Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?


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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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A Return to the Derivatives

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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):

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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 :

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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 MarcoAziel.com, 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 RapunzelsMPO.com. 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.
Conehead
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.
Dragonfly
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:

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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.
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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:

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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:

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