Totally St. Augustine #18 (Jan. 28, 2015)

Peter Pan flying to St. Augustine

George Carlin had a routine where he mentioned phrases no human being had ever uttered. One of his examples was, “hand me that piano.”

I was reminded of Carlin’s banter when I recently turned to my wife and said, “I really can’t wait to see the “Ballet of Peter Pan.” Yep, those words effortlessly flowed from my mouth.

Confession time here: In the last four years I have become a huge fan of ballet. A major impetus undoubtedly streams from my 12-year-old daughter being a student of ballet and dancing in local productions. Some of you may be familiar with the St. Augustine Nutcracker, for which my daughter has been a performer since 2011.

I have also had the opportunity to meet and watch several visiting principal dancers demonstrate a unique combination of grace and athleticism that is ballet.

The St. Augustine Ballet is responsible for putting on our community’s annual production of The Nutcracker. It has also presented spring ballets, which in past years have included Peter and the Wolf and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This spring the St. Augustine Ballet is bringing a brand new adaptation of The Ballet of Peter Pan to our community. With dozens of local young dancers, it may very well evolve into another signature production.

The Ballet is partnering with the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum as well as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to provide a synergy that will make Peter Pan a must see.

Returning to St. Augustine are principal dancers Margit Peguero Vargas (as Tinkerbell) and Daet Rodriguez (as Peter Pan). This Cuban-born, husband-wife team owns and operates the Cuballet Ecuador in Guayaquil and they were principals in the 2014 St. Augustine Nutcracker. But there’s more.

“Captain William Mayhem” of the Pirate Museum will take on the role of Captain Hook. The lobby of the Lewis Auditorium will be packed with pirates, a mermaid and at least one crocodile. Children attending the ballet will be encouraged to come dressed as pirates.

Luis Abella, the director of Peter Pan, is working with his principal dancers to create a mesmerizing choreography for this production. Robert O’Leary, the set designer, is hoping to provide an atmosphere that will provide a perfect complement to the dance movements on stage. And, yes, some of the dancers will take flight.

The music will be an eclectic mix of Native American, Irish, classical and who knows what else. As with the choreography, there is no set music for Peter Pan. Everything the audience sees will be fresh and new.

There will be two performances of The Ballet of Peter Pan at Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 2:30 and 7 p.m. You can link to online tickets by visiting http://www.saintaugustineballet.com.

Previously I have written that after you watch our kids dance in these local ballet productions, I can guarantee you will emerge from the theater with a large smile on your face.

So hand me that piano and please join me in watching Peter Pan fly in St. Augustine this May.

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Totally St. Augustine #17 (Jan. 11, 2015)

Loving makes me feel better 

Took an excruciating trip to Orlando during Christmas break and thought I might highlight the lowlights for this column. Seething with anger I planned to headline my ramblings as, “Why I hate Orlando.”

Fact is I don’t really hate Orlando. If anything, I love St. Augustine. I love my town because the things that happened to me in Orlando would never besiege me in St. Augustine.

My family and I decided to meet some good friends at Sea World in Orlando the Monday after Christmas. We expected heavier than normal crowds because school was out and theme park annual passes were about to expire. We hoped because Monday was a workday, the crowds wouldn’t be crazy. We badly misjudged that last assumption.

We began our trip to Orlando about 9 a.m. on that fateful Monday. Traffic was light to moderate. We had little trouble negotiating downtown Orlando on Interstate 4 and reached the Sea World exit about 90 minutes into our trip. We took exit 1 off of 528, which dumped us onto International Drive. At this point we were less than two miles from the Sea World parking lots.

I would later learn that our first mistake was to not take the route suggested for busses and commercial deliveries. This would have saved us an immense amount of time. Instead I meekly followed the signs to Sea World parking.

I will not put readers through what my family and I went through. Suffice to say our less-than-two-mile trip to Sea World parking consumed an additional two hours of bonding in the family car.

We finally made it to the Sea World tollbooths where smiling attendants were happy to collect a $17 parking fee. We were then directed through the Sea World parking lot all the way to a parking lot exit and across the street to a remote, unpaved parking area adjacent to a large hotel. We then had to walk a quarter mile to a pickup area where shuttles took us back across the street and dropped us near the Sea World entrance.

While all this was happening I was thinking of a dear, longtime friend who, just a few weeks before Christmas, was laid off by Sea World. She had worked there for decades and was less than two years from retirement. I wryly calculated Sea World could have kept her on the payroll for two more years simply by utilizing the revenue earned from this day’s overflow parking

We hooked up with our friends who had speedily made it to the parking are via the bus route. We decided to visit the Antarctica exhibit since our time at Sea World would now be limited and we had tickets for the Nutcracker Ice exhibit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in late afternoon.

After waiting several minutes on line at Antarctica, Sea World officials announced there were technical difficulties with the exhibit and we could either stay on line (and pray) or roll the dice at another attraction. We opted for the former and managed to gain admittance to the wonderful world of penguins about 90 minutes later. While on line, we spent $24 for three beers that my wife correctly assumed were needed to (at least in my case) keep heads from exploding.

After exiting Antarctica we had just enough time to purchase $15 worth of dipping dots for the kids before making our way to the park exit.

My wife, daughter and I squeezed into our friend’s vehicle (there were nine of us) and we were driven across the street to our car. We then began our trip from Sea World to the Gaylord Palms. I’m happy and somewhat surprised to report this journey was pretty much void of incidents.

The online Florida resident tickets we purchased for Nutcracker Ice were reasonable (a little more than $50 total for the three of us). Because the temperature in the exhibit is nine degrees, it’s hard to spend more than about one-half hour enjoying the exquisite ice carvings. We parked in the Gaylord Palms lot and were charged nearly $20 for about an hour’s worth of parking. Is gouging too strong of a word? I think not.

I’m glad I waited a few days to write this column because my wife, daughter, my daughter’s friend from the Orlando trip and I spent several hours on New Year’s Eve in downtown St. Augustine.

Maybe the traffic at the beach was heavy but the traffic downtown was light and we managed to secure a free parking space.

The atmosphere was festive and the four of us ate dinner at a St. George Street establishment for about $40 (including four frothy adult beverages).

For less than $30, the four of us rode on a Night of Lights trolley tour and spent about 45 minutes singing Christmas Carols, enjoying the lights, waving to people on our route and wishing them all a Happy New Year.

And although we were all asleep before 2015 arrived, my wife called it the best New Year’s Eve she can remember ever celebrating.

So that’s why I decided there’s no need to hate Orlando. Why waste time doing so when I can simply love St. Augustine instead.

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Totally St. Augustine #16 (Dec. 12, 2014)

Nutcrackers, flowers, ornaments and free smiles

I rode in this year’s St. Augustine Christmas Parade and I was struck most by the wide smiles pasted to the faces of nearly all the participants and those watching. After hours of practice I employed a modified “Queen of England” wave to friends and perfect strangers alike. The overwhelming majority smiled and waved back. But more about smiling later.

I was privileged to ride in the St. Augustine Ballet float with Tommy Bledsoe, a friend much braver than I, who was dressed in drag as the Mother Ginger figure from the Nutcracker Ballet. He did a wonderful job but, if the truth be known, I think he will be far happier reprising his role as Clara’s father in this year’s Nutcracker production. Tommy and I were joined on the float by Tommy’s wife, Joy, and about a dozen of the younger dancers from the ballet.

In addition to having a daughter who will be part of the Nutcracker cast for the fourth consecutive year, I spend considerable effort helping my wife, Carol, run the Nutcracker Boutique before, during and after the four performances of the ballet. All of the net proceeds from boutique sales go to support the St. Augustine Ballet and dance education in our community.

The scope of the boutique has grown each year since 2011, when Carol first took on the task of shopkeeper and fundraiser. The first year it was mostly flowers and some ornaments and music boxes.

“We didn’t sell a lot of nutcracker figures because another mother and teacher was running that concession,” recalled Carol. “This year we’ll have nutcrackers aplenty, from small to very large.”

One of the more popular parts of the boutique is the combined raffle and silent auction section. In addition to other duties, it is my responsibility to run this area.

Once again we will have one large (32”) nutcracker (four total) signed by the ballet principals (Orlando Molina, Arionel Vargas, Margit Peguero and Daet Rodriquez) at silent auction during each of the ballet performances. Luis Abella, the director, and Harlow Hatin, the dancer in the role of Clara, will also sign the nutcracker bases.

This year’s raffle will have young children begging their parents and grandparents to buy “just a few more tickets.”

We will have two full-sized American Girl dolls with extra outfits. There will be an American Girl doll case awarded, as well as a fourth American Girl themed package containing two mini-dolls.

The raffle item that will likely draw the most ticket deposits is the one donated by Sea World. In addition to a generous selection of logo items, Sea World has provided us with four tickets to both Sea World Park and Aquatica. The entire Sea World package is valued at more than $700.

We will be selling tickets for $5, with 3 for $10, 7 for $20 and 20 for $50. Buyers can deposit raffle tickets in any or all of the five separate raffles.

“I started working on stocking the boutique last January,” said Carol. “My association with the ballet lets me act as a buyer from merchants such as Burton and Burton, Mark Roberts and Kurt Adler.

“Savvy shopping allows me to get quality items that I can sell at prices lower than are generally available elsewhere. I also comb eBay and the rest of the Internet looking for bargains,” Carol added.

Most Nutcracker patrons appreciate the convenience to purchase reasonably priced flowers in the lobby at the performances. Each bouquet is individually re-assembled from flowers acquired locally. “Publix has been very generous in donating pails and other supplies to help us with our efforts,” noted Carol.

Most bouquets sell for $10 but Carol will put together fancier and pricier ones upon request. Best of all, a substantial portion of each flower purchase goes to support the ballet.

Parents of the dancers and other ballet supporters help Carol run the boutique and she is always looking for volunteers to help set up, sell and put together the flower bouquets.

Last year all four performances were virtual sellouts and that may happen again this year. The good news is that you don’t need to attend the ballet to shop at the Nutcracker Boutique.

Located in the lobby of the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College, the boutique opens when the doors open for each ballet performance.

The Nutcracker will be performed at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 20 and Sunday, Dec. 21. Tickets are available online at http://www.saintaugustineballet.com/#!tickets/c23gy.

Oh yeah, I promised more about smiles. Those same smiles generated by the Christmas parade will be rekindled when you watch our local youngsters dance their hearts out in this year’s St. Augustine Nutcracker.

I guarantee it.

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Totally St. Augustine #15 (Dec. 2, 2014)

Morning on St. Augustine Beach

Virginia Pledger will become an octogenarian in 2015 and, in her case, it really wouldn’t be trite to say, “80 is the new 50.”

My wife, Carol, told me about this dynamic and talented young lady whom she met while volunteering some hours at the Haven Hospice Attic resale store.

Virginia is a photographer. She’s been shooting photos for business and pleasure since she was 16 years old. Born in California, Virginia began by photographing dramatic landscapes in the Yosemite Valley.

During her 25 years working for the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., Virginia used to photograph the beginning, middle and end of projects she worked on. And if you ever visited the Smithsonian, specifically the Air and Space Museum, you probably have seen some of Virginia’s work.

Spacesuits worn by the likes of Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins are displayed at the museum. Virginia was responsible for shaping the inner support of these suits so they would look the same as when the astronauts were wearing them. “My small stature allowed me to get into the space capsules and work on the suits,” Virginia revealed. “A larger person wouldn’t fit.”

Virginia’s contributions weren’t limited to the space program. “I made mannequins to display dresses worn by Ginger Rogers and Carol Channing,” Virginia said. “I also sewed replicas of shirts worn by George Washington for display at Mt. Vernon.”

Virginia lived in West Virginia and commuted to work in D. C. When that gig ended about eight years ago, she moved to Louisville to be with family but decided to spend two months each winter at the Beacher’s Lodge in Crescent Beach.

Besides having a lifelong talent for photography, Virginia is an artist. She creates watercolors, acrylic paintings and fiber art. Often she would photograph objects or scenes before she painted them.

Four years ago, Virginia moved to St. Augustine, taking up residence on Anastasia Island not too far from the 312 bridge.

Earlier this year, in July, she decided to take some sunrise photographs with the goal of ultimately turning them into paintings. As she told me, “I liked the photos so much, I never made it to the painting stage.”

Virginia would rise at 5:30 a.m. and drive down to the beach. “About 30 minutes before sunrise, you get about a minute of intense red and you have to be ready for it,” she revealed. “Then there’s the sunrise itself and the 30 or so minutes following the sunrise showing the sun interacting with cloud cover.”

Several weeks ago Virginia walked into the Attic store looking for frames for her photos. She brought some of her photos and Attic Manager Pam Strickland struck up a conversation with her.

And to make what could be a longer column short, that conversation resulted in “Morning on St. Augustine Beach,” a stunning array of Virginia’s local photography on display through the end of the year at the Attic store.”

Virginia’s production technique is simple. Using a tripod, she composes photos in her camera and then takes the memory cards to a local pharmacy where photo processing is available. Minimal, if any, enhancement is performed on her photos.

She purchases various sized prints (on sale, of course) and does all the matting and framing herself. And the end products are fabulous.

Best of all her photography is comparatively inexpensive. The 20 or so framed prints on display at the Attic store are priced between $20 and $100, with most in the $30 range. And a portion of the sales goes to support unfunded services provided by Haven Hospice.

Virginia, a graduate in Home Economics from Iowa State University, is one of my new role models. When she switched from film to digital photography a few years back she thought ahead by buying a camera (Nikon 5100) that would be compatible with lenses she used on her older SLR Nikon.

I’m glad I listened when my wife told me about Virginia. We bought one of her framed photos and several of her note cards also featuring her sunrise photography.

Don’t delay any further. You do the same.

(Morning on St. Augustine Beach will be on display with framed prints for sale through the end of December at the Haven Hospice Attic resale store, 2497 U.S. 1 South in St. Augustine. Virginia will be there most days between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and will be happy to personalize the back of your purchase.)

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Totally St. Augustine #14 (Nov. 19, 2014)

The wacky words we speak

This is going to be a column about the wonderfully wacky language spoken by most of us. It’s confusing, contradicting and amusing. Never mind why we park in driveways and drive on parkways, I’m going to attempt to come up with some examples you might have never before heard.

But before I do, here’s a public service announcement that will likely provide the only tangible tie this column has to St. Augustine.

Ladies (and gentlemen) who frequent the same gym I do (located near the Haven Hospice Attic), the exercise machines are not meant to serve as substitute easy chairs while you catch up with the latest 10 minutes of gossip with your girlfriends.

I view going to the gym as a necessary evil and try to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Please don’t get in Grumpy’s way.

And now back to our column.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the concept of pre-sliced ham. Do not premarital activities occur before one gets married? If so, shouldn’t pre-sliced refer to the time before the ham was sliced?

What a minute, you protest. In this case “pre” means previously. In other words, pre-sliced ham refers to ham previously sliced. I’ll grant that meaning if someone can explain to me the difference between previously sliced and sliced. And so I will make a ruling. Pre-sliced is redundant. Sliced should suffice.

I have no such problem with previously frozen shrimp and fish. And the supermarkets generally do a good job of labeling seafood that has been handled in such a manner.

But I often come across half frozen packages of “fresh” chicken and pita breads. How come they are rarely, if ever, marked as previously frozen?

Let’s leave the supermarket and take to the highway. By the way, we know about parkways and driveways, but where can I find a low-way?

Traffic enforcement officers like to make a distinction between a complete stop and a rolling stop. Flight attendants also warn you to remain seated before the plane comes to a complete stop.

Well I’m here to say a complete stop is redundant and a rolling stop is an oxymoron. You can either stop or not. On to the next case.

You can turn a light on, you can turn a light off and you can turn a light out. How come you can’t turn a light in? Well I guess maybe you could turn a light in, if it committed a crime.

Speaking of turning in, why is that a term many people use when they announce they are going to bed? When someone asks you what time you got up this morning do you say, “Well, I think I turned out around 6:30.”

It’s likely I could come up with several more of these incongruities but I think I might be coming down with something. Plus I need to run to the gym to see if the girls can provide me some fodder for an upcoming column. Next time.

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Totally St. Augustine #13 (Nov. 10, 2014)

My ever-so-humble vacation

Just got back from a wickedly wonderful week at our Aruban timeshare. Well, it really wasn’t wicked, but as a writer, I have this thing for “alotta” alliteration.

People ask me if I took my tennis racket or golf clubs. Notwithstanding the fact that my tennis racket is a T-2000 and my golf clubs have been out of their bag only once, I left them home anyway.

What I took with me were a couple of bathing suits and a couple of koozie’s. When people ask me what I do in Aruba my standard answer is, “as little as possible.” And no wise cracks about how this doesn’t differ much from my usual routine.

My typical day in Aruba went like this: Arise at 5:30 a.m. and put on sneakers and shorts. Go down to the pool and reserve my favorite chickee (table with palm-thatched “umbrella”).

At 6 a.m. I would take a two-mile round trip walk on a beach pathway while listening to a recorded book. When this was done I would drink the free coffee provided by the timeshare and read the Aruba Daily newspaper at my chickee.

Then it was back to the room to make some more coffee, take a shower and wake up my wife and daughter in the process.

Next it was back down to the pool and beach. My in-laws were up even earlier than I, saving their favorite chickee on the beach. I could write another whole column on the dynamics surrounding the claiming of chickees.

Pool aerobics began at 11 a.m., which I would sometimes watch from my lounge at poolside. Even if I wanted to participate I’m not sure I was old enough. After a few minutes of entertainment I’d head to the room for an early lunch, which usually consisted of a peanut butter sandwich or the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

A full tummy often makes me sleepy so on the days the guy with the jackhammer on the floor below us wasn’t working, I would take a 60-minute power nap. Sometime between 1-2 p.m. I would meander back to the pool or beach. When the clock struck 4 p.m. I would return to the room, declare it “Miller Time” and fill my small canvas cooler with the “imported” Bud Lime beer for which I paid $50 a case. I then took up residence at my pool chickee.

A couple of hours later I would shower once again and put on a clean T-shirt and pair of shorts. My family and I would then meet the in-laws in the lobby to head off to dinner. We would return around 9 p.m. Some in our party might opt to go to the gelato stand or to a casino. I usually opted for bed where I dreamed about the next day’s activities.

On most days I had to find an hour or two during my busy schedule and help my daughter with her schoolwork. But I wasn’t going to let Common Core ruin my vacation. Plus, any time spent with my daughter is a gift from heaven.

This was the 14th straight year our family has spent at least one week in Aruba. Like most beautiful places though, for me it’s simply a nice place to visit.

Coming back to St. Augustine, our two barking and shedding dogs, limousine duties for my daughter, $15-18 cases of beer and a slew of “honeydews” is the life I prefer. Judy Garland had it right.

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Totally St. Augustine #12 (Oct. 18, 2014)

Curmudgeonly traffic tales

It amazes me when I hear folks complain about the “traffic” in St. Augustine. Have these people not lived or driven elsewhere? Sure, the major intersections get a little dicey at rush hour but, all things considered, traffic flows pretty smoothly in our hometown.

What is also somewhat amazing is that it’s possible to complain about problematic intersections to the government folks in charge and actually have them do something. A year or so ago, I emailed the traffic czars at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and suggested a few situations they may want to take a look at. One of these was the intersection at Old Moultrie Rd. and U.S. 1 South (near Watson Realty).

Motorists waiting to turn left from U.S. 1 onto Old Moultrie Road would often face the danger of running out of gas while waiting for a green signal. After “months of study,” an additional green left turn signal was added to the cycle.

I live near the Moultrie Square Shopping Center across from the Shores. I’ve actually driven my daughter to her dancing class at a studio across from Cobblestone Mall and gotten every traffic signal green. Uncanny, when you think about it.

One might assume that there could be nothing to complain about when it comes to driving your car in St. Augustine. But those who would make such an assumption (and you knew this was coming) have not spent a lot of time around me. As a self-admitted curmudgeon, I’ve put together a short list of roadway encounters that would cause a lesser man to say some really bad words.

How about drivers who feel the need to leave about 17 car lengths between them and the car in front of them at stoplights? C’mon, the exhaust won’t kill you and it’s not tailgating when you’re stopped. Consider those behind you who are prevented from moving into one of the left- or right-turn lanes.

Did you ever notice that traffic lights that seem to remain red for an eternity when you are traveling in one direction always seem to cycle red when you approach them from a crossing direction? This has happened to me numerous times when traveling south on U.S. 1 at the intersection of SR 207. How the heck does that work?

How about bicyclists-turned-pedestrians at major intersections during rush hour who push the crossing signal buttons? They get across and are a quarter mile down the road before the scores of cars traveling in all directions are allowed to proceed. Someone needs to alert the authorities on this one.

Fine-tuning is needed to the system allowing motorists emerging from side streets, strip malls and driveways to get into the traffic flow. I try to be courteous to these needy motorists and am appreciative when others are courteous to me. But I sometimes get a little crazy when drivers ignore the line of trailing cars behind them to let someone in. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Why does the concept of a three-way alternate merge flummox so many people? I encounter one each day when I drop my daughter at middle school. Vehicle from group A goes, then one from group B and finally one from group C. Then you start with group A again and repeat. Quit your texting and get in sync, guys.

I’ve got a lot more of these but I’ll close with another one that personally affects me on a daily basis. The traffic light at SR 207 for drivers crossing from Rolling Hills Drive to Holmes Blvd. has a green cycle that is much too short. And normally I get stuck behind someone who has fallen asleep while waiting for it to change.

FDOT traffic czars, have at it.

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