Contemplations in the season of Advent

I have no thesis or overarching idea. Here are the thought-drabs.

1) Adam starts a new job tomorrow
He’s heading to work at a company that’s LITERALLY across the street from his old company. We’ve performed a massive defrag on our gaming group. There used to be six of us in four careers working at six companies. There are now six of us in two careers working at three companies. We converted two of our non-coders to coders, then aggregated all the dudes into one company. That company now has tremendous coding expertise, as well as some battle-hardened dice-wielders if there’s ever an emergency need for a FATE game.

2) We had the first snowfall of the year
It was tremendously scenic, and perfectly timed. It snowed all day Saturday, just enough to have fun playing in and to be gone by the end of the week.

3) We’re getting ready for the attic project
I spent that entire day Saturday reducing our number of bookcases by 1.5 by committing ruthless triage on our book collection. Now is an excellent time to visit the Book Oasis if you’re interested in: religion, Medieval Sociology, fantasy novels from the ’90s that didn’t stand the test of time (looking at you Stephen R. Lawhead), the collected “Wheel of Time” (I am NEVER rereading that) or a large collection of young adult novels in Spanish. Adam worked on clearing out the attic all week between jobs. There’s still a ton of stuff up there to be dealt with. Theoretically work begins in mid January. We can’t get too destructive until after the Christmas holidays, since we have guests over that period.

4) I may never finish writing my Christmas cards.

5) My laundry is folded all wrong
But it was washed and folded by my eldest son, and not based on any dire threats or massive punishments. Because he discovered doing laundry is the only way in this household to get a “watch crappy tv without guilt” card. And now he’s doing laundry. My youngest son does dishes. I’m enjoying the brief moment of smug feeling.

6) We took the kids to a party where they didn’t know anyone
And they made friends and talked for three hours with some other kids in the corner, looking very intense. Holy hand grenades! They’ve reached the talking phase of friend development!

7) In cleaning the attic, I found an unaccounted for Puppy.
I thought I had them all tracked. The only missing one went missing in a hotel room in Canada. Where the heck does this Puppy come from? I’m contemplating confessing to Thane about the true nature of Puppies – namely that he’s on Puppy #5. (I thought it was #4, but there are two in a drawer (with various not-so-attached body parts) and #3 is missing in Canada. So there must be an extra one in there somewhere.) Thane has started waxing rhapsodic on the nature of Puppies and Puppyworld, a utopian place. I hope he never outgrows his Puppies (who are actually bunny rabbits, FYI).

8) There are currently a LOOOOOOOT of cookies in this house.
Om nom nom.

9) It turns out Christmas is two weeks away
#panic

10) I got an award at work last week, for the Diversity & Inclusion and community building work I do
They don’t tell you who nominated you, so it feels a little like having a secret admirer. You find yourself looking at people and wondering who turned you in, and how you can thank them. Warm fuzzy feelings there!

11) We had all new toilets installed
The one downstairs, that I was talked into by a plumber in a moment of duress, prevented the door from opening and had a mysterious duel-flush mechanism that guests could rarely work out without consternation. This is no good in a powder room. The one upstairs, despite having its inner workings gutted by both my husband and I approximately one bajillion times, had a tendency to run. I had phantom toilet-running episodes, where I’d wake up in the middle of the night and have to check. I still find it hard to develop opinions regarding toilets, but doors not opening and running are definitely on my naughty list.

12) For those not following along on Facebook, I finally had to refuel my car
It was almost a full three months, and about 1500 miles. The gas light hadn’t come on, but a snow storm was coming. I added an additive to prevent the gas from freezing, since it might be spring by the time I have to refill it again. It turns out the gas tank is pressurized (probably to prevent water from coming in) and I had to Google how to open the gas tank on a car I’ve owned since it was hot out. With the real charging station, the electric costs have also come way down, to about $20 a month.

What’s going on with you?

It’s electric

Days before my birthday on September 23rd, I came home with a “new-to-me” Hybrid-Electric car dubbed Minerva. Those first few weeks we classily stuck the charger that came with the car through a window to an inside socket to charge it. Ah, solutions that only work in September! But I knew that at some point the fantastic weather would cease (although you wouldn’t know it from this amazing 70 degree November day) and we’d need to, you know, close the window.

So I attempted to find someone in the area who had actually installed an electric car charging station before. I put a note on the local Facebook group. I emailed a work mailing list… crickets. I finally had to (heh) Google it. Sylvester Electric responded to one of those “Fill out this form to hear from a technician!” sites and sent out a technician who had actually installed one of these before.

There was a hilarious moment when I asked about using a charging station hardware setup that I got discounted through work. The installer asked if it was rated for outdoor use. I had this brain moment where I was very dismissive and confused. My thought process was something like, “Why wouldn’t they all be? What, you think people are going to drive their cars INSIDE THE HOUSE and park them there? How ridiculous?!” …. “Oh, right. Garages. Those are a thing.”

Anyway, he’s about the fourth electrician we’ve brought out for a big project (like the AC installation) where we’ve been afraid we’d need a new panel and he’s all “Nah, there’s enough room! Probably your next project.” Which is true – the next project is the attic. Between the steam shower, the upgraded electric and the heated floor I’d be deeply surprised if we got away with the electric we have now!

The cost of installation, including the 240v all-weather charging station, was just over $1400. The car cost (used, same model year, with 1300 miles on it) just about $21,000. I have gotten our first month’s energy bill with charging to car, and it looks to me to be about $60/$70 higher (although the year-over-year is made messier by having the AC installed, and it actually ran last month some days).

We’ve put nearly a thousand miles on the car since we got it, driving it practically every day for short distances. And I still have more than half a tank of the full tank the car came with – a predicted range of over 300 miles. We pulled the charging station window operation out of use last week (it got cold and it felt like a safety risk when we were gone for the weekend). We’re on track to fill the tank like once every quarter, for normal commuting use. Plus, apparently the “real” charger will use less energy than the “window-stringing” 110v version.

So financially-fuel-wise, at great gas prices it’s about a wash. Any increase in gas prices and we start saving money. The really big difference though is where the propel comes from. There are a bunch of ways to generate electricity – hydro, solar, wind, geothermal etc. There’s only one way to get gas, and that is both a limited resource (you do remember that part – right?) and one that moves historically sequestered carbon from inside the earth to into our atmosphere.

I do wonder if the car charger adds or detracts from the house value. I suspect that it might add a few hundred in calculations, but for the right buyer it would be a huge plus. For not the right buyer, it would be a neutral to a negative. Good thing I have no plans on selling, well, really kind of ever. Maybe when we have flying cars…

Final note – I just got this shaming letter from my electric company. Our family, pre air conditioning, was often “better than average” and sometimes the full smiley face. Now we’re clearly in the bucket of shame. I know that this is and environmentally friendly choice on our part, but it does kind of crack me up how bad it looks in this graph!

Bad Energy User – no cookie for you!

Welcome to Minerva

“We” got our first car in 1997. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college when my then boyfriend called me up to tell me his folks had bought him a car, a manual transmission silver Saturn. My mind was *blown*. Who got new cars while in college? Adam named the car Olaf, and refused to let me drive him until we were married. (Since then, I’ve done 99% of the driving when we’re both in the car.) Olaf had canoes strapped to him. He did the trip between Connecticut and Massachusetts many times (at high speeds) the year Adam and I spent engaged and apart. We passed him to my brother when my brother graduated from college, and rumor has it Olaf still lives on in the roads of Minnesota, some 20 years later. (Please note: Olaf was named well before Frozen!)

Our second car was also a Saturn – green with an automatic transmission. In 2002 our commutes pulled us different ways and it was hard with a single car. We loved our Saturn and were sorry to see the rubber bumpers replaced with colored ones, but I’d vowed after a three hour, three mile journey on the tollways of New York not to get another manual. They just don’t make sense in the kind of traffic we live in. This car was named Brunhilde, on the viking theme. (Elsa would’ve been a great name on the Wagnerian theme – phew! Narrowly missed that one!) I was very conscientious in those early days about the traps that women fell into with finance. (I read a lot of Money magazine for a while after a panic-stricken realization I had no idea how insurance worked. It was full of horror stories about women and divorce.) So I proposed that we alternate ownership of the cars, so we’d build equal credit records. Brunhilde was mine. Brunhilde ended life donated to WBUR.

Olaf was replaced by Hrothgar – a 2007 Blue Toyota Matrix. That was my Beowulf phase – we named the car Hrothgar (or Hrothcar if I was feeling punny) about the same time we named our youngest son Thane. Same inspiration. Hrothgar was bigger than our Saturns (we were sad when they went away!) and was more of a “family” car. We brought Thane home from the hospital in it. We took it on our first ever camping trip in White Lake State Park. (In cleaning the car out, I found an old Mapquest-style printed set of directions to our home away from home!) Hrothgar was Adam’s in name, but the last few years I’ve been the primary driver. In an otherwise reliable workhorse of a car, the lack of audio line in or Bluetooth has driven us both crazy. Also heated seats. Today, Hrothgar drove off with new plates under the guidance of a friend of mine, after 93,000 miles of service. It’s good to know that a car that still has some working years in it will get that time on the road.

It was really the camping that made us need a bigger car. I wanted one with great gas mileage, so I test drove quite a few and ended up with a 2011 Kia Sorento. (The gas mileage ended up being a disappointment.) I was reading Herodotus in the Humanities Book Club at the time, and so we named our new car. It’s still our “big car”, and hopefully will be for quite some time (significantly to exceed three years, please…) It does have heated seats and Bluetooth. The only real annoyances are that it doesn’t have a thermometer (so annoying – I never even thought to check!) and the tan seats were a grave mistake. The car just hit 60,000 miles on our drive down to King Richard’s Faire, so I think it has quite a few good years left!

The time came, and then passed, when I’d budgeted for another new, smaller “commuter” car to replace Hrothgar. I dreaded the buying process. I dreaded the picking process. I’d driven my parents Ford C-Max (Rosie!) quite a few times on my trips home and I’d liked it a lot. The second car is definitely a commuter. It’s purpose is to schlep my husband or me the 11 miles between Stoneham and Cambridge, with heated seats and easy podcast syncing. So when we decided not to go camping Labor Day weekend (a mistake I still regret), I decided to use my time and attention on his task I knew would take both when it was needed. And I decided to focus on the C-Max, which was basically designed for the kind of commuter traffic we do constantly!

I put down a deposit on Minerva, a blue 2017 Ford C-Max Energi. She’s named after Minerve, the small fortified village in France we visited which is itself named after Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. (There was likely a temple there in the Roman era.) The “Energi” part of the C-Max is pretty cool. The car is an electric hybrid, or a plug-in hybrid. It has a fully electric motor with an approximate 20 mile range. (Remember? Cambridge is 11 miles from home. And my workplace has an EV charging station!) I have no range anxiety, though, since it also has a full gas/hybrid engine. When fully charged and gassed up, the car has an over 600 mile range. It also has pretty much no trunk space, but you can’t have everything. So I’m trying to find an electrician who knows how to install a charging station (I bet our next “big” car will be at least partially electric too!) and currently classily charging the car through a cord strung through the window. I discovered there are no EV charging stations in Stoneham, and have already dropped a “friendly observation” to an elected official or two. Minerva is used. I don’t understand the mindset that turns in a same-model-year car with 1300 miles on it, but someone did. And I benefited from a nice used car discount (and that crazy person also installed remote starter, so there’s that!) It was a bit of an adventure for the dealership to get the title (I guess it actually got lost in the snail-mail – who does that?!) which accounts for the delay. But it’s mine now!

Twenty years, and we’re on our fifth car. It does feel rather monumental!

Minerva at home