Friday, January 25, 2008


As you know, I celebrated my one-year blog anniversary on Sunday. I have rather gotten away from one of my main reasons in starting a blog, which was to preserve a record of myself and my family history for my daughter.

A poem by George Ella Lyons, called "Where I'm From”, is often used in writing classes as the basis of a writing exercise. Instead of Lyons’ descriptions, aspiring writers are asked to place their own words into a template using a series of prompts. I think it’s a legitimate exercise for someone who has trouble getting started writing. I certainly enjoyed doing it.

Here’s the “Where I’m From” Template:

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.
I am from the _______ (home description... adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)
I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).
I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).
From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).
I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.
I'm from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).
From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).
I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).


Here's my “Where I’m From” poem, or better, essay. It’s rather longer than the original – I guess I got carried away, I was having so much fun. But no apologies! (Kristen – this is for you.)

I’m from tennis shoes and one-speed bikes, from cherry Kool-Aid and Fizzies and Popsicles. I'm from reading books in the crook of a low-spreading elm tree. I'm from Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup and Franco American spaghetti. I’m from watching Captain Kangaroo and walking the train tracks and playing under street lights late into summer evenings. I’m from a one-room school, from games of “Red Rover, Red Rover” and “Pom Pom Pullaway.”

I’m from dry alkali “lakes” and sagebrush, from rolling hills with prairie potholes and land reclaimed from strip coal mining. I'm from lashing blizzards springing unsuspected from mild days. From crushing heat and sizzling thunderstorms spawning violent tornadoes.


I'm from lilacs against silvery weathered wood. I’m from purple prairie coneflowers and pasque flowers and loco weed, from the scent of yellow sweet clover wafting from the fields. I’m from mourning doves and red wing blackbirds and meadowlarks and squabbling king birds.

I’m from cotoneaster bushes and cottonwoods and Russian olives and messy box elders.

I’m from Highland shepherd “Willie Go Slow” and his adventurous, modern sons. I’m from Great-Grandmother Hughina, age 101. I’m from the Great Plains and immigrant trains. I from people of the Great Depression and the Greatest Generation.

I’m from Scots thriftiness and Norwegian self-effacement. I’m from oilcloth-covered tables and linoleum-covered floors and curtains, not drapes. I'm from full-length aprons and clothes drying on the line.

I’m from Grandma Julia’s and Grandpa Duncan’s sweet young romance; I’m also from the much later, not-so-secret “secret” of Viola, Grandpa’s mistress.

I’m from the Lutheran ladies’ aid, serving their church suppers of meat and cheese sandwiches, hotdishes, Jell-O with vegetables and good strong coffee. I’m from staunch, upright, no-nonsense Presbyterians on the other side.


I’m from “Uff-da” and “Ish-da” and “Cold (or hot) enough for ya?” I’m from Sunday drives, Sunday naps and Saturday nights in town.

I’m from Crosby, City of Northern Lights, and Larson, barely-there village. I’m from much-maligned Fargo on the banks of the Red River of the North.

I’m from the Munros and the Wangens, the Rockneys and the Codys. I am not from the Johnsons although that is my maiden name. I’m from a picturesque Scottish croft, a hardscrabble Norwegian farm, from icy blue fjords and emerald green hills. I’m from Celts and Vikings, fighting across the centuries, and fighting for ascendancy in me.


I’m related to football legend Knute Rockne and perhaps even to famed frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody.

I’m from Grandma’s overwhelming love and Mom’s overwhelming shame. I’m from siblings following behind me like baby ducks trailing their mama.

I’m from little houses with big yards. I’m from sitting on the back steps at night to catch a cool breeze. I’m from farmers' caps and cowboy hats, from implement dealerships and rural electric cooperatives and the Soil Conservation Service.

I’m from wheat fields and combines and grain elevators. From county fairs, general stores cum post offices, yellow school buses.


I’m from fried chicken or roast beef and pork Sunday dinners. I’m from “good old meat and potatoes, nothing fancy for us”. I’m from peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate drop cookies and raisin brown bread and sugar lumps dipped in coffee.

I’m from running to the bakery to buy Long Johns for “lunch” or going to the store for Grandma’s Half and Half. I’m from going to the movies or for ice cream sodas with Aunt Mary. I’m from returning to Grandma’s house from the swimming pool with the smell of chlorine in my hair and on my skin, and newly-blossomed freckles on my face.

I’m from Great-Uncle Jack’s World War I heroism, I’m from Grandma Julia’s childhood days in the old country, I’m from Grandpa Duncan’s immigrant turned successful businessman.


I’m from leaving home and loved ones for long voyages to the other side of the world. I’m from the gaping hole left by unanswered questions about my biological father’s family, the Rockneys and the Codys, with whom I'm forever connected and from whom I'm forever separated.


I borrowed the template from Robyn’s blog, “Tales From Inglewood.” Be sure to read her delightful “Where I’m From” essay about Australia and her Cornish roots. (
If any of you tries this exercise, please let me know so I can read yours.


gma said...

Fantastic post!!!!! Excellent Julie....
This was so enjoyable to read and such a brillant slice of life.....absolutely Loved it!!!
I did this on Gemmashouse. I'll look it up and eMail you a copy.

Mary said...

Julie dear - this is just an amazing post. The "Where I'm From" should be published, it's so wonderful and descriptive - I felt I went though your childhood holding your hand even though I was 3,000 miles away!

The photos of your family are so precious, you are fortunate to have so many..........and imagine, one of your real father as a little boy! Love your Grandma Hughina - well, love them all!

When can we see the bathroom makeover? Sounds like it's coming together. Yes, I remember that HGTV program well - it was fun. Now they have ridiculous programs and I hardly ever tune in - they're all the same about fixing up and selling a house for more than it's worth following slapdash paint jobs!

How are your hands? Doing better I hope.

Patty said...

Love the way you did this post. I am not brave enough to try the descriptions but may post some old photos again soon. I just found out some information on my grandparents that I didn't know.

AutumnZ said...

Oh wow! My cup runneth over! I agree with Mary. If nothing else you should take your descriptions and the pictures and have them bound up in a book for your daughter. Or, better yet, make it as a scrapbook for her, all written out in your own hand.

Lila Rostenberg said...

Wonderful writing! I'm glad you posted have a good photo collection too!

Anonymous said...

I loved it, I'm going to have a go some day

Laurie said...

This is wonderful Jule, and I so enjoyed all the photos. I did this last year, here is the link if you care to take a peek.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Anonymous said...

This was amazing! You are an incredibly powerful writer. I can't imagine how I would ever be able to write something like this.

kathyann said...

Hi Julie just droped by to thank you for the comment you left on my blog!!! I love your posting,I found it fasinating reading and such wonderful pictures!I'm going to read it again incase I missed anything!By the way I'm glad you were able to move on after your experience as I'm sure Robyn will with the help of all her friends!!love from Kathyann and the girls

Maggie R said...

Hi Julie,
I have really enjoyed reading your blog. You really should put it in a book?! My husband has been working on family history for quite some time. The binders keep getting thicker and thicker. Don't know if anyone will care when we are gone but it has given him much pleasure since he retired.
I was going to complain about how cold our weather is(Southern Ontario, Canada) But you must get your share living in ND.
I shall return another time and thanks for having me. I hope you will drop by my blog and say hi.

closed account said...

Hi, just came across your blog through another !!!sorry have forgotten which one now!
Anyway, just wanted to say have enjoyed reading your blog and all the photos and painting are really wonderful.....
will pop back soon to read more,
Kath from Scotland, UK

closed account said...

Sorry , I forgot to mention, I too have looked up my family history, loved it all so much, but now have stuck in 1723, but will try again another time, does take a long time to find out a small amount, time I never seem to have, I also paint murals and furniture..

SAS said...

Loved it - fantastic to have found such talented and creative relatives.

Shirley (your nth cousin)

Unknown said...

It is amazing how the dots get connected when hopping from one blog stone to the next. I somehow ended up at Gemma's blog due to a Burma Shave question she asked at Heart of the Nest. Behold, there was a comment from you and I popped on over for one of the best posts that I have read in awhile... Truly!

You are such a poetic soul, anyway, so I am not surprised! The photos and comments stimulated a myriad of things, including thoughts of my own ancestry. I felt your celebration and even the sadness over the blanks and fragments.

I think that I will be taking this on right after my blog Birthday celebration is over.

Wow, Julie!


Anonymous said...

Such great family pictures. I love family histories. My family history goes back to the 1680's on my father's side and the 18th century on my mother's side.

GreenishLady said...

That is wonderful. Such a rich and full description of your origins. You just used that template to its fullest possibilities there! Well done! I loved that.

Janet said...

This is so beautifully written and has so many wonderful photos. I have been working on this very thing for months and just can't seem to come up with anything I'm happy about. You have such a gift for writing. Maybe I'll keep trying. If I ever finish it I'll let you know.

Kelli said...

That was just beautiful, Julie! I loved reading it and seeing all the wonderful family pictures!

Julie said...

Hi Julie
Wanted to leave a comment at your blog, but I always have problems with blogger, so I'm writing here instead. My friend Darla asked me if I had noticed the "Where I'm from" exercise on your blog, so I popped over immediately to look. Fascinating to see how you have used it and expanded it.

I run journal writing classes here at Autumn Cottage (You have been
kind enough to write to comment on my own blog, Autumn Cottage Diarist) and have used this "Where I'm from" exercise many times - in fact, I think I posted my own effort a long time ago on my blog...yes, here is the link....

I loved reading your profile at blogger - we seem to have many common interests - especially, it seems, Italy, blue & white china, and journalling!

I'll be looking in very often, Julie - thanks again for such an
interesting post, and allowing us to discover a little more about who you are.

Warm wishes,

ps- do you know John O'Donahue's book "Anam Cara" - if you are
interested in matters of the spirit, you would love it, I think.
pps - Diane Setterfield is my hairdresser's niece! (Department of Useless Information!)

Genuine Lustre said...

That was wonderful. I really feel the influence of my ancestors swirling around in my cells, and I'm happy to find someone else who can express this. I hope to do my own similar post soon.

Julie said...

Since Roz Cawley wasn't able to comment in blogger, I transferred her note from email to here (above). However, for some reason I didn't get all of the link to her "Why I'm Here" exercise. Here's the rest: 2005/03/where_are_you_f-1.html.

Also, a note to Shirley:

Dear, Dear Shirley,

If not for you, and the miracle of the Internet and email, I would not know you or have these wonderful Scottish photos. Thank you so much for coming into my life.


Your American cousin, Julie

Jo Anne O. said...

My goodness! What a wonderful thing to be able to have photos and stories of your ancestory!

I too am of Scottish (Wallace and Buchannan) and Irish ancestry (from Sligo in 1848) and know of soul friends, who knows huh?

Thanks for sharing Julie!

LW said...

This is the third time I have stopped by to read this post.
I did take a stab at it and when I am done I will
email you a copy.
Thank you for letting us take a peek at "where you are from"


Casey said...

Great poem, great pictures, great blog! As always!

Janice said...

What a magnificent post: the writing is heartfelt and accomplished; the information is epic and the feeling is heartfilled ! Thanks for such an inspiring read and a chance to truly know you. Janice

Genuine Lustre said...

I did try the exercise.........

Bimbimbie said...

A lovely gift to your daughter Julie - you've inspired me to ask my parents to do one for me I think using paper and pen.

I've somehow missed seeing robyn's, will have to go take a look.

btw I laughed and borrowed your Aristocratic Title link for a bit of a giggle, hope that was ok *!*

Miss Robyn said...

this is wonderful Julie xo

oh & by the way, finally my little birdie left today with some teeny tiny seashells in his beak for you... some australian summer winging its way to you to warm your days!

couragetocreatewriteandlove said...

Absolutely Wonderful!
I will let you know, I am so tempted to give it a try for sure!
Great vintage photos!

J C said...

Re the Pelican Pastel...Thank you! This was a wonderful post. How fun to have all these pics of your family.

Anonymous said...

What a great post!
I really enjoyed reading it, and looking at the photos.

nonizamboni said...

What a wonderful post, Julie, and I didn't finish with a dry eye. We share so many of the same memories growing up too...cherry KoolAid, Russian Olive trees, sagebrush, mourning doves, the co-op and immigrant trains. You are a marvelous 'wordsmith.' Thanks for sharing and for the link. I would like to work on this too.

Lena said...

Every time I read one of these stories using that exercise, I'm amazed at how beautiful it is. Your story is no exception, Julie. Thank you for sharing it.