Christmas 2021

We decided to take the risk of traveling this Christmas after two years of staying put. We flew to Bethesda to visit Andrew’s parents (known to the kids as “Grummy and Grandpa Stape”). Andrew’s brother, David, also visited with his family (Nancy, Raven, and Max). We were nervous about COVID the whole time, but multiple self-tests have come out negative, so we think we made it.

We avoided indoor activities beyond the family, but had a great time skating and exploring the National Mall. Pictures below capture a bit of the spirit (click on them for larger versions).

And, a video of Raven and Nancy doing a spin on the ice:

First Family Ski

We had our first big snow of the season on Friday. Time to try out the family skis. I’ve been joking that we can ski right out from our back door. While this is true, we decided that the front door was a better staging location due to the porch. But we were able to truly put the skis on right outside the door and then ski around the house, into the back hard, and into the woods.

The trail behind the house is an unofficial path that goes along the ridge over Battle Creek, meeting up with the real trails after about a quarter mile. There were some fallen trees over the path, but over Thanksgiving, Jeff (Sarah’s dad) brought up his chainsaw and we cleared them out. Now there’s just one awkward gully where you need to remove your skis and tromp in boots. Otherwise, it’s a clear shot from the house to the groomed trails in the park. Pretty amazing!

Circus Show: Blizzard

After a break due to COVID, Maggie resumed her work with Circus Juventas this fall. She will be performing this spring, but we decided to go see their holiday show as a family. The show is called Blizzard, and is framed as a bunch of careless elves letting stories loose from the Big Book of Holiday Stories. Lots of snow and Christmas goofiness, but mostly a spectacular circus performance.

If you’re looking for something to do this month, the show runs through December 19. Only an hour with no intermission, it was a great time. Here’s a short clip of the flying trapeze:

Electric Car

We bought a 2012 Nissan Leaf this summer so that I could commute to school from our new house (no longer in walking distance). We went for an old one because it was inexpensive and we wanted to experiment with it to see if an electric vehicle would be a good fit for us.

2012 Leaf charging in the garage.

It’s turned out to be great. Although it has a weak battery (only 60 miles at best on a full charge, and I wouldn’t trust it for more than 40), it works perfectly as a commuter car. My typical round-trip from school is about 20 miles. Thus I have plenty of padding to allow for a few errands or taking Griffin to after school sports and other activities. Other than that, it handles great on the road, with impressive acceleration.

ChargePoint 240 volt EV charging station.

We’ve had it for long enough now to have some numbers to compare with the energy costs for our Mazda CX9 (traditional gasoline engine). In September we installed a 240 volt dedicated charging station in the garage as part of an incentive from Xcel Energy. We are charged a very low rate for power as long as we only use it between 12:00 AM and 6:00 AM. It’s on a timer so that it won’t kick in early if we plug the car when we park it. We can override the timer if we need to, but the rates go up significantly. (There are two additional tiers, with the peak rate being about 10ⅹ the overnight rate.)

In October we spent $15 on electricity for the car, translating to 239 kWh and about 717 miles of driving. Similarly, in November we spent $16 for 245 kWh and 735 miles. That translates to about $0.02 per mile. Gasoline over that time period has averaged around $3.12 per gallon. The Mazda gets around 23 miles per gallon in town (better on the highway), so we’re spending about $0.14 per mile on gas. That’s 6–7 times more expensive than the equivalent for the Leaf.

Of course, we can store a lot more energy in the gas tank and we can fill it up more easily, so there are tradeoffs. We’re still not in a position where we could try driving the Leaf to the cabin, for instance. It takes about 3 hours for the car to charge up fully on our special charger. It would take a lot longer on a 110 outlet (more than twice as long). I’ve used a fast charging station a few times (just as an experiment); they take 20–30 minutes.

Even with plentiful fast-charging stations along the route, it wouldn’t really work to take the 2012 Leaf. We’d still have to stop at least three times to recharge, adding another 90 minutes to the trip. But, if we upgrade some day to a more recent model, we’d be in great shape. The current crop of Leafs get 150–200 miles on a charge, so we might be able to make it in one go and then plug it in at the cabin to trickle-charge until we were ready to go. Barring that, we could easily recharge once at a fast charging station.

It’s exciting technology. I’m glad we’re exploring it.

Red Fox

Spotted a red fox under the apple tree in the back yard this morning. At first I thought it was a large cat, but then it turned its face toward the window. Definitely a fox. Looked very much like the one in the picture below, but I did not catch it on my camera. (This picture is from the internet.)

We suspect that the fox was interested in the birds around our bird feeders. (We recently added a few bird feeders out near the apple tree.)

Other recent wildlife updates:

  • There are active moles tunneling under the yard in various areas.
  • Plenty of hawks and bald eagles who, along with the owls, are probably snacking on the moles.
  • On the evening of Halloween, I was startled by a huge stag crossing the street in front of our house. It was the biggest animal I had seen in the wild in a long time.
  • Turkeys continue to march around the yard a few times each day. They have been managing to flap up into the crab apple trees to eat the little apples.
  • Piper was recently excited to discover the remains of a deer by the trail.

See also two earlier posts: Battle Creek Wildlife and Wildlife Update.

Return to an Old Hobby

After a nearly 20-year hiatus, I bought myself some paints and set up a table in the basement for painting miniatures. For those not in the know, these are the little figurines that are often featured in tabletop role-playing games.

I got my first box of minis in sixth or seventh grade. They were made of lead back then and I painted with oils and turpentine. The hobby has come a long way since then. Minis are made of safe metals, plastic, or resin. A plethora of acrylic (water-based) paints are available now, and YouTube, of course, features endless hours of tutorials.

My first two minis are somewhat random. A camel that I started in 2001 but never finished. And a disgusting giant rat. (I’m rusty, so I wanted a model that would be tolerant of errors.)

Painting table, new magnifier lamp, and the giant rat before painting.
Finished rat.
Loaded camel. Still need to do a few touch-ups, finish the base, and remove from the craft stick.

Teacher-Parent Joy

On Friday, I had to give a series of short presentations about the middle school GSA to students in every advisory in the building. I was with my two wonderful colleagues, Kate and Vito, who have been co-leading the group with me for the past few years. Over the course of 90 minutes, we gave the presentation to a dozen different groups of students. We tried to keep it high energy, so we were running a bit ragged by the end of it. One of the last groups, however, made my day.

As we wrapped up our presentation, a girl called out, “Mr. Roy, are you Griffin’s dad?” I said, “Yes I am. Why do you ask?” She responded, “He is the nicest person I have ever met!” At which point, a bunch of other students chimed in in agreement.

This wasn’t surprising in the sense that I feared that Griffin wasn’t nice—my sense has always been that he is uncommonly kind—but it is rare for seventh graders to put themselves out there to compliment a classmate so publicly. Moreover, it helped quell any lingering anxiety about how he is settling into his new school.

Way to make an entrance, Griffin!

Griffin’s First Volleyball Matches

Griffin signed up to play volleyball this fall. It’s his first formal sport. He’s a few weeks into the season now and has played his first two games. The picture below shows him serving. This serve got him on a roll: he scored three of four points in the subsequent serves, pulling the Spartans into the lead. They ultimately lost the match, but it was great to watch. When the game ended, I asked Griffin how it went and he said, “That was SO much fun!”

The latest news from Sarah and Andrew.