In the company of women

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I was thinking I was having trouble getting motivated to write during the Yahoo holiday because I’m spoiled by almost instant approval and pay, plus some extra hours I picked up at the day job…but I’m realizing as I sit down tonight working on my interview with The Voice finalist Beverley McClellan, who I interviewed only a couple of days before my phone interview with Grammy nominee Linda Chorney, that talking to two such extraordinary women artists who have carved their own path for so long (aged 42 and 51 respectively) and gone through the adversity of sticking it out as artists without compromising themselves…has completely blown a fuse. Serious overload. In a good way, but…overload. But I’ve flipped the breaker switch and getting back on track now, albeit a bit slowly.

It’s also got me thinking a lot about the importance of the “Hail Mary,” as both sort of did their own versions of them, with last ditch efforts that paid off. I think there is definitely a story in there beyond an interview with one or the other, but about being women who have sacrificed any kind of conventional life to live as an artist, and not giving in to that pressure we all get – but especially women – to settle down and raise a family and give up our “silly dreams.” The key phrase in that sentence being “give up.”

Luckily, for those of us of a certain age, my independent poll conducted that week of exactly three women over 40 shows that 3 out of 3 of those women really don’t give a shit what other people think. The one good thing about getting old.

And speaking of extraordinary women artists of a certain age:

Bucket list destinations: Puerto Rico

Bucket list destinations: Puerto Rico

Winter is upon us, and baby, it’s cold outside. Do you find yourself dreaming of soaking in the sun on tropical beaches, dining on spicy exotic food and cocktails, exploring rain forests, or galloping on horseback with the wind flowing through your hair? You can have all this and more in one fabulous island paradise. And better yet, forget about any hassles with currency exchange and you can leave your passport at home.

I’m not talking Hawaii, but Puerto Rico.

This “All Star Island” has it all: indulge in luxury resorts, Caribbean cuisine and 270 miles of coastline beaches, including Flamenco Beach in Culebra, which has been hailed as one of the best beaches in the world and ranked within the top 10 by Travel Channel. If you’re more about adventure and taking in the great outdoors, this is your paradise. Hike through the beautiful rain forest with waterfalls and crystal clear pools of water. Or try some mountain biking or horseback riding. Maybe one of the best adventures of all is the longest zip line in the world, soaring over a breathtaking view of the rain forest of El Yunque, the only rainforest in the US National Parks service system.

Personally, I recommend you do it all. Life is short, baby: Live your own 5-star vacation story in Puerto Rico.

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Still not convinced? Maybe you’re one of those experienced travelers who seek out something really different from your other experiences. Well, check this out: Puerto Rico boasts the Bioluminescent Bays.  Microorganisms in the water create a blue-green glow, so you can take a midnight swim in mother nature’s marine lighting. Or paddle in the moonlight.

If you’re a foodie, you must check out the local cuisine and have an icy cold mojito… or any rum drink, as 70% of rum in the US comes from here. Puerto Rican cuisine blends Spanish, African, and Taíno cuisines, with a dash of American influences for a tasty melting pot of cultural food. Try some carne guisada puertorriqueña, which is a Puerto Rican beef stew, or lechón asado, which is barbecued pig basted in a sour orange juice sauce and served with roasted green plaintains. Or if you’ve watched one too many episodes of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern, try some sesos empanados: breaded calf brains.

I think I’ll stick with the pig roast, myself.

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Are you packing your bags yet? What would you do if you took a vacation to Puerto Rico? Comment below if you dream of hopping on a plane to Puerto Rico, or if you’ve been there, share your experiences with us!

And don’t forget to check out SeePuertoRico.com for more information, plus Follow @PRTourismCo on Twitter, and Like SeePuertoRico.com on Facebook.

Pack your bags: Audio books and Kindle Fire

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As a bibliophile living on the road, I love my Kindle Fire for keeping a virtual library of books and magazines at my fingertips, not to mention music and movies. But it has it’s limitations for the heavy traveler. Sometimes I want to get my book fix on a long cross country drive, which is where audio books come in.

They’ve created and opportunity to catch up on all those great books I want to read while I’m in the car. N0t that you need to travel to use them — they also work great for you multi-taskers out there who like to play on your computers all day. Like, say, photographers who spend endless hours slaving in Photoshop and Lightroom who can reap great benefits, as well.

And even if you don’t travel, next time you move and have to haul all those books, think about how nice it would be to carry them in a little tablet. Sure, I love the feel and smell of old books, too. But sometimes you just have to embrace the new technology and go with it.

If I can learn to love audio and ebooks, so can you.

If you want to try audio books, check out Audiobooks.com for a great signup deal: Right now if you signup and download the app for your iPad, iPhone or Android, you get a free book and a free 7-day trial to see how you like it. Would you rather be texting, or listening to a great novel?

(That should be a rhetorical question.)

Here’s a sample of what to expect, including new releases and many genres to choose from.

The great outdoors: Moab, Utah

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“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey called Arches National Park the “most beautiful place on earth” in the opening to his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” drawn on his time as a ranger there. Few who have visited Arches or its the nearby parks around Moab, Utah, would argue that point. Trails and traditional campsites allow visitors to enjoy this majestic setting, but to fully embrace its rugged beauty, the adventurous leave the beaten path for primitive camping.

Arches National Park

Plan on walking at least a mile to set up primitive camping in Arches National Park; all visitors must make camp at least one mile from any road, designated trail and any named arches on the USGS maps. Keep campsites out of sight of those areas, as well. In addition, further restrictions prohibit camps within 300 feet from of any archaeological sites or non-flowing nonflowing water, and 100 feet from flowing water. The main park road cuts right through the middle of the park, so meeting the requirements provides a bit of a challenge. Permits are required for all primitive camping and may be purchased at the visitor center, To protect the fragile environment in the park, all campers must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to leave the area as they found it. The maximum group size is 10, but smaller groups are strongly encouraged to reduce environmental impact.

Canyonlands Camping

In the nearby Canyonlands National Park,  campers need permits for all overnight backcountry trips. You may reserve them in advance, unlike Arches National Park. But like Arches, all primitive campsites must stay outside a one-mile radius of roads, and at least 300 feet from water sources or archaeological and historical sites, with river corridor camping as the only exception to the rule regarding water sources. No wood fires are permitted at primitive campsites except along rivers, and pets are not allowed. Permits expire after seven consecutive days on at any one site.

BLM Lands

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many primitive campgrounds without water or facilities in the Moab area and charges no fees. Most cannot be reserved in advance. Check the BLM website to find maps and more information about the individual campgrounds. Guests may not stay more than 14 days in any 30-day period. Note that you may share these sites with RVers, who love the free “boondocking” on BLM lands.

Food and Water

You’ll find no drinking water in the backcountry around Moab, save the occasional flow from outside the parks where livestock graze, which needs boiling and purifying to be potable. Even if you do follow those precautions and drink that purified water, don’t expect it to taste good. One way or another, plan for at least one gallon of water daily per person, which person — a gallon weighs eight pounds. If you plan to cook, bring in a camp stove as stove, because few of these areas allow fires. Use extra caution when lighting stoves during high winds and keep any flames away from dry grass, as fires grass. Fires in this arid region can catch and spread quickly.

Leaving No Trace

The old saying goes “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” To practice “leave no trace” camping principles, either bring a portable toilet system or dig a “cat hole” four to six inches deep and at least 300 feet from any water source. Toilet paper and any feminine hygiene products must be packed out, as well. Swimming or washing up directly in pools violates these principles, but you may collect water in a clean container and use it for washing at least 300 feet away, using bio-degradable soap only. An ecological consideration particular to this desert climate involves taking care not to disturb living soil crusts with misplaced footsteps. The crusts, which look black and bumpy or red and smooth, consist of living cyanobacteria, lichen, fungi, algae, algae and moss. Try to stay in dry washes or on rock as you hike to and from your site to avoid destroying this soil-enriching life form, as well as setting up form. Set up your camp itself on a rock foundation.

Safety

These remote camping areas around Moab give campers dramatic views of towering rock formations and sweeping sunset views, vistas, but can be hazardous to the inexperienced and experienced alike. Know basic topographic map reading map-reading skills and come prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during your visit. The most common safety issues relate to dehydration and careless hiking or climbing, especially on slickrock and sandstone. The former is easier to climb than descend, and the latter can crumble or and tends to get slippery when wet.

Exercise caution by shaking out and checking clothing, bedding and shoes for unwanted visitors, such as scorpions, black widows or rattlesnakes; never reach into dark places blindly to avoid bites and stings. Thunderstorms pose a serious threat to backcountry campers and hikers. Do not take refuge under rock overhangs or in caves, but proceed directly to your vehicle. If your hair literally stands on end, quickly  remove any metal objects such as pack frames, squat near the ground, and cover your ears. Sudden thunderstorms can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes, so avoid setting up camp there.

Travel Nursing Tips

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Looking for adventure by working as a travel nurse? Whether you specialize in telemetry, med-surg, critical care, emergency, home health, hospice, or nursing administration, there are an abundance of nursing jobs and healthcare opportunities out there (physical and occupational therapists travel, as well.) Travel nursing is a great to make a lot of money fast, but living on the road can be hard and lonely.

And very unhealthy… trust me I know. I think my next stop is “The Biggest Loser” after years of living on the road the wrong way.  But I’ve been able to visit some great and not-so-great places, including New Orleans, upstate New York, and the Navajo reservation. I even have a practice certificate for New Zealand collecting dust, but someday…

Here are a few tips this old travel nurse has picked up along the way to make your travels a little more pleasant.

Picking the Right Travel Nurse Company
There was a time when you could pretty much assume any company had its act together, and given the stiff competition, would take care of business. Not so much anymore. New travel nurse and temporary job companies are cropping up overnight, and their lack of experience can have a serious impact on you. If a company doesn’t follow through on travel arrangements, hotel and yes, even getting you paid, you may find yourself stranded far from home, so choose wisely. I recommend sticking with long established companies unless you have the bank account to bail yourself out if necessary, which many times, travel nurses can be financially light if getting the next assignment takes longer than anticipated – this can be a game of feast and famine.

Interview the Interviewers
Just as you will be interviewed for a position, you better interview them, because once you get there, if you are treated poorly and want to leave, your travel nurse contract can have severe penalties for leaving, and you jeopardize your ability to find future work. And sorry to say, but don’t think they don’t know this.

Read That Contract
And yes, including – and especially – the fine print. What are the penalties if you get there and find the conditions unbearable? What if you have a personal or medical emergency that forces you to leave early? Make sure you know what you are getting into. And the biggie: what are the minimum hours required each week, and what happens if the company doesn’t give you the minimum? Do they still have to pay the minimum hours per week? I once went on a  travel assignment for home health and they were giving me 7 visits a week with no guarantee to make up for being underbooked. Harsh lesson learned.

Licensing
If your legal residence is on a “compact” state and you are licensed there, you are set for working on all the states in the compact. If not, you’ll have to get licensed in the state you want to work in, and the length of time varies from state to state. Some issue temporary permits, some don’t. Check the website yourself: while your agency is fairly knowledgeable about state licensing, don’t take their word for it.

Getting There – to Fly or Drive?
Flying will limit how much you can take, but if your agency will provide a rental car, far more convenient (and better on your personal car) than driving. I have been criticized for this by some, but when I have flown, I have been known to pick up things like a DVD player and small appliances at a large national chain store, then return before leaving. The reality is there is only so much you can travel with and you need to try to make your temporary home as “homey” as possible.

If you have pets, you will most likely have to drive, but if you choose to fly, you can be pretty sure the cost of your pet’s flight will be on you.

What to Take
The more work clothes you take the less you will have to do laundry, which may be inconvenient depending on your hotel’s laundry availability. Fabrics that resist wrinkles and separates you can mix and match will maximize your options if your doing an administrative type job. Otherwise, scrubs are the default. Try to limit going out clothes to a couple of outfits – you will likely do some shopping there and many travel jobs work long hours which limit socializing anyway. Keep toiletries basic and small — you can re-buy once you are there. If you love to read I can’t recommend a Kindle enough rather than lugging books around like I have done for years. Likewise, and mp3 player instead of CDs and a laptop should cover your basic electronic and entertainment needs.

Accommodations
It’s always more comfortable to get an apartment, but more and more agencies are going with hotels. Sometimes long stay, but depending on the area you are working in, sometimes only short stay type hotels are available. At the very least, you want to try to get a mini-fridge and microwave, but that is far from ideal.

Traveling with Pets and Family
Agencies will accommodate your pets, but be prepare for limited housing options – the nicer long stay hotels often take no pets, and even if they do, not always dogs. Also be prepared to pay a hefty pet deposit, which you will pay yourself. Pets are great company, but do make traveling that much more challenging. They will also make it difficult to get room service while you are at work unless you can cage them all day for housekeeping staff. And small rooms limit their exercise.

Your Hotel “Kitchen”
If you don’t get a room with a kitchenette, a few appliances can make it a little more bearable:

* Toaster Oven – indispensable in a conventional hotel room.
* Electric Skillet – much better than a hot plate for frying foods
* Electric Kettle Pot – safer option than a hotplate. Many of them also serve as a steamer.
* 1-2 place settings of plates, bowls, silverware, glasses
* Plastic drawers for food, dishes and appliance storage.

Healthy Habits for Travel Nurses
A hotel gym can make fitness much easier, especially in very hot or cold climates. If you opt for fresh air exercise such as jogging or walking, be sure to check with locals as to safe areas for these activities. Hand weights and in room videos can be used IF you have enough space, but it’s usually in short supply in these rooms. Some local gyms may offer short term memberships – if they say no at first, make sure they know you aren’t staying and will not sign any long term contracts under any circumstances. If they see it’s agree to a short term membership or lose a sale, many will accommodate your special situation.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an option regardless of your kitchen set up. So no excuses!