Totally St. Augustine (#42) Feb.14, 2017

Adventures with Alice this May

Since the announcement made late last year, local ballet fans have been looking forward to the St. Augustine Ballet’s brand new production of Alice in Wonderland.

Based on the Lewis Carroll children’s story of the same name, the ballet is being brought to the stage at Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium with performances May 13-14, 2017.

Director Luis Abella said the story of a young girl coming to terms with herself will appeal to young and more mature audiences alike. He is both hopeful and confident the ballet will meet with the same success as last spring’s production of the Ballet of Peter Pan.

Many St. Johns County residents are familiar with the St. Augustine Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. For the past eight years The St. Augustine Nutcracker has been a must-see during the Christmas season.

Lesser known, but gaining in popularity, have been the Ballet’s spring productions. They have included Peter and the Wolf, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Ballet of Peter Pan and this year’s Alice in Wonderland.

The “Alice” cast consists of 54 students from 26 schools (including homeschooled), the professional tap company Noise Complaint and a few local, community “celebrities” who will be announced as soon as their participation is confirmed.

Carolyn Karger, who worked on last year’s Ballet of Peter Pan, is compiling the ballet’s score. Karger is both a musician, and a music producer and editor.

She described the music for Alice as eclectic, dramatic and whimsical. Karger said it incorporates contemporary and classical music, cool jazz, steampunk, middle-eastern and percussive musical styles.

The choreography is all new and has specifically been created for this production of Alice in Wonderland. Teaming up on the choreography are Emily Masson and Jenne Bernes, two names well-known to the local dance community.

Rob O’Leary is responsible for set design and Virginie Woodward is creating the costumes. Both have been a part of St. Augustine Ballet productions since the Ballet’s inception.

Harlow Hatin and Ella Wimpelberg will share the role of Alice. Arianna Fleischman will portray the White Rabbit and Devin Mantei is the Cheshire Cat.

Kali Lee is the Queen of Hearts, Kiera Pheffer is the Duchess and Grace Karger is cast as the Caterpillar. Other cast members include:

Jenny Albanesi, Maya Alvarez, Josephine Anzelmo, Marla Ayrish, Sabrina Berman, Mileena Bicknell, Danielle Bleau, Lexi Brockway, Sydney Brockway, Abby Chapman, Milo Christensen, Elizabeth Coleman, Catalina Davis, Katherine DeAcutis, Julia Douglas, Christina Dyches, Kismet Field, Jaida Fioreze, Carolina Garcia, Rayna Glad, Jocelyn Herstone, Jake Karger, Evie Kirschling, Riley Kirschling, Meadow Kuc, Nature Kuc, Emaleigh Layman, Naomi Lewis, Ayla Lugo, Paris Lugo, Emma Maroney, Claudia Mueckay, Adelaide Pacetti, Carson Palmer, Katie Pennington, Ofir Pizanti, Lucy Ramsey, Baylee Rogan, Anthony Romero, Sarah Salvi, Emily Screnock, Emma Sweeney, Alexa Walcott, Jolynne Waldner, Jordan Wallace, Eléa Woodward and Tess Woodward.

Schools represented in the cast include:

Gamble Rodgers Middle, St. Augustine High, Pacetti Bay Middle, St Johns Academy, Durbin Creek Elementary, Murray Middle, Wards Creek Elementary, Timberlin Creek Elementary, Valley Ridge Academy, Hartley Elementary, Otis Mason Elementary, Crookshank Elementary, Indian Trails Middle, St. John’s Virtual, Florida Virtual, Cathedral Parish, Fruit Cove Middle, Bertram Trails High, Moultrie Montessori, Ketterlinus Elementary, Wadsworth Elementary, RB Hunt Elementary, St. Augustine Public Montessori, Homeschool, Flagler College and the University of North Florida.

Tickets will soon be on sale and will be available at Keep reading here for updated information.


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Totally St. Augustine (#41) Jan. 3, 2017

Calling out “good”

I often self-counsel myself with the admonition to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” It’s especially good advice when dealing with my local cable/internet provider.

While I have never shied away from pointing out horrible customer service, I try to call out “good” when it happens. Recently Comcast/Xfinity was responsible for some good.

And although this redemption was welcome I should warn that blemishes still break out. My cable and/or internet service seems to go kaput at least once per month for no fathomable reason.

The sun is shining, the power is on and there’s no utility crew digging random holes within my line of sight. Yet, kaput it goes.

But, often to my surprise, a phone call or a reset button on my smart phone Xfinity app gets the service quickly restored. I kid you not.

Then, for outages lasting several hours or longer, something surprisingly inexplicable happens. If you contact the company it will credit your account (usually a minimum of $5) for the service outage. This is not my old cable company.

Another amazing aftermath occurred following my recent meeting with a Comcast representative at its shiny, new Cobblestone store. Locals who are familiar with the old Comcast store near Planet Fitness (and near Jaybirds before that) will think they died and went to heaven when walking into its newly opened location.

To me it looks as if Comcast took the best elements of Apple and AT&T retail stores and melded them together. Best of all there is no “genius bar.”

Anyway I meandered into the new Comcast store in early December to talk about a two-year renewal of my contract for cable and internet service. My contract also included phone, which I never used.

My request to the Xfinity person (I’m told the company prefers Xfinity because it helps customers disassociate it from previous bad experiences with Comcast – more about that later) was to get me hooked up for another two years with little or no price increase. I even offered to let them scrub my phone service.

The good news is the agent was able to accommodate my request. The bad news is that I couldn’t get rid of the phone service because my package was cheaper when it was included. So I’ll have to continue putting up with those on-screen TV messages about incoming calls.

My service is priced about 3 percent higher for the coming two years but the agent was able to apply several credits that pretty much took care of the increase. She even gave me a printout of what I was getting so I’d have ammunition later on to complain, if and when the promises, prices and services do not match.

One more thing. If you are not on Twitter, join. It’s the absolute best way to deal with Xfinity when trying to get a billing adjustment for service outages.

You won’t have to deal with interminable phone screenings and/or talk to agents whose third language is English.

Simply send a Twitter message to @ComcastCares. I’m sure Xfinity also cares but apparently old monikers die hard. Hey; whatever works.

(Epilogue – My cable went kaput for a nine hours , for no fathomable reason, after I submitted this column. Working through Xfinity’s Twitter folks I received a $5 credit on my bill.)

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Totally St. Augustine (#40) Dec. 8, 2016

St. Augustine Nutcracker returns for 8th year

In the late 1960s I took a Comprehensive Humanities course at the University of Florida that I didn’t much like.

One of the ways we were tested involved the playing of recorded bits of classical music, which we had to identify in a multiple-choice selection. For the most part I was clueless and my grades reflected such.

I think of those times every time I today hear an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. You might hear me blurt out, “Oh, that’s from the Russian scene,” or “ that’s from the Dance of the Mirlitons.” (And if you’ve wondered as I have about these “mirlitons,” check out this link:

What a difference 40+ years make. Bring on those Humanities midterms with the classical excerpts. My answers will set the curve.

I bring you all this personal history and trivia as a longwinded reminder that it’s once again time for the St. Augustine Nutcracker.

Now in its eighth year, this evolving local tradition will be presented four times on Dec. 17-18 in the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College. Matinees are scheduled for 1:30, with evening performances at 7.

This is the sixth consecutive year my daughter will be a part of the Ballet and the sixth consecutive year my wife will be running a Nutcracker Boutique in the lobby before and after each show (passers-by welcome).

Every penny of the net proceeds from sales at the Boutique goes to support dance in our community and the St. Augustine Ballet.

Guests can choose from hundreds of Nutcracker ornaments, many of them new this year. And there will be scores of other gifts and stocking stuffers available for sale.

My wife is also working with a local florist (Jade Violet) to provide dancer bouquets at very competitive prices. The bouquets are being made available at cost so there’s no need to make an extra stop to purchase flowers elsewhere.

Nutcracker Director Luis Abella promises a memorable Ballet and has brought in principal dancers who will dazzle audiences.

Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg will perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy opposite her husband Carlos Miguel Guerra as the Cavalier. Both have worked at the Miami City Ballet.

The local dancers who will participate in the Nutcracker include both newcomers and veterans. I remember when my daughter was a newcomer in the 2011 Ballet. I have mixed emotions about her now being one of the “big girls.”

Before my daughter was even a newcomer, her mother and I used to take her to Jacksonville to see the First Coast Nutcracker. I could swear she danced before she could walk.

Now our community is fortunate to have its own Nutcracker and it gets better with each passing year. Look out Jacksonville. Your little sister to the south is gaining on you.

I have made it a personal tradition to promise everyone who attends the St. Augustine Nutcracker they will leave the theatre with a smile on their face. This year is no different. I guarantee it.

Tickets are available online at

You can also purchase tickets at the box office beginning one hour prior to each performance. Tickets remain, but hurry. They’re going fast.

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Totally St. Augustine (#39) Nov. 7, 2016

The fruits of writer’s block

Returned home from a family vacation 10 days ago and have been suffering a major case of writer’s block ever since. As a cure I decided to park myself in front of a keyboard and let fly until I got to about 500 words. Don’t know where this is leading.

Since I am retired from paying jobs am I even allowed to have vacations? Or do I simply accompany my wife on her vacation. My daughter’s participation was, more or less, parent-sanctioned hooky. This, despite a couple of hour’s schoolwork each day while poolside.

I write this less than a week before the presidential election. We are truly a nation divided and I have a feeling we are headed for some rough times ahead no matter who wins.

Those close to me know where my loyalties lie but I have (mostly) withstood the temptation to preach to my friends, or anyone else who might listen, about which lever to pull when voting.

Speaking of which, I can’t remember the last time I actually pulled a lever when voting. I think it might have been during student elections at the University of Florida in the early 1970s.

I ran one of those elections and can still remember the embarrassment I suffered when I left two student senate candidates in the College of Engineering off the ballot. Or maybe it was another one of the colleges. Who can remember?

My mug shot was on the front page of the Independent Florida Alligator with a cutline that read, “no defense.” I didn’t have one.

But back to the voting machines with levers. I think they were donated to the university by Alachua County after they adopted new voting procedures. About all I can remember about the machines was they were a bear to program. And, of course, it wasn’t difficult to mistakenly leave candidates off the ballot.

Many political pundits say this has been the strangest presidential election in history and the first that has been so heavily impacted by the existence of social media. Imagine someone predicting in 2006 that a presidential election 10 years in the future would be heavily influenced by a candidate’s tweets and trending social media issues. Say what?

And just to demonstrate where stream-of-consciousness writing can lead you, wasn’t Hurricane Matthew a thoroughly unwelcome distraction?

We were fortunate to get through it pretty much unscathed mostly because, I presume, we decided to purchase flood insurance about a year ago. Had we not done so we would have shared the fate of some of our friends and had to deal with several inches (or feet) of water in our homes.

I have been blown away by the concern and generosity by community members who rushed to help those most severely impacted by the storm. It is another one of the reasons why I believe we live in one of the best places on the planet.

And it is because of that I have been able to end this column to nowhere with a reference to St. Augustine, thereby fulfilling a major writing prerequisite for a community columnist.

When my writer’s block is cured I’ll try to do better. I promise.

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Totally St. Augustine (#38) Sept. 22, 2016

Losing my “man” card

About six years ago I had to turn in my “man” card when I became an aficionado of ballet. I really had no choice because my daughter was appearing in several local dance productions each year.

Since then I have come to understand that dancers who are serious about ballet are accomplished athletes. And they shouldn’t be penalized because the fruits of their efforts are beautiful to watch. There are also far fewer fights at a ballet than at a hockey game. But I digress.

My “man” card was reissued when I discovered the athletic nature of what ballet dancers accomplish. Unfortunately I did something a couple of months ago, which I fear might result in yet another revocation of my “man” card. I received a pedicure.

I’ve been cutting my own toenails for most of my life. But following a total knee replacement this past May my lack of flexibility made it difficult for me to work on my toes. So Carol, my wife, bought me a gift card to Medi Nails and Spa. The gift card was good for a signature pedicure.

I hated the thought of losing my “man” card once again but I bit the bullet and called Jessica at Medi Nails to make an appointment.

Understand I have size 11, Triple E, flat feet. Two years ago my right foot underwent a bunionectomy. Foot model photographers are not exactly knocking down my door.

Jessica would work on my “dogs” and I felt for her like I feel for the dental hygienist who cleans my teeth twice a year. Not your dream jobs.

Jessica is the manager/nail tech at Medi Nails and she could not have been nicer to me. She took me to a private suite and soaked, scrubbed, exfoliated and massaged my feet. She also trimmed my nails and cuticles.

Everything was as innocent as could be but the experience was pleasant enough that I fully expected the vice squad to crash through the front door at any minute. Losing my “man” card was the least of my worries. I began trying to recall my lawyer’s phone number. Luckily the need to do so never arose.

Then it was over and I was allowed to leave. No sirens, no police, no “man” card confiscators. And even though I didn’t opt to have Jessica paint my nails (automatic “man” card revocation), I have to say my toenails and feet looked marvelous. Well, maybe not marvelous, but at least a tad better than they did when I walked in.

But there’s more to this story. Remember I wrote earlier about my daughter being a ballet dancer. This has evolved into efforts Carol and I (and others) engage in to support the St. Augustine Ballet, a local non profit responsible for producing the St. Augustine Nutcracker each Christmas season for the past eight years.

I mentioned to Carol that ballet dancers have toes and, well, their toes might enjoy a little pampering. Long story short, Carol and Jessica put their heads together and figured out a way for Medi Nails and Spa to support dance in our community and the St. Augustine Ballet.

During the months of October and November clients of Medi Nails and Spa who mention the St. Augustine Ballet can have 20 percent of their charges donated back to the Ballet. This is one of those win-wins.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Medi Nails and Spa is a competitively priced facility and employs medical grade sanitation by an advanced trained team to ensure safety and satisfaction. And all procedures, including manicures, pedicures, massage and facials are performed in private suites.

Medi Nails and Spa is located in St. Johns Medical Park and can be found online at The phone number is 904-342-5948.

And if any of my fellow dance dads are worried sitting for a pedicure will compromise their “man cards,” fear not.

You will discover having your “dogs” worked on by Jessica or any of the other nail techs at Medi Nails and Spa is without question the “manly” thing to do.

So please do it for the Ballet.

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Totally St. Augustine (#37) August 17, 2016

New Publix lives up to its name

After a nine-month incubation period, the new and somewhat improved Publix Supermarket finally opened at Moultrie Square. And, for most of us, it was worth the wait.

With all due respect to manager Chuck Hooper and his staff at the Cobblestone Publix, many south St. Augustine residents were counting the days until the reopening.

Notwithstanding the efforts of a combined, courteous staff from both stores, the Cobblestone facility was in over its head.

Parking was woefully insufficient and the vehicle/pedestrian flow seemingly was engineered by a graduate of a very small college. The store itself was not designed to service the number of customers who paraded through its front doors. Under the circumstances, Hooper and his staff over-performed.

When I first visited the new Publix late in the day of its opening I was underwhelmed by the improvements. Frankly, I expected more.

A few weeks later, I’ve come to appreciate the better design and customer flow, reinforcing Publix’s claim of a pleasurable shopping experience.

The frozen food area feeds into the checkouts, which makes sense for those who pick up frozen items near the end of their shopping run.

Refrigerated items stretch from the far left side of the store and wind around for nearly the entire length of the back wall.

Wines are in the far back right corner. The pharmacy is in the front left corner and includes a new drive-thru window.

The bakery, deli and produce departments and cloistered together on the right side as you walk into the store.

An olive bar has been added and the BOGO tables have been eliminated. I asked manager Ward Pate about the BOGO tables.

He told me that corporate is moving away from large BOGO displays and tables customarily are not set up during new store openings. He promised some smaller BOGO tables in the weeks to come.

In a previous life as a magazine editor I used to publish supermarket price surveys and one takeaway from that experience is the realization shoppers seem to love BOGOS. I warned readers then and I’ll warn them now that BOGOS can indeed save you money but buyers should beware.

To illustrate this caveat I wrote down most of the BOGOs in Publix’s Aug. 11, 2016, shopping circular and took the list into a local competitor. What I found might surprise some readers.

The worst culprit was a pound of Smithfield Bacon listed as an $8.19 BOGO in the circular. Although the in-store price was $7.99, the competitor’s price for the same single item was $3.58. Not much of a deal there.

The 16 oz. bottle of Pompeian Olive Oil was listed as a $7.95 BOGO. The competitor was selling the same bottle for $3.88.

All of Publix’s BOGO items (individually) sold for more than the same items at the competitor store. Some prices were close, such as a 6.3 lb. bag of Purina Beneful. You could get two of them at Publix for $10.19, while one bag at the competitor store would cost you $9.73. So there were bargains to be had.

I will say this about Publix. It’s management and staff are truly committed to not letting a single customer walk away unhappy.

If you are not satisfied with any product you purchase there, you can always bring it back for replacement or a refund. You will never get an argument and, more often than not, the staff is cheerful and extremely polite. I have not always found that to be the case at competitor stores.

I can be a difficult shopper at times (hard to believe, huh?) but Moultrie Publix’s Ward Pate (and Barry Rickelman, Chris King, Don Cribbs and Keith Volkmann before him) have always made shopping at Publix a genuine pleasure for me. I’m glad the store is back.

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Totally St. Augustine (36) July 14, 2016

Warning: This column contains whining

As beautiful as St. Augustine is, it is not exempt from petty annoyances that somehow manage to get my goat.

I try not to involve my wife and daughter when someone or something captures my billy, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not especially good at this. If you don’t believe me, ask them.

I find if I save up these petty annoyances and write about them once a year or so, it becomes very therapeutic and I can once again sleep at night.

I can also console myself with the knowledge these annoyances will generally pop up no matter where you live. Or at least, as my wife will generously point out, they will pop up no matter where I live.

I love the neighborhood where I reside and have managed to peacefully coexist with my neighbors and friends who, at any one time, might serve on our homeowners’ board.

I myself served on the board 20 years ago but abruptly resigned when I refused to force a neighbor to remove a beautiful wooden swing set from his side yard because the rules said such sets should be placed in the backyard unless the board granted an exception.

Today many pets, including our two dogs and others, inhabit our neighborhood. Most residents are rightly concerned about owners picking up animal waste and almost all of us do so.

For the past several years the homeowners’ board had become part of the solution by placing a trashcan outside the rear of our community center where many of us would deposit our tied-off treasure bags.

A short time ago a new board was installed and the president decided this was an accommodation that was no longer appropriate. This annoyed me and so I’m casting out devils by writing about it. My dogs are a little peeved too.

I have previously written about scores of things in supermarkets capable of spiking my ire meter. Cashiers asking for contributions or asking if I’ve found everything looked for, and the posting of imaginary regular prices for fruit and produce are among these previously written-about annoyances.

My newest peeve is the misplaced (or convoluted) point-of-sale signs that can lead shoppers to believe something is on sale when it is, in fact, not. Sometimes shoppers contribute to this problem by reshelving items, but not that often.

The roadways provide a multitude of opportunities to set me off although I am pretty good at preventing my ire from evolving into rage. Most of the time I just shake my head and whisper bad words.

Drivers who think directional signals allow them to cut into traffic lanes regardless of the space or the safety involved tick me off.

I am also not fond of convoys of vehicles on the Interstate whose drivers believe that driving 90-100 mph is OK and safe. Memo to these NASCAR wannabees: It’s not.

Finally let me devote a few unkind words to the hordes of telemarketers and crooks (mostly separate groups) that bombard my home phone with robocalls and other similar solicitations.

I am on a do-not-call list. My phone-service provider allows me to block as many as 50 numbers. I also subscribe to Nomorobo, a service that stops known robocallers from connecting. Still a few of these creeps get through, although I usually can avoid them by peeking at the caller ID.

To me these folks are a simple annoyance. I suspect others are more than annoyed and either get talked into buying something they don’t need or becomes victims of a criminal scam. Sad.

That’s enough of this for one column. Besides I don’t want to set off someone who gets irritated when a somewhat opinionated online columnist gets all whiney.

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