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Are We There Yet?: A Weekend at the Museums

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
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.

Are We There Yet?: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
My favorite radio station, B95.5 out of Albany, N.Y., has been playing Christmas music since the beginning of November. Some people think that is crazy, but it's perfectly fine with me. "Jingle Bells" and all of the other classics just make my heart melt, even in November. 
Family holiday events are catching up with the music this coming weekend, the first full weekend of December, where there is no shortage of seasonal fun. 

First up on Friday night, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. is the annual tree lighting ceremony in Park Square Pittsfield. I drove through Pittsfield one evening earlier this week and downtown was sparkling with holiday lights and cheer, just waiting for the tree to join. Before the ceremony, the Berkshire Hills Chorus will perform from 5:30 to 5:50 p.m. The Taconic High School Chorus will also perform a variety of carols, Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive following the tree lighting, and free hot chocolate will be available, courtesy of Patrick's Pub.

For a smaller ­town atmosphere on Friday, head south to West Stockbridge, where the Holiday Stroll along Main, Center, Depot and Harris streets will happen between 4 and 8 p.m., and feature appearances by Santa and his sleigh, downtown shops open late, luminaria, hayrides, live music and edibles in various venues, and birdseed­-ornament-making and gingerbread-­cookie-decorating at Six Depot Coffee Shop from 4:30 to 6 p.m. At 6 p.m. the tree will be lit.

On Saturday, Dec. 7, head north to Williamstown for my adopted hometown's lovely Christmas celebration, Holiday Walk. This year marks the 30th year of the event, which features the ever­popular Reindog Parade. If you have never seen this or taken the kids to this, this is the year to do it. If you have a dog, slap some antlers or a sweater on him or her and join the parade. If you just want to watch, head to Spring Street and pick a spot. After, head inside the Lasell Gym for the Penny Social, featuring a huge raffle and local nonprofits with giveaways, activities and information. Across the street from 2 to 5 p.m. check out the Habitat for Humanity Christmas Tree Showcase and bid to win a tree or two. From 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. Santa Claus will be at The Log on Spring Street (a change from previous years when he was at the bank). There are many, many more activities if you are in Williamstown earlier in the day (including story time at 10 a.m. at Water Street Books) or Sunday (including the craft fair at the Williamstown Elementary School from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a free screening of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" at 1 p.m. at Images Cinema). For all the details, visit the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce website
On the other end of the county on Saturday is the Holiday Stroll in downtown Great Barrington. The Mason Library will host storytelling at 3 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. there will be shopping and other activities around the Main Street area. Wrap up the weekend on Sunday, Dec. 8, in Lenox for the annual Gingerbread Contest at the Lenox Library. Sponsored by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, this year's theme is "Berkshire Gingerbread Houses," and will include edible entries by professional chefs, groups of all ages and individuals. A panel of judges will announce prizes in all three categories, and the public will award People's Choice prizes in all categories as well -- so get the family down there between 1 and 3 p.m. and share your opinions. All proceeds benefit the library. Visit the library's website for more details.
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
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.

Are We There Yet?: Santa Season Starts Early

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
Those famous words are recounted every holiday season, especially when a child questions the existence of Jolly Old Saint Nick. I myself printed out a copy of the 1897 New York Sun editorial last Christmas when my daughter, having just turned 7, began expressing some doubt. I was beside myself; how can a 7 year old not believe in Santa Claus? I blamed her friends with older siblings. I blamed TV and the Internet and all those silly apps she has filled my iPad's memory with. I especially blamed myself for recounting within her earshot the story of how I purchased something that went into her stocking, which is supposed to be from Santa. ("Sometimes Mommy helps Santa fill the stocking," I backpedaled quickly to her suspicious gaze. "Here, have a cookie. Or another app.")

I thought I was older before I started wondering, but maybe 7 is truly the age of not believing. That's one of the things that drew me to the movie "The Child King," which will be screened this Saturday, Nov. 9, at 10 a.m. at the North Adams Movieplex. In the movie, when 7-year-old Jarret West questions the existence of Santa Claus, his teenage older brother Jeremy, a young man with Down Syndrome, takes him on a quest to the North Pole to prove Santa is real. The free screening is being sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy of Berkshire County, an organization that has dedicated itself to offering supports and advocacy for any individual, regardless of disability, to pursue a fulfilling, self-determined, high-quality community life. The film will be followed by a meet-and-greet reception with Peter Johnson, the young man who played the lead role of Jeremy and who has Berkshire County ties, at UCP's North Adams office, located at 535 Curran Highway; there is a $5 suggested donation for the reception. 
To watch the trailer, click here. The film is made by a crew of Massachusetts residents who wanted to make "an inspirational and adventurous tale that shows us those with intellectual disabilities are not to be underestimated, but rather looked to as examples of how to love unconditionally and transcend the stereotypes in our society," according to Special Olympics International. If the trailer is in any indication, it will put you and your family into a warm holiday mood in this early holiday season.
And it is early, despite that I happily heard the first Christmas songs of the season on the radio on Wednesday and despite the advertisements and store displays and mailbox full of catalogs from stores I have never heard of. But if you attend the screening of "The Child King" and find yourself beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, head south or east for some more holiday cheer.
Head south and you will find the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School Holiday Handcraft Fair, which runs Saturday, Nov. 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the school, located at 35 West Plain Road in Great Barrington. Highlights include carnival games, maple sugar cotton candy, a photo booth with dress-up costumes, the children's craft room where youngsters can make presents themselves, and the Pocket Lord and Lady, whose many pockets are filled with small gifts.
The Handcraft Room, the centerpiece of the Fair, offers a large selection of warm, soft handmade items, including baby booties, winter accessories, soft toys and classic Waldorf dolls. And at the Little People's Shop, children in third grade and younger can choose gifts for friends and family. Admission and parking are free; visit gbrss.org for more details.
Head east and you will find the Handmade for Kids Holiday Fair at Berkshire Trail Elementary School on Route 9 in Cummington (which I recently learned is technically outside of Berkshire County but interestingly is still a part of the Central Berkshire Regional School District). The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., also on Saturday, and features local vendors selling beautiful commercial-free, handmade items for kids of all ages, drop-in crafts for the kids, raffles, lunch and more to benefit the Cummington Family Center. Admission is also free; for information, visit cummingtonfamilycenter.org.
And if Santa should happen to drop in to any of these events, set a good example and embrace him completely and sincerely, no matter what the ages of your children are. Why? I'll let The Sun's editorial answer that: "Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world."
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.

Are We There Yet?: Fine Fall Offerings

By Rebecca Dravis

Last weekend, we officially welcomed fall to the Berkshires, but this weekend features a few events that really usher in the season.

First up is the annual Country Fair at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, which celebrates the bounty of the harvest with agricultural demonstrations, wagon rides, a farmers' market, family activities and more. The fair is free with regular admission of $18 for adults and $8 for children 13 to 17 (kids 12 and under with an adult are always free!) and runs both Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Then there is the 34th annual Lenox Apple Squeeze & Harvest Festival, which transforms downtown Lenox into a giant seasonal street fair. The festival features food, rides, shopping, live music and family fun galore from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29. Lenox is one of the prettiest towns on the planet in the fall, so don't miss this opportunity to celebrate the season in style.

I may be partial, since I live in Williamstown, but if Lenox is ONE of the prettiest towns in the fall, I have to say that Williamstown is THE prettiest town in the fall. As hokey as it may sound, I catch my breath every time I drive along the stretch of Route 7 between South Williamstown and downtown Williamstown. On a clear day, now not only can you see Mount Greylock and its Veterans War Memorial Tower, but you can also see in the distance the wind turbines of the Hoosac Range. Leaving aside the politics and problems surrounding the turbines, I believe they make the long-distance view of this picture-perfect spot even better.

So what's in Williamstown this weekend, besides the lovely views? It's the annual Hopkins Forest Fall Celebration from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29. The celebration will take place within the forest, located at the junction of Northwest Hill Road and Bulkley Street. The event is free and will feature traditional woodworking demonstrations, music, apple butter and cider production, refreshments, a canopy walkway and children's activities. The forest is owned by Williams College, and this is one of the nice ways the college reaches out to the community.

Of course, these are all outdoor activities, and while crisp, cool and dry fall weather is always appreciated, I do have a fun family suggestion for Saturday, Sept. 28, should it rain.

Anyone who has been to Washington, D.C., knows that the Smithsonian Museums boast free admission, which is awesome and made my own recent trip to the Air and Space Museum even sweeter. Am I suggesting you head south this weekend? Not at all — free museum admission is coming to us! Smithsonian magazine is sponsoring Museum Day Live!, an annual event in which participating museums across the country open their doors to anyone presenting a Museum Day ticket - for free. (You can get the tickets emailed to you by going online to smithsonianmag.com.)

Here in the Berkshires, there are several options. In Massachusetts, Naumkeag in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and Chesterwood in Stockbridge are participating. Just north of the border in Vermont, the Bennington Battle Monument (which has an elevator up to what promises to be a gorgeous view this time of year), the Bennington Center for the Arts and the Bennington Museum are participating.

You can also stop by one of the Trustees of Reservations historic homes on Sunday for their annual Home Sweet Home open houses from 1 to 3.

So rain or shine, it's a great fall weekend for families. Enjoy!

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.


FreshGrass Kicks Off at Mass MoCA

By John DurkaniBerkshires Staff
Cassandra Cleghorn of The Wandering Rocks, a Williamstown-based band, performs at FreshGrass on Friday evening.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — FreshGrass — it's the bluegrass music festival at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art that just keeps growing.
At its third year, Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson expects around 3,500 festivalgoers on Saturday, which will double last year's figure of around 1,600.
"There's an interest in bluegrass," Thompson said. "The lineup, I think, is super."
Thompson credits the festival's growth with the word-of-mouth circulation, the reasonable price ($78 for the entire festival), the family-friendly atmosphere and the entire museum open for view.
Friday night kicked off with the Williamstown-based group The Wandering Rocks at the Courtyard D stage and will continue all the way into Sunday evening, featuring the Wood Brothers, Leftover Salmon, the Del McCoury Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, and many more.
"We know their songs, it's fantastic," Thompson said Friday night during The Wandering Rocks set.
Single-day tickets, regular admission for Saturday and Sunday is $38 dollars for adults, $28 for students and $18 for children from ages 7 to 16. Children under 7 can enter for free.
There's also a handful of local vendors, including Desperados, How We Roll, Village Pizza and Spice Root.
"We're hoping for a good, good response," said Vijay Narula, who operates Spice Root with his family. Narula said they'll be offering a wide variety of food, including vegetarian options all weekend.
Residents also took the opportunity to volunteer and work at the festival, including City Councilor Nancy Bullett, who was introduced to FreshGrass previously by her friend Richard Taskin.
"I couldn't go to a better one," Bullett said. "People are laid back, it's great, it's a good night."
For more information on the festival, visit FreshGrass.com.
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