Sold!!!! (????)

WE SOLD OUR HOUSE!!! We sold our house. Ah, yeah, we sold our house…um…well, maybe.

We got an offer on day 9 of the showing process. John counter-offered and then they countered and he accepted it. Whew! The inspection was scheduled two days later.

All we heard the night of the inspection was that there was a concern about the possibility of past water in the basement. John went to bed worrying, even though in 28 years we have NOT had any flooding, even in the worst rainstorms.

The 30-page report came on Monday, followed by an attorney letter requesting a few repairs: radon abatement, basement sealing, and the chimney swept and examined. The other requests were all small, easily fixed problems. We sent our responses back to our lawyer and she drafted a letter to the buyers’ lawyer.

All of this is a pretty normal–and actually fortunate–home-selling process but we are NOT enjoying this at all. We are trying to trust the Lord and not worry (read: obsess) about the details, but it ain’t easy.

What a contrast to our past home buying (and selling) experience: We bought our first home in 1982 (for a lot less money) with something like a handshake among friends. We sold it five years later to another set of friends. We may have had a closing at that time, but I don’t have any memory of it. Even when we bought our current home in 1988, it seemed much simpler and much more friendly. (Um, I don’t remember the agents and lawyers being so intensely involved. Just saying.)

We’ve also started our hunt for our next home, hopefully a house for rent in the vicinity of Aurora or Warrenville. We saw two houses the first weekend, but have just been looking online (working with a realtor) since then. We still have a bit of time so we’re not frantic yet, but it certainly is a concern. Closing date is May 12.

And now, we wait. The hard part is knowing that it still could all fall through and we’d be back at Square One.

       “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.                     Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.                                      The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”                                                        — Proverbs 16: 1, 3, and 9. 

I keep thinking of two of my dad’s favorite phrases: “Relax, God is in control” and his frequent prayer that God would lead “every step of the way.” I’ve faced a lot of tough things in my life, but this one is particularly stressful. Relax….step-by-step….Relax….


I finished my towels–and finished getting the house ready for market!

The final step in weaving is finishing–usually by washing–which changes the threads into whole cloth. One writer calls it “wet finishing”, stating that may involve more than simple washing. She lists scouring, agitation and compression as key finishing factors.

Although I simply washed and folded my towels, the words “scouring, agitation, and compression” are a much better fit for the metaphor of getting the house ready. I’ve never been so tired in my life!

First of all, shortly after posting my last blog “Loose Ends” I realised I was using a sugar-coated euphemism, like none other. “Tying up loose ends” doesn’t begin to describe the work that we did these last two weeks. For example, here is John tying up a loose end:






Besides this, he spent a cold day under our back porch bringing the electric connection for the hot tub and pool up to code by burying the cables and connecting pipe to the box. He also had to remove the blocks from the hot tub. The realtor was impressed with his design, but didn’t want buyers to think that “the whole place has been jerry-rigged.” (Haha–it has!)

I cleaned and cleaned, and cleaned more. (And the more I cleaned the more I found that needed more cleaning. To be on the safe side, I left $$ to pay a cleaning lady to come in and make it shine.)

On Monday morning, I locked the door and left it all behind, driving eight hours to Stormy Lake (with a few stops at quilt and fiber stores) to join John, John2 and Lizi. Even Luna is on vacation, staying with our friends the Homiaks. We are planning to rest–and pray–while Tim Schiller does his part back in Elmhurst. We can’t even think about what’s next.

We’re finished!


Loose Ends

Earlier this week I took six yards of towels off of my loom. I spent the rest of the week with a needle, weaving what felt like a million loose ends into the weft.

Yesterday I used my serger (yeah!) to cut the towels apart and finish the edges. Today, I will hem them with my regular sewing machine.


We have also been tying up a lot of loose ends at home, in the final stages of getting the house ready for market. Picture day is Tuesday. Next Sunday, we leave town for 8-10 days while our realtor puts it on the market. Open House is planned for March 5th.

This. Is. Really. Happening.

We bought our last house from friends and sold it to friends, so we’ve never been through this process. We’re a little nervous.

We hope it sells quickly so we don’t have to live on edge for very long. Maintaining a show-ready house seems like a daunting task to us.

We also are anxious to figure out the next step in our life. We know we want to rent and we want to be closer to our grandkids in Aurora. We’d also like more freedom to spend time with our Kiwi granddaughter. We have a lot of variables to fit into the equation, so for now we are simply taking the next step, which is to get the house on the market.

Lots of loose ends.


We are in the home stretch (we hope) in getting our house ready for market. It has been a long, tedious process, one that feels like it will never end.

Fortunately, I have plenty of distractions to help maintain my sanity and joy.

This week I moved my loom upstairs to my “project room.” I cleared out a lot of stuff that was cluttering up the room: journals, scrapbooks, bins of organized family pictures and old letters, and more bins of neatly folded fabric. My u-shaped room now has a weaving area, a sewing area and a desk for my genealogy.








Weaving. I bought a warping board on my birthday (early October) and started the process of dressing my loom to make sampler tea towels. I was aiming for a 9-yard warp of 300 strands of 8/2 cotton. I thought I’d complete my project before Thanksgiving but it took all those weeks just to get the loom dressed (i.e. ready to weave.)

Once completed, however, it has been such a pleasure to weave! In the midst of life, it’s so sweet to sit down for 20 minutes here and there and weave for awhile. I love the rhythm of it as well as the challenge of catching mistakes and fixing problems. Love learning new skills.


Genealogy. I bought myself a DNA kit in December and sent it off for analysis. The results were no surprise: I am 49% Scandinavian, 30% split between the UK and Ireland, and another 11% Western European. I suppose the biggest surprise was that Western European piece. My maternal grandparents were both very Swedish; my paternal grandparents both very Scottish, though a few generations back one of the families lived in Ireland. I don’t know any ancestors that lived in Western Europe, but I suppose my genes could have traces from people that migrated north before records were preserved.

Through the process, I met an Irish 6th cousin who lives 15 miles down the road from the little town of Donaghadee, County Down, where our mutual great-great-great-grandfather was born in 1787. I spent a week or so studying his descendant tree to learn all I could about the family. About half of them emigrated to Australia and another third of them ended up in either Canada or America. Very few of them remained in the Scotland or Ireland.

Through this cousin I also found transcripts of 48 letters written by my grandmother’s bachelor uncle to a niece back in Scotland from 1905 to 1942. Uncle Andrew emigrated to America in 1905, spending a year on the east coast in shipbuilding. His name and address in Quincy, MA are listed on my grandmother’s passenger records as her sponsoring relative. However, both she and her uncle came to Chicago where they joined another uncle and his family.

Writing home, Andrew reports that “we have Jenny Bitcon here with her companion Mary Turner. We have christened Jenny “Clipper.” She has a tongue that would clip clouts.” He also mentions that “Jenny and Mary got situations both in the same house.” In 1911, he reports that “Jenny will be married soon,” commenting, “that will be all married now. My, what a great relief for the mother.”

These kind of distractions make me happy 🙂

P.S. I googled “a tongue that would clip clouts” and found this in a Dictionary of the Scots Language: a tongue that wad (cud) clip cloots (clouts), a sharp tongue; Gen.Sc.; (4) clip-clouts, a sharp-tongued person; (5) to clip cloots wi’, to quarrel with, find fault with (someone). 


Four days at Disney. Four parks.         Four Starbucks.
Lots of people. Long lines.
Ten Rides.
Six Shows.
Five different eating experiences.
Two parades.




Eight month old Charlee seemed to enjoy it all, smiling,bouncing and raising her arms in delight. (In turn, she provided a lot of entertainment for us and those around us.) It was also fun to experience it with James; he had never been to a theme park.









The image that sticks in my mind is a cloud of smoke with a character either appearing or disappearing in an instant. Poof–There’s Elsa, ready to sing “Let it go.” Or a trap door opens and Indiana Jones drops from the ceiling or disappears down a hole.

Although we anticipated the arrival and dreaded the departure of our Kiwi family, it still feels like a cloudburst–Poof–they’re gone, whisked away to the other side of the world.

We spent 25 days with them, watching Charlee begin to crawl, then stand. We enjoyed our mornings with her, bedtimes, and everything in between. We strapped her in her carseat, carried her in a front pack, and pushed her stroller around Chicago and Disney. We hugged and kissed and snuggled our little Kiwi grandchild, trying to pack six months of love into three weeks.

Skype, Facetime, Viber and Instagram are wonderful but no match for having a baby in your arms, your home and on vacation. We’re already plotting our next adventure.


On Christmas Eve our pastor spoke about the mess of Christmas: of Jesus’ birth in a messy stable cradled in a feeding trough; of the difficulty of keeping plastic Jesus in the manger at his Indiana pastorate; of the reality that Jesus didn’t stay in the manger and he didn’t stay on the cross; and the truth that he comes–Immanuel–into our messy lives as well.

(I may not be summarizing his message accurately. An awfully cute baby had my attention through most of the sermon.) img_3106

This Christmas season felt messy and Christmas day was definitely chaotic. Our Last Christmas In The House was fraught with expectations, our house was FULL, and on top of that, we planned a family trip to Disney after the New Year. I decided not to give my adult children gifts since we were going on the trip (which one adult child thought was a very bad idea.) Three weeks ago, our travel plans changed (only half the family is going) and other family drama marred the preparations.

Christmas Day actually turned out reasonably nice, though chaotic. I gifted my adult children with photo boxes, memory boxes, journals and albums of the Christmas Letters we’ve sent over the years. (Actually a smart way to pack up to move.) We had gifts and activities for the kids, but hadn’t planned on Oaks’ penchant for randomly opening gifts. We also had two meals in the space of 4 hours: cinnamon rolls after opening our stockings and a turkey dinner at four. We ended our family time with a puzzle contest, which Kellen won (with Papa John’s help.)











When I first started unpacking my Christmas decorations, I spent time placing my nativity scene on the top shelf of the curio cabinet. John and Johnny bought it for me years ago, and while I’m no longer a fan of Precious Moments figurines, this one is special. A papa sits in an armchair next to a fireplace reading the Christmas story to his little boy, img_3136illustrated in the manger scene of figurines of the main characters, cute sheep, a donkey and a pig. An angel with a flashlight shines his light down on the manger, an added piece that I bought the Christmas after a miscarriage.

On the shelf below, I put an earthenware communion set that I asked a friend to make for me years ago. Laura and Taylor used it at their wedding and I’d been saving it for the day when our entire family was truly following Jesus. As I placed the pieces, I decided that we should stop waiting for that elusive day and serve communion this Christmas–no matter how messy our lives were looking.

So for a very few minutes, we sat around the table eating cinnamon rolls and talking about our faith and our Savior. Oaks said he wanted to pray and we smiled while he prayed for “all the children to have power, all the power…” Kellen, prompted by his parents, explained why Jesus came and died for our sins. John and I both got choked up when we talked and others shared their gratitude for friends, family and church. We listened to a music video of O Come, O Come, Immanuel and then shared simple bread and grape juice. Short but sweet.

And then we went back to the chaos and the mess, both literally and figuratively. I was exhausted by the end of the day, vowing to never be in charge of Christmas again. There were huge img_3109messes everywhere, in the kitchen, dining room and living room. The top of my mantel was crammed with “stuff”, a pet peeve of mine. And oh, in between our two meals, the sink/disposal backed up so John, Taylor and James worked their magic with a plunger and a snake.           Not pretty.

But Jesus was here–God With Us–in the midst of our mess. We might have only noticed for a few brief moments, but we walk by faith even in those times when we don’t sense his presence or lean on his goodness. Merry Christmess!


scan-11I love this picture of four sisters: Jennie, Maggie, Martha and Lizzie. They were born to James and Agnes (Gray) Bitcon during a ten-year span of years from 1881 to 1891 in Dumbarton, Scotland. By 1897, they were fatherless, with limited resources and no social security. They worked together to make ends meet. All but one would eventually emigrate to America to seek a better life.

I’m fascinated by the way these sisters’ lives intersected in spite of time and distance, helping one another in times of crisis.

  • Jennie was the first to emigrate (1906.) She made two voyages back to the Old Country to visit her mother and sisters, one in 1911 before her marriage, and another in 1922 with three children.
  • Martha emigrated to Canada in 1911 and then to California in 1923. Two years later she traveled to Chicago—and stayed for six months—to help Jennie after the sudden death of her husband and the subsequent birth of her son.
  • Lizze’s husband accompanied Jennie and her children on their return trip to Chicago in 1922. He found a job and saved money to bring Lizzie and their four children over the following year.
  • Maggie and her husband, Peter, remained in Scotland, caring for her aging mother. In 1937, Maggie took a six week trip to America, visiting both Chicago and California.
  • Jennie, in 1946, after the sudden death of her second husband, went and stayed with John and Martha Greenlaw for six-and-a-half years, helping to care for them in illness and in death.

This picture, taken in 1937, fascinates me. I’ve long wanted to write a story about these four sisters, so this month—November, National Novel Writer’s Month—I focused on them during my annual project to write 50,000 words. I spent a great deal of my time and writing doing genealogical research, trying to find out anything I could about the real women portrayed here.

Jennie, of course, is my grandmother. Maggie was the first-born; Martha was second-born; and Lizzie was the baby of the family.

Last week I started asking relatives about their memories of one of the sisters. I learned that the story is more complicated, messier, than I imagined. That shouldn’t have surprised me. I had vague memories and impressions that at least two of the sisters did not get along. Jennie had a sharp tongue and could “kill you with kindness and cut you to the bone if so inclined.” Lizzie was “difficult.”

This could actually make my story much more interesting, adding tension to the plot. The challenge is to do that without disparaging any one sister and/or offending living relatives. If I ever write my story it will be a fictionalized, imagined story, loosely based on these four women. It will be honest about their lives and personalities, but full of grace without (I hope) being sappy.

Last week I found two more pictures of the sisters. The one on the left was taken in Scotland, circa 1911. The second has Jennie “photoshopped” into the picture. Both pictures, likely manipulated with whatever limited technology was available back then, are good metaphors for the lifetime of relationship shared by these women, across miles, oceans and separation.











I never had a sister. In the past, that hasn’t bothered me, but at this stage in life, I’m starting to wish I’d had a sister or two—or three!

I do have daughters though, and in three short weeks, these sisters will be together for a short time, also crossing miles and oceans and separation, to be together. So grateful that we get to do these long-distant relationships in a time when travel and technology make connection much easier, much more frequent.

Cedar Lake

Several years ago–I’m pretty sure I had my first blue Nokia cell phone at the time–I wandered off the beaten path and found Cedar Lake Conference Center. I called my dad and told him where I was. He immediately began singing an old camp song that he remembered from many years past:

“We’re down in Indiana, at Cedar Lake. Yo-ho!

We’re feasting on the manna, to the promised land we go. We’ll raise a loud hosanna and happy hours you’ll know.

At Cedar Lake in In-di-an-a.”

On Thursday, Dad’s birthday, I once again visited Cedar Lake. My mission was to find out more about the summer home my grandparents purchased in 1925.

Cedar Lake is in the back story of a Marshall legend. My grandparents, Robert and Janet Marshall, had purchased a summer home near Cedar Lake. I knew that it wasn’t on the grounds of the camp, but somewhere in the area.

For years I’ve intended to visit the Lake County Courthouse in Crown Point to hunt down the home that were living in on June 30th, 1925.

I found the Recorders Office several miles down the road in the Lake County Government buildings rather than at the Courthouse in the middle of town. The first three people I met were not very optimistic about my search, but I persisted and found the deed for their purchase on June 26th, 1925.

They bought the cottage on a Friday and must have started moving in right away. I’m guessing they spent the weekend there and settled in to spend at least part of the summer away from the city. Robert planned to commute back and forth to East Chicago, in his hard top touring car.

The following Tuesday, just four days later, that plan was turned upside down. Here’s the story I wrote from 11-year old Jean’s point of view. (Based on what she told me of her memories of that night.)

       Jean couldn’t cry even though she had never felt so sad in all her life. She stared at the ceiling of her small room, longing to cry, longing for someone to tell her it was okay. Okay to cry (even if she was a big girl.)

       She knew that nothing would ever be all right again. Her father was dead! Dead. How could that be?

No matter how many times she went over the story, it always turned out the same: She had been helping Mother prepare supper in the small cottage kitchen. They heard a car pull up in front of the house, and stopped to take off their aprons before greeting Dad at the door. Only it wasn’t Dad. It was two men from the conference who had come to tell Mother the awful news.

      Jean saw her mother’s hands fly up in the air and heard her anxious questions while she tried to absorb the news.

An accident.

The car hit by a train and dragged down the track. A fire.

No one could have survived the crash.

Yes, they were sure it was Bob’s car.

Yes, the police and fire department had come.

Yes, he was in heaven now.

No, he wouldn’t be coming home to the cottage or home to his family ever again.

         Then Mother had insisted on going to the scene of the accident, about a twenty minute drive from the cottage. The men hesitated and tried to talk her out of it, but she had insisted that she needed to see it. The children were too young to leave behind so they were bundled into the vehicle as well.

           There at that barren corner where the tracks crossed the Calumet highway, Jean had huddled in the back seat with her two little brothers, scared, shocked, unbelieving.

There really wasn’t much to look at. The car was a mangled, burned mess off to the side of the track. The train was long gone. The police and fire trucks had just pulled away. One lone policemen led Mother by the arm, explaining what he knew about the accident.

           A car had stopped for the oncoming train, but father had pulled around it and tried to cross the tracks ahead of the train. He hadn’t made it, crossing directly in the path of the Scotsman flyer. There had been a terrible screech and explosion as the train impacted the car and dragged it further down the track. The machine had burst into flames.

          Jean watched as her distraught mother wandered around the site. She saw her bend down with a handkerchief, pick something off the ground, and put it in her pocket.

         Finally, Mother returned to the car and they went back to the cottage where they immediately began packing their belongings. The would return to Chicago in the morning. .

Weeks later, when it was all over; when the funeral was done and Father had been buried next to Agnes; when they moved back home to their apartment on Green street, Jean asked her mother what she had picked up that day. 

           “Your father’s brains.”

When I shared Aunt Jean’s story with a friend, she asked if my Gramma was being sarcastic. I immediately said “no” but the more I thought about it, the more I believed that she was expressing both shock and anger. Robert made an impulsive and foolish choice that day, a choice that would impact his family for years to come. My father was born four months later.

I don’t know (yet) what happened to that cottage. I was able to locate an address and get a copy of Real Estate Assessment and Transferred Records, but they only go back as far as 1958. Even so, there are hints of more story: the first name on the record is Mary R Christie, a sister-in-law of Janet’s second husband. Her son’s name (a nephew) is in the top left hand corner of the document and Lawrence’s name is also on the original deed as the notary public. More puzzles to unravel.

img_2648I did find the land, but no cottage. There was even a For-Sale (“Best Offer”) on the ground. Speaking of land, I’d also stopped at Mt Hope Cemetery on the far south side of Chicago earlier that day. The final resting place for Robert Marshall (and two of his children) is an unmarked grave in a back corner of the cemetery that isn’t cared for well at all.img_2646


I ended my day, somewhat coincidentally, at Palos Hills Christian Assembly, the Plymouth Brethren off-shoot of the “hall” at 86th & Bishop my grandparents attended. It was also my Dad’s home church for at least twenty years of his life. I was there for a memorial service, but couldn’t help reflecting on these family stories as well. Years later, Janet Christie, my grandmother, said “There are no tragedies in life.” She trusted that every part of her story was within God’s plan for her life–and ours.

It’s easy for me to wonder “what if?” they hadn’t bought that cottage…or Robert hadn’t been commuting back and forth. What if he’d simply stopped behind the other car? How would the story of our family have been different? Would it have been better? Or just different?` I probably wouldn’t go so far as my grandmother, to say there are no tragedies in life, but I could well relate to the words of Immanuel’s Land:

With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustered with His love!
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that plann’d,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

P.S. Immanuel’s Land actually has nineteen stanzas. It was written by Anne R. Cousins in 1876, using letters written by a Scottish pastor, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661.) Read his story here.

Falling Short

unnamed-1Did you learn Romans 3:23 as a child? “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I learned a new way of falling short this week–in weaving.

Actually, I fell short a few weeks ago when I ran out of warp for the sampler I was making. I decided to make a second sampler, striving for perfection.

My warp”fell short” again, but this time I decided to tie on more warp, a process NOT recommended by more experienced weavers on my Facebook Weaving group. I decided to ignore their advice and do it anyways. They were right, of course.

I measured and cut 140 threads, each about 4 feet in length. one by one, I knotted an old and new string together and trimmed the knots. I re-established the tension on my warp and started weaving again.

That seemed to work well until the knots started the process of coming through the heddles and reed. My fell line (where the weaving is actually done) started to wiggle and “smile”: the tension became uneven and my weaving was ragged. With every second treadle change, I was having to untangle threads from the back of the loom.

Finally I decided to pull the knots through the heddles and reed without weaving them, leaving a 10 inch gap in my weaving. It was difficult to establish a good tension after that, but I managed to get back on track.

Then, I noticed that I was already running out of warp–again! I decreased the sample size—from 2 to 1 inches–and retied the back beam to get a few more inches out of the loom waste. I managed to eek out the last ten structures to complete my project.

unnamed-3My finished product has an unplanned seam and a shortened sequence but, hey, its a sampler. It looks good and feels soft and wonderful. This picture shows a variety of the patterns in the sampler. I learned new tricks and now know more about mistakes to avoid in the future.

I’m ready to start my next project–sampler towels–which will add more color and practicality to my palette.

I know that I will start with an extra, extra long warp.


P.S. I’m pretty sure there is a spiritual application to this story, but I’ll leave it to your imagination and consideration.

Here is my birthday gift: a used warping board bought on Craigslist, with a 9-yard warp for my next project.img_2633

Reluctant Reunion

I really didn’t want to come. I’d signed up, paid my fees, and bought a plane ticket. Just ten days before John had decided that he would like to join me on the trip to Colorado and there was an extra room because someone else had to cancel. When John2 had another manic episode, I really wondered if one or both of us could/should go. I worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and still didn’t feel like taking a trip, but decided to just follow through regardless of feelings.

Our West Sub class of 44 graduates (1976) had voted to have this reunion in Colorado for a change. Only 13 ladies made the trip, less than 1/3 of our class. Illness, grandbabies, and other travel prevented many from making the trip, as well as some whose memories of nursing school aren’t all that fond.

14370306_10157368366335401_2575341235484813236_nBut the weekend has been sweet. We’ve laughed and talked through three meals a day and evening sessions focused on the past, present and future. We’ve driven together to town, and along the Trail Ridge Drive. We took a short walk around Bear Lake and huffed and puffed up trails in (literally) thin air. We even stopped to see a small display of National Park Centennial quilts.

This morning, we sang a lot of old hymns and songs from the 70s, our older voices stretching to hit the high notes (plus John’s bass.) We prayed and shared and had Cheryl Fornelli tell us a story* from John 11.








I came reluctantly. I leave blessed. So here’s the lesson: Grab whatever opportunities you have to reconnect with classmates, extended family, and friends. It’s a little taste of heaven.



*Cheryl uses a method called Orality, which uses oral storytelling to teach the biblical narrative. She and her husband, John, have been using this as an evangelistic tool in many cultures. Follow the links to learn more.