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Don’t Believe All Criticism of Electric Cars

I have been reading negative stories about electric cars lately. Some are legitimate concerns, some are so minor they are not worth mentioning and others are arguments that are not well thought out. Here I want to give you my opinion on electric cars and why they are not as bad as the naysayers want you to believe.

Currently, I drive a 2022 Nissan Leaf and my wife drives a 2022 Tesla Model Y. Previously I drove a 2015 Nissan Leaf, which I regrettably traded in for a truck that I thought we needed. After a few months, when we suddenly didn’t need the truck, I traded it for another leaf.

The main reason our government is pushing electric vehicles is that many believe they will help reduce carbon emissions and thus global warming. That is not why I bought my first electric car and it is not why I bought my second, either. I bought them primarily because they are practically maintenance-free and because they are far cheaper to operate than gasoline-powered vehicles. The large tax rebate didn’t hurt either.

Carbon Emissions

Let’s start with carbon emissions. My Leaf has the words “Zero Emission” displayed on the back which, as many naysayers will claim, is not true. Actually, it is usually not true but sometimes it is. It all depends on where the power comes from where you charge your car.

If the power you use to charge your car comes from a power plant that burns coal or other fuels, then the miles you drive indirectly translates into air pollution. If the power comes from a hydroelectric, solar, or wind turbine electric plant then it is truly zero emission.

The real issue is that the energy used to charge your electric car is generating pollution but nobody talks about how much pollution. According to the EPA, the average co2 emissions from a gallon of gas is 8,887 grams. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average co2 emissions from the electric power industry is 0.85 pounds per kWh. This equates to 385.5 grams.

So let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. My leaf is currently getting between 4.2 and 4.4 miles per kWh. Let’s round down and just use 4 miles per kWh. The EPA says 22 miles per gallon of gas is average. So, 8,887 grams, divided by 22 miles per gallon, equals 403.95 grams of co2 per mile. Times that by 4 and you get about 1,616 grams per 4 miles. Divide 1,616 by 385.5 and we see that the average gasoline-powered automobile pollutes 4.19 times that of an electric car that gets 4 miles per kWh. If we are really conservative and assume the average electric car driver gets 3.5 miles per kWh. That is still 3.67 times more carbon dioxide emissions from a gasoline vehicle.

Environmental Impact

There has been a lot of talk about the negative environmental impact of mining lithium for EV batteries. This is one area where the critics may be right but they fail to consider one very important fact. The importance of demand.

Many people don’t know this but electric cars were popular in the late 1800s but were killed off in 1912 when Henry Ford developed the modern assembly line and outpriced electric cars by more than half. Since then, electric cars were more of a novelty and nobody put any money into research and development because they knew they would not get a return on their investment. Thus, electric cars spent decades in limbo.

In the late 1990s, GM produced the EV1, which many thought was a great car, but it did not do well. GM produced 1,117 EV1s, all leased, and reclaimed the cars, only to destroy most of them. Some claim GM deliberately marketed the vehicles badly to prove to California regulators that electric vehicles were not a viable option.

It wasn’t until Tesla came on the scene in 2008 with its electric roadster and then Nissan with the all-electric Leaf in 2012 did electric cars start to gain traction in popularity. These last few years have really seen a spike in electric car sales, especially when gas prices started going through the roof the past year or so.

All of this demand, and profit, spur research as we have never seen before. If people do not buy these imperfect machines now, there will be no money or incentive to make future versions better. Today there are several companies working on battery technologies that will not only make batteries more efficient, longer lasting, and faster charging, but they will also be made with materials that are more common and cleaner to produce. I suspect in ten years we will see incredible advancements in batteries for everything from cars to cell phones to backup power for homes, all because EV sales funded the research.

Range

Another complaint you hear about electric vehicles is that the range is not sufficient. It is true that, with a few exceptions, most electric vehicles cannot drive as far as a gasoline-powered vehicle can drive. I believe that does not matter in almost all cases. According to Kelley Blue Book, Americans drive an average of 14263 miles per year. That is roughly 39 miles per day. Most people just drive to work and back five days a week and maybe travel a little bit farther on the weekends. With few exceptions, all that driving is easily within the range of even older electric vehicles.

A high-range Vehicle is only necessary when you will be traveling hundreds of miles and that usually only happens once or twice a year when people take a vacation. Even then, people often fly to their destination and only need a vehicle that can bring them to the airport. If you do need to travel a long distance, you have a couple of options.

First, you can rent a car, which is actually a good option even if you own a gasoline vehicle because it will save wear and tear on your vehicle and it will keep the value up because you won’t be adding so many miles to the odometer. This also gives you the option of getting the perfect vehicle for your trip, whether it be an SUV for a family trip or a convertible for a trip up the coast with your spouse.

The other option would be to map out fast chargers along your route. This is perfectly feasible today and we’ll get even easier in the future as more charging stations come online. The only downside is that you will need to make a few more stops and spend a little more time at each stop. One upside is that if you are staying in a hotel, many now have charging stations so you can plug your car in while you sleep, so when you get up in the morning, you have essentially a free tank of gas.

Maintenance and Repairs

Another argument critics make is that electric vehicles are more difficult to repair because many mechanics are not trained in repairing them. This argument doesn’t make sense to me because if your car does need to be repaired, the chance that the problem is related to the electric motor is slim. On the off chance the electric motor is the problem, there is probably a dealership nearby that you can take it to.

As I mentioned earlier, the lack of maintenance is one of the main reasons I bought an electric car in the first place. They are practically maintenance-free. They don’t need oil changes, cooling flushes, spark plugs, or fuel injectors. They also don’t need an alternator, transmission, muffler, or catalytic converter, and I’m sure a lot of other things too. I had my 2015 Leaf for about four years and four months. During that time it was in the shop three times, once for a computer issue, once for the air conditioner, and once for new tires. It was never in the shop for an oil change, tune-up, or anything related to the electric motor.

I read a story a long time ago about Zenith, which I believe was the last major television producer in the United States. Zenith made their televisions in a modular way that made them very easy to repair. Then a company called Sony came along and made televisions that were harder to repair but didn’t break down. Which company is still around? This is not a perfect comparison because electric vehicles are only harder to repair by untrained mechanics, but you get the point.

Electric Grid

Some will also say that all these electric cars will overload our electric grid. They fail to take into account that everyone will not be charging their cars at the same time. In addition, when people do plug their cars in, it will usually be when electricity is cheaper and local consumption is low. Someday when most of the cars on the road are electric there may be a need for upgrades to our power grid, but there is plenty of time to plan and implement those changes. I also suspect many more homes in the near future will get electricity from solar panels or small wind turbines and thus be no burden at all on the power grid.

Energy Cost

You might also hear that you are paying for electricity just like you are paying for gas. They make it seem like you are not saving money with an electric car. Let’s examine this more closely. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average cost of residential electricity is 14.92 cents per kWh. This does not distinguish between peak and off-peak which is important because most people charge their cars during off-peak hours. Most new cars and some chargers let you set a timer so that it only charges during off-peak hours, or super off-peak hours, which is even cheaper.

I assume the average of 14.92 cents is a combination of peak and off-peak hours, so we can use the number but it will probably give us a cost that is a little higher than reality. My state, Florida, has an average rate of 13.58 cents which is better than average but still close to the center. I tried to get a breakdown of the exact cost for peak and off-peak from my power company, Duke Energy, but I need someone with a degree in power company rates to help me interpret it. The rate schedule has 27 lines of numbers, some, I think, are fees that one pays no matter what their power usage is. Others are called adjustments that I think are negative numbers but it’s hard to tell. There are two sets of numbers that I believe are the actual usage rates, the energy charge and the fuel charge. I believe adding them together gives us the true rate. According to the chart, the peak rate is 16.742 (10.610 + 6.132). Off-peak is 13.81 (9.1 + 4.71). Super off-peak is 9.533 (6.029 + 3.504). All of those numbers are in cents per kWh.

Let’s start with the national average of 14.92 cents per kWh. If 22 miles per gallon is average, then we need to know how many kWh it takes to drive 22 miles and what that costs. That will give us an equivalent cost per gallon. My car gets about 4.3 miles per kWh, so that would be 5.12 kWh (22 / 4.13). According to AAA, the average price of gas, as I write this, is $3.956. The equivalent cost of my electricity would be 76 cents per gallon (14.92 x 5.12). If I only charge my car during super off-peak hours, my cost drops to 49 cents per gallon. If we assume an average of 3.5 miles per kWh, those costs then become 93 cents per gallon for average rates and 60 cents per gallon for super off-peak rates, which is still many times better than the cost of buying gas.

There is also another option for saving money with electric vehicles. There are many free chargers available throughout the country. In addition to the hotel chargers I talked about earlier, you will also find free chargers at many grocery stores, airports, and other public locations like libraries or city halls. Most of these are level two chargers but I have a free level three quick charger at a public park near my home.

If you are still reading that means you were able to make it through all the boring math. I hope you learned something useful today. Let me know what you think.

My Thoughts on the 2022 Nissan Leaf

After four months of owning a 2022 Nissan Leaf, I thought I would share my opinion of the automobile. This is my second Leaf. The first was a 2015 Leaf that I considered to be my favorite car up to that point. The reason I traded that car in was discussed in a previous post.

The first thing you notice when comparing a 2022 Leaf with the 2015 model is that it looks more like a normal car and less like a big frog. That means that you won’t get the attention that you might have gotten driving the older version but that could be good or bad, depending on how much attention you want. But this is not meant to be a comparison between the two cars.

2022 Nissan Leaf
2015 Nissan Leaf

I bought the Leaf SV with a 40 kWh battery. The Leaf has three models, an S, an SV, and an SL. The S is the most basic, followed by the SV, and then the SL which has the most features. If there is a “Plus” after the designation, it means it has the larger 62 kWh battery. It also means it is $5,000 to $6,000 more costly.

Since I rarely had a problem with the range of my old Leaf, which had a 24 kWh battery, I didn’t feel the need to spend the extra money. If I was going to be doing a lot of long-distance driving, then I would want the bigger battery, but 90 percent of my driving is within 5 miles of my home. Most of the rest is within 20 miles of my home. If something came up where I had to drive across the state, I would either map out fast charger locations or rent a car. Renting a car on rare occasions is far cheaper than springing for the larger battery.

The official range for the 40 kWh battery is 149 miles but that depends on how you drive. It could be more or it could be less. There is a feature on the dash that shows you where you are on the efficiency scale. It is actually a good way to challenge yourself to try to push up your efficiency rating. I often find myself driving like an old lady so I can increase my rating. I started at around 4.1 miles per kWh and eventually pushed it up to 4.4 before settling in at 4.3. I believe the calculations only count recent miles but I do not know the formula. Lately, I dropped down to 4.2, which still translates to 168 miles on a charge.

The reason I get better than average economy is partly that I drive conservatively but mostly because I drive almost exclusively around town. If I were to take a trip on the highway and drive over 70 MPH, then the miles per kWh would drop. I am not sure why but, unlike with gasoline-powered vehicles, city driving is more efficient than highway driving in an electric car. I’m sure part of the reason is that no energy is expended while sitting at a light, unlike gasoline engines which must idle.

The car has several safety features that are nice. The one I like most is a blind spot warning. If you put on the turn signal and there is a car next to you, the car gives you an audible warning, and a yellow light blinks in your mirror. Another feature vibrates the steering wheel if you start to drift out of your lane. It has collision avoidance features too that involve automatic braking but I have not had any desire to try them out.

The driving display allows you to cycle through several screen options. The one I like shows the driving efficiency, as shown above. It also shows the total miles and miles left on the charge. Another screen has the remaining miles more prominently displayed along with the power usage. There is another display that shows what you are listening to and, if you want to navigate old school, you can bring up a compass.

The media center touchscreen display allows a bit of customization but it is cumbersome to change and could use an upgrade. It does sync with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which is nice.

There are also a couple of buttons near the shift knob that helps with efficiency. Eco mode decreases motor output somewhat and also increases slightly regenerative braking. Regenerative braking essentially recaptures kinetic energy when slowing and puts it back into the battery. If you turn on e-Pedal, that is like regenerative braking on steroids. Some people call it one-pedal driving because when you take your foot off the accelerator, you can feel the car rapidly slowing down while it recaptures energy. Driving with the e-Pedal on means you never have to use the brake pedal except in an emergency. Of course, it does take a little getting used to but once you get the hang of it it will be like second nature.

The car is quiet, like all-electric cars, but I noticed a slightly louder hum than on my 2015 leaf. There was over a six-month gap between trading in my old leaf and buying a new one so my memory could be faulty. What hasn’t changed is the loud, annoying noise the car makes while backing up. I would like to find a way to muffle it a little so I can back up my car early in the morning without waking the neighbors. My wife’s Tesla, on the other hand, sounds like a relatively quiet alien spacecraft landing nearby. Nissan should do something like that on future models.

My 2015 leaf came with a home charger that plugged into a 110-volt outlet. The charger that comes with the 2022 model will plug into a 220 outlet and has a 110 adapter. This is a great upgrade, even though I only have a 110 outlet near my driveway. I have not had a need yet to add a 220 outlet but it is nice to know I can do that. I could also pay to have a home charger installed and save the portable charger as a backup.

The Leaf also comes with two charging ports, a standard J1772 port for level 1 (110) and level 2 (220) charging, and a ChAdeMO port for fast charging. I read that the CHAdeMO port is outdated but with all the cars on the road that use it, I can’t imagine that the fast chargers out there will stop offering it as an option any time soon. Interestingly, the word comes from the Japanese phrase pronounced “o CHA deMO ikaga desuka,” Which means something like “How about a cup of tea?” The reason that is used is that the charge time is about the same time it would take to have a cup of tea.

All in all, I think the 2022 Nissan leaf is an excellent car for the money. Yes, my wife’s Tesla is better than my Nissan Leaf, but for the money she spent, I could buy two Leafs and still have $10,000 left over. That is a great deal in my book.

Check back soon and I will talk about the energy costs of electric cars and the hidden reason why buying an electric car is good for the environment despite the naysayer’s reasons why it is not.

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 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?

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.

Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade at Marker 1 Marina

The annual Holiday Boat Parade in Dunedin, Florida is a beautiful procession of festively lighted boats that leave Marker 1 Marina on the Dunedin Causeway, head south through the Intercoastal Waterway to Marker 2, turn around and finish at the Dunedin Municipal Marina.

We were fortunate enough to live near Marker 1 Maria and saw a few boat parades from our back yard. From our vantage point, we watched the boats leave the marina, head west and then south until they were out of sight. The parade starts around dusk and I was in an ideal location to get some great pictures, as you can see from the photo below.

Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade 2008

Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade 2008

We now live on the other side of the marina and cannot see the boats exit into the Intercoastal. We are, however, closer to the action and can see people getting their boats ready. Before we were seeing more of the “big picture.” Now we get to see the people involved and get a closer look at the boats, although admittingly, only half the marina comes by our home. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see the parade from a new perspective.

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People are getting their boats ready for the parade.

2013 Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade at Marker 1 Marina

A boat full of Charlie Browns.

We saw a boat full of people dressed as Charlie Brown. That was something we would not have noticed from the other side. We yelled for them to turn their lights on but they had to save their power for the parade. A few boats left with their lights off, which was disappointing but understandable since we were at the opposite end of the marina from the exit.

2013 Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade at Marker 1 Marina

 

Daylight soon faded away and all the boats passing by us then had their lights on.
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It was a beautiful night for a boat parade and from what I could see, Marker 1 did a great job getting the boats out in an organized manor. I am already looking forward to next year.

Why do I Still go to Wal-Mart?

It seems every time I find myself in a Wal-Mart store, as I am leaving I tell myself “Never again!” Unfortunately, I have a short memory and end up back at Wal-Mart a couple of weeks later, where I repeat those same words to myself again.

I stopped at Wal-Mart after work on Friday. I parked a mile away, as usual, and walked past 45 handicap spots (I counted them). Most of the spots were empty and the cars that were in those spaces were probably people parked illegally, people who are not handicapped but driving their grandmother’s car, or people who have no trouble walking but our government classifies them as a handicap because they were able to file the request form. My grandmother had a handicap parking permit for her car because she was blind. What?????

I believe our government, in its infinite wisdom, probably requires Wal-Mart to have one handicap spot for every two regular spots because the government loves making rules and because nobody ever bothered checking how ridiculous that rule really is. I could not find the actual requirement online, because I didn’t bother to look, but I am sure my reasoning is either right or wrong.

The reason I went to Wal-Mart in the first place was to pick up flowers for Rose. I knew she didn’t have a vase at work so I thought I could get both the flowers and the vase there. Sure enough, as I walked in the door, the flowers were right there but there was not a vase in sight. I guess that would make too much sense putting the vases near the flowers. Its better to have the customers go searching in hopes that they will find something else to buy.

It worked. I picked up some fruit, which I was going to buy anyway, so I guess it didn’t really work. I then went on safari for the elusive vases. I thought I spotted them in housewares but I was wrong. They can be elusive creatures but fortunately Wal-Mart has several guides to help people on their quest. unfortunately, those guides are as elusive as the very vases I was looking for.

Alas, after a long and exhausting search, I ran out of time and had to give up. At least I had my fruit. Now came the worst part of my trip: standing in line.

The Wal-Mart planners did one thing right; they put in 52 cash registers because they knew that these supercenters get very busy and they needed plenty of cash registers to keep the customers happy and coming back. Of course, somewhere between the planning and actual implementation, something went very wrong. I don’t think I have ever been to Wal-Mart and seen more than 10 registers open at one time. Usually, when I am there, I see two or three registers open on one end and two or three at the other end, so if the lines are long, you could take the long walk to the other side, but since you can’t see that far there is no way to know what you are getting into.

Finally, after a ten minute wait in line, I headed out the store thinking, “Never again!”

My Observations: Part One

I will turn fifty years old in July and I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of the things I have noticed throughout my lifetime. People tend to like their information and quotes in the form of pictures these days so I thought I would start out with some words of wisdom:

Post Quotes as Pictures!

Just kidding, here is my quote for the day by yours truly:

I am amazed at two things

 

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