Make us your home page

Piper Castillo, Times Staff Writer

Piper Castillo

Piper Castillo grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and received her English degree from Florida Atlantic University. As a community news reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, she covers north Pinellas County. She also writes the "Nightstand" column for the Sunday book pages and thinks the only thing better than a good read is a day in the sun with her family.

Phone: (727) 445-4163


  1. What's Douglas Brunt reading?



    Douglas Brunt

    As his wife, Megyn Kelly, takes the spotlight at NBC, Brunt, 45, is busy promoting his third novel, the well-received Trophy Son. The story has Anton Stratis, a tennis prodigy from Philadelphia's Main Line, at its center. While including issues surrounding pro tennis (think performance enhancement drugs), Brunt also puts overbearing sports parents under the microscope. In a recent phone interview, Brunt stressed that "bully sports fathers are not new in American storytelling. However, I think we see it more today than we used to. Now it's not so much particular parents but now it's the system with the club sports, the way coaches schedule kids and the endless tournaments.''...

    Douglas Brunt and his wife, Megyn Kelly, attend the 2017 Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April in New York City. Brunt has been promoting “Trophy Son,” his third novel.
  2. Chickens on way and costume might be next


    SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioner Scott Long might be wearing a chicken suit sometime soon. At the last City Commission  meeting,  commissioners app roved  an ordinance that  allows up to four hens in single-family homes . The approval comes after heated discussion over the last few months . At a May meeting, Long, whose wife is a news designer at the Times, expressed concern over how much time the commission had spent discussing and researching chickens, pointing out that the research material he had received in his agenda packets was more than 90 pages.
    “I’ll make this pledge to you,’’ he said. “If we pass this and we ever get more than 95 households in the city with chickens, and I’m still on the City Commission, I’ll come to the next meeting wearing a chicken suit.” 
    In a recent discussion with the Times, City Manager Matt Spoor talked about the issue:
    “You know, if this goes through I’m thinking I’ll buy some chickens just to see Scott Long dressed as one.’’
    The regulations included in the new ordinance ensure that no roosters will be permitted, no eggs can be sold and no chickens can be slaughtered. The ordinance also requires stipulations when it comes to the coop and fencing. ...

  3. Safety Harbor commissioner in a chicken suit? Maybe

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioner Scott Long might be wearing a chicken suit sometime soon. At the last City Commission meeting, commissioners approved an ordinance that allows up to four hens in single-family homes. The approval comes after heated discussion over the last few months. At a May meeting, Long, whose wife is a news designer at the Times, expressed concern over how much time the commission had spent discussing and researching chickens, pointing out that the research material he had received in his agenda packets was more than 90 pages....

    Safety Harbor commissioner Scott Long
  4. What's Rhonda Ross reading?



    Rhonda Ross

    Ross will be the opening performer at Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 22, taking the stage before her mother, Diana Ross. She is the oldest of the singer's five children, and her father is Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. A graduate of Brown University, Rhonda Ross holds a degree in African-American studies with a focus on literature. She is also a writer and actor, known for her role as Toni Burrell on Another World. Ross lives in Harlem with her husband, jazz musician Rodney Kendrick, and their 8-year-old son, Raif-Henok Emmanuel. What the singer-songwriter is bringing to Clearwater, she says, is some jazz, funk and neo-soul. "I consider myself a social artist. I like to speak about the environment around me, the spiritual journey that I'm on and others I know are on. I like to speak to that juggle of life. I write songs that help me untangle what's going on in my life, and I hope they're meaningful things,'' said Ross, 55....

    Rhonda Ross will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 22 before her mother, Diana Ross, takes the stage.
  5. Safety Harbor's African-American cemetery getting a facelift

    Human Interest


    The neighborhood on South Drive, in the shadow of U.S. 19, is not where you would expect to find a graveyard. But in this unincorporated area, between Clearwater and Safety Harbor, sits a forgotten holy ground to many.

    It is the Safety Harbor African American Cemetery. Its fence is long gone, although a Boy Scout troop did dedicate a small gate several years ago. Up until last week, the grass was knee high. Snakes are easy to spot under the oak trees and air potato plants....

    The grave of five-month-old Samuel Swann  (d1896) is the oldest marked grave at the Safety Harbor African American Cemetery.
  6. What's Tommy Pico reading?



    Tommy "Teebs" Pico

    Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, near San Diego, Pico now lives in Brooklyn, where he curates the reading series Poets With Attitude with Morgan Parker, co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot and is a contributing editor at Literary Hub. He is the author of several books, including IRL and Nature Poem, the online zine series Hey, Teebs and the chapbook app Absent MINDR. Pico was the founder and editor in chief of Birdsong, an antiracist, queer-positive collective and small press that published art and writing from 2008 to 2013. Pico also is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in New York. When we caught up with the poet, he explained why he chose a school so far from home. "I needed to throw myself headlong into a world I didn't really have context for and realign myself inside that,'' he said....

    Poet Tommy “Teebs” Pico.
  7. Folly Farm: Newest nature preserve is open in Safety Harbor


    SAFETY HARBOR — George Weiss, 89, walks the property every day, strolling along the gravel path with his dog, Cooper. He often stands for a few moments near a marker on a post while butterflies flutter between passion flowers, shrimp plants and coonties. The post holds a poem written by his late wife, Lucille. It is titled "Welcome.''

    "This morning I heard a mocking bird call,...

    George Weiss, 89, drops books off in a Little Free Librbary (take a book, return a book) box while walking his dog Cooper at Folly Farm, an 8.6-acre piece of  land that  Weiss donated to Safety Harbor for a public park. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
  8. What's Jennifer Obermaier reading?



    Jennifer Obermaier

    Obermaier was named head librarian for the city of Clearwater after the retirement of longtime librarian Barbara Pickell earlier this year. Obermaier, who now oversees five branches, first joined the city's library system in 2006. She holds a master's in library science from the University of South Florida and is "just a few classes shy'' of receiving another master's in public administration at USF. Her career choice as a librarian goes back to her childhood in New Jersey. "I loved to read, but it was more about being curious,'' Obermaier, 45, said. "I remember when I was young how much I loved it when my class would go to the media center. Time inside the media center was what really fostered my love of learning and research.''...

    Jennifer Obermaier, head librarian for the city of Clearwater, first joined the city’s library system in 2006.
  9. Chickens may soon roost in Safety Harbor

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — In the most densely populated county in Florida, farm animals are a rarity, but with the rise of urban farming, they have not disappeared from the landscape entirely. In recent years, several municipalities in Pinellas County have made it easier for residents to own backyard chickens to produce fresh eggs. And perhaps, Safety Harbor is going to join the ranks of the fowl friendly cities that now include St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Largo and Dunedin....

    Safety Harbor is about to join the ranks of cities allowing backyard chickens.
  10. Review: Idina Menzel belts out powerful, courageous performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater


    The best moment of Idina Menzel’s show at Ruth Eckerd Hall Thursday came during the singer’s best-known song, Let It Go.

    Menzel was sitting with children, mostly young girls, at the edge of the stage for a sing-along. She stopped and asked if any boys were near her in front. That’s when Trey Milcowitz, a student at East Lake High, stepped into the spotlight. At the star’s urging, he belted out lines from the song so strong audience members rose to their feet....

    Idina Menzel performed at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on May 25, 2017.
  11. What's Maureen Seaton reading?



    Maureen Seaton

    We've bid goodbye to National Poetry Month until next April, but we had time for a quick chat with poet Seaton: "Life can be not only hard but distracting. So for me as a poet, when National Poetry Month comes around, it makes me aware that I'm involved in something precious in the world. I feel very lucky." Seaton, a professor in the English department at the University of Miami, is the author of more than 15 books, including the poetry collections Fibonacci Batman and Cave of the Yellow Volkswagen and the memoir Sex Talks to Girls. Her honors include an NEA Fellowship, the Iowa Prize, the Lambda Literary Award and two Pushcart Prizes....

    Poet Maureen Seaton is the author of more than 15 books.
  12. From the Netherlands to Largo: Bird enthusiasts search for healing answers



    Nancy Konijn was an ocean away from Sarge and Shay, and the rest of the birds of prey at McGough Nature Park. But like their keeper, Patrick Bradley, Konijn believed raptors can help humans heal. And so, several months ago, when she came across newspaper articles on Bradley's success with the idea, she decided to reach out.

    Konijn is a natural health practitioner who is also a co-founder of a raptor rescue organization in Andijk, the Netherlands, Wings of Change. She emailed Bradley, who has been running the Avian Veterans Alliance at McGough Nature Park for just over a year to let him know that Wings of Change is aiming to expand its work with eco-therapy, using the outdoors, in this case raptors like hawks, eagles and falcons, to improve an individual's mental and physical well-being too....

    Eugene, a one-eyed male barred owl, resides at the center.
  13. Here's what 'Frozen' and Broadway star Idina Menzel is reading these days



    Idina Menzel

    Menzel is known to some as the green-skinned Elphaba from Wicked. Other fans go farther back and think of her as Maureen from Rent, while her youngest fans recognize her as the voice of magical Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen. When we caught up with the Tony-winning performer by phone recently, she told us she's bringing it all when she makes her return stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall on May 25. (Her last visit was in 2015.) "I always find it challenging to create new shows,'' she said. "I want to strike a balance, so it runs the gamut. There's going to be emotional songs and some real pop and rock stuff too. Oh, and I play the drums at times, too,'' she said. Menzel, whose solo albums include Still I Can't Be Still, Here, I Stand, and idina, is also the co-founder of A BroaderWay Foundation, focused on girls in underserved communities as an outlet for self-expression and creativity through arts-centered programs....

    Idina Menzel
  14. Review: X brings Exene Cervenka home to relive punk history at St. Petersburg's State Theatre


    The crowd at Sunday’s X concert at the State Theatre obeyed the “no moshing” signs at the entrance. Instead, they made do by dancing and head-banging elbow to elbow.

    On Mother’s Day, one of the founding mothers of punk, Exene Cervenka, joined three other original band members of X — rockabilly punk icon John Doe, drummer D.J. Bonebrake and guitarist Billy Zoom — for a 90-minute show, part of a 40th anniversary tour....

    X performed at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg on May 14, 2017.
  15. What's Jane Alexander reading?



    Jane Alexander

    Alexander, 77, is recognized for performances in movies (Kramer vs. Kramer), on the stage (Shadowlands) and on television (The Blacklist). She also is a lifelong environmentalist who last fall released Wild Things, Wild Places: Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth, a book on the work being done by scientists around the globe. We recently caught up with Alexander by phone from her home in Nova Scotia and talked books, Mother's Day and creating a worldwide patchwork quilt of sorts. "Mother Earth gives us everything we need in this world to thrive if we take care of her; water gives us life, air gives us breath and soil gives us growth. We haven't treated our bountiful Mother with respect,'' she said. "If each of us protects our own patch where we live by maintaining clean water, air and soil for all the creatures that call it home, including ourselves, that is our patchwork.''...

    Jane Alexander released “Wild Things, Wild Places: Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth” last fall.