August 19, 2009

Caught Up On Photo Website

Well, I've finally caught up in putting up photo galleries from the past three months. It has taken me a long time, which I don't understand, but it's done now.

I have put up two galleries from Arizona, two galleries from Colorado (July and August), and a gallery from our trip to Vancouver that we took way back in May. Sadly, there weren't any other galleries to put up, but the heat in Tucson prevented that.

Click on the pictures or links below to check out the galleries:

Trip To Vancouver

Looking For Wildflowers At Brainard Lake, Colorado

Hiking In The Rocky Mt. Nat'l Park, Colorado

Summer Monsoon Storms In Tucson, AZ

Saguaro East Nat'l Park, Tucson, AZ

Until next time, be safe.

July 08, 2009

The Seven Continent Trip Blog

Announcing: The Seven Continent Trip Blog is up and running. I got the graphic how I wanted them, and the style, and from now on, when I write entries about our trip, they will be posted on that blog. It will also be the blog where we post our updates during our trip.

Click here to check it out.

Until next time, be safe.

July 04, 2009

Minus The Trans-Siberian

Sadly, we've had some changes to our itinerary for our Seven Continent Trip. Changes are to be expected, but this was a hard one to convince ourselves to make.

So, I ran the numbers. Up to that point, I had been more or less estimating the costs of our trip, on relative budgets and assumed charges. I needed a more definitive estimate, though, so I sat down one evening - at work, of course - and looked up the average daily budgets for all of the countries we plan on visiting. I priced the costs of transportation (i.e. flight costs), and added up our expenses that we'll continue to have here in the US while we are traveling (such as our car payment). Once I added up all the costs, I was fairly dismayed. Suffice to say, the total was considerably higher than I had wanted it to be.

Thus began the painful process of trimming the trip to fit our budget. We need to have a budget, it's absolutely essential when traveling in as many as 18 or more countries for up to five months, all the while unemployed. More importantly, we need to keep to our budget, which will be difficult given all the temptations of visiting all the places we have planned. It wouldn't do to be well above our budget even before we start out on our trip.

Most glaring in the expenses department was the Trans-Siberian segment of the trip. This part added an additional $3000 to our costs, at least. There were flights up to Finland from Spain, train tickets (Finland to Russia, then the TSR), visa costs (Russia and China), and flights down to SE Asia. Of course, it's was very exciting segment of the trip, so much that it could even be a trip all by itself. That ended up being what convinced us to cut the TSR from our itinerary. It isn't that we don't expect to actually make that trip, it's just that it can't be part of the Seven Continent Trip. 

Actually, we are thinking of making the TSR trip next fall. That way, we can spend more time with my family in Finland, and then more time exploring Beijing and Xi'an in China. It will be an amazing three week trip to take. The TSR is considered one of essential traveler journeys that the world offers.

 It's a little disappointing not to be taking the TSR this time around the world, but it will also take a little pressure off of our pre-trip preparations (we don't need visas now), and we will also have more time to spend exploring in Spain, Morocco, and in SE Asia. In addition to cutting the TSR, we will likely have to limit our time in Spain and Australia (the estimated daily budget in those countries is $100-125, in comparison to $20 in a country like Thailand). I am also hoping that by waiting for good prices on airline tickets, I can bring down costs even more, since most of our flight costs are estimated at this poing (we only have tickets to Spain). Regardless, we currently are within our budget limits at this point.

So, barring donations towards our TSR segment, it looks like China and Russia won't be countries we'll add onto our itinerary this time. On the other hand, that gives us our next trip to look forward to. Of course, donations would be most welcome...(click below)

Until next time, be safe.

March 27, 2009

Our Arizona Anniversary Trip

Jess and I have a hard time being around each other for our wedding anniversary. Last year, I was visiting my sister in Tennessee and wasn't with Jess. This year, we are each flying back to see our respective parents and won't see each other for the three days on either side of our anniversary.

With that in mind, last weekend we headed up to the north part of Arizona for an anniversary trip. We stopped first in Phoenix to visit a friend for all of Thursday and that night. Then on Friday, we headed out before sunrise towards the border of Arizona and Utah, to the little town of Page. Normally I wouldn't have even considered visiting the town, although having been there, it is a pretty interesting place. Most obvious as far as attractions go is that it sits on the shore of Lake Powell, which is a huge reservoir behind the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. If you had a boat, this is a paradise; otherwise it is pretty much a big lake that has little shoreline that you could actually do much on.

More interesting to me was the nearby Antelope Canyon. This is a little slot canyon that lies on the Navajo Nation land, where you can walk right into the canyon and enjoy the light as it penetrates down along the walls from above in a wide gradient of beautiful colors. It is especially nice for photographers, for although Jess seemed content to just look, she kept wanting to grab my camera and take shots. It was a beautiful place, well worth the four hour trip north from Phoenix. Here is the photo gallery from that shoot, and below is a small slideshow of those photos.

Of course, being on Indian land, one cannot just waltz into Antelope Canyon and hope to climb around on the walls. You have to join a guided tour, which for us meant our guide and a couple from France. Also, apparently back in 1997, 12 French tourists were swept away in a flash flood that no one had suspected, having come from a storm miles away. Hence, the tour groups. It wasn't bad, though. Our guide drove us in a 4W drive vehicle up the sandy gully three miles to the canyon, which I'm pretty sure would have been inaccessible to our Rav4. We also received a fairly dodgy history of the canyon. Really, I think that Googling the canyon pre-trip gave me more knowledge than our guide had, leading me to think that she didn't have Internet access. It was fun, though.

We drove that evening back to Flagstaff, two hours south. It was evening by the time we arrived at our B&B, our big splurge for the weekend. We ended up staying in the Abineau Lodge, previously known as the Sled Dog B&B. The latter name was more fitting, as they had about 10 Siberian huskies in kennels outside the building, which was really interesting. The place was great. We had planned on spending a night there, for our anniversary gift to ourselves, then heading to downtown Flagstaff to stay in a hostel there, but we enjoyed the place so much we were very tempted to stay another night. Only when we considered how much food and beer we'd be able to consume on what we'd save at the hostel did we decide against staying another night. Suffice to say, this B&B was above our normal standards.

At any rate, we drove down Saturday morning from Flagstaff to Sedona, which is an easy 45-minute drive through the backcountry. Our plan was to meet up with out friend Amna at some point in the day for lunch, and to hike and enjoy the area in the meantime. Upon arrival, we found that Sedona didn't really live up to our expectations, being very crowded, even at this time of year, with loads of tourists. Even worse, the town itself was like an Estes Park or Gatlinburg of Arizona, for those familiar with the infamous tourists towns respectively in Colorado and Tennessee. It had its proper mix of taffy shops, T-shirt joints, "art" galleries, and the like, all of which in combination with the atrocious traffic put us in terrible moods and made us want to get out of town, which we did. We headed out to a nearby hike, which conveniently took us out away from the touristy part of town into the beautiful red hills that surround the town. There are great spires of red rock, big mesas, and lots of other formations in a distinctive red stone that surround Sedona, which surely is the main attraction. We made a six-mile hike, which was really pleasant and beautiful. Being in a desert that features such differences from that around Tucson as pine forests is really interesting and refreshing. We finished the hike in time to meet our friend for a mid-afternoon lunch before heading back to Flagstaff.

Here is the photo gallery for Sedona.

Upon arriving back in Flagstaff, we checked into our hostel, the DuBeau Hostel, which is very conveniently located in the downtown area. Of course, after staying a night in a B&B, a hostel seems a little less, um, nice, but we weren't there to sit in the room and enjoy its ambience. We made our way around the Flagstaff, checking out the local breweries and even picking up a little sushi. The room didn't matter much once we came back, late that night.

We had breakfast in a ridiculously liberal vegetarian/vegan place called Macy's the next morning, which jointly served to provide very strong coffee and to reinforce the stereotype of the type of liberal that looks down upon the rest of the world as severely inferior. They did have pretty decent meatless biscuits and gravy, though. We then headed out towards Tucson, although we really took the scenic route.

Actually, we headed straight east along I-40 until we reached Holbrook, about an hour or so away. That is the town just outside the Petrified Forest National Park, which is a really fascinating place. It is the last park that we needed to visit to have gone to all of the national parks in Arizona, and while it didn't contain that majestic immensity of the Grand Canyon, it was still quite interesting. Essentially, it contains the petrified remains of logs that were covered up perhaps millions of years ago with a volcanic ash high in silica. Sealed up in that layer, over time those logs had their organic cells replaced by minerals and today are perfectly preserved in a stone form. You really have to get out and walk around in the park to get its effect. You have to see the logs where the bark is immediately evident from the wood fibers, or the logs that are surrounded by chips that in all appearances seem to be organic, and can only be noted as stone by picking them up. It was a great park to see. Here is the photo gallery from that park. We also visited the Painted Desert, which is the northern portion of the park.

Finally, we headed south through the mountains to get back to Tucson. This route takes you through some very interesting landscapes just north of Tucson. It is a long way to come to return from Flagstaff, but we managed to avoid Phoenix altogether, and the route was really interesting and different. Needless to say, we were pretty tired as we pulled into our apartment complex as darkness fell, but it was quite a trip. All of it seemed to encourage further exploration of Arizona, which is turning out to be quite the interesting state.

Until next time, be safe.

March 14, 2009

Photography In The Desert

I'm finding that photography and the desert go hand in hand. I've had ample opportunity to check out the scenery around me, and more importantly, capture it on film. My photo gallery of Tucson is rapidly filling up.

During our previous assignments, I found that I had to put in some serious driving time to get around to different locales for photo shoots. I put a lot of miles on the Rav4 finding a good place to take pictures. Here in Tucson, it's been much different. First of all, we haven't really gotten out and explored the surrounding areas. Basically, we've made a trip to San Diego and another to Phoenix. This hasn't been entirely by choice, and hopefully will change, as we both love exploring the land around us. I'm hoping that I can even make a trip down to Tombstone and a couple of ghost towns near it this weekend, if possible. Also, Jess and I are heading up north of Phoenix to the Sedona / Grand Canyon / Flagstaff area this next week for four days, which will give us some excellent exploration opportunities.

At any rate, we have been a little slow about getting out to find new sights, but I've still managed to find plenty of interesting areas to explore. Most importantly, hiking is an essential Tucson experience, and one of the most interesting observations that I have made about Tucson is that each hike is essentially unique. Of course, it is all the Sonoran Desert, there are saguero cactus and rocks everywhere. Still, each hike we've take has its own surprises, its own unique differences. In particular, when you drive to different locations along the range that faces Tucson, you see larger differences in the environment. Of course, the higher that you climb into the mountains (they start out at 2500 feet and climb to 9100 in less than 20 miles), the more you see in environment changes. I've read that the difference between the Tucson environment and that of the the tops of the mountains is like going from Mexico to Canada, and I fully believe it.

We have also visited some of the more interesting attractions here in Tucson, which have yielded some interesting photos. We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Musuem when my parents drove down from Colorado last week to visit us. Jess and I spent a day with some friends checking out that Pima Air and Space Museum, as well as going to the Tucson Rodeo one afternoon. Even taking a different perspective on this area has been good, as my friend Scott and I recently went out during a full moon into the desert and took some cool pictures.

Tucson and its surrounding desert environment can seem diminished at first, until you spend some time getting to know the area. It's not the most exciting city I've ever visited, but then again, it's kept my interest as well as my photography up since I arrived in the first week of January. That alone says a lot.

Until next time, be safe.

February 22, 2009

Outdoors In Tucson

We are finding that Tucson is a good place for ourdoorsy types. For the first time since the last half of 2007, I'm actively getting into shape.

Of course, it helps that there is a wide range of opportunities to be active outside. Last week, we tried out a nearby mountain biking trail. I haven't come across that many mountain biking trails, regardless of the immense number of trails that surround Tucson. Most of those trails seem to be exclusive for hiking. It could be that I haven't looked hard enough for the mountain biking trails.

Regardless, it immediately became obvious that mountain biking in the desert is its own unique entity in regards to doing it in other locales, say the Rocky Mountains in Colorado or in the hills of North Carolina. In Colorado, the big danger is that you are careening down the mountain, and it is important to watch out where you are going. In NC, you have to watch for all sorts of branches trying mightily to gouge out your eye. In both settings, though, it is important to draw a little blood, just to make you look like you were trying hard enough. This is simple to do, just ride close enough to a bush to get a little scratch.

That doesn't fly in the desert. Here, you must explicitly avoid drawing blood. In fact, you must avoid brushing up against anything along the trail, any sort of plant life whatsoever. That is because this is an extremely hostile environment, as survival of the fittest has weaned out the plant species that didn't come with giant thorns or spikes. In NC, you might brush up against a tree trunk in passing. In Tucson, that tree trunk is a huge saguaro cactus, and you'll regret that decision for the next week. Those aren't even the worst. There are pretty, fuzzy cactuses that look like bunches of big grapes scattered about, called Teddy Bear Cactus. Once a spine impales you skin, you can't get it out easily. It dangles and then another spine makes connection, then another, until you have your own bunch of grapes hanging on to your hide. Now, in the most sinister nightmare scenario, imagine flying off your bike into a big bush of those. Death might be preferable, at least in the short term.

So, it is very important to keep a very close eye on your riding. There are many parts in the path we rode the other day where there would be a sharp turn, only waiting right where you would have gone if not for the turn is a big barrel cactus plant, hook spines anticipating your bumbling flesh to careen into them. These spines are like fish hooks. I don't even want to imagine how badly that would go for you. Still, it all elevates mountain biking here to that much more of an intense sport. Here, you really have to realize that there are consequences for not succeeding in keeping your bike on the trail.

Of course there is also hiking and running. I've taken up running again, and have gotten myself up to 5-miles on a regular basis now. Our dog, Zuri, runs with me, and does quite well with it. In fact, she loves it, and pouts terribly if she gets left behind. She even knows the routes, and anticipates some of the turns. It's great now, but wait until the heat starts to return. Whereas our normal mid-day temperature is 75-80, in a month or so it will have climbed to 90, and by the time my contract is over at the end of April, it will be pushing 100. Apparently, in comparison to Phoenix, it tops out at around 110, which isn't that bad. It's at least better than 115-120 like in Phoenix.

Finally, oddly enough, I managed to get in some snowboarding right here in Tucson. There are a few resorts scattered around Arizona, the most known one being up in Flagstaff. However, there is a resort right up on Mt. Lemmon here in Tucson. As it turns out, we live on the road to Mt. Lemmon, and so it is only a 26-mile trip. Granted, the resort isn't that big. There is only one major lift. There is a trail along the top ridge where several blues and a couple of black diamonds drop off. I was with my friend Scott, who has only snowboarded in Ohio, which is actually a step down from Arizona skiing, so we stayed on the blue runs. It was fun. There wasn't a great base, as you might expect in the desert, and there were places where the ground was poking through, but overall, it was just fun to be snowboarding. We actually went all day, and it wasn't crowded at all. I didn't have any gear, it's all in Colorado, so I bought a pair of gloves, rented the board and boots, and instead of snowpants I just had on jeans, which worked out fine. No helmet or goggles, either, I just had on a bandanna and my sunglasses. Probably better than the actual snowboarding was the thought that I was snowboarding in Tucson, Arizona. Now, who would have thought?

Until next time, be safe.

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 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.

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.

December 07, 2008

Heading To Guilin

We are having a great time in HK. We went all over the city yesterday, from the shopping districts in Kowloon to the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. This city is very easy to navigate in, and the transportation here is superb. There is the best metro system I've ever seen, anywhere, right here in HK. We really had a great day walking around, and ended up along the shoreline when it became dark and all of the lights came on across the harbor. Quite fantastic.

Today, we've prepared to head inland to Guilin, to which we'll take an overnight sleeper bus from Shenzhen on the HK/China border. This city is supposedly beautiful, if perhaps a touristy destination. Still, when you're heading into mainland China for the first time, it doesn't hurt to end up somewhere that isn't so rough, that has a little bit of a backpacker's infrastructure. We'll spend some time in Guilin, and see some of the surrounding areas, such as Yangshuo and Longsheng.

We've even talked about heading down to Kunming, and perhaps even look for a visa to cross the border into Vietnam, just to say we've been there. Don't know if that will happen, though. We don't have enough time to really explore like that. We'll likely be back in HK by next Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.

Speaking of HK, it is a place where one could explore for two weeks just on it's own. We rode the ferry across the harbor, which would also be great to do at night. We rode around HK Island on one of the little narrow double-decker trams. It's been a fun day, and we're already planning on a few things to do when we arrive back next week, like going to the top of Victoria's Peak at night to see all the city lights from above.

At any rate, we're very excited to be heading into the mainland. While HK is new and exciting, it is easy to deal with because English is used quite a lot. In Guilin and the smaller towns, it will be a different story. Nothing more exciting than a new kind of experience like that.

Until next time, be safe.

December 05, 2008

Arrival In Hong Kong

We have arrived in Hong Kong. We got in very late, but I had a reservation at a nice hotel, so we got a good night's sleep and a shower in the morning. We had literally lost December 5. We boarded our plane at 8 am on the 4th, and we got on our bus to the hotel just after midnight on the 6th. The day just disappeared.

We will spend the day exploring Hong Kong, and a good part of tomorrow. We will try to catch a night train or bus to Guilin tomorrow evening, from Shenzhen, China. It is a little difficult because we have to cross the border into China to get tickets. Today will be fun, though.

From first impressions of Hong Kong, it is a very busy city. The streets are bustling with trucks, buses, cars, and loads of people. Fortunately, there is a fair amount of English around, so it's not hard to navigate. China will be more difficult.

Tonight we stay in the famous Mirador Mansion. It is a huge complex of hostels, guesthouses, and other business. The hostels range from dodgy to scary. I booked one in the dodgy range. We will be in Hong Kong on a Saturday night, which is very exciting. It is a city known for it's night life.

We just arrived, so I don't have much to comment on, but it's looking to be a fun two weeks.

Until next time, be safe.

December 04, 2008

Going To China

We are headed to China!

I will do my best to blog from China, and will post all entries on this page. Have a good two weeks, folks!

Until next time, be safe.

November 08, 2008

Pictures From Chicago And More

I've put up a gallery of photos from our overnight trip to Chicago. It has pictures of the sunset from the John Hancock building. Forgive me if you notice reflections, I did my best to avoid them, but they are sometimes inevitable when you are shooting through a window.

Chicago Photos
Chicago Photo Gallery

Also, there are three other recent galleries I've put up, including one from Madison, and one several photos of Jess in a cornfield. Be sure to check those out, and more, from my On Assignment page, with all the photo galleries taken during travel nursing assignments.

Travel Photos
On Assignment Photo Galleries

Until next time, be safe.

A Night In Chicago

I'd been itching to get back to Chicago, hopefully for a night. This week, we had a couple of days off, so we jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be great.

We had a rough start, finding the kennel for Zuri (a place called Camp Canine, which was really nice), then being too late for the train from Harvard, Illinois. We ended up driving further down the line to a town called Crystal Lake, but still missed our train by a few minutes when we parked in the wrong lot, so we ate lunch there to wait for the next train an hour later. We did make it to Chicago early in the afternoon, and set out to find our hostel.

We were staying in a place called The Arlington House, which is in the north end of town up by De Paul University. I'd made reservations there several days before, not realizing that we were coming into Chicago on Election Night, so it was fortunate to have gotten them when I did. I'd reserved a private room, including a toilet and sink, which cost us about $65. In comparison, when Jess went to Chicago with some friends to see a Madonna concert, they stayed in a hotel that was $450 a night.

Looking on a map of Chicago, it's easy to think that the hostel is only a short walk north. We did end up walking up from downtown later, but only because we couldn't find an L station (for the elevated metro station in Chicago). We found some two-day passes for the L, a great value, and headed up to the hostel. Of course, when you are paying $65 a night for a private room, you shouldn't expect too much. Granted, there were no frills, but the place was clean, comfortable, and adequate for the few hours that we planned on spending there. The window looked out into a loading dock, but I wasn't in Chicago to sit next to a window, or sit in a hostel at all. We dropped the bag, jumped back on the L, and headed downtown for the evening.

The great thing about this particular November day is that it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit, absolutely beautiful. Throughout the evening, the wind picked up a little, so sitting in the breeze could be a little chilly, but I don't think it dropped below 60 that night, and the next day was gusty but in the high 60s. We had really excellent weather, it was almost easy to pretend that it was November. The problem with November, though, is that the sun starts to descend by 4 pm, 3:30 if you are in a city with large skyscrapers. So, once back downtown, we had to hustle a little bit, since we wanted to watch the sunset from the Signature Lounge, a little bar and restaurant at the 95th of the John Hancock building.

On our previous trip to Chicago, we'd gone to the observation deck in the Hancock, which cost $15 a person. Going to the Signature Lounge was free, although buying a drink was certainly expected. Beer was about $7 a glass (for Bud), so we opted for a glass of wine and a martini, which at $12 each still was cheaper than going to the observation deck. We stayed through the sunset, which was beautiful, then headed out for some dinner. We didn't really have any particular idea for food, so when we passed a little authentic Italian pizza place, we stopped in, eating pizza and pasta.

The idea was to go to a little jazz club even further north, so we tried finding the L station. We were walking on the road that I had expected the L to follow, but alas, looking later at a map of the route, we were several blocks off. In the end, we walked all the way back up to the hostel, which was fine as it enabled us to burn off the Italian carbs. I dropped off my camera in our room, and we caught the L at the nearby station to head up north to the jazz club, a little place called the Green Mill. A quartet was cooking up some well-known tunes as well as some of their own, which we enjoyed until the news came across on the TV that McCain had conceded. The band sort of dropped the ball at that point, stopping the music to listen to his speech, then restarting again only to literally stop in the middle of a song to listen to Obama. Fair enough, but following his speech, they sat around the bar and talked politics. Hey, if I wanted to watch a jazz band sit around talking politics, well, I can't even think of a venue where such a lame event could be found. Other than at the Green Mill that night.

Fortunately, I'd discovered Manhattans that, so I was having fun anyhow. We both were having fun, for that matter.

After the jazz, we headed back the hostel. What I like about big cities is that even on a weekday night, at 2 am, there are still loads of people, having fun. It's exciting. Cities like Madison shut down at midnight. I think we're going to have to take an assignment in either Chicago or NYC.

The next morning, there was no rest for the weary of any sort, as Jess had me up and trotting by 8 am. She really can't sleep in for anything, I think she was up by 6 even though she wasn't in bed anytime before 2 am. We had breakfast at little mom-and-pop nearby, then took the L all the way through the center to the south district of Chinatown. This area was interesting, but not nearly as lively or large as the Chinatown in NYC. What I noticed were the throngs of elderly Chinese people loitering along on the main street through the area. I felt like I needed to either squat or lean against a wall, looking somewhat disheveled, chain-smoking and drinking coffee. When Jess asked what I was doing, I told her, "Loitering, of course!"

We ended up back in the center shortly after, stopping by the Chicago Cultural Center for an hour long piano and voice Bach/Schuman concert. Again, a nice thing about a big city like Chicago, is that there is always something interesting going on, like a noontime classical concert. We had lunch at a little Thai restaurant called the Silver Spoon, then walked around the center for awhile longer. There was nothing really left on our agenda in Chicago, but we were reluctant to leave. It seemed a little unlikely we'd make it back in the last three weeks of our time here in Wisconsin, particularly on a day as grand as these two had been. It was a little sad, really. Eventually we boarded the L to go back to the hostel to retrieve our bag, then rode it back into the center for our train. We took a different line of the L, the Brown Line (whereas we'd been taking the Red Line), which was great because it offered continuous great views of the skyscrapers and the city. We were even more morose at the idea of leaving by the time we disembarked. We found a small neighborhood bar, the kind you wished was in your neighborhood, and had a sorrowful beer before heading out for the train station and our long trip home.

We made it home fine, and I decided to sleep in the next morning, tired from sprinting around the city. I was up by 9:30 or so, then relaxed until after 11 when I decided to go retrieve Zuri from the kennel. In the car, I found my phone, and upon turning it on, heard several messages from work wondering if I was planning on coming in for my shift. So much for my relaxing day, recovering from having too much fun in Chicago.

Until next time, be safe.

October 26, 2008

A Windy Day In Madison

I'm relaxing for my weekend off. I've been having a very quiet day.

Jess is in Chicago, she went to meet some friends who flew up from North Carolina to go to the Madonna concert. I wasn't invited, despite my passionate fan-duration that I have for the aging "icon," as Jess refers to her as. As it turns out, it was a good thing that Jess is in Chicago this weekend.

We both went there earlier this week. It's not a bad trip at all. To drive into Chicago might be a little stressful and irritating, but we simply drove to the little town of Harvard, IL, just over an hour from here, and then caught the commuter train into Chicago. Overall, the trip takes three hours, which is only a half hour more than if we drove (assuming that we would manage to miss the horrible traffic). We went there to drop off our visas for our China trip in December.

I assumed that the process of dropping off the applications would be difficult. The Chinese Consulate's website describes everything you must have in order to get a visa, including your hotel reservations in China as well as your travel documentation. So we went in a little worried, but we received a dismissive glance when we offered to show our plane tickets, and they never brought up the hotel reservations, which we don't have anyhow. Jess was particularly concerned about the fact that while she legally changed her name more than a year and a half ago when we got married, she hasn't been motivated to finish the process and get a new passport. So, we still have to buy her plane tickets under her maiden name. Don't ask me why she hasn't gotten a new passport, I have no earthly idea. At any rate, it made no difference to the girl at the visa counter. All she said was, "Pick up passport on Monday." Just like that.

So, fortunately, Jess had already made plans to be in Chicago over the weekend, she can get our passports. I don't know why I thought that they might send them back, since every other friendly consulate in the US would. I forget that the Chinese government doesn't like Americans, just our money as long as we don't send journalists or human rights advocates with it. Silly me.

Chicago was pretty great. We only had the day to walk around the center. I'd like to go back and spend the night during this assignment. I want to go to the jazz clubs and do some more social things than just walk around. November will be a good time to do that, since it will be too cold and windy to walk around the city anyhow, so staying indoors and in clubs will seem all that much better. Also, there is a great HI (Hostelling International) in Chicago. A HI is usually the best hostel around, and we stopped in at this one, it's right downtown, and it's very nice.

I would have to say that after NYC, Chicago seems a little smaller and less exciting. Of course, after we visit Hong Kong in December, NYC will probably seem like a boring backwater, too. Still, Chicago has plenty of attraction, it's a fun place to visit. I'm sure we'll be able to make the trip in the next month or so.

For myself, I'm just taking it easy today. Yesterday I went fishing. I'd gone last week and caught a ton of bass, more than 20. I went to the same exact hole, used the same exact lures, and didn't get single bite in several hours of biting cold wind. Last week had gotten me tempted to think that maybe the Loukonen Fishing Curse had been lifted. Again, silly me.

I found this advertisement, it's pretty funny. It's fitting for Madison, at any rate.

Until next time, be safe.

October 23, 2008

The Wisconsin Pictures Are Up

Holy crap.

It has taken me all day, but I have finally gotten myself caught up with posting pictures onto my photo website. Fortunately, it was a cold and windy day out there.

I ended up posting 13 different galleries, covering two full months. Now, I can see everyone's eyes begin to glaze over just at the thought of that. Well, never fear. I have a suggestion.

I won't suggest that you don't look at all the pictures. No, I've worked too hard for that, my fingers are nearly bleeding from my exertion. Look at the time this entry posts, it really is that early in the morning. Instead, I would suggest a schedule.

Every time you feel your eyelids begin to droop as you look through these photos, you should go get a cup of coffee or something. You must pace yourself, after all, you have 13 galleries to look through.

Honestly, there aren't that many pictures. And they are all interesting, obviously. Here is the link to the main Wisconsin Assignment category page.

Also, I've posted a page I called "On Assignment." While that title isn't so original, I would urge you to look again at what time I am posting this. What is original about this page is that it has all of the postings that I have put up since we started travel nursing. Even better, the newest ones are first, so you won't have to go to the bottom to find a new posting. You'll be able to access this page right from the link above my picture to the right. What could be better?

Get lookin', folks, there are a lot of pictures to peruse through.

Until next time, be safe.

October 17, 2008

One Last Photo Gallery From NYC

I've been a little lax on my photos. It's not that I haven't been taking any photos, I've been shooting pictures as prodigiously as usual. On the other hand, I've been downright lazy about posting them on my website.

In my defense, there are a couple of reasons. First, I having worked any night shifts except for a short run of them a couple of weeks ago. Night shifts are when I get the most done with my website. Things are so much slower I have time to actually concentrate on the time-consuming process of building these pages.

Also, the weather has been quite nice here so far in Madison. It's hard to sit around the house on the computer when I could be outside, fishing or hiking or even taking more photos. I figure it's going to be getting really cold here in by the end of the month, so it will be much easier to condone spending a day off working on my website.

Never fear, though, I have nine galleries of Wisconsin ready to be built, and there are several more that I still need to go through the photos to select which ones to post. In the meantime, I've finished the last gallery from our assignment in New England. This one is from our visit to NYC, when we spent the night in a hostel and had a great time. I'll have the other ones up as soon as I can get to them.

NYC Pictures
Overnight Trip In NYC

Until next time, be safe.

October 01, 2008

My Birthday Weekend

I'm now officially in my thirties, I've left behind my days as a twenty-something. I was expecting for a more severe reaction to such a change in my status, but that didn't really come to pass. Perhaps it just hasn't hit me yet. Maybe the expected depression might still hit.

At any rate, I had a good weekend celebrating my birthday. As I mentioned earlier, I was fortunate to get five days off. I've taken full advantage of them, and have used them to get to know this area better.

Fall is rapidly approaching here. The leaves are only starting to change, but the weather has dramatically become different. Yesterday, the highest temperature never broke 60 degrees, and today is looking to be even cooler. I've been told by a native Wisconsonian that there may be another period of warm days, the so-called "Indian Summer," but besides that period I can expect mostly cold weather, perhaps even snow by October. I was really hoping that there would be warm weather further into the fall. I'm hoping the expert advice is very wrong.

Anyhow, as fall has certainly arrived, there have been quite a few festivals in the area. We took advantage of a couple of them last weekend. Jess and I went with a couple of other travel nurses to the Cranberry Festival. Strange as it may sound, I actually thought it could be fun. I envisioned tours through cranberry bogs, lots of cranberry related foods, fall games, that sort of thing. After all, I believe that Wisconsin is actually the largest or second largest producer of cranberries. So the four of us made the hour and a half drive up to the little town of Warrens, WI, on a crisp and slightly overcast fall morning. Right away, I started getting a bad feeling about it. The festival itself was obvious, with crowds streaming towards streets lined with stalls. After the first fifteen minutes of browsing, it became suddenly obvious to me that this was no cranberry-related festival. There were few if any items at all that were related to the fruit. I realized that we'd come instead to an arts and crap, er, crafts market. It might have been very large, strewn down several streets and crowded with thousands of people, but it was still arts and crafts. And I have an intuitive dislike of arts and crafts.

Then we came upon the food section, where there were vendors of all sorts of crafty foods, like meat jerky, cheeses, sauces, dips, and so on. Hey, if I'm going to be at a craft fair, I might as well enjoy it, so I descended onto the samplers like a vulture to a pancake squirrel. The tables were all handily side by side, so I just continued down the line, sampling every food item set out. There is a fine balance to it, for the vendors are wary of folks who feed but don't buy, like myself. So I had to wear an expression of torn indecision, as though I was trying to decide just which jerky or cheese or sauce I would spend my money on. This actually allowed me to resample some items, as though to make a final comparison before dishing out my money. By the time we arrived in the nut tent, though, I couldn't keep up the ruse, and scarfed down nuts of all sorts like they were going out of style. This didn't go well, as the vendor started following me as I began a second round of the tent. I stood under her gaze, pondering at the contents of one of the bags of cracker mixes before I finally fled. By then I was stuffed. I didn't even need lunch.

As tedious as being a cranfester was, it was fun to be outside on a nice fall day, and to hang out with some other travelers. Later, after returning to Madison we went to a late show at a local comedy club downtown, the Comedy Club On State. There were four comedians, culminating with a comedian from Las Vegas. It was a hilarious show, and my face hurt by the time we left. I feel like we haven't taken full advantage of Madison's downtown, since we are a good twenty-five minutes of driving from there, so it was fun to go to the show, and then stay out until 2 am.

Sunday we went to another festival, the much more promising New Glarus Octoberfest. New Glarus is actually a charming little town south of Madison, home to the New Glarus Brewing Company, which has been one of our favorite breweries up this way. They pretty much hosted the festival, so obviously there was good Octoberfest beer to be had, as well as brats, polka music, and beer-cheese fondue, melted in a big vat right at the festival and served free over bread to everyone around. It was quite excellent. New Glarus itself is a very nice town. Apparently it was settled by Swiss immigrants and retains that style of buildings, but in an authentic way and not the nauseating reproduced fashion that you mostly see in the US. We plan on visiting the town this fall just to see it without the festival, in all of its fall colors.

Monday, I had the day to myself, which I spent fishing, a story I wrote about in a blog entry that day, no point recounting the lack of success I had. Yesterday, my birthday, Jess and I went out to Spring Green, a little town west of Madison. It was the town that Frank Lloyd Wright built his summer home in, the Taliesin House. She took me there to go on a guided tour, which turned out to be more interesting than one might think. I knew nothing about Frank Lloyd Wright, other than the fact that he is America's most celebrated architect and that he had a complicated personal life, which I gathered from hearing about the book Jess just read, Loving Frank. Apparently, at this same house, his mistress, her two kids, and four other people were axed and then burned, along with part of the house, by a crazed employee. That made the tour more intriguing to me. We didn't get to see the chalkmark outlines where the bodies were found, though, the tour was focused instead on the creative juices and architectural wonders that came Mr. Wright and that house, which was rebuilt and served as his retreat. As little as I knew about his work, the tour was interesting, and I took a lot of pictures of his house, which was pretty amazing.

Finally, last night, we went out for sushi with a couple of other travel nurses, then out for drinks in the bar conveniently walking distance from our apartments. There are pool tables, shuffleboards, air hockey tables, and several other games, all of which we played until we closed the place. Which is to say, it was a nice finish to my birthday weekend.

Until next time, be safe.

September 29, 2008

Trip To Door County

Jess and I had a couple of days off together last week, so we decided to head up to Door County in the northeastern part of Wisconsin. We'd heard a lot of people say that it is really a beautiful area. Of course, since it was a three hour trip, it would have been better to have had three days off, but we had to work with what we had.

It was also a good opportunity to try out my newest gadget, a GPS navigation system that my parents bought for my upcoming birthday. I've always enjoyed the logistical aspects of traveling--the mileage to the destination, the route, which road I'm on. I always buy several maps of the region I'm in, so that I can explore easier. So, I was pretty excited by the GPS unit, because provides all sorts of useful information.

Jess was a skeptic (and still is somewhat). She's not much into technology anyhow (I finally got her to upgrade last year to cell phone made in this century, and only when I bought it), so she's never a huge fan of more gadgets. She actually feels threatened somehow by my computer and camera; I never thought someone could be jealous of a machine until I met Jess. No matter, the GPS unit is for me, anyhow.

The trip itself is nothing, at least for us. When Jess was finding a place to stay, some of the people she talked to were very surprised that we'd drive up for a day. In August, we spent an entire week driving, putting in over 3000 miles. So, a three hour trip doesn't bother us much. Besides, we left early in the morning, and as the sun rose, it came up through some scattered fog for the first hour, which was really beautiful.

For people who may have never heard of Door County, it sits on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan, north of Green Bay. I quickly gathered that there tends to be a lot of wealth there, with rich old fogeys keeping their summer homes there. It's also a big summer destination around here, and from what I've heard can be very crowded in the summer months. That would be unfortunate, because it's not really that big of a peninsula. There are quite a few charming little villages of 2000 people or so, many on one shoreline or the other. There's also a lot of history in the area, in particular with ships going in and out of Green Bay back in the 1800s. Best of all, it has a very nice rural feeling to it; the villages aren't large or superficial, and there are several beautiful state parks with hiking, camping, kayaking, and lots of other outdoorsy stuff.

We rolled into the area midmorning and found our hotel. We couldn't check in, but we wanted to use it to get our bearings. The hotel, a mom-and-pop hotel called Baileys Sunset Motel, is small and unassuming, just our kind of place. The owner suggested we head over to the Peninsula Sate Park for hiking, which we did. It didn't take long to get there, you are only at most 45 minutes or an hour from anywhere on the peninsula at any point. The park itself was quite nice; we went for a hike, then headed back to the town of Fish Creek, which is at its entrance, for lunch.

Actually, when the owner of the hotel was telling us where to visit, I thought she was telling me to go to "Fish Crack," that is what it sounded like she was saying. I kept looking for a Fish Crack on the map, and couldn't find it. Then I realized she was telling me to go to Fish Creek. Interesting accent.

After lunch, Jess wanted to go kayaking, so we went back into the park, and found a little business that rented kayaks. I rented our kayak for two hours, I'm not sure why, but it seemed like a good idea. Actually, it wasn't bad, we kayaked the entire time, and had a great time. At one point, there was a couple sitting on the beach watching us go by, so I had Jess in the front paddling hard while I sat back with my heels up on my paddle, just to see their necks craning in shock. There was a fairly stiff wind, so whenever we got away from the shore a certain distance, we would start hitting some fairly large waves. That made it more exciting.

After kayaking, we headed south to the village of Egg Harbor, where there is a little brewery called Shipwrecked. Not only did they have some excellent brew, they were also selling a wine called Hallowine, which is a spicy apple wine that is really delicious when served warm. Apparently, this particular brewery has been around for more than a century, although under different names and usuaully as restaurants. They claim that Al Capone spent a lot of time in Egg Harbor when hiding out, and even in Shipwrecked. Apparently, there is a system of tunnels under the place and the town for a quick getaway. Regardless of stories, they sold a good brew. We picked up a couple of bottles of that and a six-pack, then headed across the street to eat. We'd asked the bartender where he'd recommend that we eat, and he suggested that we eat at a very local place called John Henry's. It's so local that none of the brochures even note it. They had a half-rack of ribs on seasoned sauerkraut that completely changed my opinion about ribs. At that point, we finally headed back to check in at our hotel, since it was getting close to ten.

We had a busy day exploring the next morning. We first had breakfast in another local restaurant, then went to a little nonprofit park, The Ridges Sanctuary, which protects an area of natural ridges formed over thousands of years by the lake. In between the ridges are little micro-environments. It was very nice. We then went to the Cave Point County Park, which is a small park where huge waves from Lake Michigan crash against the cliffs that line that shoreline. With the size of the waves hitting the cliff, as well as the immensity of Lake Michigan (you can't see the far shore), it almost feels like being at an ocean beach.

Just south of the county park is the Whitefish Dunes State Park, with large white sand dunes that reinforced the idea of being at the ocean. Zuri wasn't allowed in that park, so while Jess walked along the beach I took Zuri to the rocky shoreline nearby and took pictures. The park is a little strange, in that it has dunes that look like the beach in North Carolina, but then they end as the evergreen forest meets them. It seems like someone did a little digital manipulation with two landscapes.

It was getting to be mid-afternoon, so we started south towards the largest town in the area, Sturgeon Bay. There is a really interesting lighthouse there, I wanted to take some pictures of it. We had a little adventure with the GPS unit trying to find the lighthouse, it left us on a little country road nowhere near even Lake Michigan. So, we had a little lunch in a quirky restaurant in Sturgeon Bay and looked up directions online. That simplified the process of finding the lighthouse.

As a side-note, we recently broke down and started paying for Internet, through Verizon. We have a little receiver that plugs into our computer and we can get the Net anywhere, even when we are driving or in the middle of nowhere. Pretty much anywhere that we have phone service, we have the Net. Granted, it's like $75 a month with all their fees and so on, which makes me yearn for the days of the free Internet we used to "borrow" from whichever neighbor didn't bother to protect with a password.

At any rate, we did find the lighthouse and I took many photos of it. In fact, I've taken many, many photos all during this trip, and hopefully they will be up on my webpage soon. We continued south towards the little town of Algoma, which is still in Door County although it is not on the peninsula. Jess wanted to visit a Door County winery, so we went to the von Stiehl Winery. We got there right near closing, but they still let us taste all the different wines we wanted to. We bought another case of wine there, even though we still have some bottles from the last vineyard we went to. Algoma bills itself as the "Sports Fishing Capital Of The Midwest." Indeed, it seems there is quite an industry of fishing boats and services there, even though it is a town of about 3400 people. I tossed out a line for a half hour or so just to see if being in such a fishing-centric town would help me out a little. It didn't.

It was dark by the time we got home, and we were tired. Still it was quite a great trip. I will try to have my photos up as soon as possible.

Until next time, be safe.

The Metropolis Of Madison

It's been a bit since I've put in an entry; that's partly because at first I didn't have too much to write about, and more recently, I've been keeping pretty busy here. The past three weeks, in brief.

At first, I was struggling trying to entertain myself here, as forms of entertainment are much more subtle than in New England. When we were in Connecticut, if I had a day off where I didn't have anything planned, then I could just jump on the train and head into NYC. Here it isn't that simple. For the first week or so, I was really having a hard time figuring out fun things to do.

Being in Madison itself has taken some time to get used to. Again, maybe that has a lot to do with the withdrawal symptoms I was feeling after leaving the very urban Connecticut. While Madison is quite a relaxed and interesting city, it just doesn't have that intense feel like we'd been experiencing all summer. There are a lot of nice parks, great neighborhoods for walking and people-watching, and great food and drinks here, but I have still had to get used to the area.

Actually, I have mostly focused on the surrounding areas so far. I always like to check out the surrounding areas of places I visit. I've done a fair amount of that in the last couple of weeks, both alone and with Jess. (We haven't had the most desirably aligned schedules here).

I've taken several photography field trips to visit the little towns that surround Madison. The farms here are really interesting. They have a very old-fashioned appearance, with big red barns and other structures surrounded by fields and fields of corn and other crops. This state is most certainly an agricultural based one, with its wide swaths of landscape covered by farm after farm. There are rolling hills and surrounding forests, and lots of lakes and ponds and rivers. I've taken a lot of rural landscape photos recently, the big red barns and accompanying silos a favorite subject out here. That's been fun.

Speaking of photography field trips, I made a day trip to Milwaukee, to walk around in the city center. That was surprisingly nice. I guess I had expected a city a little more rough around the edges. Perhaps the periphery of the city is a little rougher, since this is a big industrial city. Still, the center itself was very nice. The business district was more like a state capital than Madison's; in fact, for Coloradoans, a fair comparison of cities would be to say that Madison is like Fort Collins while Milwaukee is more like Denver. Around the business district, there were a lot of neighborhoods of older buildings, many with very interesting post-industrial bricked architecture. It seems like there were harder times for the city, but it has gone through extensive renovations, where the old factory-type buildings were reworked into quirky neighborhoods of shops and apartments. The Menomonee River runs through the center, and a long boardwalk follows much of its length through the center, and of course the city sits on Lake Michigan, so there is the lakefront as well. All in all, I rather enjoyed my day in Milwaukee, and it's only an hour and a half drive from Madison.

Besides getting out of town for photo shoots, I have also become more active in fishing, this area being quite a good place for that. Anybody who has fished with me knows that I suffer from a genetic malfunction that forces me to suffer from the chronic inability to actually catch anything from a body of water besides rocks, overhanging branches, and an occasional confused catfish. This is true no matter which body of water I am fishing in, or for what that I am fishing for, or which equipment I am using. Still, I keep on trying.

In Connecticut, I fished off the piers and docks regularly, at least once a week. The fact that I caught a single striper in the entire three months did nothing to persuade me to not fish. Here I have had a variety of fishing experience, all of which have one thing in common, the number of fish I ended up with. Which is zero. For example, I read that there are all these salmon running up the rivers from Lake Michigan, so naturally I immediately made plans to drive to the lake and try my luck. It was a humiliating experience, of course. I didn't get off as early as planned, and hit Milwaukee at 7 am, which is pretty much rush hour. A bit frazzled, but still excited, I arrived in a little town called Racine in between Chicago and Milwaukee, and hit the Root River, ready to bring home some salmon.

Within 45 minutes of first tossing a lure into the river, I had not only lost all eight of the spoons that I had brought along to the rocks, but I had snapped the end of my pole off succeeding in retrieving my last spoon so successfully that I hit the tree behind me. After raging in my car for a good ten minutes, I decided that the long drive demanded a second attempt, so I headed off to Dick's to buy more lure and a new tip. Upon resuming my fishing, I was able to avoid most of the rocks, but found myself watching these guys pulling enormous salmon all around me, and not even getting a nibble myself. A shady looking Russian nearby suddenly produced a huge twenty-pound salmon, but I still think that he had it frozen in his bag and just pulled it out when I wasn't looking, because it was as stiff as a board and I think I would have noticed him bringing something of that size to the shore. Still, he wanted me take a bunch of pictures, and he called a buddy to come and see the fish he'd caught. Then, with disdain that only a Russian can muster, he looked down his nose at me and my little pole and informed me that I'd never catch a fish like his with a pole like that.

Feeling sorry for myself, I went up above the dam where everyone was corralling their salmon and pulled out a sorry looking catfish. When I returned to my spot below the dam, a lady with two kids had arrived, and she told me that she was fishing with salmon eggs. So, I grabbed my gear and headed back to Dick's, to buy lots and lots of salmon eggs, as well as 16-lb fishing line for the expected boon of salmon I figured I would catch, now that I knew what others were using. Back at the river, though, I had the same results, and it was only later that I realized that everyone was fishing that particular day with flies, even guys with normal poles, who would just tie a fly onto the end of their line and flop them out. They literally stood in a line in the river, pulling one salmon after another, and no lure that I had nor the six varieties of salmon eggs that I'd purchased could convince the salmon to ignore the idiots standing in the river with flies tied to the ends of their lure poles. I literally stayed all day, up until 6 pm, and still I walked away with nothing but a bunch of new gear and bait.

I've tried a number of other lakes and ponds and rivers in the area, and invariably I've gotten the same results. I did catch a 21-inch walleye, but not knowing what it was or how tasty it apparently is, I threw it back. This morning I went off to a trout stream heralded as one of the top in the nation, since tomorrow is the last day of trout season this year. I did get two nice hits, where the fish jumped out of the water, but I couldn't bring them in, so I was reduced to stopping by a lake and throwing worms out to two-inch blue-gills. There's nothing particularly satisfying about those.

At any rate, I've spent a fair amount of time between photography and fishing. Of course Jess and I have gone on little day trips together. We went hiking in a very nice little state park called Devil's Lake. That day we also stopped by a little vineyard and winery called the Wollersheim Winery in Sauk City, which is in the general area. We ended up buying a case of wine there, after thoroughly enjoying their tasting. Last week, we drove up for an overnight trip to Door County, which is a terrific part of Wisconsin. I'm going to write a whole entry about that.

Well, it's a nice evening outside. Perhaps I will go fishing.

Until next time, be safe.

August 04, 2008

A Hostel In NYC

I just wanted to put in a short entry about our experience this weekend. It truly was the icing on the figurative cake that has been our experience in New England.

Our plan for last weekend was to drive up to Montreal for a few days. We were to work Thursday night, though, and as the weekend approached, the idea of sleeping a few hours on Friday morning just to get up and drive 6-7 hours (depending on passport control at the border) for a two-night trip sounded less and less enjoyable. So, as of Monday we'd decided instead to spend a night in NYC, something we'd been talking about even before we left North Carolina to head up this way.

Something that we hadn't talked about was our accommodation in the city. Initially, we'd considered staying in a nice hotel, maybe checking out a show after eating at a fancy restaurant. Anybody who knows Jess and I, however, knows that we are really cheap (oh, yeah, she's cheap, at least as much as me). Considering that the HoJo (Howard Johnson, for those lucky enough to have avoided staying in such a hotel thus far) is more than $200 a night in NYC, there was little chance we'd be doing anything so fancy.

I've never been afraid of hostels, having seen some really bad dives in my day. I've been in places where the bedbugs put on full productions of Les Miserables, apparently including the cannonfire, on your back as you attempt to sleep. Jess, due to her association with me, has been exposed to such places; we both have fond memories of the hostel in Amsterdam that smelled something like a combination between a dirty gym bag and roadkill after they just cleaned it. Hey, backpackers stink, it's to be expected. Still, whenever I'd mention staying in a hostel in NYC to local folks up here, particularly those who were from NYC, I'd get a very skeptical look that progressed into a stunned, horrified expression when they realized I was serious.

I wasn't to be denied my cheap accommodations, though, so I searched the Net for the best possible place. Considering the reviews I found of nearly every place, even I almost changed my mind. In the end, I was steadfast in my frugality/stinginess, and eventually settled on a place called Jazz On The City. I decided on this place after exhaustive reading of the reviews of other hostels (most described some sort of insect infestation, and one was described as apparently being a homeless shelter from time to time, while another apparently is a homeless shelter). Reading all the reviews actually gave me a general sense of hostels in NYC, in that they are pretty scary, usually more of flophouse than a hostel. Still, I blazed on.

Good thing, too, because this hostel was really great. It smelled pretty good, considering the fact that stinky folks from all parts of the world were staying there. We were in a room with six beds, so we shared it with four other people. We had our own bathroom, though, a big bonus. The hostel itself was clean, had been recently repainted, and even had keycard locks on the door of our room. The complainers who left bad reviews on the Net obviously have not backpacked in Europe. You can't beat spending $45 a person after taxes, staying right in the middle of Manhattan, on a Friday night.

We didn't go to a show (whew), but we did have a great time. We arrived later in the afternoon, so we headed to Little Italy, and ended up eating at a great restaurant there. Afterward, we decided to walk up to the Empire State Building (it looked close on the map), and went to the top to see the city at night. That was a pretty touristy thing to do, but the view was worth the shame. We went back to the hostel afterward, for a few minutes, then headed back out into the surrounding neighborhood, even though it was almost 1 am by that point. We ended up staying out until after 4 am. There is nothing like NYC at 4 am, it is a great city. It truly never sleeps, and there is almost as much traffic (by foot and by car) as during the day.

We pretty much ate our way through the city on Saturday. After a delicious brunch, we cruised back through Little Italy, to pick up lattes and Italian deserts. Then we headed out to Chinatown. We didn't just stay on the touristy outskirts of Chinatown, either, where all the little shops selling miniature Statue of Liberties are. We delved right into the heart of Chinatown, where I'd gone during my last trip to NYC in July. Here they stop bothering to put English on their signs, they are mostly in Chinese. There are loads of little authentic shops selling foods and goods that only Chinese people understand the usage of, like dried fish, salted fruits, and many other items. It's like taking a quick trip to Hong Kong, there is that strong of a community and Chinese character there. It's my favorite part of NYC, which after seeing it with me, I think Jess might agree with as well.

Of course we ate our dinner in Chinatown, although it was at a Vietamese restaurant, oddly. Later in the evening, we slowly made our way back to Grand Central Station and on to Connecticut, and both of us felt a real sense of sadness as our train pulled out of Harlem and from the city, that this would be our last trip to NYC during this assignment. Jess loves the city, and I've grown fond of it over the summer as well. It is a fun, exciting city, and I'm glad that we were able to experience it even in its latest hours.

And I don't even have any bedbug bites.

Until next time, be safe.

Jess & I in Little Italy

July 25, 2008

Photos From Maine

I have put up the photos from our weekend in Maine. I was hoping that they would turn out well, because it was such a beautiful place. I even took extra large photos, with the idea of printing some later. I think some of these photos really turned out nicely. Check them out.

Maine Photos
Maine Photo Galleries

There are actually two galleries, identical except one is color and one is B&W. The color photos are the best. Many of the B&W shots lost something in translation, but some of them turned out pretty good as well.

Also, since there 99 photos in this series, I figured people might prefer to see it as a slideshow. So, there are two slideshows, the color slideshow and the B&W slideshow.

Until next time, be safe.

July 21, 2008

Maine-ly About Maine

We just got back from a five-day trip to Maine, which was excellent. I'd never been up that way, and Jess hadn't been since she was a wee little girl, so it was an exciting prospect for both of us. We weren't disappointed in the least.

I will have to say, the drive up was very, very long. We left Thursday afternoon, after working Wednesday night, which put us just north of Boston right around rush hour. That perhaps wasn't the best time to be in the area, which set us back a half hour or so, but we were able to continue without any real issues. The problem was that it took us more than seven hours to get to Bangor, where we had booked a hotel; we were wiped out by that time, and plenty grumpy with each other. Turns out that the Sea Dog Brewery was there in town, which was great. We sampled several of their beers, taking off the edge of our gritty moods, before turning in for the night.

We were up early enough the next morning, but it was chaotic since we had to go around buying groceries and supplies, and in the end, we didn't make it to the Acadia Nat'l Park or even Mount Desert Island until after 1 pm. No matter, it was totally worth it. We drove around the area for awhile, to get a feeling for it, then found our campsite, a great little place called Bass Harbor Campground. It is way at the bottom of the island, far away from the touristy parts of Bar Harbor on the north end, and in the quiet and charming little fishing village of Bass Harbor (hence the name). We managed to get a really large tent site, and set up all of our stuff. There at the campsite, a guy named Scott was cooking and selling lobster, which was very handy for us. We ended up eating lobster every night there, two of the nights from him (we cooked lobsters ourselves one night, figuring we could save a little money, but it turned out to be more expensive, less tasty, and unnecessarily difficult). I didn't know that I loved lobster so much, but it was truly delicious.

At any rate, we did manage to get a short hike in, although we came across some rusty old ladders that were the only access to the summit, and hence didn't quite make the summit. Later in the evening, it began raining and continued into the night, and I spent most of the night cold and wet, as my tent is old and desperately needs to be sealed/waterproofed. Around 3:30 am, I got up, walked down the road about a quarter of a mile to the nearby Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and took pictures of it in the growing light. There never was a true sunrise that morning, with the clouds being fairly dense, but it was still a beautiful morning. We had coffee and cereal next to our morning campfire (we had a campfire each night as well, and even made s'mores), then headed out to explore Acadia. The clouds had burned off and it had turned into a beautiful, sunny day, so we drove through most of the park, starting with the large Park Loop Road, which runs partly along the gorgeous eastern seashore. We walked through the rugged peach-colored rocks for a couple of hours, then kept going along to Jordan Pond, a very nice body of water with a 3-mile, flat trail enciricling it. Mid-way, we found a trail leading off, going up to the summit of Sargent Mountain. We'd heard about the moutain from some locals, who described it as less popular (a good thing) than the famous Cadillac Mountain, but with the same view. So, we decided to head for the summit.

Now, there is something that everyone needs to understand about hiking in Acadia, and possibly Maine as a general rule. Most of the trails that we saw were short, in the 1-3 mile range, which anywhere else would be a wonderful thing, being so short. Alas, they forgot the most critical aspect of their descriptions, which would have been the atltitude gain. For example, our chosen route on Sargent Moutain was only 1.1 miles, but this is a 1300-ft mountain, and we were starting from almost sealevel. Needless to say, it was a little steep in places. I think they should put, "Summit Trail, 1.1 miles long, 1000 foot in altitude gain," or more succintly, "Summit, 1.1 miles of HELL." That would have been fair. It was worth it, anyhow, once my vision cleared and my heart rate dropped below 200. The view truly was spectacular, the mountains simply drop off into the ocean. You can see for miles from these places, and it was beautiful.

After returning to our campsite, we set about cooking our own lobsters. There is an art to it, you wouldn't think it was terribly hard, it just involves dropping the lobster in boiling water. My lobsters had nothing on the ones Scott was casually handing out for just a few dollars more than what I'd paid for these in the suppermarket (plus he provided all-you-can-eat corn and stone crabs). They were a little on the tough side, as apparently a few minutes makes all the difference when cooking lobster (Scott had a timer--cheater). It was the finest evening weatherwise that we had, it's too bad we were completely wiped out by the unexpected rigors of climbing up Sargent Mountain. We pretty much passed out in our little lawn chairs by the fire. We were even too tired to get up and watch the sunrise in the morning, which apparently was pretty spectacular.

We got a slow start, as the day quickly became cloudy and damp. We drove along the seashore of the "quiet" side of the island, which was quite nice. Despite planning on having a chill day, we eventually ended up at the start of another hike. This one was supposed to be less brutal, but again, they don't have gradual climbs in this part of Maine, it is all straight up. It started to sprinkle and eventually became a drizzle during our hike, but the walk was a great one. We ended up going three different summits, all averaging 1000 feet, which is a decent climb straight from sealevel. They didn't have the view of Sargent, but they were much more pleasant. Plus, the drizzle was made tolerable by being under trees; it wouldn't have been good to be out in the exposed landscape above the treeline, such as on Sargent Mountain. It was a very nice hike, around four miles, and was made all the better by the cool, moist air. We had a great fire that night, since I wasn't being stingy with the firewood. It lasted probably six hours, until the rains really came and doused the camp. Scott gave us two lobsters for the price of one, since we'd taught him the meaning of panus, which became the word of the day. I stayed up late, keeping the fire roaring, eating s'mores, and relaxing. Of course, last night really was wet and nasty starting around midnight. We slept well, but we woke up to find all of our stuff inside the tent wet. We didn't waste any time as a result packing up and heading out, and we were on the road before 7am. Again, it was a very long seven hours of driving. So, I should have pictures up soon of Maine. I'll be working on that shortly.

All in all, it was quite a successful trip to Maine. We got in well over 700 miles (we've allready put on 5000 miles on our new car since mid-May). We also go in eight new beer, all but one local (from Maine), and the last one was a Long Trail brew from Vermont. I haven't seen the pictures, but I am hoping they will do our trip justice, because it was really great.

I can't believe that we only have three weeks, or nine shifts left. We are quite nearly finished with this assignment. We hardly have a day left that won't be spent either working or hurrying off to see one last place in New England. However, I already feel like we are in the process of moving, and it's exciting.

Anyhow, until next time, be safe.

July 17, 2008

Four New England Galleries, Including Manhattan!

I finally got up the galleries from my travels last week. There are four of them, one from the coast of Rhode Island, one from New Haven, CT, and two from NYC (Manhattan and Chinatown). Click on the photos below to access the galleries, or go to the main New England gallery section.



New Haven

Rhode Island

I haven't gotten the slideshows up yet, there is something wrong with the Google program. I'll have those up soon, as well as Maine photos.

Until next time, be safe.

July 12, 2008

Making The Most Of My Time...

I'm back at work after a stretch off. Sadly, it's for five days out of six, but I almost need to be at work, as it's almost downtime compared to my days off. Now that I've figured out that my time is very short here in Connecticut, I'm scrambling to see and do everything that I'd planned on while in New England. This week wasn't an exception, since I had four days off.

I was determined to make a trip out of each of my four days off, as I mentioned in a earlier entry. That didn't really happen as I expected; for example, Monday I was planning on camping with Jess in the Catskills. After working all weekend, though, getting up at noon was a chore. The trip to the Catskills takes nearly three hours, which neither of us were too terribly excited about doing, especially as one in the afternoon approached. We ended up heading towards Hartford to go to a local state park to do a little hiking with Zuri. The park was decent, nothing to write home about, but the trip there was certainly memorable.

To get there, we passed through Hartford. Downtown Hartford is again decent, not an amazing city by any stretch, but interesting at least. Immediately out of the center, though, we ran into the ghetto. I'd always known there was a ghetto, not from any report necessarily, just from the haunted look, the shine of disbelief and deep-rooted fear that'd pass across the eyes of ex-locals. I just understood that Hartford probably wasn't the best city in the US. This ghetto took me by surprise, though. It made the ghetto in Durham, NC, seem quaint, like a all-American neighborhood with a few hookers and occasional shootings. It was pretty amazing, I'd have taken pictures to show, but I was too afraid of getting shot. Seriously. I think that I can say that I've been to Hartford now, and never have to go back.

Tuesday I was actually up early and out the door, ready to embark on my week of constant exploration. I headed out east toward Rhode Island, where I dropped down along the coastline as soon as I crossed the state border. The idea that I had was that all of the coast of RI is like the craggy, beautiful shores of Newport, just one big photogenic opportunity. This isn't necessarily true, as it turns out, not even remotely. Actually, the entire southern shoreline from Watch Hill in the west to Point Judith and Narragansett across the water from Newport is pretty much hidden from view from anyone on the roads. This is accomplished by thick vegetation and woods along the way, and where there aren't woods, there is development, big houses and private areas, which completely obscure the ocean from anyone wanting to take pictures. For example, in the touristy, exclusive Watch Hill, I had to hike a half mile along an inlet just to get around the private clubs and cabanas (as if they are in S. America) that block access to the beach and what turned out to be a very mediocre lighthouse. Not to complain, but it wasn't very exciting, and certainly not worth the hours of driving I put into it.

It wasn't until I reached Galilee that I started to enjoy it. There are little shops where they sell fresh seafood and live lobsters. I had a cup of clear Rhode Island style clam chowder and steamed mussels there. It is a great little place to enjoy a seaside vacation, it's too bad I was towards the end of my day and needing to head back at that point.

The next day was too muggy and too likely to be stormy to go on my planned trip to NYC. Instead, I walked around New Haven; after all, I've been here two months and never really walked around the downtown. Famous footsteps have preceded my travels in the center, including the old GW. I walked the whole center (at least the part that is safe enough to) twice, as it only takes a couple of hours to make a round. I ate at a fairly famous little restaurant, known for being the first place to sell hamburgers (they still cook them in the same old upright griddles, and I don't think they have ever washed their hands there since opening shop in the 1800s. Seriously.). The burgers were good, if a little raw in the middle. Ahh, but it was for the experience, I was eating the experience! Anyhow, it was a nice day.

I had the most fun yesterday, when I headed to NYC and walked all over lower Manhattan. I arrived by train around noon, then took the subway to Brooklyn Bridge. I walked across the bridge to say I'd done so, as well as to take lots of pictures. I then headed down and took the free Staten Island ferry out and back, again to say I'd done so. It was pretty interesting, the ferry passes right by the Statue of Liberty. I walked up to the World Trade Center site, which isn't much to see other than a hole in city, a missing part of the immensity of the buildings around it. I walked up through the Tribeca neighborhood into Chinatown, which was definitely my favorite part of the trip. The place is fantastic, bustling with big crowds, all sorts of things for sale, a place that very much seemed taken out of a foreign country, and certainly what I might expect in Asia. Just visiting made me simultaneously want to move into an apartment in Chinatown and take a long trip through Asia. I walked around marveling for hours, eventually eating Chinese (what else?), then catching the subway back to Grand Central Station and tiredly heading back to Connecticut.

So, I'd have to say it was a full four days, not a moment or spare ounce of energy wasted. I packed all of the cracks in time with visits from friends, dinner with other travelers, and time with Jess, who I saw little during those days as she worked all of them except Monday (she's free this weekend, while I'm on). As I said, it's nice to be at work, just to rest and relax a little. Even doing chest compressions tonight seemed like a little vacation...

So, I have four galleries that will soon be up: Rhode Island, New Haven, Manhattan, and Chinatown. Keep an eye out for them, they're coming.

Until next time, be safe.

July 05, 2008

Central Park In NYC Pictures

I'm having a bit of a slow night, so I managed to get the Central Park (NYC) pictures gallery up. There are 63 pictures in the gallery. Click here to check out the photos.

Central Park Photo Gallery

I also put up a slideshow of Central Park, using the Google format. I might put up the other type if I have some time later. Let me know what you all think of this gallery as well as the slideshows.

Next week will be a photographic bonanza. I've got my schedule now through the end of the contract, so I'm suddenly finding that there is not that much time left. So, Monday we are going camping in the Catskills. Tuesday I plan on spending the afternoon in Hartford. Wednesday I'm thinking of going along the coast of Rhode Island to take a day trip in Providence, RI. Finally, I'm planning on taking a day trip to NYC on Thursday. So, lots of photos coming up, for those who care.

Until later, be safe.

July 02, 2008

Where The Hell Is Matt?

Forgive the French, but that's the title of this video I found. It's really great, very inspirational. That is what I'd like to strive for.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding.

How amazing would that be? I want to find out..

July 01, 2008

A Boston Slideshow

I've made a big change to my Photography site. I'm trying out a couple of new slideshow concepts. I've added a few slideshow options to the Boston gallery, which makes viewing it much quicker. The only difference is that there isn't any background information or captions with these slideshows. However, it's easy to return to the normal view of the galleries.

Check out this version of the slideshow Boston slideshow, which has little pop-up windows and thumbnails. It doesn't go from one photo to the next, but it is easy to navigate. It does make viewing the pictures much, much quicker, even if they are a little smaller. I'm still working on it, and might change it up a little.

Also, I added a gallery through Google, over which I have little control, especially in its overall design, something I don't like. You can look at the Google Version here. Here is the full-sized Google version. Compare them and let me know which is better. Please, I'm very interested in what people think of them.

Until next time, be safe.

Pictures From Boston

After a lot of work, I have finally finished putting up two galleries from our weekend in Boston. It took a long time, but hey, I was busy at work last week, what can I say?

Anyhow, I took over 500 pictures over the weekend. I weaned this first gallery to about 85. It is the main Boston gallery, and I really like it.

Boston Pictures
Weekend In Boston

This is a very short gallery from the Red Sox game that we went to. It's only about 14 pictures.

Fenway Park
Red Sox Game At Fenway

Also, while Jess's mom was visiting us last weekend, we took a day-trip to New York, and I took a bunch of pictures of Central Park, so I'll be working on getting that up soon. Central Park was a fun photographic outing for sure; I hope the pictures will reflect that.

Until next time, be safe.

June 24, 2008


As if to prove my last statement, that this gig often seems like a long vacation, I'm enjoying the last day of a five day stretch off. I've been incredibly lazy the last two days, but the weekend was packed, as we headed out of town to go to Boston.

Jess and I both worked Thursday night, which for me was an unusually busy and stressful night. That's probably because I was looking forward to the trip the next morning. It was one of those nights where I just couldn't quite get caught up with the busy work, even though there was nothing that was particularly busy about it all. At any rate, after work, we went home for a couple hours of quick sleep and then we were off for Boston.

I should point out that Jess and I aren't great at planning these little trips too far in advance; that is to say, far enough in advance to be sufficient to be able to easily book hotels and buy tickets to events. No, we wait until literally a day or two before leaving, then start looking. That's why our trip to NYC was so short, because I couldn't find any place online to reserve for less than $200 a night, and my assumption that surely we could find a place once arriving in the city was quite thoroughly wrong. So, this trip, I started looking two days instead of one. That wasn't much time, though, not in the summer in Boston. All of the affordable hotels were booked up, as well as the B&Bs under $200 and within twenty miles of the city. I finally did find a hotel, a place called the Oasis Guest House. Reviews of the place were mixed, some almost exploding with good things to say about the place (I almost always discard these reviews, they are likely written by the owners), others describing the place as the cornhole of Boston. Apparently these folks have never stayed in a youth hostel in Amsterdam, that smells like dead animals wrapped in gym socks even minutes after they "clean" it.

I will have to say, Jess and I have a knack for finding the gay guesthouses. When we were in a little town in Belgium where no one spoke English, we were trying to ask some lady in a meat shop about the location of our chosen hostel in our guidebook. She was puzzled until she saw the name, then she was like, "Non, non, (unknown French words with lots of head shaking)." We left with impression the place had burned to the ground, but while walking around later looking for another hostel, low and behold, there it was, open and with vacancies. The receptionist was a slight, effeminate looking fellow, but that's not so unusual in Europe, and we were just happy to have found the place, and it was cheap! Later, when the male couples came in for evening, it all clicked, but it was still a good place to stay. After all, the receptionist spoke English, and it was cheap!

I was a little suspicious talking to the guy at the Oasis on the phone making the reservations, he sounded a little feminine. Still, it literally was the only place in Boston under $200 that wasn't a youth hostel or the YMCA (neither of which was appealing), and it was only $120 a night. So we booked it, and sure enough when we got there, we checked in with that fellow, then were shown to our room by his apparent partner. Our room was great, though, a little small and with a shared bathroom, but better than the reviews. Even though Jess was the only woman I saw in the place besides the housekeeper those two nights, we were not in Boston to hang out in our room. We spent a minimal amount of time there. At least they were very nice there, something refreshing in the northeast, which is not known for cordial behavior.

We were also just two blocks from Fenway Park, which was important. Jess really wanted to go to a Red Sox game, so I bought tickets online. Again, I waited until Wednesday evening to buy them, and they were delivered by Fed Ex on Friday about 11:45, a little tight. We drove into the outskirts of Boston, enough to taste its terrible traffic (the last 15 miles took an hour to drive), then took the commuter train into the center and picked up our subway line from there. We dropped our bags at the Oasis, then immediately set out for Fenway. We arrived on time, but it began raining, which delayed the game about an hour. The Sox were playing the Cardinals, from St. Louis, and it was an exciting game once it started. There was literally potential for a complete upset right down to the last out, which came as the Sox were down by one, with runners on first and third, and a big hitter up. He sadly clipped a flyball very slowly into center field, and that was that. Still, it was a good game.

Afterward, we went out for awhile, since we were still hungry. We found a little sushi restaurant/bar, and had martinis and sushi (well, I had a Korean stew that was like miso soup with pork dumplings in it). We weren't out late, as we were exhausted, but we sure were up early on Saturday. Jess can be like a drill sergent when on vacation; she was probably up by six, and only tolerated me sleeping until eight. I was hustled out the door and onto the subway, where we headed down to the harbor. We met a friend from the Big D, a nurse called Diana, who moved up here last October for a change. From that point on, we pretty much walked continuously all day, going back and forth through downtown, hitting the well-known locations like Beacon Hill (where John Kerry lives--I saw the square he lives in, it's very modest, since he's one of us--if your idea of modest is a parking spot that costs $150K). We saw a lot of the old buildings in Boston, there is a lot of history there. We walked through the square where the Boston Massacre took place. We walked through the graveyard where a number of famous Revolution-era Americans are buried. It was very interesting, I just wish I had refreshed myself a little on US history before going. We could have taken a tour, but we were walking too fast to take the time for that. That's why I take a lot of pictures, it slows us down enough to prevent another Bataan Death March.

That's not to say we didn't walk a lot. We went through Harvard, past MIT, all along the river. We walked up into Little Italy for dinner. After we dropped off an exhausted looking Diana at her subway stop, we walked (yes, still on foot) back to the district that our guest house was in, stopping back in the sushi place we'd visited before. Finally, we arrived in the Oasis at around 2:30--a nearly 18 hour day. We got up by nine the next morning, went to a Sunday Jazz Brunch, and made our way back to our car, and headed home. We were in time to pick up Zuri from the kennel by six, and home shortly afterward.

The thing about Boston is that it can reduce you from riches to rags in an amazingly short time if you're not conscious of your money. We weren't, apparently, because between the Red Sox tickets, the hotel, the kennel, the multiple delicious but expensive meals, the gas, and everything else, we put $750 on our credit card. We had planned on taking the Amtrak from New Haven into Boston, but that would have cost us $150 each, so it was actually much cheaper to just drive. (I'm becoming anti-Amtrak; isn't it supposed to be a cheap alternative to driving these days? We could have flown to Boston for less). Boston is an incredibly fun city, and I would like to travel there next summer, but if we end up doing so, it won't be a summer that we save any money, even if we really try. Part of the fun of traveling is the experience, and the experience in Boston costs a pretty penny.

By the way, I took over 500 pictures on Saturday alone. Turns out that when Jess is distracted by someone to talk to, I can take even more pictures than usual. I will be putting up a much reduced gallery of them as soon as I can.

About traveling, Jess and I have pretty much decided not to stay at the Y for another assignment, not that we haven't enjoyed being here, we just need a change of scenery. We will probably be heading up to New Hampshire for another big teaching hospital that I will refer to as DM. It is a big, primary hospital, and even though it is a little town surrounded by a whole lot of nothing, that will be a good change. There are countless outdoor activities surrounding it; even the Appalachian Trail goes right through its campus. Being up in that part of New England in the fall sounds very exciting. We mentioned it to another traveler, and when she applied, they offered her $40 an hour. We are waiting for our papers to go through, and then they will hopefully give us an interview. I guess when the account manager looked at my skills checklist, she pointed out that I didn't have any Neuro experience (which I don't), which could be a hold-up. I don't want to work on a neuro unit anyhow, but I could do it; after all, it doesn't take a genius to deal with the machinery, like the ICP monitor, and the patients are all crazy or vegetables. I just don't want it prevent me from getting an interview that I don't have the experience yet. I am glad that I got to deal with the Swan-Ganz monitor and taking an EKG here the Y; that surely will help.

Until next time, be safe.

June 15, 2008

Pictures From Mystic

Hard at work, of course. Hmm.

I got one more gallery of photos up, this one from our Mystic, CT, day-trip. Unfortunately, there was a big oil drop from a muffin on the inside of my polarizing lens, so a lot of the photos are fuzzy. These in the gallery have the fuzziness, but it wasn't as bad as some. Oh, well.

Click the photo to see this gallery.

I think we're heading to Boston next weekend, maybe have a night camping as well. It will be pretty exciting, at any rate.

Until next time, be safe.

June 14, 2008

Photos of New England

I've been very lazy about putting photos up, even though I've taken plenty of them. So, I finally got around to putting up some on my photo website.

To see the photo website in general, just go here, and click to the recent photos. There is a gallery just for New England photos. To directly view all the New England photos I've put up, just go here.

I even put up two galleries of Newport wave photos. They are identical, except on is black and white and one is color. It's easy to go back and forth on them. Click here to check them out.

Click To See The Gallery

Until next time, be safe.

June 12, 2008

Scheduling Issues

So, I'm at home tonight, and Jess is at work. This week is pretty much like that; the only day that we have off together was Monday. I worked last night, but am off for tonight and tomorrow night. She's working those days, but is off for the weekend, during which time I'll be putting in a four day stretch. I guess some weeks are just going to be like that, where we work completely opposite schedules. I know that the first two weeks in July are exactly that, opposite schedules.

That is actually a frequent issue for all married or dating nurses, even staff nurses. Occasionally, as staff nurses at that Big D, we ended up working terrible schedules like that. As a traveler, it is only worse, as you are there to fill in the gaps that the scheduling needs. Jess submitted a schedule and somehow ended up with most of the shifts she asked for. Encouraged, I submitted a schedule, which I think they used as a reference to give me almost the opposite of what I asked for. It's frustrating, but it goes with the territory. We have next weekend off together, three days in fact, and have a lot of options to choose from.

On the other hand, having a night to yourself allows opportunities to do things like go to movies your spouse definitely would not want to go to. I finally was able to see the new Indiana Jones movie. I had dragged Jess literally halfway there until she whined enough about having to see it that I turned around. So, I went to see it one of the nights that she was working. Not only was it a great movie, but feeling shafted by having paid $10.50 for a movie, I snuck into Don't Mess With The Zohan, another movie she wouldn't have enjoyed. Then I ended up going out with other nurses until 4:30 in the morning, which after having her brain drained by two movies she woudn't have enjoyed, she certainly would not have been appreciative of. Not me, though, I had a grand old time.

Last night was my first night in four days, and it set a new record for me. I admitted a patient from the ER who had come in with a temperature of 108.1 F. I'd never seen anyone with a temp that high, much less live through it. He was vented and unresponsive when he arrived, but remarkably awakened (i.e. became combative and annoying) a couple of hours later. I sedated him and quietly ignored the intern's interest in "waking him up," so I don't know how badly he fried his brain. I can't imagine he is going to walk away from this unharmed. Guess he shouldn't have taken heroin and cocaine all on the same trip.

While we haven't made up our minds yet about where to go in August, I did speak to my manager this morning as I got off of work, to see what their position would be for another assignment this fall. While I didn't get a straightforward affirmation that the position would be available, I was happy to hear that they definitely would want me to stay for the position if it happens to be available. I guess that means they won't be firing me.

I have had a very nice four days off. It's great being in a place so accessible to interesting places. People from Connecticut ask me why I came here, since it's so boring. I have found that in contrary it's really a diverse and interesting state, and haven't found myself bored yet. I didn't end up going on the photographer's expedition on Saturday to Mystic, but Jess and I went on Monday, and found that it is a great place. We stayed most of the day in the Seaport, which is an outdoor museum. You hardly notice that it's a museum, however, even for someone who becomes rapidly comatose within hours of stepping into a typical museum like myself. I was so busy taking pictures I hardly had time to even consider it a museum. It's a good place for a day trip.

I had been looking for good scenic areas nearby, and came across descriptions of a 30-mile highway heading north from I-395 to the Massachusetts state line, the Route 169. Apparently, it's described as the essence of New England; stone walls, old churches, quaint villages. Indeed, there were plenty of stone walls, and there were villages along the way. Most were very small, and fairly spread out, though. In addition, there were very few vantage spots, where you could look out over a valley or farmland for photography purposes. The highway itself is lined with tall forests, which I don't find all that scenic. Also, there are no gas stations along the way, and only because this road parallels I-395 as it heads north am I not parked out there still with an empty gas tank. It wasn't all that it was cracked up to be, and I ended up frantically heading down country lanes looking for that perfect vantage point, racing the setting sun. It didn't happen. Then it turns out there's a nearby village, Guilford, is just as quaint picturesque and old, and, even better, is only twenty minutes away, saving me the five hours of driving time. I'm sure there's plenty of villages that embody the spirit of New England that are nearby.

Anyhow, until next time, be safe.

June 02, 2008


I'm back on again after a weekend in Rhode Island.

That was quite a nice visit. Newport is truly a city of rich schmucks, and has been for a good part of its history. This is demonstrated by the proliferation of mansions, huge residences that reek of the greed of the people who apparently only need them a few weeks a year. It's not just the mansions build in the "guilded age," from 1850 to 1900. There are plenty of modern-day mansions dotting the landscape, obstructing the beautiful ocean views and limiting access to the limited beaches. Those things are just as large and much less beautiful than the ones built a century and more ago.

Still, there is a lot of interesting history within the walls of the old mansions. We toured two of the mansions, The Breakers and The Elms. I believe The Breakers is the better known of the two, but I think I enjoyed The Elms if only because they had a recorded tour that you could listen to at your leisure. If you have any interest in the old rich families of America, like the Vanderbuilts, then these are good places to see what their lives were like. Honestly, it doesn't look like it was much fun; even summer vacations were socializing marathons in a terribly competitive society. On the other hand, it's real hard to feel very sorry for these folks.

Newport itself is steeped in history. We unfortunately didn't know much about it, but as we plan on visiting at least Rhode Island again, to check out the rest of the storied shoreline, we'll read more into its history. Saturday was windy and foggy, so visiting the two mansions were good options. We also went to the seaward point's shoreline, a rocky landscape that had big, angry waves crashing one after another. I took a lot of pictures while Jess took a nap in the car. That night, I took Jess out for a very nice seafood meal. Sunday morning, we went back to the beach to see it in dazzling sunlight before heading back to Newport and work.

I came into the Y tonight to a bit of a surprise: they'd floated me up to the SICU for just four hours, until 2300. I didn't mind, though, I was interested to see what it was like. The setup of the unit was similar to the MICU, in particular the layout. I quickly noticed that many of the patients are much sicker. There were some crazy wounds, chest tubes, drains, things that I haven't seen down in the MICU yet. It was pretty interesting. Unfortunately, I only had the four hours, which flew by because I received report, gave all my meds, did an assessment of both my patients, bathed one of them, gave the 2300 meds, counted the output up, and gave report on them both. It was 2330 by the time I finished, just in time to rush down to the MICU and get report on my patients there. In the SICU, both the patients were intubated, heavily sedated, on insulin drips, the works. Really, I wouldn't have minded staying there the night. I'm guessing I'll get floated again.

Back on the MICU, I had an empty room and a patient on just oxygen. The big excitement in that room is putting on a percussion vest. I've kept busy helping other people out around me, others have had loads to do. It was a little sigh of relief coming back down, finding that I know where most of the stuff is and how most things are done here, in the MICU. That's something not to be taken for granted.

Until next time, be safe.

May 30, 2008

Differences In Practice

We are in Newport, Rhode Island, for the weekend. Jess worked last night, and after she slept a few hours, we boarded up and headed out. Newport is less than two hours away from New Haven, so it's a good drive. We are staying in a very nice little inn. It's not really a B&B, or even a legitimate inn; we think the building itself is a number of apartments, but when I called one of the B&Bs in town, they handed off the phone to another lady, who was looking for some boarders. Still, it's great, its $150 a night, and we can keep Zuri here. Even if we'd stayed at the cheap Motel 6, it would have been $105 a night, plus a $10-20 dog fee, and we would have had to pay $30 for doggy day care for Zuri. So this works.

At any rate, this is a nice town. It has a long history of really rich schmucks building ji-normous mansions for "summer retreats," so everywhere you look, there's some massive relic. The downtown area is nice, though, lots of interesting architecture, wood building dating back to the 1700s. We came in mid-afternoon, so we haven't seen it all, but it's promising.

New Haven is actually a great location to travel to in New England. We have close access to Rhode Island, New York City, Boston, and other areas, and even going up to Maine isn't that far. I hadn't ever imagined that I'd be living somewhere that was only a couple of hours from Newport or NYC. It hasn't really sunk in yet (although it's starting to).

We're both quite happy to be done with the week. For one thing, we finally got paid today, and how great that was. It was pretty awesome to see how well we're getting paid, not to mention the fact that we're not even paying rent or utilities here. Also, it's been a busy week. Jess has been taking care of the sickest kid on the unit, pronounced so by surgeons there, and was even doubled with that patient. She's been pretty worn out by those nights. I'm proud of her.

My last evening, when I wrote the previous entry, went sour about four hours after I'd finished with the entry. I was pretty bored all evening; I even wrote all my notes and had all my charting completely up to date. Good thing, because at four, after being turned, my non-intubated patient suddenly decompensated and quickly went into full-blown pulmonary edema, complete with pink froth and everything. This is where I experienced a sharp departure in the way things are done at the Y and how they were done in the Big D.

First and worst, I had to page the doctor. There are two teams of doctors on the unit, but don't ask me where they are most of the time, sitting in the cafeteria for all I know. So, I paged the doc (an intern--don't get me started on that), and he returned the call quickly enough. I explained that my repeatedly intubated CHF patient had O2 sats in the low 70s and that he should probably come and check it out. Apparently, I wasn't clear enough, or I didn't sound urgent enough. He ambled in fifteen minutes and two pages later, after my patient had gone from comfortable on a simple facemask to barely conscious on 100% O2 through a non-rebreather. Yet he made no decision, instead allowing the resident who actually followed him in to order Lasix, which did nothing. The resident decided then, without further interventions, that intubation was needed.

Granted, intubation was probably inevitable. Still, these doctors should have known that the man's kidneys were useless, and that what had worked for him previously was dobutamine. In hindsight, I wish I'd remembered that I'd discussed his recent dobutamine drip during my report with the day nurse and had brought it up at this point; on the other hand, it's not my job, it the doctor's job to know what has been working medically with patients like this.

At any rate, while nothing else went wrong at this point, it was completely different than what I'd always done up to that point. At the Big D, I'd be busy getting my sedation and code drugs together, as the respiratory therapists and unit doctors prepared to intubate. So, I'm asking the doctors (yes, the idiot intern and his resident friend) what they wanted for intubation, only to get a scornful look. These doctors don't intubate, as it turns out, nor do the RTs. All intubations are done by anesthesia, all of them (maybe not in a code?). So, another five to ten minutes pass, and finally the anesthesia team shows up. Wanting to make myself useful, I positioned myself at the head of the bed with my saline, ready to push drugs. No, not the thing to do, as that only brought me another scornful look.

So, in the end, I just stood aside while it all happened. Even the RT did very little. Granted, it turned out to be a very calm, almost serene intubation, but I always liked the adrenaline rush of a good intubation. The unit team, meanwhile, barely was even aware of the intubation, they sat outside the room on the computer, looking perhaps at CNN, something that was more interesting than patient care. When the paralytic the anesthesiologist used for intubation wore off and the patient's respiratory rate was 45 times a minute, I really had a hard time getting them to write orders for versed and propofol. In fact, I only got a verbal order out of them, and had to get the oncoming day doctors to actually write the order. Needless to say, I wasn't too impressed with this team, as in, what Caribbean island did you get your medical degree? WTH?

Anyhow, I left the room, the charting, everything, a monster mess. I tried to get it all together, but this happened right at a quarter after six, and I couldn't finish everything. I probably didn't make good friends with the oncoming day nurse. All in a day's work, I guess...

Anyhow, it's just nice to have it over, to be in a different place, even different state. Really, the nice thing about traveling is even when you find yourself in a big cluster, it's only a matter of time (thirteen weeks or less) until it's all over and you walk out of the place free and clear. Unless you get fired, then there's even less time.

Not that I want to get fired. No, I hope that doesn't happen.

Until next time, be safe.