Coming Home

After a month in paradise, coming home was not terribly appealing. For one thing, leaving summer to return to a few more weeks of winter was expected but not pleasant. It has helped that the sun has been shining a lot so I am still absorbing Vitamin D and whatever else there is about direct sunlight that feeds my soul. Now I am looking forward to when I can go outdoors to enjoy the sun instead of being drawn to sunny indoor spaces.

Returning to the weight of mental and emotional stresses at home was also unappealing. Several of us are feeling depressed, anxious, and more than a bit overwhelmed while we navigate normal life but also the added stress of a post-fire life. (More about that below.)

I also knew I was coming home to face new cancer concerns. Weight loss, fatigue, and a dry cough made me suspicious. I talked to both my PCP and oncologist before I left and we agreed to do additional testing after I got home. Last week I had a CT scan and a bone scan. The CT scan showed no new cancers and the bone scan suggested some spread in the bones. Since previous scans were PET scans and not bone scans, it’s a little like comparing apples and oranges. The apparent changes could turn out to be arthritis or old age (“degenerative disease.”) We won’t know until a follow up bone scan can be compared to this one.

We did decide to go ahead and make a change in my medications. I have been very lucky to have this first regimen last for four years, with very few side effects. We’ve been watching the numbers for a few months wondering when it would be time to make a change. Cancers seem to find a way to work around treatment so what we are doing is changing my estrogen blocker to one that uses a different pathway, but still accomplishes the same goal. Unfortunately, the delivery is by injection rather than a pill and we don’t know yet if it will work or if it comes with side effects. Today I got three shots–one in the belly (subQ Xgeva) and two simultaneous IM injections of a thick fluid (think old penicillin shots) of Faslodex. I am also going to follow up with some genetic testing that will help fine tune treatment in the future.

Lastly, the Birkeys are now almost two months out from the fire. They are doing well, but are somewhat overwhelmed with all the processes of going forward. They have been living in a spacious house (but not their own), getting back into school routines, and following up on all kinds of insurance issues. Coming up with an inventory of the contents of the house has required long phone meetings and prep sessions as they try to account for most of their worldly goods, as well, I assume, more than a bit of grieving throughout as they remember.

At the end of February, after shoring up the parlor floor, a meeting took place to determine the cause of the fire. The good news is that the chimney was NOT the cause of the fire, as evidenced by a perfectly intact flue liner that was removed. It was determined that the fire began outside the house, most likely in the corner of the screened in porch. It was likely electrical, possibly from wiring that had been exposed to the outdoor elements and possibly small animals. The porch caught fire and burned pretty quickly as well as the port-cochere, both burned completely to the ground. It burned inside the parlor and up the outside wall, reaching the roof and then burning out of control, as old wood houses are wont to do.

This frees them to go ahead with the demolition, but before doing that the want to make decisions about whether (and/or) what to rebuild, having an architect guide them through the demolition and rebuilding process. At this point, they just aren’t ready to make those decisions, which I think is wise. They are still processing their new reality. They’re current plan is to find a home to rent for at least the next year and settle into that. They can stay where they are as late as May 1, but would like to find something sooner so the settling process can begin.

I also returned to work at the quilt shop on the busiest sale day of the year, National Quilting Day. I’m still a bit jet lagged so the work days are exhausting.

I’m happy to be back with my American grandkids but I miss the Kiwi ones.

Coming home.

A Long Flight

The transition from New Zealand to Chicago feels more tedious than ever. Crammed in my window seat, tossing and turning, snoozing and waking, checking the flight map again and again. I enjoyed a movie, had one of the best airline meals ever, read, and finally prepped myself for sleep. I was confined to one seat (I had two on the one way over and slept so well) and pulled out my homemade pillow case, which I discovered en route keeps the airline pillow from slipping away iso easily. I was ready.

And I did sleep, maybe off and on for four hours, changing position whenever a body part ached. After awhile I turned on my Kindle and read, dozing off frequently, waking again, reading again etc. The windows are dark in spite of the fact that it is around noon current time and I can see the sun high in the sky. (They are also warm, approaching hot, which I never noticed before.) I checked the Flight map and saw that we were approaching Mexico, but an “hour” later, we were still approaching Mexico.

The lights in the cabin are still dark so I don’t want to bother anyone else, limited to my devices and the screen in front of me. Even that seems intrusive.

I didn’t even want to take this trip. I had such a lovely time in New Zealand that going home was not on my wish list. I think we were all ready for me to leave, but I would have preferred a Granny Pod in their back yard or a small house within walking distance. I woke up most mornings to one. two or three of these cuties in my bed.

Saying goodbye to little Whit—knowing that the earliest I will see him is seven months or more and I will never get to hold him as a newborn—was hard. Theo “blocked” the door of my room with two hoola hoops and announced that I wasn’t allowed to leave. Later he decided he would “tum” (come) with me. The girls are used to the routine of grandparents coming and going and maybe glad that I wouldn’t be competing with them to hold Whit. He will be well loved.

I will also miss the quality time I had with Anne on this trip. Between James’ work schedule and weekly trips to the chiropractor (plus a bit of shopping in town and ALWAYS lunch at a cafe) we had more time than usual just to talk one on one. My love language (quality time) was amply supplied.

Weekly surf lessons provided three beach trips. Swimming lessons added town trips. Dates with the kids were three more chances to enjoy One Road ice cream, plus one last stop before boarding my ride to the airport.

Tirau is a small town lined with cafes, small shops, and crazy corrugated metal signs and structures. The Community Church, just a block from the manse where they live, has grown considerably since I first visited, bursting with youth, but well-mixed with lovely older people as well. I enjoyed getting to know some of them better.

The lights are coming up in the cabin. People are stirring. The Flight Map shows us approaching Texas and tells me I’m less than three hours from Chicago. I’m not ready to go home, but I am anxious for this trip to end.

Maybe that’s the point.


The past month has been bittersweet. Starting with the fire at The Pillars and the outpouring of love and concern from their community; transitioning to the other side of the world (and summer!); and the safe arrival of our 8th grandchild….bittersweet is the best word to describe all the feelings.

Whitford Levi Bruce was born on February 16th, two days before his due date, following three sleepless nights of contractions that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. (I slept; Annie and James did not.) On the afternoon of the 16th, things heated up and Anne delivered in a relatively short time, before the epidural reached its full effect. I prayed that she would have the baby before midnight and wanted to modify my request when the news came through that baby had arrived.

(Gramma’s first cuddle.)

(Charlee with the almost-finished quilt she made for her baby brother.)

Whitford is NOT a family name, just one they liked. His two names suggest clever or wise (witty) and harmony or unity so their hope for him is a mixture of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17) so that he would know God better. He is likely to be called “Whit.” He is also a carbon copy of his older brother, at least at this baby stage. Their birth weights were 1 oz off, just around 6 lbs.

(This baby is well loved by his siblings: Charlee, Simee and Theo. He is also laying on his second baby quilt, a “winter quilt” with minky on the back from Gramma.)

James, Anne and Whit spent two days at a birthing center resting up and came home yesterday. The kids want to hold the baby whenever they can, especially almost-8 year old Charlee. She is allowed to stand up with the baby. Speaking of Charlee, she asked to make the baby’s quilt and with a little help, made a safari quilt. We dropped it off for longarming on our way to see the baby for the first time and James and Anne picked it up two days later on their way home.

We have a houseful with three grandparents, three siblings, and mom, dad and baby Whit. Grandad is our driver and Granny is the cook! Pretty good deal for me. I am able to catch moments with Annie and with the baby, sweet times of baby holding and talk.

Back at home, the Birkeys are settling in to their “new” life. They were able to move into a beautiful home owned by snowbirds who aren’t returning to Illinois until April 1. They have been gifted with so many clothes, gifts, meals and other expressions of love and care. They have had a lot of meetings and phone conversations with insurance adjustors, city people, Nicor etc. Recently they have had to do hours-long virtual inventories of the contents of their home. The kitchen one took 3 hours. The salvage people basically called it a total loss and didn’t go into the house for the most part. Laura (and friends/family) has gone in numerous times salvaging important keepsakes, and other treasures that made it through the fire. It’s been such a blessing each time something special was found: quilts, musical instruments, hard drives, pictures, baby books etc.

It has also been good to connect with some of the former families who have lived in the home. Their sadness over the loss of the Pillars has been very much tempered by their gratitude that Laura and Taylor loved the home and came through the fire safely. They have shared stories from their time at the Pillars. I have been trying to pull together a concise history of the families, the stories and the changes made to the house and property over its 121 year history. At this point, Laura and Taylor are thinking they might rebuild on the land but not try to reproduce the Pillars. In the meantime they are likely to rent a house, expecting the whole process to take two years, a bit more than Boden’s “five minutes” that he estimated it would take to fix it. (When Laura brought home his Christmas present ukelele–just a little sooty from the fire–his face lit up with joy. He told Laura she was a “nice mommy.” Sweet moment.)

Burned Up

Taylor and Laura’s beautiful home burned “up” on Wednesday. I’m saying “up” because that is what we watched–flames reaching up and spreading across the roof. The house is just a shell, but it didn’t burn “down” except for the port cochere and the screened in porch, which are completely gone. And the roof. The shell looks boxy without the peak of the roof.

John answered his phone around 10:15 Wednesday morning and immediately said “No. No!” It was Laura calling to say that the house was on fire–could he go quickly to see what was going on. She had taken the kids to a friend’s house for a morning homeschool that they started doing cooperatively on Wednesday mornings. (There were negotiations whether they would meet at the Loerop’s or Birkey’s. Fortunately, they decided to meet at the Loerop’s.) Taylor was at work and Laura left with the kids around 8:30. Before she left, she turned down the woodburning stove. Sometime after that the wall behind the chimney–brick covered with old wood on the exterior of the house and into the screened in porch–presumably* caught fire. It would have burned for a while before Charlie (in the carriage house on the other side) or the neighbors (across the street or across two empty lots and wooded land) noticed. 911 calls were made and both Laura and Taylor were contacted. When the fire department arrived they had to spend time making sure no one was at home. When John arrived he was able to confirm that they were away. They also had problems getting water the fire. Apparently the oldest hydrant in Oswego is the one across from their house and it was either frozen or broken. It took more time to bring in extra fire trucks and hoses from hydrants a block or two away.

And so, the fire raged, incinerating the porch and port cochere, then through the living room, dining room, Laura and Taylor’s bedroom and the “dressing room” where all the family clothes were kept. It reached the roof, broke through and then swept across the whole thing.

Laura and Taylor arrived, met by different neighbors who walked with them as they first surveyed the damage–and watched the fire continue to progress. One of the neighbors is a fireman who was able to assess and inform Taylor as they walked to the house. The fire chief was there to inform and assist as well. Later, Quinn (the fireman) and his wife opened up their house, two short blocks away for everyone to gather, to talk, to eat, etc. He and his wife even gave Laura and Taylor a key to his house and said, “Come in any time.” Another neighbor/friend left work and came home to be with Laura and later friends from church gathered as well. Taylor’s dad even drove down from Madison, Wisconsin and his mom dropped work and came too. Later in the day, after the fire was out, the homeschool families brought the kids over–with their friends–to see the aftermath. The larger neighborhood also came and watched as a favorite Oswego home burned up, expressing their concern and sadness at the loss of a beautiful landmark, though grateful that no one was hurt.

The carriage house did not sustain any damage at all, but it is heated by gas that comes through the main house so the gas was turned off and cannot be restored until a whole new gas line (from the street) is installed, which won’t be happening any time soon. They will have to drain the pipes and the tenants will have to move. One of them just moved in and was still sorting through her stuff. The other has lived there for 8+ years.

Two sweet stories from that day/night: During the day several people handed either Laura and Taylor some money, which they shoved into their pockets. On their way home they stopped at Target to buy some very basic things like underwear, toothbrushes, etc. The bill came to $189.07 and they pulled $190 out of their pockets. God had provided just what they needed.

When Grams brought 3 year old Boden over to my house, I asked him what had happened. He told me that his house burned. I asked what was going to happen and confidently announced that they were going to fix it! I asked him how long it would take to fix it. He thought for a minute and answered, “Five minutes.” (Ten year old Oaks guessed five months.)

Here are some pictures from after the fire. Please continue to pray for all of us, though especially Laura and Taylor and the kids as we process this emotionally and attend to so many details of life moving forward. Taylor and Laura have met with the fire department, the insurance people etc. Today they are meeting the salvage company.

They have been able to go in the house and find a few treasures that survived and a lot of wet paperwork, etc. A wood desk in their bedroom was charred but some of its contents were salvagable. Guitar cases that melted still held guitars that survived. Laura found the stack of quilts from over the years in a closet (she just put them there a few weeks ago) that were damp and sootty, but whole. (Two quilts were on the beds–we can see one of them, though it is pinned to the bed by a piece of wood that came down–and covered with ashes, so we don’t know yet if it survived. It was a special quilt I made for Kellen’s 13th birthday in November. I told him I can make another (but I hope I don’t have to as its construction was tedious. Some of my co-workers at Quilters Quest have already offered to help me if it comes to that.)

At least two pillars (probably more are still standing!)

(If you look closely in the picture below, you can see some of Kellen’s quilt on the bed.)

A smile on Laura’s face!

*Cause of the fire not yet confirmed.

Questing…in my Attic

More “Quilters Quest” adventures:

A few weeks into my new job a customer brought in newly acquired Featherweight sewing machine for servicing. She was very excited. A light bulb went on in my head reminding me that I had one of those in my attic.

I went searching and found the very smelly case with the machine inside but no plug or foot pedal. I left the case outside in the sunshine for a few days and brought the machine into work one day when a class on maintenance was meeting. The teacher had kinds of supplies so I bought what I needed, including a new soft case to replace the smelly one. It needed more adjustments so I left it with the tech department for servicing.

The story behind all this is that many years ago Johnny was helping his friends empty out a warehouse where several of them had been living. No one wanted the old machine in a box, so he brought it home. It smelled so bad that I wouldn’t let it in the house. For some reason, it made the move with us to Aurora and found a place in our attic.

Our sewing machine tech was not very pleased with it. It required “every adjustment known to man.” She calls it my Dumpster machine.

After joining some Facebook groups for Featherweight owners and meeting the ladies in our classes, I’ve learned that a large cult of Featherweight owners is alive and well. Some own two or three or more machines. (My friend Mari does all her piecing on her FW and I just learned today that my aunt in Florida owns one as well.)

The machine is tiny, 9.5 inches in length with a fold up extension that adds another 5 inches. It weights just over 11 pounds. It looks like a toy. Today they are valued by quilters for the very straight stitch and for their portability, as well as something of a collector’s item. They are also fairly simple machines that can be maintained by the owner, which would be a selling point, then and now.

Mine has a “birthday” of February 10, 1952, just about the time I was conceived. My aunt’s machine has a birthday of October 14, 1953, a few days after my birthday. They are worth anywhere from $300 to $700 or more.

It has a straighter stitch than my more expensive machine and is small enough to cart around. I have always dragged my machine to cottages and outdoors because I enjoy sewing in open spaces. In the past, I’ve dragged machines to a variety of places–the cottage in Canada, camp, Balgownie and Stormy Lake, as well as my backyard. This little machine is perfect for traveling or transferring to the back deck.

After all that, I remembered that I also had the iron part of an old treadle machine–also up in the attic. I had John get it down and started cleaning it. It’s old and marked, but has the gold lettering of SINGER in the middle and gold on the side medallions. I’m planning to get a solid top for it and storing the Featherweight on it. Pretty cool.

I just finished my first quilt on Featherweight, a “garden” quilt with one of my first Quilters Quest purchases. Most of it was sewn outdoors on my deck. The Featherweight is perfect for taking outside. I will store it on the treadle iron right inside my back door and carry it outdoors whenever I’m in the mood. Just right for summer!

The QQ Bin

Working at a quilt shop ( has been fun, exhausting, and challenging. Ten weeks in, I’m comfortable but not totally confident. My stamina is still not up to par–seven hours on my feet is challenging, so many nights I go home and crawl into bed way before bedtime. It helps that I have a day to recover before going back at it again.

Shopping in a quilt store is a little different than working in one. In the past, I could go in, browse, and usually leave with just what I needed. Cutting fabric (in particular) and shelving it, as well as watching new lines come in at least weekly is a bit more challenging to my stash-habit.

Initially I said I would look at my current stash before going to work to remind me that I didn’t need more fabric. Then one day, a customer bought a really cute sheep fabric with perfectly matched coordinating fabrics. I bought a yard of each! (I do get a discount.)

Then “Wild Blossoms” came out of the box and a few days later I realized the background fabric was an amazing ombre pattern of beautiful flowers. I bought 1-1/2 yards for a square backing before the bolt ran out and a charm pack of the rest of the line. Not long after I could see that the “hatch” bolt was running low, so I bought a yard of that too.

I made book pillows for the kids, mostly using my stash but bought interfacing and zippers, and then 5 half-yards to supplement my stash to fit the kids’ interests.

And then, the chickens… I watched those for a few weeks before choosing four of the fabrics to make skirts and purses for the little girls.

And so on.

Last week I bought a 13 x 13″ acrylic bin for my stash wall just for my QQ fabric. I wanted to see all the fun purchases, keeping them front and center so that I could both enjoy them and also be reminded to use them. As I filled the bin, I also decided that my “rule” would be that I couldn’t buy any more than fit into the bin–I would need to use it before buying more once it was filled. (It was a little more than half-filled at that point so it seemed like a reasonable rule.

I bought 1.5 yards of this batik ombre and started looking at colors to make a “Captiva” summer quilt. Instead, I decided I should make the Wild Blossoms quilt while I still had access to some of the prints. The batiks I plan to use for Captiva aren’t going to run out and I really need to use what I’ve already purchased.

So it’s (kind of) working 🙂


While on a bike ride last fall, I found a house that really appealed to me. A couple weeks later it had a For Sale sign out front. It was way out of our range, but in the first month the price dropped by $150K. Still pricey, but I went to look anyway. Ranch style on a hill so a full finished basement that could easily be a home for another family; two full kitchens, laundry rooms, living rooms and three bedrooms on each floor. It was on 4 acres of land, bordering a pond. It had an outbuilding that I envisioned as a separate apartment for Johnny. And, it had a pool! It was also on a small side street just off my favorite country road for biking.

We didn’t buy it, of course, but what surprised me most was that I was dreaming again.

I also decided that I wanted to get a part-time job. After thinking about all the possibilities, I realized the only thing I really wanted to do was work in a quilt shop. I made up a “quilting” resume and visited a couple shops in the area. One of them was planning to move to a bigger store and would likely be hiring in the spring. I started working there three weeks ago. A dream job 🙂

I asked to work 3 days a week for the first couple of weeks so I could learn more quickly. I agreed to three-in-a-row, which was a bit ambitious for my feet and energy level, but I enjoyed the process and am now working two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Quilters Quest (at 75th & Lemont in Downers Grove) is a bright, roomy store with a lot of beautiful fabric and a bustling longarm service. We also sell and service Bernina and Janome sewing machines and sergers and offer many classes. Come in and visit!

Getting paid to play with fabric is pretty cool. I love straightening the shelves, cutting fabric, and helping other quilters find just the right color or hue. It’s especially fun to unwrap new collections. I also love seeing the finished quilt tops that are brought it for long-arming. Some of them are simply amazing.

* One fun fact: When I first came in to ask about a job, one of my former colleagues at Elmhurst Medical Associates bopped up to me in a staff t-shirt. About a year ago, she did the same thing I was doing, randomly asking about hiring. I think it’s hilarious that a former nurse and pharmacist are now working together in a quilt shop! Connie, who is still working at EMA, calls it our fun job. It was even funnier when one of our former patients came in looking for fabric.

Sometimes I end up on the “wrong” side of the register 🙂

There and Back Again

Like Bilbo, I’ve been away on an adventure and am only now writing about it after having been there and back again.

Lizi and I traveled to Middle Earth (New Zealand) from September 14 through October 11, our first trip to back since Covid. Although fully vaccinated and boostered (including the latest flu vaccine) we ended up being sick for most of our trip, sickness shared with Anne and the kids. Not Covid but strep, foot-hand-mouth disease and even hayfever. That, along with kind of miserable early “spring” weather made it an unusual trip.

Still, we got to meet Theo and spend lots of time with James, Anne, Charlee and Simee. We got to share their lives, even though it wasn’t perhaps the best of their lives.

Since we last visited James and Anne have moved twice. James resigned from Capernwray last year and took on a role as youth pastor for the Tirau Community Church. They had purchased a home up on a hill in Tirau but the job offer came with a manse so they moved into that and have someone else making mortgage payments on their house. The manse is a good fit for this time of their lives with a fenced yard and flat landscaping. It is less than two blocks from the church and an easy walk to the shops etc. It is very different from the country lifestyle that Anne so enjoyed for several years, but still surrounded by green hills and pastoral views that are so refreshing.

It was school break so James’ activities were mostly on hold. He attended a Youth Workers’ conference in Queenstown, which we turned into a trip to the South Island, visiting James’ family in Gore, as well as quick trips to the Caitlins and a daylong ski trip near Queenstown. It was a busy family time more than an occasion for sightseeing, but we enjoyed catching up with James’ family and experiencing their rural life. (They, too, have moved since we last visited, selling the sheep farm and moving to a smaller property that still includes paddocks, beautiful views and a gracious home. They had five ewes and twelve lambs that were born right around the time of our stay. Lizi enjoyed feeding the lambs. Mostly, though, they have a crop of twelve grandchildren that keep them busy!)

We were all “smashed” after our trip to the South Island, sick with strep, scarlet fever, and so on. Poor Theo got the worst of it.

On one really nice day, we visited Hobbiton. Since our family is currently doing a Lord of the Rings Conqueror Challenge, we wanted to visit a real location. Matamata is only about 20 minutes from their home. The girls were old enough to appreciate the scenes and all of us had a good time hiking through the Shire.

After being Immersed in their life for four weeks, it’s weird to be back home again. The overnight flight–with odd periods of sleep and wakefulness–is a strange transition from one world to another. We left at 8:15 as the skies were growing dark and arrived in LA at bright noonday, transported to a very different world. A long layover and four hour fight dropped us into Chicago just as the day was ending. Our luggage didn’t make that last flight so it will be delivered on our doorstop early tomorrow morning.

I miss my Kiwi family but it’s kind of nice to be home to sunshine and fall colors. Our first fire of the season and a return to my hot tub, as well as apple crisp at the Birkey’s made it a warm welcome.

I am also happy to return to e-biking, at least for a while. I returned the e-bike to Zoomo before my trip and four days later received notification that they were closing down the Chicago location and selling the bikes at a greatly reduced rate. I didn’t get to buy the exact bike that I rented all summer, but was able to get a refurbished bike in great shape. I rode it today and I am very happy with it. All around it turned out to be a great deal, allowing me to ride all summer for $25/week and then purchasing it in time for my birthday.

*Tirau, their small town, is the Corrugated Capital of the World. From signs to actual buildings, the town in decorated in corrugated metal art. Here are some of the unique buildings and the Good Shepherd that is by the Community Church where James serves as a youth pastor.

Not so fast!

Team Scotland* finished the North Coast 500 today–five hundred miles, walked and biked in 40 days. Compare that to the 238 days it took me to complete the 480.9 miles of my personal Camino. Just over a month compared to eight months to travers five hundred miles, give or take a few. For those of us who did both, this seemed way too fast. Admittedly, the Camino seemed way too slow and tedious so I’m thinking that there has to be a happy medium.

For me, it might be biking. The pace of biking is nice. Completing more miles in less time for my virtual journey is certainly nice, but I also enjoy simply covering more distance on my forays whether in my neighborhood, community or even more distant adventures. I’ve been able to ride most of the 44.6 mile Fox River Trail from Oswego to Algonquin. I was able to ride further afield on the Waubonsee Creek Trail. This week I had a fun ride on a country road I discovered by car sometime last year. Taking it at a biker’s pace was even nicer.

Heather, one of my team members, also said she missed the time to read books and learn about the country she walked through with this faster trip. I did manage to read quite a few Scottish books and also worked for a bit on my Scottish genealogy.

It was especially here that I had to make myself slow down and heed the warning: “Not so fast! Genealogy has changed a lot in the 40-some years that I have imbibed. The Internet has made a lot of things easier to research. It has also made it easier to do sloppy research and make more mistakes.

I decided to focus on my Marshall roots. My grandfather, Robert Marshall, was born in Torphichen, West Lothian, in 1890, the son of Edward Marshall and Jean Ross. Edward Marshall was born in nearby Bathgate in 1847, the son of another Edward Marshall and his wife, Janet Leishman.

This Edward Marshall was born in 1818, the son of Robert Marshall and Elisabeth Morton who were apparently married in 1820. (Yes, noted.) Robert died three years later and Elisabeth married Peter Kerr in 1825, with whom she had several more children. There is no death record for Robert other than a notice that one of Elisabeth’s relatives, a John Morton, paid for the mort-cloth for his burial. Not finding a death record is frustrating because I am missing information on the cause of death, which for a 26 year old could be interesting. Robert died leaving two children, three and less than one years old. More importantly, a death record would normally include the name of his parents.

I would really like this information because on Ancestry I found a line of Marshalls going back eight or nine generations to the mid-1500s. A Richard Marshall had several children, including a Robert and a James. James’ family eventually emigrated to Australia, where Ian Marshall, a descendent has worked on his family tree and shared this information. It would be so nice to claim that Robert Marshall as my ancestor and gain all the others as a result. But not so fast!!! I tried and tried to really satisfy myself that this was my Robert Marshall, but alas, there really is no proof.

Scottish naming patterns can make things challenging as the first son is usually named after the paternal grandfather; the second son named after the maternal grandfather and the third son named after the father. If a family had several sons, they all might name their eldest sons after their father, resulting in cousins sharing the same name so it is difficult to prove genealogical paternity unless there is more than a birth recorded.

Whilst** trying to establish Robert’s paternity, I read through several Kirk Session records about a Robert Marshall who was accused by an Agnes Shanks of fathering her illegitimate child. Usually when this happened, the young man was brought before the session and admitted his responsibility but in this case, Robert repeated denied the charges and was given the opportunity to bring in witnesses on his own behalf. Eventually the case was delayed and then apparently dropped. Later, in a late-registration of an illegitimate birth, I found a notation that Robert (no surname) and Agnes Shanks had a baby, Thomas, baptized. Interesting story, but again, was this “my” Robert Marshall or one of his same named cousins or someone from a different family altogether? There is really no way of knowing.

So, in the end, I had to leave myself with more questions than answers in my Scottish Genealogy in order to be sure I wasn’t mistakenly jumping to conclusions. Still, it was pretty fun while it lasted.

Back to my Conqueror journey: I may do a short trip, biking “alone” the next few weeks, but then I want to start the Lord of the Rings challenges. There are five challenges and five medals. The first, The Shire, is relatively short (145 miles.) Since our family has enjoyed both the books and the movies, as well as the location for the movies, I thought it would be fun to do the first challenge as a competition between our three main family units: The Birkeys, The Bruces, and the Hurnis. If the they want to continue, we’ll do the 680 miles of The Fellowship as one team and so on.

Hopefully we’ll find a way to find that middle ground between “slow” and “not so fast!”

*Team Scotland was my first experience of adding miles together as a team. There were five of us accumulating our walking and indoor/outdoor biking miles together. We estimated it taking us 70 days to complete, about 25 miles a week, but it flew by much faster.

**Whilst is a uniquely Commonwealth word that I’ve rarely heard here in America. I’ve heard it in New Zealand and now in several of the books I’ve read during my Scottish reading. I kind of like it.

My Camino

This morning I rode my bike virtually over the finish line of my 480 mile Camino. I started on September 2, taking 256 days to complete the 480 miles. Roughly, I walked 325 of the miles, yoga’d 16 miles, swam 20, and biked the last 100+ miles.

I also read at least 10 books and watched one movie about the Camino, re-reading the first one (The Way is Made By Walking) again as I approached the finish line.

During that same time period, I participated in an online Bible Study Fellowship group, studying the Gospel of Matthew and read through A Long Obedience once or twice.

Lastly, the same time period covered Johnny’s academic year, two semesters that were challenging emotionally with many ups and downs, as well as illness and dental issues. It was, to say the least, a very rough year. Somehow he completed 13 credit hours with two As and 2 Bs, plus a “Satisfactory” designation in an Observation Course. That last one included many hours working with the Penguin Players, a theater production for adults with special needs.

In January, I also started attending Re:Generation, a recovery group at Wheaton Bible Church. At 68, I feel too old for this, but decided to work at my part in this unbalanced equation of over-helping and codependency. I began by calling myself a “weary mom” and gradually accepted the label of codependent. I am still in the Groundwork phase, but will start a Step study in June. The jury is still out on whether this is a helpful exercise, but I am committed to the process, for now.

I started the Camino hoping to continue my daily habit of walking outdoors and also make it a spiritual pilgrimage in some unclear way. My feet betrayed me over the fall and winter as plantar fasciitis worsened. I visited podiatrists, bought new shoes and insoles, and tried physical therapy. Next up might be cortisone shots, but I haven’t decided yet. In the meantime, I rented an e-bike and continued my journey with the help of wheels and pedal assist. (Now, new aches and pains are showing up from a different sort of physical activity. Am I too old for this too?)

Spiritually, I learned to depend on God a little more intentionally, but I’m not really “there” yet. In one of the videos we watched at Re:Gen, the speaker used a bench press to illustrate his point. He added big heavy weights that represented his addictions and sins. I didn’t expect him to be able to lift it at all, but he laid back and lifted it once, twice, three times before he started slowing down and then struggled, tiring under the weight. It was a perfect picture of me: I CAN and DO lift a lot of weight, particularly in my helping roles, but I get worn out and weary pretty quickly. Fortunately for the weight lifter, someone spotted him and took the weights from him. I am learning to more quickly ask God to take those weights, even asking BEFORE I pick them up the first time if this is what He wants for me. (Not always, I still rush in to fix and calm more often than not.)

As I end this journey, I think I’ve accepted that life and spirituality are challenges that will continue to the very end, that it may never get easier, but that I am not meant to do it alone or in my own strength/power. Changing my routines and even pedal assist is okay. I also can/should depend on God and others to ease my way. A huge theme of all the Camino books I read was that the community of pilgrims walking the same path was the best part of the experience.

So, I’ve joined a Team for my next virtual challenge, the North Coast 500, a 500 mile journey through the Scottish Highlands. Six of us (so far) will walk, bike, row (or whatever) our miles and add up the miles together rather than separately. Two of us are cancer patients, one had a stroke this winter, all of us are on the old side of things but we are still moving, still journeying. Four of us are also classmates from 46 years ago. Our class verse given to us by the preceding class is just perfect, even (or especially) for this stage of life:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings as eagles;
They shall run and not be weary;
And they shall walk and not faint.
–Isaiah 40:31

P.S. I got to take a long ride this morning with Laura, who is training for a Sprint Triathlon in June. I never would have been able to keep up with her without pedal assist! Loved it even more.