My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Let's Be Refreshing

Plunging my nice organic peppermint into boiling water for tea, the thought occurred to me: bruising and tearing the leaves released their full flavor.

I just brought a big glass container of iced peppermint tea to a priest friend’s 10th anniversary of ordination party, and I was surprised to see the little children working the spigot on the carafe, taking one serving, and then another.

“What is this?” they asked, and I was excited to see a natural, un-sugared drink being so appreciated. You may know this: mint flourishes. So if you have none in your garden, plant a little plot, but contain it...or at least expect it to assert itself all over your yard if you don't keep it under control.

The secret to enjoying the mint to its fullest, like I said, is in the bruising of the leaves.  Put a couple handfuls of torn fresh mint in a pot of boiling water. Let it sit and steep for a nice while. Let it take its time…then enjoy it hot or iced. Be careful if you have reflux. It's a muscle relaxant and if you take too much, you could aggravate your reflux issues. But taken in moderation, it’s great for weight loss, digestion and so refreshing.

It’s also a good reminder: If you’re having a tough moment, day…life…then take heart. Let’s try together. We’ll let that tempering of tough times take place and with God’s grace, those bruises of life, whether little or big, will release our full flavor...our rich nature. We’re made to be a refreshment to the world.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

As Morning Breaks: Daily Gospel Reflections

"With Christ joy is constantly born anew." Pope Francis

As a young mother of a baby girl, I was asked to write a Lenten Scripture reflection for our church's Living Stations of the Cross. I never forgot the honor of meditating on my bit of Scripture and contributing prayers to the event open to our whole parish. For Easter, the Director of Adult Religious Formation presented me with lovely lilies in thanks, and said she, a single woman, had learned from my mother's wisdom. What a blessing.

For three years, I've podcasted Missionary Moments for Deacon Tom and Dee's SQPN-affiliated Catholic Vitamins Show. I was happy to join this great couple and the other correspondents of Catholic Vitamins, in contributing two Scripture reflections for a new daily Scripture meditation book for busy moms: As Morning Breaks: Daily Gospel Reflections. To offer such a meditation, meant settling in with Bible and journal, praying, and simply sharing the journey. 

Please, check out this new ebook. You or someone you know might be greatly blessed by the little nuggets of mother's wisdom offered each day. Here is best-selling Catholic author Lisa Hendey's description of the work she compiled for As Morning Breaks:

Inspired by our prayer community at, As Morning Breaks offers 365 daily reflections on the Liturgy of the Word and the Gospels. With each daily meditation, the reader is invited into a further examination of the Gospel passage. A "ponder" question is provided for contemplation, discussion or journaling. Each meditation ends with a brief prayer. These prayers are offered as a springboard for your own quiet meditative prayer. 

Penned by over thirty authors and written from a variety of vocational perspectives, As Morning Breaks invites you to make morning prayer a fruitful part of your day. In encouraging us to prayerfully engage with the Gospels, Pope Francis shared in Evangelii Gaudeum (The Joy of the Gospel), "With Christ joy is constantly born anew." We invite you to pray with us, a community of believers from around the world, and to more fully ponder the joy of the Gospel in your heart. With links to each day's Gospel passage and in accordance with the Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church, this book is designed to offer you a beautiful, prayerful and joyful start to your day.

Authors for As Morning Breaks: Abbey Dupuy, Allison DeWolf, Allison Gingras, Catherine Boucher, Christine Johnson, Colleen Spiro, Cynthia Costello, Deacon Tom & Dee Fox, Deanna Bartalini, Diane Schwind, Dr. Mary Amore, Elizabeth "Ebeth" Weidner, Ellen Toole, Fergal O'Neill, Grace Urbanski, Jay Cuasay, Jeannie Ewing, Jennifer Fitz, Jennifer Gladen, Julie Paavola, Justin Stroh, Kelly Guest, Kirk Whitney, Laura Phelps, Lisa M. Hendey, Lorrie L. Dyer, Marianna Bartholomew, Melanie Jean Juneau, Rebecca Willen, Sarah Damm, Sarah A. Reinhard, Sheri Wohlfert, Sonja Corbitt, Terry McDermott, Victoria Gisondi

For more great resources from these authors visit

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Steaming away winter blahs

I picked up this great Crate & Barrel steamer for $2 with the tag still on, unused, at a local resale shop. A little cleaning with white vinegar and a rinse, and it was good to go. It's been a long winter, and I'm trying to tweak my cooking a little bit each day, to combat the blahs. Also, I refuse to let this little steamer gather dust on the shelf with the pasta maker I picked up about two years ago from the same resale shop. So, I did a little investigating online for some how-tos, and in just a few minutes, had steamed up some leftover Basmati rice. 

I'm a big fan of anything that expands my mind into the cooking techniques of other cultures and reminds me that the world is a very big, varied and fascinating place. Also, it's a lot warmer in parts of Asia right now than in these blustery Chicago suburbs! I like thinking about those sunny climes.

Trying and succeeding with this contraption was fun. Just put water in the bottom of a pan, layer in your vegetables with the longest to cook in the stackable steamer's bottom level, put rice on a lettuce leaf or parchment paper to steam in the level above, cover it up, and...success! Oh, and the rice had a lovely scent and flavor of bamboo. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Greet Each Day with a Smile -- In Memoriam, Joseph Francis Robin

My Dad, with older brother Alfred, in their
neighborhood near the Chicago Union Stockyards.
"Let's move!"

My Dad always joked these were his first words as an infant. He was raised "Back o' the Yards" -- the Chicago Union Stockyards. Imagine the smell on a steamy day wafting from thousands of lowing cattle into those little bungalows. It's easy to grasp Dad's wishes. 

Dreaming big led Dad many directions. He enjoyed life-long learning, settling in our overstuffed chair with a tower of books and a cat on his lap. He loved to stump his seven kids at the dinner table with physics and math questions, quizzed us on composers as music played, and always asked each child, "What did you learn today?"

I’ve been revisiting memories, jotting notes for the priest celebrating my father’s funeral Mass this weekend. My memories of Joseph Francis Robin, Sr., are bulging with good humor, because Dad approached life with a smile. Literally. A Mechanical Engineer and traveling salesman for machine parts, he wore a smiley face button under his lapel, and flashed it on all occasions. It was torture to my teenage angst, that he felt everyone should greet each day with a smile.

Born 1919, my father, Joseph
Francis Robin, learned from his
parents to live first for his Faith.

I shared my notes for the funeral Mass in a podcast for Deacon Tom and Dee's SQPN-affiliated Catholic Vitamins Show "I -- for Imagination." My experience of helping to pray my father through his final days was beyond my imagining in terms of beauty and power, all brought to my family through the greatest gift Dad offered us beyond our lives…the gift of His Catholic faith.
I posted little tidbits and memories of family life on my Finer Fields blogspot a couple years ago, in a post called Fifty-Nine Things Mom and Dad Did Right, because they did so many things well, by God's grace. But for now, I'll share a few bits from Dad's last lucid conversation with me, on July 10. 

"Dad, should I write this down?" I asked.

"Yes, these words are a part of you," he said. 
I grabbed my computer and took notes.

Dad encouraged me in my life as a writer, saying it was the right thing to do. I love his vision of a writer’s life:

"Oh, would that be something! Sitting there at a banister or on a brick wall and looking out at the world, and it's doing the thing you wanted to do. This is wonderful, Honey."

Then he reflected on the gift of family, asking, "How can a father be more satisfied than with a fulfilling life?"
 He talked about how people "bang their heads together trying to find answers, but it's right before them all the's all about family." He spoke of how God's plan unfolds through families. He encouraged me to write about our family saying, "It's a good story!"
A new building is dedicated at Mount Carmel's
High School in Chicago. My Dad won an all-

expenses-paid merit scholarship 
to attend this all-boys school. 
For a moment, he seemed to slip into a different time, and I believe he thought he was talking to Mom when he said, "It's a nice, nice home...and there’s room for us all, and we have the things to do that we like to do. It’s great, Baby, great."

Near the end of the conversation, Dad stopped and listened to a song a piano student was playing in the other room for Mom. To me it just sounded like the middle of a song, but he said, "You can tell they’re getting near the end." He smiled comfortably and said, "I don’t mind that a bit."

The last notes I took were when Dad said with great enthusiasm and joy: "Boy what a way to end the story, for us all to be in heaven…wouldn’t it be terrific?"

"Boy what a way to end the story, for us all to be in heaven…wouldn’t it be terrific?"

In Dad's life, God was first, his loving wife next, and then his children. Dad was an incredibly diligent worker. He would say later that Sister Mary Kostka from his childhood helped instill this quality. She gathered Dad and other bright children on Saturdays and drilled them in grammar, math, etc, to prepare them for High School. Dad won the only full-ride merit scholarship in a Chicago-wide competition for that year, for Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. 

Up at 4:30 AM, he worked out for an hour and more, tromping up and down the stairs for exercise. He stood at only around 5'5", but his strong frame could do exercises from the army well into middle age. I remember him doing a lateral balance on one arm, well into his 50's, and he was known for his bone-crunching handshakes.

At night, he always brought his paperwork to the couch to put in more time after dinner, before ending the night with poetry and a romp with kids and the cats. He chose to forego raises and promotions that required extensive travel, so he could spend more time with family.

Today, I visited Mom, and a piano student's mother was there with a big smile but tears in her eyes, talking about how Dad was a special friend. She kept exclaiming, "I loved your Dad!" She recalled his wit and how she enjoyed visiting with him whenever her children came to take a lesson. She said that after nine years, she looked upon Dad like another father. She also talked about how much he loved Mom and the family, and how they loved to talk about family together.

My friend Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy from India called Dad "Dad Joseph" and "Dad Joe" and they also enjoyed multiple visits together while Fr. Varghese visited the U.S. this May. Fr. Varghese was raised "Untouchable," the poorest of the poor in India. My father told me it was "very nice" I had such a missionary friend and he got a big kick out of the cultural differences we encountered. When I told Fr. Varghese my father loved to hear his stories, the priest was touched that my Dad would overlook his caste, poverty and ethnicity, and offer acceptance and friendship. Dad and Mom were encouraging to Fr. Varghese's outreach to five scattered outposts in Andhra Pradesh, India. They helped buy Catholic New Testaments for "Untouchable" monsoon victims in their Telegu language. 

On his consulate forms to apply for his Visiting Visa to America, Fr. Varghese listed visiting my sick Dad as one of his main reasons for coming to America. The missionary headed to the hospital to visit my parents right after dropping off his luggage at our house, and honored Mom and Dad in the traditional Indian way, placing shawls around their shoulders and giving them hand-drawn pictures and greetings from poor children in India.

I was so blessed to be at Mom's and Dad's home July 16, from 2 AM on, spending the night in prayer by my Dad's bedside. My brother John and I were singing the third decade of a Divine Mercy Chaplet with my Mom and Dad when he died peacefully at 11:20 AM.

Bright sunlight illuminated Dad's face for a long moment. The aid saw it on Dad's arm because Dad's face was blocked from her, but she exclaimed with me right after about how the sun had just appeared in the room for the first time that morning. Mom's eyes were closed as she held Dad's hand, and John was on the other side of the bed. But I saw the sunlight grow very intense upon Dad's face for a long moment. As the light faded, Mom suddenly said, "he's gone." The light on Dad's face was so striking and unusual in timing, I felt awed by the sight. 

Leading up to this moment, Dad had struggled, unable to communicate, through the night. In the morning, he was more rested. He grew intent and clear-eyed when Mom and I prayed a Scriptural Rosary at his bedside around 4:30 AM and sang Immaculate Mary and Here I Am, Lord. I sang Our God is an Awesome God  and even showed Fr. Varghese pictures to Dad one last time. Dad focused intently on a page, and then moved his eyes to look at the next page. 

After struggling with increased respirations and other discomforts all evening, Dad died peacefully at the end. His eyes grew alert as we pressed into the Chaplet, and then he seemed to just ease away. I had an unexpected reaction. I felt that someone had just given me a euphoria injection. I comforted Mom, but she needed very much some time alone with her Beloved. I took myself outside and praised God in the driveway. I felt I had just witnessed a miraculous passage. I learned many hours later, that my father, the Mount Carmel boy, who had his scapular on and a Rosary by his side, had died on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 

But the biggest miracle was Dad's wonderful, long-lived life, and unshakeable faith.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

He Is Risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter!

Ah, the colors, sights and sounds of Easter! May you be blessed with great joy and a new meeting with Christ, this Easter...My Holy Saturday was greatly improved by putting house cleaning aside to take a mid-day walk, on this rare Spring day. Rare, because it was just snowing last week, in April! Perhaps the warm days are here to stay? I was so filled with hope to see the following flowers on my way to town....The top and bottom photos are from Easter vigil Mass...What a full and wonderful day. :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Can "Liking" War on Facebook Help End It?

Image by Taylor, War Office Photographer,
in public domain

Holy Trinity Church in Coventry, England
after WWII bombing.
A picture making the rounds on Facebook caught my eye. It's like an image straight from WWII: bombed buildings on a wide avenue, concrete and brick walls fragile as broken eggshells. 

In the Facebook image, stands a vast carpet of humanity. Just as people crowd to hail a visiting pontiff, these masses are lined shoulder to shoulder. The scene is gray. Slate sky, walls and people. Even the faces seem drawn and colorless.

This is Syria, and the people are in line for bread. It seems impossible to gauge their numbers, because the queue appears to stretch into infinity. Faces fill the length and breadth of the frame to the horizon, even peering from patches and holes that have been blown from structures.

“Apocalyptic” is the word that comes to mind. 

I always hate to hit the "like" button on such an image, because what's to like? But I went ahead and joined 6,003 others in "liking” the photo, and then 2,080 others in "sharing" it.

“Fr. Rocky" (Fr. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD), Executive Director of Chicago-area Relevant Radio, had shared this picture on his Facebook page, adding this comment:

"This is why Pope Francis wants us to pray and work for peace in Syria. War is very tough on the people of Damascus. Here they are the other day waiting for bread."

My "share" drew four immediate responses. Two people hit "like."

One lady I know to be mission-minded simply put this: :(

Another Facebook friend wrote, "Thank you for sharing Marianna. The face of war is often hidden from us."

I've written about regions in conflict before. See my post and poem on "Bridging Souls," my reflection "Pray the News in 2013," my piece on the New Evangelizers blog: "Missionary Friendship Changes Everything," and this Catholic News Agency post: "A For Arms." 

But because I know too little about Syria's particular “hidden face,” I did an online search on “Syria and Catholics.”

Up popped “A Prayer for the People of Syria,” on the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops website. Thank you, Facebook and U.S. bishops, for drawing me to prayer on this frigid, snowy Ash Wednesday. My cross of ashes is on my forehead, and my prayers are now with the war-torn people of Syria:

A Prayer for the People of Syria
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
Hear the cries of the people of Syria;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors
in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence
and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

For the people of Syria, that God may strengthen the resolve of leaders to end 
the fighting and choose a future of peace.
We pray to the Lord…
En Español:
Oración por Siria
Dios todopoderoso y eterno,
fuente de toda compasión,
nuestros corazones se llenan de esperanza
con la promesa de tu misericordia y de tu auxilio salvador.
Escucha el clamor del pueblo de Siria,
sana a los que sufren a consecuencia de la violencia
y consuela a los que lloran a los muertos.
Fortalece y anima a los vecinos de Siria
en su cuidado y recibimiento de refugiados.
Convierte los corazones de los que se alzan en armas
y fortalece la resolución de los que se comprometen a la paz.
O Dios de esperanza y Padre de misericordia,
cuyo Espíritu Santo nos inspira
a mirar mas allá de nosotros mismos y de nuestras propias necesidades,
inspira a los jefes a escoger la paz en lugar de la violencia
y a buscar la reconciliación con los enemigos;
inspira a la Iglesia por el mundo entero a la compasión por el pueblo de Siria
y llénanos de esperanza por futuro de paz construido sobre justicia para todos.
Por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, Príncipe de Paz y Luz del Mundo,
que vive y reina por los siglos de los siglos.

[This prayer is adapted from
 Catholics Confront Global Poverty, a collaborative effort of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.]