Sarah is back from her stint volunteering with the Red Cross in New Orleans and life has returned to a semblance of normal in our household.

While Sarah was gone, Dalla, Ira, and myself were left to hold down the fort. Dalla made sure there was no squirrel uprising. Ira made sure his heat lamp came on every day. I looked after Dalla, Ira, the house plants, the house, and everything else. Despite leaving the three of us in charge, the house was still standing and none of the house plants died when Sarah returned. That's not to say that everything was business as usual. My diet deteriorated rapidly and dramatically. The only fresh vegetables in the house were a handful of carrots and an avocado. There was a an array of frozen vegetables in the freezer, but I only ate them once. The rest of the time I ate meatloaf, fishwiches, pasta, pizza, eggs, and other staples of the single male diet. It isn't that I can't cook. Rather, I was simply uninspired to cook for just myself.

The Wednesday before Sarah came back, I restocked the fridge with a variety of fresh vegetables from the grocery store. While the Red Cross fed her often in Louisiana, there was a definite shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables in her diet.

Sarah returned to Madison the evening of 02 Dec 2005. When she left, temperatures were in the forties. When she returned, the thermometer was doing its best impression of winter in Calgary. Regardless, she was happy to be back.

While she was in Louisiana, she worked a variety of jobs for the Red Cross. She helped to manage one of their offices, scheduling people to ride on food distribution trucks, scheduling days off, distributing information to workers and clients, and generally doing whatever needed to be done. She worked in what they termed the warehouse, as well. The warehouse, in this case, was nothing more than a circus tent and a collection of semi-truck trailers stocked with boxes sitting in a parking lot. In addition, she worked on the food distribution vehicles all over New Orleans and the surrounding area. The work was sometimes hard, but it was always rewarding. Rather than tell her story myself, I would suggest that you contact her if you have specific questions about the work she did.

While she spent Thanksgiving in Louisiana, Dalla and I left Ira in charge of the ranch while we journeyed to South Dakota for the holiday. We spent Thanksgiving night and the following night in Watertown visiting my parents. While we were there, I helped out with some jobs around the house and met up with an old friend from high school who is now living in Colorado. My friend, Kris, and I went out for dinner and drinks on Friday night. We stopped in at a local brew pub to start the evening. I ordered a pasta dish, jambalaya, and a brew. The pasta was awful; the beer was good; the jambalaya was fantastic. If I had known the jambalaya was going to be that good, I would have ordered a double helping and skipped the pasta. After that, I made a classic mistake. Instead of having another beer (it was a brew pub, remember), I decided to have a mixed drink. To pile idiocy on stupidity, I decided to order a mixed drink usually only made in Wisconsin. Dumb, dumb, dumb. As you can probably predict, the drink was awful. Lesson learned: stick with beer in a brew pub.

On our way back to Wisconsin, Dalla and I stopped off for a night in St. Paul to visit with another old friend and his wife. Josh and Sarah Ann were gracious hosts to myself and Dalla on the Saturday night following Thanksgiving. We went out and had some good Mexican food at a restaurant in St. Paul. I ordered a whole catfish cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, and I asked the waitress if she could get the head chopped off the fish before bringing it to the table. After all, what on Earth was I going to do with a cooked fish head at the table? The waitress laughed out loud at my request, but the fish did arrive sans head.

The serving of fish with the head still attached is one of the weirdest food customs. You don't get steak or hamburgers with the head of a cow. You don't get pork chops with the head of the pig. Nobody serves a roasted chicken or turkey with the head of the bird. Why then, are many fish served with the head?

Anyway, since Sarah has been back, we've jumped right into preparations for Christmas. I baked some Christmas cookies yesterday while Sarah made almond bark pretzels. We have the cards for our Christmas cards, but have yet to write, address, or send a single one.

We got our Christmas tree last weekend after no small amount of searching. This year, we decided to bite the bullet and buy an artificial tree. Since we were going to be gone for the better part of a week around Christmas and New Years, we didn't want a tree that required constant watering. In the course of our searching, we discovered that if you're looking for a realistic, high-quality artificial tree, you need to start looking no later than Thanksgiving weekend. We ended up buying the floor model of a tree that we liked. It wasn't the cheapest tree, but it does actually resemble a real tree and you can't easily see the metal structure that holds it up. Many of the less expensive trees look unabashedly artificial, and many seemed cheaply made. We decided to pay a bit more for a tree that might last twenty or thirty years.

If you're buying an artificial tree, you also need to get used to the idea that it will likely be prelit. We looked for a tree that wasn't prelit because we have plenty of light strings and we don't find lighting the tree to be a particularly onerous task. In addition, if the tree isn't prelit, you can easily switch from having clear lights one year to multicolored lights the next. In the end, we bought a prelit tree with clear lights where we could easily see how to take the lights off the tree structure if we so chose in the future.

Dalla really got into the tree decorating flow. After we finished decorating, she crawled under the tree and looked out at us like she approved of our efforts to create a dog-friendly den in the living room.

We have some pictures of the tree and Dalla in the Photo Gallery.

To help us get into the Christmas spirit, Mother Nature helpfully dumped several inches of snow onto Madison over the last week. Unlike last December when we had no snow and brown lawns, there are white lawns and plenty of shoveling to go around this year.

Sarah and I are both curling this year. She started curling in November before taking off for New Orleans. She curls in a women's league on Tuesday nights; I'm curling on Thursday nights in my regular league. Both of our teams are doing well.