My Crazy Tio Martin’s 50th Wedding Anniversary

On Dec 27, we celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of my tio Martin and tia Molly. Tio Martin is one of my mom’s two brothers; the other is Antonio ‘Nito’ Ramirez, and she also has a sister, Annie, whose 50th we celebrated last year. Tio Martin has six children and 14 grandchildren, and I have fond memories of growing up with them when we visited the west side of town. They lived on the same block as tia Annie’s family, so we’d often walk down and get more kids to play basketball or football in the street. Here’s a picture of them back on their wedding day:

And today:

We had a full mass at The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, on the west side of San Antonio. I’d never been there before, and it’s beautiful. Then we had a traditional Tex-Mex reception in the parish hall next door, with mariachi’s, dinner and dancing. The mariachi’s were very special: they are known as Mariachi L, formed by all eight(!) children of the Marshall and Magdelena Luevano family. Magdelena is Molly’s niece, via brother Jesse Hernandez(no relation to my dad). On top of that, the DJ for the night was the grandson of Tio Martin’s best man back in 1958.

All of Martin’s children gave speeches, and daughter Laura, who is a professional video editor(she and her crew produced Jurassic Fight Club for the History Channel), produced a very nice video slide show for them.

I sat with my grandparents, and, similar to what happened for Annie and Fino’s 50th two years ago, their table received many visitors throughout the night. Grandpa Tony and Grandma Amy have been married 73 years! It was a rare sight indeed to see the groom dance with his mother for his 50th anniversary:

Later, they held a ‘dollar dance’ for the bride and groom, a Tex-Mex tradition where you pay one dollar to dance with either one in a community effort to start them off on more sound financial footing. This time, they really didn’t want or need contributions, but it’s hard to argue with tradition. I had already danced some conjunto with tia Molly, so I wanted to dance with tio Martin just to have some time with him and tell him how proud I am of this very significant and rare accomplishment. Well, you can see what happened next. All I will say is he started it! Crazy Tio, Te Amo y felicitaciones!

Merry Christmas to all!

We had wonderful Christmas last couple of days. Last night, we had our traditional visit with my dad’s father, ‘Buelito, and his extended family. We played Loteria, which is a sort of Mexican bingo. Then we had dinner, with arroz and tamales made by Tia Licha, and beans and chile. Tia Liche made a special, small batch of hot tamales, beans and jalopenos. I parked myself in front of them, and had LOTS. Later, we decorated cookies, including some made for Santa. The evening ended with many pictures being taken with ‘Buelito, from just the nietos, to just the primos, to just his children.

Then we headed back to my folks house for our immediate family tradition, which has evolved over the years as by brothers and I got married and added and mixed traditions from our spouse’s families. We took lots more photos, exchanged family gifts and stockings and played around ’til late at night. I helped by mom with the computer again, listening to their new speakers and finding music on the internet for her.

Christmas morning, the Downey’s, who have been participating in all these activities with us, joined us again so we could exchange gifts from them and Santa Claus, and open the Santa stockings. I made some last minute edits on my Christmas music cheat sheet, printed it out, showered and got ready to visit my mom’s folks.

At their house, Aaron and I set up his bass and amp, first time ever we had a bass at Grandpa’s house. We did some quick, quiet rehearsing, using only roman numerals and key suggestions. For those of you who know what that means, it’s because Grandpa told me before hand which keys to sing in, but sometimes we change our minds, and I wanted to be able to adapt, hence, I wrote the changes using roman numerals. Then Grandpa, Aaron and I led the Christmas carols. Aaron did wonderful job, as usual, and was able not only to follow the changes, but add really nice passing notes. I was very proud of him, especially when Grandpa nodded to me his approval on Aaron’s musicianship.

A gift exchange followed, which takes a long time, due to all the cousins, aunts and uncles. Later, Grandpa asked me to come inside and show him the bridge to ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’ a song he didn’t know entirely. After that, we practiced a few Mariachi songs from ‘the old days’. I got Aaron to video tape us, er, DVD us, and we were joined by my Tia Annie, who knows all those songs and has a nice voice. I was able to follow Grandpa as he showed me the chords, and then after a while, he stopped playing so he could concentrate on remembering or reading the words whileI accompanied him and Annie. I really, really enjoyed that, and by the look on his face, Grandpa really did, too. He’s 96 years old!

THEN, we went back to my folks’ house, where I helped mom finish dinner preparations, with Cyndi and my sister-in-laws. We prepared a ham, yams, green salad, potato salad, green beans and wine. Dessert was home made pecan pie, from Grandma Lou. The boys had been playing video games, but packed up to spend the night at Mike’s house. Arianna and Mark’s wife, Rae, spent some time playing with Arianna’s new Indiana Jones Lego set, but Rae had to go home(she’s working tomorrow morning, ugh), so Cyndi took over. Mom and Dad chatted with Lou and Paul for a while, and now I am writing this blog to capture the events. I love Christmas here in San Antonio! Hope this finds all readers enjoying Christmas where ever they are.

Home in Texas!

I am back home in San Antonio! No pictures yet, just nice to be home. We had a smooth travel experience, with the only hitch being that the airlines lost Arianna’s car seat! After some assertive discussion, we obtained a loaner and got everyone home. Today, the car seat showed up. I offered to give back the loaner, but the guy said, “Nah, just keep it. They didn’t tell me to bring it back.” So, now we have an emergency backup for the future.

We got back to my parents house and were met by my brothers and their boys and special guests Paul and Lou Downey, who are RV’ing their way through a southwestern winter. Good thing they’re not in Spokane, which received a record 18″ of snow in one day last week. They’ve had to put up with particularly windy conditions here in Texas, which beats their RV sideways at night, and fog(also unusual here in TX), but they are glad they’re not buried in snow.

As is our tradition since I left for college, we came home to hugs and hellos, then headed to the kitchen to warm up dinner: enchiladas, beans and rice! The adults ate in the dining room, and the rowdy kids ate in the kitchen. After that, some of us got in the spare room and set up the guitar and bass, and started jamming. We got Aaron to whip out his fancy pedals and get to work on the bass, and then cousin Trevor joined him. They sound great!

Today, I am helping my folks set up the laptop I got them last year. We spent hours last night organizing pictures, and this morning I’m helping them learn more about what this thing can do and how to make it easier for them to use and find things.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

After everyone went to bed, I noticed this little card on our Christmas tree tonight. Our daughter did not tell anyone she made this card, and it was clearly meant for you. We don’t mean to spoil Christmas, but we had an early Michigan celebration tonight so Cyndi could enjoy our private family Christmas before she left for Texas, then MIT. Cyndi got Arianna something that was on her list. Arianna was very happy to get it, but I see she was also thoughtful enough to change her card for you…

Aaron’s two seconds of fame on yoyogames

Currently, there is a competition open on Yoyogames called Yoyo Competition #04: Save the Planet. The goal of this competition is to send the “green message” through games. Yoyogames says, “Yes, we are aware of the irony of using energy-hungry computers to communicate a green message. Better this than 300 games about saving princesses.” The rewards for this competition, like all Yoyo competitions, are either $1000, $500, or $250.

I made a game for this contest, and after the first two people who played it had rated it, it was the at the top of the list. The name of this game is Race for resource. I have collected photographic proof of this event. See for yourself:

Note that the “top rated” tab is highlighted (ironically, in black).

If you think that i’m just acting like that game is mine, look closely at the “by:” caption underneath it.

However, less than a minute later, someone else rated the game with a lower score, causing it to go from a 3.0 to a 2.3, shooting me down more than 60 places. Then someone else rated it, throwing the game to 9th place, 60 places higher than it had previously been. It’s current rating is 2.8. Now (7:32 PM Dec. 20) it’s in tenth place due to another entry to the contest with a higher rating.

PS: If any of you have an account (and if you don’t, make one!), please rate this game!

Computer Upgrades, Scares, and Lessons Learned – Part II

…one morning, the computer would not turn on. And nothing we did brought it to life. I suspected the worst: hard drive failure! And worse than that: when was the last time I backed everything up? OH NO! I called up a friend of mine who does lots of PC work for friends and family. His last name is Newman. He suggested the power supply was dead, and happened to have a spare one laying around. I got it that night, and brought it home. Well, now one light lit up on the computer, but nothing else happened. So, although our old power supply was indeed dead, there was more damage than that.

After much panicked research on the web(using another computer, gads, we have two…), I was able to determine, doing a few tests, that the hard drive was probably ok, and that we might have a motherboard problem. In order to find out, I quickly thought of someone who might have a Windows XP computer I could borrow. Rochelle! I called her up, explained what I needed, and drove over to her house. I was able to do some quick surgery on her computer, plug in our hard drive as a slave, and YEA! Everything was there, safe and sound. In fact, the next day, I had to do it again to get some important document for Cyndi. Boy, were we lucky! Now, to revive the rest of the patient.

I mentioned the research had lead me to believe that the motherboard(MOBO) was dead. I think that, even though our power supply was rated high enough for the new video card, the card might well have pushed it over the edge. When the PSU died, it took the MOBO with it. So now I needed a new MOBO. The problem was this: we have an old(in computer ‘dog’ years, anyway) motherboard. So old that the boys had to find an AGP video card for it in the first place. So old that it uses what’s called a Socket A CPU. Which no one makes anymore. And no one makes MOBOs for Socket A CPUs, either. Except one company, who shall remain nameless.

On to again. They have ONE motherboard with Socket A and AGP video slot. Well, that pretty much narrowed down my choices. So, I ordered it. While I was at it, I ordered another Seagate hard drive, same size as the one we already have. We tracked the UPS shipment every day, UNTIL THANKSGIVING. It showed up at the local UPS depot at 2am Thanksgiving day, and there it stayed through the whole weekend, argh! Oh, well, this meant Cyndi’s sister Debbie, who was visiting us from Atlanta, could actually spend time with everyone, because otherwise, we’d all be doing surgery on the computer and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Finally, it arrived. And it didn’t fit in my case, doh! Great, now I figure I’m in for a new case. But before I ordered that, I tested the MOBO. Guess what? it was DEAD ON ARRIVAL! Nothing worked. Well, some of the online reviews were pretty bad, some were great, but like I mentioned, I had no choice. So, now the big question: do I send back the MOBO and the brand spanking new video card and go for a more comprehensive rebuild? I mentioned AGP was on the way out, and no one really makes Socket A boards anymore. Sheesh. So I lamented about all this to Newman. Turn out that he’s done so many of these upgrades that he has an AGP Socket A MOBO with CPU, case and PSU just laying around! Since I mentioned his last name is Newman, I started calling him I picked up his stuff that night for a song.

All of his stuff worked immediately. Old hard drive worked, new hard drive worked, new video card worked. We were very happy . I had to spend ALL NIGHT to back up everything(that was the big lesson learned; we were extremely lucky!), format the new drive, and copy stuff over from the old drive, and do some minor repair to Windows. BTW, Newman says he’s always had to reinstall Windows when he does stuff like this(and therefore always had to reinstall all your programs, too), but being the research fanatic I am, I found a great website that shows how to swap a MOBO and NOT HAVE TO REINSTALL WINDOWS!!! I am here to tell you that this totally works and I am eternally thankful to these guys! Thanks to this, and the OS Setup Guide I wrote about before, it was a piece of cake to change drive letters, volume labels and have everything working from essentially an image from the old hard drive. In about a month or so, when I feel confident about the new drive having everything it needs, I’ll reformat the old one(OS parition was getting too full) and use it for images off the new drive. Already, I’ve had to copy over the entire directory for one of Cyndi’s game, and she was playing it again in less than one minute. I am really loving this concept of images!

So, we thanks to the boys’ fancy PC game, we got a computer upgrade, a HUGE scare about the hard drive, and learned a valuable(but inexpensive) lesson about back ups, which I will now do religiously, as well as images. And They took the new dead MOBO back and credited my card, AND sent a preprinted prepaid UPS label! I spent literally 30 seconds in the UPS store. She scanned it, and said thank you, and I was all, well, don’t you want any money? Nope, Newegg covered it. I’m not shopping anywhere else, and I don’t ming plastering their name all over this blog.

Computer Upgrades, Scares, and Lessons Learned – Part I

Several weeks ago, the boys pooled their money to purchase a cool PC game called Spore. Grandpa Paul might have heard of this game. Anyway, the boys have always been careful to check the infamouse system requirements when purchasing games, or borrowing them from the local library. This time, however, a subtle but critical requirement slipped past them…so when they installed the game and tried to run it, no dice. After checking the sys req again, they determined what the crucial requirement was: fancy video card needed!so begins our saga.

I directed them to my favorite online PC store,, which I recommend to every on the planent, now especially after this personal episode. I had to tell the boys that we had a motherboard with an AGP video card slot, but after that, they went to town and took little time to whittle down the search results to two NVIDIA cards by PNY. I cautioned them that the cheap one would suffice this year, but what happens if they buy some more sophisticated game next year. Would they have to upgrade again? And, since AGP is an aging interface, would they be able to obtain a fancier video card in the future? At first they said no, they didn’t want to spend the extra bucks, but after sleeping on it overnight, they decided to splurge on the fancier card: GeForce 7600GS.

So, we ordered it, and it arrived just a few days later(Newegg tradition of fast shipping). The boys and I installed it that night:

Notice everyone’s hands on the chassis, for proper grounding

The big shaggy thing on the right is Aaron’s hair, quite the electrostatic hazard in and of itself!

See the WAY cool fan on the card, hmmmmmm….

They finally were able to run this weird game, and wow! So this is why people spend the bucks on things called video cards. I couldn’t believe the difference. The boys were ecstatic, and the game turned out to be quite spectacular. Then they went to bed(awwww), and Dad got on the computer to fire up the ole flight simulator. Wow…I could turn on ALL the graphics options: shadows, smoke, tree leaves, runway gravel, reflections, everything. What a difference! Then Cyndi got on and played her new game Da Vinci’s Secret. And she said everything looked better, the jewels sparkled, and certain screens became available(previously, the screen used to turn black). BTW, none of the pictures on these websites do justice to what happens on the computer with this video card. The difference is remarkable.

So, after a very short conversation, we decided that since we benefited as well, we would chip in for half the cost of the card. So, the boys were only in for the price of the cheap card, and got the fancy one! Everyone was happy. But then…

Great way to set up your new hard drive!

I just purchased a new hard drive, after a scary episode with our computer(more on that in another nlog entry…). Now that I am blogging, I feel compelled to cite an extremely valuable source of information for this sort of thing: OS Set Up Guide 2005. There you will find some valuable advice on setting up and using partitions(and why), along with several other useful tidbits. Incidentally, I used this same guide in 2005, when I purchased the original drive, and followed the same advice then. Copying each partition from my old drive to my new one was a piece of cake, something I didn’t anticipate the first time I set up my original drive, but it paid off handsomely. Anyway, this is merely a plug for some well organized and valuable advice. Thanks, Media Man!

Drinking from the fire hose, again

It’s official.  I (Cyndi) am going back to MIT.   The Systems Design and Management program office called yesterday to say I’ve been accepted.  And I have to be on campus January 5.  So now I have to channel all my excitement into a whole bunch of  preparation in a short time.   I can’t give too many details yet.  At least I have friends in Massachusetts who will let me stay with them until I figure some things out.  (Thanks, guys!)

The plan is to attend full time for 13 months and complete a masters degree.  Eddie and the kids stay here in Michigan, and Eddie gets a lot of practice at juggling.  Give him a lot of credit, and pray for him.  I hope that the economy and the job market improve in that time.  At least then I’ll be job searching with a second MIT degree (MIT squared!) and assistance from their career office.

They say that learning at MIT is like drinking from a fire hose.  Good thing I’m thirsty.

Mile of birds

I’m taking advantage of my remaining vacation days to road trip across the midwest to visit form friends this weekend. First, a stop in Bloomington, IN last night to visit with fellow MIT grads Ann Ames and her family: husband Dr. Mark Messier and 3.5 year old son, Leo(ok, Leo has not graduated yet…)

I met Ann as part of the Russian House crowd(Cyndi’s dorm at MIT). Ann is now working from home for a software company in Boston, where she was employed before they moved out to Indianna. Leo is a real firecracker of a kid, and played with Arianna this morning before leaving for pre-school. Ann and I played with Arianna for a while before we departed for St. Louis. Well, it is still Friday, part of the normal working week, and Ann had to get some work done.

I met Mark during rush week at MIT many years ago(maybe it was my junior or senior year), when I volunteered to sponsor a jam session at Chi Phi. Mark showed up with his tenor sax and we played with a few other freshmen.Eventually, he played in the top MIT Jazz band, but never knew what his major was until we spoke last night after the kids went to bed. It turns out that Mark is an experimental physicist. Some of you might know that I a dabble in cosmology, and therefore, a little bit of particle physics, so I had lots of questions for Mark, and he had lots of answers. Dr Messier was part of a famous US and Japanese team that discovered that neutrinos have mass! We had a great time, and stayed up until 1:30am.

This morning, we drove to St Louis to visit my friend Jane, from Ford, who took a golden parachute a couple years back. That round of incentives came right after she discovered she was pregnant with her first child, Ahren. She now lives in St Louis with husband Dr Sebastian Rueckhert. Ahren is 16 months old, and adorable. 10 seconds after we showed up, he was following Arianna around the house like a puppy dog, chasing her or holding her hand. I had told Arianna before this trip that she would be able to play big sister to these small children, and so far, she has enjoyed it.

So, on the way here, she spotted a birdie party. For years, when our kids have spotted a flock of birds, on the ground, telephone lines, or in the air, we declare a birdy party. This time, however, the birdy party was in the air, and their formation was more or less a straight line, parallel to I-70, flying away from us. And, despite our speed, we never seemed to find the end of the birdy line. I think I drove a good sixty seconds as the birds flew away from the highway, and I could not see the end of the line before they faded from sight. At my speed, that was at least a mile of birds, wow