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Sleet storms and icy sidewalks and snowflakes that stay on our noses and windshields … these are not some of our favorite things. If you stop to think about it, though, there’s a lot to love about wintertime in Columbia, and we’ve put together a defense of Old Man Winter. Here in Columbia, he’s not such a bad guy.

Come In And Get Warm

Four walls and some central heat are all you need to keep cold, blustery winds at bay, and there are plenty of entertaining, indoor ways to escape the worst of winter’s fury.

Columbia is a basketball lover’s paradise with collegiate basketball galore in the winter. The University of Missouri men’s and women’s basketball teams want to make a bigger splash during their inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference than their football brethren did last fall. Laurence Bowers, Phil Pressey and dunking prodigy Keion Bell hope to lead the Tiger men to victory after victory and make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. If you’re looking for even more basketball action, head to Stephens College and Columbia College to cheer on those talented teams.

If you want to get into the game, consider spending a snowy evening tucked inside a Columbia pool hall like Billiards on Broadway or Booches Billiard Hall. There are plenty of tables for game-players and other tables for those who come to enjoy the locally renowned burgers and the atmosphere at both establishments.

Sports aren’t your thing? Perhaps you’d rather get crafty. The Craft Studio at the University of Missouri hosts a variety of public classes that encourage learning and creativity. The Mudd Room Ceramics Studio coaxes customers to shape their own clay creations and then paint them, but premade unpainted ceramic pieces are also available. Access Arts offers semester-long classes that give you the training and practice you’ll need to master a new artistic skill. If you’re driven to be creative but not driven to drive, Creative Days Art Studio will come to your house and teach a class to a group of invited guests.

You could buy a sweater or scarf to keep warm, but you wouldn’t derive the satisfaction of knitting one. True Blewe Yarns & More and Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe are both stocked with the latest trends in yarns and patterns. Check out their calendars of events and classes and get a head start on knitting your way through next year’s Christmas list.

Step inside The Canvas on Broadway for entertainment, instruction, wine, and at the end of the evening, a painting — dare we say “masterpiece” ― you created yourself. Convenient evening and weekend classes offer regularly changing themes and subject matter. The Canvas is also an interesting venue for those celebrating winter birthdays.

Here’s a recipe for winter coziness: one soft blanket mixed with a good book. For extra winter warmth, spice things up with a blazing fireplace and then start reading. At Get Lost bookstore on Ninth Street, you can pick up books by local authors, plus gently used books and unusual finds. If you prefer borrowing to buying, hole up at the Columbia Public Library for a few hours, peruse the book stacks, visit the Perk Desk for freshly brewed Lakota Coffee Co. coffee, organic fair trade tea or hot chocolate, and baked goods from the Upper Crust. Before you hit the check-out desk, take time to look over the schedule of upcoming classes and special events.

Add a splash of color to your reading repertoire and embrace your inner comic book nerd at Rock Bottom Comics. Shop for action figures and find great comics to curl up with this winter. While you’re in the Ash Street store, check out Martin Pope, a local artist who works under the name Uncle Robot. Check out www.unclerobot.com for more of Pope’s work and to subscribe to weekly Sunday Web-comics.

You could let your brain get mushy on reality shows and reruns, or you could head to the theater for some engaging, always new, live entertainment. Columbia’s theater community has enough variety to satisfy everyone in the family. This winter, the Missouri Theatre and Jesse Auditorium will host shows such as“Bloody Bill Rides,” “Shrek the Musical,” and “DRUMline Live,” for example. Plus, PACE and TRYPS youth theater companies, Stephens College and Columbia Entertainment Company will be lighting up local stages with productions during the next few months.

Keep boosting your brainpower with some museum-hopping. Let the world fade away as you stand in front of a painting at the State Historical Society of Missouri, then head over to the Museum of Art and Archeology to greet impassive statues and visit the upstairs galleries. Stop by the neighboring Museum of Anthropology, too. The Costume Museum and Research Library at Stephens College offers a chance to delve through history’s fashions and the Davis Art Gallery on that campus features monthly exhibits. The Columbia College Sidney Larson Gallery annual exhibit, “Paper in Particular,” is a national competition in its 34th year and runs from Feb. 3 through March 3.

The Winter 2013 Artrageous Friday is Jan. 18; bundle up and treat yourself to a tour of the Columbia art scene with a public gallery crawl. Local galleries also rotate their shows quarterly, so new shows are in full swing in January and the beginning of February. Catch all the exhibits before the weather (and your schedule) heats up.

Take a shopping spin through Columbia. The downtown shopping district, local shopping centers, the Columbia Mall, and delightful, free-standing shops provide a gracious welcome. And nothing warms the heart of a “Spenderella” more than some deep post-holiday discounts on merchandise at her favorite stores.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to snuggle up with your sweetie and watch a cool new movie. Up your indie cred by catching a film at Ragtag Cinema, where you can enjoy suds with your cinema. That experience will get you primed for one of Columbia’s favorite annual events, the True/False Film Festival, which takes place Feb. 28 to March 3. The festival “highlights innovative work with a cinematic scope, creative takes on contemporary currents, and, most of all, work that provokes dialogue about its subject and the documentary form itself.” The festival includes concerts, Q&As, a parade and more, so there’s no downtime between screenings. Passes are on sale now at www.truefalse.org, including the Super Circle Pass that gets you into absolutely everything.

The 18th season of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series has a superb winter program of jazz music on tap. On Jan. 20, The Bad Plus is playing at The Blue Note, Grace Kelly Quintet headlines at Murry’s on Feb. 17, and University of Missouri Concert Jazz Band, with special guests Joe Locke and Geoffrey Keezer, fills the Missouri Theatre with the sounds of music on March 14.Tickets are on sale now at www.wealwaysswing.org.

Concerts featuring classic acts and notable up-and-comers are the specialty of The Blue Note, a Columbia institution located in the heart of downtown. Among the acts lining up for winter concerts: Drive-By Truckers, Keller Williams, and They Might Be Giants. With weekly shows and a truly eclectic mix of music, The Blue Note is the ideal winter retreat for music lovers.

After the rush-rush-rush of the holidays, why not give yourself the gift of a little “me time”? Rejuvenate your body and mind with a spa day. Local spas offer a diverse menu of services that will leave you glowing from head to toe.

Need more than a few hours to unwind? A winter weekend getaway is closer than you think. Head to Columbia’ neighboring town of Rocheport for the weekend and enjoy a relaxing stay at one of the town’s bed and breakfasts. The Yates House, and School House Bed & Breakfast offer traditional accommodations with homey, personal touches, while Girls Nite Inn comes fully stocked and ready for a weekend of stay-away-from-home fun.

Stargazing is usually reserved for summer lawns and warm nights, but every Wednesday, even in the winter, the Laws Observatory at the University of Missouri opens its eye on the sky to the public for free. Grab the kids or a date and head to campus for a visual vacation in space.

Columbians remember the messages of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 17. The Columbia Values Diversity Celebration is a joy-filled and thought-provoking community breakfast that commemorates King’s life and showcases the diversity of the city. The 19th annual Columbia Values Diversity Celebration program, “The Dream Revisited,” promises to “bring to life the unique experiences, skills, heritage and cultural traditions of people throughout our community.” Live music and the annual presentation of the Columbia Values Diversity awards accompany the breakfast. Registration information is available now at gocolumbiamo.com

Baby, It’s Cold (And Fun!) Outside

Hibernation is for the bears. Get up, wrap up, and head outside for a bit of exhilarating exercise in Columbia this season.

Have a fishing permit? Then cast your line and do a little trout fishing this winter. Since 2003, Cosmo-Bethel Lake has been an urban winter fishery open to the public. The lake was stocked with about 2,400 small trout in October. Anglers must use artificial bait and release any trout they catch between Nov. 1 through Jan. 31. After Jan. 31, you can keep ’em if you catch ’em, provided you follow state fishing regulations. Visit www.gocolumbiamo.com for more information.

Stephens Lake Park is a wonderland for winter activities. The hill on the east side of Stephens Lake has become Columbia’s favorite sledding destination. The lake is also open for ice skating (when lake ice conditions are deemed favorable by Columbia’s Parks & Recreation Department). Afterward, warm up your fingers and toes by the fire pit at Collins Shelter, where the city supplies wood for fires during the winter months (November through March). When the snow covers the ground, it’s your invitation to hit the trails for some cross-country skiing fun. The MKT and Katy trails are scenic routes, and Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is a popular destination for cross-country skiers who enjoy the less rocky Grassland and High Ridge trails.

A Flavor-Filled Season

Summertime meals are often grab-and-gulp affairs. Wintertime invites us to sit and savor good conversation and a bounty of rich flavors.

More soup, please! Hot and hearty soups are something to look forward to when temperatures take a dive and Columbia’s choices abound ― from Flat Branch Brewing Pub to Panera Bread to the Bread Basket Café and Uprise Bakery — and choosing a favorite soup is no easy feat. Plan a soup tour to taste all Columbia has to offer. Prefer the heartier choice of chili? The annual Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili Cookoff (www.rtchilicookoff.com) on Feb. 23 at the Boone County Fairgrounds will help satisfy your taste buds’ desire for chunky, spicy goodness.

On winter’s cold nights, you’ll find good food and blazing fireplaces at Grand Cru. Friday nights often feature specialty drink tastings that will make you want to linger all the longer near the hearth.

It’s an oft-repeated myth that Lee’s Fried Chicken was founded in Jefferson City. The restaurant actually started in Lima, Ohio, back in 1966, but the chain’s famous fried chicken and tasty biscuits still rank high on the wintertime comfort food index.

Unless you want to head into swimsuit season with surplus of blubber, you’ll want to balance out all the rich, fried, comfort food choices with some healthier selections. The Root Cellar and Columbia Farmers Market offer easy access to fresh winter veggies. The Root Cellar features Missouri-raised farm and food products. The small grocery also offers a Missouri Bounty Box program, which delivers a weekly selection of fresh, local food to members. The Bounty Box program also offers a Dairy Box with fresh meat, eggs and dairy delivered each week. In December, the Columbia Farmer’s Market moved its vendors and their stands indoors to the Parkade Plaza, where they’ll stay until March 30.

Yes, you can enjoy Sunday brunch any time of year at one of Columbia’s favorite spots for the mid-morning meal — including Bleu, Café Berlin, Sophia’s and Ernie’s ― but winter and brunch seem made for each other. New on the Sunday brunch scene in 2013: 44 Stone Public House.

Columbia is baking up something sweet! With a variety of bakeries to choose from, winter in Columbia is never without warm, delicious baked goods to perk up cold days. Visit Uprise Bakery on Hitt Street (located inside Ragtag Cinema) for artisan bread and pastries. The Upper Crust offers specialty desserts, pies, pastries and other bakery items such as croissants and bagels. When the sun sets, Upper Crust Bakery in downtown Columbia transforms into Encore Wine and Dessert Bar, where you can indulge in chocolate fondue, sharable desserts and plated gourmet delectables paired with a glass of wine, specialty beverage or cup of coffee. New kid on the block, U Knead Sweets, offers a wide variety of desserts, including cakes, cupcakes and breakfast pastries. The Velvet Cupcake, located in the Tiger Hotel, specializes in cupcakes and custom-designed cakes.

Cookies aren’t just for Santa and Muppet monsters. You, too, can enjoy a warm, fresh, made-from-scratch cookie, alongside a glass of milk. Hot Box Cookies offers fresh-from-the-oven cookies and cookie-themed treats and will deliver them straight to your door. Or, stop by the bakery’s downtown location to order and pick up cookies in person.

Hot chocolate is always a favorite winter warm-up after sledding or ice skating, and a sweet way to start a winter morning. Local chocolatier Alan McClure shares his secret to the perfect cup of hot chocolate. Pick up one of his Patric Chocolate Signature Dark Milk Bars at the Root Cellar, Clovers, Poppy, Village Books or Hy-Vee (among many locations around town). Melt the bar into 8 ounces of steamed milk or half-and-half, whisk thoroughly until blended, and then adjust the sweetness according to taste with cane sugar. This month, Patric Chocolate is also releasing a limited-edition bar, PBJ CRUNCH, which is the PBJ OMG bar coated with crunchy peanuts.

Piping hot coffee, tea and delicious frothy drinks are made to order in coffee shops throughout Columbia. Duck into any of these warm pockets of winter relief for a morning eye-opener or an afternoon pick-me-up. Columbia’s coffeehouse scene may seem small compared to caffeine-charged cities like Seattle, but you still don’t have to travel too far to find a warm cup of January cheer.

When the weather outside is frightful, the frozen treat may not be the first thing that springs to mind. Keep your summer groove going with a trip to Tropical Liqueurs. Close your eyes and take a sip of one of the fruity, frozen concoctions. You’ll swear you can hear the ocean and feel the sand between your toes.

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