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.

Persistence Pays

I know you’ve all been on pins and needles wondering whether we liked our paint colors. (Haha)

We (drum roll) love it!!!!!!!

The grey walls of the living room, kitchen and hallway were completed this weekend and I was very happy with the results. I still hadn’t decided on the accent wall.

I narrowed down the accent wall colors to two samples: “NightFlight” (a dark navy) and the “Newburyport Blue” which was definitely more purple than blue. I asked everyone for an opinion and almost every time they would choose the purple one. Every time they did, I had this contrary sense that I really wanted the alternative.

Last night, pondering it once again, I went back to look up the color online and realized that the paint sample I’d been given couldn’t be right. I decided to have a new sample made up from a store that normally works with Benjamin Moore paints. As soon as we opened the can, we knew that THIS was the color intended, not the purple hue. It is just the right balance of color and warmth needed for my accent wall. Perfect!

5 samples of grey and 5 samples for the accent wall. Persistence (and a patient husband) really does pay off.

P.S. I’m figuring out that this wishy washy angst over decorating decisions might be a function of age. I asked a few of my friends and we all admit to finding such decisions difficult now, when in the past we started projects and chose colors a lot more easily. We still haven’t figured out why that might be–just that we share the experience. Any ideas?

Color Confusion

Our entire house was painted in a light cream color, walls and ceilings. (The basement, refinished later, was painted mostly a soft yellow.) It’s time to add color.

Who knew that color could be so confusing?

For the first time, we asked for help from a decorator. She made suggestions that surprised us, but we agreed: a dark accent wall in the living room and gray on the walls. (So trendy!)

I picked out paint chips (with her) and came home to try some samples. Three greys, starting with the darker one she favored, two that I thought were gradient lighter tones,and two dark blues.

This was all happening while a painter did all the ceilings in the living room, kitchen and hallway: ceiling white. We made a snap decision that morning to paint the kitchen because at both entrances, there are no natural divides where one paint could end and another start. This complicated our color choices.

I was really shocked when I painted the samples. It was a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One color was too dark, one was too light (with strong purple tints), and so on. The accent paints were a deep purple and a too-bright blue.

We waited a day, living with the color and waiting for sunshine, and then went back to the paint store for more samples. Lighter, warm greys and two more dark navies.





I also bought samples for our master bathroom: a light spring green. Again, the first sample I rolled was surprisingly light; the second dark. When I bought another sample, I was shocked by the blue tint. What was going on?

As a quilter, I consider myself to be good with color. Choosing fabric might be my favoritie part of quilting: There’s nothing like walking through a quilt store with bolts of fabric in your arms, placing them side by side to get the right color. I once took a color class and was the star pupil. One of my blog categories is color.

But this? I felt like someone was doing a bait and switch with every sample!

We’re ready to plunge, which is exactly how it feels. We still don’t know if we will like, love or hate the end result.

P.S. We’ve only chosen the color for the main walls. Want to vote on the accent wall? (Even though the picture doesn’t really tell an accurate story either. The one on the top right is actually a dark purple/blue. The other three are closer to reality.)

Sew Organized!

We are continuing to settle into our new home–and getting ourselves organized.

I started with my sewing area in the basement. I bought an Ikea Kallax 8-bin unit to define my space and set up a boundary with the kids’ play area. Bins organized toys and fabric and an attached table made a nice home for my new sewing machine. I returned to Ikea for another table for my serger and a cutting board, and an even bigger–16 bin–unit to store my fabric. A re-covered design board, a new ironing board cover, and a table skirt to hide more bins of stuff, completed my sewing room by mid-July.


With Lizi moving back home, I organized the closet in her room to compactly hold–and organiez–her clothes and my (non-sewing) hobbies.


I needed to cram a lot of books and files into a small space. Back to Ikea (several times) to pick up pieces of the Algot system and figure out how to use the space well. I finished our new, organized closet by the end of August.






Last, but certainly not least, we were able to get our garage organized by the end of September. Another Kallax system and more bins, a massive workbench and pegboard, and numerous shelves. Our bikes are stored up high on pulleys for easy access and sports bins hold the balls, discs, and skates. A rail system holds gardening tools, etc. Plus we either stored (garage attic) or threw out the rest of our junk.

Best of all, we are able to park two cars in the garage for the first time since we left our Bellwood home in 1980! We are so excited to be able to pull in and out of the garage,
away from the elements. And yes, I have ball hanging from a rope to guide me into my space 🙂


One more thing: My threads for weaving are finally “organized” after what seems like months of stops and starts. Before we left Elmhurst I laid out 400+ threads on the warping board and tied them neatly. In August, I managed to get all the threads onto the loom, but didn’t finish dressing it until this week. For me, that means going over and over it to get it right: the pattern, the threading of the heddles, the sleying of the reed and then, the tension. I love how it looks when it is all done, though I have to say the process of getting to this point is more than tedious. Now I’m ready for the fun of weaving 🙂







Really, sew organized!