Be Our Guest

We have a new guest room in our home. This weekend we welcomed our first “guest”–Johnny.

He spent the last ten days in the hospital, following a particularly bad manic episode. We will spare you the details, but we still want to share our news so that you can join us in prayer for the days ahead. This week there will be several appointments and then he will start an outpatient program the following week.

We have renewed hope for Johnny’s future. Our hope is not in the programs, doctors, counselors or anything that John and I plan for Johnny. We’ve pretty much come to the end of our ability to trust John, ourselves or others for the change needed. Our hope is in the Lord.

May I tell you my story?

The first sermon of 2018 at the Edge Church challenged us to “Make Room” for God, miracles, relationships, and ministry in our lives and in the life of the church. Afterwards, I prayed with the ministry team, asking God for a miracle in Johnny’s life this year.

Later, as Lent was underway, they launched a series of sermons on the biblical practice of fasting. I began fasting and praying, specifically for John. In April, I decided to try a 21-day partial fast, called the Daniel Fast (no meat, no dairy, to grains, no sugar=basically a vegan diet. It wasn’t particularly difficult to eat less or skip meals, but coming up with a diet of vegetables, fruit and legumes was a bit challenging. I bought a spiralizer and two cookbooks, but most of the recipes still included meat or cheese so there weren’t a lot of options–and very little variety. I’m pretty sure I could never be vegan.)

The last day of my partial fast happened to coincide with John’s manic episode. John and I were up all night with him and finally called for help as the sun rose the next morning. I was more than a little stunned, but still sure that this was more than a coincidence. It is not how I imagined God would answer my prayer, but I was able to trust that somehow this would “work together for good” in spite of how things looked at the moment.

I woke up at 4 am the next morning and immediately thought of Johnny, now a resident of a chronic psych unit. I got up to pray for him and started reading my Bible. I’d been reading a lot of the lament literature–Psalms, Jeremiah and Lamentations. I was looking for verses about a “new heart” which had been my specific prayer for John–tho I often told God I wasn’t sure how to define a new heart. I noticed Ezekial 36, reading verses 22-38 and then read chapter 37, the Valley of Dry Bones.

I didn’t take it as a promise from God for John but as a beautiful picture of what God could do in his life. It was extremely encouraging in light of all that had transpired that day. You can read it yourself and imagine my encouragement, my hope.

John was, of course, miserable in the hospital. He begged to come home and for the first time we weren’t sure that we could let him return home. His counselor told us to clear out his room and make it into a guest room, so we spent a couple days doing that. Although we visited John when we were able, our best conversations took place over the phone. Gradually, we walked him through the events of that night (he doesn’t remember much) and then, through his goals and ours, long and short term. He had one short term goal and that was to come home, but we were slowly able to work through a negotiation process together. We talked with his counselors, doctor and life coach and the case worker at the hospital and feel confident that we’ve got a good plan in place. Even so, we know that unless God gives him a “heart of flesh” and his Spirit within, all the plans in the world will likely fail.

Will you pray with us? Choose some phrases from Ezekial 36 or 37 to ask God to fulfill in John’s life. Pray for us. Pray for a miracle!


P.S. One of my good friends told me this joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Three, but only if the lightbulb wants to be changed :-).


Two Hot Tubs

Just a few days ago, I sat in a hot tub overlooking Big Bay. The weather changed every few minutes from blue skies and sunshine to light rain and clouds, and then back again. Every hour or so, a big jet would fly over, heading out from nearby Auckland, beginning a journey to other lands. I would be on a similar plane later that day.


Our bach consisted of two small buildings hanging (quite literally) on the edge of a sandstone cliff. A small white picket fence surrounded the property and kept Obi and Charlee safe from falls. Two steep driveways led to the road (one so steep we couldn’t get up it in Annie’s van!) The path down to the waterfront switched back and forth to a small grassy landing, lined with rocks and a lot of seaweed. Tides changed our view throughout the day, as did the changing weather. We saw many rainbows as the sun filtered through the light rain.

John and I claimed the smaller building, a 9 x 12 room with a whole wall of windows/doors facing north towards the bay. It had room for a bed, a chair and a couple tables. We moved furniture around to make room for a small mattress for Charlee and shared it with her. So sweet to share our space–and bed–with her our last two mornings.

In New Zealand, a bach is usually a rustic cottage on or near the coast. (On the South Island, they are called cribs.) I’m sure there are lots of really lovely bachs, but probably not in our price range! This one was pretty basic, except for the hot tub.

Today, I looked over the edge of another hot tub at a completely different view: evergreen trees, a grassy winter yard (no snow!) and blue skies. We’re back home, getting over jet lag, and feeling a little stunned to find ourselves back in the U.S.A. Even though we got on that plane and flew for 11 + 4 hours, its hard to fathom the distance between here and New Zealand. (Is anyone else still amazed by the fact of overseas air travel? It seems so common and yet, surreal.)

Coming home to a “new” house might have contributed to this odd feeling. Surveying some of the damage to said house probably also had an impact. (John2 didn’t do well on his own.) An enthusiastic welcome at the Birkey house and Charlee’s new level of response when Skyping will probably help us ease back into our life. As the week progresses and normal activities begin to take over, I’m sure we’ll feel better.

That, and a hot tub with a view!

Last Supper

Today was our last full day at Cherry Lane Cottage–and it was a full day. I made cinnamon rolls for morning tea and Anne made bao buns with twice cooked pork for dinner. They were amazing. She’s quite a good cook.



Charlee and I took a fun walk in the rain, in the cutest little rain suit you’ve ever seen. Anne first saw these in Petersburg in 2010. When I was there this summer, I looked for them and then searched the Internet, finding them on Amazon (of course. If you really want to see how they work, check out this video of Oaks and Olive demonstrating (make sure you make it at least halfway through the video. It is worth it.)


Lizi fed the chickens for the last time. She has really enjoyed the animals here–chickens, cats, cows, sheep and the dog–but I think she might like the chickens the best, especially the four little chicks. 

Grampa spent the day finishing a big girl bed for Charlee. She was quite the helper throughout the day and with the final production. She will sleep in it tonight.


Tomorrow morning James leaves early for a whitewater kayaking trip and we are going to a bach (not a typo) about an hour southwest of Auckland. Annie’s friend Emily is flying in from Canada tomorrow evening. We’ll spend the next two days playing at the beach and then they will drop us off at the airport on Thursday afternoon. I thought that might make our parting a little easier.

Cherry Lane Cottage

James and Annie’s address is 44 Kentucky Road, Karapiro, 3494, New Zealand, but at the end of her driveway is a sign with a sweeter name: Cherry Lane Cottage. We haven’t found the cherry trees yet, but there are plenty of other fruit trees on the property–lemons, grapefruit, fig, apple, avocado, fejjoa and peaches. Anne has also planted a mandarin orange tree, a lemonade tree (seriously), and grapes, raspberries and blueberries.






What fun it is to bake here at Cherry Lane Cottage. The first week we made cinnamon rolls, homemade marshmallows, and bagels. Last week Anne made a pear pie and today I’m going to try a peach cobbler. John just picked a bag of peaches from the tree. We are also in the process of freezing peaches and blueberries (purchased yesterday at the Blueberry Cafe.)

Yesterday and today, I processed 5 HUGE zucchini (corgettes in New Zealand) and made zucchini bread and muffins. I will freeze the rest for later recipes, or maybe donate some of it to the ABS Lodge. (I ended up with something like 20 cups of grated squash.)



It’s so lovely to have a ready supply of fruit, especially lemons. John makes lemon cordial every few days so that we have always have lemonade on hand. At home, I rarely have lemons when called for in a recipe, but here they are always available, at least in season. A small glass lemon squeezer is easy to use and quick to clean up. The best part is that all the rinds can be fed to the cows and chickens or dropped into the compost. The same goes for all the excess zucchini parts. No waste.

And eggs. There are six laying hens at the moment so we get about 3-5 eggs most every day. We know where one of the nests is, but we have been having a hard time finding where the others are laying. They cackle loudly after laying but we haven’t been quick enough to figure out where they are laying. This week John and Anne worked on the chicken coop, with a goal of keeping the hens out of her garden at the very least and also to get the chickens laying in an accessible place. I’m really going to miss having fresh eggs for breakfast and baking.

There is one thing, however, that I will not miss about farm life: flies! We bought a three- pack of fly swatters and have pretty much worn them out. John built a screen for one of the kitchen windows and is thinking about a door screen as well. It’s so lovely to have the doors and windows open, but not so nice to share our space with the flies.

We have about ten days left at Cherry Lane Cottage. We hope to spend at least one more day at the beach and our last two days at a bach near Auckland. It’s going to be hard to get on that plane to come home. We will miss the warm weather, the fresh eggs and fruit, but mostly Anne, James and Charlee. Good thing we’re coming home to more grandchildren. And spring is right around the corner, eh?


Glow Worms

We just got home from an adventure: a middle-of the night visit to the glow worm caves in Waitamo.

ABS (Adventure Bible School) has been gone for 4 days: hiking, camping and abseiling. Tomorrow they will go caving. We joined them yesterday for a late night hike.

I’ve actually seen glow worms on at least four occasions. The first time I met James, he took Anne and I in a night-time kayak trip down the river so see glow worms hanging on the overhanging trees. During the wedding trip, James and Anne led us across the field near the ABS lodge and down into a ravine. We walked up and down and through a foot of water (where eels lurked in the dark!) to a small cave with a waterfall, open sky and hundreds of glow worms. I’ve been back there twice: once when Anne led Marilyn and I to the caves and again, the night before Anne went into labor.

For all these years, and all these visits, we’ve wanted to go to the bigger glow worm caves at Waitamo. We heard stories about the ABS adventure, including a worship service inside the caves. It never worked out–until this trip.

We met the group around 9:30 p.m. after negotiating miles of curvy switchbacks as the sun went down. By the time we started our hike, it was totally dark. We basically bushwacked for about 40 minutes, up and down, on a rough trail. When we neared the caves, we turned off our headlamps, joined arms and side-stepped our way into the cave. We found seats on a narrow ledge of rock and sat in silence for awhile, taking it all in.

At first, glow worms look like a dark sky full of specks of iridescent light, kind of like the night sky full of bright stars. Looking up at them, I started to see a bright light surrounded by a kind of halo. Viewing them at eye level looked like hundreds of silver/white ornaments in huge clusters, each with a bright center.

In reality, they are simply the excretion of ATP from the bum of a maggot-like larvae, the lights designed to attract flying adults at the end of their life cycle, to be used as food/fuel for the mating and reproduction process of arachnocampo luminosa. They really are quite ugly in daylight.

Still we marvelled at God’s extravagant creation. All this beauty–for what? I’m guessing He just loves creating beauty, even hiding it for hardy hikers (and paying customers who can see it by boat or other means. That’s what I’m planning for my next glow worm experience!)

After midnight, John and I left the group at the trailhead and headed back to town to stay in the Huhu Chalet, a tiny tower AirBnB, with a second floor bedroom with a 30ft ceiling, a steep stairway to the first floor kitchen/bathroom. In spite a comfortable bed, we didn’t sleep well–aching joints and muscles reminded us of our advancing age.

There are no pictures with this post, as there is no way our phone/camera could do justice to the beauty of the glow worms. Instead, here are some interesting links to glow worm pictures and information. Actually, I don’t think the pictures–even the best ones I could find on the Internet–really capture what glow worms are like in real life. Guess you have to come to New Zealand to see them.

44 Kentucky Road

I always imagined I would enjoy a rural life–and I’m finding that I really do like it.

This morning we listened to the chickens loudly cackling, announcing the presence of a few more fresh eggs. There were five eggs hidden under the bushes and one chicken still laying, so we left her–and the eggs–alone.

Yesterday in the middle of laundry, our water ran out. James and Anne have a huge cistern–20,000 litres–that is usually kept full with rainwater, but it was empty that morning. We showered at the lodge and brushed out teeth with bottled water. There was still water in a smaller tank, so John filled a rubbish bin with water and we dipped into it to flush the toilets.

This morning we called to order water. While James was making the call, we noticed that the Internet was down. Then John couldn’t get the toaster to work. We finally figured out that the power was out too. About that time, the water man told us that he couldn’t give us a time for the delivery because the power was out in Cambridge, 15 km away. It was a pretty big outage, covering all the the Waikato and even up into the Cormandol.

Annie had an ultrasound scheduled for this morning, so that was off as well. Fortunately, the power came back on within a couple of hours; the water man came with with 1300 litres and pumped them into the cistern; AND the ultrasound was back on schedule. (Baby looks fine. Gender not revealed, though a “guess” has been placed in a sealed envelope.)




This afternoon, we did more laundry, hanging it all out to dry, which is fun on a sunny summer day. (It’s not so fun in the middle of winter.)



Charlee had her bath outdoors in a plastic laundry bin.

Lizi feeds the chickens once a day. There are nine hens and four chicks. Two of the hens are on maternity leave, even though their chicks are surrogate chicks ordered from Raglan. They are truly free range, sometimes even venturing into the house!


After dinner, I walked the length of Kentucky Road, 2K, in the cool evening, watching the sun set, turning puffy clouds pink. There are seven farms along this road, ranging in size from small to large. Two are working farms (beef, goats and dairy) and the others are more hobby farms. Anne and James live on the smallest “farm”: Two calves, one sheep, 9 hens and 4 chicks, two cats, and one dog.


Living the dream here on 44 Kentucky Road.

Christmas al fresco

We celebrated Christmas today. We had cinnamon rolls with fresh eggs; read the Christmas story from Luke 2;  enjoyed watching Charlee open her presents and played the new game that was James’ gift, King of Tokyo. James and Anne gardened and clipped the chickens’ wings. We went swimming.


And then we had a lovely dinner of roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and pavlova–outdoors.


Its been overcast and rainy since we arrived but we haven’t minded. We needed time to get over jet lag and enjoy little Charlee.


She is a busy little girl with a beautiful one-dimple smile, white-blond curls, and a solid, strong body. She inherited agility from both James and Anne: climbs confidently, wanders freely, and handles the animals with ease.

Her Christmas presents were a bike, a baby doll (w/cradle, quilt and baby paraphernalia), a stuffed singing elephant, and a coffee-maker wooden toy. The bike was from her parents and later that day, James made a ramp for her! John made the cradle and I made the quilt. She is a busy little mama, caring for the baby. Good practice for the real baby coming in June.

Anne and James are now away on a two-day vacation, the first time they’ve both been away from Charlee overnight. The three of us are managing to keep up with one busy little girl.






Merry Christmas! (It’s finally over :-)!



All I want for Christmas…

A week or two before Christmas John asked me if there was anything I wanted for Christmas. I replied, “All I want is for it to be over!”

The next day, I listed all the “new” things in my life: a new house with new furniture, a new piano and a new hot tub, as well as a garage I can park in, a first floor laundry room, a master bedroom suite and a fantastic kitchen. I really didn’t need anything for Christmas. (Though I still desperately wanted it to be over!)

December and early January is a difficult time in our house. The combination of winter weather mixed with the holidays (and John2’s birthday) means a lot of added stress. It started early in December this year with John2 obsessing about gifts, both for himself and for others. He loves to give gifts, but also loves to get them. His wish list start sounding like a list of demands for a calm Christmas. And once we get through Christmas, his birthday is ten days later, with a different set of expectations. We must go ice skating on his birthday; we have halibut and baked Alaska for dinner, and there is another wish list. This year I had Lizi give him his Audrey Hepburn calendar as a Christmas gift, which bothered him. I also tried changing the menu.

Anyways, we made it through the month of December, Christmas and John’s birthday.

Now we are packing, and getting ready to celebrate another birthday (Anne’s) and Christmas in New Zealand. It’s too expensive to mail packages and Annie is a lot more relaxed about gifts and traditions. They were traveling anyways, spending her birthday and Christmas on the South Island with James’ family.

We are sewing and building and still ordering things on Amazon while we are un-decorating our house and packing for summer. Two weeks of white snow and arctic temperatures will give way this week to a heat wave in the 30s. Next Monday (January 15) we will start our journey to the other side of the world, arriving on the 17th, with a day lost on the way. (We’ll pick it up on the way home.) Maybe we’ll celebrate Anne’s birthday on January 21 and Christmas on January 25th. Or maybe not.

We are all so excited to see–and hug–Annie, James and Charlee so much that the rest seems inconsequential. We’ll spend five weeks with them on their “farmette” eating from the fruit trees and garden, caring for the animals, and loving on little Charlee. And we’ll get mid-winter tans as well 🙂 Our first New Zealand summer!

P.S. John2 will be home alone for five weeks. Please pray for him–and if you are nearby and feel “called,” reach out to him with a phone call, a text, a meal, or an invitation. His phone number is 630-200-0415. He may or may not answer it, but will likely listen to your message and may return your call. Or maybe not.

Sleuth or Snoop?

I sat down at a table in the Archives office with a mix of excitement and trepidation. There were three files in front of me: two thick (folded) files each labelled “Robert Marshall” and one flat, fairly thin file labelled “Laurence Christie.”

I opened the thick file and immediately could tell that it contained the will and probate records of my grandfather. I didn’t expect an actual will, but there it was, a thin piece of paper covered in type, signed and witnessed. Its contents was unremarkable: He assigned his wife executrix of his estate and bequeathed unto her all the property, real and personal, and effects….” It was dated 16 March 1922.

Although it begins includes the customary phrase “considering the uncertainty of this frail and transitory life,” I’m sure he had no idea it would be needed just three years later.

In August, my grandmother testified in open court verifying his death, her relationship to him, and the birth of his children. The will was proved in September and Janet Bitcon Marshall was was named executrix.

In October, she gave birth to David Marshall, my dad. On November 24, Laurence Christie testified as “just a friend” to amend the heirship to include “David, his posthumous son” as an heir.

Initially Robert Marshall’s estate included $4,000 cash in the bank and a claim against the Pennsylvania Railroad for $10,000 for wrongful death. No other property or assets. By the next summer, it was clear that “it would be almost impossible to recover a case of a suit brought against the Railroad company.” Instead, a settlement of $750 was offered and accepted.

The rest of the files included the Final Account, dated 26 December 1926 and several additional files in the ensuing years to allow my grandmother to use money for the care and support of her children. In November 1930, her twelve year old son died so she had to petition the court for the $70.85 remaining in his account. In 1937, when son Edward reached his majority, there was another file releasing funds to him. Even as late as 1941, Janet had to request funds from the court for care and support of David.

Five years later, Janet was back in court with a handwritten will from Laurence Christie. I found a copy of it in my dad’s dresser after he died. I thought it was the original, but when I opened the files in the archive office, I saw that what I had was a copy. On the back of my copy was a stamp saying it was denied. Laurence Christie wrote the will in 1933, long before he convinced my grandmother to marry him*. It was signed, witnessed and dated, but apparently the court denied it because he married her after the will was executed.

An interview in open court by my grandmother, 9 October 1946, established possible heirs: his widow, two brothers (both in Scotland) and a nephew (in Chicago.) Letters were sent to these individuals by the court with apparently no claims made. Eventually my grandmother received two lots (valued at $100), 75 shares of Stock from Armour & Co. His entire estate was valued at $1500.

I read through all these documents, one by one, and took pictures of most of them with my cell phone (as instructed by the archivist.) It felt strange to handle these documents that ranged in age from 75-90 years and probably hadn’t been touched or viewed for well over 60 years. I don’t imagine anyone will ever look at them again. But they are stored somewhere in the archives and will remain so.

I spent the rest of the day in the Tract Office, looking at records for the house at 8221 S. Ridgeland in Chicago. My grandmother lived in it from 1933 until 1940 and again, in 1946 after Laurence died. I hoped that my grandfather’s business built the house, but I’m guessing that is not true. The owner at the time of building was Buchanan & Norton. In 1928 it was quit claimed to Laurence Christie and then sold to Robert Stewart. In 1929, Laurence quit claimed it to my grandmother and in 1934, Robert Stewart quit claimed it to her. (Anyone want to explain that?) In 1935, my grandmother took out a mortgage on the home. In 1948, Janet quit claimed it to a friend and he quit claimed it back to her the same day. Someone in the office told me that was probably an easy way to have her name changed on the record. She gave it to the friend as Janet Marshall and accepted it back as Janet Christie.

My parents lived in the house from 1947 until 1952, while my grandmother was in California caring for her sister, Martha (for 6-1/2 years.)

In August 1951, my mother gave her 54-year old Ridgeland neighbor a ride to LaGrange to visit her mother. They must have picked up the woman’s mother and were heading elsewhere when my mom ran a stop sign at the intersection of 55th and Wolf. The neighbor and her mother were both killed; my mother (expecting my brother Larry) and David (2) were taken to Wesley Hospital in the city. The other car carried two women and five children, all taken to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn.

I first heard this story when I was in my late teens. When I was researching at the Chicago History Museum a few weeks ago, an article popped on the screen with the name Eldora Marshall in the middle of it. I freaked a bit–that is not exactly a common name. And then read the article about my mother’s accident.

Apparently the neighbor who lost his wife was less-than-gracious in the months that followed. Larry was born in December and in May my folks moved away and Gramma sold the house. When she returned home from California in 1953 (my birth year) she moved into an English basement apartment at 89th and Bishop, the only “Gramma’s house” any of us remember. She lived there until 1970, when she went to live with Aunt Jean & Uncle Kas.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, my apologies. My friend always says “long story short” and I think this was a short story made long. I love the details, but I understand if others don’t. I’m also not sure how my grandmother would feel about this. She was a very private person so I don’t think she would necessarily applaud my curiosity. In fact, I think I may get a scolding when I meet her in heaven!








* Laurence’s will used a lot of similar phrases but added “In consideration of love and affection” just prior to bequeathing Gramma with all his possessions. He also seemed to be writing all others out of his will, allowing at most that anyone claiming heirship be given no more than one dollar.


Every November I put myself through the paces of writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writers’ Month (on the website, 750 Words.)

I write a minimum of 750 words a day to qualify and anywhere from 1500-2500 words to keep up the necessary pace. I usually pick a line of my genealogy research to explore so my writing is a combination of fact and fiction.

This year I focused on my grandmother, Janet Bitcon, and her two husbands, Robert Marshall and Laurence Christie. I’ve written about them before, putting together a series of vignettes.

Since I last wrote about them, I’ve learned a few things:

1) My grandparents bought the cottage in Cedar Lake just seven days before his death. I found the title, dated June 23, notarized by Laurence Christie. He died on June 30. My grandmother sold the cottage to Laurence Christie before the month was over.

2) A story circulated around the church was that the man sitting in the car stopped at the railroad crossing was a friend. He and Robert had been racing to see who could get to the lake first. The story was that Robert saw this as his chance to slip through and get ahead while his more cautious friend waited for the train to pass.

3) We always wondered how Robert Marshall (husband number 1) and Laurence Chrstie (husband number 2) met. Looking at their respective Ship Passenger Lists from 1908 and 1907, I noticed that both men listed John Halcrow as their contact in Chicago. That seemed like an impossible coincidence until I noticed that Robert’s sister-in-law listed her birthplace as Shetland. It’s very likely that they met through this mutual friend.

4) I found the building permit for a home my Gramma lived in from 1933 until at least 1951. I’m hoping that it might lead me to information about the side business of building spec houses that my grandfather helped organize. It’s possible that his business built the house. (He died a year before the real estate bust of 1926, which decimated  the “fortune” Robert had left her and ruined Laurence Christie’s real estate business.)

5) I also visited Cook County Archives and ordered the files from Probate Court for both men, which I should be able to view next week. Laurence actually made a handwritten will  giving all he had to my grandmother–five years before she agreed to marry him. The will is stamped “Denied” and therefore would have gone to Probate. I’m assuming that Robert Marshall, aged 34, did not even have a will. “All the more reason for probate,” is what the archivist told me.

A friend recently advised me to write and write and write. He also told me my story needed a beginning and an end, so I spent time working out a good ending (I already had a beginning) and an outline. These last few days, I wrote and wrote and wrote. My tendency is to focus on research and procrastinate on the actual writing. I decided that I would be happy with writing a story for my family. He told me even they still shouldn’t have to read something boring!

So, 53,130 words later, I am claiming my NaNo “prize.” I hope to keep writing, but the pace will definitely slow down. Christmas is coming and then, in January, a five-week trip to New Zealand. I think I have a few things to do.