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

This one time I said “yes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A peak inside Clara’s closet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Totally St. Augustine (#27) Aug. 19, 2015

The Trump factor

I’m reluctantly wading back into the world of politics with this column but the Donald Trump show is simply too intriguing to ignore.

Whether you love or hate, or simply don’t care about the Donald, he certainly has stirred things up among the 16 or so other candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s even garnered the attention of the Democratic candidates, one of whom has had to explain why she went to his wedding in 2005.

The Republican field is a strong one with eight sitting or former governors, six sitting or former U.S. senators, a former Fortune-20 CEO, a retired neurosurgeon and Trump.

Many were surprised when Trump entered the race because few gave him much of a chance to win and he’s not famous for entering contests that he will likely lose. Trump maintains he’s in it for the long haul and, although he wants to run as a Republican, he has not ruled out running on a third-party ticket. He says he’s leaving that option open for leverage and to ensure that the Republican establishment treats him fairly.

If, as expected, Trump does not win the Republican nomination, a decision to make a third party run will almost certainly hand the presidency over to whomever the Democrats nominate. A week ago I would have simply said, “Hillary Clinton,” but recent email discoveries have muddied up the Democratic side.

Conventional wisdom is the success of Trump and, more recently, poll bumps by former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, are a result of public dissatisfaction with politics as usual.

Trump is somewhere between a train wreck and a loose cannon, while Fiorina has done an excellent job of picking apart Hillary’s record and presenting herself as a capable female presidential alternative. Carson, an African-American, was largely unknown when he announced his candidacy but has been most impressive when voters hear what he has to say, most recently at the first Republican national debate in Ohio.

Mainstream Republicans are worried Trump’s bombast will turn crucial swing voters away from their party. Polls also show Trump would be beaten badly in a head-to-head battle with Hillary Clinton. These same polls show several other candidates, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker defeating Clinton. Of course all this could change.

At this point Trump continues to lead most of the Republican polls with about 24 percent of the vote. But as political pundit, Mark Levin, and several others have pointed out, this means that 76 percent of Republican voters favor someone else. And nearly all of the others favored have more in common with each other than they do with Trump. Conclusion: Trump will have difficulty moving his numbers much higher than 30-35 percent, even as contenders drop out.

Four months ago I put up a Facebook post stating that I would have no problem voting for a Rubio/Fiorina ticket. I like and admire several other Republican candidates and, given the probable Democratic opposition, could vote for whomever emerges from this long nominating process on the Republican side.

But what about the Trump card? Here’s what I think will happen (and actually hope will happen).

The Donald will entertain us for several more months. He will have the guts to say things that will resonate with voters unhappy with the direction our country has taken during the past 6+ years. He will also say a lot of dumb stuff that will have Republicans, Democrats and Independents shaking their heads.

At some point Trump will declare victory and graciously bow out of the primary race. He will say he accomplished his goal of bringing several important issues to the forefront of the discussion and that he’s happier and more comfortable building hotels, hosting popular TV shows and making money.

Trump will speak at the Republican National Convention and throw his support behind the national ticket. The party will be united.

If all this happens, I might take another short break from writing about our community and offer additional political thought in a Summer 2016 column. Or maybe I won’t.

Finally let me offer a disclaimer that I’ve heard others use before and would seem appropriate here: “Of course I could be wrong.”

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Totally St. Augustine (#26) July 29, 2015

Cellular data for dummies

We recently added a third cell phone to our family, which my daughter earned when her final report card was received. Between the carrot and the stick we have found that the carrot approach usually works better.

With the phone came a whole new set of challenges meaning I had to once again learn some things about the cyber world about which I has thus far remained blissfully ignorant. As a public service I’ll share some of these with readers.

Our family has a limited cellular data plan, which heretofore had given us access to all the data needed on a monthly basis. Never had a month gone by when we didn’t roll over some of the data in our 3 gigabyte plan. More about rollover in a minute.

Like most burgeoning teenagers, our daughter is quite fond of watching music videos on YouTube. One of the problems with the YouTube app on her phone is that it continues to play videos even after you move to another app.

When she’s connected to wifi this isn’t a problem, since cellular data is not being used. Usually that is.

After speaking with one of the few customer-oriented reps I could find at my cell phone company (you can guess which one it is), I learned that even a momentary loss of wifi might cause your phone to switch to (and remain on) data usage.

Brief blackouts are not uncommon in Florida and my cable/internet company (you can guess which one it is) ordinarily doesn’t need a blackout to effect a brief (or prolonged) loss of service.

Because I’m a cautious kind of guy, I began to regularly check data usage on the family cellular account by opening the provider app on my phone. In the two days following my daughter’s addition to our plan, my wife used 0.02 gigs of data, I used 0.01 gigs and my daughter gobbled up 0.7 gigs. At this rate, we’d be over our monthly data limit in less than a week.

I frantically called my cellular provider to figure out what happened since the data usage was recorded overnight when my daughter’s phone wasn’t being used (really) and also was connected to wifi.

It was then I learned that momentary wifi disconnects could put you back on cellular usage. Additionally I was told not having the phone plugged in and charging could also be an issue.

My discussion with the agent helped me to recollect the settings on cell phones you can modify that will help avoid some of these unpleasant data usage surprises. This information is worth the price of your time for reading this column.

Go to “settings” on your cell phone. Then punch “cellular”. The resulting screen will allow you to turn your cellular usage on or off. It will also allow you to turn cellular usage on or off for specific apps.

It is here you will also learn how much data each app has been using and it’s where I learned that an overactive YouTube app was eating up the family’s data plan on my daughter’s phone. On day three the default data setting for YouTube and Instagram on my daughter’s phone became “off.”

I would recommend you check the data usage for all the apps on your phones and make the default setting “off” for big users that aren’t used on a regular, daily basis. App data usage doesn’t need to be on when you’re connected to wifi and when you’re out and about it’s a simple process to turn it on when needed and off when you’re done.

Finally the dirty little secret about (my provider) rollover data, which many know but some do not.

Rollover data disappears if you do not use it the following month. The only rollover data that is available in any given month is the amount below your contract data limit remaining from the previous month. The rollover from two months prior vanishes even if you do not use it.

Imagine you give your child a $5 allowance each week. If she only spends $3, then $2 rolls over to the following week and she has $7 to spend. If she spends $5 during that second week, she has reached her limit and nothing rolls over to the third week. At least that’s the way cellular data usage works. Sound fair?

Speaking of my cable company, I’m working a deal with them right now. Perhaps I’ll let you know how I make out in a future column. Knowledge is power and sometimes even my knowledge qualifies.


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Totally St. Augustine #25 (July 6, 2015)

New virtual dance partners

Residents of St. Johns County have yet another reason to be proud of their local schools. Beginning next month a partnership between two entities will provide students and dancers a unique opportunity to enhance their education and development.

The St. Augustine Virtual Education Center is joining with Abella’s School of Dance to open the Academy for Dancers. It will provide current and future dancers with the opportunity to combine a full school schedule with an ambitious dance schedule.

Already housed in the same facility, the Virtual Education Center and Abella’s will allow students to pursue their dance dreams while eliminating the sometimes challenging logistics of getting from one school to another.

While the concept is not locally unique, this new partnership will be the first in our community offering both a state-certified educator on staff and the services of an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) certified instructor.

Abella’s School of Dance has been a mainstay in St. Augustine for more than five years. The St. Augustine Virtual Education Center opened this past January and shares ample classroom and studio space with Abella’s. The mission of the Virtual Education Center is to provide a safe, nurturing environment where self-schooled students can go to learn, build, and create themselves into role models for the community.

The Center wants to give parents the option of providing their children with a home-schooled environment with the added benefits of socialization and the flexibility to more easily include dance and other extracurricular activities into their schedules.

There are also some cases where the need for parents to return to the workforce would have been a limiting factor for continued home schooling. The Virtual Education Center can, in many instances, eliminate this impediment.

Students enrolled in the Virtual Education Center and the Academy for Dancers will also have the opportunity to enhance their experiences in courses covering art, music, yoga, conditioning and foreign languages. The curriculum is still developing and will be based on demand. Organizers also hope to include a community outreach component.

The fee schedule is flexible, affordable and can be tailored to each individual student’s needs. The Virtual Education Center follows the St. Johns County School District calendar. Dance instruction will commence during the second week of school.

There are two open houses scheduled when potential students can visit the Virtual Education Center and Abella’s Dance Studio to see what this new partnership has to offer.

The open houses are on Tuesday, July 14, and Wednesday, July 15 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. The facilities are located across from the Cobblestone Plaza at 1711 Lakeside Ave. (keep heading north and follow signs after you pass Rhinos and Hyppo Cafe).

For more information go online to


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Totally St. Augustine #24 (June 18, 2015)

Music for the sisters’ ears

One of the great things about our community is the willingness of many who live here to share their time, talent and love with those who otherwise may not have the chance to experience all they have to offer.

I was reminded of this last week when I attended a private recital and sing-along my wife, Carol, arranged for the residents of Lourdes Hall in downtown St. Augustine. Lourdes Hall is home to about 20 Sisters of St. Joseph who have retired after giving a lifetime of service to the Lord and the Lord’s children.

Carol, a professional liaison with Haven Hospice, knows how much the sisters enjoy music, especially sacred music, and made arrangements to have two of our community’s finest musicians visit with the sisters.

Peter and Helen Morin have been members of our community for only about five years but have made serious impacts since their arrival.

Peter is director of music at St. Anastasia Catholic Church, which also happens to be the parish where my family worships. I have watched Peter take our parish music ministry up a notch during his short tenure.

He graduated with a Master of Sacred Music from Emory University and has a resume that includes study and performances both stateside and in the British Isles. Before coming to St. Augustine, Peter and his family resided in Sturbridge, Mass., where they led music at St. Anne’s Shrine and founded the Rimscha Concert Series.

Helen, currently the music teacher at R.B. Hunt Elementary School, earned a Master of Music in Violin Performance with Lucia Lin at Boston University. She also holds a Bachelor of Music in Violin from Trinity College of Music in London.

I first heard Helen play the violin during Sunday mass at St. Anastasia and even my untrained ears were able to recognize her amazing talent.

Peter and Helen showed up in mid-afternoon at Lourdes Hall while the sisters eagerly anticipated their arrival. The concertgoers were also excited to see the Morin’s two young children, Luciana, 7, and Emanuel, 2, were part of the troupe.

Peter played the piano and Helen worked her violin magic for nearly 90 minutes. Peter also led the sisters in song with renditions of How Great Thou Art and several hymns focusing on the Blessed Mother. Most of the songs the sisters knew by heart.

Helen’s version of Ave Maria showcased her abundant ability and was most appreciated by her grateful audience, including me. Luciana sang a couple of solos for the sisters, including a memorable rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I have heard Peter and Helen perform both at church and in Lewis Auditorium as part of the Emma Concert Series. It would have been challenging for the Lourdes residents to travel to either of those two venues.

Thank you Carol for making the arrangements. Thank you Morin Family for coming to the sisters’ home. And thank you St. Augustine for being such a great place to live.

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Totally St. Augustine #23 (May 28, 2015)

Peter Pan brings smiles

Because I’m a multimedia type of guy, I wrote a letter to the local newspaper before attending The Ballet of Peter Pan last weekend. In the letter I guaranteed everyone leaving Lewis Auditorium after the ballet would be wearing smiles. Call me a sage because that’s exactly what happened.

Quite simply, The Ballet of Peter Pan exceeded the expectations of persons like me who had eagerly anticipated its debut. I say, “debut” because its success almost guarantees the St. Augustine Ballet will make it part of the Ballet’s schedule for 2016.

I spoke to Director Luis Abella shortly after the curtain came down on the evening performance and suggested he might want to increase the showings from two to three next year. He told me he’s thinking “four.”

Those who know me recognize I am not completely unbiased when it comes to ballet productions in our community. My daughter has danced in the St. Augustine Ballet’s Nutcracker for the past four years and in several spring ballets. I’ve have watched her and many of her dance friends hone their skills while putting a great deal of time and sweat into becoming the best dancers possible. This is reflected in the quality that is unmistakably present when they take to the stage.

The Ballet of Peter Pan, however, was much more than just watching a bunch of great kids showcase their dancing skills. It was an entertaining and energizing exhibition that was extremely fun to watch. In fact, if the dancers were having half as much fun as the audience (and they undoubtedly were), then auditions for the 2016 version will be standing room only.

This wasn’t just ballet, although the performances of the two principal dancers (Daet Rodriguez and Margit Peguero Rodriguez) were quite spectacular. It was comedy, a familiar tale with an eclectic score and a variety of dance that melded perfectly with our St. Augustine community.

Captain William Mayhem of the St. Augustine Pirate Museum seemed to truly enjoy his role as the nefarious Captain Hook. His crew, largely comprised by members of one of Florida’s premier tap ensembles, “Noise Complaint,” was a perfect complement to the Darling family, Tiger Lily’s tribe, the lost children and the underwater fairies who performed so brilliantly en pointe.

Many readers might have already heard that they missed something pretty special by not attending this year’s Ballet of Peter Pan. We live in a relatively small community and news spreads fast. I promise this ballet will be a hot ticket in 2016.

St. Augustine is known primarily for its history, beaches and high quality of life. With several thriving dance schools, a population committed to cultural opportunities and the efforts of groups such as the St. Augustine Ballet, we can probably add “dance” to the list of areas making our community the envy of most others.


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