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Author: Dusty Ricketts

It’s not the years, it’s the mileage

My eyes are still good enough that I don’t need glasses (for now) and I’m not on any prescription medications, so those are both big positives. While not in the best of shape, I do wear the same size clothes as I did 20 years ago, which I’m also pleased with. Kind of. More on that later.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the years from time to time. I’m probably more aware of it because of those aforementioned back surgeries, but I do stress a little bit when I wake up with a sore back, especially when it sticks around for a few days.

Plus, I’m reaching the age things are starting to hurt for no apparent reason. I went to a show Sunday and was cheering along with others in the audience and I apparently got too excited because my elbow has been sore ever since. It feels like it used to after a few hours of playing tennis on the weekends in my younger days.

The biggest change for me has been my hairline.

Back in my high school and college days, I used to have long hair down to my shoulders. As you can see in my picture above, those days are long gone.

I started going bald about 15 years ago or so. At first, it was a little heartbreaking. I remember going to get a haircut and asking the stylist if I could pull off a look and them telling me I couldn’t.
When I was younger, I used to say if I ever went bald I would take my inspiration from “Star Trek’s”

Captain Picard, who embraced his baldness, and not Captain Kirk, who hid it behind bad looking hair plugs.

That being said, if given a choice between being bald and not, I would probably choose to have my hair back. However, I won’t deny that there are some definite advantages to being bald.

The main one being I don’t have to worry about what my hair looks like when I get out of bed. Getting ready in the morning is also a lot quicker.

Sunburn is still a concern, so I keep hats in the car just in case.

Another reason I haven’t minded getting older, so far anyway, is that technology keeps improving to make things easier.

One of the greatest things I’ve been introduced to in the last five years or so are blue jeans and khaki pants with stretchy waists. Thanks to these brilliant pant designs, I can still squeeze into the same pant size I’ve worn for the past 20 years, unless I do something stupid and buy slim fit.

It’s such a simple yet game-changing update that it makes you wonder why it took so long for someone to do this, kind of like adding wheels to the bottom of a suitcase.

They say you’re only as old as you feel and I’m luck that on most days I feel pretty good. How are you feeling today?

Dusting Off

Having grown up watching Scooby-Doo, I had always wanted a Great Dane. There’s something about a dog that big, goofy and scared of everything personality that always appealed to me.

Surprisingly, my wife Jenny, who typically likes little dogs, was not only on board with trying to adopt one of the Great Danes, she had reached out to tell me we needed to try to adopt one of these dogs before I even had a chance to tell her about the story.

We were among the hundreds of people who had applied to adopt one of the Great Danes from Alaqua and thankfully our application was approved.

We’ve now had our Poe, named after X-Wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron from the Star Wars sequel trilogy, for more than six years. Sadly, Great Danes and other large breeds age faster than the smaller and medium sized dogs, with average life expectancy between 8-10 years.

Poe was a young pup when we brought him home, not quite a year old, and he’s now starting to show his age.

Poe is a mantle-colored pup, mostly black with a white stripe going down his face that stretches down to his belly and part of his front paws. When we got him, the fur around his eyes was jet black.

Around early to mid-2020, we started seeing some white hairs show up around his eyes. At first, you could only see it when you were outside in the sunlight, but those days have passed and that white has spread all around his eyes. If there’s a light on, you can see.

That’s nothing to necessarily be worried about. I have a lot more white in my hair than I did in 2020 too, although most of mine is around my chin.

The bigger concern is just seeing how the years are catching up with Poe’s mobility.

In his younger days, Poe would go into what I affectionately called puppy mode, when he would just spin around in circles as fast as he possibly could. He’s run around our house so much that he has ripped up just about every piece of transitional flooring we have.

Puppy mode used to be something we would see every week if not every few days. He still does it occasionally, but it’s every few months now and not days. Part of that is he’s just not as sure on his feet as he used to be. He does still run around the house when he gets excited, but he can no longer take the sharp turns quickly without falling, so we have to keep him calm until he has a straightaway.

It breaks my heart a little every time I see him lose his balance or he wakes up with extra pain in his front legs.

I’m not ready for the day we have to say our final goodbye to him, and sadly I know there are fewer days ahead with him than there are behind. I just hope we’ve given him as good a home as he’s given us.

DeSantis going after Disney still doesn’t sit right

The district created a special taxing district for the Walt Disney World Resort and allows it to oversee its own development without outside approval from county or municipal governments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Legislature going after Disney last year never really sat well with me and it still doesn’t.

I have lived in Florida for 20 years, been a fan of Disney for much longer than that, and I had never heard of the Reedy Creek Improvement District until last year when DeSantis and the state Legislature held a special session just to dissolve the improvement district, which is scheduled to take place in June of this year.

To be clear, I’m not overly upset that the district is going away. I do think it could lead to increased prices as the cost of developing with the required outside approval will almost certainly cost more than what Disney can do themselves inhouse. But that’s not the end of the world. Disney is always increasing their prices.

I’m sure places like Universal Studios and Sea World are thrilled to have the district go away, because it almost certainly does give Disney an advantage they don’t have, the ability to manage their land without any outside oversite from county government.

I think everyone should have to obey the same rules and if other parks like Universal Studios couldn’t self-manage themselves through a special district, Disney shouldn’t be able to either.

But that’s not the reason DeSantis and Republicans went after Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District, is it? I would guess that many Floridians and people across the country are like me, and had not heard of the Reedy Creek Improvement District until DeSantis set his sights on it.

And he didn’t do that until Disney leadership spoke in opposition to his law that restricts education about gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools — a measure that critics dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill.

From my point of view, it looked like he didn’t like that a company was expressing its opposition to the education bill he had signed into law, speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, but he set his attack dogs on them anyway.

The changes to how the district will be managed after it is dissolved have not been announced yet, but according to a story from the News Service of Florida, the state will dictate who will run the district, the changes also reportedly make it clear that the district’s debt could not be transferred to nearby local governments.

“Under the proposed legislation, Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes,” DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in a statement earlier this month. “Imposing a state-controlled board will also ensure that Orange County cannot use this issue as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents.”

If this had been handled just about any other way, I would have been fine with this decision, but this just reeks of an attack against the First Amendment to me.

Some things aren’t easier with time

I wasn’t happy at the newspaper I was working at, so I put in my notice and moved down here with the intentions of being a beach bum for a year or two before I expected to move back to Indiana and figure out my next career move.

Needless to say, life happens and plans change.

Mine certainly did.

I’ve got a great life here. My wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary last year, we’ve got three beautiful dogs, her parents are here and we’ve got some great friends.

Despite that, I still get homesick from time to time for Indiana.

I don’t miss the weather, that’s for sure. I had to scrape the ice off our windshields once this winter, but one of my friends in southeastern Indiana had to deal with several days of windchills reaching minus-40.

The thing that I don’t enjoy about living here is not being there for my friends and family up in Indiana when one of those big life moments happen.

Sometimes they can be good life moments, like when my best friend that I moved down here with and his wife adopted a beautiful little girl. Thankfully, I was able to make it up for the actual adoption ceremony, but have missed a lot of the events since then.

Sometimes, the things that happen are not good.

At the end of last year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She started her treatments this week and it’s really hard not being there to help. To take her to appointments, help pick up the house, pick up dinner (if I tried to cook anything besides breakfast it would probably make her feel worse) and just be there to talk to her.

My mom has been incredibly strong through this, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows her. She’s been the type of person to attack challenges head-on and work hard to get the desired results.

The coming months and years will undoubtedly have some challenges, a lot of ups and downs. I just wish I could be there to help her through them.

Something that does make it easier is knowing that she’s not going through this alone up there. My brother has been great helping out, she has a big family who has been reaching out her and a great set of friends who have become closer than family over the years.

Hug your loved ones tightly and let them know how much they’re loved. And more than anything, be there for them when they need you. Be the best husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, friend or neighbor you can be.

Resolutions for 2023 made, but will I stick with them

So most years, I either don’t have one or I’ll at least keep it very simple, like be nice or don’t stay up so late and get more sleep.

This year, I think I want to do more with my resolutions.

My first resolution is just to get back to the beach more.

I’ve lived in Northwest Florida for more than 20 years now, which is hard for me to believe. When I first moved down here with my best friend and his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, we used to go to the beach every weekend and a few times during the week as well.

Coming from Indiana, we took full advantage of our new and beautiful scenery.

Over the years, I started going to the beach less and less. I wanted to avoid the traffic on the roads, stay away from the crowds on the beach and I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.

Whenever I have friends from Indiana visit or I go up there to visit with them, everyone mentions how jealous they are that I live so close to the beach and they’re usually pretty shocked to hear I don’t go that often, maybe just once or twice a year, if that.

But it is as beautiful today as it was the day I moved here, and I do miss it. When I first moved down here, it was November, and being used to Indiana weather we were going to the beach all winter long. I’m used to Florida weather now, so I’ll probably wait to start this resolution until April or May.

Another of my resolutions is to read more. I used to read a lot, often going through a book a week in the early to mid-2000s. Most of them were fairly quick reads, like the latest James Patterson, Dan Brown or Star Wars book, but also the occasional heavier book like something from Ayn Rand.

Like going to the beach, reading in my free time is sadly something that I’ve slowly just gotten away from.

This job requires a lot of reading, so when I get home reading is not something that’s usually too high on my list of things to do. But I do love to read and I have a pretty big backlog of books I want to get caught up on.

I think I only read one book last year. I don’t want to set myself up for failure and say I’m going to go back to reading 40 or so books a year, but if I could read a book or two a month this year I would be happy with that.

It’s definitely not going to eliminate my backlog, but it will certainly cut it down some.

Now I would end by saying I want my last resolution to be to eat healthier, but I’m already planning on going to the beach and reading more than I have in years. I’m not going to have time to worry about meal planning.

So what are your resolutions for the new year? If you have a unique one, I’d love to hear it and let me know if you think you’ll stick with it. Maybe I’ll do an update.

Community unites after horrible tragedy

Even COVID-19, a global pandemic that should have united us as people as we work together to keep one another safe and healthy, seemed to divide us.

A lot of it unfortunately comes down to today’s politics. Many state, national and, sadly, local politicians have forgotten that a big part of politics is finding the common ground that unites us rather than finding a wedge to divide us.

I find that it’s easier to lose hope in the system, and in some cases humanity, now than when I was younger.

The death of Corporal Ray Hamilton of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, who was shot and killed on Christmas Eve while responding to a domestic violence call where the suspect had barricaded himself inside a home on North Park Boulevard near Fort Walton Beach, was devastating.

The community response, and how we have come together to show our support for the Sheriff’s Office, has been inspiring and beautiful to see.

On Saturday, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and their deputies volunteered to fill the shifts of Okaloosa deputies who were scheduled to work that day so that they could attend Corporal Hamilton’s funeral service.

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Gulf Breeze Police Department, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Walton Beach Police Department, Okaloosa Emergency Medical Services and Team Guardian of Tallahassee all assisted in escorting Corporal Hamilton from Pensacola back to Okaloosa County last week. Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents and representatives from other agencies lined the roadway to pay their respects as well.

Since the tragic shooting took place, tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to the Okaloosa County Star Charity, earmarked for Corporal Hamilton’s family.

The United States Honor Flag, which travels the country to honor law enforcement, fire and military heroes who die in the line of duty, was flown in for Corporal Hamilton’s services.

“There have calls, emails, cards, food, condolences from across the country – from the director of the FBI to the Florida Attorney General,” Michele Nicholson, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, wrote in an email. “It’s been constant and has lifted us up during an extremely painful time.”

I really wish it didn’t take a tragedy like the death of Corporal Hamilton to bring out the best in us, but I am inspired by the community coming together for his family and his family at the Sheriff’s Office. I hope to carry that inspiration with me throughout the new year and I hope you will as well.

Dusting Off: Community unites after horrible tragedy

Even COVID-19, a global pandemic that should have united us as people as we work together to keep one another safe and healthy, seemed to divide us.

A lot of it unfortunately comes down to today’s politics. Many state, national and, sadly, local politicians have forgotten that a big part of politics is finding the common ground that unites us rather than finding a wedge to divide us.

I find that it’s easier to lose hope in the system, and in some cases humanity, now than when I was younger.

The death of Corporal Ray Hamilton of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, who was shot and killed on Christmas Eve while responding to a domestic violence call where the suspect had barricaded himself inside a home on North Park Boulevard near Fort Walton Beach, was devastating.

The community response, and how we have come together to show our support for the Sheriff’s Office, has been inspiring and beautiful to see.

On Saturday, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and their deputies volunteered to fill the shifts of Okaloosa deputies who were scheduled to work that day so that they could attend Corporal Hamilton’s funeral service.

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Gulf Breeze Police Department, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Walton Beach Police Department, Okaloosa Emergency Medical Services and Team Guardian of Tallahassee all assisted in escorting Corporal Hamilton from Pensacola back to Okaloosa County last week. Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents and representatives from other agencies lined the roadway to pay their respects as well.

Since the tragic shooting took place, tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to the Okaloosa County Star Charity, earmarked for Corporal Hamilton’s family.

The United States Honor Flag, which travels the country to honor law enforcement, fire and military heroes who die in the line of duty, was flown in for Corporal Hamilton’s services.

“There have calls, emails, cards, food, condolences from across the country – from the director of the FBI to the Florida Attorney General,” Michele Nicholson, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, wrote in an email. “It’s been constant and has lifted us up during an extremely painful time.”

I really wish it didn’t take a tragedy like the death of Corporal Hamilton to bring out the best in us, but I am inspired by the community coming together for his family and his family at the Sheriff’s Office.

I hope to carry that inspiration with me throughout the new year and I hope you will as well.

Christmastime is here

Of course, we watch the classics. Those would be your “A Christmas Story,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Elf” and “Die Hard” (yup, I do consider that a Christmas movie).

Plus, I’m rather fond of “A Christmas Carol,” and will watch at least one version of the story each Christmas, be it the classic 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” or “Scrooged” with Bill Murray.

This year, there have been two new Christmas stories that will probably see regular viewings in years to come. Those are “A Christmas Story Christmas,” a sequel to the 1983 classic about Ralphie Parker’s quest to get a Red Ryder Range 200 Shot BB gun that brings back a lot of the cast from the original, and the other being “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” on Disney+.

It’s the latter that really got me thinking about Christmas traditions, how some of them are quite strange when you stop and think about them and could be very easy to misinterpret if you weren’t raised with them.

The special opens with the Guardians on their new base, Knowhere, which for those who haven’t seen any of the Guardians movies is carved out of massive head of a long dead celestial being, but not in a gross way.

There are all kinds of aliens on Knowhere, including a group of musicians who are played by the real-life band The Old 97s, and they want to sing a song they wrote about what they gather Christmas is about based on stories they’ve heard from different earthlings.

The song, “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime is Here),” is hilarious, incredibly catchy and has been on heavy rotation at home since the special came out last month.

Listening to the lyrics, it’s written like a group of people who have never heard of Christmas or Christmas traditions played a game of Telephone with one person who knew what was going on and things getting more and more distorted as the game goes on.

The song calls Santa a furry freak with epic superpowers who can fly to every human home in under 14 hours. It also mentions how good he is at picking locks and that if kids don’t leave him milk and cookies, he will leave them dung in their socks instead of a lump of coal in their stockings.

Instead of mistletoe being hung with care and being a way to get a quick kiss from a loved one, the song-version of Santa will shoot missiles at your toes if you’re on his naughty list and he might just roast your chestnuts with his flamethrower.

Plus, there’s a line about Santa hurling sugarplums at the heads of sleeping kids.

In addition to opening with an excellent song, the entire special ended up being a funny, but heartwarming special about family during Christmas.

Whatever your plans are for the holiday season, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. And if you need something to do, maybe watch a good movie or holiday special.

Time is right to walk back through the door

Writing this column is taking the first step through a door I never thought I’d walk through again.

I have been a local journalist along the Emerald Coast for close to 20 years now. During that time, I have worked at or been involved with just about every newspaper in the region. Except this one.

I started as a reporter at The Destin Log back in 2004. Since that time, I have held several reporter and editor positions at the Northwest Florida Daily News and its weekly publications, Santa Rosa’s Press Gazette, the Crestview News Bulletin, The Walton Sun and The Log, and I had been a weekend editor for both the Pensacola News Journal and the Panama City News Herald.

At the beginning of this year, I was promoted to managing editor of the Northwest Florida Daily News. Unfortunately, my position, along with several others locally and many, many more nationwide, were eliminated in August of this year.

When that happened, I figured that was the end of my journalism career. My wife and I love it here and don’t have any interest in moving away, so going to a newspaper outside of the area was never going to happen.

But then last month, one of those doors started to creak open.

In November, my wife, who is a recruiter for a local firm, was at a job fair for her company. While there, she heard about someone who was looking for an editor. That’s when she met Sandi Kemp, who founded the Navarre Press in 2000. Sandi has built a reputation as someone who is dedicated to strong community journalism.

It turns out Sandi had been trying to get in touch with me since August. On a related note, I learned I need to do a much better job of keeping an eye on my LinkedIn messages.

Sandi and I eventually met, and we have a lot of the same ideals when it comes to community. An informed community is absolutely vital to a healthy community. Journalists play an important role in making sure political leaders at every level are making decisions with the public’s best interests in mind.

I am very proud to be the new editor of the Navarre Press. While this is my first time working at the paper, it’s not my first time covering the community. I was the Santa Rosa County reporter for the Northwest Florida Daily News for a couple of years in the mid-2000s, and a lot my time was focused on the Navarre community.

I am really looking forward to getting plugged into the community once again. I’ve missed it here.
To do that, I need to hear from you. Whether you have a story idea, an upcoming event or just want to say hi, I’m always available and can be reached at dusty@sandpaperpublishing.com.

Dusty Ricketts, editor of Navarre Press



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