This is the time of year when it seems you say goodbye to your neighbors for a few months.
It is dark when many people get home from work so there is no chance to wave to the next door neighbor as you pull into the driveway. If you want to venture next door to borrow some sugar that means putting on a coat.
But for local parents who have children involved in indoor or cold-weather sports, there is a built-in reason to get out of the house: practice for swimming, gymnastics, skating and ice hockey, among other sports.
Nowhere in the area is there a bigger concentration of indoor athletes than on Old Gunpowder Road in West Laurel, home to the Fairland Sports and Aquatic Complex and The Gardens Ice House. The line of cars streaming into the parking lot of the adjacent facilities was lengthy on a recent weeknight.
Laurel resident Paul Sutton was sitting in the bleachers above the pool at Fairland, which is home to several club swimming programs and where his daughter, Carolyn, a Laurel High junior, practices swimming six days a week.
"For me I guess it is" a good place to be, said Sutton. "I could be home but here I can read or work out since she is here a few hours" each day.
While their children swam laps below, several parents talked on their phones, read books or worked on their laptops in a room near the bleachers.
Nancy DeLalio, an architect from Olney, had some blueprints on a table and was doing work on her laptop with some deadlines looming. Her 13-year-old son, Ethan, practices swimming twice a week after moving from a facility in Montgomery County.
"I like the fact they don't have 20 kids in a lane and he can practice better," DeLalio said.
Nearby was Linda Bogard, a Howard County resident who had brought her granddaughter, Kayleigh, 7, to swimming practice. Her granddaughter had been coming to Fairland for about a year and she also takes part in other activities, such as violin lessons and book clubs.
"We just believe in keeping kids busy," Bogard said.
Across the parking there were dozens of figure skaters at one of the rinks at The Garden Ice House.
Adi Lemma, who lives in North Laurel, was watching her two daughters, ages 10 and 12, take their first skating lessons at The Gardens. Her girls have also been involved in swimming and dancing.
"I don't want them to be inside all of the time. I want them to be active," Lemma said.
At another rink, the Sherwood High club ice hockey team was wrapping up a practice session. The team once used a facility in Rockville but made the change to Laurel since the cost of ice time was not as expensive, among other reasons, according to Jim Rudnick, a coach with the Sherwood program.
The same evening the Atholton Raiders club team was preparing to face the Arundel Wildcats in an ice hockey game. Other local high school programs that use The Gardens include the Reservoir Gators, the Eleanor Roosevelt Raiders and the DeMatha Stags.
Besides getting out of the house on dark nights, there is another benefit for young athletes who head to the facilities in West Laurel.
On a wall posted just inside the doors of The Gardens Ice House is a poster that announces the facility is fighting obesity.
"One hour of public skating equals 350 calories," reads the sign. Another sentence notes that one hour of playing ice hockey burns 700 calories.
The poster, in good fun, also notes that booing by parents during a hockey game burns zero calories.
David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.