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Are We There Yet?: Snakes and Swords and Fish, Oh My!
By Rebecca Dravis On: 05:44AM / Friday January 24, 2014
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This one's for the boys!
 
My own life is all about girls. I have a daughter. She plays with girls. I work for the Girl Scouts. So I think I naturally gravitate toward events that will please the girls in my life.
 
But this week I stumbled across a couple of weekend events that should be particularly appealing to the boys out there: swords and snakes. (Not to say girls won't like them, too; I think my daughter could do without the snakes but she loves swords!) Unfortunately, they are both at the same time, the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 25, so you will have to pick one or the other.

First up is the sword presentation at the Mason Library, which is aimed at those ages 9 and up. Jeff Goodhind and Jeff Lord from the Association for Renaissance and Medieval Swordsmanship will demonstrate the art of Western European swordsmanship over the centuries from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Then you can try your hand at (blunt) sword combat in a fun, hands-on activity. The Mason Library is located on Main Street in Great Barrington; for details visit gblibraries.org.
 
The snake presentation is also at a library: the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield. Tom Tyning, professor of environmental science at Berkshire Community College, will present a talk titled "Snakes: Biology, Conservation & Stories" at 2 p.m. For more information, visit pittsfieldlibrary.org.
 
It's worth noting here that both of these events are free, which is almost always the case when one of our local libraries hosts a program. These wonderful facilities located in almost every town in the Berkshires offer so much to the community -- fun programs like these, books and DVDs, computer and Internet access and even just a warm, fun place to hang out on a cold winter afternoon. There is actually a National Library Week in April, but really, every week should be library week.
 
I have one more event to mention, if you're looking for something for younger kids or something to do on Sunday: The Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia will present Leo Lionni's "Swimmy & Federick Inch by Inch" at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26. Using whimsical puppets, imaginative lighting and original music, the group will tell the tale of Swimmy, a tiny fish who uses ingenuity to fend off danger; Frederick, a poetic mouse who makes everyday life an artful experience; and a third story about a lovable inchworm who shares his facility for measuring absolutely everything. Tickets are $10; find more information here.
 
Snakes and swords and fish, oh my!


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Are We There Yet?: Winterfest or Thaw-fest?
By Rebecca Dravis On: 04:47AM / Friday January 17, 2014
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What happened to winter?
 
I'm not really complaining, mind you, as that recent bout of sub-zero temperatures left my middle-aged bones chilled through and through. But my daughter is not happy about the possible cancellation of a Winterfest activity of outdoor fun at Girl Scout camp this weekend — though that event is now interfering with the Patriots game, which I wasn't happy about. After all, what is a Winterfest without snow? January Thaw-fest, I guess.
 
As an aside, this thaw actually gave me a really nice half an hour. On Wednesday, I was left in charge of waiting for some volunteers to pick up Girl Scout cookies (yes, it's that time of year again; look for the girls all over the region in the next few weeks!). It was such a nice day that I sat outside in the sun, by myself, with no cell phone or iPad or kids or anything to distract me. I just sat there doing nothing. It truly was a magical 30 minutes.

But I digress ... 
 
The lack of snow might change the plans of an event this Saturday, Jan. 18, at one of my favorite places in Berkshire County: Sheep Hill. This nature preserve just south of the heart of Williamstown is run by the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation and is one of the most family-friendly ways to get outdoors in the area. This Saturday, there are two Winter Snow Animal Tracking programs, led by naturalist Dan Yacobellis. The 9 to 11:30 a.m. program is for beginners and young children and will encompass a family friendly walk around the lower Sheep Hill slopes identifying tracks and signs of animals such as squirrels, rabbits, mice, fox, deer and birds that have been through. From noon to 4 p.m., the program is for adults and kids 8 and up who want to take tracking a little further. This program venture up into the forest and look for some of the more secretive creatures like fisher and bobcat and will look a bit more closely at the tracks. Space is limited and registration is required. The suggested donation for the program is $5 per person or $10 per family. To register or for more information, email lre@wrlf.org.
 
But even if a period of January thaw is too cold for you to be outdoors, here's an indoor suggestion for Saturday: the "Our Big World" cultural fair at Haskins Gym in North Adams. This event, sponsored by the Family Resource Center, runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and will include children's games, activities, music and food from cultures around the world! Registration is required by calling 413-664-4821. More details at can be found at ccberkshire.org.
 
Sunday, Jan. 19, is all about football, so I recommend just staying inside and watching the Patriots (hopefully win, but my hopes are not high), which is where I will be if Winterfest is "grassed" out. But as this is a long holiday weekend, I have a Monday, Jan. 20, recommendation: the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Day of Service in North Adams. This event offers community members the chance to do volunteer projects around the area. This 21st annual event will begin at 9 a.m. with coffee and refreshments at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center. Around 9:15 a.m., participants start their choice of a community project with either on-site tasks at MCLA's Church St. Center or off-site at various community locations. Service projects for all ages and abilities include tasks such as painting, cleaning, organizing, building, winterizing or sewing. Last year my then 7-year-old daughter colored cards to include on packages to military personnel serving overseas. Every age can make a difference! For more information, email Kathy Keeser at kathykeeser@gmail.com or call her at 413-346-7196.
 
So whatever the weather, weather it well!
 
Berkshire County native Rebecca Dravis of Williamstown is a former journalist who now works for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. She can be reached at rdravis@verizon.net.


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Are We There Yet?: A Weekend at the Museums
By Rebecca Dravis On: 09:03AM / Friday January 10, 2014
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The holiday vacation that never wanted to end finally did end, and now the winter session is fully upon us. In between birthday parties and skiing trips, there are still plenty of weekend activities to amuse the kiddos.
 
And this weekend, it's Saturday at the museum(s). It's one of those days that confirms just how lucky we are here in the Berkshires to have access to such great, family-friendly institutions like Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Berkshire Museum and the Norman Rockwell Museum.
 
This Saturday, Jan. 11, marks Free Day at Mass MoCA on Marshall Street in North Adams. From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. the galleries will be open to everyone and there will be "brick-wall-to-brick-wall" programming throughout the museum, including art-making, dance performances, roaming musicians and gallery tours. I do recall in the past it has snowed (heavily) on Free Day, but this weekend looks good to go ... if you don't mind a little rain, our fickle weather what it is. For all the details on the current exhibits, visit massmoca.org.
 
Heading toward central Berkshire this Saturday? Why not stroll on over to the Berkshire Museum on South Street at 10:30 a.m. for an installment of the "Untamed Wild and Endangered Animals" series? This event will feature international photographers Dan Mead and Sally Eagle of MeadEagle sharing photos of wildlife, nature and cultures along with tales of their travels. This talk will focus on silverback gorillas in Rwanda, big cats in Kenja, grizzly bears in Alaska and more. I don't know about your kid, but mine loves pictures of animals. (Her subscription to National Geographic For Kids is a huge hit!) The talk is free with museum admission but seating is limited. Reservations are requested at 413-443-7171, ext. 10.
 
And finally, if South County is your target on Saturday, check out the Norman Rockwell Museum's Family Day. From 1 to 4 p.m., families are invited to come discover dance in an event inspired by "Dancing Princesses" and the art of Ruth Sanderson. Dancers from Berkshire Ballroom will demonstrate their technique and teach basic ballroom steps, and dancer Hattie McLean will offer an interactive look at the history of dance. Visitors will enjoy tours of the exhibit, readings and a book signing with Ruth Sanderson; there also will be art-making opportunities for all. For details, visit nrm.org.
 
Of course, even though there is no specific programming at other Berkshire museums this weekend, they are always a fun place to head in the winter when it's cold (or rainy, as the case may be) outside. The Williams College Museum of Art is always free, the Clark Art Institute is free this time of year, and quirky places like the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams and Ventfort Hall in Lenox offer fun, educational experiences for the whole family.
 
See? We have culture here, even in the winter!
 
Berkshire County native Rebecca Dravis of Williamstown is a former journalist who now works for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. She can be reached at rdravis@verizon.net.


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Are We There Yet?: Crafty Saturday
By Rebecca Dravis On: 08:02AM / Friday January 03, 2014
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So the kids are going back to school ... well, maybe. As I write this, a winter storm is bearing down on the region, rendering uncertain our ability to turn the kids (finally) back over to the professionals who are paid to entertain them.
 
Happy New Year.
 
How will we tolerate another day or two of 24-hour togetherness? The new Christmas toys have lost their luster. Every book has been read ... and re-read ... and re-read again. Sure, there could be some snow to play in, but who wants to play outside when it's 10 degrees below zero?
 
My daughter and I are reading the "Little House on the Prairie" books right now. We are, appropriately, up to "The Long Winter," and I'm constantly amazed at how four girls under the age of 15 can entertain themselves for hours and days on end in a two-room house with little light and heat when my one 8 year old with more toys, books and electronics than she really needs has been flopping around whining about being bored for the last three or four days.
 
Luckily it's now 2014 and we have the Internet, so just Google "snow day activities for kids" and lose yourself in the Web for a while. Here's one site I particularly liked: http://herviewfromhome.com/36-snow-day-activities-and-ideas-for-your-kids/. I will skip anything messy, but I liked this one for my girly girl: "Hang up some sparkly sheets and beads, add tulle or anything fun fabric, then have your girls dress up in their favorite costumes and have a fashion shoot."
 
When the storm has passed and the weekend has arrived, there are a couple family events to consider on Saturday, Jan. 4, though this is fairly slow weekend in the Berkshires. From 9 a.m. to noon is one of my daughter's favorite monthly events: The DIY Building Workshop for Kids at Home Depot. These workshops are the first Saturday of every month at every Home Depot (we have been to both the Pittsfield and Bennington, Vt., stores) and allow kids to build and decorate simple wooden crafts. We have nailed together everything from a Penske moving truck to a "Despicable Me" tic-tac-toe board. Yes, there are these corporate "sponsors," but it helps keep the activity free. Children will get a certificate and a pin upon completion of the project; the pin can go on a mini orange Home Depot apron that kids get the first time they attend a workshop. See homedepot.com for a schedule of workshop titles.
 
The other Saturday event I will mention is "Clay for Kids" from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic. As I mentioned above, I avoid messy crafts in my own home, so I appreciate a library's willingness to handle the clean-up. Kids are invited to join artist and librarian Leslie Metlzer to make figures out of clay; for more information, visit gblibraries.org.
 
I hope this helps get you through what promises to be a looooooooong few days between the weather and a quiet weekend. God speed!
 
Berkshire County native Rebecca Dravis of Williamstown is a former journalist who now works for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. She can be reached at rdravis@verizon.net.


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Are We There Yet?: Games, Puppets and More
By Rebecca Dravis On: 08:56AM / Friday December 27, 2013
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So what is the deal with the Easy Bake Oven?
 
Santa brought one to my 8-year-old this Christmas. She has wanted one for three years, but the box says "8 and up," so I told her she had to wait until she was 8 to ask for one. She asked this year, Santa obliged, and now we have a big black hunk of junk on our kitchen counter.
 
Our first attempt to make the cookies that came with the box was trial and error, but eventually we got some very small treats that tasted OK. However, the second attempt to make pretzel sticks failed miserably. An hour after we first turned the thing on, the pretzels came out still completely raw. The oven appeared to be on, as it felt warm to the touch, but the pan came out cold.
 
Who knew this silly toy would be such a pain to use?
 
If you are like me and already sick of the trials and tribulations of new Christmas toys, it's time to get out of the house! On Friday, Dec. 27, you have a few neat options.
 
If you find yourself in North County, head to the Milne Library on Main Street in Williamstown from 2 to 4:30 p.m. for an afternoon of games and crafts that someone else will provide and teach you to use (though you can bring your own, if you want). Games will include chess, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders and others; bring a friend and enjoy an afternoon of games in the library. For more information, call 413-458-5369 or email krose@cwmars.org.
 
If you are in central or southern Berkshire county, head to the beautiful Ventfort Hall on Walker Street in Lenox. From 3:30 to 5 p.m., master puppeteer Carl Sprague, whose holiday performances have enchanted Ventfort Hall audiences for years, will return to perform the classic fairy tale "Cinderella." A Victorian holiday tea will follow and the children can meet the antique puppets and the backstage wizard. Shows also run Dec. 28 and 30; the cost is $16 for adults, $7 for children to 5 to 17 and free for children 4 and under. For reservations (which will save you $2 off the adult price), call 413-637-3206.
 
If you really enjoy those puppets and want some to see a different kind of puppet show, mark your calendar for Tuesday, Dec. 31. That's when Crabgrass Puppet Theater will perform "The Pirate, the Princess, and the Pea" at 11 a.m. at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. Billed as "a swashbuckling pirate and princess adventure not to be missed," the show is followed at noon by refreshments in the Crane Room. The cost is $15 for adults and $8 for children, and it includes museum admission to catch the last days of the Festival of Trees. For information, visit berkshiremuseum.org.
 
Here's one more event to consider to get you out of the house over the weekend: On Saturday, Dec. 28, David Grover & Grover's Gang will join the BTG PLAYS! Children's Chorus for a concert at 11 a.m. at Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. Tickets range from $10 to $20; click here for details.
 
Or you can just stay in and actually learn to use the new toys the kids received for Christmas. After two hours of trying to bake with the Easy Bake Oven, we ended up with very doughy, very salty, very tiny little pretzel sticks to be dipped in very orange, very disgusting cheese sauce. My daughter loved them. Score one for Santa!
 
Berkshire County native Rebecca Dravis of Williamstown is a former journalist who now works for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. She can be reached at rdravis@verizon.net.


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Pittsfield Council Accepts School Budget Law, Denies Hiring Authority Plan
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Watch What You Eat to Avoid ER This Thanksgiving
'Breakfast With Santa' Set for Dec. 7
Williams PTO holding BJ's Fundraiser
MLK Jr. Day Committee Seeks Nominations for 2015 Peacemaker Award
Volunteer Matter of Balance Coaches Needed
Cultural Pittsfield This Week: Nov. 26-Dec. 4
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