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The farmers markets of summer get all the glory, but pound for pound, the winter markets have more guts. These off-season centers of homegrown commerce, which run from about Halloween through Easter, are like the distilled essence of their summer counterparts, smaller but more potent. Cuter — with more hot cocoa on tap.

When the Christmas crowd arrives, some will be visiting Missoula for the first time, which requires a motor or walking tour of Missoula highlights — the University of Montana, Rattlesnake, Pattee Canyon, downtown, the river corridor.

Christmas will soon be here and the countdown has begun for all the final preparations. What will be served for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day may have been decided several weeks ago. Perhaps you have some family food traditions that are always followed, such as oyster stew for Christmas Eve or prime rib for Christmas dinner. Traditions help tie families together and preserve their heritage.

I have the most wonderful memories of Thanksgiving — large family gatherings in Central Montana either anchored around the dining room table of my mother’s Italian (Sciuchetti) side of the family in Lewistown, or seated with the Donaldson clan around my Grandma Eleanor’s sprawling farmhouse table in Denton. Either way, it was a cacophonous experience.