Discovering My Ancestry: Part 4 – The Other Boleyn Girl

My ancestry research eventually led me fifteen generations back to Lady Catherine Mary Carey. The name didn’t ring any bells at the time but then I learned the name of her mother, Mary Boleyn. That name seemed familiar but I didn’t know why so I looked her up.

Mary Boleyn

I discovered that Mary Boleyn was the Sister of Queen Anne, the second wife of King Henry VIII, who was beheaded for High Treason. She was charged with adultery, incest and plotting to kill the king. But several years earlier, Anne’s sister Mary Boleyn, was the mistress of King Henry while he was married to Catherine of Aragon.

I had heard of the book and movie called “The Other Boleyn Girl” but never was interested in watching it until I learned that it was about one of my ancestors. I asked my wife if she wanted to watch the movie and she was more than happy to help me by watching a chick flick.

I realized that the movie was probably highly speculative and overly dramatic but it was still somewhat informative and I was interested to learn what life was like for an ancestor of mine at that time. The movie paints Mary as the younger, more reserved sister while Anne was outgoing, cunning and opportunistic. If my memory is correct, It also shows their parents as power hungry people who practically steer their daughters into the king’s bed. From what I have read since, Mary was probably the older daughter and their parents may not have been as bad as portrayed.

While Mary was the king’s mistress, she bore two children, Catherine in 1524 and Henry in 1526. Some historians believe that Catherine, and to a lesser degree Henry, were illegitimate children of King Henry VIII. Some point to the fact that Mary’s husband, William, received land grants from the king that coincided with the birth of Catherine and Henry. Others talk of the resemblance between Henry and Catherine.

King Henry VIII and Catherine Carey Knollys

It was also noted that Queen Elizabeth I, The daughter of Henry and Anne, gave special favors to Catherine and Henry, more than would be expected for mere cousins. It also seems unlikely that Mary would name her first son after the king if it was William’s child.

Whatever the truth is, it complicates my family tree. I have had to stop research on that part of the family because of the uncertainty. It would be helpful if family tree programs could allow people to have two or more branches that are listed as uncertain. I wondered why nobody ever did a DNA test on living ancestors to determine if Henry did indeed father Mary’s children but I learned that none of Henry’s four known children produced children of their own so there are no confirmed living relatives. I suppose DNA tests could be performed on decedents of close relatives of King Henry’s but those findings could be made more difficult by the fact that Mary Boleyn was actually a distant cousin of Henry’s, as we shall see in my next post.

Discovering My Ancestry: Part 3 – Royalty

A few years ago, I would occasionally go to the library when I had some free time to do family research. I was too cheap to pay for Ancestry.com so I would access it from there. It was a valuable tool in my research but it was not the only one. When I would find a new person on my tree I would then go home and research that person on other genealogy websites like Familyserch.org or Wikitree.com. Sometimes those sites would have information that was not on Ancestry.com. Combined, I was able to greatly expand my family tree.

I gradually started finding ancestors of greater and greater importance. It was like following a stream to a river and then to the ocean. The fact that these people held a high stature made finding information about them so much easier. After all, how many records were kept on commoners hundreds of years ago?

The turning point in my investigation came when I learned about my great, great, great, great, great grandmother, The Honorable Martha Edwardes. She was born in England in 1764, the daughter of William Edwardes, 1st Baron of Kensington, and Elizabeth Warren (no, not that Elizabeth Warren). Starting with Martha, my family expands back through time to increasingly more important positions in society.

Sir Henry Rich

Four generations earlier came Sir Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland (1590-1649). I’m just guessing but I bet that is where the term “rich” comes from. The Earl had an army of 500 men during the English civil war, which lasted from 1642 to 1651. The war pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of Parliament. Henry was captured during The Battle of St. Neots. He ceded the city under condition that his life would be spared. He was then put on trial and executed on February 27, 1649, less than a month after the execution of King Charles.

Other notable ancestors of Martha include Robert Rich, 5th Earl of Warwick (1616-1645); Sir Walter Devereux, 10th Baron Ferrers of Chartley/1st Earl of Essex (1539-1576); Sir Robert Rich (1537- 1581); Sir Richard Deveroex (1516-1547); Sir Francis Knollys (1511-1596); First Baron Sir Richard Rich (1496-1567); Sir William Jenkes (1480-1571); The list goes on and on.

This line would eventually lead me to kings, emperors and saints, but those are stories to come.

Discovering My Ancestry: Part 2 – Making a Living on Death

Patrick Blake

My great, great grandfather, Patrick Blake, was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1833 and was brought to Ontario, Canada when he was about a year old. This is when details get murky. As I mentioned in my last post, historical records tend to be conflicting which is the case here. According to my research, he left Ireland with both his mother and father, John and Catherine Blake. My research also says John Blake died in 1842 in Ontario but I recently read an obituary for Patrick that says his father died when he was an infant and his mother brought him to Canada shortly thereafter. I did find a John Blake in the 1842 Canadian census for Quebec but the census is practically worthless since it did not list ages or the names of family members. John Blake is not exactly an uncommon name.

Patrick Blake moved to Detroit when he was young. Again, the records are conflicting but he arrived somewhere between the ages 12 and 20, possibly earlier. If my records are correct, he came there with his mother some time after his father died in 1842 which would make the obituary partially true. In another publication about the Blake family, Patrick was said to have come to Detroit with his mother and Father, which doesn’t match my records for opposite reasons. This information is not very important but it illustrates the difficulties in historical research.

At a young age, Patrick learned the art of shoemaking and opened a shoe store in Detroit. His shoemaking skills were exceptional and he even earned first prize for a pair of shoes he made for the first Michigan State Fair.

Eliza O’Rafferty Blake

In 1855, Patrick married Eliza O’Rafferty. Eliza left Ireland with her family during the Irish Potato Famine. I wrote about her in another post that you can read here. Together they had nine or ten children. I will explain the uncertainty later.

In 1862, Patrick opened a furniture store after giving up the shoe business. By 1865 he was selling caskets as well as furniture in his store. In those days, funeral homes did not exist like they do today. People just bought caskets and buried their dead.

Patrick, like many others, lost money after the Panic of 1873 and gave up the furniture business. He then conceived the idea of devoting his time to directing funerals. He thought the casket business lacked the compassion needed at times of death and originated many ideas that are now common in the funeral home business.

1901 advertisement

Patrick’s funeral business became very successful in Detroit and the man himself was well regarded in the city. In a 1914 publication titled Successful Men of Michigan, Patrick’s business, which was later called P. Blake and Sons after the addition of his sons William and Charles, was touted as “the first to furnish their establishment with a morgue of modern construction and equipment. They were first to introduce the process of embalming in this part of the country; first to use black covered caskets; first to establish a chapel in connection with their undertaking rooms; and first to introduce the modern square funeral car or hearse.”

Patrick was also a charitable man. He took a special interest in St. Vincent’s orphan asylum, of Detroit, He was also a member of the city’s poor commission, and a member of the board of superintendents of the poor of Wayne county. This will be ironic years later when one of his own sons will end up poor and destitute.

Patrick died in 1893 and had a very thorough obituary in The Detroit Free Press. They mentioned nine children, eight of whom were living at the time and listed seven of them. They did not list my great grandfather, Nelson Blake. He was also not listed in other publications about the Blake family at the time. Nelson was the youngest of Patrick’s children, born in 1875.

A second cousin of mine found evidence that Nelson might have been the illegitimate child of Patrick’s oldest son, Harry, and Nellie Palmer, who were unmarried at the time. Patrick and Eliza may have adopted the child but no other evidence has been found to support that. I did find an 1880 census that shows Nelson listed as a 5 year old son to Patrick and Eliza along with eight other children in the household. I believe there was another child that had died by this time which may explain why he was said to have nine children in publications that I have read.

There is far less information about Nelson than Patrick but I know he ends up in Chicago and marries Matilda Williams (or Bouer). In the 1930 census he is listed as a gardener. Also in that census, he lists his father as being from Ireland. So if he is really Harry’s son then he either doesn’t know it or doesn’t acknowledge it.

From what I picked up over the years, Nelson and Matilda didn’t get along very well. I believe Matilda would complain often about Nelson’s behavior, in particular about his drinking. I don’t know if it was the drinking that was the problem or if going out to drink was the issue. My grandfather didn’t say much about it but it seemed he felt his mother drove his father away.

Whatever the reason, Nelson left Matilda and had a very hard life afterwards. The 1930 census has him living in a place called “Old Ironsides Hotel.” I looked it up but could find no information about it except one reference to it in a book called Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties by Michael Lesy. In the book he says “The Ironsides was a skid row flophouse.”

Things hadn’t improved for Nelson ten years later when he was listed as a patient at Oak Forest Infirmary in 1940. It was a place for the sick and disadvantaged. It was also known as the Cook County Poor House. Nelson died that same year.

I can’t help wonder where his family was during those years he was poor and destitute. His parents were dead but he did have eight brothers and sisters, some of whom were probably well off considering the success of the undertaking business. Granted, I don’t know what happened to the business. It doesn’t exist today, at least not by that name, but I would think at least one of his siblings could have helped him at the time. Also, if Harry truly was his father, why didn’t he help? I guess I’ll never know.

Matilda lived in the same house in Chicago for the rest of her life. She died 13 years after Nelson in 1953. My mother visited her sometimes as a child and thought that she may have been waiting for her husband to come home. I wonder if she ever knew of his death.

Discovering My Ancestry: Part 1 – A Difficult Beginning

As I have aged, I have gained a respect and curiosity for those who have come before me. I have become interested in learning about my ancestors. I kick myself now for not being interested when I was young. So many people then could have told me so much, but now that knowledge is lost.

I think I became seriously interested in researching my family’s history after my father and three of my grandparents had passed away. It was the year 2000 or 2001. My only remaining grandparent at the time was my mother’s mother, Sadie (Thomas) Blake. I asked her about her parents but she said she knew nothing and had no interest in knowing anything.

That attitude came from the fact that she and her younger brother, Pat, were put in an orphanage when they were young. She had older siblings that did not suffer the same fate and I assume she was still bitter towards her parents for doing that to her. I don’t know the reason. Perhaps it was during the great depression and her parents were desperate.

I did manage to get some information at that time, although I don’t remember from where it came. I obtained photo copies of several important documents from both sides of my family. These documents had useful information but some also complicated my research.

For example, one document was my father’s mother’s passport. Elizabeth Höffler came to the United States when she was three years old with her mother, Eva. My grandma had told me years ago that she was from Hungary but her passport said she and her mom were both from Yugoslavia. Another problem was the spelling of the last name. The document spells the last name as Höfler in two places, with one “f,” but the signature is “Höffler.”

A couple of years ago I was able to clear up some confusion with the help of a Serbian coworker. She explained that many Hungarians lived in Yugoslavia at the time. She also pointed out that the alphabet is different there and the name was probably translated during their trip out of the country and the spelling was arbitrary. In fact, she said my grandmother’s name was really “Erzabeth” or something like that. My uncle also said that the time was just after World War One and Hungary did not really exist as a functioning country so it is possible that they entered Yugoslavia to get the proper paperwork to leave for America. What throws doubt on that theory is the fact that her Certificate of Naturalization in 1943 lists her as Yugoslavian. Since she was an adult at that time she probably would have corrected that if it was wrong.

Another problem is that Eva left with her three year old daughter but not her husband so I don’t know what her father’s name was nor do I know Eva’s maiden name. Perhaps Höffler is her maiden name and she was never married. My grandmother told me years ago her father was a German diplomat but my uncle said he was a German sailor. In either case, I was told he did not want to come to America and instead returned to Germany after the war.

On the other side of my family My mother’s father’s father was Irish and his mother was German. One document lists her as Tilly Williams and another as Matilda Bouer. Since her married name was Blake, one of those names is wrong or she was married to someone else first, which is probably unlikely since it was a hundred years ago and people didn’t get divorced like they do today, although her previous husband, if she had one, could have died.

These just illustrate some of the problems I had during my early research. It also is typical of geneology research in general. I have since encountered many conflicting documents that have complicated my research.

Another problem I ran into was finding information on my Grandmother’s parents, the ones who put her in an orphanage. In particular, her mother was listed on her delayed birth certificate as Rubina Slaughwhite, born in Marble Mountain, Canada. At the time, Google returned zero results for “Slaughwhite” or for “Marble Mountain” but Google was young at the time and there were far fewer web pages. Today I get 113 results and it asks if I mean “Slaunwhite” which I believe is the correct spelling. That spelling now produces 118,000 results. I also get 25,300,000 results for “Marble Mountain Canada.” What a difference 18 years makes.

I gave up my research for over a decade and when I started looking again I found more than I could have hoped for, at least on my mother’s side of the family. I uncovered many interesting stories along the way that I want to tell in future posts. One of those stories I wrote about a few years ago that you can read here. I hope you will join me for more.

Am I Weird?

My wife thinks I’m weird. Not the kind of weird that you have to lock up your children, but more like the eccentric kind of weird. She has even called me a hippie but I don’t think that is totally accurate since I don’t do drugs or drive a VW Bus.

I don’t know. Maybe I am weird. I do know that I do things that most people I know don’t do or I don’t do things that most people do (I wanted to say “do do” but resisted). I don’t think my brain is wired differently than anybody else’s, I just think my experiences and desire to always be learning something new has shaped my opinions about things beyond the norm.

Below are a few things that I do differently than most and you can decide if I am weird or not.

I use unconventional hygiene products. I have become aware of the many toxins that we put on our body so I try to find creative ways to avoid them.

  • I make my own toothpaste – To avoid fluoride and other chemicals I mix baking soda with coconut oil and some essential oils like Peppermint Oil and Tea Tree Oil.
  • I use African Shea Butter for hair gel – It works and it’s good for your hair and skin.
  • I don’t use shampoo – Instead, I wash my hair with Castile Soap, which also works as a body wash.

I don’t wear a watch. – I don’t think this is that unusual. I wore a watch until the summer before last when the battery died. Instead of replacing the battery, I started wearing my Misfit Shine activity tracker which I stopped wearing because it didn’t make me more active. The Misfit had a watch feature that stopped working but I kept wearing it anyway until the tracking part stopped working too. At that point, I realized that not having a watch on my wrist was really no big deal and haven’t worn one since.

I don’t watch the news. – I stopped watching the news on television early in 2015 when I got sick of hearing nothing but bad news. There are plenty of good things that happen both locally and globally but the news consists of 95% bad news. I don’t feel like my life is incomplete because I don’t know about the latest murder or corruption scandal.

I don’t like any political party – Most people identify as Republican, Democrat or Libertarian but I tend to avoid politics like I avoid the news. I think it is virtually impossible for anyone today to have a chance at a high political office without being at least somewhat corrupt so I just accept what is and try not to think about it. I also think my views don’t fit very well with any party that I know of.

I don’t drink soda or any sweetened beverage. – I don’t think this is weird but it is uncommon. The exception is that I will occasionally drink kombucha which has a little sugar in it to help the fermentation process. I also avoid processed food and any food with added sugar, although this is difficult because sugar is added to so many things that you wouldn’t expect. Artificial sweeteners are also I my list of things to avoid. I used to avoid them because they taste bad but I have since learned that they are very unhealthy and, ironically, they make you fat.

I wear moccasins. – The ones I wear have only a thin leather sole and are as close to barefoot as you can get in a shoe. I believe nature gave us feet that are perfectly designed for the task and wearing conventional shoes is like throwing a monkey wrench in the works. Of course, there are exceptions and I do wear shoes when I am working but those shoes are lightweight and flexible.Moccasins

I drive an electric car. – I talked about this in my last post. I don’t think it is unusual to want to have a reduced negative impact on the environment or own a car that is almost maintenance free but I am definitely in the minority on this one.

I avoid conventional doctors. – The last time I went to a medical doctor my wife made the appointment since I wouldn’t do it myself. I went to make her feel better but the rubber glove treatment was not worth it, especially since there was nothing wrong with me that could be treated with drugs. I believe doctors in the United States are the best in the world for treating emergencies but for chronic illnesses, I think they just make things worse.

I make homemade cat food – Okay, maybe I am weird. Who else makes food for their pets?

Raw homemade cat food

I do other things, too, that most people don’t do. I make my own sauerkraut, I juice fresh vegetables, and one year I made homemade lip balm for my wife.

I also don’t get jealous. My wife goes on a business trip about once a month and I think she would like me to be a little jealous but I guess I am just too trusting.

So now that you know about some of the weird things I do, how would you rate my weirdness? Am I weird? Do I need a psychiatrist?

One Year Electric

It has been one year since I purchased my first electric vehicle and I want to share my experiences so far. The vehicle I purchased was a 2015 Nissan Leaf. Though used, it only had about 600 miles on it so it was like a new vehicle.

20170319 2015 Nissan Leaf

Before I write more about the car, let me back up and explain how I got here.

 

I first became interested in electric cars before I was even old enough to drive. I read about a small electric car that was being produced in the mid-70s called CitiCar. These were produced by a company called Sebring-Vanguard, Inc., which was based in Sebring, Florida. The car was very small and the range was limited to only about 40 miles but worse than that, the top speed was under 30 MPH. Still, I liked the idea of a car that required no gas and had far fewer maintenance requirements.

At that time, I figured the technology would improve and in ten or fifteen years time electric cars would have the speed and range of conventional gas engine cars. I’m glad I didn’t bet on that. Even my 2015 Leaf has a range of fewer than 100 miles but it does go quite fast.

A year ago I was driving a 2000 Dodge Dakota that got about twelve miles per gallon of gas. I started a new job in February that year that was twenty miles from home so the cost of gas was killing me. My wife had wanted me to buy a new car for quite some time because the cost of maintaining the truck was very high. I kept thinking the problems would stop because I had replaced just about every part in the truck but new problems kept coming.  I hated the idea of having a car payment but I slowly realized that it might be better than feeding a money pit.

I first started looking at fuel-efficient cars but the gas savings was not enough to justify the expense. Then my mind went back to the electric car and I did some research. I looked for used electric cars for sale in my area and the cost of most were too high considering the age and mileage they had on them. Eventually, I found several cars at a nearby dealer called Lokey Nissan that all had under 1000 miles and were very reasonably priced.

As I said, I found a 2015 Nissan Leaf for a little over $13,000. Considering that the original list price was $32,000, I thought that was a deal that was hard to pass up. In addition, it was much bigger than I expected for an electric car. The Leaf is a four-door hatchback that seats four comfortably and five uncomfortably. It also has rear folding seats and a pretty decent hauling ability.

20170321_055638 2015 Nissan Leaf milage report

The cost of electricity is a factor that I haven’t fully figured out but if the official estimate is correct then it is less than $50 per month and there are ways to reduce that further which I will talk about below.

The main problem with the car is the limited range of about 90 miles or so, although the 2018 Leaf has a much higher range. This has not been an issue for me because I almost never have a need to drive more than 50 miles in a day. If I do, there are options. The main option it to dive my wife’s Mustang. The other option is to charge the car at one of many charging stations in the area. These charging stations are not nearly as numerous as gas stations but their numbers are increasing every year.

There are three different types of chargers for my Leaf:

  • Level One – This is the charger that comes with the car and it plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet. This is the slowest form of charging and I estimate that it adds about ten percent per hour of charge. This is the only charger I use at home because I have not yet found a need to invest in a Level Two charger.
  • Level Two – This Charger runs on a 220-volt system and charges the car about three times faster than a Level One charger. The only drawback to this is it usually requires an electrition to hook up a special outlet.
  • Level Three – This charger uses direct current to quickly charge the battery. It also requires a different connector. Some cars don’t have both connectors. Mine does. I found it adds about three percent to the charge per minute. The drawback to this is that it is not available for home use and it can be damaging to the battery. For that reason, it is recommended never to charge the battery higher than 80%. I believe it has something to do with the heat generated and a fully charged battery that is hot will lessen its lifespan.

There are several different companies that operate charging stations and their fees vary. I have rarely paid for charging so I don’t have a good grasp of what those fees are but I think you can expect to pay about ten cents per minute for Level Three chargers and about one dollar per hour for Level Two Chargers. There may also be a small connection fee and some may charge by the kilowatt.

I almost always charge for free for a couple of reasons. There are many free chargers that are Level Two. Some of these are in city-owned parking areas like at the airport or near city hall. Some are run by businesses and are there to entice electric car owners to shop there. There is a Whole Foods near me that has a couple of free chargers as well as one or two Publix supermarkets.

20170322_07394620170322_181110

There is also a program from Nissan called “No Charge to Charge.” With that, you get free charging on certain Level Three chargers and, I suppose, Level Two as well for the first two years after purchasing a new vehicle. Since the original purchase date of my car was sometime in 2016, I have enjoyed free charging for the past year. When I need an extra charge, I usually charge at Level Three EVgo chargers that are located at several area Dunkin Donuts. I can then enjoy a nice coffee while I wait for my car to charge. I recently traveled outside my comfort zone to Lakeland, which is 52 miles from home. Once there I charged my car at a Dunkin Donuts so I could get home.

There are several things I like about the car. It accelerates quicker than you would expect for a car like this. It is also faster than I expected. I recently tested how fast it would go and had it up to 92. It would have gone faster but I came upon traffic and I also didn’t want to get a ticket.

20180318_175106 dash

The dash is well laid out and I can see the important things like speed and miles left before empty very clearly. The radio is especially nice for me because I like to listen to my own recordings and it has USB plug as well as an audio in jack. The downside of that is that if a phone call comes in it mutes the sound but it does not pause the audio.

My favorite thing about the car is the lack of maintenance it requires. There is no engine so there is no spark plugs, timing belt, distributor, fuel injectors, alternator, or air filter to worry about.  There is no cooling system so the radiator is not an issue. There is no gasoline so you don’t have to worry about the fuel tank, fuel pump, fuel lines or filters. There is also no transmission that will cost a boatload of money to replace. I recently brought it in for an inspection and the only thing I needed was to have the tires rotated.

Of course, there are things like brakes and tires that need replacing and there is a 12-volt battery that runs the dash and other components that will need to be replaced. I think the biggest expense will come when the main 36-volt battery needs to be replaced. That could cost several thousand dollars. Fortunately, the batteries are more heat resistant than they were on the 2011-2012 models and there is a five-year warranty on the battery.

20180318_175031 shifter

One thing I don’t like is the shifter. It seems backward to me. Even after a year I still sometimes want to push it forward to go forward and pull it back to go backward but that never works out as planned.

Another thing I don’t like is the noise it makes when backing up. It sounds like a garbage truck. They say the sound is needed because the car is so quiet that people need more help noticing it but I think the volume could be cut in half. I didn’t notice how loud it was until I lent my car to my uncle-in-law recently and heard it for the first time from the outside.

All things considered, I would say this is the best car I have ever owned. I don’t know what I will do when the battery goes. Perhaps replace it or trade it in for a newer model. Either way, I can’t see going back to gas.

Remembering My Dad

Today marks 19 years since my father passed away. Even though so many years have passed, my memory of him has not faded very much nor has my capacity to miss him. He was a very special man and we had a great relationship for most of my life although that wasn’t always the case. From as early as I can remember until about age 13 I didn’t always feel comfortable around my dad. That is not to say he made me feel uncomfortable but often when we were alone, I didn’t really know what to talk about with him.

I don’t know if it played a part but my dad was good at everything he did, at least that’s how I saw it. Later, I realized that he had his flaws just like everybody else but at that time he was just a hard act to follow.

My dad also seemed to find himself involved in lots of interesting events. He and Mom saw the filming of The Blues Brothers and an episode of The Streets of San Francisco. He was actually on a hunting trip and ended up in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He was on a plane with Henry Winkler. He was stationed in Germany at the same army base as Elvis Presley. He walked into our local Kmart just as their roof collapsed from too much snow. There were other incidences that I don’t remember but all of that just reinforced the image of him being a hard act to follow.

Our personalities were different too. I was more like my mother, easy-going and soft-spoken, while my dad was a big storyteller and liked the attention. I always downplayed my stories while my dad could stretch the truth into a very interesting yarn.

My father also had different interests than I did, although I did learn to appreciate some of his interests later in life. We would go on camping trips when I was a child and I never really liked it back then but when I became an adult I learned to appreciate the outdoors. He was also a computer programmer but it wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I started taking computer programming in college, too late for him to help me from 1200 miles away.

One thing he did that I never learned to like was hunting. He used to go on hunting trips a couple of times a year but I never went with him because I never had the heart for it. I suppose that might have been a good bonding trip for the two of us but it was not meant to be.

I remember the turning point in our relationship came when I was around 13 years old. I used to give him a hard time sometimes. Not often, maybe once a month or so, but I would argue with him about something to the point that I would really piss him off. There were times where he literally chased me upstairs to my bedroom where I expected him to give me a good beating but his beatings were always pretty lame, which I later really respected him for. He was doing the best he could with a difficult son.

Huss family portrait

Huss family circa Christmas, 1975 – L-R Me, Mom, Matt. Dad, Holly

One day we were all in the car and I said something that really angered him. I don’t remember what it was but I remember I was in the backseat and he was driving. He tried to smack me but he couldn’t reach me. At that moment I had an epiphany. I thought maybe our relationship problems were my fault and I decided to try to be a better son.

I don’t recall exactly what happened in the months to follow. I’m sure I wasn’t anywhere near perfect but our relationship did get better. Before I knew it, we actually had a real father and son relationship. I could hang out alone with my dad and actually have a good time.

A few years later he got a job as a college professor and I went to college where he worked, although I was in a different career program at the time. Even so, we still had some common interests that we could talk about. In fact, I enjoyed listening to his college stories. They may or may not have been a bit embellished, but I didn’t care, they were still interesting. One story involved him teaching his class how to use the floppy drive on their computers. He told them to insert the disk into the drive and then close the door. A student in the back row got out of his chair and closed the classroom door.

I moved to Florida in 1988 and Dad and I drove his van down packed with most of my stuff. It was a nice trip and dad and I got along very well. On the last leg of our trip, about 30 miles from our final destination we were on a lonely road and I was driving. Dad saw a turtle, probably a gopher turtle, on the side of the road. He told me to stop the van, which I did. He then wanted me to pick up the turtle because he wanted to take it with us. I said “No. What are you going to do with it?”

I don’t remember what he said but he proceeded to pick it up himself and bring it to the van. I felt like the parent then and told him this was a very bad idea. Just as he got the turtle inside the van it started peeing all over the place. Dad said, “Here, take it!”

I said “No way! Get it out of here!” He then set the turtle on the ground and we continued our trip. It wasn’t pleasant having turtle pee in the van but it gave us something to laugh about for a long time.

I think it was the laughing I will remember most about Dad. My fondest memory is of him telling this joke: “What do you get when you cross 25 female pigs with 25 male deer? 50 sows and bucks.” It wasn’t the joke but it was the way that he laughed at his own joke that I will always remember.

Anyway, on the way back to Illinois we picked up Dad’s parents, who lived in Clearwater at the time, and drove them back to Illinois to see my brother, Matt, graduate high school. I planned on bringing them home a week or two later when I moved to Florida permanently.

Mom and Dad with his parents, Ed and Betty

By the early 90s, I had a computer with a modem so I was able to access something that, at the time, was mostly used by college professors like my dad. It was called email.

Back then a long-distance call was expensive but with email, my dad and I were able to communicate back and forth essentially free. I had a free account that was provided by the Hillsborough County Public Library System, even though I lived in Pinellas County. We had a lot of conversations through email and I feel very fortunate that I was able to save some of them. I have emails that go back to April of 1996. Unfortunately, I was not able to save earlier emails, probably because I didn’t have the ability to copy and paste until I got a computer with Windows 95. Nevertheless, reading through these emails now is almost like having him here.

Early in 1995, I got an invitation to go to my brother’s wedding that summer in Illinois. I wanted to go but I could not afford to take a week off from work. Not long after that, I learned that my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. I thought I would be a pretty lousy person if I both missed my brother’s wedding and missed an opportunity to see my dad in the event that this disease was worse than I hoped it wasn’t.

I brought my son, Chris, with me. Living so far away he hardly knew his grandparents and I wanted him to get to know his grandfather, and vise versa, before it was too late.

It was a wonderful wedding and Chris and I had a great time visiting my brother and his new wife as well as my Mom and Dad. Dad seemed to be in good health and I left there with a feeling of hope that things were not as bad as I feared.family photoMy parents came to Florida at least twice, possibly three times, after that. They came down in late June of 1997, shortly after my separation from my first wife. Dad drove their motor home down even though he had recently undergone chemo treatments and was bald from the drugs. He seemed perfectly healthy to me. That could have been an act for the benefit of others. If that was the case, he did a good job acting. We all went to my cousin’s wedding and he seemed to have a good time at the wedding and while he was he was here. I know he and my mom also went on a cruise but I don’t remember if it was during that particular trip or the next one, or perhaps both.

 

 

Chris and I drove back to Illinois with Mom and Dad in their motorhome. We stayed at their house for a few days and while we were there, Dad seemed to take delight in showing off his new wig. It looked good on him but I don’t think he really cared to wear it. He didn’t seem to have a problem showing off his bald head.

The next time I saw him was about a year later when Mom and Dad came down to Florida again. I remember him talking about his chemo group. I’m not sure if this was an actual group or if it was just several people that got to know each other through chemo treatment. He said there were five of them and at that time the other four had already died. That was the ultimate good news, bad news story. Was I supposed to feel hopeful because he was stronger than the rest of them or was he destined to follow in their footsteps?

I chose to remain hopeful but his health deteriorated at the beginning of 1999. Early in February of that year, I got the news that he may not last much longer. I don’t remember if I was given an actual time but I think I felt he had a month or two left.

Many different things happened in my life at about that same time. I was laid off from my job just before Christmas. That is the worst time to look for a new job but I was able to find one early in January but, unfortunately, making significantly less money. As fate would have it, at about the same time I was contacted by a mutual friend of my former boss who said that they were looking to hire someone. I arranged to go back to work for them but I had to go see my dad first.

Also happening at that same time was that my live-in girlfriend and I were splitting up. I left for Illinois with Chris and understood that when I came back she would be in the process of moving out, which actually pleased me.

We arrived on Friday, February 12th. Dad was worse than I expected. Hospice had come that day and brought a hospital bed for him which they set up downstairs in the basement. The room was actually a family room that my dad had converted years before and we spent most of our time down there as a family. He was almost too weak to walk up the stairs but was able to use the bathroom downstairs.

The next day he seemed to be even worse and the day after that even worse yet. He seemed to go in and out of stages of delirium. He had a scheduled appointment to see his doctor at the hospital that Monday morning. At that point, the only way to get him to that appointment was by ambulance. The hospital they took him to was a good 45-minute drive from the house. If memory serves me correctly, my mother rode in the ambulance and I followed behind with Chris and my brother Matt. I assume Matt drove us in his car but I don’t remember that.

When we got to the hospital, they admitted Dad right away. They had him on a bed all hooked up with tubes and wires. He looked terrible. His skin was yellow and I think it really hit me at that point that this was the end.

We stayed at the hospital until evening, although we did leave for lunch. Matt dropped us off at my parent’s house probably close to 10:00 that night. A few minutes later the phone ring. It was my uncle Dick, my dad’s brother. He said my dad was gone.

Even though the news was expected it was still incredibly saddening. I knew my brother hadn’t made it home yet so it gave me time to breathe a little before I called him with the news. When I did, he asked if I wanted him to break the news to Holly, our sister. She was still in Arizona and had tickets to fly down in a couple of weeks. I took the easy way out and said, “Yes, you could call her if you don’t mind.”

Holly arrived in Chicago the next day and I borrowed mom’s car to pick her up. We spent the next few days busying ourselves with funeral arrangements. We went with Mom to pick out a casket and a gravesite. While we were there the funeral director suggested making a memorial on poster board. So we bought a 3-panel poster board, like the ones you see at science fairs, and I got to work scanning pictures of my dad. I then printed those pictures on my dad’s color printer and we pasted them on the board. I also designed a memorial flyer. It was good busy work.

When my grandfather died I didn’t go inside during the viewing. I wanted to remember him alive, not lying in a casket. At my dad’s funeral, I didn’t have a choice. Up until that point in my life, I had never actually seen a dead person and the first time, unfortunately, had to be my dad.

I don’t remember the funeral much but I know seeing my dad in the casket is a memory I don’t want to remember. After the service, I was one of the pallbearers that helped bring dad into the Hearst. We then drove to the cemetery where there was another short service.
It’s strange the things you think about at a time like that. I was looking around at all the people there wondering if I was the only one shivering on that cold February day. I was.

After that, Chris and I went back home and I went about my life but things will never be the same, in both good and bad ways. My dad was gone so I would never be able to talk to him or send e-mails back and forth to him again. But my ex-girlfriend had moved out shortly after I got back and two months later I met the woman who I would spend the rest of my life with. I just wish that I had met her a few months earlier or my dad lived at least a few months later so that he could have met her and she could have met him.

I have a few regrets from that time that I still live with. I regret that I didn’t tell my dad that I loved him. That was just something that we never did. He never said it to me and I never said it to him but I’m sure we both knew. At least I hope he knew.

Another regret was not telling my sister to come sooner. I saw that Dad was deteriorating fast but I had no medical knowledge so I didn’t know what that meant. Holly had tickets to come down in a couple of weeks and I was worried if I told her to come now she might come too early and then be forced to go back home. As it turned out, she was not there for Dad’s final days and I blame myself.

Finally, I should have bought a Valentines Day card for my dad to give to my mom. He was not in a position to do anything for her that Valentines Day but he could have written something in a card that would have been meaningful, but the thought did not cross my mind until it was too late.

So today my father would have been just over 79 years old. Many men live to be 79 or older so it’s not unreasonable to think my dad could still be around if it wasn’t for that cancer. I know so much more today about health and cancer and I sometimes wish that I can go back in time and help my dad recover from his illness. But, of course, it is a foolish waste of time to think about what could have been. Instead, I should think about the people I love that are alive today, help them to be healthy, and never forget to tell them that I love them.

The Irish Potato Famine and the Wreck of the Carricks

I wanted to start this story with the introduction of the potato to Europe around 1570 from Spanish explorers returning from South America, but it actually starts a bit earlier than that.

This story begins in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which question the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences. He then supposedly posted it on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. That was the catalyst of the Protestant revolution which would eventually lead to the death and persecution of millions of people in the name of a man who taught love, peace, tolerance and forgiveness.

During the early 1500s, much of northern Europe, including what is now Great Britain, became under the control of Protestants. King Henry VIII was largely responsible for transforming England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one. Ireland, on the other hand, remained mostly Catholic and Henry worried that allegiances might be formed with that of Catholic Europe, such as Spain.

Thus began a policy of “Plantations,” where land was confiscated from Catholic Irish and given to soldiers and colonists (Planters) of England and Scotland. This changed the demography of Ireland, especially in the north, by creating communities that were mostly Protestant British.

These plantations started out slowly but increased as Irish resistance to British occupation increased. This culminated in the “Nine Years War” between the forces of the Gaelic Irish chieftains and of England. It nearly bankrupted England but in the end, the Irish lost. A few years later in 1609, the Plantation of Ulster by Scottish Presbyterians began on a large scale.

In 1641 an Irish rebellion broke out against English rule and the English and Scottish settlers. About 4000 settlers were killed in the early months of the uprising and many more were forced off their property. Troops were sent to quell the rebellion but were recalled in late 1642 when civil war broke out in England. After the rebellion, much of Ireland was under the control of the Irish Catholic Confederation, formed by Irish Catholic nobles, clergy and military leaders

The war kept the British troops occupied until 1649 when Parliament prevailed and King Charles I had been executed. By August of that year, Oliver Cromwell landed near Dublin, with an army of battle-hardened soldiers.

Cromwell had a hatred for the Irish and considered them nothing more than savages. Under his command, many were brutally massacred at Drogheda and Wexford. After the massacres, many towns feared Cromwell and quickly surrendered while others feared what would happen if they did surrender. By 1653, the country was devastated and as much as 25 percent of the population was dead.

In 1652 Parliament passed the “Act for the Settlement of Ireland,” which was supposed to punish participants in the Irish rebellion but was really designed to relieve the Irish of their land ownership and put it in British hands. Many of the Irish were forced into less fertile lands. Other laws were also passed by the late 1600s that denied most Irish Catholics many rights, including the right to own land or to hold office. Some of those rights were restored by the early 1800s but by then the damage was done.

By the 1800s, most Irish Catholics were tenant farmers. They leased small plots of land from which to feed themselves and earn enough to pay the rent. They grew crops to sell and they grew potatoes to eat because potatoes were easy to grow in Ireland and they provided more calories per acre than any other crop. During this time the population of Ireland grew to over 8,000,000 by 1841.

In 1845, blight hit the potato crops in Ireland. One-third to one-half of the crops were lost. This blight also hit crops in many other countries but no other society had become so dependent on the potato for survival.

A Relief Commission was established to set up local relief committees composed of landowners, clergy, magistrates, and others. The committees were supposed to organize employment projects and distribute food. They were also tasked with raising money to cover half of the cost and the British government would cover the other half. Nothing went as planned as many of the committees were run by poorly educated farmers who could not get the land owners to donate any money.

The British government appointed Charles Edward Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary of the British Treasury, to oversee relief operations in Ireland.  Trevelyan was a micro manager and managed every detail of the operation. In the spring of 1846, he set up a large scale public works project that was supposed to help the unemployed but it was so burdened with bureaucratic red tape that it only resulted in anger and confusion. Other attempts to relieve the Irish were made by the British but all failed just as miserably.

By the summer of that year, British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel’s government had fallen and was replaced by the Liberals, also known as the Whigs. They believed in the principle of laissez-faire, a theory that opposed government intervention in business affairs, believing the free market would naturally take care of things. This might have worked except the market was not free for the Irish. They were held down by laws that made it nearly impossible for them to compete under British law.

In 1782-83, Ireland experienced a famine and ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland. No such port closures happened this time. Throughout the famine, Ireland was exporting enormous quantities of food. The country was producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population, but those were considered “money crops” and weren’t interfered with.

The government, through the Irish poor laws, opened workhouses that were little more than death camps. Worse, in order to get into a workhouse, one had to give up any rights to property they might have.

Landlords at the time were responsible for paying the rates, or poor taxes, of all tenants whose yearly rent was £4 or less. That meant that Landlords whose land was mostly poor tenants were faced with large bills. They began clearing the poor tenants and by 1847 there was a great mass of evictions. Getting the farmers to leave their land was not always easy and the landlords soon discovered that it was cheaper for them to book passage for their tenants on ships leaving the country.

Many ships in the 1840s were importing lumber from Canada and were happy to get paid to ferry people on the return trip, for a price. The conditions on these ships were deplorable and became known as coffin ships because as many as a third of the passengers died on the trip across the Atlantic.

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, twice served as British Prime Minister starting in 1855. In 1847 he was Foreign Minister and owned land in Sligo and elsewhere. He was one of the first landlords to carry out what some call “forced emigration.” Whether forced or not, people at that time were starving and desperate and would have probably welcomed the opportunity to leave the country. In October of that year, 177 tenants of Lord Palmerston’s estate boarded a ship, along with 300 other Irish immigrants, called the “Lord Ashburton.” 107 people died during the trip and 87 had to be clothed by charity groups before they could disembark.

Earlier that year, if what I have learned so far is true, my great, great, great grandparents, Felix O’Rafferty and Helen (McCormick) O’Rafferty were tenants of Lord Palmerston in Sligo. They boarded a ship heading to Quebec called the Carricks on April 5, 1847, along with their eight children, including sixteen-year-old Eliza, My great, great grandmother.

The Carricks was a 242 ton brig built in 1812.  It was a two-mast ship, 86 feet long and 26 wide. It was bound for Québec City under the command of Capt. R. Thompson. Aboard were 176 tenant farmers and 20 crew members.  On April 28, a storm forced the ship onto the rocks, less than four miles from Cap-des-Rosiers, where it broke apart and sunk. Of the passengers, only 48 survived, including, incredibly, all ten of my family. Of the crew, one boy lost his life.

The voyage and subsequent wreck must have been very hard on everyone, especially Helen who died a few weeks later. Eliza went on to marry Patrick Blake, who became an undertaker in Detroit after the Civil War. His funeral home business grew to be one of the most successful in the country.

By the end of the Potato Famine, 25 percent of the population was gone; half from starvation and disease, the other half from emigration. Surprisingly, the population of Ireland continued to decline for over a hundred more years, reaching only 2.8 million inhabitants by 1961.

The story of the Carricks is true but I have not been able to confirm that my ancestors were on the ship. The timeline seems right but passenger records were destroyed in in a fire in Quebec in 1865. Other names I have come across do not include O’Rafferty. In any case, the fact that they survived the famine is a story worth telling, especially since I am here to tell the story.

Caribbean Cruise on Carnival Liberty

Our fall vacation plans started early this year, I believe it was February when my wife suggested that we go on a cruise. We had been on several cruises and I was ready to do something different but had limited options.

Last year we planned on going to Germany but Rose’s place of employment went up for sale and her future employment in question so we put off our Germany plans until this year and went on a Disney cruise instead.

This year was not as questionable. Rose got a job with the new company and all was well except taking off two consecutive weeks while working for a new company is probably not the best idea. Instead she decided another cruise was our best option. We wanted to go near our anniversary in October so I did some searching and could find no reasonable alternative in our price range.

After many hours of searching we both decided that a Cruise on the Carnival Liberty, which sailed from Port Canaveral in Florida to Nassau, Bahamas and then to St. Thomas and St. Maarten in the Eastern Caribbean. We liked that because, even though we are not big fans of Nassau, the Virgin Islands and Eastern Caribbean is a place we have never been and we wanted to see somewhere new.

What I didn’t like was that it was a Carnival cruise. The last time we cruised on Carnival we had several issues that tarnished an otherwise fun time. I wrote Carnival about the problems and even included pictures as proof but was disappointed by their eventual response. I was hoping that they would at least offer us a discount on a future cruise to compensate us for the problems but instead I got what seemed like a form letter that just said “too bad for you” in a nice way (see here). We decided that the shorter cruises used older ships that were more in need of maintenance and a longer seven-day cruise would probably be better, so we booked it.

Once we booked it, it was my job to find a rental car. Our truck is a pig on gas so, to save a little money on fuel and avoid the wear and tear on our vehicle, renting seemed like a good option. The last time we rented a car for a cruise was with Enterprise. At that time I wanted to drop off the car and pick up another car for the return trip but the drop off fee was so unbelievably high that it was cheaper to rent it for a week and pay the high parking fee as well.

This time I found a good deal with Budget. I also accidentally discovered a trick for saving money. By scheduling my pickup time for 9:45 a.m. my cost was just over half of what it would have been if I wanted to pick it up at 8:30 a.m. So for just over $100 we booked a car for our trip over and our trip back and didn’t have a drop off fee.

It seemed like it took us a week to pack because we had to bring everything but the kitchen sink. I want to go on vacation to relax but a cruise requires you to dress up every evening for dinner and there was two formal nights which meant I had to bring a suit and tie, not exactly vacation attire. Worse, all that extra clothes meant we had to bring a boat-load of luggage… literally.

Picking up the rental car went anything but smoothly because the rental office was moving and they had no internet access. Since it was the first day of our vacation that minor hiccup did not bother us. We had booked a hotel on Cocoa Beach and left on a Friday, the day before the cruise departed, because we didn’t want the stress of driving across the state with no time for problems, should they occur. It was also a chance to visit Rose’s dad who lives thirty minutes from there.

That evening we received an automated call from Carnival saying the Liberty was delayed due to having to make an unscheduled stop due to a crew member’s illness. The message said not to arrive at the terminal before 1:30 p.m. That left us in a difficult predicament because we had to return the car by 9:45 and take the shuttle to the terminal.

 

Day One: Port Canaveral

The morning of the cruise we had breakfast at the hotel, picked up a few last-minute supplies, then headed to Budget to return the car. We decided to ignore Carnival’s recommendation and got on the first shuttle to Port Canaveral. Once there everything went very smoothly and we were on the ship before noon, well before Carnival told us to show up.

Once aboard I noticed the windows were quite dirty, just like they were on our last cruise on the Carnival Destiny, but the rest of the ship seemed to be in good shape. We had a room on the spa deck, #11-06 on the port side, third room from the front. It was the highest room level on the ship and our section only had a few rooms. Rose thought it was a good choice because it would be quiet and it would be easy for us to workout because the fitness center was connected to the spa. She was right about it being quiet.

The ship left port on time and shortly after we were out to sea we headed down for dinner. Getting there was complicated, at least until we learned the trick. We were on deck eleven forward and our dining room, The Silver Olympian , was on deck three aft. Our deck did not go all the way across the ship and deck three was blocked by The Golden Olympian Restaurant and the galley. So to get to dinner we went down to deck five, walked past the shops, casino and bars, and then went down to deck three.

After we checked in, we were brought to a small booth where two elderly women were sitting. Rose hates sitting at booths but there wasn’t much we could do without making a scene so she just accepted the situation and we sat down. It wasn’t that bad. The women were sisters and were quite nice and we were relatively close to the large aft window that eventually framed a beautiful sunset.

Silver Olympian dining room, Carnival Liberty

The food was also pretty good. The menu changes everyday but has some items that stay the same. I was told years ago the food on cruise ships is world-class. I have not found that to be true but I am not that picky and have always been happy with the quality. It is the quantity that I am not used to. The portions are always smaller than you would find at your local restaurant, which is probably not a bad thing since I usually overeat and feel miserable when I go to restaurants.

towel animalAfter dinner we went to the casino. I am not a big fan of gambling because I have a medical condition called “bad luck,” but Rose likes to play the video slot machines so I will play video poker while I wait for her. I play the video poker because I have found it to be the slowest way to lose money. I have tried the slot machines but find them no more enjoyable, or profitable, then throwing quarters into the ocean.

There was no show the first night so we went back to our room. The room steward came to our room during dinner, turned down the bed, left us chocolates, the next day’s schedule and, of course, a towel animal. We expect all that but we never know what towel animal he will make so it is always a surprise.

Day Two: Nassau, Bahamas

We got to Nassau early and had the breakfast buffet on the Lido deck. I try to eat healthy so I just loaded my plate with several different fruits, a small amount of eggs and a little cottage cheese that I mixed with peaches. That was my breakfast almost everyday.

We were off the ship at around 8:30 that morning. We have been to Nassau several times and it is our least favorite port. The Straw Market is a popular place for people to shop but it is filled with hundreds of high pressure vendors all trying to sell you the same crap. In fact, the entire area around the port is like that.

Carnival Liberty docked at Nassau, Bahamas

Carnival Liberty docked at Nassau, Bahamas

Horse and Buggy in NassauWe chose not to do a ship excursion. We just got off to see what looked interesting. The walkway is like a gauntlet, loaded with people trying to push you to spend money with them. We chose to go on a horse and buggy ride for $40.

After we got on the buggy a woman took my camera and snapped a picture of us and then asked for a tip. The ride around town was somewhat interesting but shorter than expected, about twenty minutes. We paid $49 with the tips, which was not worth it, but few things are when you are on vacation.

After the ride we did a little shopping in town. Rose had some gifts to buy and I was looking for coffee mugs with covers because bringing two coffee cups half-way across the ship every morning was not easy to do. I could only find one store that had them but they were $10 each for cheap plastic mugs. I guess the word “Bahama’s” somehow made them valuable. We went back to the ship before 10:00 a.m. where I was able to get two nice, stainless-steel mugs, with a specialty coffee, for $8 each. I think it would have been better to stay on the ship that morning.

Early that afternoon the captain announced that because of Hurricane Gonzalo, we would not be going to our scheduled ports but would instead divert to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. We were not happy about that since we booked a more expensive cruise to avoid going to the same places but there was not much we could do about the weather.

Rose didn’t like eating at a small booth so she got our table changed for dinner that Sunday evening and for the rest of the cruise. We were led upstairs to the second floor and sat almost directly over were we sat the night before. This time it was a large circular table with nine other people. I felt a little bad about abandoning the sisters but I’m glad we did because every person on that table was very likable.

We went to the theater that night and saw a show that involved a lot of singing and dancing. It wasn’t really my thing but Rose likes stuff like that so I put up with it. It was the only show we saw that trip except for Friday night, which I will get to later.

Day Three and Four: Days at Sea

We spent the next two days relaxing. We wanted to go to the pool but it seemed all the pool chairs were always taken. I think many people go up before breakfast, put a towel or other belongings on a few chairs, then go back to their rooms or to breakfast. There are rules against that but they are not enforced so the only people allowed to enjoy the pool are the rule breakers or the lucky few who get there at the right time.  We did find some out-of-the-way chairs on Monday and spent a little time in the small adult pool but that was the only time during the entire cruse that we did that.

We also spent a little time on our balcony, at least I did, and I was able to get a pretty close look at what I think was Havana, Cuba. Other than that, our balcony went unused for most of the trip.

Possibly Havana Cuba

This might be Havana. If anyone can confirm or deny that, please leave a comment.

That night, and the next, we watched karaoke after dinner because two of our table mates were singing. Those two also got picked for the talent show that Friday night. I’ve never been to karaoke before and I always imagined a bunch of very bad singers but most were very good and some were great.

Day Five: Grand Cayman

We arrived at Grand Cayman on Wednesday morning, which was our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Since a coral reef surrounds the area, ships are not allowed to pass a certain point, so there were several tender boats on hand to ferry passengers to shore. We had breakfast first and then got on one of the boats and headed to shore.

Grand Cayman

The last time we were in Grand Cayman we went on a Marineland Tours amphibious bus, which we really enjoyed. It took us for a tour around the island and then went into the water where we got a chance to do some snorkeling. This time the tour wasn’t available, probably because we were not scheduled to be there, so we picked an excursion that went to a sandbar referred to as Stingray City and then to the Cayman Turtle Farm.

Stingray City

We got on a bus which took us to a boat for a thirty minute ride to the sand bar. As we approached, we saw several other boats along with many people in the water. We then all got a mask and snorkel and got into the water. The water was between three and four feet deep and crystal clear. At first I saw nothing but soon there were stingrays swimming all around us. These stingrays were larger than the ones I have seen on the beaches near my home in Florida.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Rose and I did a bit of snorkeling even though the water was clear enough to see the stingrays while above water. It just seemed more enjoyable to be swimming with them. I had my GoPro camera with me and took videos while I swam with the stingrays.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman Stingray City, Grand Cayman

DCIM100GOPROAfter a short time the first-mate “caught” a large stingray and was bringing it to people to hold and kiss. Supposedly, kissing a stingray is good luck. Rose was able to kiss the stingray and the mate took our picture while she held it.

Later, he brought out some food which really attracted the stingrays to our group. A few large ones were swimming through the crowd causing screams from several young women. They must have been used to people because they had no problem squeezing through the dense group of humans.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman Stingray City, Grand Cayman

When it was over, we hated to leave, but we had turtles to see.

Cayman Turtle Farm

Once back on shore, our bus took us to the Cayman Turtle Farm. The farm breeds sea turtles and has a large, artificial “lagoon” that allows visitors to swim with the turtles. We were given the option of going on the full tour or skipping it and the entire group elected to skip it. Instead we went to where several tanks housed adolescent turtles of various ages.

Cayman Turtle Farm

We were hungry at this time so we decided to buy lunch at the café. We sat outside where a rooster, hen and two or three chicks wandered around the tables looking for scraps. The table overlooked the lagoon where several people were snorkeling. When we finished eating, we headed to the lagoon and picked up snorkeling gear for ourselves.

20141015_Grand Cayman_177420141015_Grand Cayman_1776
As we waded into the water I could tell this wasn’t going to be as pleasant as I had hoped. The ground seemed slippery and there was what looked like chucks of algae floating in the water. I put my mask on and reluctantly started snorkeling. It seemed like I was swimming through a green snowstorm. I just assured myself that there was a shower waiting for me on the other end.

At first I saw nothing but then a swimming turtle came into view. I swam toward it and saw him eat a couple of pieces of the algae so I assumed it belonged there. On the bottom were two more turtles resting on top of a large grate. Our time was short so after a short swim we headed back.

We immediately took showers and then headed into the gift store where we didn’t find anything worth buying but did so anyway. Rose bought a couple of Christmas ornaments and I got a shirt without looking at the price first.

Day Six: Cozumel

The next morning we were in Cozumel. I went to the Lido deck to get coffee and saw that someone was up all night making towel animals and putting them on chairs all around the pool. I thought that was a nice little surprise for people.

Carnival Liberty Towel Animals

The last two time we were in Cozumel, we took a cab to Chankanaab National Park for snorkeling, but this time we decided to do something on dry land so we booked an excursion called “Salsa and Salsa.”

We were given a ride ten minutes up the road to Hotel Cozumel. There we were led into a large room and everyone was given a margarita as we entered. This was a drinker’s paradise because the margaritas kept coming.

Salsa and Salsa, Cozumel, Mexico

We started out by making our own margarita to go with the one we already had. The two young women who were hosting the event kept us entertained as we learned how to make several different kinds of salsa as well as guacamole.

Salsa and Salsa, Cozumel, Mexico

When the food making was over, the tables and chairs were removed and it was suddenly a dance studio. The plan was to teach us how to salsa dance. It was a fun experience but I only saw one couple who really seemed to pick up on it. We decided they must had done this before.

Day Seven: Day at Sea

We spent our last day aboard the Liberty just relaxing. We cashed in what was left on our player cards at the casino and were pleased to have lost no more than $60 for the entire trip, which was great because we each spent about thirty minutes a day gambling. That means it cost us less than ten dollars per hour to gamble.

That evening we had our final dinner with our new friends and then most of us went to see Carnival’s amateur show which I believe was called “Legends.” Two of our new friends were performing in the show. One was Madonna and the other Ricky Martin. I enjoyed their performances when I saw them at karaoke but both stepped it up a notch for the show. The other performers did a great job too and we really enjoyed our last night on the ship.

Day Eight: Debarkation

Port Canaveral

We arrived at Port Canaveral early Saturday morning, and since we brought too much crap to carry off ourselves, we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy breakfast.  This trip was the first time in over ten years that we did not carry our luggage off the ship. When our vacations are over, we like to hurry up and get home, so it was discouraging to see people walking off the ship at least an hour before us.

When we finally did get off the ship, we stood at the luggage carousel for a very long time. It started to seem like our luggage was the last two pieces to leave the ship. We then had to wait around for budget to pick us up and bring us to their car rental location. Once there, things went pretty smoothly and we were on our way home.

Final Thoughts

It would be hard to rate this cruise fairly because it did not go to the ports that we chose. If I assume that the ports we went to were part of the plan, I would say that I was pretty satisfied with the experience. My biggest problem would not be with the ship or crew but with the fact that we could have taken a similar cruise out of Tampa (near our home) and saved a ton of money.

We did have a good time, and that is the important thing. We very much enjoyed going to Stingray City and we met so many nice people on this cruise. Perhaps next time we will make it to the Virgin Islands.

If I were to do something different, I would pack less. Rose convinced me I needed to dress up every night for dinner so I had to bring several dress pants and shirts. In addition, I had to bring a suit for the formal nights. That was half my luggage in dress clothes and it wasn’t necessary. Formal night exists just so the cruise lines can sell you pictures and you are not punished for dressing like you are on vacation. In addition, many people went to dinner wearing a decent pair of shorts and a Polo shirt or something similar. All our extra luggage meant that we had to let Carnival remove it from the ship and ended up with a broken suitcase because of it.

I also would get a room with a window but skip the balcony unless the prices are very close. We spent very little time on the balcony during our cruise. Smokers might think a balcony is worth the extra money but smoking is no longer permitted anywhere except certain designated areas of the ship.

Let me know what you think Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or tips for other travelers.

Note: I have videos that I have not had time to process but will try to add them to this post within the next few weeks, so check back again.

Enjoying the “Real World” on Honeymoon Island

Last weekend Rose and I went to Honeymoon Island for a walk on the nature trail. She didn’t really want to go but she knew I wanted to take pictures so, as a good wife, she suggested it.

At the beginning of the trail we saw an armadillo going about his business, total oblivious to our presence (which is why most armadillos die near roadways). Further down the trail, it seemed that every hundred feet or so there was an osprey in a tree. Some were in a nest, others were nearby keeping a lookout, still others were flying overhead, sometimes with a fish, possibly bringing it to feed their young. We could even hear the sound of young osprey calling out to their parents, but we could not see them over the top of the nests. It is a world of wonder that can’t be fully appreciated from your living room, even while watching National Geographic.

Rose initially came as a favor to me but was soon glad she did. I was also glad to be there but was somewhat disappointed that my camera lens was giving me trouble. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and it was refreshing to be outdoors in such a natural environment.

The last part of the nature trail was closed a few years ago because bald eagles had built a nest there. It has become an attraction as people walk the trail to see the young eagles during the winter and early spring. We walked to the end and spotted two young birds in the nest. There were a few other people around, some with cameras and another with binoculars. The eagles were too far for a good look but close enough to see what they were doing. On this day, one of the young birds was jumping around the nest flapping his wings like he was almost ready to fly away.

While we were there we met a man named Mike Brown. He was visiting his father from Ohio and we got into a discussion on how people today spend too much time indoors watching television or playing on the internet. When they are outside, their concentration is focused on their phone and they just don’t see the beauty that is in from of them. It is a shame because disconnecting yourself from technology and entering the real world, even for an hour or two a day is very refreshing and I would say even healthy.

Before we left I gave Mike my card he has since contacted me. I feel like we have made a new friendship that would not have been made over the internet. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fine place to meet people but there is never a strong connection until you can talk to someone face to face. There is so much we humans communicate visually that can’t be revealed in a text message.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

I ordered a new lens, which arrived yesterday, so Rose and I took another walk on the trail yesterday afternoon. This time we were greeted by a gopher tortoise instead of the armadillo that greeted us last week.

On the first part of the trail we saw fewer osprey than we did last week until we walked a little further down. We then saw one osprey after another, each a few trees away from each other and every one of them was eating a fish. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, which must be lunch time for ospreys. It’s amazing what you can see when you make the effort to get out once in a while.

Osprey with fishOsprey with fishOsprey with fishOsprey with fish

We then walked to the end where the eagles were. One of the eagles was watching from a high branch. We saw the adult eagle flying toward the nest as we approached the end of the trail. There were a couple of photographers there that said she brought them food. We couldn’t see them eat but they must have finished pretty quickly because they seemed like they were excited, jumping back and forth across the nest.

Bald eagle with young

The other eagle watched from a nearby tree.

Bald eagleAll in all, it was a great walk on a beautiful day and I look forward to doing it again.