Totally St. Augustine (#32) March 17, 2016

Water leak doesn’t empty my glass

It sometimes takes a series of unfortunate occurrences to make you realize just how lucky you are. This became abundantly clear to me around the middle of February.

I had decided to take a short break from writing this column after celebrating the New Year. My short break became longer when the “leak” happened.

I noticed the fancy, new water softener in my garage was regenerating in the middle of the day and thought perhaps its clock had been reset following a power outage.

However I found the clock to be keeping accurate time. Directly below the clock’s digital readout is another digital display measuring water flow. All the faucets and other plumbing in my house were off yet there was about one-half gallon per minute of water flowing through the softener. This couldn’t be good.

After some additional research, aka fumbling around, I determined I likely had a slab leak. The 37-year-old copper piping underneath my home’s concrete slab had finally succumbed to father time. What’s a homeowner to do? My first action was to call plumber #1.

He arrived and agreed with my diagnosis and spent nearly three hours wearing headphones and carrying a suction cup on a stick in search of the leak. He finally gave up and recommended another business that specialized in locating leaks.

The next day (a Saturday) a professional leak detector showed up and, within 30 minutes, determined the leak was in a cold water line in the middle of our living room.

Next came the “choice.” We have continuous flooring throughout our house and pulling it up to jackhammer through the slab and repair the leak might end up costing us a small fortune. It was possible we would have to replace flooring throughout the house. The choice became academic when the leak expanded to the hot water line and increased to about two gallons per minute. We were headed for a whole-house replumb.

Plumber #1 could put us on the schedule in two weeks. So we hired plumber #2 who could begin in a few days. Until the replumb began we were living in our home and turning on the water main only when needed, about 6-10 times per day. Throughout the ordeal we prayed our leak would not turn into a flood. Ultimately our prayers were answered.

We spent four days in a hotel on the beach while the work was being accomplished. Our dogs spent a week’s vacation time at Cindy’s Retreat for Dogs. They were clueless but happy.

During this process we were working with a home restoration company and our insurance company in an attempt to mitigate disruptions, costs and potential damage. Maybe I’ll talk about these experiences in another column someday.

We are now back in our home with brand new PEX pipe running through the attic to our sinks, tubs, toilets, appliances and bibs. The copper piping under our slab has been retired.

The plumber had to cut 20 holes in our drywall, which has since been repaired and painted. Our cold-water taps are initially a little warmer when the sun shines on our roof and the attic heats up. We will likely need to be cautious in the summer to avoid “cold water” burns.

But our adventure was not completely done. Last week we experienced a circuit breaker repeatedly flipping and called an electrician to replace it. When he opened our panel he noted some melting around one of the main terminals and recommended it be rewired with new breakers. I like fire even less than flooding and told the electrician to proceed. So now we have new pipes and new wiring. I have resisted the urge to ask, “what’s next?”

Stuff happens and I try to roll with the punches. With a wonderful wife and daughter sharing my life in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, my glass is more than half full.

1 Comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine (No. 31) Dec, 14, 2015

Hell week culminates in magic

What could be less shocking than me writing about the St. Augustine Ballet Nutcracker for my last column of the year? If you guessed, “not a darn thing,” then you win the grand prize. More about the grand prize later.

I have a love/hate relationship with the week leading up to ballet performance weekend. Many parents and ballet supporters have affectionately started to call it, “hell week.”

There are four performances this year and ticket sales have been brisk. Shows are scheduled Saturday, Dec. 19 and Sunday, Dec. 20. There will be a matinee at 2 p.m. and a prime-time ballet at 7:30 p.m. each day.

Tickets are available online until Dec. 17 at After then, any remaining tickets can be purchased at the Lewis Auditorium box office one hour before each show. Lewis Auditorium is located in downtown St. Augustine, just west of the Lightner Museum.

Scores of young local dancers will balance end-of-term schoolwork with a rigorous rehearsal schedule during hell week. It will top off the nearly four months of rehearsals that began last August.

The principal guest dancers arrive during hell week and work with the youngsters to help bring together elements of the professionally produced ballet, now in its seventh year.

Adam Schiffer and Ashley Hathaway, both with the Carolina Ballet, will perform the roles of the Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy.

Joining Schiffer and Hathaway onstage will be Orlando Molina, School Principal of the Georgia Ballet, in the role of Drosselmeyer, and Daet Rodriguez, Artistic Director of the Georgia Ballet, in the role of Snow King.

Several ballet parents volunteer to provide dinner for the hardworking dancers during hell week. It’s a potpourri of nourishment, some homemade and some purchased from one or more of our local eateries. Ballet is challenging and the dancers (including the participating tap dancers) work up quite an appetite.

For the fifth consecutive year my wife, Carol, will be operating the Nutcracker Boutique before and after all performances. She takes a one-week break following the conclusion of each year’s ballet before she starts shopping for the next year’s edition at vendors such as Mark Roberts, Burton and Burton and Kurt Adler. She even attended a wholesale trade show this past summer.

Carol makes it convenient for parents and friends wishing to buy bouquets for their dancers by providing flowers at the lobby boutique. This year she is working with a local florist, Jade Violet Wedding Floral, who is providing the bouquets at cost. All net proceeds from boutique sales go directly to support the St. Augustine Ballet.

I rode shotgun with Nutcracker Director Luis Abella who towed the St. Augustine Ballet float in this year’s Christmas parade. Those who braved the wet weather will recall not only was there rain to deal with, but it actually snowed as the float passed by.

Eyes brightened and smiles formed as onlookers noticed the snow flurries seeming to appear from nowhere. This magical snow will appear once again during the performances of the Nutcracker.

Which brings me to my annual promise made to all of you who support dance in our community by attending this annual tradition. Consider it the grand prize I talked about earlier. You will leave the auditorium with a smile on your face. I guarantee it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine (#30) Dec. 2, 2015

High-tech before Google

I was recently reading an article about Triple Crown winner, American Pharaoh, in which the author described the horse’s magnificent fluidity of motion. The author referenced American Pharaoh’s final outing in the Breeder’s Cup, a several-length victory.

With my curiosity tweaked, I went online to YouTube and searched for the 2015 Breeder’s Cup. Within seconds I was watching a full-screen, high-definition video of the race. The experience got me to thinking about a lifetime of continually improving technology, which spoiled me as I lived through it.

We baby boomers are the first generation who grew up not knowing what life was like without television. Man, were we spoiled.

Our first family television was a table-like seven-inch BW console that took about 30 seconds to warm up. We had seven over-the-air stations (New York area), which you had to tune and often adjust the vertical and horizontal holds. (Google “Tuning an old BW television” videos)

In my mid-20s I purchased my first color TV, paying $328 for a 19-inch portable on sale in a Tallahassee K-Mart. It came with a mechanical tuner and without a remote. But I could watch sports in color. I was living the life.

Long before that, I can remember having to connect with an operator when making a phone call. Along came the dial phone and I could call someone on a private line without an operator’s help. Pretty cool. (At this point, readers born in the 21st century might want to Google “operator and switchboard” images for clarification.)

Then came pushbutton phones, speaker phones, bag phones, flip phones, smart phones, FaceTime, Skype and free long distance. No longer did we have to make person-to-person calls to ourselves to alert a loved one we had arrived somewhere safely. (My apologies to younger readers who have no idea what I’m talking about. Strategic Googling should clue you in.)

I can remember new cars selling for less than $3,000. It didn’t bother us that many of them didn’t come with power steering, power brakes, power locks or power windows. Most had AM radios but it wasn’t long before FM radios and cartridge tape players were available options. You could add after-market components and cruise in a pimpmobile before it had a name. Look out, Fonzie. (Google “Happy Days” images.)

There once was a time that adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing required a pencil and paper. Slide rules helped with difficult computations although I never really figured out how to use them correctly. Then came electronic calculators, which could cost more than $100. Now we can buy calculators at the dollar store or just use the ones on our phone. Although these phones have become smarter, I’m not sure we have.

You used to have to call a travel agent to buy a plane ticket. You used to have to call a broker to buy and sell stock. You used to have to write a check and mail it, in order to pay a bill. You used to need currency and coins to buy stuff.

And writers used to send their readers to an encyclopedia, dictionary or the library to gain more knowledge on an arcane concept or practice.

Yes, there was life before Google, but I am one older guy who is not going to tell you it was better. Slower, maybe; but not better. Google on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine (#29) Oct. 30, 2015

This one time I said “yes”

Today I did something I probably have never done before and likely will never do again. I voted “yes” on a proposed tax increase.

After much discussion with my wife, she and I completed our absentee ballots and signed them. They went into the mail about an hour ago. I won’t say how my wife voted but we usually try to not cancel out our votes. To quote Julius Caesar, “The die is cast.”

Discussions and arguments over whether tax increases are justified usually follow a pattern. Those who support the tax increase lament the parade of horribles that will occur if more tax revenue is not forthcoming. Those who oppose the tax increase aver that revenue shortfalls could be avoided by tightening of belts and more judicious use of existing tax revenues. The debate regarding this tax increase pretty much followed that pattern.

Those who oppose the ½ percent tax increase also are not happy with the cost of holding a special election when the issue could have been decided on the presidential primary ballot this coming March. Those supporting the tax increase say that our schools can’t afford to wait the extra year for the increase, if passed, to take effect. The sales tax would be implemented in January following the year the referendum was approved. Both sides have a point.

Proponents argue that the sales tax increase would sunset in 10 years and would need another affirmative vote of the electorate to continue. Opponents like to quote Benjamin Franklin who said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Again, both sides offer compelling arguments.

Those who oppose the tax increase worry that with a new pot of money for education, revenues previously used to fund schools will be diverted for other pressing, non-educational purposes. Tax supporters say there is adequate transparency in the county budgeting process and there would be a taxpayer rebellion if officials attempted this strategy. I suppose all this would remain to be seen.

There are two reasons I ultimately decided to cast a “yes” vote for this proposed tax increase. The first is a selfish reason. I have a horse in the race because my daughter attends a St. Johns County middle school. The school administration and our teachers are doing something right based on the rankings our schools consistently attain. If they say more revenue is needed, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt in this instance.

The other reason I voted “yes” is because the increase is largely affordable. I particularly like the exemption for purchases exceeding $5,000. As I understand it, the extra ½ percent sales tax will be assessed only on the first $5,000 of a major purchase. That is wise.

There is a caveat to my second reason, which I have long used in my “default” opposition to all tax increases. Taxes are cumulative so it’s not persuasive to consistently argue taxpayers can endure small tax increases.

How often have you heard proponents of a particular tax increase say it will cost the taxpayer only the price of a weekly cup of coffee? Stop paying attention and pretty soon you will be buying coffee, donuts and the morning newspaper for everyone on your block.

If this tax increase is approved by the voters, and I think it will be, let’s hope and pray that our local officials don’t see it as a mandate for piling on.


Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

Totally St. Augustine (#28) Sept. 26, 2015

A peak inside Clara’s closet

I know summer is almost over when my daughter begins rehearsals for the late December performances of the St. Augustine Nutcracker. Could it be almost four years ago when she made her debut in the ballet dancing in the roles of a mouse and angel? Time, she flies.

My wife, Carol, and I run a Nutcracker Boutique during the ballet’s run to raise funds in support of dance in our community. It requires I surrender my “guy credentials” in search of online deals for American Girl dolls and then run around town during the performances purchasing bulk quantities of fresh flowers for bouquet sales. I draw the line at actually assembling the bouquets.

Carol has come up with a new way of making me politically correct by further enhancing my gender neutrality. I will be helping her run “Clara’s Closet,” a three-hour sale scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 4.

This event will benefit the St. Augustine Ballet and will be free and open to the public in the Haven Hospice Community Room, located just a few doors south of Planet Fitness at 2497 U.S. 1 South in St. Augustine. It will run from 2 p.m.-5 p.m.

According to Carol this showcase is not just for fans of ballet. “We are bringing together a group of unusual, if not unique, vendors who will be offering items that would be hard to find locally,” said told me. “And their items will be competitively priced with up to a 30 percent portion of the sale price used to support the Ballet.”

Among the vendors lined up so far are Exotic Recovery (specialty potpourri and sachets), Image Leather (high-end leather jackets appropriate for Florida), Tres Mois Jewelry, Miche Purses, Sweet Pea Homemade Children’s Clothes, Your Self Expression Jewelry (a jewelry line conceived by a teenager in Jacksonville), Unique Gemstone Designs and Under the Sea (jewelry). A smaller version of our Nutcracker Boutique will also be open during this visit into Clara’s Closet.

“Shoppers can buy for themselves or get in some early Christmas shopping,” suggested Carol. “They can select from items not usually available in this area and snack on local food specialties while doing so.”

Carol shared that the Ballet is blessed to have several local food providers show their support for the Ballet at this event by providing fare samplings to shoppers.

“We have gotten commitments from Ned’s Southside Kitchen, Salt Life Food Shack, St. Augustine Distillery and The Tasting Room Wine and Tapas,” she revealed. “And we hope to ask a few more of our community’s best to participate.”

One of my jobs is to help draw people to this three-hour sale, which is why this column is being written. But I’m sure my involvement will not end here.

If you attend, and you had better attend because my role as a publicist is on the line, don’t be surprised if you see me flitting behind a table-full of ornaments, music boxes and nutcrackers once the event begins.

Really folks. Please plan to bring a bunch of your friends to this event and buy some neat things in support of the Ballet. It won’t cost you a cent to get in and there will be free food and entertainment and, if need be, I’ll stream a few football games on my iPhone. See you there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Online column

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