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Winter Highlights

It's still winter, for at least another month... and, although I admit that I struggle with the cold, I'm doing my best to focus on the good things. So.... let's see...

1. I've noticed some personal improvement on my wood-splitting skills!

Heating solely with wood definitely has its pros and cons. Let's start with

the Cons: It's messy (I'm always sweeping). It's a bit high-maintenance... I mean, it takes months of prep to build up a wood pile that will get you through the winter. Then you have to constantly pack wood inside (and I live upstairs), plus, there's always kindling to split. And the wood-heat really dries me out, giving me some breathing issues, at times. Then, you have to keep feeding that fire because, when you stop, you will be cold! I come home to a cold house every day and I'm not always in the mood to coax a fire out of the wood burner, ya know? Not to mention - when you're not around to keep the heat going - water can freeze, and pipes and water heaters can burst (grrrrrr...). Nuff said about that.

Now for the Pros: It's free heat! I'm reducing my carbon footprint by using a carbon-neutral fuel source! The fire gives off that warm glow through the glass door of my wood stove. I stay physically fit by splitting, stacking and hauling wood all the dang time! Wood ash is also a useful byproduct: chickens love to dust-bathe in it and nibble little bits of charcoal, which is great for their health. AND, although I'm yet to do this, you can use it to make your own lye, for making soap! Plus, it is a potent soil amendment. You're just cooler if you heat with wood, ok? :P

2. I went ice skating for the very first time in my life!

And it was on my very own pond! :) I remember when the pond froze up

entirely last winter... and it was covered with a few inches of snow. My friend, Wes, and I spent a good hour or so clearing it all off and then had so much fun sliding around! Unfortunately I didn't have any skates! My dear sister then ordered a pair for me and, of course, the pond was no longer frozen by the time they arrived. I've been waiting a whole year to try them out. It finally happened! It got so god-forsaken cold (thank you, polar vortex) that the pond froze again and the surface soon became dusted with a couple inches of powdery snow. I was so excited to try out my skates and when I dug them out (still in their box) I realized that they weren't sharpened. HA! Lucky for me, I happened to be hanging out with a Canadian fella who happened to have, not only a toboggan in his car, but also a few pairs of ice skates (now that's a true Canadian, eh?)! One of the pairs fit me perfectly and onto the ice we went! Under a clear night sky full of stars. I only fell a couple of times and the fluffy snow broke my fall. A glorious time, really.

3. Maple syrup season!

20 years ago, I never would have imagined that I would one day be making my own maple syrup. I mean, I had never even met anyone who did until I decided to try my hand at it just last year. Once you start, though, it seems as though they start coming out of the woodwork. Thank goodness there are plenty of folks who still partake in this old-timey craft that is maple sugaring. And a labor of love it is. Getting the equipment together. Stocking up plenty of firewood near the wood burner (once again, and in a second location). Waiting until the weather is just right. Selecting the trees (I do this with a big hug and a smooch, dirty hippie that I am). Tapping the trees in an appropriate spot and at just the right angle. Checking the buckets. Consolidating the sap. And slowly cooking it down, down, down (it takes about 40gal of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup). Eventually, you start getting down to the good stuff! When it's just the right viscosity, you run it through a fine filter and into a nice glass jar... ready for pouring over my favorite buckwheat pancakes, drizzling over oatmeal or granola, adding to yogurt, or just straight up sipping it (I do this all too often). It's literally the best maple syrup I've ever tasted! But of course, my tongue is biased... tasting the land that is now so dear to me and all of the love and effort that went into the process. This process generally lasts about a month, if we're lucky!

4. Soup & Risotto!

Soup, soup, soup.... I love soup! And winter is soup season! I get big thrills out of throwing together different variations of ingredients - veggies, beans, grains, spices, broth, etc-and putting it all in the slow cooker or pressure cooker right after having my morning coffee. I have one of those instant pots- a game changer; just set that thang, and forget it! Then I get all bundled up with the wool socks, lined carhartt bibs, muck boots, etc, and go to town on some outdoor projects (most likely splitting wood). And just when you start getting tired, bored and/or hungry... ping! That's right! There's a whole pot of amazing soup just waiting for ya! I usually make enough to last me for a few days and then I do it all over again, but with a new version, depending on what ingredients I have on hand. I also love looking at the soup sections of cookbooks for some inspiration. It never gets old... well, it hasn't yet!

My other favorite winter dish is a good mushroom risotto. So rich, so brothy, so cheesy, so nourishing! However, the process is pretty much the opposite of my approach to making soup. It takes most of an hour to make, and the pot needs your attention at all times. How about I just put a good recipe right here for ya in case you want to give this goodness a try!

5. The Climbing Gym!

My new favorite hobby that I picked up this winter is probably bouldering! It

all started with a Bumble date at Vertical Adventures, which is a rad climbing gym in Columbus...(as for Bumble, that was another new hobby that I gave a try this winter, haha!... but I digress). For being a huge metal building without any windows, I'm a bit surprised at myself when I say that I could spend an entire [winter's] day in there! So many walls to climb of varying levels of difficulty, so many bouldering problems! I honestly find bouldering to be a bit addicting. Figuring out a new move with each attempt... unable to pack it up and go home until you solve it... or at least until you're satisfied with your progress... and/or your arms/hands/fingers just say "no more"! Anyway, I'm trying to go once a week these days and even bought my own gear! Ow, ow!

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