Monday, March 25, 2013

The Old Girls

I stooped, bending low to scoop up more of the brittle branches that littered the area. Strong winds in the night had pummeled the old tree, stripping her of some of her nascent green cover.  The sun made a slow descent behind me in the western sky, casting a softly flattering light on the elderly mesquite. Not even a tree, but one of the lower caste of flora called shrubs, she defied her genes and grew straighter and taller than most of her kind dared.

Unlike graying, thin haired women who try to hide their bald spots with elaborately poofed comb overs, she presented no camouflage. Early spring wooed her like a lovesick teenager, gifting her with a brilliant but still sparse topping of lime colored leaves.


Rather than shattering in the numerous hurricanes and tropical storms that had furiously blustered at her in her seven-plus decades, she bent her limbs; warped them at odd angles in her bid for survival. It left her pointed fixedly to the north, like a rocket ever ready for launch.

Her rough bark displayed hard won scars; where a young boy (my dad) hacked into her trying to get a rope and tire swing to hang properly, where two teens (one of them me) backed into her trying to make a fancy exit, and where an older man (my grandfather) hooked an ancient, metal spoked wagon wheel into her side to use as a makeshift serving table for his legendary fish fries. She forgave all, but kept as her payment that wagon wheel, grafting it into herself more tightly each year.

I slipped one of the snapped limbs close to my nose and inhaled deeply. The sweet intensity buried within each one would be released in the fire pit that night, sending delicate tendrils of smoke and that unmatched, heady aroma wafting to the stars.

I carried the last bundle of sticks off and thought of the retirement packet I was excited to be filling out. After 29 years in education, I chuckled as I thought of how much like the tree I am. Journeying through all the educational and technological upheavals of the past thirty years, molding myself more than I ever thought I would to circumstances and environments, I, too, had changed markedly from where I began.

And just like the old mesquite, I hope this old girl will keep her slightly camouflaged face trained straight ahead, ready for the new season.

(But unlike the tree, I have very thick hair.)



98 comments:

  1. I wish you could see me smiling in amazement as I read your posts, Shelly. I feel as though I'm taking a love bath in words. If I may borrow the old ad slogan from Clairol Herbal Essences, it's a totally organic experience. In other words, your writing thrills me. I think we are all like that tree. We bend in the wind trying not to break. We all have our battle scars. Some of us try to conceal them while others proudly wear them as a badge of courage. Your story reminds me of the Shady Dell's "wheel tree," the oddity that Kathleen Mae Schneider blogged about last year. If you recall the photo she took, a wagon wheel was absorbed by the trunk of an old tree on the property. It is unknown how many years it took for that process to be completed but one thing Kathleen and I do know. It took the new owners only a couple of weeks to decide it had to go and now both the tree and its wheel are gone! I am very happy to know that your ancient mesquite lives on. Good night, dear friend, and enjoy the rest of your week.

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    1. Shady: Ahh, thank you for your always kind words, my friend! I do like thinking of that tree, how tough it is, and yet how it manages to produce its own brand of loveliness year after year. And I remember the post about the wheel tree! How very sad that they chose to level it in one fell swoop. There are some things that just shouldn't be, and that's one of them. I'm so glad it lives on in your memory, though. That's sometimes the best place to preserve precious things.

      Thank you again, and I do hope your week is terrific and without the extremes of weather we are having!

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  2. Ah, Shelly, you made your decision! You sound happy and excited, and that's a good sign. Congratulations!

    This is a beautiful, poignant post. I love old trees too, even if they aren't quite as majestic as they were when they were young. My parents' property was recently sold, and one of the first things the new owner did was cut down the tree I used to climb in order to sit and read. I'm glad yours is in good hands.

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    1. jenny_o: I am excited, although it's a real pendulum swing each day. I am looking forward, though, to starting a new career while I am still young enough!

      I'm so sorry about your tree being taken down, especially one filled with so many happy memories. Sometimes the best place in the world to be is up in a tree.

      Thank you for your kind words!

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  3. Uncharacteristic of her kind, an outstanding and upstanding specimen. The tree, I mean; yet much like the raconteur of the tale I suspect.

    At any rate, seeing the greening of the mesquites is one of my real pleasures in Texas this time of year. May your future years see new greening, new joys, new excitement!

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    1. vanilla: Ah, thank you! And yes, the greening of the mesquites here produces that lovely, vibrant green we don't see at any other time of the year. It seems to happen overnight~

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  4. Shelly, I discovered your blog tonight and was taken by your description of the old tree. I too am retired (a former high school teacher); widowed as well. Good luck and happiness to you in your new chapter. :-)

    ~Lorna
    _______________________________________


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    1. Lorna: Thank you for your kind words and visit! I am headed over to your place right now.

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  5. I love this post, Shelly! You write with such beauty and eloquence! And I understand well the connection between the old, seasoned tree and the seasoned veteran of many challenges and victories in the workplace. I can feel your excitement as you contemplate your next phase and can only cheer you on whole-heartedly!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: I really do feel like that old tree some days! Thank you- life after retirement is sometimes too much to contemplate, but I am looking forward to it!

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  6. First off...
    Congratulations on making the decision to retire. It was a hard one for me to make, but I've never looked back. You won't either...

    Another great post! A touching subject and so well written.

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    1. Pat: Thank you! And I've heard the no looking back part from many people now. Can't wait!

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  7. OH, I'm so excited for you Shelly! A new season in your life is just beginning! What a beautiful tree and a beautiful woman you are. All the children you have taught through all these years have been so blessed by you. (as we also have) You will be in my prayers as your life grows and blooms through God's will for your life!

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    1. Jamie Jo: Oh, thank you, my sweet friend! And I so appreciate your prayers- this is brand new territory for me and I need that help!

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  8. Your writing is a pleasurable experience. I clicked the image... to see if I could see that wagon wheel! What an analogy. But I'm more like the tree (thinning hair)! Be thankful for your beautiful, thick hair until you join the rest of us old girls!

    I have several teacher-blogger friends with whom I'll be sharing this, Shelly!

    Happy week!
    Kelley~

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    1. Kelley: Thank you! And no, I didn't get the side of the tree the wagon wheel is on because it would have meant taking the picture directly into the setting sun. I will try and get another pic during the morning so you can see it.

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  9. Oh how I love old trees...they speak in a language all their own, full of twists and turns. I'd love to hear some of the tales they keep secret.
    Sounds like you are heading towards retirement just in time...mice falling from the rafters? My sister retired last year from teaching and is loving her retirement. She did go back for a few days to help with some testing and said it was a good reminder of why she retired.
    As always your writing is so lyrical and captures me from the first few words.
    Hugs~

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    1. Sush: I've often thought that- if I could just ask them what they've seen, what's gone on around them...

      Thank you, and I'm glad to hear your sister's experience. I think it will be mine, too!

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  10. Dearest Shelly,
    Oh, you are going to have a new chapter of your life. I respect your decision and May it be the blessed one for your future. As always, I wish I could express what I want to say in English well(^^;) I know you have had a splendid teaching years with your students!!! It will be beyond our understanding how you must be feeling now. I often think how my old students are doing and wishing their happy life now as I wouldn't have had a meaningful life without them.
    "The elderly mesquite"; this poetry (I'm not sure how I should categorize this post) is really beautiful and as your friend said, great example of analogy☆☆☆ It is amazing one precious old tree hold that rich memory for you. Your reply for your friend, " pendulum swing each day" sure makes me understand your mixture feeling of expectation and anxiety. I DO hope it is the positive one, my friend.

    Wishing you Good Luck from Japan to my dear frieng, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Miyako: My dear friend, you express yourself more articulately in English than some native speakers I know! Thank you for your sweet words and good wishes. I am excited about this new chapter in life, although since my life has been governed by a school bell since I was four, I am going to have to make some big adjustments.

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  11. Oh my gosh Shelly....it's like I was right there in this Act I Scene XII. This was pure prose. That was intense, amazing. I could hear the rustle of the wind through the fields, the tree not giving up yet aged. Sad to always have damage done to those beautiful mesquite tree. Their bendy, twisty, beautiful shapes and sizes and the fern-like 'hair'. Awesome. Did I feel I was with you and your thoughts? I sure was!!!

    Oh, and my hair may be all white gray now, but it too is thick. In fact I always have to have my 'branches' thinned out bi-annually. "Call the Tree Surgeon".

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    1. HOOTIN ANNI: I've never seen trees that are as artful and bent and twisted as these old mesquites. I love to study them and just think. Thank you for your kind words, and I had to laugh at calling the tree surgeon!

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    2. HOOTIN ANNI: And I haven't heard one person yet say they didn't love retirement, so I'm looking forward to it!

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  12. The tree might be an old girl, but you are certainly not! I love the way the words feel when I read this post. I especially was drawn to the image of you holding the cracking branches, releasing the aroma, and of the campfire and the legendary fish fry. I keep learning about Texas as a place to love, not just a place on a map or a fictional scene in an old Western, a place of dry dust and heat and survival of the fittest. I do respect and admire your inner strength, your unshakable faith, and your tough as steel determination.
    The next season of retirement will be a second life to bloom! I am excited for you to take on the next steps into freedom!

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    1. Jenny: Thank you! But there are a few days I feel as old as that tree. Your words to me are always so kind and uplifting, and I appreciate it more than I can put into words, my friend. I wish you could smell the aroma of burning mesquite- it's pretty wonderful and evokes so many great feelings. One day, I have to believe, we will all get to enjoy a campfire together!

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    2. I would love that so much! We have campfires pretty regularly here, which amazes the people who live around us. Sometimes they call the fire department, because they can't believe we are allowed to do this ancient, primitive thing. Our street is surrounded by the city on all sides. But we still have our fires, and read or tell stories around it, or just sit in silence and let the stresses of the day burn away. There's such a bonding that happens when people gather in that circle of light.

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    3. Jenny: Wow- they don't know what they're missing! I really think sitting around a warm fire, on a starry night, is as therapeutic as anything on this earth. I can imagine the firemen would probably want to join in with you!

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  13. Congratulations on your retirement! I retired 3 years ago and still wonder how I managed to do everything I did and work full time. This is such a beautiful read and I enjoyed it all. I think the gentleman who described it as a "word bath" expressed it very well. Such joy to read and get caught up in. Will you be writing a book upon retirement? :-)

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    1. Nonnie: I am really looking forward to it, although I am going to miss my students desperately, I know. I just won't miss all the stuff the state is putting on us.

      Thank you for your kind words. I don't know if I have a book in me, but I would like to write some more!

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  14. I love the analogy/metaphors you chose for this piece. Congrats on your retirement :)

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    1. Optimistic Existentialist: Thank you! And thank you for your visit- I'm headed to yours right now~

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  15. Oh Shelly I love the way you wrote this your retirement is going to be awesome.
    That old tree is a testament to just how wonderful it will be and all the history you will be dragging along with you and hopefully sharing with us because it looks like you are going to find the time. Love the way you wrote this it is beautiful.That is one awesome tree. hugs and Congratualtions B

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    1. Buttons: Oh, thank you, and I am getting more and more excited about this retirement journey. I just need to figure out what my next career will be!

      I hope you are feeling better~

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  16. Congrats on your retirement. It will be fun to see where you go from here!

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    1. Nancy: I'm sure it will be a wild and wooly ride!

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  17. :-) A sweet, almost poignant post.

    I trust you have not grafted yourself around a wagon wheel...

    Hugs from Up North,

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: Thank you, my friend! And if I don't start cutting back on my carbs, it's going to look like I've grafted myself around a wagon wheel...

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  18. As I read, I was reminded of Shel Silverstein's, "The Giving Tree."

    Can you draw? If not, find yourself an illustrator and you've got yourself a beautiful story/book. Easier said than done, I'm sure, however, it was very touching and relatable to your past and future.

    May God bless you as you begin the next chapter!

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    1. Anita: Oh, thank you! I do love that book, although I am not at all talented artistically. I really do find a lot of parallels in that tree, though...

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  19. Shelly, wishing you all the best in your retirement. Maybe you'll get to plant a few trees...and watch them grow big and strong. Loved this post!

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    1. Linda: I love that idea! Thank you!

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  20. This was a beautiful post, Shelley! I loved the analogy, and the sweet stories of the tree's life scars from events long ago. Best wishes for a wonderful retirement. You've had quite a career, rich in stories of your own. Someday I'd love to sit and hear more of them.

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    1. karen: Thank you, my friend! Maybe when this is over I'll have some time to sort through some of my memories. I appreciate you wanting to hear them!

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  21. I do like the way you write - thoughtful and reflective, and yet very welcoming somehow :) I am sure you will enjoy your retirement.

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    1. Jenny: Thank you for the kind words! I truly am looking forward to doing some different things~

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  22. You have such a descriptive writing style! What a special tree!

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    1. Sherry: It's not an attractive tree, but we'll never take it down because it does have those five generations of memories for us!

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  23. I'm so happy for you that you get to retire, and also that you have thick hair--LOL! My hair has thinned as I've aged. I have to fluff it up with spray, conditioner, scruching, etc.

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    1. Jeanette: Oh, at least those things are available to us if we need them!

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  24. Maybe we will see you around the blogging land a little more??!!

    I like the last line about the hair. Since my hair is so thin, I will be like a wispy willow tree when I am old with strands here and there...bring it on!

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    1. Christine: Ha! You are so funny- and yes, I hope to be able to spend a little more time in bloggy land when it's all said and done!

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  25. What a beautiful post. You go, girl.

    Love,
    Janie

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  26. All I can do Shelly, is to tell you how much I adore your writing. I'm always right there with you. You have such a way with words, and it is our privilege to be able to read posts like these! I hope that you are excited by your impending retirement my friend. I know that you will find so much to do to fill your time! I wish you well.

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    1. thisisme: I feel so honored at your words, my friend, and I am so appreciative of all the very kind comments you always leave for me. I am very excited about retiring, but at the same time I am already realizing how very much I am going to miss my students, so it's a mixed blessing. I feel like I'm just graduating from school all over again, ready to embark on a new life!

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  27. I enjoyed that - and I was thinking how much I was like that and life was like that. Such great memories for you too! sandie

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    1. Sandie: I always knew you and I think alike! That's a good thing~

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  28. Congratulations on retirement! And to think that you made it through 29 years of teaching with a full head of hair! What's next?

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    1. Missed Periods: A true miracle! I think I'm going to do some part time teaching at our university, but not until the fall semester.

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  29. Ah, Shelley! All the best on you retiring. But you will miss your students!

    ~Nas~

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    1. Nas: Oh, I am already dreading the day I won't get to see students every day...

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  30. How blessed you are, to have thick hair. Trees are so like people, I love them. And this old girl holds her own against every obstacle in life by the looks of it. Now thats encouraging. She is a good example to never give up, but keep on going. And she does that well, through all the storms of life.

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    1. Crystal Mary: I do love the metaphor of tree and withstanding all of life's storms. There's just something that's so rock solid and steady about all of it. And yes, I am thankful for my thick hair!

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  31. I'm already dreaming about my retirement and can't possibly fathom what I'm going to do with my time. I'll have to keep on you to see how you fare!

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    1. Julie: Ha! It's a heady experience, and I'm looking forward to it!

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  32. A fabulous ode to your amazing, history laden ancient tree. I hope it is never cut down. I took early reirement last year too! As I was already on a career break nothing really changed for me, I'm as busy as ever. Except I know get 'paid'! Needs must in these austere times ;-)

    Lovely words as usual. best of luck in your retirement.

    xx Jazzy

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    1. jazzygal: I'm really looking forward to retirement, although I am going to desperately miss my students. I notified our superintendent of my retirement plans this morning, and I've already got two good job offers emailed to me, and I wasn't even looking for anything specific yet. So we shall see!

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  33. I never knew a mesquite was a shrub and not a tree! Honestly, since we don't live in the south, to me, mesquite is only a smell that comes from my husband's smoker, not any sort of living plant.

    I loved your description of the living monument to your family's history. Her lime colored leaves, her bare patches, her stooped and twisted stature, that wagon wheel. Is that a nest near the top?

    Congratulations on your upcoming retirement! I'm certain your employer and your students will miss you, but selfishly I am thrilled, and am praying it leaves you more time to write!

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    1. Amy: Mesquites are all over the place here, and most do not get as big as this one, nor grow as straight. They are gnarled and have roots that go all over the place. My husband loves to grill and smoke with mesquite too. Yes, that is a very old, large nest at the top- we'll see if the birds come back to it.

      Thank you for the kind wishes on my retirement. I notified our superintendent this morning of my plans, and it was a freak out much more than I anticipated, with all the administrators at my door at various times, seeing if I would stay/delay...but my mind is set. I will miss my students more than I can say, but I am looking forward to new horizons!

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  34. What a beautiful ode to a mesquite! I could visualize that tree, Shelly! Awesomely written.
    And congratulations on your retirement!

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    1. That Janie Girl: I love those mesquites- nothing else like them! And thank you for your good wishes!

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  35. Dear Shelly, your last line has me smiling at the pool of joy within you. This is a lovely paean to the mesquite that has grown with you and your dad and your granddad. And congratulations on coming to the end of one part of your journey. When I think of all the young lives you have touched with your goodness and wisdom and sincerity and respect and appreciation of differences, I am awed. Peace.

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    1. Dee: I do love that tree, and when I see it, it reminds me of so many wonderful stories connected with it. And thank you for your kind words about my retirement. I am going to desperately miss my students, but I am glad to be starting a new chapter while I am still able.

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  36. That tree is amazing.

    This line really spoke to me:
    "Journeying through all the educational and technological upheavals of the past thirty years, molding myself more than I ever thought I would to circumstances and environments, I, too, had changed markedly from where I began."

    I need to remember this the next time I encounter a trying situation. I need to be more like you and the tree. :)

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    1. Elisa: That tree is a true survivor. I am, as well, and I suspect you are, too. Can't wait to read your book~

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  37. congrats to you...and thank you for your many examples of kindness to those kids, it will come back to you! love the visualization and comparison in this post!!

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    1. Annemarie: Thank you! I consider myself a truly blessed woman.

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  38. What a beautiful post! I can almost smell the smoke from the fire that night.
    Think of all the lives you have touched! Congratulations on your retirement. :)

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    1. Rita: Thank you! I'm looking forward to it!

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  39. Wonderful analogy (i think that's right) of the tree and yourself. Both trees and people go through a lot in this life! I'm happy for you that you can soon retire. Happy day! Mom mom has had such a great retirement (she is 85 now); I'm sure it will be the same for you.

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    1. Belle: I'm so glad to hear how she's enjoying retirement- my mom and dad really are, too. I think it will be the same for me- at least I hope!

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  40. Hi, Shelly:

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I could have seen that tree from your description even if you had not provided a picture. :-)

    I hope you have a wonderful retirement. You are so writing a novel in the near future, aren't you? ;-)

    xo

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    1. Janette Dolores: Thank you for your kind words! I do look forward to getting to write more, although what, I don't know!

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  41. PS....just stopping by again to wish you and your family and loved ones a very blessed, happy Easter.

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    1. HOOTIN ANNIE: Thank you! And I wish all the blessings of Easter for you and yours, my friend!

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  42. Great post brought a smile to my face, retirement can be a terrible thing for some people some people love being retired my dad loved retirement my pop not so much I don't know how hubby will handle it when the time comes he has been a workaholic for many years but I can see a change in him now

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    1. Jo-Anne: I know it works well for some people, and others not. I've worked since I was 16, and I don't think I will want to quit working entirely, but switch instead to a part time schedule. Just 8 weeks left!

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  43. I love your writing. I really do. I have a feeling you are going to do great things in your retirement....

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    1. Bossy Betty: Thank you! I am really starting to get giddy at the thought of starting a new chapter, although I am going to miss the students terribly~

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  44. Lovely post! I wish I could smell what a mesquite tree smells like. It seems pretty incredible!

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    1. Lydia: Thank you! I love the sweet, wild scent of the mesquite more than any other wood, I think. I hope you get to smell it sometime~

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  45. Old trees are the best, aren't they?

    All the best on your retirement. The Man and I retired in 2008 and have loved every minute of it.

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    1. Dayle: Thank you! And I think I could look at and ponder old trees all day and not be bored.

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  46. Oh how beautiful!! Congrats on your retirement!

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    1. Stephanie: Thank you- I'm really getting excited about it!

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  47. Best Wishes:)
    We may retire, but ladies like yourself are always giving and helping out. I am sure your students will always believe in you and your teachings.
    That tree there is a master piece. Even if it had to adapt itself because of the changes in season, it did beautifully. The way you took an example of this tree and wrote such beautiful post is admirable.

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    1. Munir: Thank you for your kind words! And I do love that tree, even though it is not pretty in the conventional sense.

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