January is always a time to look ahead and I'm a part of many groups that are holding planning sessions for the coming year. There are some ambitious projects being proposed and the possibilities are truly exciting.

The talk is often on revitalizing an area, improving the resources of an area, bringing in bigger and better offerings, shaping an environment that would better welcome people or just creating a positive buzz. Some are merely dreams while others have solid foundations. No matter the potential, they do create an excitement over the possibilities.

However, as I was looking over our community publications this weekend, a feature story about all the local activities that entice people to get out and have fun this winter made me think that just taking an inventory of what our area already offers is exciting in its own way.

The story, which took up nearly half a page, had short descriptions of all the winter activities available to local people, from candlelight cross-country skiing to frolicking on snowshoes. The list didn't even include the ultimate winter activity - a polar plunge taking place as part of Chill Fest in Chatfield Saturday at 2 p.m.

For those not wanting to experience the winter snow, or water, so directly, there are plenty of other activities, many of them involving food. For example, Chill Fest, the annual winter celebration in Chatfield, has a salsa and chili contest along with a chili supper and other events on Saturday.

Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro mixes dinner with winter activities and education in its Dinner on the Bluff series every month. The facility also has indoor and outdoor activities all winter and into the early spring with topics ranging from rock climbing to maple syrup production.

A quick review of our newspapers shows many other activities. For example, University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill is scheduled to speak at the Preston Area Community Foundation banquet on Feb. 27. Of course, if high school sports is more your interest, there are games or meets nearly every night of the week in our local gyms. Tournaments are fast approaching, a time that heightens the excitement of what goes on in the contests between area schools.

If you're a movie buff, the Frozen River Film Festival, annually held in Winona, kicked off in Lanesboro this year and has more movies in Winona. However, the JEM Theatre in Harmony and Spring Grove Cinema have a constant lineup of popular features changing every week for your viewing enjoyment.

I also should mention an international event - The International Festival of Owls at the Houston Nature Center that is set for the beginning of March.

Good Earth Village outside of Spring Valley has activities ranging from sledding for kids to quilting. Also, various art galleries, museums and cultural facilities have events going on all the time.

Libraries always have attractions, and not just the written kind. For example, the Spring Grove Public Library has an otter display.

Also, community education programs through the local school districts offer a constant stream of activities, some educational, some focused on fitness and others just for fun.

Churches, service organizations and other groups have special events, often a community meal, to bring people together and raise funds for a worthy cause.

I'm not trying to make this an extensive list as it is compiled from just a quick glance at your publications, so I know I am forgetting some noteworthy events and some of the annual activities available to all of us. Perhaps that should be a goal of ours - to make an exhaustive list of everything going on for all of 2012.

That would come with a warning, though. It just might overwhelm you. Better yet, it might enthuse you and give you a new perspective on all the assets our area already has to offer.

I will continue to brainstorm and plan for a better future, but this exercise was also a reminder that things are already pretty good here and we have a lot to appreciate even if we didn't change a thing.