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

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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Totally St. Augustine (#33) April 21, 2016

Brides let their flowers talk

Local wedding planner Karen Erwin was so often surrounded by beautiful floral arrangements and bouquets she sometimes wasn’t able to see the flowers.

This hit very close to home with her when she was visiting with her mom in July 2012 in Tallahassee. Karen’s mom had been seriously ill for many months and was nearing the end of her life while under hospice care.

During the visit a beautiful floral arrangement was delivered to the room. Karen soon discovered the flowers had been donated by a bride whose wedding had taken place the prior day. The bride had asked that they be donated to a hospice patient. All at once Karen was able to see the flowers.

“At that moment it quickly came to me,” Karen recalled. “All these years I had been missing the mark on what to do.”

Karen is a Miami native and has been a professional wedding planner in St. Augustine for nearly two decades. A graduate of Flagler College, she owns and operates St. Augustine Weddings & Special Events.

The business caters primarily to brides who have chosen St. Augustine as a destination wedding. Some of Karen’s clients have even come from outside the United States.

The experience with her mom in Tallahassee was a wake-up call for Karen. Two things happened almost immediately upon her return to St. Augustine. She lives just down the street from the Haven Hospice offices and met with one of their representatives to see if they could handle flower donations. It was an extremely easy sell.

She also began asking her clients if, following wedding events, they would be willing to donate their flowers (most would get thrown away otherwise) to hospice patients.

“Some brides were so excited to do so that they asked if they could help deliver them,” Karen laughed. “Then I had to remind them that they were scheduled to begin their honeymoons and may have a conflict.”

Karen told me that the brides’ parents, especially the fathers, usually warm up to the donation of their daughters’ flowers. Flowers are a very expensive component of weddings and usually you can tax deduct 50-60 percent of their cost through the donation. Karen called it a “win-win.”

“At some point during the wedding I usually remind the bride the flowers she is enjoying during her special day will soon be delivered to hospice patients and many of these patients could be in their final days of life,” said Karen. “Not only does it make the bride feel even more special but it’s very uplifting for patients and their families to realize there are others thinking about them in their time of need.”

Carol Albanesi is a professional liaison for Haven Hospice. She is often on the receiving end of flowers donated by Karen’s clients. Carol works with Haven nurses, other staff and volunteers to ensure the flowers find a good second home.

“We rearrange the flowers and deliver to patients in a variety of settings including skilled nursing facilities and some who are homebound,” Carol explained. “It goes a long way towards making our patients feel connected and provides the donor brides an opportunity to share love and kindness with someone they have never met.”

Sometimes Carol delivers the flowers to nursing stations at the care facilities. She understands what Karen discovered firsthand.

Reflecting on her mom’s final months Karen said, “What they did for my mother at the end of her life was priceless. I am in awe of nurses.”

You don’t have to be from out of the area or even a client of Karen’s to donate your bridal flowers to hospice patients. According to Karen it is very rare when her client’s flowers do not get repurposed. Others in the business might want to take note.

Nineteenth Century clergyman Henry Beecher once said, “Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.”

He might rethink that after witnessing the smiles they infuse and the souls brightened among hospice patients who receive them.

You can email Karen at

You can email Carol at

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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.

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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.

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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.

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