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Find An Easy Equatorial Escape
Slush may cover everything in sight, but lush green foliage is only minutes away. The Cleveland Botanical Garden's glass house features twin sections that sample the vegetation of the warmer climes of Costa Rica and Madagascar. Meanwhile, the two-acre RainForest at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo offers an even more exotic experience: more than 10,000 plants (not that you'll need that many) and 600 animals, plus a 25-foot waterfall across two levels. It's one of the largest exhibits of its kind, and the soft pretzels at the snack bar ain't bad either. Call it the ideal cheap immersive anti-winter inoculation — and call it yours year-round for the cost of a $72 zoo & RainForest family pass that comes with membership in the Cleveland Zoological Society. Daily rates run less than $10 bucks too, but we're guessing you'll crave a return trip.
Start Playing Around
There's good reason why "theater season" occupies the winter months: What better way to pass a frigid evening than snuggled down in a warm, dark room while talented performers spin tales around the footlights? Like McCluhan said: The medium is the message — and a "hot" medium like live theater is a message of renewal for winter-weary brains. Among the current options on area stages: Hair at the Palace Theatre, Antebellum at Cleveland Public Theatre, Spring Awakening at Beck Center, Ten Chimneys at Cleveland Play House ... hell, even the names are defrosting our toes. And before you rule out theater as too pricey an option, know that many companies offer discounts for students and seniors, along with reduced-rate previews and "pay what you can" performances. Among the best bargains: The Smart Seats program at Playhouse Square that lets you snag $10 tickets for shows that otherwise could set you back as much as $70. Check it out at playhousesquare.org.
Freeze Your Ass Off for Fish
Seasoned anglers and occasional fisherman alike sing the praises of Lake Erie's succulent walleye and tasty perch — and both species are horny for your hook this time of year. That's why so many take advantage of our backyard lake year-round. Yep, that means ice fishing — and it means partnering up for the adventure. When the lake freezes (and that won't happen till February this year, thanks to global warming that eventually will spell the death of virtually all living species, except for television news anchors), plenty of ice-fishing guides will be revving up the snowmobiles, hauling shanties, and packing up jigging lures and spreaders just so newly adventuresome folk like you can experience the peace and quiet — and delicious canned beer, and fish — to be found among the frozen waves. The area between Green and Rattlesnake islands, west of South Bass, offers some of the safest ice on the entire lake, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' winter ice-fishing guide. The ODNR website offers handy tips on how not to die fishing, as well as answers to common ice-fishing questions (e.g., no, you cannot get lake walleye and perch at Giant Eagle this time of year). It also maintains a verified list of competent ice-fishing guides. Because this should not be a jackass endeavor. An overnight trip including all gear, lodging, and a day and a half on the ice averages less than $125 per person. At prices like that, you can afford to take Mom too! Learn more at odnr.com.
Get Groped by an Islander
If you're like us — and here's hoping you aren't — you probably can't get your ass to Honolulu like you need to this time of year. But you can imbibe the spirit of the islands with a round of lomi lomi, an indigenous Hawaiian deep-tissue massage performed to traditional Hawaiian folk music. The term "lomi" means to massage and work in and out like the claws of a contented cat, which means "lomi lomi" is like two frisky felines going to town on you! Also referred to as "Loving Hands" (get yo' mind out the gutter!), the masseuse uses her arms, elbows, forearms, fingers, knees, feet, and sometimes bamboo or stones for greater leverage, the better to knead you out like fresh pizza dough in long, continuous strokes. The goal is to balance and harmonize your body's energy, and it's available locally from a variety of spas and massage therapists. Need a recommendation? Try Essence of Tranquility in lovely Fairview Park, which if you squint just right looks like Maui.
Become an Art Snob
Fresh research contradicts the long-held notion that lovers of the arts must also love clove cigarettes and Kerouac novels. These days, people who look and act strikingly close to normal are seen contentedly milling about the galleries and museums that dot our region like sprinkles on a cupcake. From East Side institutions like MOCA to hip West Side collectives like the 78th Street Studios, wandering among artwork is a fine way to add color to a drab Cleveland winter and make you feel one with your community. The options are almost endless: Spend the day strolling the galleries of Tremont. Visit the Old Masters at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Check out the local talent at Lakewood's Breakneck Gallery. Catch a rising star at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Or take advantage of a weekend opening celebration, not least for its free wine, cheese, and chances to hobnob with people who are way better than you at looking content with their lives. (Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios — coming up this week — are a particularly fine way to dine and opine on the Merlot and melba toast supplied by the studios' many gallery owners.) Our weekly Art page bursts with exhibitions, openings, and receptions: Visit a new spot each week, and by spring you'll know more than the critics.
Learn to Cook Something Already
On a biological level, we humans sequestered in winter climates crave substantial soul food: the warming, fat-building morsels of tastiness that double as exercises in passing the boredom away until the sun comes out again in a few years. But that ain't no reason to go heavy on the KFC. Maybe take the time you would otherwise spend giving snowmen the finger and channel it into learning how to cook something that takes longer to put together than a rerun of The Office. One meal. A handful of meals. It doesn't matter. You'll feel something as a result — perhaps gratification, maybe a little healthier, could be the sensuous hands of the significant other you just cooked for. Not to mention, it's cheaper than doling out cash at restaurants every night, and plentiful leftovers means better lunches tomorrow. You're a Clevelander who wants to cook? Take a cue from one of your brethren: Celebrated Cleveland culinary writer and curator of what could be the finest head of hair on any local foodie, Michael Ruhlman just released Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes, a Cook's Manifesto. It's a great way to take some baby steps toward giant improvement in your kitchen.
Get a Room!
We really don't require palm trees and iguana guano to transport us from our icy existence. At times like these, there's nothing more available — and hell, economical — than a simple winter getaway. And there's a nearby one for every taste. For an instant splash of summertime, we're the nexus of a world of tropically themed indoor water parks that sit no more than about an hour away. And there's one for every tot you've got: At Great Wolf Lodge (greatwolf.com/sandusky), overnight packages that include park passes can be had for just a splash over a hundred bucks. With its wave pool and racier slides, Cedar Point's Castaway Bay (castawaybay.com) is the junior high of water parks, and it runs specials as low as $99 a night for room and park passes. The largest and most daring of Sandusky's toweled trinity is Kalahari (kalahariresorts.com/oh/deals/specials/), where a room, passes, and breakfast for four go for just $129 on some dates. And to explore the wonders of water in all its glorious phases, look east to Erie's Splash Lagoon, which offers combo packages for its indoor water park and nearby Peek 'n' Peak ski resort. For woodsy types and romantics, a Hocking Hills cabin complete with a snuggle in front of the fireplace can be had for a song. Winter price specials can dip as low as $35 a night for a nicely appointed yet rustic wilderness retreat for two. A comprehensive list can be found at hockinghills.com. Ohio's State Parks (dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/702/default.aspx) offer affordable escapes throughout the state, and there's a whole world of action all year long down in Holmes County Amish country. During cold-weather months, Berlin and Millersburg locals outnumber tourists who frequent their fine retail establishments to check out furniture, baskets, and cheeses, and you can join them — at much better overnight lodging rates than you'll find during the summer and autumn rush. Even the most popular inns and bed & breakfasts offer winter specials. Find yours at visitamishcountry.com.