Celebrating a 30th Anniversary with a 55th

MOST of you know that I’m a gearhead, and have been since I was old enough to notice cars. When was that? Let me tell you: there’s a favorite home movie my parents took of me when I was less than one year old. I’m bouncing in the baby bouncy thing in the front yard, and every time a car drives by, I stop bouncing and watch the car go from left to right, mesmerized. Now, when a see a cool old car approaching in the distance, I lower the windows so I can hear the motor. Even Cyndi has been trained to lower the windows, shaking her head and laughing at me.

I tell you this because I recently bought a car that I’ve had my eyes on for over 10 years: a Twister Orange 2020 Mustang 5.0L. But this car has not been out for 10 years, you say? No, it hasn’t. But me and my team at Ford started work on this motor, known colloquially as The Coyote, over 10 years ago. We helped design the first generation Coyote 5.0L, and our models predicted it would make 408 bhp. The first dyno pull on the first prototype motor was 410bhp. We had broken the 80bhp/L barrier that had remained since I helped Jaguar design the 80bhp/L V6 engine for the S Type in 2000(back when Ford owned Jaguar).

A short while later, I was involved in the Mustang again, but on the Noise, Vibration and Harshness(NVH) side of the business, where a colleague and I solved a “blatty” exhaust sound problem known as exhaust rasp. Without going into too many details, this kind of sound makes the car sound like the exhaust system is falling apart or broken; it makes the vehicle sound cheap. We identified the physics, which are the same physics that make a trombone sound ‘blatty’ when played at triple forte, and recommended the solution to the engineer that was responsible for the “Mustang Sound DNA.” Our solution is still on the car today, so my work is both under the hood and in the exhaust system.

When the car was finally launched, many a magazine article praised the car for both the power of the engine, and the sound of the powertrain as “sweet music to the ears.” I’m very proud of that praise. At the time the car was launched, the time was not right to have a Mustang in the family. But two of my work friends loaned me their Mustang Coyotes, one of which I drove to Texas. Needless to say, I was hooked back then.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of driving ever more compact and fuel efficient vehicles, including a Fusion, two Focuses and two Fiestas, the last of which was my beloved 2014 Fiesta ST(6 years and 122k miles of pure, turbocharged , handling bliss. Man, I’m going to miss that vehicle! ). But this year, the time was finally right to splurge on something, er, not quite as responsible and, in Aaron’s words, downright obnoxious. The current generation of The Coyote now has 460bhp! This is hands down the quickest, fastest, and loudest car I’ve ever purchased new. I went with the loudest color in the catalogue, and opted for active exhaust(which lets me control the backpressure and therefore the obnoxiousness of the sound), Performance Package 1(level one handling package), and fancy Nickle Luster wheels. So far, I have not seen another one like it in Mustang-rich Michigan, where this car is built. This thing is a rocket, and draws lots of attention(not yet from the cops, thankfully). So far, at least three cars have tried to pick a race with me(I accepted one challenge and beat him), and the day after I brought it home, my neighbor screamed at me from two houses down, “HEY MAN, THAT THING IS BADASS!”

However, MOST of you know that I’m also a romantic. My younger cousin Sonny used to own a souped up Mustang, and I bet he’s excited for me. Cyndi’s late brother Steve would have been rabid-excited that I finally got this car; he also had a souped up Mustang, with the older pushrod 5.0L, that he raced. But what I really wanted to share was this: after Cyndi’s maternal grandparents passed away several years ago, Lou and Paul offered me matching jackets that Grandpa and Grandma used to own. Uncle Grandpa owned an old Mustang back in the day, you see. I’ve hung onto those jackets for a long time, and when I had decided to take the Mustang plunge, I knew what I had to do. The day I went to pick up the car from the dealer(also a Mustang nut), I decided to wear that jacket, which fit me perfectly. That’s the jacket in the picture at the top of this article.

I’ve been at Ford for 30 years(August 13 was my anniversary), and consider this to be the perfect reward car for my gear-headedness. I’m proud of the Company, proud of the work we did on this car, and very excited to finally enjoy the fruits of that work.

The House of Requirement

The Room of Requirement

IN MOST HOUSES, there is a spare bedroom. In our house, it’s called The Room of Requirement. Harry Potter fans will appreciate the reference. Our spare room has served as the sewing room(Cyndi), bedroom(Adam’s old room), Grandma/Grandpa’s room(both sides of the family), Photography Studio and Printing Room(Aria), Silkscreening Room(Aaron), Free Motel for Starving Musicians on Tour(Aaron’s friends from out of town), and even a Woodshop(Aaron and me). Tonight, it’s serving as  the Recording Studio.

Aaron is putting some refinements on a demo to be sent out into the world in the hopes of landing more gigs for one or more of his bands(Marco Aziel, Daddy and The Long Legs (soon to be Kiss Your Friends?), Petty Theft, or Ness Lake), although I think he told us earlier tonight that it was for DATLL.

So Cyndi and I are sitting in the house, listening to a recording session. And because Aaron is mic’ing the amp, and is playing near one of the heating/cooling registers in the room, we can easily hear him in any other room in the house. It’s like having a wireless sound system, but with even even fewer wires. Except, of course, in the Recording Studio itself. He’s going through three pedals, a DI box and still mic’ing the amp, into Travis’ Mac via USB interface, because I just had to check out his rig. But I digress.

For me, I’m listening to, and appreciating, the various takes. Aaron has tried to teach me over the years why he likes certain recordings, or certain sounds in the recording, or various other aspects that describe the aesthetic of a well produced record, sort of like trying to explain a master artists’ brush strokes to a novice painter. In one way, it’s the audio equivalent of watching your kid build something with Legos, foraging around in the box looking for that one piece. But this is more subtle. To stretch the analogy, it’s perhaps like looking for a Lego piece from many seemingly identical ones that happens to snaps into place with exactly the right sort of  satisfying click.

Only he can hear the rest of the mix in his headphones; we can only hear what he’s doing on guitar. I started to imagine the rest of the mix(not recognizing this particular composition), but then I realized it was enough just to listen to this guitar part. It’s kind of meditating.

If that Room of Requirement has become a Recording Studio, the rest of the building has become the House of Requirement. And tonight, we must have required, and therefore received, an intimate(Aaron would say very chill) live performance from the best musician in the House.


Today we held Arianna’s graduation party. That meant that this week, due to scheduling problems that are entirely our own fault, we crammed to prepare. Thankfully, we had already finished juggling reservations for the parish hall some time ago, put it on the calendar, and then…life happened. That’s our excuse anyway, and not a good one.

But it all came together, and everyone had a good time, most importantly, Arianna. It was great to see her village walk into the parish hall to express their support and congratulations and share their stories. Most of these people were friends and their parents from the part of her Venn diagram labeled “church”. It’s a rather large portion of that Venn diagram.

Over the last couple of days(I said we were cramming), we picked out about 170 pictures to print out and put into poster board collages for display. It was wonderful to go through the hundreds of pictures we have. It seems that in a past life, we used to go through photo albums. Back when we shot on film, we didn’t have so many pictures. But Arianna grew up in a era of digital photography. I could tell by the earliest time stamps of the photos on the computer. In contrast, the boys were born when we were still using film. Anyway, I love reviewing photos of our kids when they were little. And judging by the reactions of her village, so did Arianna’s friends today.

One of the collages we made was “Little Arianna”. Another was “Arianna cooking or making/building stuff”. Another was “Arianna with immediate/extended family/vacations”. Another was “Quincianera”. And the last two were “Arianna at Trinity/with Trinity friends” and “Happening”. So yeah, church is a big part of her life. I hope to take some nice pix of the collages to share, but I don’t have a very good track record of doing such things in a timely manner.

I took some photos today of the party, but judging by Arianna’s reaction to me taking photos, the only one I’m going to post for now is the one of Arianna’s home made decorations, these little graduation hats she made out of a Reese’s peanut butter cups, some card stock(in the colors of Boston College, where she enrolled last week), and little tiny tassels.

Call me old fashioned, but I’m proud that our children graduated from high school, one of life’s major achievements. So right now, I’m basking a bit in the after glow. I hope and pray that Arianna accomplishes whatever she sets out to do, whether at BC or elsewhere, on her way to whatever her next milestone turns out to be. We love you, Arianna.
credit: taradrozphotography

Tamalada y Conjunto Dance Lessons

One of the Christmas traditions in my family is the tamalada: a tamale making party. I know they were held by several tias, but the one I always involved with was thrown by my Grandma Amy and Grandpa Tony. One of the reasons a tamalada exists in the first place is out of necessity. It’s not really possible to make just 1 tamale, or even just a dozen. You buy the ingredients in bulk, enough to hundreds. That’s a not a task for a single family, so you invite everyone over to help.

The tamalada at Grandma Amy’s house used to take all day. Throughout the day, families came over in shifts to help. The fun part was the telling of stories and jokes, and how things used to be done in the old days, and of course telling each other that “you’re doing it wrong”. One of the funniest moments of my whole life was Grandma Amy spending a long time telling us a joke, only to forget the punchline at the end. To this day, I don’t remember what the joke was about, but I remember everyone exploding with laughter so hard come of us were crying.

My prima Paulie(my dad’s niece) has thankfully taken on the burden of keeping the tradition. The first batch of masa was bad, so she had to make an emergency run to the store to get a new batch, then we were back in business. Cyndi was helping make the filling, which is traditionally pork but we also had chicken:

This is what it looks like when all hands are on deck putting the masa into the ojas(corn husks):

Another crew fills, closes and folds the tamales, then they are placed into a steamer, and covered again with ojas:

This year, Adam’s girlfriend D’Arcy was able to join the fray, and when Paulie and husband Jimmy learned she was a ballroom dancer, a conjunto dance lesson was quickly materialized:

Many years ago, Paulie introduced the tradition of decorating and making cookies, when the kids were little. The grown up kids still participate, though. Here’s my nephew Kristian making the shape of my home state:

Things get loud, especially when there is a Cowboys game on, so the introverts need to spend some time in the next room, aka, Chill Central. Even my brother Mike took a break:

At the end, Paulie led us in a circle prayer, giving gratitude for the family who could make it, prayers for those who could not, and remembrances for those in our past. Big shout out to Paulie for keeping the tradition alive!

Out of Yesterday

This January, you might recall, I went skiing with the boys again, after a long hiatus. In that post, I mentioned that I had “the idea to set music to one of those videos, and went looking for the DVD. I found it, and was delighted to watch it again and again”.

I finally set music to that video, and present it here for your enjoyment:

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?


About a year ago, we visited the Detroit Institute of Arts,  and they happened to have an exhibit for Dia De Los Muertos. We were fascinated by the exhibit, the stories and the creativity. I took lots of photos. I don’t ever remember celebrating this day, and I asked my parents. They don’t recall celebrating it, either.

I am a third generation Mexican-American, so I suspect that my ancestor’s did celebrate it. In Mexico, it is a national holiday. In fact, my work colleagues down there are off today and tomorrow. Anyway, after my experience at the DIA, I thought it might be cool to restart the tradition.

Later that year, the movie Coco came out.  We fell in love with it! And yes, I cried. There aren’t that many movies I decided are worth purchasing, but this was one of them. The movie means a lot to me for many reasons: I’m Mexican, they have an all Latino cast, and the crew took something like 6 years to research the culture , the art, and the heritage. After the movie, Arianna said to me, “I think we should make an ofrenda this year”. So we did.

Let me attempt to give you a tour of our ofrenda (click on the image to display it full size):

Across the top, from left to right:

‘Buelito and ‘Tenchia, short for Abuelito and Hortensia. ‘Buelito is what my cousins all called my dad’s father. His name is Carmen, and so is my dad’s. This is why some of my tias and primos called my dad Tio Junior. ‘Buelito’s first wife was Maria, which is half the reason Arianna’s middle name is Marie(the other half will become apparent later).  Maria died in 1972, but I have a picture of her. I remember her, but just barely. ‘Buelito married ‘Tenchia (which is how we pronounced her name) some time later. They both loved to take trips to Reno, and this is why there is a die in front of their picture; this one was handed to me at his funeral. ‘Tenchia passed a short time later.

Next are Grandpa and Grandpa, my mom’s parents. Their names are Anthony (Tony) and Amelia (Amy). I was very close to them. This tiny picture is the only one I have of them dressed up together, taken at my prima’s wedding a long time ago. Grandpa lived to be 98, and played guitar and violin, hence the guitar in front of the picture. Grandma lived to be 99, and loved to play cards, hence the cards on the lower tier, where Arianna put Grandma’s picture again.

In the center is Grandpa and Grandma Antonelli, Cyndi’s great-grandparents, her mom’s grandparents. Between them is Cyndi’s late brother, Steve(more about him later). The Antonelli’s immigrated to the US from Italy, getting the job done!

Next to Grandma Antonelli are Cyndi’s dad’s parents, Ray and Margaret, from Florida. They visited Cyndi’s folks often, so I got see a lot of them while I was dating Cyndi and after we we had kids. Margaret suffered a stroke late in life, and used to repeat the words “A-bing, a bing, a-bing” a lot, which really captivates the attention of a new born baby. She was very happy holding our kids.

And on the far right is Uncle-Grandpa and Grandma Marie. Marie’s first husband Justin(not shown) passed away before I met Cyndi, and later, she married Justin’s brother, hence, the nickname. Marie is Cyndi’s maternal grandmother. Both Marie and Uncle-Grandpa were entertaining to be around. At our wedding rehearsal dinner, Uncle-Grandpa and my dad kept sending the salsa back to the restaurant kitchen to make it hotter and hotter. I especially loved Marie’s laugh. She is the other half of the reason behind Arianna’s middle name.

On the bottom tier, starting on the left:

Hold baby Adam(still alive, no worries!) is Ronnie Peterson, Cyndi’s godfather and my father in law’s best friend from when they were little kids in Florida. Ronnie’s wife, Janie or ‘Aunt Janie’ is Cyndi’s godmother. Ronnie had a beautiful, slow southern drawl, and taught Adam how to deal and play Blackjack when he was little. I’ll never forget how he pronounced “Hit me” during Blackjack, sounding like Elvis Presley. He worked for an aircraft company, hence, the notepad in front his picture.

Next to Ronnie is my uncle ‘Tudy(English pronunciation). He is one of my dad’s brothers. Tudy and I were also close because we were both gear heads. He spent his career working on cars and trucks, and helped me rebuild the front suspension on my 1963 Chevy Impala SS. This picture was taken while he was helping me replace the motor in the same car. It’s the only picture I have of him, but it’s my favorite. Those were good times, and I remember vividly starting the new motor for the first time. Among the cars he owned was a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, hence, the model in front of his picture.

Next to him is Steven, Cyndi’s brother. Steven was a character, and the family has LOTS of stories about him. He was the one who taught Cyndi how to play chess when she was very little. He was also a gear head, and around the time he died just a few years ago, was actively autocrossing a Mustang 5.0L he had built for the purpose. He liked to watch F1, hence, the race car in front of his picture. Nitpickers will note the model is CART, not F1, to which Steven would say, “Bite me”

Next to Steven is a representative of our other family: our MIT friends, whom we have remained close to for over 30 years. Christine passed away from cancer about one year ago. She was very young, having entered college the year after we graduated. A few months earlier, we lost another to cancer, the husband of another classmate. A few years before that, we lost yet another classmate to cancer. Needless to say it’s been a difficult having reunions with fewer and fewer classmates showing up when the oldest of us has just turned 50. But we’re celebrating them, and Christine is representin’. She’s resting on a gift I gave to Grandma Amy, Our Lady of Lourdes, with small ampule of holy water.

And then there is Grandma Amy again, with a deck of cards that Arianna picked out. This picture was used by Arianna at a Happening Event, where they also made an ofrenda (Arianna’s idea, too).

Missing from this particular ofrenda are those whom I could not locate pictures of in time: my dad’s other late brother, Joe who passed while I was in elementary school, and two of his sons, Petey and Joey, who passed the year before Cyndi and I got engaged.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little offering. This weekend, our church is making an ofrenda for All Saints Day, which was ALSO Arianna’s idea.

Please Come To Boston

Arianna would like to attend college in Boston, so this last week, we went to Massachusetts to visit colleges. You might already know there a lots of them in the Boston area, with hundreds of thousands of students.

One of the colleges on her list(HER list, not our list) is MIT.  Naturally, we were delighted to attend a college tour of our alma mater. I was particularly intrigued, since I never actually visited MIT until I showed up on campus for rush/orientation in the fall of 1986. Fun fact that didn’t sink into my thick skull until 28 years after I graduated: MIT was founded in 1861 at the start of the Civil War, which delayed the opening of its doors until 1865. It was great to walk the halls again, and happy that Arianna would like to apply.

Another college we visited was Harvard. Again I was intrigued, but this time because I had actually never set foot on Harvard until we walked through the gates into the admissions office for the tour(I was a lousy tourist while I was in college, sue me). Harvard is a great school and very old, having been established in 1636. It wasn’t named Harvard College until 1639, after John Harvard donated funds and his library to the school. Here’s a picture of Arianna and Cyndi in the quad, with John Harvard in the background. Fun fact: the 1884 statue was designed and built by MIT alum Daniel Chester French, who would later create the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.


While we were on campus, we were treated to a short tour of the Widener Library by MIT alum Tony Moulen, who was one of Cyndi’s dorm mates(Russian House). Below is is Tony(in purple) leading Arianna and Cyndi up the steps. Inside, we found ourselves inches away from one of the Gutenberg Bibles!DSC_0300_101_640   Third on our list was Boston College. BC was yet another attraction that was little more than something I passed during one of my many training rides while I was on the MIT cycling team, so it was nice to actually set foot on campus and learn something about it. It is very beautiful, but has a complicated origin, beginning in about 1827, and culminating with a charter that was finally approved in 1863 for its first campus in the South End. It moved to its current location on Chestnut Hill starting in 1909.  Arianna really liked the place. She is currently considering a degree in Math, so it was good fortune that our tour guide was majoring in Math and Economics.
DSC_0324_101_640 DSC_0310_101_640

I would be remiss if I did not mention our wonderful hosts, Vadim and Justyna Teverovsky. They more or less serve as the nerve center and headquarters of our tightly knit MIT circle, both having lived in Russian House, graduating in 1989 and 1990, respectively. We have visited them twice in late 2017 for funerals of MIT friends(including Tony’s late wife Christine, also of MIT Russian House), so it was nice to visit them for a happier mission this time around. They have two kids, Danika and Doran. Danika graduated from the University of Rochester, where Doran is a freshman. Doran gave us an informal tour of University of Rochester on the way home(but it was too rainy for pictures). Vadim and Justyna have three pets: dogs Jasmine and Milky, plus Shadow the feline. They each received lots of love from us, despite pet allergies.

It would be totally cool if Arianna attended college in Boston, providing more excuses for visiting friends and playing tourist. Here’s the song that inspired the title of this post: Please Come To Boston.



A Return to the Derivatives


No, this post is not about math. I used to take my sons skiing ‘up north’ at Crystal Mountain each year. They both started on skis, and I think the next year was when Aaron switched to snowboard. And then…we stopped for several years. Adam started attending high school, and his schedule was dominated by swim team practice and meets. Then Aaron started high school. Then skiing became something that we used to do.

Over the years, I had taken lots of pictures and some video of the kids skiing. This summer, I had the idea to set music to one of those videos, and went looking for the DVD. I found it, and was delighted to watch it again and again. I texted the boys right away, “We need to go skiing again!” to which they responded, “We’re in!” I still have not set aside time to set music to that old video, BUT we were going skiing again.

We had a wonderful time. We listened to a good book during the drive, had good conversations about music, the world going digital, found good food to eat, shared grown up drinks, and I spectated a wild game of chess between Aaron and Adam(I think they swapped clear advantages multiple times, eg “Huh, I didn’t see that coming” and “Oops”). Speaking of food, here’s breakfast at House of Flavors(note Aaron’s loud green sweater):


And, of course, we skied/boarded. Despite our multiple year hiatus, it did not take us long to regain our skills. Adam finally started to use poles, and Aaron took a few trips through the terrain areas(you know, where they put obstacles there on purpose to jump and/or run into and/or fall off of). In Michigan, all the slopes are rated about one rating higher than real mountain skiing. In other words, a Michigan black diamond is a blue in Colorado or New Hampshire. Needless to say, we spent almost all of our time on black diamonds and the steeper blues.

And I got to relive with my own eyes just how good the boys look when they are skiing. It was so satisfying to watch, as a father. Learning from me past, I decided not to take a camcorder, and instead lived in the moment. We skied each run together all weekend, except for about an hour when Aaron diverted to the terrain area and Adam and I had lunch. When we were done, we were tired and sore and in need of a hot tub. Although I was lucky enough not to fall, the boys each had spills; Aaron actually jumped INTO someone who was inexplicably standing at the bottom of the ramp. That was a total wipe out, but each of them were ok.

Here are two pictures I managed to take with my phone on the last day. Adam looking smooth, with great form:IMG_20180114_113123998And Aaron, looking even more like Shaun White, with the long. flowing hair :



It was really great to return to the slopes. Hopefully, Arianna can join us next year(she was sick that weekend).


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.