Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Fortress

"What do you  notice? " my husband asked as he looked all around the colonial era town square in which we were now standing.

I thought for a moment. "Pretty much everything," I told him. "I just can't believe it all. It's like we've stepped back in time 200 years."

This tiny hamlet which was the object of our exploration was founded at the dawn of the 1800's when this part of Texas was still under Spanish rule. People, though, had lived there since long before, both settlers and Native Americans alike.

We'd come, with our two daughters and our son-in-law, in search of a small, historic fortress built by a Senor Uribe to shelter his family and others from vicious attacks by the Comanches and Apaches. We'd found it, integrated into the back streets with the other caramel colored sandstone and mortar homes, just a street width from the Rio Grande, with Mexico so close we could smell her flowers. The historic walls stood, intact and untouched, as they did when they provided a secure haven for refuge seekers. The sundial put into place by Senor Uribe in 1825 pointed its face heavenward, still shadowing the hours.


(You can still see the cut marks where these stones were chiseled for fit.)



(The sundial is at the top, with what resembles an arrow sticking through it.)

Chickens strutted their way through silent streets, poking their beaks into the dust.

"I've never heard a populated place so quiet, so serene, " he remarked as he snapped pictures of the multi-hued sky, colored by the lowering sun. He regaled the three younger ones with a story of how when he was 10, and in town with his family for a reunion, he had been plucked from playing with his cousins in this very town square by a priest in need of an altar boy for a wedding, despite his protestations he didn't know what to do. His grandparents were wedding guests and looked on with first surprise and then barely disguised amusement at the sudden appearance of their grandson in the wedding.

Amid our laughter, he and our son-in-law moved off to read a nearby historical marker while the girls climbed up into the gazebo in the middle of the square and danced a silly waltz together. Cicadas and crickets churred from the nearby river as I wandered off with the camera. I turned a corner and was taken with this structure.



I moved in for these closeups when I heard a tap-tapping behind me.



(If you enlarge this picture, you can see the General Merchandise sign as well as the intricate stone work behind the plaster.)

An ancient, khaki-clad man using a cane, a small herd of cats following closely behind, smiled a greeting. "Lovely evening, isn't it?" he asked. He motioned to my family in the square. " You all are a happy bunch, aren't you?" I grinned and explained to him why we were there.

He tapped the walls of the fort behind us. "My great-great grandfather once fled here when he was a little boy. A neighboring family had been attacked  by the Comanche in the night, and his house was next on the trail. They made it here in time, " he chuckled a bit. "Obviously, or I wouldn't be here to tell you about it!"

I asked him if his family lived here with him. He shook head and pointed to the cats. "It's just me and them, " he explained as a tabby wrapped itself around his leg.  He steadied himself with the cane. "My only boy was killed in Vietnam and my wife passed away about five years ago. So it's just me and the cats." He bent and rubbed the head of one. "We've got a pretty good life, though, don't we?" he cooed as the cats purred so loudly I could hear them.

Fireflies now gleamed softly and randomly. Fairy lights ringing the gazebo warmly illuminated the girls who were still dancing light-hearted dances together.

With one arm on the fortress wall to steady himself, he gestured at my husband, daughters, and son-in-law across the street in the square. "You have a beautiful family. You know, families are like this fortress. Strong, and they keep everyone safe and sheltered. Weak, and they collapse and let all the attackers in. We've got to keep those walls strong, " he said as he tipped his cap and slowly tapped his way back down the street, the cats keeping careful pace after him.


(And it's taken me two years, but this is finally my 200th post!)

100 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your 200th post Shelly and oh what a perfect post it is. Oh I just wanted to be there with you talking to that gentlemen and hearing his very wise words. Oh I love chance meetings like this in a place of great historical stories. Oh yes this would have been the highlight of my day for sure. A happy family is what it is all about. Oh I love this gentlemen. Great history lesson I need to know more now. Great shots. B

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    1. Buttons: It really is such a neat place. It was almost destroyed in the 1950's when they flooded the area for a new dam, but people rose up and somehow the place was saved. The customs house, built in 1800 and right on the river, is for sale for a song. I wish we lived close enough to buy it and make use of it!

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  2. Such a beautiful story, Shelly! You make it all come alive before our eyes. I felt I was there with you all when I read this. Congratulations on your 200th post! I look forward to reading 200 more. Have a wonderful summer!

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    1. Cindy: Thank you, my friend! I hope your summer is terrific as well!

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  3. Congrats on your 200th post my friend!! This was one of favorites of yours since we connected on Blogger. I love hearing stories like this and seeing and feeling history, if that makes sense. I also love your analogy of families and fortresses.

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    1. Optimistic: Thank you! I love history, and this town is chock full of it. I'm glad history is still loved by you, too~

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  4. Family as fortress. A wise old man. In a manner of speaking, it seems your husband was able to "go home again." Congratulations on number 200, another beautiful post!

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    1. vanilla: Yes, it was funny to hear him retell the tale of being "kidnapped" by the priest to serve as an altar boy. He still has distant relatives there, so we will go again. Thank you!

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  5. Congratulations on 200 posts, dear Shelly, all of them excellent! No one in blogging maintains a higher standard. No one in blogging inspires a higher percentage of their followers to respond and comment on every post.

    This is another story which reminds us that we should focus on all that we have left rather than all we have lost along the way. I also agree with the old man's observation that a family is like a fortress. Built on a strong foundation with walls vigilantly fortified, a family is impervious to the evil and corrupt forces that attack, erode and destroy. On a larger scale, strong families are the essential building blocks of communities and nations. Another metaphor is a garden. Proper care and attention produce a proud yield. Neglect invites weeds to take root, grow and overtake the crop. Thank you, dear friend Shelly, and have a wonderful Wednesday!

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    1. Shady: Thank you, my friend, and you are one of my earliest and most faithful followers! I like the analogies of the garden and the fortress. Each is very true, and a good reminder for today, no matter who is in our family (even cats). Thank you again, Shady, and I hope you have a wonderful week in your beautiful part of the world!

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  6. How lovely, Shelly. I love when you take us on trips!

    And congratulations on your 200th post. :-)

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: Thank you, friend- it's probably going to take me a lot longer to get to 300!

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  7. Fascinating and a lovely, true, sentiment to conclude. My son likes historical places to visit and he would have enjoyed your trip! I have a particular trip in mind myself, to engage his wilful teendom-ness!

    Congrats on 200th post!

    xx Jazzy

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    1. jazzygal: Trips are a good diversion for those bored teens! And thank you!

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  8. Congratulations on reaching the 200 mark of posting. Yours has been one I have enjoyed since discovering the blog world.
    Your stories are so well written with beautiful detail and meaning. This one especially tugs at my heart as I too believe the family to be like a fortress. I guess I just hadn't thought of that particular word for it until today. May solid families like yours continue to be a light to the world.

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    1. Nonnie: I, too, love family stories, and that's why I enjoy your blog so much. Thank you for your kind words. Happy 4th!

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  9. Two hundred posts is a remarkable achievement, especially since you post well constructed stories that are beautifully written, instead of posting the usual gripes and complaints. You are an amazing storyteller.

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    1. Stephen: Coming from a master storyteller like yourself, I take that as a real compliment. Thank you!

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  10. Oh Wow ! Two hundred posts 1 this is wonderful. Your posts have really deep and meaningful events and you capture the details of different places so beautifully. Like today's post makes one wanting to see those strong structures.

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    1. Munir: Ah, thank you, my friend. I wish you could see all the 1800's era buildings in this town. They are amazing!

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  11. Happy 200th and a beautiful post it is.

    Love,
    Janie

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  12. What a great post, I think it is fantastic that you visited the old town with your family and took some bloody great photos to share with us I do like old things and history......and before I leave I would like to say high five for 200 posts.....

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    1. Jo-Anne: Thank you, friend! Those old places and buildings really speak to me.

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  13. A beautiful story for your 200th post, Shelly. I love the part about your husband and his unexpected role in that wedding!

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    1. jenny_o: We've laughed more over that story...I even asked my husband when we pulled up this time if he wanted me to check before he got out of the car to be sure there were no desperate priests around! Thank you, friend!

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  14. Wow! gorgeous pics and story! Congrats for hitting 200 xx

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    1. Michelle: Thank you so much, my friend!

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  15. Congratulations on you 200th post!! Lovely post. Have a great day.

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    1. Eva: Thank you! I hope you have a beautiful Irish day, my friend~

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  16. I was so busy soaking in the gorgeous details of your day, the "families are like this fortress" analogy caught me by surprise, in the very best way. The wise words from your cat man made me tearily nod my head in agreement.

    Cheers to 200!

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    1. Amy: I was not expecting that at all from the conversation, but was so glad he said it. It really has such truth to it. And thank you, my friend!

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  17. Those words are so true Shelly. In my work, the clients I see come from families who are not strong or supportive (for the most part). Family is where the strength is, and a fortress it surely is.

    Congratulations on your 200th post Shelly! I love your writing and am so thankful I found your blog. :)

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    1. Cathy: Family really is the bedrock, isn't it? Thank you for your kind words, my friend!

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  18. Congratulations on 200 posts! I like the analogy of the fortress and family. The man has wisdom!

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    1. Sherry: Yes, he truly is wise, and I'm thankful to have run into him. Thank you!

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  19. Congrats on your 200th post! What a historical trip, and wonderful insight from that older gentleman about family being like a fortress:).

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    1. Maria: It really resonated with me, too. Thank you!

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  20. Congrats on 200 posts Shelly. Your stories are amazing. Tell me are you going to put them in a book and bound them. They are really great, sandie

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    1. Sandie: Thank you, my friend! I appreciate your kind words~

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  21. I would just love to sit and have tea with that old man and his kitty-cats. I imagine the stories he could tell.

    Family is everything! You and I are so blessed with great husbands and awesome kiddos. Working on that fortress on brick (day) at a time.

    congrats..200..wow..eat cake!

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    1. Christine: I will eat cake if you and Jamie will join me sometime! And yes, I agree, we are all so blessed. I am thankful everyday! I'm sure that man with with his little family of cats has many things he could teach us~

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  22. Hi Shelly,

    That was a beautiful post. I enjoyed reading it. Congrats on you blogoversary. 200 posts is really something.

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    1. Maria: Ahh, thank you! Didn't think I'd last this long~

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  23. Oh, I seem to have lost my comment. Maybe it will appear later? I was just saying that I enjoyed the post and congratulating you on 200 posts. You can delete this if the other one turns up I guess.

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    1. Maria:Blogger's been especially greedy lately, chewing up comments and spitting them out later. Thank you for trying again!

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  24. I'm slow getting around to visiting this past week...but I'm here now. And Shelly, I so enjoyed this. You know I like historical and your style of writing. You seem to pull us in with you and your speakers/storytellers. For that, I love. And the photos...aMAZing.

    Here's a bit of tequila and some salt...a slice of lime....CHEERS ON your 200th post!!!

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    1. HOOTIN ANNI: This is the place I was telling you about that bills itself as a big birding center. It is chock full of history, and we are going to go back and explore more. And thank you!

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  25. Lovely post and interesting man. Congrats on your 200th post!! :):)

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    1. Rita: I don't know what Miss Karma would have thought of that small herd of cats that traveled with him!

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  26. Wow, that fascinated me, especially what the cat man said about families. Very wise.

    Thanks for sharing your life with us, and congrats on your 200th post!

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    1. Jeanette: Somehow, your comment ended up in the spam comments. I'm so glad I found it! Thank you!

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  27. Congrats on #200! And a special and beautiful post, to boot :)

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  28. Congratulations on a lovely and touching 200th post, Shelly! Each one of yours has been a treasure!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: Still can't believe it's been that many as I've tried to slow it down some. Thank you so much!

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  29. You still have a wonderful gift for writing that keeps me wanting to read more. Thanks for sharing with us.

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    1. Odie: So good to hear from you, my friend! Thank you for your kind words~

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  30. 200 posts, that's good going.. I love history. Its amazing how you walk in peace where once Indians fought and lives were lost. I would not have liked to live then what a hard life. The old man and his cats coming past to talk to you. I wonder how often he gets to have a human talk. I suppose he talks to his cats but that's not the same and being responded to. How lonely for him now without his son or wife.. just the memories. I'm glad he had you to talk to. xxx

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    1. Crystal Mary: So good to see you back and I was happy to read in your blog that you are better! It was a special treat getting to this place and meeting him. He seemed very content, which is a whole lesson in itself!

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  31. Dearest Shelly,
    Congratulations for your 200th posts☆☆☆ It has been 2 years for you in the blog land; I also have been here around the same period♪

    Oh My!!! I am SO happy that you introduced us (or for me) the history, which is different from Japan. How beautifully told from the old man; the figure of speech "the fortress" being same as "the family"♡♡♡ Seeing the lovely atmosphere of your family, it must have reminded him of the ones he had. I'm sure he is a sweet man♬♬♬ I am happy he got the chance to talk with you and lovely time, my friend. I DO hope the cats help soothe his loneliness. Well, kid of made me think when I teach English to little ones. The differences of the meaning for two words "family" and "house". Sometimes they have hard time grasping the concept.
    And I also loved to read your husband's story; thanks for the word "altar boy", hehe.

    I missed this post; So sorry for my belated comment, my friend. Thank you very much for sharing us the beautiful story.

    Sending you lots of love and hugs from Japan, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: Thank you, my dear friend! I always love to speak with such interesting people like him, and that place is small, but really amazing with the history of it. I wish you could visit it one day! I know what you mean about the kids sometimes having a hard time grasping the concept, although you are an outstanding teacher and I'm sure they got it.

      We still laugh about my husband's "kidnapping" by the priest and our daughters like to tease him about it.

      I hope your dad is better- he has been in my prayers. Have a wonderful week, my friend! xo

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  32. A lovely post - and a brave old man. But sad too, since his own family has gone...he sounds wonderful.

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    1. Jenny: He had somehow found contentment, and I was happy for that~

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  33. What an amazing man! This post is so magical.
    Congrats on hitting 200! :0)

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    1. Elisa: Thank you! And I felt blessed we made that trip~

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  34. Dear Shelly, congratulations on writing 200 postings. That's a lot of work but you now have so many followers who cherish and relish your stories and leave comments to let you know how much your writing speaks to them. You have the gift of bringing out the best in the people you meet. I think that's because you are so interested in everyone and their story. And you write of those you meet with such respect that all of us are enriched by your life and those whom your life touches. Peace.

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    1. Dee: What my brother used to call nosiness when we were growing up has turned into (I hope) a search for the in the people I meet. We all have stories locked up inside, and what a shame it is when they are never shared.

      Thank you for your very kind words, my friend. You always, always leave me with a smile!

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    1. Optimistic: Thank you! You always have a good word for me-

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  36. So fitting that you draw on the past to celebrate #200. Rob and I are leaving the airline later this year and I so hope we get a chance to zig zag our way back to the west coast. So many places I'd like to visit. have a marvelous day Shelly.

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  37. Kelly: I just retired at the end of May, and although my hubs won't retire for a while yet, I'm already planning some grand trips like that- just heading wherever we want. Your Betsy stories are a trip!

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  38. An amazing and inspiring story! Thanks for sharing, Shelly!

    Nas

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  39. Wow! Congrats on 200 posts!! I've been going through your blog for the past half hour, catching up on the beautiful stories I've missed. Your writing always takes me to where you are and that's no easy task, Shelly. I can only imagine how captivating of a teacher you are! The pictures and your words made this post like a mini vacation. Can't wait to read more.

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    1. Saumya: Thank you for your very kind words! And I so appreciate you reading these stories. BTW- your proposal story is one for the ages!

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  40. P.S. I also love how you describe the relationships that define all of us, whether it's with families or the importance of a great teacher. Okay, I'm done gushing. For now, of course, haha!

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    1. Saumya: Yes! It is those relationships that become such a deep part of or identity, and why young kids who start off with those ties are so much better off in the long run than those who don't have them.

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  41. This is s beautiful---your words made me feel like I was actually there. What an awesome experience and you shared it in such an amazing, poignant way.

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    1. menopausal mama: It was such a magical evening- I think I'm going to remember it for a very long time. Thank you~

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  42. Happy 200th post! What a great one. Thanks for sharing the pictures and your experiences!

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    1. Lydia: It was a terrific trip- thank you!

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  43. You sure know how to find adventure in your trips. He sounded like a gem. Enjoy the time together as a family.

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    1. Simone: It is such a tiny place, but we are definitely going back again. Thank you~

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  44. I love how you write, woman, and how you bring the people you meet to light.

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    1. Bossy Betty: Ah, thank you, my friend!

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  45. Looks like an interesting place to visit. Congratulations on your 200th post.

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  46. Congrats on your 200th post, it makes me wonder how many I've written, I should likely keep track of such things! I've always enjoyed your stories and look forward to reading hundreds more!!

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    1. Julie: Thank you! You are one sweet friend!

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  47. Hadn't seen a post from you for a few days so I thought I would stop and say hi. No pressure or anything :)

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    1. Optimistic: Ha! Thank you- I am working on a post tonight, so hopefully...

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  48. Families are like a fortress! And you find wisdom everywhere...from standing in a shopping line to exploring an ancient home land. How wonderful that you had some time together on an adventure!

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    1. Jenny: It was a terrific adventure, and such an unspoiled, untouristy place. Those are my favorite!

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  49. Our favorite Mexican restaurant in town has a facade front that is supposed to look like the plaster is breaking away and exposing the brick. The kids were asking about it and wondering why it would be panted like that. I am going to show them your pictures. Being a visual person, I always think pictures are better than words...but when you combine your beautiful words and way of writing with pictures, well, it's perfect. Thank you for sharing!!

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    1. "painted" not "panted" My fingers go way faster than this little keypad can handle. (haha)

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    2. Jamie Jo: Oh, it was so neat to see those walls up close and think of the long ago hands that worked so hard to make them- hope the kids like the pics!

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    3. Jamie Jo: And I often call myself fingers of fire because I make so many typos from trying to type so fast~

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  50. Congratulations on number 200!
    I LOVED this family story. I lost myself in your writing and was right there watching and listening. This isn't just family history, it is part of the history of us all.
    Thanks!

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    1. Pat: You are so right- it is the history of us all, and how rich we all are because of it!

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