Cody's Final Honor Band Concert

Our 8th-grader, Cody, played his final Honor Band conert Wednesday night. It is hard to express how proud we are of this fine young man. When we moved to Texas and he was starting 7th grade, he already played piano and guitar, and he wanted to join band. They don't have piano or guitar in grade school bands here. So he started in beginner percussion. Because he could already read music, he advanced pretty quickly in percussion. By the start of 8th grade, he was promoted to Honor Band. 

And now look at him! It is no wonder we are so proud.

Here are the videos of the Honor Band performance. Worth noting: the Band Director at Hildebrandt School (in Klein ISD) is Mr. Yarbrough, and is quite renowned. He's moving on to another school after this school year, so this was his final Honor Band concert too. We consider ourselves VERY fortunate that both our kids got to spend some time in Myr. Yarbrough's band. 

The first song:

The second piece:

The third piece - this one was basically a performance by the percussion group, accompanied by the band, and is really outstanding. (Unfortunately, Cody was tucked in behind the upright chimes, but you can still see him back there, running between instruments, and the whole group really performed beautifully.)

Finally, the whole band played an extra song, one of Mr. Yarbrough's favorites, to send him on his way to the new school. They were joined by one of Mr. Yarbrough's daughters, who is in the local high-school band. 

John P. Needham

Spring, TX

May 27, 2016



Bailey's Band Concert - April 2016

Our oldest, Bailey, played in a concert with his Klein Oak HS Symphonic I band earlier this month.

The video is a little long, as the band advances, and this time I didn't break it up into a separate video for each piece. Instead, it runs straight through.

So, enjoy!

John P. Needham
April 23, 2016
Spring, TX




So we've been working on our landscaping the last few weeks. When we bought this house a year ago, it was pretty weathered. We've already done work inside - a LOT of work - but the outside was also quite unkempt. We started by removing some poorly-placed trees in the backyard, which we already talked about here.

There were also some plain-looking plants in the front of the house, but we thought we could improve the look and "curb appeal" of the house if we made some improvements there.

These are what we installed below both large picture windows in the front. Two small white-flowering bushes on each side, with a small red-flowering between them.

Here is the other side:

Here is a close-up of the red-flowering bush:

We added a couple of rose bushes that were grafted to trees, and put those in pots next to the front door.

We have two VERY tall pine trees in the front lawn, with a kind of make-shift stone bed around them. We removed the plants (and weeds) that were in there and added some roses, gardenias, calla lillies and dragon flowers.


We also added some gtrasses around the patio in back. Those are just starting to come out of their winter dormancy. We will cut these back this weekend so they can grow anew.

And, this is what's going on in the vegetable garden: basil, oregano, rosemary, jalapenos and tabasco pepeprs, tons of onions and a bunch of heirloom tomatoes, some in the raised garden, others in post. There are also two avacado trees (one more ordered) an two lemon trees, also in pots. 


Can I just add? It is AWESOME living in an area where we can start the vegetable garden around Valentine's day, and where it is warm enough to grow all these vegetables, fruits and flowers pretty much year-round.

We still love it here in Texas.

John P. Needham

Spring, TX

February 28, 2016



Hildebrandt Band - Solo & Ensemble Day

Solo and ensemble day was Saturday. Cody, and his ensemble, were both rated "excellent" by the judges. Excellent as an ensemble, and Cody was rated excellent in his solo (on snare drum).

Yep, we're proud.

Solo & Ensemble Day. Then back to San Antonio.

A photo posted by John Needham (@johnpneedham) on

(and yes, this is a first attempt of embedding Instagram images.)

John P. Needham

January 31, 2016

Spring, TX



Thanksgiving, 2015

We cook our birds pretty much the same way every year now. If it isn't broke, don't fix it, eh?

But first we always salute the bird. This year was no different.

 These were the results: one roasted in the oven, one smoked on the new smoker. They were terrific, if I do say so myself.





Cody's Honor Band Concert - October 28, 2015

Cody played in his school band concert this past Wednesday. He's in Honor Band at school, playing percussion instruments. (He's also been in piano for years, and takes guitar lessons too.)

In the first song, he played suspended cymbals.

In the second, he played marimba.

Then he played timpani. This was his favorite. Cody likes to bang things!

Finally, he played high-hat:

Cody is getting a really terrific fine arts education at his grade school. We are very proud of all he's accomplished so far. And we can't wait to see what the future holds for this fine young man.

John P. Needham
October 31, 2015
Spring, TX



Home Improvement: Updating the Patio

We love our new home in Spring, TX. It is a terrific, nice-looking house, built in 1970, but it aged well, the house itself was nicely maintained, and the home has "good bones." 

The interior was quite dated, but previous owners had done a lot to improve the first floor, and we finished off the first floor updates with a remodeled kitchen and an updated first-floor bath. 

The yard, though, was another matter entirely. Ill-maintained, large, poorly placed trees. The back lawn is a mess. We did some work removing trees. We replaced portions of the fence

There was also a thoroughly dilapidated covered patio in the back yard when we bought the house. (Shown below.)

We've had that removed. We had a contractor - Southern Mills Construction - remove the pebble-stone and flagstone mess the served as the patio before.

It is all prepped for a new, simple, poured-concrete patio now. Those deep holes are for posts - once they pour the concrete, the contractors will come back and build out a much larger, nicer covered patio. 

We can't wait for this project to be completed. We still have other work to do - replace the fence around the yard, fix the landscaping, maybe install a pool too. But we'll have expanded outdoor living space shortly. We're pretty excited about that.

John P. Needham

Spring, TX

August 31, 2015




Home Improvements

We had some new wrought iron fences installed around the house. This one went into the breezeway, replacing a solid wooden fence that was there. It was also moved outside the back-door to the house, and the garage door. The old fence was on the other side, with the house's back-door, and the garage door, outside the fence.

And this fence replaced a completely worn old wooden fence on the other side of the house. We like both of them a lot.

The fences were installed by Texas Fence Co. and we like thei work. We're going to use them again when we replace the the rest of the old wooden fence in our yard.

John P. Needham

Spring, TX

June 30, 2015



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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

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The Kitchen Remodel: Completed

Well the kitchen and bathroom remodel project for our new house in Spring, TX is complete. Carolyn and I both love it. The team at TXI Homes did a terrific job, from design (with our input) to demolition to rebuild. They even accommodated our last-minute changes.

Here is the before image of the kitchen, taken from the back door. look how low those old cabinets hung down. 

Here is the same view after the remodel:


The original kitchen was very 1970s. Low ceiling, dropped-lights, lots of wood cabinets that were very small. It had an electric range. (We've never cooked on an electric range. And we weren't eager to try.)

Now, we have a new Bertazzoni gas range and oven. (Barn door into the laundry room behind the range.)

And new quartz counters.

The old dining room was completely walled off from the kitchen. (As we said, very 1970s.)

We removed that wall, but kept the lower part, with the wainscoting - one of those last-minute changes. We added a breakfast bar here, above the half-wall.

The house had a kind of built-in wet bar (1970s again!) that we removed, and in place of that we added a gigantic island (6 x 5 feet), with five cabinets and a wine fridge underneath. To set that off from the rest of the kitchen, and also to contrast with the white quartz counters, we painted the island cabinets black. 


The 1st floor also has a half-bath. We blew that out and reconfigured the walls (taking a little room from the laundry room next door). That allowed us to add a shower.




We also added some barn doors into the old formal living room, which is now destined to be the kids' 1st-floor game room.

Carolyn is still painting the bedrooms upstairs, but we're ready to move in. In fact, we've already started moving stuff over to the new house. The official move-in date is April 18th.

John Needham

March 31, 2014

Spring, TX



Demo Day 2


Kitchem Demolition, day 2. 

Header-beams installed, which allowed for the removal of two support walls. This work lets us completely open up the kitchen, into both the family room and the dining room. 

I'm most excited about the way that pass-through to kitchen will look, when complete, and once our furniture in is. 

The construction crew has also completely demolished that small half-bath, which will become a full-bath soon enough.

John P. Needham

February 6, 2015

Spring, TX




Demo Day 1


Wow. Tremendous progress so far. We can hardly believe it.

John P. Needham

February 5, 2015

Spring, TX




Demo Time


So in the house we bouth - see previous post! - this very-1980s kitchen is getting a complete overhaul. Those ceiling-mounted cabinets? They'll be gone. The floor tile? Also gone...

The wall-mounted double oven? We're getting rid of that too.

Formica countertops? Electric range? Those will be replaced with quartz and a gas range, respectively.

And that wall between the kitchen and the dining room? That's coming down too, but we're going to save the wainscoting. Instead, we'll have a bar-top there.

Also getting remodel will be this small half-bath on the first floor. We're going to push one of the walls back, and add a shower to make it a third full-bath. 


John P. Needham

February 4, 2015

Spring, TX