Totally St. Augustine (#27) Aug. 19, 2015

The Trump factor

I’m reluctantly wading back into the world of politics with this column but the Donald Trump show is simply too intriguing to ignore.

Whether you love or hate, or simply don’t care about the Donald, he certainly has stirred things up among the 16 or so other candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s even garnered the attention of the Democratic candidates, one of whom has had to explain why she went to his wedding in 2005.

The Republican field is a strong one with eight sitting or former governors, six sitting or former U.S. senators, a former Fortune-20 CEO, a retired neurosurgeon and Trump.

Many were surprised when Trump entered the race because few gave him much of a chance to win and he’s not famous for entering contests that he will likely lose. Trump maintains he’s in it for the long haul and, although he wants to run as a Republican, he has not ruled out running on a third-party ticket. He says he’s leaving that option open for leverage and to ensure that the Republican establishment treats him fairly.

If, as expected, Trump does not win the Republican nomination, a decision to make a third party run will almost certainly hand the presidency over to whomever the Democrats nominate. A week ago I would have simply said, “Hillary Clinton,” but recent email discoveries have muddied up the Democratic side.

Conventional wisdom is the success of Trump and, more recently, poll bumps by former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, are a result of public dissatisfaction with politics as usual.

Trump is somewhere between a train wreck and a loose cannon, while Fiorina has done an excellent job of picking apart Hillary’s record and presenting herself as a capable female presidential alternative. Carson, an African-American, was largely unknown when he announced his candidacy but has been most impressive when voters hear what he has to say, most recently at the first Republican national debate in Ohio.

Mainstream Republicans are worried Trump’s bombast will turn crucial swing voters away from their party. Polls also show Trump would be beaten badly in a head-to-head battle with Hillary Clinton. These same polls show several other candidates, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker defeating Clinton. Of course all this could change.

At this point Trump continues to lead most of the Republican polls with about 24 percent of the vote. But as political pundit, Mark Levin, and several others have pointed out, this means that 76 percent of Republican voters favor someone else. And nearly all of the others favored have more in common with each other than they do with Trump. Conclusion: Trump will have difficulty moving his numbers much higher than 30-35 percent, even as contenders drop out.

Four months ago I put up a Facebook post stating that I would have no problem voting for a Rubio/Fiorina ticket. I like and admire several other Republican candidates and, given the probable Democratic opposition, could vote for whomever emerges from this long nominating process on the Republican side.

But what about the Trump card? Here’s what I think will happen (and actually hope will happen).

The Donald will entertain us for several more months. He will have the guts to say things that will resonate with voters unhappy with the direction our country has taken during the past 6+ years. He will also say a lot of dumb stuff that will have Republicans, Democrats and Independents shaking their heads.

At some point Trump will declare victory and graciously bow out of the primary race. He will say he accomplished his goal of bringing several important issues to the forefront of the discussion and that he’s happier and more comfortable building hotels, hosting popular TV shows and making money.

Trump will speak at the Republican National Convention and throw his support behind the national ticket. The party will be united.

If all this happens, I might take another short break from writing about our community and offer additional political thought in a Summer 2016 column. Or maybe I won’t.

Finally let me offer a disclaimer that I’ve heard others use before and would seem appropriate here: “Of course I could be wrong.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine (#26) July 29, 2015

Cellular data for dummies

We recently added a third cell phone to our family, which my daughter earned when her final report card was received. Between the carrot and the stick we have found that the carrot approach usually works better.

With the phone came a whole new set of challenges meaning I had to once again learn some things about the cyber world about which I has thus far remained blissfully ignorant. As a public service I’ll share some of these with readers.

Our family has a limited cellular data plan, which heretofore had given us access to all the data needed on a monthly basis. Never had a month gone by when we didn’t roll over some of the data in our 3 gigabyte plan. More about rollover in a minute.

Like most burgeoning teenagers, our daughter is quite fond of watching music videos on YouTube. One of the problems with the YouTube app on her phone is that it continues to play videos even after you move to another app.

When she’s connected to wifi this isn’t a problem, since cellular data is not being used. Usually that is.

After speaking with one of the few customer-oriented reps I could find at my cell phone company (you can guess which one it is), I learned that even a momentary loss of wifi might cause your phone to switch to (and remain on) data usage.

Brief blackouts are not uncommon in Florida and my cable/internet company (you can guess which one it is) ordinarily doesn’t need a blackout to effect a brief (or prolonged) loss of service.

Because I’m a cautious kind of guy, I began to regularly check data usage on the family cellular account by opening the provider app on my phone. In the two days following my daughter’s addition to our plan, my wife used 0.02 gigs of data, I used 0.01 gigs and my daughter gobbled up 0.7 gigs. At this rate, we’d be over our monthly data limit in less than a week.

I frantically called my cellular provider to figure out what happened since the data usage was recorded overnight when my daughter’s phone wasn’t being used (really) and also was connected to wifi.

It was then I learned that momentary wifi disconnects could put you back on cellular usage. Additionally I was told not having the phone plugged in and charging could also be an issue.

My discussion with the agent helped me to recollect the settings on cell phones you can modify that will help avoid some of these unpleasant data usage surprises. This information is worth the price of your time for reading this column.

Go to “settings” on your cell phone. Then punch “cellular”. The resulting screen will allow you to turn your cellular usage on or off. It will also allow you to turn cellular usage on or off for specific apps.

It is here you will also learn how much data each app has been using and it’s where I learned that an overactive YouTube app was eating up the family’s data plan on my daughter’s phone. On day three the default data setting for YouTube and Instagram on my daughter’s phone became “off.”

I would recommend you check the data usage for all the apps on your phones and make the default setting “off” for big users that aren’t used on a regular, daily basis. App data usage doesn’t need to be on when you’re connected to wifi and when you’re out and about it’s a simple process to turn it on when needed and off when you’re done.

Finally the dirty little secret about (my provider) rollover data, which many know but some do not.

Rollover data disappears if you do not use it the following month. The only rollover data that is available in any given month is the amount below your contract data limit remaining from the previous month. The rollover from two months prior vanishes even if you do not use it.

Imagine you give your child a $5 allowance each week. If she only spends $3, then $2 rolls over to the following week and she has $7 to spend. If she spends $5 during that second week, she has reached her limit and nothing rolls over to the third week. At least that’s the way cellular data usage works. Sound fair?

Speaking of my cable company, I’m working a deal with them right now. Perhaps I’ll let you know how I make out in a future column. Knowledge is power and sometimes even my knowledge qualifies.


Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine #25 (July 6, 2015)

New virtual dance partners

Residents of St. Johns County have yet another reason to be proud of their local schools. Beginning next month a partnership between two entities will provide students and dancers a unique opportunity to enhance their education and development.

The St. Augustine Virtual Education Center is joining with Abella’s School of Dance to open the Academy for Dancers. It will provide current and future dancers with the opportunity to combine a full school schedule with an ambitious dance schedule.

Already housed in the same facility, the Virtual Education Center and Abella’s will allow students to pursue their dance dreams while eliminating the sometimes challenging logistics of getting from one school to another.

While the concept is not locally unique, this new partnership will be the first in our community offering both a state-certified educator on staff and the services of an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) certified instructor.

Abella’s School of Dance has been a mainstay in St. Augustine for more than five years. The St. Augustine Virtual Education Center opened this past January and shares ample classroom and studio space with Abella’s. The mission of the Virtual Education Center is to provide a safe, nurturing environment where self-schooled students can go to learn, build, and create themselves into role models for the community.

The Center wants to give parents the option of providing their children with a home-schooled environment with the added benefits of socialization and the flexibility to more easily include dance and other extracurricular activities into their schedules.

There are also some cases where the need for parents to return to the workforce would have been a limiting factor for continued home schooling. The Virtual Education Center can, in many instances, eliminate this impediment.

Students enrolled in the Virtual Education Center and the Academy for Dancers will also have the opportunity to enhance their experiences in courses covering art, music, yoga, conditioning and foreign languages. The curriculum is still developing and will be based on demand. Organizers also hope to include a community outreach component.

The fee schedule is flexible, affordable and can be tailored to each individual student’s needs. The Virtual Education Center follows the St. Johns County School District calendar. Dance instruction will commence during the second week of school.

There are two open houses scheduled when potential students can visit the Virtual Education Center and Abella’s Dance Studio to see what this new partnership has to offer.

The open houses are on Tuesday, July 14, and Wednesday, July 15 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. The facilities are located across from the Cobblestone Plaza at 1711 Lakeside Ave. (keep heading north and follow signs after you pass Rhinos and Hyppo Cafe).

For more information go online to


Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine #24 (June 18, 2015)

Music for the sisters’ ears

One of the great things about our community is the willingness of many who live here to share their time, talent and love with those who otherwise may not have the chance to experience all they have to offer.

I was reminded of this last week when I attended a private recital and sing-along my wife, Carol, arranged for the residents of Lourdes Hall in downtown St. Augustine. Lourdes Hall is home to about 20 Sisters of St. Joseph who have retired after giving a lifetime of service to the Lord and the Lord’s children.

Carol, a professional liaison with Haven Hospice, knows how much the sisters enjoy music, especially sacred music, and made arrangements to have two of our community’s finest musicians visit with the sisters.

Peter and Helen Morin have been members of our community for only about five years but have made serious impacts since their arrival.

Peter is director of music at St. Anastasia Catholic Church, which also happens to be the parish where my family worships. I have watched Peter take our parish music ministry up a notch during his short tenure.

He graduated with a Master of Sacred Music from Emory University and has a resume that includes study and performances both stateside and in the British Isles. Before coming to St. Augustine, Peter and his family resided in Sturbridge, Mass., where they led music at St. Anne’s Shrine and founded the Rimscha Concert Series.

Helen, currently the music teacher at R.B. Hunt Elementary School, earned a Master of Music in Violin Performance with Lucia Lin at Boston University. She also holds a Bachelor of Music in Violin from Trinity College of Music in London.

I first heard Helen play the violin during Sunday mass at St. Anastasia and even my untrained ears were able to recognize her amazing talent.

Peter and Helen showed up in mid-afternoon at Lourdes Hall while the sisters eagerly anticipated their arrival. The concertgoers were also excited to see the Morin’s two young children, Luciana, 7, and Emanuel, 2, were part of the troupe.

Peter played the piano and Helen worked her violin magic for nearly 90 minutes. Peter also led the sisters in song with renditions of How Great Thou Art and several hymns focusing on the Blessed Mother. Most of the songs the sisters knew by heart.

Helen’s version of Ave Maria showcased her abundant ability and was most appreciated by her grateful audience, including me. Luciana sang a couple of solos for the sisters, including a memorable rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I have heard Peter and Helen perform both at church and in Lewis Auditorium as part of the Emma Concert Series. It would have been challenging for the Lourdes residents to travel to either of those two venues.

Thank you Carol for making the arrangements. Thank you Morin Family for coming to the sisters’ home. And thank you St. Augustine for being such a great place to live.

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine #23 (May 28, 2015)

Peter Pan brings smiles

Because I’m a multimedia type of guy, I wrote a letter to the local newspaper before attending The Ballet of Peter Pan last weekend. In the letter I guaranteed everyone leaving Lewis Auditorium after the ballet would be wearing smiles. Call me a sage because that’s exactly what happened.

Quite simply, The Ballet of Peter Pan exceeded the expectations of persons like me who had eagerly anticipated its debut. I say, “debut” because its success almost guarantees the St. Augustine Ballet will make it part of the Ballet’s schedule for 2016.

I spoke to Director Luis Abella shortly after the curtain came down on the evening performance and suggested he might want to increase the showings from two to three next year. He told me he’s thinking “four.”

Those who know me recognize I am not completely unbiased when it comes to ballet productions in our community. My daughter has danced in the St. Augustine Ballet’s Nutcracker for the past four years and in several spring ballets. I’ve have watched her and many of her dance friends hone their skills while putting a great deal of time and sweat into becoming the best dancers possible. This is reflected in the quality that is unmistakably present when they take to the stage.

The Ballet of Peter Pan, however, was much more than just watching a bunch of great kids showcase their dancing skills. It was an entertaining and energizing exhibition that was extremely fun to watch. In fact, if the dancers were having half as much fun as the audience (and they undoubtedly were), then auditions for the 2016 version will be standing room only.

This wasn’t just ballet, although the performances of the two principal dancers (Daet Rodriguez and Margit Peguero Rodriguez) were quite spectacular. It was comedy, a familiar tale with an eclectic score and a variety of dance that melded perfectly with our St. Augustine community.

Captain William Mayhem of the St. Augustine Pirate Museum seemed to truly enjoy his role as the nefarious Captain Hook. His crew, largely comprised by members of one of Florida’s premier tap ensembles, “Noise Complaint,” was a perfect complement to the Darling family, Tiger Lily’s tribe, the lost children and the underwater fairies who performed so brilliantly en pointe.

Many readers might have already heard that they missed something pretty special by not attending this year’s Ballet of Peter Pan. We live in a relatively small community and news spreads fast. I promise this ballet will be a hot ticket in 2016.

St. Augustine is known primarily for its history, beaches and high quality of life. With several thriving dance schools, a population committed to cultural opportunities and the efforts of groups such as the St. Augustine Ballet, we can probably add “dance” to the list of areas making our community the envy of most others.


Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine #22 (May 9, 2015)

Mother’s Day, Peter Pan and a great community

This column will have a lot of moving parts but I hope to have it running smoothly by the time I construct its final sentence.

There were several subjects I wanted to write about and rather than picking one I chose to include as many as possible in a single column. I hope when it’s done it’s firing on all cylinders.

Mother’s Day is upon us and although my mom passed away in late 2012, my daughter, Jenny, has a mom who well exemplifies why this day continues to have great meaning for me and for others.

I have been married to Jenny’s mom for nearly 33 years and despite numerous ups and downs, I don’t think I could have picked a better partner. With very little effort Carol could have landed a trophy husband but for some inexplicable reason she said, “yes” when I proposed to her 35 years ago. Not only is she a wonderful wife but also there is no one out there who could ever be a better mother to our daughter. Maybe that’s hyperbole but I’m sticking by my statement.

For almost a year now, Carol has been working as a professional liaison for Haven Hospice. In that time I’ve more than doubled my knowledge of palliative care and truly appreciate the work done by all hospice organizations.

In her job capacity Carol interacts with local health care providers and others who may benefit by knowing all there is to know about palliative care. And this interaction goes well beyond simple business considerations.

During the week before Mother’s Day, Carol arranged for the St. Augustine Ballet to bring two of its best dancers to the common room at BayView Assisted Living and perform a scene from its May 16 production of Peter Pan.

Ballet Director Luis Abella was on hand as well as dancers Kali Lee, 15, and Grace Karger, 13. Abella wants to see the Ballet grow and recognizes the importance of providing these types of mini-events to those in our community who may otherwise miss out. But it doesn’t end there.

The St. Augustine Ballet is offering discounted Peter Pan tickets to BayView residents and BayView management is providing transportation and one-half the cost of these discounted tickets to any of its residents who want to attend.

This mini-event at BayView was yet another reason why I continue to believe our community is so special. Just a little cooperation and effort among three organizational entities brought together young and old in a setting that left wide smiles on the faces of all who participated.

I am confident the BayView residents who attend the Ballet of Peter Pan will have their smiles recharged and all the dancers (including my daughter) who put on the performance will take great pride in helping forge those smiles.

Mother’s Day, a great ballet company, young and old creating a positive synergy, efforts by my wife to make this a better community and a promotion of the May 16 production of Peter Pan could have comprised at least five individual columns. I’ve squeezed them all into one.

If you can make it, I guarantee you will enjoy the Ballet of Peter Pan. There will be two performances on Saturday, May 16 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College. Tickets will be available at the door but you’ll probably get a better seat by going online at

And one last item: If you attend the ballet, plan on purchasing your flowers and other keepsakes at the TinkerBell Boutique in the lobby. All net proceeds will support the Ballet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine #21 (April 20, 2015)

Will pigs fly for Rubio once again?

I normally do not cover politics in my role as a community columnist. I think I touched on the subject one time so far and that was after an election had concluded. But I was most impressed earlier this week when one of Florida’s U.S. senators announced his candidacy for our nation’s presidency.

There’s even somewhat of a local angle for this column since, while working for another publication, I covered Marco Rubio’s visit to St. Augustine in the spring 2011. There’s also another personal connection, which puts me on a spectrum somewhere between prophetic political pundit and lucky guesser.

First, to the latter. It was early 2010 and I was having lunch with my co-workers at the Florida Farm Bureau cafeteria in Gainesville. As often happens, the subject turned to politics. Florida’s then Gov. Charlie Crist had recently announced that he was giving up his job as governor to pursue a vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio was also seeking the Republican nomination and was trailing badly in the polls to Crist.

One of my colleagues was assessing how Crist would do in the general election when I suggested he might not even get the Republican nomination. This made my colleague gag and say something akin to, “when pigs fly.” About six months later, Porky had taken flight.

Fast forward to April 2011 when newly elected Sen. Marco Rubio was in the midst of a series of town hall meetings, one of which was scheduled for St. Augustine. The meeting was to take place at the Council on Aging’s River House and even I was surprised to see the standing-room-only crowd that had gathered.

The 2012 presidential election was taking shape at the time and Rubio’s name was being thrown around as a potential vice-presidential running mate for whomever the Republicans nominated.

The lead in the story I wrote about his appearance noted that just about the only thing Rubio said that disappointed the crowd was that he wasn’t seeking to be on the presidential ticket in 2012.

If you listened to what Rubio said when he declared for president on April 13, 2015, it wasn’t too different than what he told his St. Augustine audience four years earlier.

Back then Rubio said, “For the last 100 years Americans have been an inspiration to the rest of the world.” He then added, “Exceptionalism comes with a price. There’s nothing wrong with our people but there’s a lot wrong with our government.”

His 2011 remarks also covered some of his thoughts on taxes. He said, “We should be cautious when political leaders believe you have earned enough money. I think the role of government is to make it easier for you to succeed, not get in your way.”

The 2016 presidential election is still a long way off but I think Rubio has as good a chance as any to get the Republican nomination and, at age 44, become the third youngest U.S. president in history.

I’m old enough to remember folks saying that John F. Kennedy was too young to be president and, for that matter, Ronald Reagan was too old. We all know where those thoughts led.

I closed my story about Rubio’s 2011 visit to St. Augustine with a quote relating to the problems America was facing and how it made him feel.

Rubio said, “I would still rather be us than anyone else. I pray and hope that I will be able to be part of the solution.”

Be on the lookout for flying pigs because, four years later, Rubio might just get his chance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column