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Are We There Yet?: Magic Tree Houses and Fair Princesses

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Columnist

My family was first introduced to Jack and Annie of the Magic Tree House series in a most unlikely way: Wendy's.

A few years ago, well before my 7-year-old could read, Wendy's gave away CDs of Mary Pope Osborne reading her popular series with their kids' meals. We scored "Good Morning Gorillas" and proceeded to listen to it in the car over and over — and over again.

Thus began her love affair with Magic Tree House. We attended a reading in Stockbridge a couple years ago of the Christmas book that Pope Osborne herself attended. We have purchased and borrowed from the library many of the other books, and they have sparked my daughter's imagination as well as questions about historical issues that the books address. (Try explaining to a kindergartner about slavery and the Civil War. Tricky!)

So we are thrilled to head south to Great Barrington to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center this Friday, Aug. 2, when the Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Fridays brings Jack and Annie to life. (For those of you not familiar with Free Fun Fridays, click here for all the details for the rest of the summer, including many Berkshire sites.)

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the event will feature arts and crafts, movement explorations, and Spanish-language activities offered for the entire family. In addition, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., there will be a 25-minute tribute to the magic of reading involving a captivating performance by Jack and Annie with lively audience participation and original songs. Having trouble getting your child to keep reading over the summer? Maybe this is something to jump-start the fun! Visit mahaiwe.org for details.

The rest of the weekend's family fun is packaged nicely up in Adams, where the 39th annual Adams Agricultural Fair at Bowe Field right off Route 8 will feature Battle of the Bands on Thursday at 6 p.m., dancing on Friday (6 p.m.), all-day events on Saturday starting at 10 a.m., and events kicking off at 11 a.m. Sunday, including the demolition derby at 2 p.m. For more info, visit adamsfair.com.

My personal connection with this extremely kid-friendly event is the Adams Aggie Fair Princess Contest, which my daughter entered at age 5 and then again at age 6, losing both years to 7-year-olds. Now that she is 7 this year, this is her last chance, and my fingers are crossed that this will be the year. A true ham who loves to be on stage, she has been amazing both years, answering the questions in a loud, clear, confident voice — all the while looking amazingly cute, if I do say so myself! The princess (and prince, though that competition is usually less fierce, as sometimes only a couple boys enter) will be crowned Saturday at 11 a.m.

Find more county fairs around the region here.

It's hard to believe we are in August already, and while the back to school items are back on the shelves, there is still plenty of time for summer fun!

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?: The Play's The Thing For Kids

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Columnist

My soon-to-be-second-grader and two of her soon-to-be-second-grade friends stayed up late last Friday night to watch Williamstown Theatre Festival's free outdoor performance of "Dracula."

The free glow-in-the-dark plastic fangs handed out to the kids were a nice kid-friendly touch, but I still had concerns about the children's reactions to the scary nature of the story. My fears were put to rest when the blood spurting from the body of the poor girl whose death had to be violently assured caused giggles, not screams, from the 7-year-olds. For days after, the kids chattered about how that scene was staged, with my daughter's best friend confident in her interpretation of the actress hiding red paint in her dress.

There's just something about the theater that brings out the best in children.

That's why I am using this week's column to point out how incredibly lucky we are here in the Berkshires to have such an abundance of professionally produced summer theater — and not just for grownups!

Starting up north: While the free Williamstown Theatre Festival family shows are done for the year, WTF is still doing Friday afternoon theater workshops for kids 8 to 14. This Friday's theme is "The Mystery of the Missing Mystery." The workshops run from 4 to 6 p.m. and are free, but reservations are recommended at wtfestival.org.

Heading to Central County, Barrington Stage Company's Youth Theatre is presenting "Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr." at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. The play runs from July 24 through Aug. 11; showtimes are Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m. (except opening day); Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.; and Sundays at 3 p.m. There is also an additional matinee this Monday at 1. Tickets are $10 for kids 5 to 18 and $15 for adults. For details visit barringtonstageco.org.

Continuing to South County, both Berkshire Theatre Group and Shakespeare & Company are offering family friendly shows.

Berkshire Theatre Group is presenting "Just So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling on its Stockbridge outdoor stage. The play runs through Aug. 10; showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. Tickets are $10 for children and $15 for adults; visit berkshiretheatregroup.org.

Shakespeare & Company has two great offerings: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" outdoors in the dell at The Mount in Lenox and "Les Faux Pas: or the Counterplots" in the tented Rose Footprint Theatre at its Lenox campus. "Dream" runs through Aug. 17, with shows Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. "Les Faux Pas" runs through Sept. 1 with shows on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. Adults are $15 and kids are free. For all the details on these plays, visit shakespeare.org.

And stepping just outside the Berkshires is the Mac-Haydn Children's Theatre presentation of "The Emperor's New Clothes" over in Chatham, N.Y. Shows are at 10:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and all tickets are $10; visit machaydntheatre.org for details.

Whew, that made me tired, wrapping up all the wonderful theater opportunities across the region this summer. Make sure you pace yourself watching all of them!

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?: Science, Sand, Circus and Sales

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Columnist
My 7-year-old daughter's pediatrician just advised us to avoid bubble baths for a while. I explained to him that her baths don't start out as bubble baths, in that I don't dump three capfuls of Mr. Bubble under running water. No, her baths turn into soapy affairs because I buy her cheap shampoo to do experiments with in the tub. It's pretty amazing what the child can come up with with a bottle of V05, a couple cups, an old bulb syringe from when she was a baby, an ice cube tray and some rubber bands.
"She's going to be a scientist!" her doctor said in amazement as I shared this with him.

Quite possibly, which is why I am thrilled to have an opportunity to let her experiments take shape someplace other than my bathroom. On Friday, July 12, the Berkshire Museum is hosting "WeeMuse: Night of Science" from 5 to 7 p.m. This free event, presented in partnership with TD Charitable Foundation, the Transition Team of Pittsfield and Sabic Innovative Plastics, will fill the museum with "Wacky, mystifying and fun science experiments," according to the museum's website. Kids can spend the evening walking on water, snacking on liquid nitrogen ice cream, making glow-in-the-dark slime, creating their own hover craft and more family-friendly experiments. Visit berkshiremuseum.org for details.
There is, of course, another event on Friday that allows kids to experiment, albeit with a different medium -- sand. That's right, it's time for the annual Eagle Street Beach event. Originated by artist Eric Rudd in 1999, the event will run from 3:30 to 6:30 and features more than 250,000 pounds of sand, donated by Specialty Minerals and delivered by the city, spread curb-to-curb down the entire length of Eagle Street in downtown North Adams. (The rain date is next Friday, July 19, so check the forecast and iBerkshires for updates, as the city will not run the event if there is a threat of rain, because really, who wants an Eagle Street mud party?) After the beach party the fourth annual Mexican Fiesta will follow at 7 p.m. I have to admit I liked this event better when it was a two-hour Wednesday afternoon affair just for kids, but either way, youngsters of all ages seem to have a good time sculpting and creating and competing.
If you're looking for some weekend entertainment for the kids, the Dalton Lions Club is having its annual circus fundraiser on Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14, at the American Legion Field on Route 9 in Dalton. The event features the Kelly Miller Circus, which has been around since 1938 and is the country's second-largest big top show. (That big top, FYI, has a seating capacity of 1,100 and is made of waterproof vinyl. The tent is 120 feet by 120 feet and is 40 feet high and is supported by more than a quarter of a mile of heavy gauge aluminum tubing as well as several miles of rope, steel cable and chain. Who knew?)
The circus is a fundraiser, so it's for a good cause, but if you have any concerns about the welfare of the animals, check out Kelly Miller's website, http://kellymillercircus.com/. There is some good information that may put your mind at ease and allow you to support the wonderful work the Lions Club does while giving the kids a thrill. Shows are 2 and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Advance tickets are available prior to circus day at Big Y World Class Markets, the Dalton General Store, the Dalton CRA, Greenridge Variety, Val's Variety and Harry's Supermarket.
One more fundraiser (well, OK, two!) to mention: library book sales! There are two this weekend -- the Berkshire Atheneum in Pittsfield and the Stockbridge Library. Bring the kids and let them browse the children's sections while you stock up on some summer novels that you will find time to read -- honest! The Pittsfield sale is inside the library on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Stockbridge sale is under the big tent out front on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. I hit as many of these sales as I possibly can, hoping to find a John Irving book I haven't read yet but usually settling for a Dean Koontz or two or some of those soft-back British novels that I enjoy. These are two great sales, and keep a look out for the Lenox Library's sale in August. Happy reading!
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?: A Fourth to Remember

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Columnist

There's family fun times two this Fourth of July in the Berkshires.

You have your choice of two parades: 10 a.m. in Pittsfield (starting at West Housatonic and South streets) and 11 a.m. in Williamstown (Southworth to Main to Spring streets).

You have your choice of two readings of the Declaration of Independence: 2 p.m. at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown (by the folks at Williamstown Theatre Festival) and 3 p.m. at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox (by company members).

And you have your choice of two baseball games followed by fireworks: 6:30 p.m. in North Adams (the SteepleCats at Joe Wolfe Field) and 7 p.m. in Pittsfield (the Suns at Wahconah Park).

But that's not all: You have three more days of Fourth of July weekend fun ... because we all know most of us are taking Friday off to have a nice long weekend with the family. I know I am, and I am ready to really kick off summer fun this weekend.

On Friday, July 5, the Movies Under the Stars summerlong family film series kicks off on the lawn of Adams Town Hall with a screening of the original alien movie, "E.T." The movies continue every Friday throughout the summer, starting at dusk, but this kickoff event features a family festival at 6 p.m. prior to the movie. The festival features games, crafts, free food and almost certainly the "cash cube," where people have 30 seconds to grab as much money as they can as it blows around their bodies. And if rains (and really, is it ever going to stop raining?) the whole thing will be moved to Saturday. Visit celebrateadams.com for all the details of this annual community celebration in Adams.

On Saturday, July 6, children can do a goblin sighting activity and build a fairy or elf house to bring home, weather permitting, at the Mason Library in Great Barrington. The event, which is appropriate for kids 7 and up (meaning my daughter will almost certainly want to go!), runs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Register online at gblibraries.org.

Also on Saturday, July 6, bring back the 1970s (and introduce them to a new generation) with a "Grease" sing-along at 7 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. According to the website, "It's not compulsory to dress up but many people do and it really adds to the fun" — so bring out the leather jackets and muscle shirts. The sing-along features a 30-minute pre-film show during which the host leads participants through a vocal warm-up, prepares them for special moments throughout the film and judges the fancy dress competition. Everyone receives a free goody bag with special props for the "magic moments" that make the evening go with a bang. I've got chills ... they're multiplying ... Visit mahaiwe.org for details.

To wrap up the weekend on Sunday, July 7, is the kickoff of another fun summer series: Summer Sundays on Spring Street in Williamstown. Weather permitting, the street festival begins at 4 p.m. with activities, music and local artisons and crafters and ends with an outdoor screening of "Some Like it Hot" at Morgan Lawn, sponsored by Images Cinema (which will host the movie inside if it is raining).

Have a great holiday weekend!

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.


Three Berkshire Towns Listed As 'Dreamtowns' In Globe

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The "Albany, N.Y., suburb of Lanesborough" is apparently a "dream town" to live in Massachusetts, according to The Boston Globe.

The Globe used an online tool asking users to list their priorities such as schools, movie theaters, restaurants, "hipsters" — which, from what we can tell, is dependent on the number of hybrid cars and Starbucks — crime rates, location and housing costs.

We agree that Lanesborough is pretty dreamy — beautiful lake and rollings hills, and a nice little school. Where else can you get rural living and a mall?

We're wondering, though, if The Globe writers used a map when they wrote their descriptions. Or perhaps Lanesborough really is a Capital District suburb, along with Hancock, Richmond and Williamstown. Does The Globe know something we don't?

In a way to promote its "dreamtown finder," The Globe used various levels for each category to derive 25 favorite towns. Lanesborough was listed because the town has "great schools (sic) and low housing costs" as well as having a "solid number of grocery stores." (We know of one).

And there is a low crime rate. But The Globe also warns that there are few "movie theaters." (Again, we know of one.)

Great Barrington also made the list. Great Barrington doesn't have the cachet of being an Albany suburb, but it has a lot of entertainment and "several dozen restaurants." There are also a lot of "historical items to be found in Great Barrington as the town first started out as a resort community."

Lenox also made the list because the town is "filled with wicked smart kids." (OK, they got something right.) And, if you didn't know, tourists flock to the area during the summer "including the Boston Symphony Orchestra." How exciting!

And, there were two movies filmed in Lenox.

While those three Berkshire towns were used as "dream towns," none of them apparently made a list The Globe did earlier this year of the top 10 places to in live in Massachusetts.

On that list, Savoy was the best location to live. Savoy has "one historical location and a park." Monterey was No. 2 in that last because it has "three historical locations and a couple of restaurants."

In conclusion, we don't know which town is the best in the Berkshires — let alone the state. But at least The Globe is recognizing some of our smaller towns so maybe some more people will come and see it for themselves.

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