Family newsletter

Who doesn’t love a family brag letter? Here’s what I sent out on Facebook this year:

Greetings from the Neill family! This spring, Elise finished her teaching certificate! She is substitute teaching in the nearby elementary schools, and is hoping to land a permanent position soon. She’s still playing oboe and English horn in the North Pittsburgh Symphonic Band. She became a girl scout leader for Katt’s troop. This past month, Elise has taken up loom knitting.

John sold our old house (just next door) to a kind and awesome family. These days, he spends most of his time preparing for a new career – a full-stack web developer. He claims to be a “JavaScript ninja”, and hopes to start his new career in 2018.

Early in the summer, Zach attended an improv comedy camp. Later in the summer, Zach underwent brain surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Afterwards, he spent three weeks living at “The Children’s Home” in Pittsburgh, where he underwent intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Since the surgery, he has returned to baseline mentally. His right leg is around 95%, but his right arm still has a long way to go, around 50%. Feeling and fine motor skills have been slow to return in his right arm. The good news: he has been seizure-free since the surgery! He is doing well in school, and is taking a mix of college-level and “fun” classes – Calculus, 2D computer game design, 3D modeling and animation, Computer Science, etc. He misses playing sports – hockey, and basketball especially, and misses being in marching band (percussion) and playing violin. One step at a time…we are hoping he will be able to play drums again in time for the spring marching band trip to Disney World.

Asia was a pirate in her school’s Peter Pan musical. You should have seen the wild grin on her face as she was dancing, singing and yo-ho-ho-ing on stage! She played on a tournament softball team and crushed four out-of-the-park home runs during the season. Over the summer she spent a week with her Aunt and cousin in Toronto, and attended several volleyball camps back in Pittsburgh. She also did a six week internship at “The Mattress Factory” – an amazing art-installation museum here in Pittsburgh. She also attended several week-long girl scout camps. In the fall, Asia was the first freshman ever to make her school’s varsity volleyball team. After the season, Asia was selected to play on the top club-volleyball team in the region. Along with club-volleyball, she is also currently in the school musical “Aladdin”. She’s doing well in school, and is taking a fairly heavy course load.

Katt started kindergarten! She likes it! And she talks in school! She is learning to read, and has a ton of confidence in her artwork. She’s in dance and girl scouts.

Freedom, stuff, and no stuff

As a home owner, I acquired every skill necessary to fix or improve each facet of my house.  Self reliance meant freedom – freedom from dealing with contractors, freedom to build ANYTHING, regardless of how outlandish or impractical.  But…after 17 years of home ownership, I’m thinking I got it all wrong.  Self reliance did not give me freedom.  Paying someone else to do all that lousy work seems more like freedom – freedom from back pain, freedom from projects dragging on for months (years actually).

I would go as far as to say that a truer domestic freedom would be to rent, not owning a house.  Taken further, my ultimate freedom would be to own NOTHING (especially not a car), renting furnished apartments in urban locales.

So I asked Mrs. Neill if she could one day live possessionless.  She said, “no…I like to have stuff”.  So there’s that.


New house rule: Watch all the TV you want, as long as you’re on the treadmill walking.


There’s no party like a tea party.

I work seven days a week.  My primary responsibility is to occupy the time of a 20 month old named Katt.  Our favorite thing to do these days is to play in Asia’s room.  And what a room it is.  It’s got endless nooks and crannies packed with the most random things imaginable – a veritable kids version of Hoarders, but with cool stuff instead of junk.  Here we are taking turns trying on a mardi gras mask and a blonde wig.

You might notice that Katt’s shirt is on backwards.  Well maybe it is.  She didn’t complain.

Another thing we do is play tea party in Katt’s room.  Tea party is a solid game.  First I pull out a stack of old 78 records and spin them on the turntable.  Next we dump out the three baskets of toys we’ve stolen from Asia’s room.  Then we organize the loot into piles.  The most important pile is the miniature tea cup pile.  We choose our cups, clink them, and squeal “cheers”.  Our imaginary elixirs are then drained in a single gulp.  Sated, we bellow “AHHHHHH”.  Then it’s off to the next pile of semi-functional toys and whatever drama we can drum up.  Those 78’s sound absolutely magical when you play tea party.