Tag Archives: retirement

Time of My Life, Part 43: Walking a libel tightrope

Most newspaper editorial pages have sections set aside to allow readers of the newspaper to vent, to complain, to speak their minds either positively or negatively about issues of the day and the individuals who make that news.

They also present editors of those pages at times with vexing problems. They involve that mysterious line that separates harsh commentary from libel.

I experienced many of those episodes during my 37 years in print journalism.

Here’s how it went … most of the time.

Someone would submit a letter for publication on our page. It might be full of anger at, say, a mayor or a city council member; perhaps the target is a county commissioner or a school board member; or, maybe it’s aimed at public figure not necessarily holding a public office, someone like a prominent businessman or woman.

The letter levels accusations that I cannot substantiate. The rhetoric is harsh, man. I call the author of the letter to confirm its source. I question the assertions made in the letter.

The writer of the letter stands by his or her assertion. He or she says it’s true and he can prove it. I ask the letter writer to provide documented proof. The writer can’t deliver the goods. I tell the writer that I am afraid the letter is libelous, which means it makes statements that could bring harm to the individual being criticized.

The letter writer then says something like this: “It’s my letter. Let ’em sue me!” To which I then say, “Actually, once you turn it in to me, it becomes my letter, too. Moreover, I don’t care if they sue you. I do care that they sue me and my employer. Therefore, I cannot publish this letter. I will not publish it. Thanks and have a great day.”

I had that conversation countless times over the years. It presents a stunning example of the responsibility that newspapers editors have when they go through each day dealing with issues that present themselves, sometimes in unexpected fashion.

There were times when I was less than patient with letter writers. I regret those instances. Then again, my patience occasionally was rubbed away when letter writers presumed to know more about the nuts and bolts of my job than I did.

They were wrong. I never did apologize for telling them so.

Happy Trails, Part 177: Furrowed brow has vanished

For starters, I need to beg your forgiveness for putting this mug shot of your friendly blogger on this post. I have a reason for doing so.

I want you to look at something that’s missing from my mug. My brow isn’t furrowed.

Back when I was working for a living, my face often reflected the tension I experienced during my “normal” work day. My Aunt Verna used to scold me affectionately that she worried my forehead between my eyebrows would become permanently wrinkled. I would laugh. So would she.

Truth is, near the end of my working career the tension became more prevalent and it showed quite dramatically in what I suppose one could call those “tension wrinkles” on my forehead.

However, one of the countless joys I now have these days is the lack of tension. It’s reflected in this picture.

I snapped this selfie this morning. I am sitting in my man cave as I write this brief blog post. I did not consciously relax my mug when I took this shot. I noticed the lack of any furrows on my forehead and thought I’d share this picture with you on this blog post and declare that my retirement journey has restored a sense of relaxation.

And so … the journey goes on.

Happy Trails, Part 176: Rediscovering anonymity

Ahh, anonymity is grand.

It is one of the joys I have discovered on this retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked.

We relocated more than a year ago to Collin County, Texas, after spending 23 years in Amarillo and nearly 11 years before that in Beaumont. I don’t want to oversell or overstate anything, so I will take care when I write these next few words.

The craft I pursued in the Golden Triangle and then in the Texas Panhandle — as opinion page editor for two once-fairly significant newspapers — gave me a bit of an elevated profile. I was able to write editorials for both newspapers as well as publish signed columns with my name and mug shot along with the written essays. Readers would see my face on the pages and then would greet me with, “Oh, you’re the guy in the newspaper!” 

I went through that little ritual for more than three decades in vastly different regions of Texas.

We now live far from either place. I do write for a couple of weekly newspapers these days — the Princeton Herald and the Farmersville Times. It’s a freelance gig that I sought out. The publisher of the papers has been kind enough to put me to work — but on my terms!

I now blend into the scenery. No one recognizes me on sight. I’m unsure whether my name will remain anonymous, given the exposure it will get by appearing on top of news features I hope to write for the Herald and the Times.

One more point I want to make. In Beaumont and in Amarillo, I occasionally found myself discussing politics and public policy in the most unusual locations. I would encounter friends and acquaintances who seemed to presume that since I wrote about politics at work, that I live and breathe it when I am off the clock. They are mistaken.

I once vowed that I would not discuss work in some places, such as at church. More than once I have told folks in the pew next to me that “I came here to talk to God, not to talk about politics with you or anyone else.”

So far, so good here in Princeton. Anonymity is a joy I intend to cherish for as long as humanly possible.

Happy Trails, Part 175: Adaptability accentuated

The longer we live as retired folks, the more I realize just how adaptable I am.

I’ve told you already about how I discovered my adaptability gene when we moved in early 1984 from the community where I was born, was reared, where I came of age, where I got married and where my sons came into this world. We moved from Portland, Ore., to the Golden Triangle of Texas. Talk about culture shock, not to mention humidity shock!

We settled in just fine there.

Then we relocated to Amarillo a mere 11 years later. Once again, we settled in. We sank our roots deeply into the Caprock soil.

Then retirement arrived, albeit a bit unexpectedly. I learned quickly to welcome it. I discovered almost immediately that separation anxiety from work is greatly overrated.

We love telling people that “we’re retired.” We have learned that weekends no longer exist, that every day is a proverbial Saturday.

My wife and I both worked hard at our jobs for many years. We effectively retired the same year.

After living in the Panhandle for more than two decades, we relocated to the Metroplex. Adaptability anyone? We’ve got it in spades, man! We sold our house, we moved into our fifth wheel RV, lived in the “house on wheels” for a few months, then headed down the road, where we found our forever home in Collin County.

I mention all of this because the longer we live here, the longer we go about our days as retired folks, the more comfortable we both feel with this life we have embraced tightly.

At this point in our journey through life, I suspect strongly that our adaptability will start to exhibit some limitation. Neither of us, for example, is going back to work full time.

However, as we look back on our lengthy and fun-filled journey — and speaking only for myself — I am amazed at the adaptable nature I have been able to show … much to my pleasant surprise!

Puppy Tales, Part 79: What would he do if he caught one?

LAKE LIVINGSTON STATE PARK, Texas — We came to a place that is swarming with squirrels. They seem to be everywhere.

Their presence among us begs the question: What would Toby the Puppy do if he actually managed to catch one of them?

As you likely can figure out, Toby has gone nuts straining to get at the little bushy-tailed critters that scamper through our RV campsite. He sees ’em and wants to get at ’em. They scoot up a tree and Toby tries like the dickens to dig in enough to start climbing after the squirrels. Well, no luck there.

I keep telling Toby the Puppy that God didn’t put him on this Earth with the ability to climb trees. He dismisses that bit of truth-telling. He seeks to get up the trees anyhow.

I keep wondering what in the world he would if he ever were to catch one of them. How would he hold? Could he hold it? Would he be, um, aggressive and seek to harm it?

I ask these questions because he is so remarkably gentle. All he wants is to lick people’s hands when they reach out to him. He does get a little jumpy when too many children approach him. We were forced to advise some little girls camped not far from us about that; they were at Lake Livingston as part of a Girl Scout/Brownie outing. Toby wanted to visit with them — but only one at a time.

Back to my point …

I hope I never will find out what he does if he catches a squirrel. I don’t anticipate that ever happening.

He does get mighty excited, though, to see these potential “friends.” We just need to remember to keep him on the short leash.

Parking It, Part 3: An undiscovered treasure

MARTIN CREEK LAKE STATE PARK, Texas –– My wife and I some time ago declared ourselves to be in love with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Specifically, we love the state parks system.

We have discovered what we believe is one of TP&W’s hidden treasures. Martin Creek Lake State Park is about a three-hour drive from our home in Princeton. We made the drive and then found this gem of a public park.

One minor difficulty proved to be no difficulty at all: Every spot in the park is a back-in space, meaning we had to back our fifth wheel into the space we had reserved. It turned out to be wide enough, roomy enough and, by golly, we got ‘er done!

However, the scenic nature of this park is quite stunning.

As we have found with all the Texas state parks we have visited since we took up RV life in retirement, this one is well-maintained, well-groomed and well-managed. There are plenty of scenic hiking trails throughout the park, which isn’t a large park.

What’s more, there is plenty of space between RV campsites. There’s no crowding of folks parked right next to the site next door.

So help me, I recommend to all of our Texas-resident friends that the state park system is worth using.

My wife and I make notes of those parks we intend to visit again when we see them for the first time. Martin Creek Lake has just elbowed its way to the head of the line of return-visit locations.

We love this place!

Happy Trails, Part 173: Back in the game, kind of …

This retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked has taken its share of peculiar and surprising twists and turns. They’ve all been good and have brought us joy.

This latest twist compels me to tell you that I am returning — in a manner of speaking — to where my print journalism career began 40 years ago.

I am back to reporting on community news. It’s not a full-time gig by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. It’s a free-lance affair. I get to choose the stories I want to cover for a group of community newspapers in Collin County, Texas. The publishers are giving me free rein.

I have informed them that my wife and I might not be available all the time. We plan to be on the road during RV traveling season — which is essentially every season except winter, during which time we’ll have our fifth wheel parked, winterized and in a state of hibernation.

But this new gig figures to be a great ride for as long as it lasts. I do not yet know when I’ll call a halt to it. Maybe I’ll check out of this world with my notebook and pen in hand.

I started my professional journey in late 1976 on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal, which was Portland’s evening newspaper. I gravitated in early 1977 to the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, an after suburban daily newspaper about 15 miles south of Portland. I took a job as a temporary sports writer, replacing the sports editor who was on maternity leave after the birth of her first child.

I covered high school football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, track and field.

The editor who hired me said there was a chance I could stay on if an opening occurred. It was a gamble to leave a permanent full time job for one that might end in a few months. It worked out. An opening occurred. I got hired permanently.

I got to cover police news, the courts, city councils, school boards; I wrote feature stories and I developed pictures in a dark room.

I gravitated eventually to opinion journalism, working on editorial pages in Beaumont and Amarillo in Texas. However, reporting and writing news stories is like, well, riding a bicycle. You do not forget how to do it.

My task now will be more limited. For one thing, dark rooms no longer exist in newspaper buildings; it’s all done digitally. I’ll take pictures with my I-phone and send them in via e-mail.

But I get to cover community news in Princeton, where we now live and in neighboring Farmersville, a town of about 3,200 residents just east of us.

I will have to learn a bit more about these communities as I work my around them, learning the names of the movers and shakers, gadflies and assorted soreheads.

I am grateful to my new employers for this opportunity to (more or less) get back in the game.

Am I living the dream? You bet I am.

About to set a blogging record

I am going to boast for a moment or two about this blog. Forgive me if I sound a bit self-serving.

Probably in the next 24 hours or so High Plains Blogger is going to set a record for page views and unique visitors for a single calendar year. What makes this bit of news boast worthy is that we still have two months left in this calendar year.

2019 will turn into 2020 soon. By the time it does, this blog will have shattered to smithereens the record it posted in 2018, which beat the mark it set in 2017, which was greater than the readership it had in 2016.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news (I refuse to call it “bad) is that I will have set the bar extremely high for the next record to be broken by the time 2021 rolls around.

My hope is that 2020 proves to be a banner year, too, for High Plains Blogger. I enjoy writing it. I thoroughly enjoy being able to spend the time that full-time retirement allows me to spend.

I am likely to have just a tiny bit less time over the next year. I have taken on a freelance writing gig for a local newspaper group. I will continue to write for KETR-FM, the public radio station based at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

My interest in maintaining my personal blog remains high.

I had two stupendous months earlier this year, in January and again in March, that enabled me to set this record. I cannot predict what events will transpire during the remainder of this year or next year that might send blog traffic through the roof.

I’m just proud of the record I am about set. I am hoping to maintain interest in this blog.

What’s left now is merely to offer a word of thanks to those who read these words and those who find them worth sharing with their own social media network of friends and acquaintances.

As for what’s ahead, well … let me at ’em.

Happy Trails, Part 172: The road takes another surprise turn

The reporter’s notebook you see here is meant to illustrate the surprise turn my retirement journey has taken.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time this week. I now shall explain.

We took out a subscription this past week to the Princeton Herald, a weekly newspaper that covers the community where my wife, myself and Toby the Puppy live. I asked the circulation clerk for the editor’s name. She gave it to me and transferred me to her desk; the voice mail machine picked up the call and I left a message.

I inquired as to whether the newspaper needed any freelance help from a retired journalist who has moved into this community, and made a few contacts here and there.

It turns out the Princeton Herald has such a need.

So, I am now working very part time for a newspaper … again! The editor, who runs the Herald and several other publications in this part of the Metroplex with her husband, is giving me considerable latitude. I will be able to sniff out my own stories whenever I feel like it. I might get be handed an assignment to cover a city council or another governmental entity. No sweat, right?

Of course, all of this hinges on availability, given that as retired folks, my wife and I might be unavailable, as we would be on the road to hither and yon pulling our RV across the continent.

But … that’s OK with my new boss.

Meanwhile, this retirement journey goes on. Life is so very good.

Happy Trails, Part 171: Where’s my calendar?

People have told me this would happen. It did. Today.

I went to the grocery store to purchase a few items. I had a coupon I intended to redeem for one of the items I purchased.

The cashier began ringing up my groceries. Then we had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: I have a coupon I would like to redeem.

Cashier: Thank you, sir. Oh, wait a minute. This coupon is expired.

Me: What do you mean? It says it expires on the Fourth of October. Today is the Third.

Cashier: No, sir. It’s the Fifth. The coupon expired yesterday.

Me: Huh? Are you sure?

Cashier: Yes. It’s the Fifth.

There you have it. I lost track of the day. I didn’t know what day it was. Oh sure, I knew in the moment that today is Saturday. I just didn’t know the day of the month.

The young lady who rang up my groceries was nice enough to apologize. “I’m very sorry, sir,” she said. “Hey, no worries,” I told her. “I’m the dunderhead, not you.”

So it goes. My retired friends told me they lose track of the days of the week as well. I generally have laughed it off. It’ll never happen. Not to me. I’ve still got enough of my marbles to know what day of the week it is. 

Hah! As of today, I no longer am certain of it. However, my life as a retired American is still quite wonderful.