by: Mason West, Spas are one way to enjoy the outdoors even when winter’s chill closes in on the area.

As the rain and the cold come, there are a brave few who choose to keep their backyards in regular use. While a good patio cover is a safe prerequisite, you still might wonder: Why?

Frank Raethke of Outdoor Kitchens would suggest cooking. The company he founded over three years ago makes custom outdoor furniture with cabinet storage and housing for appliances such as grills, sinks and refrigerators to create fully functioning kitchens that can stand up to the elements.

'The idea is to be able to keep enough outdoors to entertain for the day without having to go back inside,' Raethke said.

Unlike a grill inset in stone or masonry, Outdoor Kitchen's islands are completely modular and can move with the owner from home to home.

While in practice, an outdoor kitchen will see most of its use in warmer months, cooking technologies such as infrared burners in the high quality grills used by Outdoor Kitchen are keeping many cooks out year-round.

'With a gas burner, you're only going to get 500-600 degrees. With an infrared burner you're getting over 1000 degrees,' Raethke said. 'It's what the restaurants do when they get that nice crispy texture to the outside of a steak.'

Raethke builds his products to last, which also means they aren't cheap. An entry-level island system costs around $7,000 - but almost half that cost is for the professional grill included. And, Raethke said, it's a fraction of what your indoor kitchen costs.

But we're not the only ones eating outside. Kelli Hoffman of the Backyard Bird Shop said Fall brings new varieties of birds through the Northwest on their migrations. For birds on the move, a little feed can be a big lure.

Specialized grain such as millet caters to the White and Golden Crown sparrows that are often spotted in these months. Insect eating birds such as Woodpeckers and Bush Tips are enticed by a fat-based feed called suet. It's a little messy, Hoffman said, but as natural food sources become more scarce, it's a sure fire way to bring in the birds.

If there's one way to enjoy being outside when it's cold, it's in a hot tub. Julie Hakes of Best Little Stove and Spa can get you into hot water for $5,000 on the low end. After the initial investment, however, the spa costs an average of $12 a month to operate.

Whether a spa represents a therapeutic relief from aches and pains or an outdoor entertainment, it is certainly the Italian leather sofa of the backyard.

For more information about Outdoor Kitchens, visit the Web site at

For more information about Backyard Bird Shop, visit the Web site at

For more information about Best Little Stove and Spa, visit the Web site at

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