Capitol Crossroad


Trumpets bellow their warning from miles away, reverberating off the concrete grid of streets and buildings. The city yawns wide engulfing the sound. Crowds dwindle to a lone pair of footsteps echoing in the empty chasms. The splendor of the setting sun transposes to harsh patches of yellowed flickering lights. Stifling heat lessens its grip and blankets the ground, the air is still. Bridges span sequentially and illuminate the churning waters below. Horns blare louder, the ground trembles. Beasts of land and water meet, hauling the weight of history, feeding the intricate machines of nature and humankind. At these crossroads, vaulted domes earn their right to stand tall and proud.

Using Google Voice as vacation receptionist

Google Voice
I signed up for GrandCentral about two years ago, long before the days of Google Voice. I haven’t had much use for it outside of being another number to give when I sign up for services (credit cards, what have you). Once Google bought it out and converted it to Google Voice a whole new world opened up for phone users. (If you aren’t familiar with Google Voice – Pogue sums it up best, as always!) Not only does Google Voice take messages for you, it transcribes them and sends them to you by e-mail or text message! You can also send text messages from Google Voice for free! Both of these things will become quite handy as I leave for Spain tonight.

My plan – forward all incoming calls directly to my Google Voice number.

There are a few reasons I’m doing this. First of all, I’d like to see who calls and get my messages while I’m away. Secondly, it helps me avoid the $1.99 fee for not accepting an incoming call. Yes, you read that right. If your phone is set up for international roaming, even if you don’t accept the call, you will be charged for one minute of use to send the call to your voice-mail back in the states. Keep in mind that the amount changes with the country you are in! In Ecuador it is $5.99!!

In order for this to work, I have to uncheck all phones that Google Voice forwards to (under Settings -> Phones). I then have to enable Do Not Disturb (under Settings -> General). Lastly I have to forward all incoming calls on my cell phone to my Google Voice number. Unfortunately setting vary widely per phone and provider as how that is set up. Usually its under Settings -> Call Settings -> Call Forwarding on your phone. You want to forward “all voice calls” (or “always forward”) to your Google Voice number. Don’t forget to unforward them when you get back! Now you will get all your messages via e-mail at your convenience! You can even see what calls you missed if no voice-mails were left by logging in to your Google Voice account. While you are logged in, go ahead and exchange some text messages with your friends – its free!

Vincent’s Yellow

My sister Teresa has started a blog named Vincent’s Yellow. I’m extremely proud of the work she has done since I set up the wordpress blog for her a few months back – and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us during her travels! In her words…

Three years ago, like many others, I fell in love with Vincent van Gogh. I followed this love, never letting go, reading about him and visiting his paintings all I could, and I am still journeying – I hope you will join me, Reader. This path has led me to you and you to me, and both of us to beauty, to art, to life, to death and to something greater…

I have been traveling with you for quite some time sister… I will always be by your side.

Puerto Vallarta

I took Katty on a surprise trip to Puerto Vallarta last weekend – it was incredible! Though coming back to Chicago’s cold weather has made it seem like it was long ago, seeing the pictures makes me feel the warmth all over again!

The original intention was to totally surprise her – I was going to contact her boss to see if she could take the day off, pack her bags etc… after some consultation, I was told it was a really bad idea! In fact, nobody thought it was a good idea! So I ended up telling her that I was going to a conference in San Diego and that I had a miles ticket for her to join me. Ultimately I decided to tell her a week ahead of time so that she could enjoy the week of anticipation and preparation! It was a good call…

Puerto Vallarta itself was fantastic! We both very much enjoyed the little town and everything it had to offer. The first night we spent a few hours on the “Malecon” (boardwalk) just exploring and taking in the sights and sounds. We ended up finding a place that had 50 peso 22oz margaritas, and stayed there for quite a while watching the sun set over the bay while mariachi bands and all other types of performers made there way by. We then headed to Joe Jack’s Fish Shack for dinner. We started off with the best Mojitos we have ever had – the strawberry Mojito is especially delish! Then moved onto the Tuna Poke and Portabella Quesadilla appetizers – INCREDIBLE. It was so delicious that we had extremely high expectations for the whole red snapper, the owners suggestion. The Snapper was good, but didn’t quite meet our expectations. Still way better than most seafood in Chicago! We ended up catching a local bus back to the resort – which is an experience in and of itself!

The following day we just chilled out at the beach and the pool (with island bar, of course!) – gotta love swimming up to the bar at 11am and ordering a tropical beverage in 80F temps! It was fantastic. I, of course, got roasted – this is while trying to take extreme care of my skin. I also finished up “The Kite Runner” while on the trip – incredible read, finished it in two days! At ~4pm we decided to head back to the room to get ready for hitting the town again.

Our final night in Puerto Vallarta we went directly to La Palapa for dinner. Going on TripAdvisor’s recommendations as we had the night before. We were not disappointed! Dinner was a bit pricier than other locations – but it was well worth it. The Lobster Taco appetizer was to die for!! Dinner was nothing short of amazing. Being directly on the Malecon overlooking the beach – and the wedding that happened right in front of us – was an incredible experience. We took our leisure and I think finally finished up, with Lava Chocolate Cake might I add, in about 3 hours. We strolled down the Malecon to see a majority of locals with a smattering of tourists enjoying the gorgeous night. Unforgettable.

Christmas at 0° Latitude and 68°F

This year´s holiday celebrations have taken me to Quito, Ecuador with Katty and her family. Although we have celebrated Christmas before outside of Chicago, this marks the first time I am away from my family. Thankfully, I feel like part of the family here in Quito! Their traditions are a bit different than that of our family. The big family dinner is late on Christmas eve and the presents are opened at or after midnight. This doesnt exactly jive with Papa Noel (Santa) coming down the chimney in the middle of the night, so the Niño Jesus (baby Jesus) is the one that brings the gifts. Though apparently this is starting to change as Papa Noel´s presence is greater every year. That being said, its quite bizzare to see Santa everywhere in his full red garb and hat when its almost 70 degrees out!! Its a bit hard for the Quiteños to understand why I miss the cold at Christmas time, but it has been an ever present factor in Christmas most of my life!! Thought when I left Chicago it was -16F without windchill! Can´t say I´m missing that too much. But from what I hear, it was 60 in Chicago yesterday! Maybe sending warm thoughts actually worked??

view from Casa Salgado on Christmas Eve

I´ve been going from one family function to another as Katty has a huge family here in Ecuador. Lunch and dinners with 20+ people seems to be the norm! Of course, I can´t get enough of it because it reminds me so much of my family in Spain. It has also been great to get to know everybody in her family that much better! Each of these mini reunions are filled with food, drinks, conversations and laughter, they are such a blast!! I´ll come back with tons of wonderful memory and a huge panza (gut)!! I can´t complain that Katty´s family has so many good cooks! Speaking of, I decided to bring a bit of our holiday traditions to Ecuador. I made the vegetable casserole that we always have this time of year along with some christmas cookies – both were a huge hit!! I´m not sure if they were more impressed with the food or the fact that a man cooked it! Getting the proper ingredients was a story in and of itself!

My first week (of three!) has been great thus far! With the New Year´s celebrations around the corner, as well as trips to Cuenca and the Amazon, I have much to look forward to! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!!

Mexico 2008 trip pictures

I’ve been back for a few weeks, but have been so busy that I just didn’t have time to get the pictures together! The YTC trip was fantastic – it was the largest group that we have gone with, and the kids were by far the most productive! Once again, the computers didn’t make it past the border before we arrived, but at least this year we were prepared. Its pretty sad that the Mexican government can’t get its act together to get the 100 computers that we donate through the border in time. Next year we are planning on sending the computers in April or May – hopefully by the time we get there in August the computers will have arrived!

One of the highlights of the trip was a meeting that David and I had with Governor Deras‘ wife Gabby (she is the head of DIF for the state of Durango, essentially their DCFS), the director of the Cobaed school system, the secretary of education and the superintendent of the school districts we visit. In this meeting we discussed the future of YTC – to see the excitement that they had for the work we do was just incredible! It gives me great hope for the future, and for possible funding for our programs!

I had also set up a wiki for the trip – so if you want to read what our kids or our staff wrote about – feel free to check it out!

Maria and Dinos’s Wedding

I apologize for the lack of posts after Greece – T-Mobile roaming in Cyprus was spotty at best!! I have returned and wanted to get the newlyweds their pictures as soon as possible. Thats about all I have the energy for tonight! The wedding was in 3 parts; the traditional bridal dressing ceremony at Maria’s aunt’s house, the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony at the church, followed by the reception and dancing. It was truly an incredible event!

The Big Easy

I stepped out onto Canal St. where the tracks split the street in two. I then walked up a couple of blocks to the Carondolet stop, hearing the streetcar approaching before seeing it lumbering down the tracks. One soon arrived and it was filled with people from all walks of life. As they spilled onto the street we patiently awaited our turn to get on. I clutched the money in my hand confirming the presence of the dollar and a quarter necessary for a ride. The paint on the outside was a faded green and the light from the naked bulbs escaped through the open windows. The conductor closed the door before anybody could get on telling us to wait for the streetcar behind. It hurried away with its tail following the electric wire above. The next streetcar arrived empty, with the door ajar, waiting for its void to be filled. We entered one by one, scurrying for empty seats. Suddenly a strange sound emitted from beneath as a lethargic pump came to life. As I took my seat, the noise subsided and the pump sighed to a halt. As I leaned back into the seat, it creaked and then snapped. The cantilever system for the bi-directional seats had lost its strength over the years. The electric motors kicked in and the vibrations of old wood and metal, groaning to support one another, filled the air. The sound summoned memories of the American Eagle. As our speed picked up so did the brisk breeze, the passengers adjusted the ratcheting windows accordingly. The bare bulbs flickered as we turned down St. Charles Avenue. The ancient pump burbled to life once again, only to wheeze to a stop moments later. The cacophony of sounds eked a smile out of this weary traveler’s face. Keeping my arms inside the car, I leaned on the windowsill taking in the scene; beads hanging from anything above arm’s reach, beautiful columned homes, joggers running down the middle of the tracks – this is the Big Easy. Soon enough the leisurely ride had ended, we had reached our destination. I thanked the conductor on my way down the steps and into the New Orleans night.

New Orleans

I got to New Orleans yesterday for the Nonprofit Technology Conference. So far it has been a blast! We immediately went out for for some local food (I had the Chicken Tchoupitoulas – delish!) and then caught Rebirth’s performance at the Maple Leaf – incredible show! Conference stuff all day today and into Friday. I head back on Sunday. If I have some time I’ll be sure to post some vids and pictures. This is a cool place to be!