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January 28, 2009

Trip To San Diego

Jess and I made a trip to San Diego last weekend. I didn't put much about the trip in the last entry because I wanted to get pictures of it up first. Now that I have the picture galleries up and running, I'll write a little about San Diego.

It's only about a six hour trip from Tucson. Actually, the trip is pretty interesting. One might think that six straight hours through the desert would get pretty boring. On the contrary, we found that there are several kinds of desert between here and San Diego. There is the standard desert like around Tucson, there is a more bleak kind of desert with hard-packed ground and less vegetation, there is a more lush desert, there is an area with sand dunes that look like the Sahara Desert, and there is the hilly, arid desert as you cross the mountains into California. It's all pretty interesting, with each having its own vegetation and appearance. The trip turns into an easy one with so much to look at.

Once in California, we immediately saw the difference in traffic than, well, anywhere we've been before. There is so much traffic, often five or six lanes in each direction packed with vehicles. They also drive very fast there, as Jess will attest to in a shade of pale. I found it to be fun driving, since despite the amount of traffic it always seems to at least be moving (we didn't drive in rush hour). Jess was less appreciative of it.

We stayed in a little hostel run by HI (Hostelling International). It was in the Point Loma part of San Diego, which is a beachfront peninsula that appeared to us to be a quite nice part of the city. Apparently, there are HI hostels all along the coast of California and up into Washington and Oregon, which gave us some ideas if we end up going that direction for our next assignment. That would be a very fun trip, staying in little hostels along our route.

The hostel itself was quite nice, clean and comfortable as HI hostels typically are. They had nice rooms and a free pancake breakfast, and there was even free wireless. We did notice that there seem to be two distinct types of guests: travelers, whether they are backpackers, older explorers, or people simply on their way through town, and the extended stay types, which tended to be males in their late thirties through fifties who looked a little rough and down on their luck. Really, paying $17 a night for a bunk is a pretty cheap way to live in San Diego. We paid more ($45 a night) for a private room, which was quite nice.

We did a lot of exploring in San Diego. We visited the Balboa Park area, where the San Diego Zoo and numerous museums are located. We didn't go in any museums, but the walk in that area is beautiful. We took a nap on the beach in the north part of town, which was very relaxing. We also spent a decent amount of time in the beach area of Point Loma, since it was very convenient to our hostel. We returned there several times, even after dark to hit the night life there. I also got some good pictures of surfers in the sunset.

We also met up with a college friend of Jess's and her husband both nights that we were there. Of course, it's always great to have friends in places like San Diego, because they tend to know the good places to eat and visit. We had dinner with them both nights that we were there, Thai food one night and Mexican the next. It was fun to hang out with them.

Sunday morning before we headed back, we drove up the coast a little north of San Diego, to get an idea of what California's coastline looks like. We didn't have nearly enough time to really enjoy doing this, so it will be something that we continue doing on our next trip to California. If we manage our hostel idea come May, we'll be lucky enough to see the coast of California in its entirety.

At any rate, it was a great short trip, and a good teaser to get us back there during this assignment. Our friends here in Tucson are also itching to go, so all the more reason. To see the photos of San Diego, click on the photo or text below:

San Diego Photos

Until next time, be safe.

January 26, 2009

Finally Starting To Work In Tucson

I'm finally starting here in Tucson, after arriving a little over three weeks ago. That means I went nearly two months since my last shift.

Granted, part of that time was planned; we purposely didn't work at all in December. Still, it's nice to finally be pulling in an income. I assure you, Jess is more than enthusiastic about me starting as well. We are both tiring of my role as house-husband for that last three weeks.

I've kept the house very, very clean. The sheets were washed more times since we arrived in Tucson than the three months in Madison. Zuri has been a wreck, since every time we clean she assumes that we are getting ready to move again. She isn't used to that much cleaning activity, so she has been pouting more than usual. That could be because she misses my parents' dog, with whom she spent December and became good friends with. Perhaps all my cleaning is just the icing on the cake.

At any rate, I've also kept busy running and hiking. I joined a nearby library, where I got a bunch of books on Arizona, as well as loads of CDs that I've been burning on my computer. I joined a photography meet-up group and actually attended a meeting, which I was never able to do in Madison or New Haven. So, my time hasn't been wasted.

However, the fun times have come to and end, or rather, they've been cut back to normal. The vacation is over. I'm currently sitting in a computer class, which is nothing if not boring and excruciating. The trick is being able to type without any clicking sounds and being able to make the instructor think you're actually paying attention. It's more difficult today; there are only three of us in the class. I have to be particularly subtle.

On Friday, I will spend my first shift on the floor. I'm working in a CVICU, so it will have a lot of cardiac. That's a little worrisome to me, but I'll survive. I'll be suffering this weekend, as I will have to be up by 5:30. These last three weeks, I've been getting up between 8 and 10, which has become my routine. Even worse, I'll be working seven out of eight days, so it will be relentless. That's probably good, to get me back into the habit of being up really early. The first few days will be painful, though.

One thing that I don't like at all about Tucson is its traffic situation. They wanted to preserve the small town feeling of this city, which is utterly ridiculous for a city of over 600,000 legal inhabitants (we are just up the road from Nogales, Mexico, so not all Tucson residents are documented). So, they didn't put in any freeways within the city. This means the roads are clogged most of the day and night, there are stoplights one after another, and it takes forever to get anywhere (this morning it took me 45 minutes to go 11 miles). I'm not fond of that at all. Any city over 500,000 should at least have a beltline going around it. From our apartment, it takes us 30 minutes just to get to the only nearby interstate.

I do like being around the friends I had starting in Tucson back in December. One couple is living just a few doors down from us in the same apartment complex. We have seen quite a bit of each other in the last three weeks, hiking, playing Wii, that sort of thing. They even kept Zuri for us last weekend when we headed to San Diego for a couple of nights; they like her enough we thought there might be fisticuffs trying to get her back.

Scott is a travel RN, and this was his first assignment. It hasn't gone as he anticipated, though. Given the economic situation, it was an unfortunate time for him to start. Three weeks into his contract, they told him that they were cutting his contract short, and gave him 30 days. Eventually he worked out a deal to take a seasonal worker position, the same kind as the position I've taken. He even stayed in his original unit. However, since he no longer worked for our travel agency, he had to move into another apartment, which ended up being in a nearby building. He had to pay a bunch of rental related fees, go through all of the hospital related orientation crap, and take a week off. It was a huge pain, and not really the best way to start out being a travel nurse. Still, he suffered though it well; this probably won't be his last assignment.

Speaking of the economic situation, this has been a very educational experience for us. We now know that travel nursing isn't immune to the downturn. Hospitals still need us, they just don't want to pay for us. We are a little concerned already about job positions come May, after my assignment is done here. Jess is even considering interviewing for adult units, to give us much more selection. Currently, there are very few PICU jobs out there, although that could change by May. On the other hand, we now have another tool to find jobs, the option of working as seasonal travelers. This may develop as a new trend as hospitals cut costs by hiring travelers directly instead of through agencies. It's good to know that this is a possibility, and even more. For example, we may find it's more lucrative to hire on as seasonal travelers, as hospitals may pay us more if they don't have to pay an agency. Of course, that means we would lose out on the benefits of the agency, for example the housing and tax perks. Still, having more tools in the toolbox is always a better thing.

Anyhow, I'm very excited to be starting. I feel like this will be a very educational experience, and I'm getting a little stir-crazy waiting to get working. Strangely, I am quite eager to get started, rather than sad to leaving behind a two-month hiatus from working. I never thought I'd be in that frame of mind. Hmm.

Until next time, be safe.

January 16, 2009

Keeping Busy In Tucson

I've been quite busy for the past week. I haven't allowed myself to slow down at all.

On the job front, I managed to do quite well with my interview in the CCU and scored a job offer for a seasonal position. Actually, it turns out to be much more cardiac than I had thought, as it is a full-blown CT-ICU. They have all kinds of fresh heart and lung transplants as well as any cardiac surgery and ailment that you can shake a stick at. I had to be a little vague with my interview in regards to my previous experience with cardiac, as I've seen alot more cardiac than I've actually been involved with. At any rate, this is another big, fun hospital, and I am going to get a ton of new experience, to put on my skills checklist ;)

As a seasonal worker, I'll have a 13-week contract like any other travel assignment, and the pay is similar, including the fact that I'll receive a monthly living stipend. However, I'll be working directly for the hospital. That will be a new change. The bad news is that I don't start for another week and a half, until January 26th.

Of course, Jess is quite happy with that development. Right now we are just on her income, so things are tighter than we have come to expect in the past eight months. We have to watch our cash much more closely, eat out less, and hang out at home more. Actually, that's working well in my favor. I'm doing well with the Chickenfoot Weight Loss Challenge (loser eats a nasty chickenfoot we brought back from China). I now have 11 days that I have had some sort of exercise, for at least a half hour. I've been running, working out, hiking excessively, those sorts of things.

Also, my friend Scott has a Wii, so in a way, I've been playing tennis as well.

My weight hasn't dropped that much; I'm down seven pounds from weigh-in (we ate tons of chicken wings and beer the night before, so that weight was a little skewed). The more important part is, I feel a lot better than I have for awhile. I feel healthier, mostly in part because I'm getting plenty of exercise and I'm watching my diet much more closely. Being unemployed isn't all that bad. So is being in a state where physical exercise is much more common, in comparison to being up in Madison, Wisconsin.

I'm also getting plenty of photography time. I take my camera on all of my hikes, and today alone I added four new galleries of Tucson pictures. One of them is a compilation of photos where I've converted them into B&W or some other color scheme, which turned out very pleasing to me. Desert pictures usually are good for color conversion. I also really like the Slideshow option that I put in, I even find myself just watching the pictures rather than having to click through them. All new galleries in the past 5 or 6 months have had slideshows to go along with them. Here are links to Tucson B&W gallery as well as the Tucson Assignment page:

Tucson B&W Photos
Tucson B&W Photos

Tucson Photos
Tucson Assignment

I even went to a Photography Meet-Up, where I went to meet a bunch of photographers. It was more about networking than about being informative, but I found out about a couple of other photography clubs in town that I need to check out. It's nice to have a little time to concentrate on photography for a change. It'd be great for that part of my life to move out of the hobby category and more into the money-making category!

Until next time, be safe.

January 12, 2009

Pictures From China and Tucson

I've finally got all of my China pictures up (a reason that it took me so long to update the blog). There are a lot of them. I took 1400 pictures in 13 days. However, I only chose 460 of them to go on my photo website. I'm happy with how many of them turned out, but still, you probably shouldn't look at all of them at once. Take your time. They aren't going anywhere.

Here are the China photos.

China Photos

Now, I've also managed to get a couple galleries of Tucson photos up, for those of you who are interested in seeing what Tucson looks like. Here they are.

Tucson Photos

Hope you enjoy the photos. Remember what I said, take your time. It's wasn't my goal to make you glassy-eyed.

Until next time, be safe.

Back To Travel Nursing

So, we're back to our occupations, after a very long seeming month off.

In fact, it's been over a month since I last updated the blog. First, as I mentioned in the previous entry, my website was banned in mainland China, so I couldn't do anything like write on the blog while I was there. Then, we returned to the US on December 18, and went head-on into the Christmas season. We stayed a few days with my folks in Colorado before flying to South Carolina for Christmas. Then we headed back to Colorado for a few more days before embarking to head down south here to Tucson.

As it turns out, my job situation has been quite interesting, if that is the right way to put it. Two days before we headed off to China, I received a phone call from my recruiter at Cross Country, who informed me that because of "low census" issues in the unit I was to start in when we arrived in January, my contract had been cancelled. This came as quite the shock, of course, as there was not enough time to look for additional work before we left for China. The whole issue of "low census" is ridiculous, as well. There are no shortages of patients in any hospitals. The reality of the situation is that December is the fiscal end of the year for many hospitals, and this year is exacerbated by the rapidly declining economy. Basically, canceling my contract was an easy to cut an expense, despite the poor business practices involved as well as the thrashing of the idea of a signed contract.

At any rate, I wasn't terribly worried about it. Jess still had her contract, and being that jobs are suddenly quite scarce, we decided that it was prudent to go ahead to Tucson. I decided I would try very hard to find a position, or at least pick up per diem work in order to supplement Jess's income. Honestly, while it might seem a little naive, I actually felt pretty certain that I would be able to talk to the manager in the unit that I had originally been contracted to work at, and something would work out so that I could end up working there.

Then, right before we headed south, I received word that my friend Scott had his contract cancelled halfway through, meaning that he'd already started working. We talked, and came to the conclusion that he would probably have a job regardless of the cut as soon as December ended. Sure enough, on January 1st, the manager in his unit approached him about signing on as a "seasonal" worker. This is a new concept to me. Essentially, it means that he was hired in at roughly the same pay rate that he'd been at before, perhaps even a little better. The difference is that as a seasonal worker, he'll be working directly for the hospital instead of through the travel agency. My guess is that this is a much cheaper way to hire staff for the hospitals, which apparently are struggling nationwide with their budgets. Obviously, he jumped at the chance.

As for myself, I did speak with the manager, and after a couple of days of talking with her people, she called me to let me know they didn't have a position available for me. So much for my ideas of working in that unit. I was a little disappointed about that, but it lit a fire under me, and I went to three hospitals here in Tucson to talk about getting a job. As it turns out, I have an interview tomorro with a cardiac unit in that same hospital, for a "seasonal" position.

Isn't it interesting the jargon they use? There has to be a more honest way of putting it. Instead of "low census," they should just tell you that they are out of money and you are a luxury they can't afford. Instead of hiring people for a "seasonal position," they should just tell you that they are too cheap to continue using the travel companies that have provided them with numerous workers, and they are going to screw them by going around them to poach their own staff. For example, if I take a position at this hospital, which I obviously would for financial reasons, I would be poached from Cross Country, because those folks introduced me to this hospital. It's like taking a girl to the dance and watching her make out with someone else.

Good thing Jess is getting the free housing. Hopefully the interview will go well, and I will be back to work within a week at the longest. I'm getting a little itchy about being out of work.

Not to say that I haven't made the best of my week off since we arrived here last Saturday. Besides looking for jobs, which isn't all that time consuming (how many times can you talk to a human resources drone?), I've been concentrating on burning off the ten-to-fifteen pounds I packed on in Madison eating all that cheese and drinking microbrews. I've been lifting weights. I've run three days this week; one day I ran over four miles, although that was an accident as I got a little lost and ended up running longer than I anticipated. Jess and I have taken several hikes so far, including a 15-mile hike that we took today. That too wasn't exactly planned; it was one of those situations where you feel pretty good so you keep going, and then you celebrate reaching that distant 7.5 mile point like you would if you just finished a 7.5 mile hike. Then you realize you are in the middle of nowhere, and it's a 7.5 mile hike back to your car. Yeah, I can't walk tonight.

I actually started a contest with my friend Scott called the Chicken Foot Weight Loss Challenge. Basically, I brought back this nasty chicken foot treat from China, and the person who loses the least percentage of weight between the two of us has to eat that foot. It won't be pretty. We weighed in on Thursday. Sort of ironically, we went out for all-you-can-eat wings the night before and stuffed ourselves sick with wings and beer. I won't tell you what I weighed the next morning, but I anticipate losing at least 20 pounds.

So, wish me luck on my interview. Hopefully the next time I post an entry, I will have a job. Jess will be particularly happy about that. As for myself, it's not that bad being unemployed.

Until next time, be safe.

Entry Written From China But Banned

Apparently, my website was banned from China, so I couldn't even look at it, much less access it and write on my blog. At any rate, this entry I wrote and then emailed to myself from our hostel in Guilin, China, on December 8th, 2008. Ultimately, I ended up writing a very thorough journal by hand, which I won't be posting here. This is just a glimpse into a day of our experiences in China


We've been quite busy in the last 24 hours. We headed out of Hong Kong shortly after the last entry. We were on Hong Kong Island, so we jumped on the metro and within five minutes were under the harbor and back at our hostel. We retrieved our bags and took the metro up the border with China, crossing over in the city of Shenzhen.

That city was a little unsettling. Perhaps it was just that we were right in the area of both the train station and the bus station, but there were a lot of touts and other shady characters around. It made us a little nervous, in combination with the fact that we were now in mainland China and the usage of English in signs and postings pretty much disappeared. Soon, though we were on our bus and heading up north to the city of Guilin.

I've never been on a sleeper bus before, and it was quite the experience. There are three rows of bunk beds, feet first all the way to the back of the bus. I counted around 40 beds, all about 6 feet long. It turned out to be quite comfortable, as I slept a good part of the 12 hour trip, while Jess was too disturbed by the erratic driving to get more than four hours.

Once in Guilin, we grabbed our bags and headed straight for the bathrooms, as I'd slept through both of the bathroom breaks. Upon entering the bathrooms, I was immediately hit with a vile stench, and found myself in quite possibly the most unsanitary bathroom in the world. Then again, we just arrived in China. Jess had an even more dramatic experience, but I'll leave out the floating details.

We made our way to our hostel, which turned out to be quite nice for a $14 per night room. We had a little breakfast, then spent the rest of the day exploring Guilin. This city of nearly 700K is famous for its karst peaks, which are strange and steep peaks that emerge rather randomly along the rivers. We hiked up three of them, for different views of the city. The view was amazing and certainly worth the climb, but by the end, we were pretty much maxed out with our stair climbing. That's not even taking into account the fact we walked all over the city.

Now, we're just relaxing back at the hostel, drinking 600 ml bottles of Chinese beer that costs $1. We're planning on leaving most of our stuff here tomorrow and heading out to a little town called Longsheng, which is well known for its multiple rice terraces. The hike goes for hours between small villages, and we'll probably stay in one of them, in a more rustic hostel. That will give us a bit of a countryside experience. We'll be back in Guilin for a night, then head south to Yangshuo, where we'll spend a few days and decide what to do next. We are having quite a lot of fun.


Until next time, be safe.

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