It has been a few months of wearing long johns under flannel shirts and corduroys, enjoying bean soup with biscuits topped with crabapple jelly one week, apple pie the next. The puzzles that have been remade each winter for a quarter of a century are back in their boxes, and still the weatherman says with a smile, “More snow in the forecast!”

Leota Café in Leota Minnesota is family owned and family operated with home cooked meals served daily. The news is discussed by the morning coffee drinkers, and games can be played when the roads are too bad to leave town.

Porch On Main in Sibley, Iowa (www.facebook.com/theporchonmain) serves sandwiches and fantastic ice cream treats. One also finds gifts for everyone in their gift store.

Jubon Juweelen (jubonjuweelen.biz) in Orange City, Iowa is an eclectic store with something for everyone—golf discs, knitting supplies, Dutch antiques, and American Doll size clothing.

Whether early, late, or on time, winter makes its appearance every year. We have learned coping skills, like making rich, hot cocoa with whole milk to stop the shivering.

Icy roads, blowing snow, gently falling snow tend to keep us close to home. But when the forecast provides a clear day, the urge for ‘exploration’ kicks in. Once the chores are taken care of, it’s time for a road trip, even it is just an hour or two away.

The adventure begins. East, west, north, or south, in any direction there are small towns to explore. It’s funny how we think we know our immediate area well, but unless you are the UPS driver, there are new scenes and stores to explore. Once we visited a church in a town thirty miles away we did not even know existed and spent over two years attending evening worship there!

Our neighboring towns have a host of independently owned small businesses. Sometimes it is a family business with multiple family members working side by side. Often, the store has been in the same family for generations, just like a traditional family farm.

Many folks in our area small towns have started new business, turning retrofitted old banks and other empty buildings into cafés, antique, quilt stores, or anything else that matches their dream or what they see as a need for their town. Their ideas are endless. Certainly not cookie-cutter type stores.

Every town is someone’s home town. Stopping at the bakery for a fresh made doughnut, you can listen to the locals talk about ball games, who in town needs a helping hand, or who is celebrating good news.

Occasionally, we can visit a town’s museum and learn more in depth the history of the people who first settled there, with the same hopes and dreams of the business owners operating on the main streets of small towns today. We take note of the churches, the library, the architecture of the buildings. Many of the buildings on the way to town can have a style of their own, visibly built by the same carpenter. These explorations introduce us to our fellow countrymen, who once were strangers, but now are neighbors with a face and name.

Small town America is amazing. Like the family farmer, small businesses matter and help make up the backbone of this great country. Winter is here–why not to make the best of it by exploring your area small towns?