And Then They Were One ….

This is the quintessential picture of Wendy and Clay, taken just a month after we met in the summer of 1978. We were old souls in young bodies. We were each at crossroads, ending one phase of life and looking forward with great anticipation to the next. Wendy, at 17, had just moved to Indiana, graduated high school, and was looking forward to heading off to college. Clay, at 19, was back home in Greenwood, Indiana after his first year of college and preparing to serve a church mission for 2 years.

But what happened? The world stopped for us. Suddenly, instead of focusing on our next big adventures, our eyes refocused on the here and now. Falling in love was not on the agenda, it was not convenient for either of us, and it was not in either of our playbooks. But we fell, and we fell hard. Now, for a few months, before we parted on our unique journeys, our focus was brought to the present.

How can I describe the feelings we had for each other? Our souls longed to be intertwined, focused at an sub-atomic level. To be one. We knew the synergy of that chemical bond would create more than we could even imagine.

I studied Wendy. And I became fascinated and awed. Being with Wendy brightened my entire life!

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You may find this particular post an abrupt departure from our usual topics of travel adventure, investing, etc. But this blog is really a journal and our primary audience consists of our grand children and their grand children — on and on through the ages. In short, we write this blog so that our descendants can have a glimpse of who we are. To help them find courage, wisdom and perhaps a new understanding about themselves. To help them on their life journeys. And we do it to show our love for them (even though they might not yet have arrived on planet earth yet and we will have long since departed when they finally read it). So to our descendants, we hope that you too can feel our love through our words.

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The summer of 1978 was the best three months of my life — June, July and August. Wendy and me, our first date, our first kiss. How do I describe our first kiss. Impossible. Let’s just say that it was a moment never to be forgotten. In that exquisite experience our spirits sparked and aligned.

We became enveloped in each other that summer. The more time we spent together, the more we longed for each other.

And then it was time to part. We each had our path. Wendy was headed for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Clay was headed for Ventura, California on a two-year mission. Parting was agony.

In my head, I calculated the odds that Wendy would still be unattached in two years. Slim to none. BYU is a marriage factory. Coeds typically don’t last two years, it just doesn’t happen.

So I struck a deal with God. I committed to the Lord that I would focus my entire being on doing His will for the next two years. Not half-hearted, but all in! Whatever He wanted, however I could help in His work. In exchange, I hoped that He might consider producing an impossible miracle: “When my mission is over, could I please have her as my wife?”

When you propose a bargain with God you don’t know if he will accept it. So you work on hope and faith. Those are different from covenants which He defines and you accept. With covenants (like baptism, the Sacrament, and eternal marriage in the temple), He defines the commitments on both sides. His commitments we call blessings. Anyway, with my “bargain”, all I could do was work hard and hope.

Two years is a long time. Especially when you’re young. Especially when you are having completely new experiences every day. My missionary service those two years took me to Studio City, North Hollywood, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, San Fernando Valley, Santa Maria, Lake Isabella, and Ridgecrest, California. In each of these communities I was invited into the homes of families and individuals to teach them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the process, they became a part of my life and I theirs. They shared with me their life’s challenges and together we applied the principles of the Gospel to help them find their way through life.

This was intense work. It was full of joy, sorrow, success and sadness. Each week was a lifetime of intimate experiences with people I came to love and it completely absorbed me. It changed me. I learned about life and the amazing variety of difficulties people face. I learned of the suffering that can come to people through no fault of their own, but from choices their parents, spouse or children make.

But more importantly, I witnessed the miracle that can come, the complete change that takes place, when a person turns their life over to God. When they hand over their guilt to Him, when they hand over the right to judge another to Him, when they turn their focus from being a victim, from being hurt, from seeking pleasure in doing things they aught not, when they work from a new understanding that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings —- it is a miracle to behold. They become a new, happier, glowing, delightful person– full of love, completely changed.

They really should create a half-way house for returning missionaries. The work is so intense, you’re just not ready to re-enter the normal world. Two years of complete focus also means two years of no TV or radio, and certainly no dates, no dancing, no kissing … you get the idea. It’s a strange lifestyle. And then one day they ship you home in your white shirt with your nametag, suitcoat, tie, and black leather shoes. The real world is like being on Mars without a life-support system.

I remember my parents and family picked me up at the airport. My youngest brother, Jonathan, was 11 years old and already taller than me — on his way to 6 feet-something. I can still remember him looking at me like I really was a Martian. I could read his mind, “This cannot be my brother. He is too strange for words.”

But they were weirder than me by a mile! My father had thought it would be a brilliant idea to get a perm. He looked quite incongruous as a Superior Court judge in somber black robes and a kinky hairstyle. He had also become enamored with Volkswagens of all types. He had a stable of VW Bugs, a Karmen Ghia, and the ubiquitous VW Van with carpeted benches on the sides that converted into a big bed in the back. So these alien life-forms picked me up at the airport and stared at me in the van all the way home.

Home. I sat at the kitchen table in my suit and looked out the window at the neighborhood and thought “I really would like to knock on all those doors and share the Gospel” while my mother sat looking at me, wringing her hands, and finally insisted I change into casual clothes. I obeyed my mother, but I felt completely out of whack in jeans and a t-shirt. I needed a halfway house!

But there was not time for a transition. Life was happening. I needed to leave for BYU in a few days.

Wendy — well, let me backtrack. One of the most awesome things while serving in California was that I received letters form Wendy that were just spectacular. Spectacular, you say? Oh yeah. First off, they smelled good – perfumed. Not fair! And Wendy is an amazing writer. In her letters, always uplifting and encouraging, she was able to reveal more of who she was. If you know Wendy, you likely realize that she is incredibly intelligent. A very quick mind.

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Wendy is scary smart and it truly was frightening at times. After we were newly married, I remember the first time we read in bed. She was reading a novel and I was reading a history of Winston Churchill. Suddenly I became annoyed. What was it? Oh, it’s her page flipping. Why was it annoying? Well, first of all, she was turning three or four pages to my one page. How is that possible? Is she just messing with me? So I look over and watch her. She is completely unaware of me. And what I see is terrifying! Wendy is reading with an intensity I had never witnessed before. It’s like watching a laser beam consuming the typeface. Fast and furious! And when she flipped the page it was with force! That was the second annoying thing. And it all scared me very much. So what did I do? I kindly asked that she turn her pages more quietly as I sat trembling at the intellect I had married.

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Wendy’s letters to “Elder Smith”, as I was called, were fantastic. But over the months and years, we drifted. We each had our own worlds and we were each focused on our own worlds. And then my long-time friend, Chuck Brown, sent me a letter notifying me that Wendy was dating someone I knew. Well of course she was dating. But, dang, that was painful. And so, to minimize any further pain for either of us, and to make sure she did not feel she was betraying me in any way, I suggested we not write any more (or something to that effect).

So when I arrived home in Indiana, I hadn’t had any contact with Wendy for at least six months. I knew she wasn’t married but I didn’t know if she was attached to anyone. She seemed like a long ago dream.

And quite frankly I didn’t know what I would do with her if I saw her again. Let me emphasize, no dates and no kissing for two years. That will mess you up! I had no idea what to do with a girl. Before my mission? Oh yea. I was ever so suave, ever so confident. Now? I was lost.

What to do? Time to man up and face the music. If she was engaged, it would be a relief in one small way because I was in no shape to have any kind of relationship or even hold hands. Slightly terrified here. So I called Wendy and she invited me over.

I knocked on the door and Wendy opened it with a baby in her arms. Oh. Hmm. A lot can happen in six months, but . . . Wendy laughed and told me the child was her niece. Funny girl. Smart girl. Clever ice-breaker.

Wendy was absolutely gorgeous, poised and confident. She glowed! But I instantly saw that she was not the same woman I had dated two years ago. She was more mature, less immediately trusting, more savvy, and somewhat wary. And did I mention she was scary beautiful?

I was a mess. Completely uncomfortable in these jeans and t-shirt, talking to a girl with the intent of — what? I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it.

Wendy had mercy on me. She never placed any expectations on me. I asked if she would like to accompany me to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. A strange first date, but I didn’t know if I would survive the experience, so the graveyard seemed convenient, in case she just wanted to leave my corpse there. And by my grandparents’ grave we began to talk. And we talked and talked like we had two years before.

Next day my parents informed me they had asked Wendy if she would like to ride with us to BYU. This was coming from the Dad who wanted me to explore my youth, take my time, date lots of women, delay marriage as long as possible.

Huh. I guess I’ll have some more time with this woman creature, trapped in a van with no escape.

We departed and then the realization of what was happening started to crystalize in my mind. Remember the VW love bug with the fold down bed in the back? What the …? I’m supposed to lay down in this bed with her all they way to Utah? What the…?

Yep. I needed a half-way house. But no time for that. Man up and transition. You’ve got weird parents with strange ideas and you’re in the Hippy Love Van for the next several days with a beautiful woman. Deal with it.

So off we went laying in the back of the van, staring at each other — and we began to talk, just like we had two years ago. I was entranced and fascinated by this intelligent, beautiful creature. What a delight! And how crazy and terrifying. Especially when we had to camp in one tent and stay in one hotel room for the four of us along the way (with two double beds… girls in one bed, guys in the other). What the…??? Gotta love those sweet parents, who never noticed how uncomfortable we young people were with the situation.

My parents dropped us off at BYU and I half figured Wendy would fold back into her life and forget about me. But Wendy had mercy on me. My last area during the heat of the summer was in Ridgecrest, which is in the Mohave desert. It’s inhumanly hot there in the summer. Mission rules require you to stay indoors from 1pm to 3pm during the summer months. People who live there have what they call green rooms. It’s a special room with no windows to the outdoors, typically with murals of lush green flora. They usually have tiny waterfalls burbling and cascading. Anything to cool their skin and heal their mind from the heat.

Well, my body had been seared by the desert sun in that last area of my mission and I had lost the ability to eat much. I was a physical wreck, and I had lost weight. Skinny, burnt, dehydrated, malnurished, and I couldn’t eat. So Wendy proposed that we split the cost of food and she would cook dinners for me. Not that I could eat much, but, that sounded great.

Transition to college life again was fun as far as academics were concerned. I loved my classes, but the social scene was — well. Let’s do a flash back to the September 1977, my freshman year. Freshman orientation included a week of the best bands on planet earth. The dancing was outstanding! Girls everywhere! It was a party! Disco was in full swing, and I was in heaven!

By September 1980 something had happened to the music. They did something called slam-dancing to New Wave music. It was murderous! Revolting! I needed more than a halfway house for the dance scene — it just wasn’t going to happen.

As for the social scene, flashback to 1977, my friend and I had a contest to see who could have the most dates in a weekend. We were each in the double digits. 1980? Not so much. I was not ready to deal with that yet. Life had moved way too fast and I wanted my slow, steady, thoughtful transition, thank you very much.

But, we danced anyway!

Dinners were awesome and slowly but surely I was getting my appetite back. And Wendy was just amazing to talk to. Okay, mostly to listen to as I’m not much of a talker. I’m great with questions though, and so I listened and learned and observed and marveled.

You know where this is going. We fell in love again as we ate together, talked together and went on simple dates. Once again that desire to be together as one soul increased into a yearning. Problem was, dagnabit, I needed my transition time! Life was moving way too fast! I’m thinking marriage and I’m also thinking I need to run away!

Logic was my only way out. So I suggested we make a spreadsheet (this was before computer spreadsheets, but I was already doing them manually). On one side we would list all the reasons NOT to get married. On the other side, the reasons TO get married. Well, it was a lopsided list. I had written down all sorts of logical reasons NOT to get married on the left side of the chart. On the right side was only one reason, and it outweighed all the others. We could be together.

We could be together, our souls intertwined. There has never been anything more powerful in my life. It’s like Wendy was made for me and I was made for her. Yes, we could wait. Until I completed college, got a graduate degree, established myself as a provider. But could I wait?

A part of me saw that the miracle I had prayed to the Lord for was now being delivered. It was up to me to accept the gift, not on my timeframe but on His. A woman like Wendy was not going to be single long. And for some reason I could not fathom (still can’t all of 41 years later), she loved me. How was that possible? I had no career, a part-time job, no car, and I no longer had any charisma.

Time to man up! No time for transition. Life is moving and it’s time to jump in and do it! So, during Thanksgiving break I proposed and Wendy said “Yes”. The plan was to get married in April, after the Spring semester. But why wait? So then the plan was December 30th, near the end of Winter break. Who needs a transition? A five week engagement is totally do-able.

Truly, once the decision was made, I was completely and totally ready to move forward. We could be together, our souls intertwined. Forever. I’m in!

After finals in mid-December we hurried back to Indiana where the women furiously planned the wedding stuff and Wendy suffered through a severe bout of strep pharyngitis. December 29th both families drove to Washington D.C. where we were to be married. We had several cars loaded with people. Wendy and I had been given my parents car as an incredibly generous wedding gift, so Wendy and I drove by ourselves to the temple early in the morning of December 30th, 1980, trailed by all the families in their cars. It was quite an experience.

On the way to the temple from our hotel with that wagon train of cars behind us I was very quiet (and Wendy was very beautiful). She looked over at me and said, “Are you all right?” Truth be told, I was barely breathing. It was such a big moment. So Wendy said, “Well, if you die of fright, there’s the funeral home.” as she pointed to a funeral parlor. Next she pointed to a jewelry store. “And, if you forgot the ring ….” My eyes got really big and I spluttered, “I forgot the ring at the hotel!” I immediately did a U-turn in Washington D.C. traffic and hit the gas, passing our wagon train full of people with their mouths falling open.

We finally made it to the Washington D.C. temple. It is ethereal. In that temple, special men, known as sealers, can bind husband and wife together, not just ’til death do you part, but for time and all eternity, so long as you live your life equal to the special covenants you make in the temple.

Washington DC Temple

Walking out of the temple, hand in hand with Mrs. Smith was the most wonderful feeling. I cannot express my joy, to be intertwined, soul to soul with Wendy.

At our wedding reception in Wendy’s parents’ home, Southport, Indiana

Now, at age 62 I am so grateful that the Lord accepted my bargain. I now understand that He knew all along what He wanted for me, what was fore-ordained for me if I lived worthy of His blessings. He knows best. And He has a way of putting into our hearts what He knows we need so that it becomes our desire as well. It is a powerful thing!

So that, dear children, is how Wendy and Clay became one.

~ Clay

Doctors Don’t Know Everything

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[istockphoto.com]

I went to the doctor the other day. Even retired doctors have to go to other doctors sometimes.

Whenever they ask me what pharmacy I want a prescription sent to, I tell them I don’t have one because I shop around for the best prices, and that I need a paper script.

The doctor wrote a script, so I looked it up on www.GoodRX.com.

To use the website, there is no sign-in, no personal information, no membership and no fee.  Just type in the drug name, put in the form (pill, capsule, tablet, cream, solution, etc) and the dosage (mg, gm, mcg, ml, etc) and your zip code.

 

Immediately, it tells you the prices at a lot of the pharmacies in your local area (such as Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, Safeway, Wal-Mart).

The lowest price for my prescription was $740.00!!

 

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[istockphoto.com]

 

I don’t have drug coverage with my insurance. No way was I going to pay that price!

So, I looked up alternative drugs in the same category, and found one that only cost $70.00. I marched back into the doctor’s office and spoke to the nurse (and the doctor who just happened to be passing by)– they were both shocked at the price and happily changed the script to the cheaper alternative.

Why are drug prices so different, even for the exact same item between different pharmacies?  Health insurance companies have departments that negotiate for drug pricing on their formularies (a list of medications they will cover for their members).  These ‘Discount Prescription’ cards and apps do the same thing, only you are not tied to the insurance company’s formulary, so you might have more options for medications.

Some electronic medical records your doctor uses have downloaded specific drug formularies covered by your insurance company.  But it’s not a perfect system.  As a surgeon, there was no way I could keep up with all the insurance formularies, but I always told my patients, “When you get to the pharmacy, if the price of the drug I prescribed is too much, have them call my office and we’ll discuss alternatives.”

Sometimes, there is only one drug in a category that will work for your specific condition.  Or serious drug allergies preclude other options. And that one drug may be expensive.

In that case, you might be able to get help directly from the drug manufacturer to cover all or part of the cost.  Most drug company websites have an option for financial assistance.  Look into it.

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Although there’s no such thing as a money tree, drug companies may be able to help with the cost. [clipartpanda.com]

But most often, there is probably a cheaper alternative.  If your overworked doctor won’t work with you on keeping prescription costs down or gets snippy when you ask for more economical choices (especially if you ask nicely and give them time to fix things), then consider changing providers.

 

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We’re all in this together.

Takeaways:

1.  Do NOT assume your favorite pharmacy is the best place to go with your scripts because it feels comfortable and they treat you well. There can be a huge difference in price between getting a drug at Safeway, Wal-Mart, CVS or some other place.  Wal-Mart offers a 90 day supply of some meds for only $10! Think about it;  would you be willing to pay $900 for a plain white shirt at Neiman-Marcus when the same one, or a close facsimile, can be found at a discount store for $25?  Just because you like the sales lady?  Remember: she doesn’t get one dime of the money you pay for the shirt.  Just her salary.  The same thing goes with pharmacists.

2.  Take a paper script with you from the office and look it up on http://www.GoodRx.com– it doesn’t cost you anything and there are no memberships or log-ins involved. Then, you print out or show the coupon code on your phone to the pharmacist and they accept it. Verify the price before they fill the script, though.

3.  Doctors don’t have the time to find out what drugs cost, and usually (but not always) there is more than one drug they could prescribe for you for the same medical condition.

4.  If it’s available for the particular drug, ask for the generic version (also known as ‘may allow substitution’ on the script), as it can sometimes save you a lot of money.  There is usually no difference in formulation between brand name and generic.  As an example, go to your local pharmacy and look on the allergy shelves at the price for brand name Claritin (an allergy med) and generic Loratadine.  Or brand Flonase (nasal steroid spray) and generic Fluticasone.  Or Prilosec (stomach acid med) and Omeprazole.  Same drugs, different prices.  Get used to looking at the ‘Active Ingredients’ on the label.  If it’s the same name, it’s the same drug. Only cheaper.  Store brands are usually cheapest.

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A drug by any other generic name… will act the same [clipart-library.com]

5.  It’s YOUR money! Even if you have health insurance, please don’t be a blind consumer– the global economy cannot support the rampant over-cost of drugs and healthcare.
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[vectorfreak.com]

6.  If you get to the pharmacy and ask about the drug price, and it is too expensive, have the pharmacy call the doctor’s office to prescribe something else.  Be kind to your pharmacist– they have absolutely no control over drug pricing.
7.  In a lot of instances, the cost of drugs in the United States far exceeds the cost paid by other people in distant countries for the exact same drug from the exact same manufacturer.  Hence people who medication shop in other countries across our borders (but be very careful if you are considering this:  have you ever seen high-end knock off purses, watches and shoes at hawker’s tables in big cities?  Imagine what some people will do to fake a drug tablet to look like the real thing– and you might have no way of knowing the difference).
We subsidize the world with the prices we pay at our local pharmacies.

 

8.  On a future post, I’ll give you some ‘doctor insider’ ways on how to research possible alternative prescription drugs to discuss with your provider.

9.  GoodRX:  I’m not a stock holder in the website, but it improves my personal portfolio when I don’t spend as much on medications!

Compare prescription drug prices and find coupons at more than 60,000 US pharmacies. Save up to 80% instantly!
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Be a wise consumer of healthcare [printablee.com}

– Wendy
Retired Otorhinolaryngologist, Head & Neck Surgeon

Secrets, Miners and Gunfights! Part One

Moving Targets

Caveat:  Our blog was originally conceived to be a way to connect with our sweet grandkids, Eric and Hazel, since we don’t get to spend much time with them.  And to keep our kids, Jesse (Terri) and Caroline apprized of where our wheeled home was currently residing, in case they wanted to visit.  We share pictures, stories, geography, geology, history, church missions, adventures and love. Hopefully, our extended family and friends enjoy it as well!  This particular blog series is about Wendy Walton’s family history, before she became a Smith.

I’m not often nostalgic, but Clay and I spent the month of April, 2018 around Bisbee, Arizona and it made my heart gooshy (that’s a Latin medical term for soft and squishy).  Nostalgia doesn’t often bubble to the surface because it seems like I’ve never been in the same place twice during my lifetime.

Thanks to my Dad’s career and our current nomadic lifestyle, it practically guarantees new scenery all the time with no backtracking.

In 1968, when I was 7 yrs old, my father was offered an active duty army assignment, which meant he could finally quit working 4 jobs at the same time to pay the bills (including high school French teacher, counselor at a juvenile detention center, grocery clerk and reserve army major).

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Denzil Ree Walton, at the start of his army career

Major Walton was asked to attend Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas– a rare honor especially for a reservist, with the next orders after that being assigned to Intelligence headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

One of his C&GS classmates was Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. who later became a general and commander of United States Central Command, leading all coalition forces in the Gulf War.  It was a prestigious opportunity for Dad.  We met lifetime friends there, including Blaine and Clarice Jensen and Al and Laura Morris and all their wonderful children.

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Although Dad could never talk specifically about his top secret work in Vietnam, we knew he was the French speaking secret military advisor for the Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge when the US government was denying they had any personnel in that country.  He sent daily briefings to General Abrams and President Nixon during that time.

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We were living in Laie, Hawaii when Dad returned from Vietnam 13 months later- safe, tan and handsome. It was the first time I can remember crying tears of actual joy.  It still happens when I look at this picture.

 

We were then stationed at the Military Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Maryland. From sunny Hawaiian beaches to December on the Chesapeake Bay, freezing our flower leis off!

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But that next summer of 1971,  the entire Intelligence Command operation was moved 2300 miles to the isolated outpost of Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near the Mexican border.

Like the old time land grabs, the Walton clan was one of 500 families set to race directly across the country to snatch up the limited housing options near the new headquarters.  But instead, my parents decided to take a month camping in our tent trailer on a leisurely drive west across Canada, then down through Washington, Oregon and California. Upon arrival, there was no more housing near the post, so we found a wonderful hacienda style home in the old mining town of Bisbee, 30 miles southeast of the fort.

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April of 2018 was the first time I had been back to the area in 46 years.  Clay and I spent a lovely day touring the museums at Fort Huachuca and seeing the history that unfolded when the Military Intelligence schools arrived.

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What did my Dad work on at Fort Huachuca?

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 Shhhhhh!  It’s probably still a secret.

Clay and I enjoyed the Military Intelligence Museum and while walking out the door into the warm Arizona sunshine, I felt the overwhelming presence of my Dad right there, smiling and happy, looking over my shoulder at his old stomping grounds.

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The Walton family spent 1968-1977 scurrying around the country while Dad was on active duty.  Because we usually moved in the middle of the school year, I had 13 notches on my school transcript belt (even though I skipped my junior year and graduated early).

While Dad was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he also served as the Bishop of our congregation, which was also a confidential job, where people came to him with their problems and concerns.

Mom: How was your day at work, Dear?

Dad:  Great!

Mom:  How was your evening at church, Dear?

Dad: Great!

I don’t think they had many substantive conversations over the years.

The last time I moved with my parents was to Southport, Indiana.  In the middle of my senior year of high school. During the Blizzard of 1978.  Welcome to the midwest.

But, the miracle is, I met Clay there in the few brief summer months when he was home from college before he left to serve his two year mission for our church. So I’m not complaining!  If you ever feel the Lord does not know where you are, just remember He has GPS: God’s Positioning System.

When the army ended his active duty assignments, Dad worked at whatever civilian jobs he could find (who needs a white-haired French speaking secrets keeper?) until he could finally retire from the reserves as a full Colonel with 32 years of service.

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Colonel Denzil Ree Walton in full medal regalia, with the Intelligence pin on the left lapel.

 

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Military Intelligence pin.  I have one on my charm bracelet to remember his service.

 

Walton family picture Spring 2000

The Waltons, Spring 2000. Back row: Mark, Kerry, Jean, Ree. Front row: Creed, Wendy

Dad died in Greenwood, Indiana at the age of 71 in April 2001, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, two months before I completed my Otolaryngology residency training.

When Heavenly Father suddenly called his son home, the Colonel saluted smartly and said, “Yes, Sir!

Never once questioning his newest orders.

I am so proud of my father– an honorable, gentle, intelligent, hard-working, funny guy who loved his Savior, his loyal wife, his four kids, his grandchildren and his country with the heart of a true patriot.

I’m beginning to think the spirit world is kind of like his secret military jobs, because he hasn’t told me what happens on that side of the veil, either!

Stay tuned for Part Two- Miners.

–Wendy

Retirement 3.0

I haven’t personally contributed to the blog lately– Clay has done all the heavy lifting. He does such a good job with painting word pictures.  Yay, Clay!  But I have a great excuse:

I am too busy reading novels.

On my floaty thingy.

In an 80 degree pool.

Being truly and completely retired now (which is supposed to mean there are more hours in the day),  I’m back on the blog road again.  This time, giving my impressions of Retirement 3.0 (as in 3 months since my official last day of work).

On our motorhome bookshelf, sits “The Escape Plan” binder.  Its maroon cover is faded from years of fondling, perusing, journaling and researching.

Not everyone has an escape plan in life. That big red ejector seat button riiigggghhhhttt under their finger (“Don’t pusha da button!!!” as our son Jesse used to say, after he willfully pushed the elevator Emergency Stop button and the ear-splitting klaxon of alarms scared the soup out of him).

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We like pushing da button.

And we were feeling the urge to un-merge from our current lifestyle and change things up dramatically.

Clay and I would look each other in the eyes after a particularly trying day, week or month and desperately say,

“You and Me . . . right?”

Since the answer was always a heartfelt resounding, “Yes!”  then it didn’t really matter what storm or life quake was currently happening.

Our mantra became (because we were thinking of moving to a Spanish speaking country such as Uruguay or Ecuador), “Vayamos, muy muy legos, sin los pantalones.”  Loosely translated: “Let’s go far, far away, without long pants” (nice weather all the time, wearing shorts and flip flops).

The true germination of this wild idea came in March of 2012, on a piece of lined notebook paper, “The Start of It All”.

Our original questions was, “What do we actually want to do when we retire?”

I adore, love, can’t get enough of world travel. Packing for a plane trip makes me grin. Having a passport gives me wings.  Settling into a cruise ship melts my bones. Being somewhere I’ve never seen before makes my pulse quicken (in a good way– not like an anxiety attack). Picking up phrases in another language is a game for me (Please. Thank you. No thank you. Don’t touch me. Left, Right. I don’t speak your language. Do you speak English? Where is the toilet?).  Learning about other cultures and art from a knowledgable native tour guide is like taking a mini-college course and I suck it up like chocolate milk.

Clay also likes to travel, but really loves being in any allergy-free season/zone so he can be completely engaged in what’s going on around him.

I have spent the past 27 years of my life studying to become a physician, going through residency, solo surgical practice and temporary medical assignments on the road. It’s who I am and what I do.  A few years ago, Clay asked me, “I know you are ready to retire, but what are you going to do with yourself to keep fresh, alive, fulfilled and entertained when you’re no longer wrapped up in life as a doctor?”

“You mean, after I sleep for 6 months?”

“Of course.”

“I will be a writer!”  The idea popped into my brain as a full-fledged Aha! moment.  I have children’s book ideas, young adult fiction, medical memoirs and this blog.  Our daughter Caroline introduced us to Scrivener (www.literatureandlatte/scrivener) a word processing program for authors that organizes writing of any sort and gets it ready for publication.  Thanks, Caroline!

And Clay will continue to do what he has been doing:  thoroughly enjoying doing investment research analysis. When he’s not writing his thoughts down or studying astronomy, astrophysics and history.

So we’ve pushed da button.  And virtually every day since, we have a moment when we look at each other and just giggle with delight at our new-found freedom.  We’re flapping our arms and flying away!!!!

-Wendy

Merry Christmas from Tucson

Wendy and I rolled into Tucson Wednesday (Dec. 20, 2017) after spending 6 months in Eureka, California where Wendy completed a work contract for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

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Hmm. Let me just root around in there.

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Surgery co-workers in Eureka

We’re in our pajamas today, but if motivation overcomes us we might change into shorts and bicycle to the store to pick up a few groceries.

Then again, we might just stay in our pajamas because —– (drum roll please) —- we’re officially retired.  Wohoo!  Can you believe it?  On Friday, December 15th, 2017, Wendy saw her last patient.  That’s it and that’s all.

So, on to our next life.  Time to once again reinvent ourselves.  We’ve done this reinvention thing so many times in our lives.  We think up a goal, we research it, we talk about it incessantly, and then if we like what we imagine, we jump in with both feet.IMG_7066

We’ve actually been transitioning into full retirement for several years.  It started decades ago when we became serious about becoming financially independent.  It accelerated 5 years ago when we hired a consultant who asked us lots of questions and helped us envision our future retirement and helped us identify the interim goals needed to get there.

It helps that I have been a lifelong investor.  One core principle I learned at a young age: To become financially independent, you need to be a business owner (i.e., stock holder).  So rather than being the guy who hires/fires employees and invents products and manages services and sweats over the details, you need to be the guy that provides the capital for the business, which in turn manages the people who hire, invent, manage and sweat.  Their work each day produces the income (dividends and interest payments) that we now live on.  And we are very grateful for their daily efforts.

What are we going to do in retirement?  First of all, we’re going to rest.  This first year in particular we’re going to enjoy the simple things that we’ve been too busy to appreciate.  The simple mindfulness that comes from enjoying each day.  I will continue to study history and astrophysics.  Wendy will see if her creative desire to write stories and illustrate her children’s books returns.

Most importantly, we’re going to goof off.  And we’ll continue to improve our health.  Over the past six months, Wendy and I have developed the habit of walking about 3 miles each day.  It takes about an hour.  We listen to books as we walk and enjoy nature.

Northern California had some amazing scenery to walk through from canyons of ferns to  giant redwood forests to spectacular and remote beaches.  We’ve both lost weight this year, so whatever we’re doing seems to be working.

In 2018, our first year of retirement, we’re going to travel, but not too fast.  Here’s our travel plan for 2018:

Be sure to honk and wave as we roll by.  And if you want to hang with us when we’re in your neighborhood just send us an email or text.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of our family and friends!!!

– Clay

Weekend in Seattle

We were planning on spending the weekend in Seattle anyway, so when the furnace blew up (Don’t worry, I like to say systems “blow up” when they stop functioning and have to be replaced.  If something really does blow up, I’ll let you know.) we figured, we can either hang around the AquaHot service center in Centralia, WA and fret about the thousands of dollars it will cost us to replace our hydronic heating system, or we can go to the Seattle Boat Show and pretend we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a boat.

So we left our coach in the capable hands of the Brazel’s RV Performance Center and got a great deal on a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) apartment in Seattle for the weekend.

Seattle is such a cool place.  A city surrounded by water with snow-capped mountains in the background.  And it’s a city famous for airplanes, with the historic Boeing factory.

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A Connie welcomes us to the museum.

So our first stop on Friday morning was to once again visit the Boeing Museum of Flight.  This may be one of the three best flight museums in the world.

Our tour guide, Bart, began our day with the fascinating story of the Wright Flyer.

Our tour guide, Bart, began our day with the fascinating story of the Wright Flyer.

A cornucopia of historic airplanes.

A cornucopia of historic airplanes.

The SR-71 surrounded by a gaggle.

The SR-71 surrounded by a gaggle.

The pointy end of the Concorde.

The pointy end of the Concorde.

They have airplanes and excellent displays for WWI on one floor, WWII on another, and an outdoor pavilion with a Concorde, a vintage Air Force One, a 747 and the new Dreamliner, each of which you can stroll through.  I had my pedometer going and we logged 3 miles Friday morning.

But if you really want to log some miles, go to a boat show.  After lunch, we headed to Century Link Field Event Center for the Seattle Boat Show.

Boats, boats everywhere!

Boats, boats everywhere!

What’s up with our interest in boats?  Well, Wendy and I love to explore.  And we love to experience things from a new perspective (i.e., airplanes, motorhomes, and …. boats).  There are three areas of the country that interest us that can only be truly appreciated from a boat.  So let me tell you about them.

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There are thousands of amazing scenes along the inner passageway of Western Canada.

Juan De Fuca Straits to Alaska via the Inner Passage.  This area is vast, with lots of islands and is relatively protected from the wide open sea.  Wendy and I have seen some of the wonders of these waters from the cockpit of my airplane and from an Alaska cruise liner.  But we have only touched the surface.  Since we’ve been in Sequim, WA we have become friends with many people who cruise their boats up into these amazing waters during six months between April and October and we think it would be way cool to do the same.

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The Great Loop.

The Great Loop.  Each year, hundreds of boaters travel the great loop, which circles from the Florida keys up through the intercostal waterway along the east coast, stopping at all the major cities and seeing things like the Statue of Liberty from the water, then inland through the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi and down the western coast of Florida.  So we’re thinking this would be a fascinating challenge and would give us a whole new perspective. 5500 miles of perspective.

A beautiful playground.

A beautiful playground.

Caribbean.  For our 25th anniversary (11 years ago) I took Wendy on our first cruise in the Caribbean.  Boy was that habit forming!  We’ve been anywhere a cruise ship would take us in that area, including the Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico and all the islands in between.  If we were to buy a boat to do the Great Loop, we would most likely want to motor on over to the Bahamas, since they are nearby.  Of all the places around the world we have snorkeled, the Exuma Cays were the best.

The only questions are: can our energy level and our pocketbook keep up with our ambition?  Hmmmm, we shall see.

Anyway, we had a great time at the boat show.  You can’t imagine how much research Wendy does before going to something like a boat show.  We have read at least a dozen books and mined Internet websites on boats and boating with the idea in mind that we might buy one to fulfill one of the above mentioned objectives.  So when we got to the show, we had a good idea of what we were looking for.

Aspen Power Catamaran.  We’re done with hoisting sail, so we were looking for a power boat.  After a lengthy conversation with Nick Graf at Aspen discussing his fathers’s boat design, we spent the rest of the day  looking at displays and boats (7 miles on the pedometer).

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40-foot Aspen C120 (Catamaran)

The next morning was Saturday and at the invitation of Larry Graf (designer and builder of the Aspen), we met him and his son at the boat dock and took a two hour cruise in Larry’s 40-foot powered cat design.  What a great opportunity for Wendy and me to spend time on the designer’s boat with him.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and with good reason. We love great designs and this one, with it’s asymmetrical proa hull design, silky smooth handling and awesome fuel ecomony was a complete winner.

Beautiful cockpit displays.

Beautiful cockpit displays.

Wendy and I had lots of fun putting this amazing boat through her paces.

And the scenery was awesome as we boated past quaint and colorful floating homes and watched lenticular clouds form over Mt. Rainier.

After visiting the Museum of History and Industry (these Seattlites are an innovative bunch: Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Nordstrum, Cinnabon, Eddie Bauer, Red Robin and Starbucks all started here), we capped the day off by walking the piers and having fish and chips at Ivar’s Acres of Clams.  Our top floor apartment on the hill looks out over bustling beautiful sparkling city as day turns to night.

We love Seattle.

Tomorrow, we plan to go through the Boeing airplane factory tour in Everett, north of Seattle and then take two ferries back to the Olympic Peninsula by way of Whidbey Island.  When you live by a HUGE ocean sound, there are two choices to get places: drive umpteen hours out of your way around the shoreline or suck it up and pay for ferries to hop through islands. Ferries are more fun.

The next couple of weeks should be interesting.  Our motor coach will be in the shop for 7 to 10 days while the AquaHot factory custom builds a new unit and ships it to Centralia, WA (2.5 hrs from Sequim) where it will be installed into our coach.  So we will be staying at a VRBO house in Port Angeles where Wendy will do a short stent of work (5 days over a 2 week period) to fill in for a vacationing ENT doctor.

And… we will continue taking our US Power Squadron Marine Electronics and Marine Weather courses with some great instructors.

We try to stay flexible and wing it as necessary.  Life is good.

  • Clay

Alma Mater

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Y mountain above BYU

What a powerful thing it is to return to your alma mater.  If it’s one of the great schools, going back brings strong emotions.  I remember when one of the consultants I worked with, Stephanie Wall, recommended I attend a professional conference put on by her alma mater, University of Michigan.  The honor with which she held her school and their executive training was palpable.  Why do we feel so strongly about our alma mater?  One of my careers (in the 1990’s) took me to countless universities throughout the nation.  Each had it’s own unique feel, but all were wonderful.

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Well, this week Wendy and I walked the campus of one of the great institutions of the world, Brigham Young University — our alma mater.  BYU is an elite school which draws students from all over the world.  55 languages are taught on a regular basis (30 more as needed based on interest). Top rated in so many disciplines.  Difficult to get in for two reasons.  First, you need to show not only academic excellence, but you must also have a commitment to the honor code, which is unique to the world.  The students take this honor code very, very seriously.  It is a protection and allows them to learn with like minded people.  They realize it is a privilege to attend this university, and there are many waiting in the wings who would fill their spot if they are not willing to live by these high standards.  The students of BYU are in a hurry to learn, to become adults, to make an impact on the world, and to meet and marry someone with similar maturity and goals.

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The grounds at BYU are spectacular

And the campus is beautiful.  Pristinely clean. Flowers are everywhere. The smell is amazing!

Nestled in the Utah Valley south of Salt Lake City, BYU is in the shadow of tall, snow covered mountains — a 360 degree panorama of quiet giants.  In 1977, when I arrived as a freshman after a long drive from Indiana, it was long after dark.  I climbed wearily up in the top bunk and immediately fell into an exhausted sleep.  When I awoke the next morning, my view was facing east toward the mountains, which filled the entire window.  I reeled back, overwhelmed as if they might topple over on me.  I was reminded of that feeling last week as I drove our motorhome into Provo.  It takes a couple of days to adjust to those majestic, towering mountains.

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View of Mt. Timp through the BYU library

 

 

My years at BYU were some of the happiest days of my life.  In my freshman year some older guys took me under their wing, told me of the great adventures they had had serving as missionaries in places like Honduras, Japan, Chile, etc.  Two years later, after I had served a mission to Southern California, I dated Wendy and we were married.  We lived in a humble basement apartment while we worked, scrimped, saved and went to school.  We had our first child, Jesse, and felt so blessed to have such a happy boy in our lives.  So many great memories.

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View of Mount Timpanogos from Utah Lake

Wendy and I were able to attend BYU and work there with very little student debt.  And BYU has kept their tuition remarkably low.

But I see a debate approaching in our nation as other schools continue to increase their tuition.  It has been decade after decade of significant tuition increases at institutions throughout our nation.  All the while their administrations have become bloated and their tenured faculty are required to teach fewer and fewer hours each year.  At some point the education model will break and a revolution will wipe out the old ways.  Online education seems to be our future.  And yet, I mourn for future students who may not get the chance to feel the energy of an MIT campus or the tradition and history of a Princeton.

Tomorrow morning, after a two-week stay in Provo, Utah, Wendy and I will release the parking brake and roll on out of the shadow of these beautiful mountains, making us a little sad to say goodbye once again to our beloved BYU.  It is such a beautiful place filled with people seeking excellence.  What an honor to have attended so many years ago.

-Clay

Things are Starting to Work!

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Winter sunrise over Camden Harbor, Maine

 

I can run again!  I’ve been hobbling around for a long time frustrated by hip and ankle issues.  But here in Maine I’ve had nothing better to do than to show up every day at Planet Fitness.  I start each workout with the back exercises I learned in physical therapy last summer to strengthen my core to support my spine.  Then I wander around and push, pull, lift and squat.  I’m an old guy, so nothing too serious.  The main thing is to show up.

Amazingly, the hip issues gradually have disappeared.  And as I’ve walked on the treadmill the ankle issues have dissipated as well.  Until one day last week I thought, hmmm, what would happen if I ran?  By the end of the week I had a pretty decent pace going on the treadmill.  What a victory!  I’m living pain-free through exercise.

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maple syrup on the rise

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Belted Galloways, Aldermere Farm, Camden

The Work Thing is Working Too.

One of the things we hoped for when we set out on our travel adventures was that Wendy would be able to pick up contracts to work a few months each year to pay our expenses for the remainder of the year.  We are pleased to say that our first foray in part-year work has been a great success — and sooooo much less stressful than owning our own medical practice. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston has been a delightful place to work.

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Yes, there are moments when the “howler” (pager) goes off in the middle of the night.  This thing has a sound designed to split your brain.  And with it comes the stress of knowing that someone’s life may depend on Wendy’s decisions in the next few hours.  (That’s one aspect of being a doctor that Wendy will not miss when she retires.)  But we no longer have any worries about our employees, payroll or profits.  Physicians contract work is so much less stressful.  This work thing is working!

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A satisfied patient

We Have Been So Welcomed.

Can you believe we have had dinner with three different families in the few weeks we’ve been here in Maine?  At one dinner invite, a hardy woman told us stories about living in Eskimo villages at the Arctic Circle when her dad worked for the Canadian government. So, frigid winters in Maine are just mildly entertaining for her. Another night, we gathered with two other couples over a meal, and then had dessert from an authentic Italian bakery sampling decadent limoncello bars, chocolate truffle cake and eclairs while playing chicken foot dominos.  One of the wonderful things about being a Mormon is that wherever you go, you are welcomed as if you were family. And, as a part of that family, we’ve been given the opportunity to share in the work such as teaching classes, serving with the young missionaries and speaking in our church meetings.  We have been made to feel very comfortable here, greatly needed and wanted.  Gifts of homemade oatmeal bread, farm fresh chicken eggs and tasty pickled relishes have filled our stomachs and warmed our hearts.

-Clay

 

A Gift Freely Given

The most important things I choose to do in life, I do for free.  When you do something with no expectation of compensation, it says something.  It says you are sincere.  You may be misinformed or mistaken, but you are definitely sincere.

I have taken countless people flying, for free.  Why?  To share the joy of flight with them. To see the wonder and thrill of it in their eyes.  Check out this video of an adorable 4-year old getting her first airplane ride.  This is what I’m talking about!

Let’s go fly!

Although I was a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) for many years and managed retirement portfolios, I much prefer using my experience and knowledge now to teach people to manage their own investments.  Imagining my friends becoming financially independent is reward enough.  I love investing.  And I so enjoy teaching those few souls who can catch the vision, and have the courage and clear thinking to take control of their own financial destiny.

Wendy and I have had a habit, our entire lives, of volunteering at church.  And we love it! I have had so many amazing adventures as a scout leader, a public speaker, a teacher, and a leader through these volunteer church assignments.  I’m convinced that I get far more out of these experiences than those I’m supposed to be helping.  I learn, I grow, and I feel satisfaction.

As Wendy and I looked at our schedule for 2016, we saw a great opportunity to volunteer this year.  So we went through the process (with the help of Bishop Jon Allen of the South Mountain Ward, and President Porter of the Phoenix Arizona Stake of our church) of applying to be senior missionaries for the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints. And Monday, January 18, we received a formal letter from President Thomas S. Monson, the President of our church, inviting us to serve for six months, beginning May 2, 2016.  He has assigned us to serve in the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission.

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Trek group at Martin’s Cove starting their river crossing

 

What will we be doing?  Helping people understand and appreciate what it was like to walk with their families, pulling all their earthly belongings in a hand cart, 1300 miles from Illinois and Iowa to join other members of their faith in the desert of the Utah Territory during the years 1847-1868.  I love this history and am fascinated by what motivated these ordinary people to do such extraordinary things.

There are several historical sites where guests are led on treks, pulling hand carts to reenact and experience for themselves what the journey was like.  And there is also a visitor’s center where missionaries can tell the stories and show video reenactments.

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So that’s where we will be from May through October of this year.  Again, the most important things I do, I do for free.  And I’m looking forward to honoring these pioneers who helped build the character of our nation.  Freedom of religion and the desire to be with others of the same faith was so important to them, they gave up their homes and jobs, sold all that they had to pay for ship’s passage from numerous countries in Europe, to come to America.  Then they took ferries and trains to what was at that time, the western edge of the United States, in Iowa.  And from there they walked with their children to over 1,000 miles to the Salt Lake Valley. I expect to learn a lot from these pioneers as I dig into this part of our nation’s history.

More details to come once we get there and get our assignments.  It’s going to be a fun and meaningful year.

Clay

 

You’re Going Where?!!

Let’s talk money for just a moment.

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Masteryourmoney.com

Our retirement fund has not yet caught up with our retirement ambitions.  And a significant portion of those funds are in IRAs, which we cannot use until we are 59 1/2 years old without paying a 10% penalty.  (We are in our mid-50’s, so we have several years before we plan to access the IRAs.)

Although our nomadic lifestyle is cheap, it still requires funding, and there is still RV maintenance (tires, batteries, engine), diesel fuel, food, cellular data, satellite and insurance (RV, car and health) to pay for.

Our plan has been to fund our adventures by working a few months each year and leave our retirement portfolio alone so it can continue to grow (my job).  

Work 4 months, play 8 months. We’re liking that scenario.

OK, so when I say “we” will continue to work, I’m using the royal form of “we”.  Wendy can make a ridiculous amount of money per hour as a surgeon, so our focus is on finding her work and I will tag along and try to be useful too (such as camp hosting, online-based jobs and working magic with the investments).

As with many professions, physicians have their own form of temp agencies.  And of course, because they are doctors, they felt compelled to come up with a highfalutin name for it, in latin of course.  They call it locum tenens (to hold the place of).

Wendy has been working with several of these agencies who have presented assignment options for 2016.

After very little discussion actually, we quickly chose our 2016 work assignment, which will start on January 4th in  (drum roll please……….) Lewiston, Maine.

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Lewiston, Maine (www.bates.edu)

Say what?!!!

So here’s how the conversation went.

I thought we might just hold off on working for 6 to 12 months to give Wendy a chance to rebound from the physical and emotional weight of being a surgeon after closing our practice in September.  She was so psychologically ready to be done.

But these last few months she was getting lots of calls from recruiters and she was starting to bounce around with excitement about the possibilities.  (I don’t understand Wendy, but it’s just how she is built.  She rebounds very, very quickly and she seems to have an unquenchable need for challenges.)

The single most important thing in choosing a work assignment is to select one that meets Wendy’s strengths.  Just like any other profession, there are specialties within specialties.  Wendy’s experience and strengths are a result of being a rural ENT doctor. She is an excellent clinician, meaning she is an expert detective.  She can figure out what’s wrong with you in a 15-minute appointment.  And, she can explain it to you so you understand, order the correct tests and then get you packed and shipped to the right sub-specialist to treat your problem. That is a rare gift.

Her skill set is different from most ENT’s located in urban areas.  They must typically sub-specialize into one or two areas.  So as we consider assignments, we will be looking for rural settings that need a clinician.

So what type of inZanity would cause us to apply for a job in Maine in January?

  1. It’s a perfect fit for her strengths as an ENT surgeon/clinician.
  2. She is ready for a new challenge.
  3. If you’re going to work, it really doesn’t matter where you are because there’s little or no time for play.
  4. They will pay us well to work in Maine in January.

So we said yes and they said yes and the recruiting agency is arranging for our paid housing, rental car, flights to and fro, etc. So, in January, Zane and Squirrel will go to an indoor motorhome daycare center in Tucson for the winter, anxiously awaiting our return in April.

 

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RV daycare center (National RV Central)

Wendy and I love being in a position to be so flexible.  One day we’re planning on living in the desert on BLM land for free from January through April, tromping around in sandals, to the next day where instead, we’re thinking snow shoes in Maine.  How cool is that?!

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Ft. Kent, Maine snow- winter 2007-8 (Kathy Berry)

Or rather, how Brrrrrrrr is that!

Clay