Viewing entries in

1 Comment

Mother's Day, 2015: Here's to Marion Needham


We lost our Mom a few months back and this is the first Mother's Day, for me and my seven siblings, where we don't have our Mom to call or visit. My brother Tom wrote a wonderful piece for her funeral, and graciously allowed me to post it here.



 At The Kitchen Table of Heaven

1933 – 2015


A wonderful woman has left us … a kind, thoughtful, funny and interesting woman. Everyone who was blessed to know Marion was touched and helped by her, in ways that may have been large or small, but that were always very real. She lived as long as she could, and did as much as she could, as well as she could – and did so with a big generous heart that was forever looking for ways to help others.

 Like all people, Marion had her interests and there was much in this world that brought her joy – what she most enjoyed in life were the simplest and purest pleasures. She found joy in so many everyday things that most of us take for granted, and this accounts for her love of life and this love did not dim or fade even when she struggled at the end of her years with a terrible disease:  

  • the company of her family & friends, and funny stories about all that was going on in the world; 
  • a hamburger at Hackney’s on Harms, a glass of Bailey’s Irish Cream; 
  • her beloved Chicago Blackhawks; 
  • knitting, and coffee, and flowers, and baking, and desserts – desserts after every dinner every day of the year, but desserts with lunch and for breakfast too;
  • cool dry weather, and all the holidays, but especially Christmas Eve, because that’s when children are most excited and happy, and nothing made Marion happier than a happy child. 

More than anything else, Marion loved children: her own children, and other mother’s children too; but mostly and with all of her large heart, her 16 grandchildren: Patrick, Jack, Owen, Emily, Katie, Gracie, Maggie, Helen, Jimmy, Brenna, Maeve, Joey, Meggie, Fiona, Cody, and Bailey. All 16 of them know how much she enjoyed their company, and all of them felt her love. And even when they were not there with her, Grandma Needham loved them so, and just the mention of their names, and any news about what was happening in their lives would make her light up with joy just as if they had walked into the room and hugged her.

Marion was born and raised a Roman Catholic, and she had a deep and profound faith and an active prayer life. She loved the Mass, and the Rosary, and Mary the Mother of Jesus. This faith never seemed to fade or falter, although there were times during the ups & downs of her 80 years when it would have been understandable if it had.

All of us will die. One of the certainties of Marion’s faith was this: All of us will be judged when we die – every one of us, and everyone we love. Marion Byrne Needham knew this, and she did not flinch. She made a very interesting comment to one of her daughters several weeks before she left us: “Do you think I’ll be O.K. in heaven?” She was told, of course, that “you’ll be awesome in heaven.”

But what a fascinating, wise and wonderful question to ask: Not, “do you think I’ll make it to heaven?” and not “I sure hope that there is a heaven.” No, she knew there was a heaven, and she knew too, that she’d make it there – she plowed ahead to her judgment day with a holy boldness that made her, when she arrived there, the envy of most of the saints that had arrived there first.

Now, the legends of our faith, and even the sacred scriptures, have given us an image of the scene on our day of judgment that features God, seated above us in a glorious throne. But it seems more likely, and more in keeping with Jesus’ life and words, that instead we will be welcomed not to a room with a throne, but into His kitchen. And there at the kitchen table will be Jesus, and Mary, His Blessed Mother. There will be coffee at the kitchen table. And cookies too.

And there at the kitchen table of heaven, Jesus has said to Marion, “my Father gave you 80 years of life … what did you do with this gift?”

Now, Marion was never one to brag or even talk very much about herself on any topic. But on the other hand, she was a blunt and plain-spoken woman. And so it’s a good bet she said to Jesus and Mary, “I chose a life of service to others.”

Yes, she did: 

Marion decided when she was just a girl that she wanted to be a nurse, and care for the sick. So after graduating from Saint Scholastica high school, she asked her father if she could go to nursing school. Now, her father Amby Byrne was a wonderful man in many ways. But he was surely “old school,” and he told Marion “No.” He didn’t like that idea. The tuition was $200 per semester. Marion had an aunt who thought Amby was wrong on this, and this aunt paid for nursing school, and she became a nurse. There was no such thing as feminism in the early 1950s, but Marion knew that she was not going to let a man, even one she loved, stand in her way of being what she wanted to be in this world.

Marion met a young policeman, Pat Needham, fell in love with him, and they were married on September 1, 1955, at St. Ita’s Church on Broadway. Seven children followed in the next 11 years.

It is difficult for us now, in this generation of much smaller families, to imagine how she ran that household. She did a lot with a little, and so in spite of all the financial stresses, and limits on the time there is in a day, it never seemed that corners were cut or that her family wanted for anything. Ski trips, camping trips, skating lessons and hockey games, track meets, vacations, school projects, high school dances, visits to colleges, teaching seven teenagers to drive. How was all this possible? 
It was often chaotic, and there was never much privacy, and there was always a big dog, and it seemed that stuff was always broken in that house. On the other hand, there were always cookies and cupcakes and brownies, and if any neighborhood kid wanted any of these treats they didn’t have to ask. The kids all knew they could just help themselves. There was an energy and a love in this home – this was because Marion Needham made it so.

When Marion’s parents got older, they had a problem: Amby’s wife, Marion’s mother, became afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Amby could not care for her on his own. Fortunately for him, he had a daughter who was a nurse. So Marion’s parents moved in with her. Now there were 11 people in this home, and Marion loved and took care of all of them.

Marion’s husband Pat Needham had some wonderful qualities: he was smart and had a sense of humor. He could be kind, and friendly and enjoyed doing favors for people. Pat Needham loved Marion as best he could. But it is a sad fact that he loved whisky too. And the whisky grabbed hold of him, and would not let go, even though Marion did everything she could to pull him back. The whisky took him from Marion in 1984. She was fifty years old.

She was a young widow, and so of course she grieved. But Marion worried about the future too. There was no time for counseling or support groups. There was a mortgage and tuition bills and many other bills. There was work to be done. Marion kept her nurse’s license active during all the years she was raising a large family, and so she was able to find a job. After 20 plus years away from the nurse’s profession, this transition must have been quite a challenge – but Marion didn’t seem fazed by it. She was grateful that she had a way to support her family. And after all, nursing was really about taking care of others, and she had never stopped doing this.

The doctors she worked for liked her, and so did the other nurses. But the patients loved her and she loved them right back. Nursing was really a perfect career for Marion, because it brought her into contact with so many different people. She just loved meeting people. Marion thought everyone she met was interesting. She was curious about everyone’s life, and so upon meeting someone new a barrage of questions would start. Within 10 minutes or so, Marion would know about the person’s parents, what school they went to, where they lived … all the essentials to start a friendship. God of course is deeply interested in all of us, and created us in His image. So this feature of Marion’s personality was really the grace of God shining through her.

Marion retired from nursing when she was 70 years old. But she kept taking care of people, and she continued to grow in faith. She became a Eucharistic minister at St Mary’s Church in Des Plaines, so she could bring Jesus to parishioners unable to get to Mass. She joined a Bible study group. She took knitting classes, and became quite accomplished at this – she loved knitting, because it allowed her to make hats and scarves and mittens, and give them to people as gifts. Marion loved to give gifts to people. Mostly Marion was a full-time grandmother.

Marion’s greatness reached its highest and most profound level as she fought to cope with the disease that attacked her relentlessly in her final years. This disease knows no cure – it does not stop or go into remission, it drags its victims forward. But Marion dug her heels in, and was pulled forward by the disease kicking & screaming. She would not quit. There was too much about her life that she loved for her to ever despair. Marion knew, too, that Jesus assured us that “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:30) And so she did not complain or bother with self-pity. She was frustrated, to be sure …. but only because the disease stopped her from going out in the world to enjoy its simple pleasures and more importantly, it cruelly tried to stop her from helping others.

Jesus of course already knows of Marion’s wonderful life, but when He hears her talk of it, sitting at the kitchen table of heaven, I suspect that He will smile knowingly, for He knows what it is to serve others. He knows that Marion did what He calls all of us to do: love your neighbor without end. Personal and professional accomplishments mean nothing to Jesus if one’s life is not based firmly on the Gospel. Marion’s surely was. And He knows of her suffering too, having Himself suffered in sweat and blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and in fear at His trial and scourging. And, finally, in the despair and panic on the cross at Calvary, Jesus could not breathe. Marion could not breathe at the end and suffered and probably despaired too. Jesus and His mother Mary were there with Marion when she struggled to breath in the last days of her life. And it’s likely that this is something they will talk about at the kitchen table of heaven.

So, yes … Marion will be just awesome in heaven.

 Now she can rest, and sleep through the night. And the air is clear and cool and clean, and Marion is taking deep breaths. There are healthy, happy children all over in heaven. They will need hats and mittens, and baked goods too. She can take care of that.

Marion will wait for us all there. And if we learn the lessons of her life, and live each day in the service of others, loving every child that we can, the ones we know, and the ones we do not, with all our hearts, well then in the fullness of time and if the Lord is willing, we can be with her again. Until that day, let’s try to remember this great woman, and how kind, and wise and tough and brave she was from the beginning of her life to the very end.

Thanks to Tom Needham for letting me post this piece. 

John Needham

May 7, 2015

Spring, TX

1 Comment


Winter Piano Recital - December 7, 2013

Yesterday the boys played in their winter piano recital. They have come a long way this year.

Cody played first. "Deck The Halls" was his piece. It was about a two-minute arrangement.

We thought Cody played really well. He admitted beforehand that he gets really nervous in front of audiences, but playing in piano recitals is easier than, say, speaking in public (like at school) since he can look at the sheet music and he doesn't have to look at the audience. An astute observation, that.

Bailey played next. He played "The Fruitcake That Ate New Jersey" which was both seasonal *and* an homage to his mom's home state. Very cute. This piece was a little longer than his brother's, clocking in at about 4.5 minutes.

Well, that's it for today. Happy Sunday!

John P. Needham
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Aurora, IL



Thanksgiving, 2013

We hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful. Ours was.

We always start with a salute to our bird:

The bird was brined for 13 hours in an apple-juice brine, then slathered with butter and hit heavily with pepper. After that, it was into a 500-degree oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, we inserted a meat thermometer, covered the breast with a double-layer of heavy-duty tin foil, and put it back into a 350-degree oven. That's also when we add the root veetables to the bottom of the roasting pan: rutabagas, turnips, squash. 


While the bird was roasting, we had time to make the side dishes. Cody made the Stuffin' Muffins:

We also had time to cook the turkey's heart, liver, gizzard, and neck bone for the giblet gravy.

When the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast reads 161-degrees, the bird comes out. It has to rest for 45-60 minutes, which gave us plenty of time to finish off all the side dishes.

The dogs were really good all day, I think they were hoping for some turkey too. Their hopes were dashed, alas.

To carve, one should remove the legs and wings, extract both sides of the breast from the back bone in one large peice, and then slice it cross-wise.

And...voila! Turkey, mashed potatoes, Stuffin' Muffins, cranberry sauce, Carolyn's family's stuffing with sausage, roasted root veggies, and maple-glazed carrots. A perfect Thanksgiving feast.

We all hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful too. 

John P. Needham

November 28, 2013


Aurora, IL




A Recipe: Chicken & Corn Chili

We made this today for the Bears game. Chicago Bears footbal often means the start of fall cooking, and that means stews and other long-cooking dishes. And it means chili. 

We had some requests for the recipe, so here's how we did it.

This version was smoked chicken chili. So yesterday we smoked some chicken thighs, sprinkled with dry rub, for about two hours on the smoker. But this would work just as well with roasted chicken too: just rub the thighs with olive oil, salt and pepper on both sides and roast for an hour at 350. 

10 chicken thighs, cooked, skin removed after, deboned, meat chunked up

2 medium yellow onions, finely diced

1 large (or two medium) red peppers, finely diced

1 jalapeno, finely diced

5-6 cloves garlic, finely diced

3-4 tsp cumin

1-2 tsp cayenne

5 ears of corn, cooked (we wrap in foil and grill high for 30 minutes)

(slice the kernels off the corn cobs; press out the liquid and save)

2 15oz cans diced tomatoes (with the juice)

5-6 C chicken stock (low sodium)

2 bunches scallions, bottoms removed, just the white and light green parts, sliced

2-3 chipotle chiles in adobo, plus 3T adobo sauce

A big handful of parsley (since we hate cilantro, but if you like it, use that instead)

Saute the onion, pepper and jalapeno in 2T oil until well wilted, maybe 10 minutes. Season pretty heavily here with salt and pepper. Except for the cumin, we won't be reasoning until the end. When most of the liquid is gone, sprinkle on the cumin and mix for about 60 seconds, then add the garlic and mix for another 60 seconds. Add the chipotles and adobo sauce and simmer until the liquid evaporates. Add both cans of tomatoes and mix, then simmer until most of the liquid is again evaporated.

Add one cup of stock and scrape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Then add the rest of the stock. Simmer for 30 minutes. Then add the cooked corn that had been cut from the cob. 

While all that is happening, you can cook the chicken thighs. They should be bone-in, skin on. Once cooked, let them cool, remove the skins, debone them and chunk up the meat. Add the chicken to the chili base. Add the scallions at this point. Chop up a big handful of parsley and add that. Stir. Taste. Re-season w/ salt and pepper.

We added homemade corn tortilla chips: take a bunch of corn tortillas, stack them up, then cut them in half (across) then cut each half into three pieces. (Six chips per tortilla.) Add oil to a skillet and heat. Fry the chips in batches, until they are crisp, seasoning each batch when it comes out, while it drains on paper towels. Use more seasoning that you think you should for the first batch, and adjust accordingly in subsequent batches. If you do this, you might never buy tortilla chips at the store again. Trust me on that. 


John P. Needham

September 8, 2013

3:30 p.m. CST




First Day of School 2013

Today is the first day of school in Aurora. This means Bailey and Cody are heading back to the classroom. It also means that they are back in the same school again, after a year where Bay was in middle-school and Cody was still in primary school.

We're happy to have them back in the same school, an on the same schedule, even though Cody is not the early-riser that Bailey has always been. This will likely be a challenge for Cody in coming days and weeks.

Cody has some trepidation about middle-school, though the rest of us are quite sure he'll do just fine. He is not as big a fan of change as we are. 

I think it helps that Cody's older brother will be in school with him, and he'll also have tons of friends from his primay school with him too. 

We're super-proud of *both* boys and I was happy to be able to work from home today to walk them both to the bus stop. Now I can't wait until they get home so we can get a full report on their first day!

John Needham

August 19, 2013

Aurora, IL




The Family That Golfs Together...

...has balls!



But seriously, the four of us went galfing this past Sunday. We played from the forward tees, as a four-person scramble. We had a blast.

Earlier that day I played the same course, our local public course, Orchard Valley in Aurora.

I started on the back 9 around 550AM. This is the signature par-3 12th hole.

As you can see, I had a birdie putt on this 12th hole. I made par. 

The approch to #13, a par-4. You have to lay up to here, then you have about 220 yards, over water. Alas, I hit into the pond and had to take a drop. 

This is the look back up #13 from behind the green.

Here is the par-5 16th. Hit your drive left, over water, and then it is a 90-degree dogleg right to the green. I left my drive too far right, wound up in the water and had to take a drop.

The par-3 17th. I got a par here.

I had a birdie chip, missed, and tapped in for par.

I played the front-9 after I finished the back-9. This is the par-4 3rd gole, drive over water. 

This is the par-4 9th, a monster hole, straight, no water, but LONG. 470 yards. I got a bogey here and considered myself lucky.

So that was my Sunday: 18 holes, alone, in the AM. Nine holes with my family in the evening. Lawn mowing and pool-hanging in between. It was a great Sunday.


John P. Needham

Tuesday, July 16, 2014

Aurora, IL 





Father's Day 2013

For Father's Day this year we had a skybox at 5th Third Bank ballpark for a Kane County Cougars game. It was a total blast. Me and the boys, Bailey and Cody, got to play catch in the outfield before the game, which was pretty cool. We got there early and the outfield was pretty open. Closer to game time, it got pretty crowded with lots of dads and kids throwing baseballe around so we left before we got hit in the head.


Here is the skybox we had.


Some good friends got to join us. 

Ozzie the Cougar came by the skybox to visit with the kids.


It was a lot of fun, a great day at the ball park and the skybox was a really cool treat.


John Needham

June 17, 2013

Aurora, IL




Piano Recitals - May 25, 2013

Both boys played in a piano recital last Saturday. Here are videos of the event.

First Cody. He opened with "Medieval Procession" by Jon George, a challenging piece that required crossed-over hands. Then he rocked out Scott Joplin's ragtime piece "The Entertainer."

Then Bailey. Bailey's piano recital today. He opened with Kanzontte in C Major by Neefe; then he "Battle of Heroes" by John Williams.