With the arrival of March, signs of spring start to pop up all around us.

The curling season is rapidly winding down. Sarah and I both play our last regular-season league games this week. We both play a game tonight. Tuesday, she plays her last Tuesday night game. Thursday, I play my last regular-season Thursday night league game. Next Sunday, we play our last game together. The following week, the playoffs start and I’ll hopefully be playing deep into the playoffs with my Thursday night team. We went 8-1 in the first half of the season to earn a spot in the playoffs regardless of what our second-half record was. In the second-half we’ve been a bit more inconsistent, but we still have a winning record for the second-half. Sarah is working at the Curl for Cancer bonspiel this morning. That tournament gives all its entry fees to the UW Hospital’s Oncology unit for the prevention and treatment of cancer. In January, we started looking for a new car to replace our 1998 Saturn SW2. In reality, there was nothing wrong with that car beyond the fact that the padding in the seats had broken down to the point that sitting in the seats for any length of time was quite uncomfortable. Mechanically, the car was a champ and the MPG we got from it were very good. Regardless, we decided to move to a slightly larger vehicle. We really wanted to buy another wagon, we wanted the car to get better than average gas mileage, and it needed to be reliable (a car that doesn’t go when you need it to isn’t worth much). Beyond that, Sarah’s primary criteria was that the car have heated seats; my primary criteria was that the car have a moonroof.

With this information in hand, we started a tour of nearly every dealership in town. The first thing we learned, which we had suspected, was that almost nobody makes a wagon any more. Those that do make a wagon often don’t make them for someone of my size, or they were far outside our budget. I don’t feel like a very tall person at 6’2”, but clearly, most cars are not designed for people of my height. Brands like Acura, Subaru, Scion, and others simply did not fit me at all. Acura, for instance, had me sitting with my head cocked slightly to the side so that I could fit in the car.

Ultimately, the choice came down to just a couple of different cars. After much deliberation and debate, we purchased a 2003 Toyota Avalon that had just over 42,000 miles on it. A large sedan wasn’t really on our radar when we started our search, but as we kept trying vehicles and then crossing them off our list of possibilities for various reasons, the Avalon started to make more and more sense. The Avalon isn’t a sexy car, but it fit all of our criteria. The car is very big inside, so there is plenty of room for me. The seats are heated leather; there is a moonroof that both tilts and slides. The backseat is huge and backseat legroom is more than adequate. The trunk is cavernous. Road noise inside the cabin is highly muffled. The car itself has a history of incredible reliability. The V6 engine is as fuel efficient on regular gasoline as the Passat V4 is on premium. In addition, we got a very good deal. So far, I’ve been very pleased with the car. Sarah is still a bit leery of the car’s size (it’s not small), but she may yet come around.

In addition to buying a new (to us) car, we also bought new furniture for our living room. We’ve been using hand-me-down furniture and futons for the last ten-plus years and it was time to get some slightly nicer places to park our butts. Again, we spent a non-trivial amount of time trying all manner of sofas and chairs at numerous stores around Madison. In the end, we ended up with a new leather chair and a sofa/loveseat set. The chair was a floor model that needed to leave the store, so we got it for 50% off. The sofa/loveseat combo came from a store that was going out of business. They offered us 20% off the sticker price; I offered them 52% of the sticker price. They took our offer. So, we got the three pieces for about the price of just the chair by itself. Suffice it to say that we feel like very savvy shoppers at the moment. There is a picture of the new furniture in our living room in the Photo Gallery

We had a 65° day yesterday which was nice because we spent six hours helping some friends of ours move. We went to their apartment about twenty-five miles outside of Madison in the morning, and loaded up a very big Budget rental truck. While I worked with the two other guys on loading up the furniture and other heavy items, Sarah and the other woman packed up the kitchen, bathroom, and the like and loaded up our car and two pickups. It has to be said that Sarah is an absolute moving machine. You point her at a house that needs to be packed and moved, and then get out of her way. She had that kitchen packed and loaded into our car in under an hour; she single-handledly loaded a pickup truck in a flash. We were hauling sofas, beds, and three-hundred pound treadmills and she was running circles around us. After loading the truck we drove in to Madison for the unloading process. Half-way through the unloading, pizza arrived and we had a thoroughly unexpected but exceedingly pleasant March picnic.

We went to our last UW Men’s Hockey game last night for this season. We really enjoy going to the hockey games, but with spring and summer coming on, it is time for winter sports to start winding down.

When I was in Watertown, SD last summer, I purchased a pair of bird houses from a local business. I put them up in my yard, but until recently the birds ignored them completely. This week, however, a pair of sparrows started filling one of the bird houses with nesting materials. You can see a picture of the male sitting on the bird house in the Photo Gallery. Even though sparrows aren’t terribly interesting birds we have no plans to evict them. No other birds have shown any interest in the houses and I’d rather have them used by sparrows than sitting empty.

While I was packing a grill into the moving truck yesterday I suddenly, desperately wanted a grilled hamburger or brat. If it stays nice through next weekend (probably not very likely) I’m definitely going to bust out the grill, fire it up, and char some meat.

Ira came out of the fridge two weeks ago and he’s full of life once again. He eats everything I put in his pen which is unusual for him. In addition, he’s convinced that he can escape from his pen if he just devotes 110% effort to the cause. Of course, it’s not likely he can escape, but if it keeps him occupied, so be it.

Dalla nearly caught another squirrel yesterday. She was doing her statue routine in the back yard (she sits completely still for long periods of time), when a squirrel started a run directly at her. It got within about four feet before it realized that the statue of the killing machine wasn’t a statue at all. It was then a footrace to the nearest tree. The squirrel won; Dalla was hampered by the fact that she was tied out. When we fence the backyard later this spring, I expect that the dog’s success rate will go up.

This morning, I took the dog out to run at a state park near our home. In addition to hearing far more birdsong than we usually do during the winter, we saw and heard cranes returning to the park. That is a very sure sign of spring’s imminent arrival.