Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Road Trip 2015: San Diego Comic-Con!

It's been an amazing month!

This past weekend, I returned from a road trip to Comic-Con and the Southwest United States. While I'm sad that it's over and exhausted from all the driving, I'm thankful to have been able to take this vacation and am already planning my next one! Over the next few weeks, I'll be recapping my trip, starting with San Diego Comic-Con!

Comic-Con Logo

 
Comic-Con: Preview Night

After months of anticipation and excitement, it was now time for one of my favorite weekends of the year: Comic-Con 2015!!! As veteran attendees are well aware, attending Comic-Con takes luck, good budgeting, lots of planning, and serious dedication. In fact, I started planning for this year's trip nearly a year ago, when I booked my hotel room (and 2 backups in case straggler friends joined me). Half a year later, I survived preregistration and ended up with a coveted 4-day pass with preview night. I consider myself extremely lucky and hope that this luck continues in future years.

My trip to Comic-Con started on the morning of Preview Night when I loaded up my rental car and left my house at 5am for the 8 hour drive to San Diego. Overall, it was a fairly smooth ride minus the traffic, construction, and aggressive drivers in Los Angeles. I've heard horror stories about driving in LA but didn't believe them until I was cut off and nearly struck by a Mercedes with a license plate that read "ACT FAST". Not okay!

Despite some Southern California traffic, I managed to make it to San Diego by 1:30pm. After refilling the rental car with gas, checking into my hotel, and returning the rental car, I boarded the shuttle bus for San Diego's Gaslamp District.

Gaslamp Quarter Archway
Gaslamp Quarter Archway
This year was my first year staying outside of the Gaslamp District. While I missed the proximity to the convention center and the action, the frequent shuttle bus pickups seemed to mitigate that. It also helped that I was paying less for my private hotel room than any Gaslamp hostel shared with 3-5 strangers.

My first order of business was going to the volunteer station at the Marriott Hotel to pick up a volunteer badge and my swag bag for the weekend. This year was my 2nd year volunteering for Comic-Con, which allows me to see the inner workings of the convention. Another perk of volunteering is that you get a free pass for each day you volunteer at least three hours, something I will take advantage of in the event of a sell-out during future Comic-Con badge sales.

Batman vs. Superman Comic-Con Swag Bag
My Swag Bag! Note: Check for any damage before you leave the room. I broke the middle snap after leaving and they would not exchange my bag for another!
Next, I made my way over to Sails Pavilion inside the main convention center to pick up my paid badge, then wandered around 5th Avenue collecting free stuff. I lucked our early as I ended up with some fun swag from Sharknado 3. Later, I joined the sea of people waiting for Preview Night to start. Surprisingly, they opened the doors 30 minutes early!

Shardnado 3 Handsaw
Sharknado 3 swag to add to my foam chainsaw from last year's Sharknado 2!
Typically, I spend Preview Night collecting as much swag as possible since popular booths tend to run out early. My first stop was the FOX booth, which was handing out poster tubes (which were round this year as opposed to the awful triangular ones which scratched everyone last year). Next was the Lionsgate booth, which was handing out posters and pins from the upcoming Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 movie. After that, I made a beeline to the WB booth which was handing out movie tickets, magazines, and shirts/sweatshirts. I ended up with a sweatshirt from the show Supernatural.

After the mad rush for swag, I spent the rest of the evening wandering the exhibit hall. Due to its massive size, it's impossible to see everything in one day!  After having tacos for dinner from Valentines, I hopped the shuttle and turned in for the evening!


Comic-Con: Day One

After scarfing down a free hotel breakfast of waffles, eggs, and sausage it was time to hop on board the shuttle for Comic-Con Day Two! Today, my plan was to focus on the off-site activities.

My first stop was the Petco Fun Zone, which had a number of interactive exhibits including a virtual reality film screening, Snoopy Dog House, and drop tower ride. I didn't stay too long, but managed to get free sunglasses and some samples of pizza bites before I left.

My next stop was Adult Swim on the Green, which was basically a midway with a bunch of carnival games like ring toss, skeeball, and plinko. As much as I love carnival games, I hate having to pay to play, so I was definitely a fan of free games with prizes. In fact, I ended up getting a grand prize in the plinko game which I traded in for an Adult Swim water bottle. As much as I wanted a giant stuffed animal, I knew I was driving to Louisiana after this and didn't want to take up all the car space this early into my trip!

Adult Swim UFO
Adult Swim UFO display
Afterwards, I walked along the waterfront, passing thousands of people who were camped out to watch the next day's Hall H panels, headlined by The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars. After swinging by a waterfront exhibit of drones you can now purchase, I walked past another group of  hundreds of people in line for a Lego raffle. 

Eventually, I made it to the Marriott Hotel and checked out the Nintendo Lounge, which had video game demos and places where people could rest and play on their handheld devices.

Upon leaving the Nintendo Lounge, I wandered around the Gaslamp for a while then ducked into La Fiesta on 5th Avenue, which had decent happy hour specials for margaritas and carne asada fries. I was treated to one of the best strawberry margaritas I've ever tasted.

Carne Asada Fries
$6 Carne Asada Fries
Next, I made my way to Nerd HQ, which is a small, free convention that runs in conjunction with Comic-Con. After playing some games and checking out the video game demos, it was back to wandering the streets of San Diego and an ice cream snack!

Scream Queens Ice Cream
Free Ice Cream!
While wandering the Gaslamp, I ran into promoters for the show "Vikings", who were giving away plastic drinking horns that get you discounts at different restaurants. After finding a restaurant that offered more than just Budweiser or Coors, I had a dinner of 50 cent chicken wings and a half-priced pint of beer at Eat Village Tavern + Bowl prior to hopping the shuttle to the hotel.


Comic-Con: Day Two

Knowing that I virtually had no chance of making it into Hall H without camping out overnight, I slept in and spent the morning exploring the exhibit hall and a "Fear the Walking Dead" exhibit at the nearby Hilton Hotel. Not wanting to miss the Marvel TV panels, I made my way to Ballroom 20 an hour and a half early and caught the latter end of "The 100" panel and "The Minority Report" panel (which treated us to a showing of the first 20 minutes of the pilot episode).

B20 Panel
Ballroom 20
Next were the panels for "Agent Carter" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."! While we didn't get any free swag or exclusive previews (since they haven't started filming this season yet), it was great to see the cast interact with each other and tease possible spoilers!

After a disappointingly small happy hour/dinner at a downtown tapas restaurant, I went over to the hospitality suite in the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Here, I was treated to free chips, garlic dip, vegetables, candy, and soda!

Snacks from Comic-Con Hospitality Suite
Free snacks from the hospitality suite!
Later, I walked over to the Midway Museum for a free party hosted by CraveOnline. I'm not a big fan of partying, dancing, and paying full price for drinks, so I pretty much just checked out the museum and left. It's not every day you're allowed aboard a carrier vessel!

View of San Diego from USS Midway
View from the USS Midway

Comic-Con: Day Three

Today was the day I designated as my volunteer day so I could be guaranteed a spot on next year's volunteer list. After checking in for my shift, I was sent to a room filled with volunteers to await assignment. Later, I was sent to another part of the convention center as "standby" in case my services were needed. In the end, I wasn't needed and completed my volunteer shift without having to do much. Not too shabby for a free day at Comic-Con!

After wandering the exhibit hall and grabbing more swag, I went to Lou and Mickey's to grab a free drink for downloading the Webtoons app. Afterwards was happy hour dinner at the Coyote Ugly. Next was the LA Digital Party at the Altitude Sky Lounge.

View of Petco Park
View from Altitude Sky Lounge!
Thanks to some luck and persistence, I managed to get into a William Shatner event at a Gaslamp art gallery! While I wasn't able to talk to him or get autographs, it was worth it being in the same room as him. For those of you who don't already know, I'm an avid Star Trek fan and actually cosplayed in a TOS uniform!

Star Trek TOS Uniforms
I wore a blue version of the red uniform. I work in the medical field after all!
Saturday night of Comic-Con is when the Masquerade takes place, showcasing the best cosplays made by people all over the world. While many people crammed into Ballroom 20 to watch the event, I opted for the live stream from Sails Pavilion. Influencing my decision was that the Sails Pavilion showing had free food, including fancy cupcakes!

Chips, Cupcakes, Cheese
Masquerade Party Food!

Comic-Con: Day Four

Day four is typically my least favorite day of Comic-Con. By then, most of the main events are over and everyone is packing up to leave. I pretty much spent the day wandering the exhibit hall and grabbing last minute freebies from vendors clearing stock.

Unlike previous years, I left the exhibit hall an hour early. This was to stake out a window spot at Dublin Square Irish Pub for happy hour and watch the massive exodus of people once Comic-Con ended.

View from Dublin Square Irish Pub
Awaiting the end of Comic-Con
As down as I get when Comic-Con ends, this year's sadness was tempered by the fact that I was headed to New Orleans next! Additionally, the end of Comic-Con 2015 means that it's time to plan Comic-Con 2016! As of now, I've managed to book lodging for next year and am actively looking for better deals. The planning and anticipation are half the fun!

View from San Diego Convention Center

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Same Sex Marriage Legalized in the United States

Rainbow Piggie Bank
Welcome to the 21st century, America.

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 vote that the Constitution guarantees a right to same sex marriage. In the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were." While I'm somewhat disturbed that the ability to determine a group's rights hinged on a single vote, I'm pleased with the final result.

It's been a long road to finally get same sex couples the rights they deserve. In 2008, I took to the streets to protest when California voters legalized discrimination by passing Proposition 8. Four years later, a U.S. appeals court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional ultimately leading to the issue being sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision. Hard to believe that it's been 7 years, but in this country change is slow.

While we've finally eradicated this dark mark of legalized discrimination against same sex couples, the battle is not over yet. Since Friday's ruling, I've observed numerous individuals (mostly religious) around me and on social media express disagreement with the ruling, along with derogatory and stereotypical statements about LGBTs in general. Additionally, certain states and counties have already made efforts to deny marriage licenses to same sex couples (though I'm sure their efforts will be futile).

As a social worker, I have to be understanding of others' cultural and religious beliefs. However, I struggle when those belief systems involve supporting legislation that segregates and treats certain populations as sub-human. My hope is that with further education, these people will open their eyes and realize that we are all humans and hence should be treated with dignity and granted the same rights.

Congratulations, America! You did well this time!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Burnout Prevention: Epic Road Trip 2015!

Road Trip 2015
July is fast approaching, meaning it's time for my third annual trip to San Diego for Comic-Con! Thanks to convention scheduling, Comic-Con is extra early this year (July 8-July 12). I'm not ready!

To add to the July excitement, my friends at TSG.tv are hosting a Mario Marathon from July 17-24 to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Initially, my intention was to Amtrak down to Texas after Comic-Con. However, after finding out that a number of my friends are road-tripping south, I decided to take advantage of the time between Comic-Con and Mario Marathon and take a road trip of my own!

Here's my itinerary thus far:
  • San Diego (for Comic-Con)
  • El Paso, Texas
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Dallas, Texas (Mario Marathon)
  • Santa Fe/Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Santa Barbara, California
In the next few weeks, I'll try to post about my planning process from packing, arranging transportation, to booking the cheapest lodging possible (including some free hotels). This is probably one of my most ambitious trips yet, and it's certainly been a learning experience. It's also been an exhausting one as I've spent most of my free time and many late nights working on my itinerary and packing. Travel planning is a lot of work, but I'm hoping that it all pays off next month!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Social Workers are Ridiculously Underpaid

social workers are underpaid
I try not to gripe about my salary too much. As a medical social worker in California, I know my salary is above average compared to the rest of the country, allowing me to do things that many other social workers cannot do. While I make nowhere near what people with engineering, medical/nursing, and business degrees make, with the exception of housing woes I am actually doing alright.

However, I find it hard to stay quiet when it comes to unfair pay disparities within my profession. Social workers are mandated by their Code of Ethics to combat social injustice. One platitude frequently touted by the profession is "Equal Pay for Equal Work". While this statement is typically used to advocate for gender pay equality, I feel that it can also be applied to pushing for fair wages for social workers, especially those in the hospital setting.

As many medical social workers know, our jobs overlap heavily with nurse case managers. In fact, I perform many of the same discharge planning duties as RN case managers. With the exception of a few variations (i.e. RN case managers having to perform insurance review tasks and social workers handling most crisis situations), RN case managers and social workers are so similar that they are often grouped into the same department. Unfortunately, their pay is vastly different.

According to payscale.com, the average RN case manager salary is $66,000. The average medical social worker salary is $49,992. Or course, this varies on location. In the Bay Area, medical social worker salaries are higher and nursing salaries are much, much higher.

Recently, a coworker disclosed that a nurse case manager friend at another hospital recently received a five-figure bonus for good work. On top of that, she quoted a six-figure base salary that is more than double my hourly salary

Later I was looking at a complex case manager job postings which require either an RN or MSW degree. In a discussion with another coworker who works at other hospitals, I found out that MSWs still get paid significantly less than RN case managers despite performing identical duties and having the title "case manager".

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel somewhat demoralized, especially compounded with my family support. I realize that nursing school is difficult, but so is getting a masters degree in social work. What continues to baffle me why a masters in social work deserves half the salary of an RN case manager with an associates or bachelors degree, especially when our job functions overlap so much.

I definitely understand why nurses earn what they do, and their salaries are fair given the cost of living around here (but ridiculously low everywhere outside of California). As I was writing this, I went back and reread my past post on nursing salaries to remind myself of the rationale behind why nurses are paid so much more. To be honest, until social workers unionize or our leadership stands up for us, then I'm not sure what can be done to fix our wages. On an individual level, if I demand an RN case manager salary for the work I do, I'm sure I'd get replaced by a social worker willing to work for much less.

So how do I cope with this on a daily basis? In the words of Peggy Carter, "I know my value". Going into social work, I knew that I would be overworked and underpaid. Even though others are getting paid much more for doing the same work, I find satisfaction in the work I do and the people I help on a daily basis. Making less does not make social work a lesser profession, nor does it make me a lesser person. I am much more than my paycheck.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Golden State Warriors NBA Championship Parade

I will preface this post by saying that I'm a spoiled sports fan who roots for all Bay Area professional sports teams. Growing up, I was lucky enough to see Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and the San Francisco 49ers win multiple Super Bowls. I'll never forget the Battle of the Bay World Series of 1989, which I was preparing to watch on TV when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. In college, I got to see Cal go to numerous bowl games and beat Stanford in the Big Game every single year I was a student. Between 2010 and 2014, I witnessed the magic of three successful World Series runs by the San Francisco Giants. Now, after 40 long years, it's time for the Golden State Warriors to have their moment! Yes, my friends who live in other states hate me, but I tell them I pay for it with Bay Area housing prices!

While the Golden State Warriors play in Oakland (and moving to San Francisco in 3 years), what sets them apart is that they are the entire Bay Area's basketball team. Unlike previous championship series with the Giants (as I work with diehard A's fans) and 49ers, everyone around me was unanimous in their support of the one local basketball team. In fact, when the Warrior finally clinched the championship last Tuesday, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose all erupted into celebration (with no riots or property damage in the Oakland area - take that, national media)!

In all honesty, I wasn't planning on attending the championship parade. While I've been following the Warriors since the days of Run TMC, Spree for Three, Chris Weber, Chris Gatling (who I ran into at the grocery store as a kid), etc., I'll readily admit that once high school started I didn't pay much attention to professional sports until I finished my masters program and fell in love with baseball again. Also, I didn't want to put my coworkers through the same scheduling "musical chairs" I pulled to get time off for the 2014 Giants World Series Parade. Fortunately, I had a scheduled day off, along with the rest of my family. Parade day for everyone!

While this parade incorporated components from other World Championship parades (i.e. double decker buses for better viewing, political dignitaries, cable cars, confetti galore, etc.), there were elements that I could only describe as "Oakland". Here are some pictures from a fun day!

Warriors Parade Banner
Blue and Gold banners lining the parade route
Libby Schaaf and MC Hammer
Oakland's mayor and MC Hammer riding a fire shooting snail!
The Janky Barge
Politicians riding "The Janky Barge"
Players' bus
Double decker buses so everyone can see them! Draymond Green did get off his bus and interact with the crowd, including high fiving my dad!
City of Oakland Float Warriors Parade
Oakland had some pretty unique and quirky floats during this parade. Here's another one!
SF Cable Car
Obligatory SF cable cars on wheels
Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala's MVP Bus
MVP Bus!
Stephen Curry and Larry O'Brien Trophy
Steph and trophy!
AC Transit Bus Warriors Parade
Can't forget about public transport!
BART float Warriors Parade
BART train!
Duck Congee and Chinese Donut
Lunch in Oakland's Chinatown! I'm sure this parade was great for local businesses!
Given Oakland's reputation in the national eye these days, there was probably nothing better for the city, their economy, and its people than a spirited celebration on a beautiful day! Bravo, Oakland! I couldn't be prouder of my birth city!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Product Review: trèStiQue Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon *UPDATE*

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up to my review of trèStiQue's Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon! Today, I received my replacement shiny lip balm in the mail. Included was a lovely handwritten note from Jenn, one of trèStiQue's co-founders!

trèStiQue handwritten note and shiny lip balm
Handwritten note from Jenn!
I cannot say enough about the quality of trèStiQue's lip products and their excellent customer service! They are just wonderful! Thank you again, and I look forward to trying out more products soon!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Costs of Moving Out (2015 Edition)

As many of you are aware, I've been trying to move out of my parents' house for several years. Back in 2011, I ran into barriers with the rental markets and couldn't justify the costs. In more recent years, I've lost numerous bidding wars in my failed attempt to buy a house/condominium in the Bay Area thanks to bubbling prices. Now, I've decided to try out the rental markets again and had set a goal to move out by this August. Unfortunately, I'm now having serious second thoughts over whether I can afford to live on my own without sacrificing my retirement and living paycheck to paycheck. Here's a rundown of expenditures should I choose to move:

Rent: $1100 for a studio (one of the cheapest in the Silicon Valley)
Utilities: $0 (included with the studio)
Internet: $50 (no cheaper options)
Food: $100
Cell Phone: $30 (T-Mobile prepaid plan)
Health insurance: $250
Car insurance: $100
Gas/Car Maintenance: $300
Hygiene, cleaning supplies: $20
401K Contribution: $1500
Roth IRA Contribution: $458.33
Monthly Grand Total: $3908.33 
Annual Total: $46899.33
State and Federal Taxes: $15588 (if making $60000) to $21881 (if making $75000)

According to this calculation, I basically have to make roughly $65000 a year pre-tax to cover shelter, food, basic necessities, taxes, and retirement without going into debt. This does not account for an emergency fund or entertainment. Really not a lot of wiggle room here.

Possible solutions:
-Contribute less to my retirement funds
-Get some roommates
-Move in my boyfriend (and risk getting disowned)
-Continue living at home
-Eliminate all travel, shopping, and entertainment
-Get a higher paying job, or work multiple jobs
-Move out of the Bay Area

I definitely have a lot to think about over the next few months.
--------------------------------------
*UPDATE* It looks like I forgot to add my HSA contribution to my initial computation. Here's the updated budget breakdown:

Rent: $1100 for a studio (one of the cheapest in the Silicon Valley)
Utilities: $0 (included with the studio)
Internet: $50 (no cheaper options)
Food: $100
Cell Phone: $30 (T-Mobile prepaid plan)
Health insurance: $250
Car insurance: $100
Gas/Car Maintenance: $300
Hygiene, cleaning supplies: $20
401K Contribution: $1500
Roth IRA Contribution: $458.33
HSA Contribution: $279.17
Monthly Grand Total: $4187.50 
Annual Total:  $50250
State and Federal Taxes: $15588 (if making $60000) to $21881 (if making $75000)

Looks like I have to make more than $70000 now. Decisions, decisions.