Volunteer Training in Paradise

 

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Young men from all over the world dressed in white shirts and ties, speaking a variety of languages, waiting patiently to hold the door open for you. Young women in spring colored skirts and blouses with a sweet light in their eyes, saying a warm hello as they pass. Senior couples, holding hands while strolling along covered walkways, admiring the profusion of pansies, tulips and lilacs, the crisp air, brilliant blue skies and a glimpse of the nearby Wasatch mountains.

All of this in the 10 minutes between classes.

This is the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), in Provo, Utah, where up to 2800 people at a time spend 1-6 weeks training before going out on their assigned missions around the world. 50 languages are taught here. There are similar 15 MTCs around the world which prepare 74,000 missionaries each year.  6600 of them are seniors.

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As missionaries, we are all volunteers, paying our own way to serve wherever we are assigned. Young men (Elders) between ages 18-25 serve for two years. Young women (Sisters) serve for 18 months starting at age 19. Old folks like us serve 6-23 months. There is no upper age limit for seniors, you just need enough giddy-up to get up and go. But one benefit of being a senior missionary: you get to take naps. (They keep saying that, but I haven’t had time to take one yet.)

Young people usually go on proselyting missions (sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who want to hear their message). They do not get to choose where they will be sent in the world or what language they may need to learn.  Clay served at age 19 in the California Ventura Mission from 1978-1980.

Senior couples serve around the world in local congregations, mission offices, visitor centers, church historic sites,  family history centers (genealogy research), humanitarian aid sites, clean water programs, neonatal resuscitation, health, addiction recovery, temple work, public affairs, administrative and job specific assignments (engineering, agriculture, education, facilities management, medical etc.) based on their former employment skills and foreign language capabilities. There is a bulletin regularly updated from church headquarters about Senior missionary opportunities.

We have been called to serve in the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission, based in Martin’s Cove, Wyoming, where the Mormon pioneers pulling their handcarts 1300 miles from Iowa to Utah faced starvation and death during the early snow in October 1856 before they were rescued. During the summers, groups of young people from the surrounding states come dressed in period clothing and pull handcarts for a few days in commemoration of the Mormon pioneers’ sacrifice for religious freedom.

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At the MTC, we spent a week in large and small group classes learning how to teach the Gospel and more importantly, how to point individuals to Jesus Christ through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  It was delightful being taught by young former missionaries- their boundless energy and enthusiasm was refreshing.

Tuesday evenings were spent in a devotional meeting with leaders from church headquarters in Salt Lake City. While we were there, Bonnie Oscarson, General Young Women’s President and Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President (the adult women’s organization) spoke to us.

As part of our training to be church historic site missionaries, we went on a field trip to the Salt Lake Temple visitor’s center where two young sister missionaries (from Australia and Switzerland) took us on a tour, helping us to understand how to present information with visual aids and brief messages.

We honor the many caring people around the world from all walks of life and from all religious and cultural backgrounds who volunteer to help in a variety of causes that speak to them, doing tremendous service for others in the process.  Keep up the good work!

-Wendy

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The Christus statue, Salt Lake Temple Visitor’s Center

 

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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

Far from Home, Close to our Hearts

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View from our RV spot at Lakeside Resort, Provo, Utah

One of the great treats we enjoy as full-time travelers, is the opportunity to see our extended family who are spread all over the United States.  This past week, we spent time with two nieces who live near Provo, Utah.  Kirsten and Morgan are sisters, who grew up with our daughter in Indiana.  We love them dearly.

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Dennis, Morgan and Parker Webb

These young women are a long way from home, and more importantly, a long way from their mother Sharon and father Creed (Wendy’s brother).  So it was very meaningful to all of us to spend an afternoon together to catch up on their lives.  And give them some much needed hugs– we needed them probably more than they did!

Morgan married a wonderful man, Dennis, just a few short years ago and look at the results.  Little 11 month old Parker is now their whole world!  I adore this little one.  She likes to pat my back when I hold her.  Instant, unconditional love.  Wow, does that ever feel great.

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Parker and her Great Uncle Clay

This trio visited us not once, but twice in the week we were in Provo.  The first night, Wendy and I discovered that Dennis and Morgan were hungry to discuss how to make financial plans for their lives.  So we invited them back later in the week and we helped them build a timeline for their future and shared with them tools that will help them meet their goals.  What an amazing experience!  Wendy and I were so honored that they would trust us to lead.  And we were greatly impressed with the way this newlywed couple respected each other and supported each other in their goals and dreams.  Wow!

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Hanging out with Kirsten

 

And then we spent an evening with another one of our all-time favorite nieces, Kirsten. Kirsten, from the moment she was born, has been full of joy, love, fun and kindness.  And she hasn’t changed one bit.  Kirsten’s wife, Chelsey, was unfortunately out of town.  But we had a blast talking about what we are doing as we wandered all over the nation in our motorhome and discovering what her goals and plans are.

We love these women and their families and we’re so proud of them.  They know we will do anything we can to help them in their journey through life.

-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

 

Work Camping On the Road

Retirement Plan #1 was to retire on January 1, 2018.  By then we would have plenty and to spare in our retirement portfolio to buy a motorhome and be full-time, no-work travelers.  But we were simply running out of physical and emotional gas.  When it’s no longer fun, it’s time to make a new plan.  Hence, Retirement Plan #2.

Retirement Plan #2 is to work several months each year to fund our annual expenses, live cheaply so we don’t have to work more than a few months a year, and let Clay grow the earnings of our portfolio until they can support our annual expenses.

So how does one find work on the road to support this nomadic lifestyle?

Working on the Road

There are tons of interesting opportunities to earn money or volunteer while living on the road full time. Some pay money and some give free RV spots with full-hookups in exchange for a bit of your time each week.

Locum Tenens (LT)

There are opportunities for medical professionals to work and live on the road full time doing locum tenens (temporary) assignments.  So if you are a doctor, dentist, CRNA, nurse practitioner, nurse or physician assistant, this may be for you!

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Ready for the operating room on locum tenens assignment

You can make the arrangements yourself with a hospital or practice (and keep all the money you negotiate for your fees), or you can become a subcontractor for a professional LT company that does the legwork and gets the assignments for you. That’s the easiest way to go, but you share the hospital’s pay with the LT.

For me, having a reputable company managing my contracts is more important and so much easier than doing it myself.  The LT company arranges travel, housing, utilities, cable/internet, car rental as well as the endless paperwork for getting state licensure, hospital privileges and recommendations.  So far, I have been very pleased with CompHealth.

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What if you’re not in the health profession like me?  Actually, the vast majority of work opportunities for full-time travelers are outside the health profession.  And if you follow the weather, you can easily live in your RV year round while doing temporary assignments.

Following is a partial list of organizations with job sites for full-time travelers.  Click on the links to research each site.

Workampingjobs.com

A free site for RV workers and the businesses that need them. Employers can submit listings for volunteer work camping positions, paid positions or a combination of both. Positions can be seasonal, temporary, short or long term, full or part time. RV workers can submit a detailed online resume to let employers know they are available.

Escapees/Escapers

Want to work while you travel? Want to hire RVers looking for work? The Job Board matches job opportunities with traveling contract workers who want full or part-time work.

Amazon

Ever wonder what type of people pack those boxes of stuff you order from Amazon?  Some of them are people who live in travel trailers and motorhomes!

According to their website,  amazonfulfillmentcareers.com, the Amazon CamperForce program brings together a community of enthusiastic RV’ers who help make the holidays bright for the customers of the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.com. As a CamperForce Associate, you’ll begin this seasonal assignment in early Fall and work until December 23rd in either: Jeffersonville, IN, Campbellsville, KY, Murfreesboro, TN or Haslet, TX. Amazon offers great pay, a paid completion bonus, paid referral bonuses, and paid campsites for its CamperForce Associates.

So, you work on your feet 10-12 hrs a day  packing boxes, but you also get in shape and form lasting bonds with other CamperForce members.

Freelancing online

There are many companies who need projects done but don’t want to hire and take care of permanent employees. Thanks to the internet, there’s a ton of jobs to choose from online.  Here is a link to the largest such job site:

UpWork

State Parks

State parks around the country are looking for volunteers.

oregonstateparks.org has multiple opportunities from campground hosting, maintenance hosting, day-use host, archive explorer/museum assistant, trail ambassador and … interpretive hosting at lighthouses.

Lighthouses! And unlike some other states, Oregon only requires a one month commitment, but you can work longer.  A travel blogger (wheelingit.com) gives a lovely commentary on lighthouse hosting.

Volunteer Park Rangers

Another option is signing up to be a volunteer park ranger at dozens of  federal parks around the country.  In exchange for a full hook up RV site, a couple or single person works a total of 32 hours in a week. So, if there are two of you, 16 hours a piece.

Work might involve manning or womaning the gift store or information booth, checking in guest campers, collecting daily use site fees or acting as a tour guide.

Sitting Bull Falls- Gem of the Desert

We found this place by going to one of our favorite sites, tripadvisor.com and looking under “Carlsbad, New Mexico- Things To Do”.  Sitting Bull Falls made the list — it is over an hour’s drive west of Carlsbad in the middle of desert nowhere.  But oh so worth it. You don’t need to go digging for gems in the desert – it’s just sitting there for the taking.

After driving to the end of a narrow river box canyon with high ridges on three sides, the white haired volunteer ranger ambled up to our Jeep when we parked at the lovely picnic table area with individual sturdy stone pavilions covering them.

Showing him our handy dandy Interagency Use Pass (which gets us into most of the National Forest and National Park areas for free for a year after paying $80) saved us the $5 per person day use fee. He told us about the Falls and how to go up and over the rim of the canyon for a nice hike that would take just over an hour to complete.

We peppered him with questions about his volunteer ranger service. Five months ago, he and his wife came to see the falls, but the gate was locked. They asked at the ranger station far down the road and discovered the falls were closed because there were no volunteers to staff the falls.  They couldn’t keep it open, except for 3 hrs a day, four days a week. Which was hardly worth it after such a long drive to get there- and how would you know if it was closed or not? There are no up-to-date websites on the area.

The old guy said, “My wife and I will host the site in our RV and commit to stay a year.”  The rangers were thrilled to have them and now they live on site with full hookups,  a cement pad, a stone covered picnic area and a privacy wall that partially blocks the canyon winds.

We walked the trail along the typical dry rocky desert canyon wall, rounded the corner and saw…. an oasis of lush green vegetation and sparkling waterfall reminiscent of a Hawaiian paradise. It was all kinds of yummy rolled into a feast for the eyes.

Using our hiking packs as pillows, we laid down on the warm sandstone beach, soaking up the rays, listening to the rush of the waterfall and the wind as it rushed in waves through the canyon. I practiced meditation breathing just to see if I could clear my mind completely. Even if just for a few seconds.

I need to do more of this.

After gathering up our mojo, we took the hike right up the canyon walls in switchback carved stone and wood steps up to the top of the ridge, careful of where we placed our feet on the boulder strewn path.

We would not have made the trek if some kind souls hadn’t rated the experience on Trip Advisor. Thanks whoever you are!  And we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the falls if this couple had not volunteered to stay a year in this remote, but beautiful place.  We thank you.

White Sands National Monument- Sandy Beach with No Ocean

In the middle of the typical New Mexico desert is an atypical oasis of white sand that fills the basin between the circle of surrounding mountains. A truly zen place to explore.

There was a sunset hike scheduled so we met the volunteer park ranger for a walk on the dunes. He and his wife live in their RV and were here on a 3 month assignment. This was just one of the many places they had worked. For 32 hrs a week, split between the two of them, they got a free full hook up site and did whatever they were assigned to do during their work hours.

And they got to tromp around the sand dunes, which always stay cool to the touch, even in the heat of summer, because they are not silica based sand, but powdered gypsum.

There was so much to see and learn, and then the magnificent sunset.

What a great job!

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument- Condos with a View

Above Silver City, New Mexico, after driving on winding roads about 2 hours through high mountain pines is the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The mile long hike up to the dwellings starts in a canyon next to a rippling creek with crossing foot bridges, cool green vegetation and beautiful rock formations.

The dwellings with their 46 rooms are carefully crafted inside natural caves. The hearty people who lived there bounded up and the down the rocky face to retrieve water in the creek at the bottom. No baby gates, so you needed kids with self-preservation skills.

Volunteer rangers staff the nice visitor’s center, the trailhead and the dwellings themselves.

Don’t these look like amazing places to live while volunteering?

 

Wendy

Just Slap Me!

Wendy and I love to take big leaps into new adventures.  One of our favorite movie scenes is when Indiana Jones must overcome the third of three trials of faith to reach the Holy Grail (cup of the Nazarene) by leaping from the mouth of the lion. Do you remember that scene?

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Well, Wendy and I have pictured that moment in our minds as we have held hands and taken that first step into the unknown together.  Marriage, first baby, Air Force, graduate school, second baby, medical school, building airplane, first flight, formation flying, selling house, closing medical practice, buying motorhome, going on the road.

Tomorrow, January 2, 2016, Wendy and I will hold hands and once again take a step into another new adventure.  We will board an airplane from beautiful sunny Tucson, AZ and at the end of the day we will arrive at our new digs for a 4-month stay in Lewiston, ME.  “ME” as in Maine (you know, that state that half-belongs to Canada).  We’re in shorts and sandals today.  Tomorrow, we’ll be in long underwear.  It will be a major shock to our bodily systems.

This transition reminds me of one of the brilliant stunts my high school buddy, Joe Young, pulled our junior year.  Four of us would get up every morning and play racquetball and lift weights at a club before school.  On this fine morning as we were all soaking in the hot tub after a hard workout, Joe said “Hey, let’s all get really hot in this hot tub and then run over there to the showers and take a super cold shower”.  We all looked at each other and said, “OK Joe.  You first”.  So Joe jumps out of the hot tub, turns on the cold water and we watched as he immediately keeled over like an ironing board.  Splat!  Out cold.  We thought he was dead.  It took a lot of face slaps before Joe came around — and he was messed up the entire rest of the day.

So Wendy and I are going to leave the Tucson hot tub and jump right into the Maine cold shower in the dead of winter.  Somebody get ready to slap me in the face!