The Walk of Life


I’ve been meaning to write this for some time. I found myself telling this story to a friend last night, and she said, more or less, that I needed to get off my duff and tell it. So here it is:

In the mornings, as I’m getting ready to leave for work, the house is always quiet. The only loud sound is me, walking around the first floor in my dress shoes, across the linoleum. They make a very specific sound, and one day(a couple of years ago, I think, so I’ve been on my duff for quite a while), I realized that I remembered this sound from my childhood.

When I was a kid living at home, I had the room in the center of our house, next to the kitchen. My dad was always the first one up. I think he had to leave for work around 6 or 6:30, too early to see the rest of us wake up for school(and mom for work). But I would listen to him walking around our kitchen, getting coffee and breakfast. I wouldn’t get up; I’d just lie in bed, listening to that sound.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but now, 30+ years later, I know that this was the sound of reassurance, comfort and stability. My dad, getting up every morning, getting ready for work, and then going to work to provide for our family. Make no mistake, both mom and dad had to work to make ends meet in my house. Not just the required ends, like house payments and groceries, but also the ends me and my brothers wanted to have: musical instruments for school, track shoes, third and fourth cars with attending car insurance, that sort of thing. We were fortunate enough to have more than just a roof over our heads.

Most of you know how incredibly important music is to me, but music is a sound, and sounds are equally important to me. Just as science has shown that smells can be a very powerful memory trigger, sound can be, too. And each morning, as I walk around in  my dress shoes getting ready for work, I hear this sound, and I think of my dad. Every. Single. Day.

I love you dad, and thank you for all that you’ve done for me, Mike and Mark and Mom. Can’t wait to see you in a couple weeks.

Tenor Madness

In sixth grade, I joined Krueger middle school band and learned to play clarinet. In 7th grade, I joined jazz and added tenor sax. In 8th grade, I learned flute so I could double in jazz band.

My parents bought me the tenor, a Selmer Mark VII, from my dad’s (now late) high school friend, Pete Portillo, on San Antonio’s west side, not far from Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the summer of 1981. After middle school, I played in high school jazz band(but I don’t think all four years), and took it to college where I continued to play jazz until I graduated MIT in 1990.

Fast forward 26 years to this spring, when our new church pastor, myself and several others played and sung a jazz mass, which I really enjoyed. But it was clear then that this sax needed an overhaul, and I finally took the plunge this summer and had it done by Ken Cameron, owner of Cameron’s Music:

Ken’s been at this for 23 years, and his passion really shows. He was pretty excited when I dropped it off, and asked me this history of the horn. He looked up the serial number, and informed me it was built in 1978, 38 years ago! I picked it up this week, and played it at his store to be sure everything worked. It sounded wonderful, except for a little issue with the high E key, which was blowing open ever so slightly. Ken took it into the back room, and came back several minutes later(I didn’t realize at the time that the E key was operated by complicated linkage to the alternate B key). I bought a fresh set of reeds and a new case that doesn’t smell like, well, let’s face it, 38 years of spit, went home and ‘opened her up’.

The horn is PERFECT! The leaks have been vanquished, all the linkages are straight, and desecrations of my poor man’s tape and cork repairs of years ago have finally been banished. I’ve been playing about every other day. I can hit the lower registers without the honking(well, except low Bb, which can only be honked into existence).The horn plays with much lower effort, and more smoothly than ever before. Now I just need to get my embouchure back into shape, relearn my scales, and then begin to approach what the horn can now do.


Passing the Enchilada Torch

Last year, Arianna asked me to make her and her friends enchiladas for her birthday. This year, she asked me to TEACH her to make them! So we did. Those of you who’ve eaten my enchiladas, and/or who’ve had my mom’s know the secret to good ones is the sauce. Arianna knows this. So she manned the stove while I taught her what to do.

DSCN615201_webShe and her friend, Sarah, helped rolled them up.



DSCN615604_webI asked Arianna what she thought of them, and, ever the perfectionist(my fault), she said they weren’t as good as mine or mom’s. But when I asked her if they were better than the best Mexican restaurant we usually go to, she said hers were better. And I when I asked Sarah, she hesitated, then explained that when she really likes something, she can’t talk because she’s eating them.

I’m very proud of Arianna for learning to do this. She was asking me who taught my mom, and I didn’t actually know. So I asked mom, who said this was her recipe. I’ve been trying to perfect what mom taught me for a long time. Some years ago, during a visit to Texas, I caught mom adding a secret ingredient she never told me about before. So I taught that to Arianna while we were cooking. And tonight, when I was bragging to mom about this, she gave me another secret ingredient she’s been using. No, I’m not sharing, but we’ll use it next time Arianna and I cook together.

After dinner, they had little tiny tarts they picked out at the store:

DSCN615806_webHappy Birthday!


Dad’s lunch

I was going through old pictures and found one of many I wanted to share. 5 years ago, Arianna’s Christmas gift to me was a Gift Certificate to make me lunch. All I had to do was hand her the card “before 9pm, please” and she would make me lunch the next day and mark off the card(ever the shrewd entrepreneur, the card was not For Life). But her lunches were always the best ones that week. I gotta say, she’s makes a mean sandwich, and the extra helping of love makes it even better.




Christmas Eve 2014

Christmas Eve 2014 in San Antonio

It’s been a long time since our last post, but now that I’m on vacation, I thought I’d update everyone. First of all, Merry Christmas! Here’s a family picture from last night, with Grandma Amy, and brothers and their family:

Christmas Eve 2014
Christmas Eve 2014

Adam went back to CMU this past fall, but has decided to move back home and take classes at Washtenaw Community College. He starts in January.

Aaron graduated from high school, and continues to pursue a career in music. We bought his own domain and began hosting, which is the launch point for his media and his blog and his gig schedule. He’s currently taking a class in music production and recording at Soundscape Studios in Royal Oak, MI, and played a gig last Friday night.

In 2013, Arianna launched her business and we got her a domain as well at She and her business partner decided to part business ways, but they are still very close friends. This spring, Arianna bought herself a DSLR, and has gone crazy taking lots of wonderful pictures, some of which you’ve already seen on this blog. We will definitely post more later, but here’s a picture from a birthday party she was asked to photograph:

Lucy at Sonali's birthday party
Lucy at Sonali’s birthday party

Cyndi continues to work at CGN Global, and spent most of this year working with the Illinois Department of Transportation. We enjoyed a fun company Christmas Party a few weekends ago in downtown Chicago at the Hard Rock Hotel. She is still teaching J2A at church.

I celebrated my 24th anniversary at Ford, and continue to enjoy playing hockey, music and flying helicopters. I’m now playing bass for church every Sunday. Arianna was gracious enough to lend me her camera for my annual visit to IRCHA, and I will definitely post some of the 1100+ pictures I took for some later post.

That’s it for now. It seems every couple of years I restart my excitement about blogging, and then life happens. Until our next post, we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s!

This is what I wanted

Hernandez and San Antonio Botanical Gardens

One of the things we did on vacation is visit the Hernandez Botanical Gardens, which is conveniently located here on the same property as the Hernandez Bed and Breakfast(San Antonio location). Arianna is the staff photographer. If you click on each photo, you can see the full resolution version(be patient if you do this):

Timing is everything, as she shot the squirrel in midflight.
Timing is everything, as she shot the squirrel in midflight.
One of many pretty ones at my mom and dad’s
Pigeon scranble
I know this one took a lot of patience, and she took many photos of them eating, and then, finally, of them launching.
Firecracker Teeth
There are lots of these firecrackers all over the yard, but this shot shows their ‘teeth’
Azure or flower?
This is one of a series I decided to call “X or Flower?” because the image could resemble either. In this case, if you Google for images of the Azure Butterfly, you’ll see what I mean.
Snail or flower?
Snail or flower?
Suspended animation
I call this one Suspended Animation because it seems like it’s suspended in the air; you can’t see what’s holding it up, due to the bokeh(an effect that Arianna is getting pretty good at achieving).
Backlit, Frontlit
I took a photo a few minutes before this, where I put the sunlight behind the flower. Arianna did one better by somehow putting sunlight both behind and to the side of these flowers.

After documenting the Hernandez Botanical Gardens(I only picked a very few photos to share here), we were off to spend a few hours at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. Ok, this is one of those embarrassing moments where I fully admit that despite growing up here, I’ve never been! It was really quite beautiful. Arianna shot dozens and dozens of photos, and I only chose a few here. I think we need to set up a Picassa account and throw all of them up there. In the meantime, please enjoy these:

Beauty and The (little) Beast
Beauty and The (little) Beast
Definitely a butterfly
Definitely a butterfly! To appreciate this one, you MUST click on it, wait for it to download, and then click on it again to show the native resolution. She really nailed him.
Butterfly or clover?
Butterfly or clover? You decide. This reminds me of the opening sequence of Fantasia 2000(Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, with the butterflies)
Wisteria Tunnel
This is the Wisteria Tunnel. The backstory is pretty funny: Arianna kept trying to get Cyndi’s attention, in order to move her out of the frame. Cyndi thought she needed to move a little, but stay in the frame. It took one HUGE eye roll from Arianna to communicate she didn’t want mommy in the photo at all…
Bird quaff
If there’s anything that photography teaches, it’s the concept of patience. She took plenty photos in order to get this one with the beak immersed. Unfortunately, she didn’t get him taking off. But she got those pigeons earlier, didn’t she?
Still Life
Still Life. I don’t think she takes many photos like this, but I like the wall falling away into the far field. This was in a section of the Gardens called Kumamoto En.
Sea Slug or Flower?
Sea Slug or Flower? This caption only makes sense if you click on the photo to download the full resolution and click again to see the ‘tentacles’
Sea Anemone or Flower?
Sea Anemone or Flower? This caption, too, only makes sense if you click on the photo to download the full resolution and click again to see the ‘tentacles’
Old Man Cactus
Old Man or Cactus? This is a trick question, as the name of this is actually Old Man Cactus.
B&W Japanese Garden
This is one of the B&W photos she took. She’s got a great eye for B&W! This was also taken in the Japanese Garden. I can see things here I didn’t see when I was standing in the same place in full color.
American Chameleon
American Chameleon. A few minutes earlier and a few minutes later, he was pumping his throat red and marking his territory, but we missed it on film. This was in a part of the garden built for the blind, where you can touch and smell all the plants. This is where we started to get hungry for lunch…
B&W Water Lilly
This was in The Conservatory, and area with artifically different climate to cultivate unusual species. Here’s a gorgeous B&W of the water lillies.
Palm Trees
I really like the composition of this one, with palm trees in the foreground, and one of the enclosures of the Conservatory in the background.
Another patience shot; she “burned a lot of film” to get this guy. This is another one you should download to take advantage of the full resolution version.
Falling drops
I was just inside the Fern Ghetto(part of the Conservatory) before she took this shot, and I didn’t even notice this. I guess I was looking but not seeing.
How to enjoy a hammock
How to enjoy a hammock
How to enjoy a hammock, alternate interpretation.
How to enjoy a hammock, alternate interpretation.
Water or window?
Water or window? Another one where see saw something I couldn’t see.
Hand Blown Glass or Water?
Hand Blown Glass or Water? This is one of my favorites. I see all kinds of shapes and animals in here, but not while I was looking at the water fall in person.
This is what I wanted
This is my favorite. It was at the end of our day, and she was hungry and very frustrated with a particular lens she was trying to use, and even broke down in frustration, trying and failing to get the shot she wanted. After some encouragement, and a minute to recover, she made a few more attempts, and finally got it. I hope you appreciate it as much as she does.

Some of My San Antonio Traditions

Today, my dad and I visited The West Side. This is where he and my mom grew up, and where most of my relatives still live. On the map below, this is just about where the S in San Antonio is:

Nearly everyone lives withing a few miles of each other here. We visited my Tio Jimmy, who now lives in my abuelito’s house; we visited my Tio Winnie(pronounced “ween-eh”) and Tia Rosa. They were great dancers, and she was the tia I could spin and spin really fast when we danced. I also wanted to visit the graves of my abuelito Hernandez and granpda Ramirez in San Fernando cemetery. It’s a huge cemetery that I’ve been to many times for funerals, starting with my dad’s mom in 1972. When my abuelito died in 2012, he joined her:


Not far from him is where my grandpa is buried. There’s a spot ready for grandma right next to him. She keeps saying she’s ready, but we remind her that it’s not up to her. See, for about 10 years or so before grandpa passed, they both kept telling us they “might not be around next year.” And they kept being around. Eventually, they stopped telling us that. So I remind her: when the Lord is ready, He’ll come calling. In the meantime, she’s due to turn 98 in July.

While we were there, my dad showed me where his grandparents are buried. This grave is right down the row from abuelito. Yes, the dates are correct, meaning my father’s grandparents differed in age by 35 years. She had 14 kids(!), one of whom was abuelito. Such were those days:


After the tios y tias and the cemetery, we HAD to stop by the panaderia. The one we like is Mario’s, on Castroville Rd. The selection is huge, and it’s very good quality. I always get empanadas(w/ pumpkin filling); I got some maranitos for Cyndi(although they might not last until Saturday, apologies in advance honey; we can always go back for more). Grandma likes orejas:



Just finished a home made meal from mom, so when it settles, I’m diving into the empanadas!

Same blog, same url, new host

Tonight, we needed say goodbye to QuickBlogCast, and hello to WordPress. Thank goodness the URL is the same(it’s nice to own your own domain!).

I was able to move all our posts from our old service to our new service pretty damn quickly, but I have to move the pictures manually. The pictures are presently hosted at, which GoDaddy is taking down at midnight; you may soon see “broken image icons” until I finish moving the pictures to our own domain. This is a better long term solution than, so I should be thankful that we’re being forced to migrate. Unfortunately, I can’t move the vlogs that were hosted by QuickBlogCast. Fortunately, there were only a few of of those, maybe only two?

It was very interesting, going through every single post since we started blogging in 2007, watching our family get progressively younger and younger. There are some precious pics, and, although the move is something of a pain, it was a good excuse to look back on the last 7 years of posts. As usual, I realize I need to post more often. “Real” bloggers post daily, and I just don’t have the energy. But I might summon that energy instead of posting to FB. FB was opened to the general public the year before we started this blog, and I didn’t even have a FB account for years after that. Here, I can write as many words as I wish, and add whatever photos, links etc. A blog entry is far more versatile than a FB post, and I usually post a link to the blog from FB anyway. Stay tuned…

You Are Here

Ariana and I drove to FL for spring break. Overall, we had a wonderful time, and I’ll tell you about that later. But I wanted to brag about something she learned to do: read a road atlas.

Arianna and I encountered construction on the way back to MI. The kind of traffic snarl that brings interstate traffic, not to a crawl, but to an absolute standstill. Interstates should never be parking lots. Later that day, we heard a bad accident occur while we were getting gas, not more than 50 meters away. When we pulled out of the gas station, the road between us and the interstate was closed by the cops. On both occasions, we needed an alternate route.

I always take an atlas with me for every road trip I take. I do not own a GPS device or any electronic driver’s aid. Cyndi has one on her phone, but it’s led us astray twice. When we hit the construction, I called Cyndi, who confirmed the construction, and how extensive it was. I showed Arianna how to figure out where we were. I told her that I notice things like exit numbers and mile markers and upcoming highway signs. She became interested enough to keep pace. Later, when the accident occurred, we worked together to see where we were, and where the only road could take us. We saw we could go away from the highway(our only choice), and then travel a series of road more or less parallel to the interstate. Eventually, we made it back to the interstate, not having lost much time. As a bonus, we found some SWEET roads to drive my Fiesta ST on. Perhaps more about that later, as well. Arianna did remark that the side roads were far prettier and more fun. I highly recommend KY state and country roads.

Anyway, although I hate when these things happen on the interstate, I’m glad for the opportunity to teach what I think is a pretty valuable skill. I venture such a skill is a disappearing art in this age of GPS but maps don’t need batteries or cell towers…

Find the helicopter


This summer, I finally made good on a promise I made to myself a few years back, and attended the International Radio Control Helicopter Association(IRCHA) Jamboree, held at the Academy of Model Aeronautics(AMA) headquarters in Muncie, IN.It was a wonderful experience. I met several new friends from all over the States, as well as from other countries, one of whom said simply, “This is paradise!”

I drove down there with a local pilot from my field, and we met up with two more local pilots and one of their spouses.Here’s the gang:


Here’s a picture of one of the gang, Marco, flying inverted, and one of me and my cowboy hat doing the same.



One of the major manufacturers of helicopters is Align, and they held a group photo of EVERYONE who attended who flies their stuff, along with their helis. You can spot me on the right with my hat.


One of the many events held during the Jamboree is the Speed Cup. Just a couple of years ago, the top speed record(two way average) was 138mph. This year, the winning record was 153mph! Here’s a close up of the type of heli flown for this event. Notice the skinny, fully enclosed airframe and thin wires that serve as landing gear:


Another event is a scale competition. Someone brought a flying scale model of an Sikorsky MH-53, otherwise known as the Jolly Green Giant, complete with 8 bladed main rotor and powered by a miniature jet turbine. But the picture I wanted to share was the tremendous scale detail on another model:


There were several demonstration flights by pilots with amazing skill. I believe this is 3D World Champion Kyle Stacy flying his Goblin sideways at incredible speed:


Our flight tent was, by accident, set up right next to a huge tent that, at night, was the sight of a cool party, with free food. This is run by pilots from all over the States, but originally Wisconsin. There was a DJ, and the food was amazing, with BBQ pork, hand breaded corn dogs and sweet corn harvested from the field on the site:


As night fell, the flying continued. Several pilots had these multirotor machines equipped with GPS and capable of station holding. At first, they look like UFO, with lights bright enough to light up a good portion of the field. This particular craft was built by an elderly guy who designed and programmed his own custom PC boards to control the lights just the way he wanted. At one point, he lifted a disco ball higher than any discotheque hall ceiling, while someone on the ground lit up the ball with their laser:



A few years ago, night flying was a rare thing, and the night flying contest at IRCHA was one of the few places where it could be seen. This year I was totally surprised by the number of pilots who brought and skillfully flew these very cool machines. Here is one of them ready for take off:


And this brings us to the fireworks finale, with several show pilots flying their lit up helicopters THROUGH the fireworks display. In these last photos, you can spot the helicopters because their flight path does not follow the ballistic path of the fireworks; with my shaky hands and the long exposure, they trace out some neat patterns. Now that you’re trained to spot them, can you find the helicopter in the first image in this post?