Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Kristen, left, and Val
I've been looking for photos to go with a post I'll be writing next month when my daughter receives her master's degree.
I found this one and thought I'd post it now with a memoir of the time when I had not one but TWO daughters.
When Kristen was a senior in high school, the family of one of her friends hosted a foreign exchange student from Venezuela. I first met Val in October when she went trick or treating with Kristen and her pals. Little did I know that she soon would be part of our family.
Unfortunately for Val, things didn't work out with her first host family. Val was about to be sent back to Venezuela when Kristen asked Dan and me if we could host her instead. At first, I thought our house was too small and shabby to take her in, but in the end I couldn't abide the thought of Val having to cut short her year in the U.S. (Dan and Kristen would have worked on me until I gave in anyway).
So, for the second semester, I had two daughters. We had extra fun on Valentine's Day, which is also Val's birthday (her full name is Valentina in honor of the day).
I loved making two Easter baskets. Even more, I loved Val's reaction to receiving an Easter basket. She was thrilled! (In fact, when she left, she carried the pastel green wicker basket onto the plane!)
Val and our family got into serious trouble when we let Val take a trip to Canada. (That was a big no-no, but since we never formally applied to be exchange hosts, we didn't know the rules.) I thought Val couldn't possibly be safer, because she was escorted by the wife of the warden of the state penitentiary. (Who better to keep kids out of trouble??)
The exchange agency didn't see it that way. They were highly miffed and were going to send Val back to Venezuela. We fought back. We contacted one of our senators and he intervened. We were delighted to have won, especially since the agency had gotten its knickers in a twist over such a niggling (to us) issue.
Val was always up for anything, even eating Dan's wild-game meals. I remember when we were eating elk steaks. Dan was going on and on: "Isn't this good?" Val, Kristen and I exchanged meaningful looks that clearly said, "Yuk, no, it isn't." The only time Val palled is when she found some buckshot in a pheasant breast.
That year, I went to two graduation ceremonies, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Val had started the year at Century High School and thanks to carpooling friends, was able to continue there. That's why you see Kristen in Bismarck High School maroon and Val in CHS red.
The graduation ceremony for Val was a formality, as she had already graduated from high school or its equivalent in Caracas.
Right after graduation, Dan and I took the girls to Medora, North Dakota's "Wild West" town. When we toured Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Val loved the prairie dog towns, and kept looking for some "boofalo" (her pronunciation). We were afraid we weren't going to see any but as we were nearing the end of the drive we saw an entire herd and Val was able to get photos of her "boofalo".
Having a second daughter was a great experience for us, and having a sister was wonderful for Kristen, too. Val is sweet, smart and funny. I'll always remember her pretty rosy-pink cheeks, her bubbly personality, and how fast she talked when she spoke in Spanish. Va introduced me to a phrase which I hadn't heard at the time: "It's all good!"
Yes, it was all good, a truly positive experience, except for one thing. With the two girls around, I could NEVER get on the computer. And because we had dial-up Internet back then, I was forever getting a busy signal when I tried to call them at the house.
Val and Kristen still keep in touch, and Val visited Kristen once at Georgetown. Knowing Val, I was sure she would end up living in the U. S., but it hasn't happened yet. I'm hoping she will at least come back to ND for a visit someday.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I lifted this painting from Joyce's blog so I can't tell you who painted it. Sorry. I tried finding it on the web, but I was too tired to continue. That's why I chose the painting in the first place: I'M SO TIRED!! (The lady might be sad instead of tired, but Joyce and I like to think of her as being tired. Or maybe she is tired of being sad because she's been crying her eyes out. You know how tired your eyes feel after crying your eyes out. Anyway, she's all tuckered out.)

(Note added later: See first comment by Joyce.)

I haven't been blogging, reading blogs, commenting on blogs or answering emails. I issue no apologies for the first three, but I am sorry for ignoring emails and I will try to reply to them soon.

This has been my life this week:

My first week on the new job: A half day of orientation, two full days of new software training, then two half days of training. I was excused from attending the break-out afternoon sessions yesterday and today. Yay!

Most of the 15 women attending the training have worked in conference, enrichment classes and event planning for years. The instructor, learning I was brand new at this, told me my training experience would be akin to arriving at a play at the beginning of Act II, all the while trying to find out what went on in Act I. She was right, although it felt more like coming in at the beginning of Act III.

The software we are learning has been used for such massive events as the Olympics. You wouldn't believe how many variables are involved in setting up a conference: registration, transportation, meals, accommodations, break-out events, instructors, contracts, contacting the media, medical condition of participants, setting up websites, receiving money, accounting for money, printing brochures, booklets and pamphlets, etc. etc.

And I cannot BEGIN to tell you how many ways there are - for EACH of these variables - to enter, track and generate reports on them. My mind has been well and truly boggled this week. I am exhausted. I think every one's mind was exhausted.

On the home front:

Gracie is in heat. For those of you who have a female dog who hasn't yet been "fixed", you get the picture. For those of you who don't, I won't go into details.

I attended book club Wednesday night, which is always a wonderful experience, but due to the combination of stimulating conversation, coffee (even though it was decaf) and a huge slice of sinfully scrumptious Bacardi rum cake, I was awake until 3 AM.

Dan needed my car this week, so he had to give me rides to and from work. Every morning, he paced to and fro and and champed at the bit in a hurry to leave the house. "Wait", I wailed, "Give me a minute to check my email!!" It's amazing how much I revel in the freedom of having my own transportation.

On the weather front:

We had a thunderstorm in the wee hours of Monday morning. Unlike most people in Bismarck, I wasn't awakened by the loud thunder. Oh, no, I was already awake, with new-job jitters.

We've received about 2/3 of an inch of precipitation this week. It's a start, but it's not enough to break our severe drought. We need several two-day soakers, NOW! Winter has returned to North Dakota, with some of that precipitation arriving in the form of snow. Wednesday afternoon, it was raining/snowing/sleeting/thundering and lightning all at once. High temps have only been in the 30s, and there is a blizzard predicted for the extreme southeastern corner of the state for tonight.

On the positive front:

Two days off, lunch and a bit of shopping with my sis tomorrow (I need nicer work clothes desperately), good meals all weekend, a terrific book to read ("A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini), blogging and reading blogs, naps and more naps.

This very boring view of a week in my life was written as an all-inclusive answer to those of you who posted or emailed to inquire about the job and the rain situation. Thanks for your prayers and good wishes.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Childe Hassam
At this moment in time, 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, I sit at my computer table, composed of a wooden top affixed to the stand of an old Roberts brand treadle sewing machine. As I type, I gently move the treadle with my foot, as if I were actually sewing. I'm not sure if the rhythm of my typing creates the rhythm of the treadle, or vice versa.
I bought this table at an antique shop a few years ago. I was immediately entranced by its unique makeup and its top painted with white wisteria on a sage green background. It was never meant to be a computer desk, but now I wouldn't dream of using anything else.
As I look to the left I see the stone fireplace, made of rounded, river-polished rocks. Centered at the top of the fireplace opening is a Native American stone club, probably Lakota (Sioux). And probably a war club.
If I look to the right, I see the Gothic arch between my living and dining rooms. Beneath my feet are red oak hardwood floors. These three things, combined with the arched brick nook that holds my kitchen stove, are what prompted me to fall in love with, and buy, this house 26 years ago.
Like the one in Childe Hassam's painting, my living room is chock full of dark wooden furniture, little tables, a chintz-covered couch and chairs, books and more books. Some might call it cluttered, but nothing is out of place; everything is carefully positioned.
There are other treasures in my living and dining rooms: my precious Roseville, my mother-in-law's antique clock topped by the figurine of a Grecian woman, my beloved blue and white china.
As in Hassam's painting, the walls are crammed with pictures and paintings. No single color- coordinated picture above the couch for me! I consider my wall-to-wall picture style as English Style. The pictures include my Scottish castle oil painting, my print of the Washington Cathedral gardens, a large faux-oil dog painting above the fireplace, a Maxfield Parrish print, my bucolic English Lake District print, all combined with a couple of wildlife prints as a concession to the fact that my husband lives here too. (That shabby old recliner is his as well.)
There aren't any fresh flowers or plants at the moment, but there often are, most recently Easter lilies and daffodils.
In the kitchen, Gracie, my puppyish German short-haired pointer, is chowing down yet again. Penny, "The Big Red Dog", a golden retriever, sits patiently - oh so patiently - beside her ball, waiting for me to throw it outdoors. Every once in a while, if she is being ignored, she lets out a plaintive little groan.
I have left the patio door open on this glorious "finally-it's-spring" day. Through the doorway, I can see our giant American Elm's budding branches, which sweep down so gracefully over our deck. Though the dogs are free to go in and out as they please, they check on me frequently, worried that I might abandon them again, as I did earlier. Horrors, the thought that they might be left alone for an hour or two!
For once, I'm dressed up, in a nice pair of black slacks and black shoes, with a flowered top in magenta, tan and black. And for once I have put on earrings - magenta glass beads. I am dressed this way because I had a job interview at 1:00 p.m.
On my way back from the interview, I ran into a book lover's/rummage sale goer's dream: a rummage sale that was all books. I came away with seven books for $3.50. Afterward, feeling optimistic, I went to a Mexican restaurant for chicken fajitas, selecting one book to read while waiting for my meal.
Now, I type, with Oprah and Dr. Phil as background TV noise.
With these few paragraphs, did you get any sense of me as a person? The reason I ask - the reason I wrote this post - is that one of my book purchases today - the one I brought into the restaurant to read - was "Writing the World" by Kelly Cherry. In the book's prologue, Cherry does a similar point-in-time "exercise" about herself (she may not have considered it an exercise). I got a very good sense of her personality, so I thought I would give it a try too.
I didn't put a lot of time into this exercise - I wanted it to be off the cuff and spur of the moment.
Also, I was using it as a way to calm my nerves and pass the time until I heard the result of the interview.
At 4:45 PM:
P. S.: I just got the job. I'll be working in the continuing education department of our local state college. It is part time to begin with and hopefully it will become full time. I start Monday, so please pray for my success in this endeavor.
Also, please, PLEASE pray for rain here in Bismarck and all of North Dakota. We need it so badly.
We have had two grass fires this week WITHIN the Bismarck city limits. In my lifetime of living in North Dakota, I have seen prairie fires and river bottom fires. Three years ago, three area volunteer firefighters were, sadly, burned and/or otherwise injured when a prairie fire engulfed their fire truck. But I have never, ever, seen grass fires within the city limits.

Thursday, April 10, 2008





This is going to be such a difficult post to write. I can scarcely continue. One of the reasons I started my blog 15 months ago was to write this very post.

I grew up not knowing who my natural father was. I have written previously that my mother was a Florence Crittendon girl - a young pregnant woman who went away to have her baby at a home for unwed mothers.

Mom never shared my father's name with me, and never once said anything about him. Even my blabbermouth Aunt Mary never mentioned him.

I had given up ever knowing anything about my father's side of the family. But three years ago, I learned the truth. It was a lovely April evening, and Dan and I were watching the UND Sioux hockey team play in the national Frozen Four championship (as they will be tonight).

The phone rang and I answered it. A male voice on the other end said he was looking for relatives of Myrtle Munro of Crosby, ND. That was my mother, I said. Well then, he said, I'm Mark, your second cousin.

Mark, from Missouri, is the official genealogist of my father's family. He became the caretaker of a packet of letters and cards my father left behind after his death. Knowing my mother's maiden name and hometown, Mark tracked me down via the Internet after my Uncle Dave's obituary was published in the Divide County (ND) Journal.

We talked. Or rather, Mark talked. I cried. I cried a lot. I hung up dazed. After 55 years, I finally knew the truth.

Over the next few months, Mark called, sent me DVDs, and emailed me photos, a genealogy chart and family histories. I learned that I was 1/4 Irish, from my grandmother Hazel Johanna Cody.

One precious evening, Mark phoned to read me the entire series of letters and cards that my mom sent to Forrest. They started out on such a light note - all about their dates, and how much my mom enjoyed his trips to Crosby, where he worked in construction. Then came the letter that began something like, "You know how you mentioned that I was getting fat the last time you were here..."

Obviously, the news did not go over well. And who could blame him, I think in my more rational moments. To learn that he's going to be a father would be hard on any single young man (he was 24), especially back then. I could tell that my mom was in love with Sonny, but he was distancing himself more and more over time. One of her last letters before I was born says, "You promised to pay for half of my fee here, but you haven't sent it." So it had come down to mere money.

Mom sent Sonny news of my birth, about how difficult it was. But there was no offer of marriage, perhaps even no acknowledgement. If you're a regular reader, you know that my mom, bravely, did not give me up for adoption, but brought me home to live with her, my grandma and aunt and uncles. Surprisingly, mom wrote Forrest a couple of letters over the next two years, and included a picture of herself with "little Julie".

Forrest kept that picture and letters all his life. Does that mean he cared about mom and me? Did he follow my scholastic career, which was easy enough to do. Did he ever intend to track me down, or did he close that chapter on his wayward young life forever?

Forrest never married or had any other children. Mark told me he died in Denver, Colorado, in 1982, alone and probably "from the drink," as the Irish say.

I have written before what it felt like to be "a little bastard" in the 1950s. I have not written about the anger I felt that my real father never came to rescue me from my stepfather. Yes, that's how I pictured it - being rescued by a knight in shining armor whom I could call Daddy.

After I saw my grandmother's photos I was angry all over again - angry that I was denied knowing her too. Did she even know she had another granddaughter? Apparently Forrest - called "Uncle Sonny" by his nieces and nephews - was great with kids. Why couldn't he have been great with me?



It would be terrific to end this post on a happier note, telling you that Mark and I are still in touch and that I am still learning a lot about my family. But that is not to be. I haven't heard from Mark since August 2005. He abruptly - childishly, I feel - cut off all contact after I declined to attend the Rockney family reunion. I could not afford to fly to Missouri, and I would not accept his offer to pay for the plane tickets. More to the point, I also felt that I didn't want to be thrust into the spotlight in the midst of a bunch of people who were still very much strangers to me.

I have come to accept the fact that Mark has dropped me as quickly as he found me. What I cannot accept, cannot tolerate, is the fact that Mark is still in possession of my mom's cards and letters - letters that Mark promised he would send me. I feel that these letters - sent by MY mother to MY father, belong to ME. I have emailed and written Mark; I have threatened him with legal action, to no avail.

Going back over Mark's emails today, I realize I learned quite a bit about my mom and dad's relationship. But really, I haven't learned much about Forrest's family. Yes, I can now say I'm 1/4 Irish, and I can add another 1/4 Norwegian from my Rockney grandfather, so I'm finally able to complete my genealogical "pie".
The Rockneys farmed near Jamestown, ND. My dad fought in the Pacific in WWI and my grandfather Clarence fought in France in WWI. I'm related to famous football coach Knute Rockne and may be related to Buffalo Bill Cody. Who knows, Mark might have made that connection by now. He might also have tracked the Codys all the way back to Ireland by now.
It suppose I'll have to be content with what I do know. Fortunately, I have quite a few pictures. It's more than some people have.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I have been blessed and fortunate to be on the receiving end, lately, of a number of blogging awards. Moncha Eilis of "Dreaming of Avalon" has awarded me the Arte y Pico award, above, which is given to bloggers based on their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, no matter what language.

Here's what Moncha has to say: "Julie shares lovely stories about Celtic culture and her own life, together with beautiful pictures. I love the Celtic look her blog has and as I am very interested in Celtic culture, I can learn a lot by reading the stories."

The Arte y Pico award originated in a blog of the same name, by a creative lady named Eseya in Uruguay. I can guess what arte means in Spanish. Any one know what pico means?

Karen (KJ) at "eye-dyllic" and Carol of "Charli and Me" both gave me the "E" award for excellence in blogging. Carol chose my art blog, "Julie Julie" for this award, which is very flattering, to say the least.

And last but by no means least, Louise at "At the Pink Gate" has awarded me the "I've got a friend in you" award.
Now comes the part I dread - sharing this award with others. Not that I dread sharing. I dread singling out just a few blogs from among the 50 on my sidebar. I believe this causes hurt feelings among those who are "left out". Having been left out of things plenty of times in my childhood - and adult life, come to think of it - I choose not to perpetuate those feelings.
I have actually thought about not accepting awards at all. But that wouldn't be fair to the bloggers who were gracious enough to choose me. And even though I am almost through reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New World", and know that the ego needs to be suppressed, I still have a big enough ego to be thrilled to be singled out.
I've thought of not passing along the awards I receive. One of the awards came with a stipulation that to even accept it, I had to obligate myself to name at least a dozen other recipients for the award, so perhaps I should not even include it in this post. The trouble is, I am a bit of a rebel. As Craig Ferguson says, "I just can't live by your rules, man!"
Fortunately, some choices have already been made for me. My friends Robyn at "Tales of Inglewood" and Annie at "Bimbimbie" have already been awarded the Arte y Pico award. Hear, hear, I second that! Janet at "The Lavender Loft" has already been given the "Friend" award, and I couldn't have named a better blogging friend than Janet. And my friend Joyce at "The Secret Gardener" has already won the "Excellence" award, and you couldn't find a more deserving person.
So that leaves me only 46 names to choose from. I could say, "I award all three awards to all of you." But that would be a cop out.
Or, I could choose some people - maybe 2, maybe 5, maybe 10, who knows or needs to know how many - and let the recipients know privately. Which I will be doing.
And thank you, thank you to those who gave me these awards. "Due to circumstances beyond my control" I haven't been much of a blogging friend lately. Therefore I will try harder to deserve the "Friends" award. For the same reason, I haven't been very inspired lately, so I will try to be a more "Excellent" blogger. And I haven't posted as much about the Celts as I had planned to when I started blogging, so I will try harder to live up to the expectations of the "Arte y Pico" award.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


(Photo from The Bismarck (ND) Tribune)
Caption: "This eastern screech owl is perfectly camouflaged as he naps in a Bismarck elm tree on Monday. Eastern screech owls average 8.5 inches and 6 ounces, and come in three color variations, but gray, like this one, is the most common in the Midwest."

Isn't Mother Nature fantastic?