At one point Glikin came over laughing, saying that harvesting strawberries is usually half grazing and half harvest. I reminded him of the strawberry story.

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And then I could not stop thinking about it. As much as the situation sucked I was overwhelmed with gratitude at having a place, a beautiful place, to stay, and something to do.

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I’m going to try to get back into El Portal today to see what I can do to help, but for right now, I’m eating the strawberry.

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~Robin