Vacationing in Germany: Part 2 – Our First Day in Munich

After finally getting to Munich, we had been awake for over 24 hours and were exhausted. We slept for about three hours and got up around 4:30. We didn’t have time to explore the city so we just decided to go out and look for a place where we could have dinner.

There was a coffee shop across the street which we were happy to see but it was not what we were looking for at the time. After traveling thousands of miles to Germany we wanted real German food.

We walked down to Karlsplatz, which was about two blocks from our hotel, maybe three at the most. We passed the Italian restaurant in our hotel, a Middle Eastern Restaurant, a burger place and another hotel bar and restaurant. We then passed through a sea of people and made it to Karlsplatz.

After passing the large fountain we could see a coffee shop and a very large McDonalds but no German food. We were thirsty so we went to McDonald’s and bought a bottle of water for three and a half euros.

I wanted to continue on toward Marienplaz but by then Rose’s foot was hurting. It was an old injury that comes back to haunt her occasionally and it chose this time to come back.

We decided to just have dinner at our Hotel’s Italian restaurant. Our German waiter was very friendly and not only spoke excellent English, he did so with a bit of a Scottish accent. We found out later that he spent a lot of time in Scotland and the UK.

The food was very good and it was nice that we didn’t have a long walk back to our hotel when we were finished. The only drawback was that it cost us 100 euros. In comparison, the second most expensive meal we had on our vacation was $65 euros. We learned later that Munich was more expensive than anywhere else we visited.

That night jetlag caught up to me and it took about three hours for me to fall asleep. It was probably because we went to bed around 4 p.m. Florida time.

The next morning we set off on our first road trip and it was an awesome day. I will write about that next.

Vacationing in Germany: Part 1 – Tampa to Munich

My wife and I wanted to do something special for our twentieth anniversary so we decided to finally book the trip to Germany that we had been talking about for years. Now that we are back from that trip I decided to write about it in segments because there is just too much to tell for one blog post. I should mention that the first 24 hours did not go well but please stick with me because the story does get better.

We got up early Friday morning, October 11th, and got ready for our trip. We booked an Uber because parking our car at the airport would have cost us around $180 but an Uber was only about $40 each way and that was with a tip. The driver picked us up a little after 8:00 a.m. He was a little older than us and moved here from Crete, Greece in the 70s. He also survived cancer by refusing chemotherapy and changing his diet. I know this because he was talkative. Very talkative.

Our American Airlines flight left for Charlotte just after noon. I sat in the middle seat next to a guy sitting at the window and Rose sat next to me on the isle. The guy had taken over the armrest so I felt squeezed in like a sardine. He also had both his windows closed, as did the people across the isle from us so I couldn’t see outside. That made me feel even more like I was in a sardine can. It was a very uncomfortable flight. Fortunately it was less than two hours. I don’t think I could have survived if the flight lasted much longer.

We arrived in Charlotte before 2:00 and our flight was scheduled to leave for Munich two hours later but it was delayed for two more hours because they found a dent in the plane and had to wait for another plane. Perhaps the pilot hit another plane while backing out and didn’t tell anyone. Whatever the reason, I don’t mind a little inconvenience in exchange for my safety.

The flight to Munich was a little better because we had bought the economy plus which had slightly wider seats, twice as much armrest room, and only two seats in our row. It was also a wide body plane so getting up to streath was a little easier but it didn’t have a lounge like a 747 so there was nowhere to go.

Every seat had a video screen but mine didn’t work right. I tried to watch a movie but had to restart it every two or three minutes because of an error that told me, “Where sorry. The channel is no longer available.” After restarting the movie more than ten times, I just gave up and turned it off.

The last few hours of the nine and a half hour flight were very tough. I was tired but couldn’t sleep and everything was hurting.

When we finally arrived in Munich I had to pee but everyone was blocking the isle and I didn’t want to wait until the line started moving out of the plan to use the washroom so I figured I would go when I got inside the airport. That was a mistake. Upon leaving the plane and exiting the jetway I noticed we were not connected to the airport. Instead, there were busses waiting for us. That did not please my bladder but I had to grin and bear it.

When we got inside the airport we were directed upstairs where there were no bathrooms in sight. First, we had to go through customs but there were no customs agents around. The room slowly filled with people and the ones in the front were waving trying to get the attention of someone on the other side.

Ten minutes went by before anyone came out but they were not customs people. Three or four walked past us pretending not to notice. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, someone said they were on the way but they didn’t say from where. I think a half hour went by before they started processing people. By then many people who came in late filtered around the line to the left and got ahead of us. By the time I got through and made it to the bathroom I was ready to explode.

We got our luggage and proceeded to look for the Avis car rental place. It was quite a long walk and when we got there and saw how long the line was we were not happy. Rose guessed we would be in line for a half hour but it was actually closer to 50 minutes before we got to the counter.

We preordered a Mercedes six months before but we were told they didn’t have any and we were given a Volkswagen SUV insted. They offered us insurance for $350 euros, which was more than the cost of the rental, but Rose said our insurance would cover it and didn’t buy it. We then had to walk what seemed like another mile to the Avis lot where we passed about 500 cars, including several Mercedes. When we got to the car Rose wondered if we shouldn’t have gotten the insurance. I suggested she call our insurance company, which she did, and they told her they did not cover cars outside of the United States. 

Now we needed to get the insurance but didn’t want to walk all the way back and stand in line again so we called them. The phone system put us in the queue but never answered. Since our phone company was charging 25 cents a minute we decided to hang up after almost ten minutes.

Rose said she would wait in the car and I could go back. She told me not to wait in line but go right up to the person who helped us. I felt uncomfortable pissing off everyone in line but I went. When I got there the woman was busy with a customer but another woman was off to the side talking to a customer. I decided to talk to her when she was finished so I waited behind the customer. When she was done she ignored me and walked away. I took that as a sign that they were not going to help people out of line so I walked back to the car. 

Rose’s was pissed at me for not doing what she said. I told her we should could call the Avis corporate customer service and we got right through to them but we were told only the desk agent could issue the insurance policy so Rose and I both walked back to the counter. When we got there Rose butted right in behind the agent’s customer and when she was done the lady took care of us. I guess I should have listened to her.

When we got back to the car we wanted to put the hotel address into the navigation system but it was in German. Despite all the German I learned, there is still more that I don’t know than I do know. I tried to figure out how to change the language but the solution was far from obvious so I put in the address in and hoped for the best.

Once on the road the navigation system seemed to contradict the road signs on two or three occasions. I wasn’t 100 percent sure I programmed the address right so I decided to trust the signs and ended up adding ten or fifteen minutes to our trip. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but at that point we were both very tired and ready for the trip to be over.

At home, Rose drives because she claims that I am a terrible driver but really she is a terrible passenger. This time I drove because she knew I would understand the road signs better. It was a bit stressful, especially driving through Munich because there was so much traffic and so many pedestrians. Add to that the fact that I didn’t know where I was going and it made for a less than pleasant drive.

When we finally got to the Excelsior hotel, we saw we couldn’t drive to the front of the hotel like every other hotel I have ever seen. It was a pedestrian only area.

There was an area relatively close but there were cars parked there so I drove past and found a parking garage. I was under the impression that the parking lot was owned by the hotel but this was a city garage that charged by the hour.

We pulled in and went down one level but there was nowhere to park so we went down another level and found a spot way in the back. Nearby there was an elevator and we took it up to the main level. When it opened we were looking at the inside of a department store. There we were standing there with two huge suitcases and back packs and needed to go through an entire department store. Rose was willing but I didn’t want to do it and talked her into going down one level and walking up the ramp. She was not happy with me, again, and complained that the garage smelled like piss.

We paid for a room that Friday night simply so we would be able to check in early Saturday morning because we knew we would be tired. By the time we got there it was so late that it wouldn’t have mattered. We got the keys to our room on the third floor and went upstairs with the sole purpose of going to sleep

We expected the beds might be weird but weird doesn’t begin to describe it. Essentially they were two single beds pushed together, each with a single fitted sheet, no top sheet, and two heavy comforters, one for each side. The pillows were also a bit weird with the main pillow being square instead of rectangular.

Our room also had a great view of more rooms.

The good news was that we had arrived and had many days of adventure ahead of us. Next I will write about our first day in Munich.

Discovering My Ancestry: Part 5 – King Henry I

My last post talked about Mary Boleyn and her daughter Catherine who may have been the product of an affair with King Henry VIII. She may also have been the daughter of Mary’s husband, Sir William Carey. Because of the uncertainty, I will focus on the ancestors of Mary Boleyn.

Sixteen generations before Mary came Henry Beauclerc. Henry, the fourth son of William the Conqueror (1028-1087), was born around the year 1028. When William died in 1087, William’s eldest son, Robert inherited Normandy and William’s third son, William, inherited England. The second eldest son, Richard, Died in 1075. Henry was left without land but he did receive £5000, which I am sure was a lot of money back then.

King Henry I

William died in a hunting accident in 1100. Henry was with him at the time and some suspect it may not have been an accident. Henry moved quickly to seize the English throne while Robert was away on a Crusade. He tried to gain favor by promising at his coronation to correct many of William’s less popular policies. He also married Matilda, the daughter of Malcolm III, King of the Scotts, three months after his inauguration. This, no doubt, bolstered his support from the north.

Henry had as many as 24 illegitimate children in his lifetime, 9 boys and 15 girls, many born before his marriage with Matilda. His firstborn son, Robert FitzRoy, my direct ancestor, was born about 1090. Henry and Mitilda had two children, Matilda, born in 1102, and William Adelin, born the following year.

By July of 1101, Robert had formed an army and was ready to take England from Henry by force. Robert landed at Portsmouth on July 20 with a few hundred men that were quickly joined by many of the English barons. Their armies met at Alton where peace negotiations produced the Treaty of Alton. Under the treaty, Robert recognized Henry as king while Henry renounced his claims on most of western Normandy and agreed to pay Robert £2,000 a year for life.

During the next couple of years Henry gained influence with many of the Norman barons and eventually invaded Normandy in 1105. By late 1106, Henry had conquered Normandy and taken Robert prisoner. He remained Henry’s prisoner for 28 years until his death in 1134.

The king’s only legitimate male heir, William Adelin, died when the ship he was on, The White Ship, struck a rock in the English Channel and sunk in 1120. The accident happened because William supplied the crew with plenty of wine and they were probably drunk at the time.

Henry wanted his daughter, Matilda, to succeed him but after his death in 1135 there was great resistance to her rule. Stephen of Blois, a grandson of William The Conqueror, took the crown. Henry’s oldest son, Robert FitzRoy, was not eligible because of his illegitimacy.

Matilda contested the crown going to Stephen and years of civil war, known as “the Anarchy,” followed. A compromise was reached in 1153 called the Treaty of Wallingford. Its terms stated that Stephen was to retain the crown for the remainder of his lifetime. It would then revert to Matilda’s son, Henry, who would become King Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet’s dynasty.

While double checking the accuracy of my connection with Henry Beauclerc, I followed his line down a different path and was surprised at what I found. It turns out that Sir William Carey is a direct descendent of King Henry I

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.