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: http://www.danceadvantage.net/what-is-a-mirliton/).

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 http://www.saintaugustineballet.com.

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 www.medinailsandspa.com. 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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Totally St. Augustine (#35) June 23, 2016

Another reason for a staycation

A personal experience with knee replacement surgery in early May cooled off the writing fire usually burning within me. After seven weeks the embers began to kindle once again but alas, I found myself with a minor case of writer’s block.

Briefly I flirted with the idea of recounting the rigors and rubs associated with my recovery from highly invasive surgery. If you doubt this, go to YouTube and search “total knee arthroplasty.”

As riveting as this retrospective might have been, I was mercifully dissuaded from following through with my surgical adventure and road to recovery thanks to a horrific blunder by the Disney folks.

First let me apologize for using the word, “thanks,” even in an innocuous manner when referring to the recent alligator tragedy at Disney’s Grand Floridian property. When my daughter was 4 years old, I watched as she waded and played in the shallow shoreline waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian.

Nine years later, I cannot imagine the degree of suffering the parents of that beautiful, 2-year-old boy went through as they witnessed their child being pulled under the water’s surface. It is something from which they will never fully recover.

I am angry with Disney not because of the tragedy itself but because of the marketing/public relations decision it made that I believe made the tragedy much more likely to occur.

Businesses providing products and services usually err on the side of overkill when it comes to warning their customers about potential dangers. McDonalds warning its customers the coffee it sells is hot immediately comes to mind.

A Razor scooter warning label puts the user on notice that the product “moves” when being used. A chainsaw warning label instructs the user to not hold it from the wrong end. The list goes on.

So what about Disney and the signage it posted on the shoreline of the Seven Seas Lagoon? It prohibited swimming and noted there was a large drop-off close to shore. Not a word about alligators or snakes. Not a word about poor water quality.

I will bet my 40+ years in the public relations business that a discussion of signage for the lagoon/beach (and similar areas on all Disney properties) came up on numerous occasions over the years. And for once in my life I wish the attorneys had prevailed over the marketing and PR folks. But they didn’t.

Let’s face it; the chance of this tragedy occurring was extremely miniscule. And that’s what Disney banked on. It allowed that miniscule chance to exist rather than muddy up the image of its properties having elements that could detract from its image of being the happiest place on earth.

Maybe signs would not have saved this child. Maybe fences would not have saved this child. Unfortunately we’ll never know because we can’t rewind the tape and have a do-over.

Obviously Disney can’t protect its guests from all possible perils. Should there be signs posted warning of disabled planes potentially falling from the skies? Probably not. Should there have been alligator warning signs and maybe a shoreline fence to hinder access to a drainage pond from which reptiles are regularly removed? I think so.

Disney has used logarithms and the like to calculate maximum fees it can charge at certain times of the year in its quest to maximize revenues.

I would like to see Disney develop a logarithmic program to maximize safety for its guests and worry just a little less about its happy image.

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Totally St. Augustine (#34) May 3, 2016

Dancers brighten day at Allegro

It isn’t just history, the weather and beaches making St. Augustine such a wonderful place to call home. Even more inviting is a special sense of community not often found in a place that continues to grow at a pace quicker than many of us like. Such is the price we pay for living in a Field of Dreams.

This sense of community was on display in late April when a local dance studio owner brought about a dozen of his charges to perform for the residents of Allegro Senior Living Community.

Luis Abella operates Abella’s School of Dance, located on Lakeside Ave. just across from Cobblestone. He is also the director of the St. Augustine Ballet, which will present its eighth annual Nutcracker performance this December. Abella’s gets it when it comes to this “community” thing.

“Health and mobility issues make it difficult for some local residents to travel to our performances,” said Abella. “So if they can’t come see us, we’re going to go see them.”

This performance at Allegro wasn’t the first time dancers representing the St. Augustine Ballet have made community appearances. Similar events at various community venues have been on Abella’s calendar for years.

Residents and guests at Allegro were treated to a dance by underwater fairies who comprise a scene in The Ballet of Peter Pan. The full ballet will be presented May 14-15 at Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium.

The audience at Allegro also got to see a Spanish Dance combining ballet and tap. The original choreography was created for this year’s local Romanza Festival.

In addition to the annual Nutcracker performance, the St. Augustine Ballet schedules a spring performance that varies from year to year. This is the second year for Peter Pan, which received rave reviews after debuting last spring. Abella has previously presented Peter and the Wolf, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

An unplanned, but absolutely wonderful aspect of the Allegro performance, was the reuniting of three of Abella’s current students with their first dance teacher.

Sally Walton, an icon in the local dance community, was visiting at Allegro and watched the show. Nearly a decade ago she introduced dance to three pre-schoolers, including my daughter.

Harlow Hatin, Ella Wimpelberg and Jenny Albanesi made a point of visiting with “Miss Sally” before the performance. It was serendipity at its finest.

When the dancing was done, the performers mingled with audience members and, in a classic reversal of roles, presented them with flowers. There was also some wrapped candy changing hands.

If you missed the underwater fairies at Allegro there are still some good tickets available for The Ballet of Peter Pan. They can be purchased online at https://www.tututix.com/.

The tickets come with my continuing personal guarantee that you will leave Lewis Auditorium with a smile on your face. Just ask the residents at Allegro.

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