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Surviving winter let the games begin
DANE PLAYS RUMMIKUB at a recent Winter Game Night at the Old Oak Inn. This is one of the many activities that Jane has on her list of things to do to survive winter in Wisconsin.

VERNON COUNTY - We’re sitting in a room full of tables and people. Dane is sipping scotch and I’m enjoying a ginger Wisco Pop, both on the rocks. A soft glow from the candles on each table adds warmth to the atmosphere. Genial wait staff and friends playing lively old-time music complete the picture.

It’s winter game night at the Old Oak Inn, where everyone seems to know everyone’s name. Cynthia, a friend we found sitting at the bar when we walked in, described it best as a hometown Cheers. Carol and Holly, the owners, enthusiastically greet each person who enters their Victorian wonderland, whether a new face or a regular.

Dane and I rearranged our table when we arrived, removing the festive tablecloth and pushing to one side the candle, salt and pepper shakers, and vase. Now, I pull out a blue velvet pouch and empty its tiles onto the table. They clink as we deftly sort through them, turning over any that landed face up. Then, looking like two people working a Ouija board, we move the tiles around to scramble the numbers and colors. We’re about to get serious playing Rummikub, a game that combines elements of mahjong and rummy.

This is the latest in a series of activities designed to get us out and enjoying the winter—a series I recently imposed on us in a moment of inspiration. So far, Rummikub is almost the only winter activity that hasn’t made Dane grumble. He contentedly concentrates on the game; I’m certain the scotch has helped. But several days ago, when I declared the week between Christmas and New Year’s to be holiday activity days, I saw his eyes roll and his left temple start pulsing.

The day after Christmas, I greeted him with “Good morning! Today’s holiday activity is bowling!” He wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, but he accompanied me to Nordic Lanes. One of the first things we noticed was the slogan painted on the wall above the pins: “Just some man’s stupid idea of fun.” I spent the first 30 minutes picking up every ball in the place, looking for a good fit. Each one was too heavy, too light (rarely), or had holes that were way too loose or spaced too far apart for my adult-sized fingers and child-sized hands.

We played three games. I never broke 100, but Dane did. He also pulled his hamstring in the fourth frame of the second game.

The following morning I exclaimed, “Today we’ll go ice skating!” to which Dane answered “No!” I decided not to push too hard because I knew he’d visit Saint Francis’s Hermitage with me later, followed by a brisk below-zero hike along the river near the old Gays Mills dam.

I grabbed my dusty skates from the basement and headed alone to the rink, where I discovered I couldn’t get the skates sharpened until much later. Fortunately, there was still one pair of figure skates available to rent. Unfortunately, it was a size 7. I squished my size 8 feet into the skates, laced them, and stood up. Whoa! I was much wobblier than in the old days, when my very first paying job was teaching children to skate. I clung to the wall as pint-sized kids zipped and zigzagged around me.

“Holy sh*t, this ice is slippery!” I cried, but a few frowning mothers skating with their children convinced me to keep my comments to myself.

Dane sounded relieved when I called and told him I was back at home with no broken bones. Onward we soldiered to the hermitage and to take that walk

Much to Dane’s horror, after the New Year I didn’t let up on my insistence that we get up, out, and play. When I saw Trivia Night advertised on Saturday evenings at Dave’s Pizza in Viroqua, we bundled up and headed out.

 After checking in and getting a brief rundown on the rules, we claimed the name ‘Team Disaster’ and waited for the game to begin. Lots of serious and not-so-serious folks were scattered about the bar. The first question was about a children’s TV series with a truck. We had no clue! We did know that the bento box originated in Japan. In the end, Team Disaster tied for last place. On the way home, we decided we might try it again, and even recruit more team members.

I learned long ago that you need a heavy arsenal of games and activities to get through a Wisconsin winter. Two years ago, we went sledding down a hill in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. I screamed all the way down the hill; Dane was silent as a ninja. But it seems we can no longer count on a winter with snow. Nor can we count on weather that’s conducive to long hikes.

This winter, I’m keeping a list of things we can do and crossing them out when we’ve done them. Dane doesn’t agree to all of them, but I keep insisting we try new things. So far my list includes spending a day visiting antique stores, going to $5 movie nights, eating at an Indian restaurant, playing ping pong, visiting the Mustard Museum in Middleton, signing up for a Netflix trial, searching for eagles along the Mississippi River, visiting our friend in Mt. Morris, Illinois, and trying to remember how to play Mexican Train, a dominoes game.

Recently, I found a place in Richland Center that offers free line-dancing lessons, and my dogs will begin new obedience classes soon. I’ll order Dane a scotch on the rocks to help him get through those dance lessons, but there’s no bar at the dog training site. I imagine that might be the activity that pushes Dane over the edge!