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Are We There Yet?: Crafty Saturday

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
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.

Are We There Yet?: Games, Puppets and More

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
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.

Are We There Yet?: A Weekend With the Claus Family

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
This weekend belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
On Saturday, you can hike with Santa. And on Sunday, you can have lunch with both of them and then decorate a cookie with Mrs. Claus.
I'm especially intrigued by the hike with Santa, who is not someone normally associated with physical activity - a belly like the bowl full of jelly and all that. I do applaud the creativity of the Trustees of Reservations, which are hosting the event on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 10 a.m. to noon at Bartholomew's Cobble in Sheffield. Kids will enjoy a half-mile hike with Santa, learning about nature and the wonders of winter. It's free for adults, and kids pay $15 - and get a present, too! Find more information at thetrustees.org.
Then on Sunday, Dec. 15, are two events more typically associated with the Clauses, as the involve food.
First up in Lenox at noon, the Lenox Community Center will host lunch and a craft with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who also will be available for pictures. The best thing about this event is that it's free; for details visit townoflenox.com. Then moving north, Mrs. Claus will host an afternoon for kids 12 and younger to visit her from 1 to 3 p.m. and enjoy hot cocoa and decorate a cookie to take home. This event is being hosted by Williamstown Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Adams Road in Williamstown; reservations are requested at 413-458-3111.

Speaking of kids 12 and younger: For those of you who are parents of kids in fall in the older half of that age range, you likely are facing the "Is Santa real?" questions at this time of year. My daughter just turned 8 this week, and her doubt came more when she was 6 or 7. This year, she either has made a conscious decision to believe or has decided she doesn't want to know. But she paid especially close attention to the television screening of "Yes, Virginia," an animated re-telling of the story behind the famous "Yes, Virginia" editorial in the New York Sun in 1897. In this CBS special, 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon loves Christmas until her friends start telling her there is no Santa. Unable to find the answers she's looking for, Virginia writes to The New York Sun newspaper, and the answer becomes the most famous newspaper editorial of all time. It is cute and sweet and focuses more on the "idea" of Santa more than Santa himself: helping others, loving your family, etc. That resonated with me because I don't want to lie to my daughter; we tell her it's about believing in magic and love, and that's the message in this special.
If you missed it on TV, you can get it on iTunes for only $2.99. It's worth the three bucks!
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?: Sunday Holiday Celebrations

By Rebecca DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
You've eaten all the stuffing. You've secured a few Black Friday weekend bargains.
You've entertained the kids for a couple days despite some cold and sloppy weather.
Now what?
This week, my friends, Sunday is your savior.
Starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1 (yes, it's December already, if you can believe it), bring the family to the town of Adams for an old­fashioned New England Christmas kick­off.
One of my favorite holiday events of the season, the afternoon features music, caroling, hayrides, hot cocoa and more. Santa Claus will arrive at 3:30 p.m. and help count down to the official lighting of the Town Common tree at 4 p.m. Immediately following the tree lighting ceremony at the Town Common (the park with the gazebo right next to the McDonald's), Santa will light the tree on Summer Street, located on the corner of Summer and Victory streets. 

While I've always found the effect of lighting a tree while there it is still daylight to be admittedly less than spectacular, as a parent of a young child I appreciated the family­ friendly afternoon time slot of this event. But if you are game for bundling the kids up in the cold darkness, the tiny town of Clarksburg lights its tree on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. 
If you don't celebrate Christmas, or want to expose the children to a different culture, consider Sunday's other big event: the annual Hanukkah Family Festival at the Berkshire Mall (Macy's Court) at 4 p.m. I found it interesting that the first full day of Hanukkah coinciding with Thanksgiving this year ­ leading some to dub it "Thanksgivukkah" ­ will not happen again for thousands of years, if ever. (If you're a numbers person and want to read a funny story about why that is so, click here. Just don't blame me if it gives you a headache.)
In any case, the event at the mall features the lighting of a giant menorah, children's crafts, live music, food, face paintings and the family highlight: "Bubblemania" with Casey Carle. According to his website, you will see: giant floating spheres up to 4 to 6 feet in diameter; bubbles that bounce; a bubble cube; fog­ filled bubbles; a bubble "volcano" and more! I attended this event a couple years ago with my daughter and we found Carle's bubble antics to be pretty hilarious. The whole event is free; click here for all the details.
One last event I will mention this week since I won't post again until next Thursday: The city of North Adams, in anticipation of the big storm expected Wednesday, Nov. 27, moved its annual Thanksgiving­-eve Christmas tree lighting ceremony to Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 5 p.m. (I never liked it on Thanksgiving eve, anyway!) Gather at the east end of Main Street (up by the library) for songs, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and the lighting of the large downtown tree. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate more on Dec. 4. Until next week: Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah to all!

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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