We're deep into winter in MI Town and it seems like springtime is a distant future dream. It's hard to think about sunshine and flowers when there's a constant cleaning up of muddy footprints from spouses, children and pets, and the coat closet has a lingering scent from wet wool coats and jackets. — Students are busy with school activities and winter sports. It's always a lot of fun to attend the various games and events, and to cheer for our children and those of our friends and neighbors. It's easy to catch enthusiasm and energy from just being around younger people. As always, our local schools are eager for volunteers in all their programs, and it's another great way to chase away those midwinter blues. Winter term has begun for Western Oregon University students and the calendar is full of ongoing events and classes for everyone. The campus is buzzing with new voices and the return of familiar students who are eager to get involved with school and social activities. MI Town residents have an excellent opportunity to meet students from all over the world, and to help them feel welcome in our community. Language barriers all but disappear when people take the time to listen and try to understand one another. Many of our Asian students have never been far away from the small towns they call home. A friendly smile and a warm handshake can make all the difference. Spending time with high school and college students in our family during the Christmas and New Year's holidays was such a treat. We so enjoyed conversations about classes and other activities at their campuses, and the many new friends they have made this year. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and sharing of so many ideas makes us eager to learn new things. There are ongoing classes at both Chemeketa Community College and Western Oregon University for people of all ages, and this is a great time to learn a new language or to gain more knowledge about history or psychology. Resolve to learn one new thing this winter and share with your friends and family. Whether you take a class at school, or spend these cold and gray days at MI Town's libraries, there are lots of options. — The New Year's Day breakfast at the Monmouth Senior Center was enjoyable, as always. Monmouth-Inde-pendence Lions Club members have welcomed seniors and their families to a breakfast every year at no cost, as a gift to our communities. Wonderful food and good conversation helped everyone begin 2014 on a happy and optimistic note.