Berkshire Family Fun Late September – Early October, 2012

Berkshire County Highlights for Families:
Sept 22nd – Oct 5th, 2012

This past spring, MA Cultural Council named downtown Pittsfield one of the first state-designated Cultural Districts. This designated district is now called the Upstreet Cultural District, in honor of the longtime nickname for downtown used by generations of Pittsfield natives.

History comes alive in Berkshire County the weekend of Sept 22nd & 23rd with over 15 hiking, walking and behind-the-scene tours of local landmarks and outdoor spaces.  Peruse the list for a plethora of ways to explore Berkshire County while taking in its rich history!

Other notable events happening over the next two weeks include the Northern Berkshire Fall Foliage Festival in North Adams, Hopkins Forest Fall Festival in Williamstown, production of “Lord of the Flies” in Pittsfield, and the Hancock Shaker Village Country Fair.

Many of the libraries host story & craft hours every week (see full list in our list of Weekly Suggested Events) and several of them are hosting special upcoming events. Lenox Library will host the Nutshell Playhouse for a Saturday afternoon performance. Local author, Ty Allen Jackson, will be at the Berkshire Athenaeum for a special weekend author event. The Ramsdell Library will screen an evening family film for teens. Lee Founders Weekend and Lenox Apple Squeeze happen all weekend too!

Find out about these events and other community events and learning opportunities happening throughout Berkshire County through Oct 5th, 2012:

North Berkshire
Central Berkshire
South Berkshire

To find out what’s happening throughout the four counties of Western MA, check our comprehensive list of Weekly Suggested Events, published every Thursday! There you will also find our list of ongoing weekday playgroups, storyhours and events both in Berkshire County and throughout the region.

List of Weekly Suggested Events

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Berkshire Family Fun for Early-Mid September 2012

Berkshire County Highlights for Families:
Sept. 8th – 21st, 2012

We’ve rounded the corner from summer freedom to the routine of autumn, with kids back in school, homeschoolers organizing their fall schedules, and prek & story hours starting back up.  We’ve listed many ongoing activities below and will continue to add to the list as the season progresses.

Activities to look forward to over the next couple of weeks include Images Cinema’s International Family Film series, Lee Founders’ Weekend, the Tub Parade in Lenox, Youth Summit in Pittsfield, Oliver! and Story Pirates at the Colonial Theatre, International Talk Like a Pirate Day at the Norman Rockwell Museum, Hilltown Hoot in Washington, Housatonic River Walk in Great Barrington, among many others.

Find out about these events and other community events and learning opportunities happening throughout Berkshire County through Sept. 21st:

To find out what’s happening throughout the four counties of Western MA, check our comprehensive list of Weekly Suggested Events, published every Thursday, and be sure to subscribe to our free weekly eNewsletter!

Ticket Giveaway: Story Pirates at The Colonial Theatre Ticket Giveaway: FOUND at The Colonial Theatre

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Berkshire Family Fun for Late August-Early September

Berkshire County Highlights for Families:
August 25th – September 7th, 2012

Thanks to the Highland Street Foundation’s summer Free Fun Fridays series, Mass MoCA in North Adams will offer free admission on Friday, Aug. 31st!(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

As the summer comes to a close, so do many ongoing summer concert and theater events that enriched Berkshire County this summer.  As we transition from summer towards the school year, many playgroups and libraries quiet down for a couple of weeks, but they will be sure to pick back up in September.

In the meantime, during these last couple of weeks of summer, there are still a lot of fun opportunities happening for families to enjoy: Main Street Stage will put on a theater performance at Bascom Lodge; David Grover will perform a family concert at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; Tanglewood will offer a family-friendly concert; and Berkshire Theatre Group will be putting on a production of Oliver! at The Colonial Theatre… just to name a few!

Find out about these events and other community events and learning opportunities happening throughout Berkshire County through the first week of September:

To find out what’s happening throughout the four counties of Western MA, check our comprehensive list of Weekly Suggested Events, published every Thursday!
List of Weekly Suggested Events

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Berkshire Family Fun for Early-Mid August, 2012

Berkshire County Highlights for Families:
August 11th-24th, 2012

We’re entering the season of community festivals, craft and agricultural fairs!  A few to highlight in Berkshire County over the next two weeks including Rock, Rattle and Drum Pow Wow at Wirtes Farm in Lanesborough, Hinsdale Dayz at the town fire station, Berkhsire 4-H Fair in Pittsfield, Grecian Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsfield, Stockbridge Summer Arts and Crafts Show, Zucchini Festival in the town center of West Stockbridge, Berkshire Crafts Fair at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, and  Family Day on the village green in New Marlborough.

Find out about these events and other community events and learning opportunities happening throughout Berkshire County through August 24th:

To find out what’s happening throughout the four counties of Western MA, check our comprehensive list of Weekly Suggested Events, published every Thursday! List of Weekly Suggested Events

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Arthurian Legends and Gold Dubloons at Norman Rockwell Museum

World of Adventure with Howard Pyle
Family Festival Day at Norman Rockwell Museum
Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Howard Pyle (1853-1911) was one of America’s most popular illustrators and storytellers during a period of explosive growth in the publishing industry. A celebrity in his lifetime, Pyle’s widely circulated images of pirates, knights, and historical figures were featured in dozens of publications and were admired by such artists and authors as  Mark Twain and Norman Rockwell.

Explore history, as depicted in artist Howard Pyle’s illustrations, at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA!  The museum’s newest exhibit features nearly 80 of Pyle’s works, created between 1876 and 1910, the subjects of which include Arthurian England, heroes of the American Revolution, and the fate of Scottish so-called pirate Captain Kidd.

On Saturday, August 4th the museum will present World of Adventure: Arthurian Legends and Gold Dubloons, a family festival day, from 12noon-4pm. Along with opportunities to explore the museum’s galleries and view Pyle’s work, there will be scavenger hunts, performances, art making, and more! The 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry will be sharing a replica of a Civil War encampment, where families can meet soldiers and learn about wartime camp life.  The band Ampersand will perform music from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and kids can meet all sorts of soldiers, pirates, and knights!

For older kids (and parents), the museum will be screening, “Howard Pyle and the Illustrated Story,” a documentary film that follows Pyle’s work through generations of media.  Check out the trailer which gives a glimpse of Howard Pyle’s talents as illustrator, author, and mentor:

World of Adventure: Arthurian Legends and Gold Dubloons, presented in conjunction with the Museum’s current exhibition, “Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered,” takes place from 12noon-4pm on Saturday, August 4th – visit to learn about the art of illustration, American history, and legends of knights, dragons, and pirates!  Find out more about the Norman Rockwell Museum at www.nrm.org.

[Image credit: We Started to Run back to the Raft for Our Lives, 1902 Howard Pyle (1853-1911) Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches Delaware Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1912]

Berkshire Family Fun for Late July – Early August, 2012

Berkshire County Highlights for Families:
July 28th – August 10th, 2012

Summer theater and music continues in the Berkshires!  In addition to cultural performances, there are also great learning opportunities in  Berkshire County over the next two weeks!

With a region rich in local history, the history of families who lived in the Berkshires dating back to the 1600′s can be explored at the Mission House in Stockbridge, or explore during a guided tour of the Stockbridge Cemetery. Families can also learn about female soldiers in the Civil War at Western Gateway Heritage State Park  in North Adams, and “Amazing Americans” at the Milne Library in Williamstown. At the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, families can discover the importance blacksmithing was to Shaker history through demos and hands-on activities, and at the Ashley House in Sheffield the history and importance of pottery can be examined.

Other upcoming family fun learning opportunities in Berkshire County include exploring local boreal forests in Windsor with Mass Audubon, mapping the night sky at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, and learning about stars and planets at the Mason Library in Great Barrington.  There are even a couple of opportunities to learn about other cultures, including Australian Aboriginal culture at the Lenox Library and several other cultures at Pittsfield’s annual Ethnic Fair.

The Berkshires are not only a terrific place for high quality entertainment, but also a fun place to learn!  Find out all the fun thing’s happening for families and make plans to explore the Berkshires!

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Berkshire Family Fun for Mid-Late July, 2012

Berkshire County Highlights for Families:
July 14th-27th, 2012

Berkshire County is full of high caliber cultural venues hosting quality entertainment for families just outside of the big cities, but smaller community venues and local parks have a lot to offer in the summer months too! There are playgroups, nature hikes, crafting and story times happening at the libraries, parks and family centers. Live music and baseball can be enjoyed in the parks, marionette shows at cafes and churches, and family films are screened under the stars. It’s these types of free community building opportunities that bring families together thereby strengthening the fabric of the region— while the area’s larger venues bring us amazing opportunities for culture and entertainment!

Over the next couple of weeks, cultural venues in north Berkshire Co. like Mass MoCA will host their annual Bang on a Can Festival’s Kids Can Too, while Williamstown Theater Festival invites kids backstage to discover theater production.  In central Berkshire Co., Jacob’s Pillow hosts free original contemporary dance performances, Tanglewood offers a free weekly music educational program for families, Berkshire Museum organizes a family day to celebrate their new exhibit on American Indian art, and Hancock Shaker Village opens their doors up for a one day free visit.  And in south Berkshire, The Mahaiwe Center puts on a community sing-along indoors, while families can enjoy croquet on the lawn at Naumkeag outdoors.

The list goes on!  Find out what’s happening and make plans to explore the Berkshires!

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Berkshire Family Fun: Late June, 2012

Summer Fun Heats Up in the Berkshires

The libraries across Western MA will host a plethora of free family activities this summer! Scott Jameson will be at the Mason Library in Great Barrington on June 30th with a magic show, followed by a juggling workshop for kids 8yo and older. Find out about this activity an many others happening across Berkshire County.

The kids are out of school, the days are getting warmer, and the kid-friendly activities are in abundance in the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley. And that can only mean one thing: while families embrace the summer season and search for the next adventure around the region, Hilltown Families’ founder and editor-in-chief Sienna Wildfield is working overtime. There is a reason Hilltown Families was voted the Pioneer Valley Advocate’s best blog two years in a row, and Sienna’s it. So as you set out to relax and enjoy all the fantastic events and happenings laid out for you here at Berkshire Family Fun, and on Hilltown Families every day, take a little time to send Sienna a quick note and thank her. Thank you, Sienna!

SUMMERTIME FAVORITES

I know the Berkshires is known for its spectacular fall foliage, and stellar winter skiing opportunities, but my favorite time in the Berkshires is summer. The theaters open, the festival season comes alive, the historic homes and sites awake after a long restful winter, and I have a list of things to do with my kids a mile long.

Though I know I won’t hit them all, I know there are a few activities we aren’t going to miss including — the free Chinese Festival Family Day at the Clark Art Institute scheduled for Sunday, June 24; Tanglewood’s Family Fest set for Friday, June 29; an outdoor concert or two at one of the free series around the county that kick off this month; and Barrington Stage Company’s Youth Theatre production of “Beauty and the Beast” opening July 25 and running through Aug.12 (which will be showing on the Berkshire Museum Stage this year), just to name a few.

THE CLARK IN WILLIAMSTOWN

Every time the Clark schedules a free Family Day I make an internal promise to attend with the kids and my husband, and I have yet to keep that promise to myself. But once again that promise has been made for the upcoming Chinese Street Festival celebration at the museum set for Sunday, June 24, beginning at 11 a.m., and I intend to keep it this time. In celebration of the museum’s “Unearthed” exhibit, the Clark’s campus will be transformed into a traditional Chinese street festival complete with booths featuring fun activities for the whole family. From having one’s future told by an oracle and learning to write one’s name in Chinese characters to a dragon parade and a visit from a real water buffalo, there is plenty to delight the family.  Again, the event is FREE! The Clark is located at 225 South St., Williamstown. For more information visit theclark.edu or call 413-458-2303.

TANGLEWOOD IN LENOX

I love Tanglewood and so does my family, which is why we try (operative word here is TRY) to get there once a summer. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. But in celebration of Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary season Friday, June 29, will kick off the Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays Program, and I hope to be there with my three kids and adorable hubby (yes, I said adorable). From 4 to 7 p.m. families are invited to enjoy the beauty of the Tanglewood campus, and partake in an educational scavenger hunt among other family-related activities, all while enjoying a live musical performance. Bonus: A gift will be awarded to families who complete the scavenger hunt. The event is FREE, but advance registration is recommended. For more information call 413-637-5393 or visit tanglewood.org/familyfunfest.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Early June, 2012

I’m Back in the Berkshire Groove

The Jimmies are coming to MASS MoCA on Saturday, June 16th for a super fun family concert, and Hilltown Families has a family 4-pack of tickets along with 4 free gallery admissions to give away to one of our eNewsletter subscribers. Make sure you’re subscribed and this Thursday check you inbox to discover the details on how you can enter to win… it’s super easy and super fast to enter!

Greetings from the backwoods of Hinsdale, MA! I’ve been hiding out here for the last month and half in an attempt to escape the world and all those within it. Our little slice of heaven here has been my refuge while I regroup from the hustle and bustle of the school year and copious amounts of sporting events, as well as recover from a recent “minor” surgery that seemed to throw my body for a loop. But now that summer is nearly here and activity in the Berkshires is heating up as quickly as the weather should be, and I can’t wait to get out there to explore it all with my kids, husband, friends and (if I can manage to sneak away) myself!

A LITTLE HOUSEKEEPING

Hilltown Families’ editor Sienna Wildfield and myself have been experimenting around with this column for a while in an attempt to figure out the best way to keep you all interested, informed, and coming back for more. We tried bringing you a monthly feature of events, but it just seemed like the posts got WAY too long, and writing so early in the month resulted in missing a number of worthwhile events as many press releases came in after the first of the month.

Also, I love to have fun with this column and bring you more than just my maternal insights involving family fun in the Berkshires. I also like to ramble about mommy things that include such subjects as how to deal with the death and loss of two bunnies in two weeks (one died suddenly and one escaped into the wild). Or I might want to share with you my Top 10 strategies for dealing with the incessant and ridiculous arguments between two young brothers that tend to drive me insane. Or maybe I just want to share with you a funny family anecdote from the past weeks or a not-so-funny 10-year-old joke I was told the other day.

So here I go again, mixing things up a bit. I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you love and don’t love about Berkshire Family Fun. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or send an email to hilltownfamiliesberkshireco@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.

MOVING ON

May marked the return of 3rd Thursdays to Pittsfield (the next one is set for June 21, from 5-8 p.m.) and with it a new monthly event titled First Fridays ArtsWalk.  The ArtsWalks highlight the openings of various month-long exhibits in over 25 arts venues throughout downtown Pittsfield. The year-round “walks” will occur the first Friday of every month from 5-8 p.m. with most of the activities occurring indoors. This month kicked off Hilltown Families’ own Traveling Photography Exhibit at TREEHOUSE Gallery located at 305 North Street. Photographs of life and landscapes in Western Massachusetts by Hilltown Families’ founder, Sienna Wildfield, will be on view at the gallery through June 30. This marks the exhibit’s debut in the Berkshires and if you have ever browsed through the gallery here on this site you’ll know Sienna’s pretty fantastic at what she does. All art is for sale with proceeds benefiting Hilltown Families. For more information about the First Fridays ArtsWalk visit firstfridaysartswalk.com. For information regarding upcoming 3rd Thursday events go online to discoverpittsfield.com/3rdThursdays.

IT’S THEATER TIME IN THE BERKSHIRES

The beginning of summer also brings with it the start of the summer theater season in the Berkshires, which began for me with a trip to Barrington Stage Company’s Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center in Pittsfield to see “Lungs” Saturday night. “Lungs” by Duncan MacMillan and directed by Aaron Posner tells the story of a young couple contemplating having a child during a time of global anxiety and political unrest. If they overthink it, they’ll never do it. But if they rush, it could be a disaster. What will be the first to destruct — the planet or the relationship? The show runs through June 10. Tickets and show times can be found online at barringtonstageco.orgRead the rest of this entry »

Berkshire Family Fun for May 2012

Family Fun in the Berkshires: May 2012

May in the Berkshires (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)We are entering into my favorite time of year in the Berkshires. A time when the frozen Berkshire hills that lay semi-dormant this winter turn into a bustling center of activity. People emerge once again from their homes, tourism picks up, theater schedules kick into full gear, outdoor activities are plentiful, Trustees of Reservation properties reopen, and annual festivals return. So once again, grab your calendars, blackberries, iPhones and the like, and get ready to plan you itinerary in the Berkshires for the month of May.

BERKSHIRE HIGHLIGHTS FOR MAY

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Berkshire Family Fun for April 2012

Family Fun in the Berkshires: April 2012

April in the Berkshires (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)Spring temperatures have sprung a little early this year and the unseasonably warm weather in the past weeks has gotten people outdoors and milling about the Berkshires in anticipation of the summer season much earlier than in recent years. But now with the cooler temperatures returning, people may be thinking about retreating back inside until the summer weather is here to stay! Well think again, because there is still plenty happening inside and out around the region to keep families busy, and with a school vacation just around the corner that is music to any parent’s ears. So grab your calendars, iPhones, iPads, Google calendars, and the like and get ready to mark these dates down.

BERKSHIRE HIGHLIGHTS FOR APRIL

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Berkshire Family Fun for March 2012

New and improved and better than ever!
More Family Fun in the Berkshires

After a brief hiatus from my column, I am back, refreshed and ready to reveal Berkshire Family Fun’s new format. From now on this column can be found posted at Hilltown Families on the first Thursday of each month filled with an entire months worth of activities for the whole family. From theater, to music, to fundraising opportunities, music, museums and more, this column will try and bring you the most up-to-date list of family-friendly events in the region. As for those press releases that come to me after my Family Fun deadline, we will try our best to give them a mention in our list of weekly events. So grab your calendar and a pen, iPhone, Blackberry, etc., whatever your “keeping track of schedules” preference may be and here goes …

BERKSHIRE HIGHLIGHTS FOR MARCH

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Berkshire Family Fun: A New Year in the Berkshires

Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Berkshire County

Packing away the holiday leftovers and looking towards the new year!

After digging my way through piles of holiday leftovers — random boxes, misplaced electronics, stray decorations, miscellaneous family members, and long-forgotten party food — I emerged with the sudden urge to purge, declutter and organize my life. Call it New Years inspiration, procrastination (there’s lots of writing that should have been getting done in that time), or simply a desire to start 2012 off feeling lighter and more energized. Regardless of the hidden causes behind my massive reorganization project, it has resulted in the ability to find things easier. “Where’s my coat?” one child asked. “I believe you’ll find it in the COAT closet hanging on a COAT hook. Novel idea I know, but take a look,” I replied. We have discovered “missing” objects such as my daughters lost Halia bracelet, and the cord to a laptop computer (the cost to replace, had I done that, approximately $90) that the kids had “looked everywhere for.” The piles of mail and paperwork that had begun to take over my island have been sorted and relegated to a small basket in the front entryway, and I feel fantastic! Now if I can just organize my calendars so I will remember deadlines, I’ll be all set.

SPEAKING OF NEW YEAR’S CHANGES

Besides organizing my home, I have also made a few other changes in my life to kick off the new year. One of the most influential changes is my gratitude journal. Each day on Facebook at Renaissance Mom I post at least five things that I am grateful for. From coffee, to family members, to pellet stoves on cold winter days, it’s amazing how much there is to be thankful and it’s amazing how one’s daily perspective changes once you have taken stock of these things. In fact, I was so inspired by the feelings elicited from writing the journal that I took 30 minutes to write each of my three children a letter telling them five things about their character that I was grateful for. From one’s great big heart to another’s incredible sense of humor, and a daughter who has this amazing ability and courage to always try new things, I let them know, that although they don’t always hear it from me (sad I know), there are far more positives to say about them than negatives.

Each child responded in their own way, a hug here, a question there, and then they each tucked the note away in a secret hiding place where they could find it in the future when a little pick-me-up is needed. I also promised to write them more letters throughout the year full of more gratitude. I’m aiming for once a month, but if I only get to it quarterly, I’ll be fine with that.

ANOTHER NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION OF SORTS

I recently bought a new printer and I was browsing through my husband’s iPhone to show him how to print from it wirelessly. I happened upon a list with three brief phrases or thoughts written on it, one of which was “Food pantry/service.” Upon inquiring about the random list, Mark informed me that they were his thoughts for the new year that he had written down while visiting his father in the hospital in Alabama.

Service has always been something we have tried to ingrain in our children, and made a way of life for our family, but we have always wanted to do more, and do more together. We’ve discussed volunteering at a soup kitchen or participating in the construction of a house through Habitat for Humanity, and this year Mark and I have both put it at the top of the list to find the right cause or organization for our family.

Community members in Northern Berkshire are devoting an entire day to community service on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 16, to celebrate the “life, principles, and ideals of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.”

The day begins at 9 a.m. at St. Elizabeth’s Parish Hall in North Adams (located between Big Y and Mass MOCA) with coffee and pastries. Families are invited to help partake in community service projects for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Louison House, Salvation Army, COTY Youth Center, and Northern Berkshire Community Coalitions new Family Place, as well as help weatherize Berkshire Community Action Council homes, man can and food collection sites, and assembling personal kits, meals, or making mitten and scarfs for those in need.

Participants will return to St. Elizabeth’s at 12:30 p.m. for a free luncheon and community celebration of the Day of Service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At that time there also will be entertainment, uplifting words and the presentation of the annual Peacemaker Award to Mark Lincourt for his dedicated volunteer work in the Berkshires.

For more information, contact Kathy Keeser at Kathykeeser@gmail.com or at 413-346-7196 or Liz Boland at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at 413-663-7588.

OTHER FAMILY FUN HAPPENINGS WEEK

Saturday, Jan. 14, from 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Matrushka Toys and Gifts in Great Barrington will present “The Gingerbread Man,” a puppet play with puppeteer Christine Pierce Inglis, as part of the preschool “Mornings at Matrushka” series. According to the press release, “watching puppet plays, hearing stories and learning songs cultivates the child’s imagination, strengthens the ability to concentrate and inspires a love of language.” Matrushka Toys is located at 309 Main Street. For more information call 413-528-6911.

Also on Saturday there will be a Wee Reads “Celebrate Winter” event at the Berkshire Anthenaeum on Wendell Avenue from 10:30 a.m. to noon, where Jan Brett’s “The Mitten” will be read followed by a movie and craft. For more information call 413-499-9480, ext. 5.

Stay tuned for more family-friendly happenings in the Berkshires in next weeks column.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly Bevan McIlquham writes our bi-monthly column, Berkshire Family Fun, sharing update, events and activities for families in the Berkshires.  Kelly is a freelance writer living in Hinsdale with her husband, Mark, and three children — 12-year-old twins, Max and McKenna, and almost-10-year-old, Shea. She has had her work published in The Advocate, The Family Beat and Berkshires Week out of Berkshire County, and the former Wee Ones E-magazine. She also authors a new blog and Facebook page titled “Renaissance Mom.”  kwbevan@gmail.com — Check out Berkshire Family Fun every other Thursday.

[Photo credit: (ccl) LennyBaker]

Berkshire Family Fun: 16 Ways to Weave Family and Community Holiday Traditions Together in the Berkshires

Keeping Holiday Traditions Alive in the Berkshires

Currently my living room looks as if Christmas threw up all over it. Boxes of old decorations, more stockings than we have family members and pets combined (and that includes the three fish, cat and new puppy, Murphy), tree ornaments, Christmas villages, holiday-themed books, empty cookie tins and more lay strewn on top of couches, countertops, hardwood floors and coffee tables making it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand — writing this column. But as all three of my children have continued to remind me since the first day of December, it’s all about tradition!

ADVENTMOVIES  | FOOD | MUSIC | CHANUKAH | COOKIES

ADVENT TRADITION

The first holiday tradition I attempted to tackle this month was our unique (or maybe not so unique) way of counting down the days until Santa Claus arrives. Each year (preferably prior to Dec.1, but often occurring sometime within the first week of December) my husband drags the bags of nearly 50 holiday-themed books from the attic for me to peruse and wrap. I browse the titles, rescuing our favorites from the piles until I have 24 in front of me.

This year, I separated the books into two piles: one for my niece, Kylee, and one for us. Yearly favorites such as Olivier Dunrea’s Bear Noel, Elise Primavera’s Auntie Claus series, a version of E.E. Cummings Little Tree written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, and Patricia Rae Wolff’s A New Improved Santa made it into our pile, while extra copies of The Polar Express, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Twas the Night Before Christmas were tossed into Kylee’s, along with other 2-year-old appropriate stories that had long since been abandoned by my kids.

Then I wrapped each present in Christmas wrapping, each dated with the day of the month Dec. 1-24, each one ready to be unwrapped on its given day and read at bedtime. This tradition used to require my husband and I to take turns reading. Now McKenna, Max and Shea (ages 12, 12, and 10) alternate with Mark and I, either reading a page at a time and then passing it to the next family member, or claiming an entire book for themselves.

On Christmas Eve, the last book is always the same, though the version and illustrations may change. Twas the Night Before Christmas completes our holiday advent, and as the kids sit in their holiday pajamas, just opened a few hours earlier, all five of us (and at times it has been 20 of us, depending on which friends and family members join us for the evening) sit around the fire, candles burning and tree lights sparkling, where we recite the book (known almost by heart at this point), before sprinkling reindeer food in the backyard and heading off to bed where “visions of sugarplums dance in our heads.”

The Sheffield Historical Society will be sharing in a storytime tradition of its own this year with residents of the town on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m. when Mrs. Santa Claus will read stories by local authors to visitors at the Old Stone Store on Route 7 in Sheffield. For more information visit www.sheffieldhistory.org.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Holiday Traditions in the Berkshires

Let the Holidays Begin

Traditions abound in our family beginning with the annual Thanksgiving dinner featuring 25-plus family and friends, mint chip pie, a rousing game of left-right-center and a roundtable discussion of what everyone is thankful for. Soon the holiday books for everyday of December will be wrapped (our own take on the Christmas advent calendar), trees will be chosen, chopped and decorated, and my children’s annual Christmas Eve gift — new pajamas — will be purchased.

Berkshire County is flush with holiday celebrations, many of which have made their way into our family’s list of annual Christmas traditions, and though there are too many to mention them all in this column, here are a few of our favorites.

A TRADITION EVERYWHERE

The Nutcracker, performed by the Albany Berkshire Ballet, will be on stage Dec. 10th & 11th in Pittsfield. (Image courtesy The Colonial Theatre)

The Nutcracker” is a well-known Christmas tradition wherever you live, and for those living in the Berkshires this tradition is kept going each year as a result of the hard work and dedication of the Albany Berkshire Ballet.

The Albany Berkshire Ballet has been bringing its acclaimed production of “The Nutcracker” to audiences throughout the Northeast for over 35 years. Each year, over 600 children are chosen to perform alongside the professional dancers of the ABB in six venues — dancing for over 9,000 audience members. This year’s performances in the Berkshires will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11, at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. — For showtimes and information log onto www.berkshireballet.org or www.thecolonialtheatre.org.

TRADITIONS IN LENOX

The Santaland Diaries runs Dec. 2nd-3oth in Lenox, MA. (Image courtesy Shakespeare & Company)

Another Berkshire County holiday tradition began last year by way of the legendary Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, and I was lucky enough to partake in it with my husband and friends.

Directed by S&Co. Artistic Director Tony Simotes and starring Peter Davenport, the company presented David Sedaris’ hilarious one-man production, “The Santaland Diaries,” an occasionally subversive, alarmingly clever, engagingly poignant and always side-splittingly funny true account of Sedaris’ time spent working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s Department Store. By the end of the evening my companions and I were rolling in our seats due to the absolute hilarity of seeing this good-looking man deliver a nearly two-hour monologue onstage in his elf costume. We all vowed to return to theater next year during the holidays in hopes of partaking, once again, in our newfound holiday tradition.

This year the show returns this weekend with Simotes once again in the director’s chair and veteran S&Co. funny man Ryan Winkles tackling the role of Crumpet the Elf. The show opens Friday, Dec. 2, and runs through Dec. 30. — For more information log onto S&Co.’s website at www.shakespeare.org.

CHRISTMAS AT THE COLONIAL

From the Midwest to the Berkshires, local singer-songwriter, Mary Verdi has been bringing people together through her music for years, and for the second year in a row she will bring families together to ring in the holidays at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield with a concert titled “Christmas at the Colonial with Mary Verdi.”

The concert is set for 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, and will feature Verdi and her band, the St. Raphael’s and St. Patrick’s bell ringers from Williamstown, a children’s chorus, the Rock On guitar orchestra, Dalton Ballet Studio dancers, Tony Lee Thomas and, of course, Santa Claus. Audience members will get the opportunity to hear Verdi’s new original song, “Christmas Time,” performed, as the evening will also serve as a celebration of the official release of her new Christmas album “Christmas in the Berkshires.” Later in the concert a children’s cast of elves will take the stage to lead audience members in a heart-warming sing-a-long.

I’m so excited to tell you about this concert as I had the privilege of hanging out with Mary on many occasions, and for the last year I have been getting updates as to the status of this album. I can personally guarantee that this holiday event is sure to fill even the biggest of Scrooges with holiday cheer, and perhaps it could be the beginning of a new holiday tradition for you and your family.

Tickets may be purchased in person at the Colonial ticket office at 111 South St., by calling 413-997-4444 or online at www.thecolonialtheatre.org.

MORE HOLIDAY CHEER AT THE COLONIAL

After nearly 70 years of sitting dormant in the center of Pittsfield, The Colonial Theatre underwent a major renovation and reopened its doors to the public as a theater in 2006. Since its reopening the local theater has been known for presenting stellar family and educational programming at all times of the year. Last year for my twin’s 12th birthday we all took a family “mental health” afternoon to catch Black Violin, two violinists who combine classical music and hip-hop to present a show that is truly out of this world, at the venue. (If they ever return to the area I highly recommend you catch them in action.)

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical returns to Western MA on Dec. 4th in Pittsfield. (Image courtesy The Colonial Theatre)

On the agenda for this weekend? The Colonial is presenting a tale of firsts — a stuffed animal’s first trip in the laundry, a little girl’s first words and a Daddy’s first time dealing with his child going “boneless” — in its upcoming musical “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” coming to the Pittsfield theater on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 2 p.m. This musical, based on Mo Willems’ Caldecott Honor-winning picture book, and combines the talents of six-time Emmy Award winner Willems and Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Silversher to lovingly celebrate the heart and heartache that comes from Daddy, Trixie and Trixie’s beloved Knuffle Bunny’s visit to their local laundromat. Tickets can be purchased online at www.thecolonialtheatre.org or by calling 413-997-4444.

Another holiday tradition in the Berkshires is the annual holiday performance of Berkshire Theatre Festival’s rendition of the Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol,” and since the merger of the company with The Colonial last year to form the Berkshire Theatre Group, the performance has been moved to the Pittsfield venue. This year, patrons who attend one of the 11 scheduled performances will get an extra special treat, as the performance not only feature local residents of all ages, but also local legend James Taylor. (“I see fire and I see rain …”)

Performances are set for Dec. 17-18, 20-23, and 26-30. For more information on performance times and tickets visit The Colonial’s website.

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Berkshire Family Fun: A Prelude to the Holiday Season

Don’t Leave Us Yet Fall: Snow gives locals a jump on the winter season in the Berkshires but there is still time to squeeze out some last drops of fall!

Snow came early to the Berkshires this year and while many spent their days and nights being lulled to sleep by the terminal humming (or screeching) of their generators, my children took the opportunity to break out the snowmobiles and start the winter season early. But now with the majority of snow melted and a bit of warm weather headed our way, I’ll save a rundown of the snowmobile and skiing opportunities in the region for another column.

THAT CURIOUS LITTLE MONKEY COMES TO THE BERKSHIRES

This column is on the short side this week because I just returned from a recent trip to northeastern Massachusetts to help care for my sisters two-year-old, Kylee. Needless to say, I’m a little tired, but oh what fun it is to be an aunt. We spent time at the park and library, watched hours of Curious George DVDs, had a couple of carpet picnics and we even mixed it up a little one day and had lunch for breakfast and breakfast for lunch.

Spending that time with Kylee  was so much fun and it gave me time to observe a little bit of all of us in her. That strong stubborn streak? Compliments of myself and my daughter (and possible a cousin or two on Daddy’s side). Her adventurous side? Perhaps my boys (especially Max). Her cooking abilities (man, she can cook a great pancake and hotdog soup in her toy kitchen)? Her daddy. Her ability to spin a good joke (or a least act like anything she or anyone else does is the funniest thing in the world) definitely comes from sister (although her Uncle Mark is pretty good at that, too). And that’s not all she got from mommy … Kylee, apparently, inherited her mother’s obsession with Curious George. While my sister’s 30-plus-year-old tattered George still sits on Kylee’s bookcase, Kylee has myriad versions of the stuffed animal strewn around the house, as well as a full library of George DVDs to watch over and over and over again. Ah, to be two again.

Even if you aren’t as George obsessed as my sister and her two year old, you won’t want to miss the newest exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. On Nov. 12 the museum will unveil “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Magret and H.A. Rey”, as well as “Pop-UP! The Magical World of Movable Books,” to the public with an opening celebration from 1 to 4 p.m.

Featuring nearly 80 original drawings and preparatory dummies for Margret and H. A. Rey children’s books and documentation related to their escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, the “Curious George exhibit” will examine the parallels between the obstacles the Reys faced and the drawings that may have saved their lives.

Later that evening adults can partake in an event beginning at 5:30 and running through 7:30 p.m. that aims to interpret the role that Curious George played in safeguarding his own creators in times of danger as symbolic, Claudia Nahson, curator at the Jewish Museum, delves into the remarkable lives and works of Margret and H. A. Rey, who in 1940, fled Paris with a Curious George manuscript in their suitcase. Art and documentation related to their escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, and the parallels between the obstacles the couple faced and the drawings that may have saved their lives will be explored. Claudia Nahson is the curator of “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey.” A festive reception will follow.

The history and wonder of pop-up books will be brought to life in “The Magical World of Movable Books” exhibit featuring Barbara and Bernard Shapiro’s extensive collection of movable literature for the young and the young at heart. The exhibition will feature diverse genres, from whimsy and fantasy to the worlds of art, history and science. Published books by the Munich-based illustrator Lothar Meggandorfer (1847-1925), multimedia artist Red Grooms, and pop-up masters Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart will be on view with selected original illustrations that have made these amazing published pop-ups possible. Original book illustrations also will be on view. For more information on both exhibits visit http://www.nrm.org.

WIN A FAMILY PASS TO SEE GEORGE

The exhibit is on view through Feb. 5 and you can win a family pass to go see it!!! All you need to do is let us know at the bottom of this column what you and your children are most excited to see at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and why by next Thursday, Nov. 17, and you will be entered in a random drawing to win the passes. Be sure to check back on Friday, Nov. 18, to see if you have won, with directions on how to get your family pass.

TWO MORE EVENTS FOR THIS WEEKEND

The Milne Library in Williamstown is known for its stellar array of children’s programming and this Saturday, Nov. 12, the children’s department will do it again. At 1 p.m. the library will present a program titled “Moxie: The Dachshund of Fallingwater” featuring curator of education at Fallingwater and visiting professor, Cara Armstrong. Fallingwater is the name of a very special house that is built over a waterfall located in southwest Pennsylvania. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, designed the house for his clients, the Kaufmann family. Fallingwater was built between 1936 and 1939. It instantly became famous, and today it is a National Historic Landmark.

Armstrong will be reading aloud and discussing her children’s book “Moxie: The Dachshund of Fallingwater.” In an earlier interview, Armstrong described her book this way: “”I wanted to make Fallingwater more accessible to kids and architecture more accessible to kids. Moxie embodies the four design themes of Fallingwater — the cantilever, the cascade, the circle (or semicircle), and the horizontal. I think kids of any age will enjoy this book, even grown-up kids.” - The library is located at 1095 Main St. in Williamstown.

Also on Saturday, Nov. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Rudolf Steiner School in Great Barrington will host its 39th annual Holiday Handcraft Fair, featuring activities for children such as puppet shows, hayrides, candle-dipping, a country store, raffles and more. The school is located on West Plain Road in Great Barrington. For more information call 413-528-4015 or visit www.gbrss.org.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Halloween in the Berkshires

Fall is “Boo”tiful in the Berkshires

Last weekend I broke out my gloves, hat and favorite cozy fleece, grabbed the travel mug filled to the rim with a delectable hazelnut blend, and prepared myself for a full day of football at Bill Laston Memorial Park in Lanesboro. The air was crisp and clean, the brilliant foliage filled the landscape and eased my mind, and the energy on the gridiron was contagious. Ahh, I love fall in the Berkshires.

Highlights in this week’s Berkshire Family Fun:

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Berkshire Family Fun: Berkshire County’s Hidden Treasures

Knowing Where to Look: Berkshire County’s Hidden Treasures

Using cardboard, sculptor James Grashow created a rainbow of fish swimming through Kidspace at MASS MoCA with their mermaid friend (Under the Corrugated Sea).

As the school year slowly revs into full gear, the number of family-friendly events seems to decline in the Berkshires, but that is only true if you don’t know where to look. Hidden behind the doors of local museum, barns, year-round theaters and historical venues, families can find a treasure trove of activities guaranteed to please even the most finicky of family members. From geckos to sea creatures, Martians and stories of the Ku Klux Klan, this month the region has some truly eclectic offerings:

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Berkshire Family Fun: Autumn Adventures in the Berkshires

Let the Fall Festivities Begin

Family-friendly adventure parks are a great way to spend an Autumn day in the Berkshires. (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

Everything happens for a reason: I am a firm believer in that. I don’t believe it is coincidence that I left a full-time editorial job to freelance because I wanted to be more available for my kids just months before my son, Max, suffered a major concussion that required my full-time attention. Since Labor Day I have spent time researching the affects of concussions in children, and shuttling Max to doctors offices for evaluations that have revealed his brain was jostled much more forcefully than we had originally thought. I have become well-acquainted with the school nurse, and have helped more with homework that I have had to in years. Most recently, my husband and I attended a meeting with Max’s teachers where a decision was made for him to attend school half-days, so know I will assume the role of nursemaid and part-time tutor. But it will all be worth it if it helps Max’s brain heal quicker, and if he finally stops walking around in circles trying to remember what it was he was doing.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

When Max first got sacked and zigzagged with wobbly legs to the sideline we joked a little. “He sure got his bell rung good!” But as he began to realize that his headache wasn’t going away and he was having difficulty with simple math problems, couldn’t follow simple directions and couldn’t remember old teachers’ names or when my birthday was (not easy to forget — Feb. 29, Leap Year — and he couldn’t even remember what Leap Year was), we became more concerned, thus beginning our research. In my studies I learned that more than 400,000 kids a year are sent to emergency rooms each year for serious brain injuries, usually as a result of car accidents, playground falls or sports-related injuries. I also learned that practitioners have been doing a lot of work in recent years to figure out suggested protocol for school personnel, coaches, parents, etc. to follow after a child suffers from a concussion, because unlike most other injuries, the brain heals more slowly in children than in adults, and the long-term effects of repeated head trauma in children are pretty scary. I also learned that kids with concussions resemble those with ADHD and that those with ADHD who suffer from concussions have even more difficulty.

If you are interested in learning more about the latest research on concussion prevention, management and consequences of head injuries, with a particular focus on youth and collegiate sports, Dr. Robert Cantu and Christopher Nowinski will present “The Impact of Concussions in Youth and College Sports” at 8 p.m. tonight, Sept. 22, at the ’62 Center on the Williams College campus in Williamstown. The event is free, but reservations are required; call 413-597-2425 for details.

I highly recommend this event for anyone who has children involved in sports, especially those sports physical enough to require a helmet like football, hockey and lacrosse.

MUPPETS TAKE WILLIAMSTOWN

Courtesy Photo

Jim Henson’s Muppets have been entertaining children around the world for over 50 years through television and movie programs such as Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth and more. In celebration of the late Muppet creator’s 75th birthday (Sept. 24) Images Cinema in Williamstown has brought a weeklong Henson/Muppet-inspired festival to the area titled Muppets, Music, & Magic: Jim Henson’s Legacy. The festival began Monday but will continue to run through Sunday, Sept. 25. I missed one of my all-time favorites, the Muppet’s remaking of The Frog Prince, check out the schedule below so you don’t miss a favorite of yours.

On the schedule for the next few days:

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Berkshire Family Fun: Back-to-School in the Berkshires

Fall Into the Season with a BANG

2011-12 Football Season starts off with a BANG! (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

The 2011-12 football season started off with a BANG at our house this year — literally — after my son, Max, attended a Labor Day football jamboree and saw stars (or a least a bright flash of light as he describes it) after being tackled by a 7-foot, 200-pound mammoth of a player. OK, according to Max the kid was not much bigger than his 5-foot, 85-pound frame, but he looked big and as my son jumped to intercept a pass this kid laid him out. Max got up a little slow and unsteady on his feet after the hit and headed to the sideline where he stayed for the remainder of the jamboree. We spent Tuesday morning at the doctor’s office, and until we can get an appointment with a neurologist to further explore the extent of the concussion Max is grounded — again, literally. No jumping, running, skipping, sneezing, video-game playing, eye-rolling, head shaking, brother teasing … Nada! “How bad can that be?” you say. I’ll let you know. I’m thinking this very active, ADHD child who thrives on football and activity is not going to fair too well with these restrictions, but I’ve been wrong before. Let’s just hope we’ve kept the brain rattling to a minimum.

SPEAKING OF STARS

Hopkins Observatory (courtesy photo)

You don’t need to suffer a concussion to see stars up close and personal in the Berkshires this fall. I promised you I’d find out more about the Milham Planetarium’s fall schedule (located in the Old Hopkins Observatory on the Williams College campus in Williamstown), and I have. According to the college’s website astronomy students at the college will host free shows for the public on select Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m. through Dec. 9. Dates are as follows: Sept. 16, 23 and 30; Oct. 14, 21 and 28; Nov. 4, 11 and 18; and Dec. 2 and 9.

During these evening shows audiences will be treated to shows from the high-precision Zeiss Skymaster ZKP3/B opto-mechanical planetarium projector, installed at the college in April 2005. The Zeiss Skymaster is capable of demonstrating phenomena including: retrograde motions of the planets, phases of the moon, the varying temperatures/colors of stars, locations of neighboring galaxies, the mythological figures and zodiacal signs ascribed to constellations, the Southern Hemisphere’s sky, comets, artificial satellites and much more. The Hopkins Observatory, built in 1836-1838 by the first professor of astronomy at Williams College, Albert Hopkins, is the oldest extant observatory in the United States. Shows will last about 50 minutes.

For reservations (recommended) contact Michele Rech at 413-597-2188 or send an e-mail to mcr4@williams.edu. Others will be admitted as space permits. Large groups should call for special appointments.

SCHOOL DAYZ

Hilltown Hoot (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

The kids headed back to school last week without much pomp and circumstance and returned home with a mountain of homework — for me! Emergency cards, general information forms, questionnaires to fill out, school handbooks to read and sign ensuring that you actually read them … Ugh! While my kids chilled out watching television after a “taxing” first day (Yeah, right), I spent the majority of the evening with carpel tunnel and a giant migraine.

Among those forms were the first of the fundraisers peddling candles and wrapping paper, calendars and must-have seasonal decorations, all of which I do not need. But there is one fundraising flier that caught my eye and made me smile, and in my opinion, is the way a fundraiser should be done. For the past five years local Central Berkshire Regional School District parents Abe and Lisa Guthrie (Yes, they are related to THOSE Guthries famous Berkshire Guthries Woody and Arlo) have organized the annual Hilltown Hoot, a “fun-raiser” to benefit local schools. Originally the fundraiser was for the Becket/Washington Elementary School in the district, but last year the two decided the daylong music festival had been so successful in past years that they wanted to extend the benefits to all of the schools in the district, and this year is no different. On Sunday, Sept. 18, from noon to 7 p.m. local bands and performers, vendors, and more will converge on Washington Town Park (Route 8, Washington, MA) for an afternoon of fun, food, children’s activities, MUSIC and more. Some of the local (and world-renowned) talent includes students from the Becket Washington School Band, Terry a la Berry & Friends, Hilltown Zydeco String Band, Modest Me, Ryan Blessing, Annie Guthrie, Jordan Weller, Xavier (a band consisting of members Abe Guthrie, Tim Sears, Randy Cormier and Dan Teichert that started playing at our school dances went to school the district) and none other than Arlo Guthrie himself.

Tickets can be purchased in advanced for a discounted price or at the gate. For more information on where to purchase tickets and for a complete schedule of events visit www.hilltownhoot.com.

MORE MUSIC

The Washington Town Park isn’t the only place Berkshirites can find music this fall, Central Berkshire Music Together, the internationally recognized music and movement program for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and the adults who love them, is offering free demonstration classes today, Sept. 8, and Saturday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m. at South Congregational Church located on South Street in Pittsfield, and on Friday, Sept. 9, at First Congregational Church on Main Street in Williamstown, to prepare for the upcoming 10-week fall semester.

My twins began going to these classes in preschool and Shea, who was still in an infant car seat at the time, attended, too, and I swear that is where he got his rhythm. To this day, he loves to dance and sing, and has more of that “groove thang” than anyone else in the house. Thank you Sandy! For more information visit www.centralberkshiremusictogether.com or call 413-637-1265.

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Berkshire Family Fun: One Last Hurrah Before Back-to-School

End of August in the Berkshires

Music fills the air in the Berkshires this week ranging from free lawn concerts in North Adams and Lenox, to on stage in Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington. (Photo source: Mass Moca; Roomful of Teeth)

The natives are getting restless. The war cries signaling that two brothers have had enough “together time” this summer resonates throughout the house. A drum beats slowly and methodically in my head as I reach for the bottle of ibuprofen to stave off yet another kid-induced migraine — peace drums here, not a chance — while I ready myself to intervene in the latest battle between these warrior brothers: “I will not bet you a dollar that I can be quiet all the way home because you didn’t pay me the dollar last time I won a bet” … “Well, I didn’t pay you because you cheated.” … “I didn’t cheat, a yawn doesn’t count as talking.” … “Well, two years ago when I yawned during the bet you counted that as talking.” … And on and on it goes. And then the smoke signals appear from my seething 12-year-old daughter’s ears (her summer has been spent either loving me or hating me, there seems to be no in between these days), and for the moment she does not like the fact that I have asked her to change out of the short-shorts that are slowly creeping up her backside because she has grown over two inches since they were purchased in May.

This can only mean one thing: TIME FOR THE KIDDOS TO HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL! You know what else signals the end of summer and the beginning of another school year? The fact that family-friendly activities that once filled our summer calendars are slowly coming to an end. But there’s still more year-round fun to be had in the Berkshires and I am on a mission to find it all. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

STILL TIME TO BBQ

Start your weekend off right with a family-friendly outdoor barbecue where kids can play and parents can socialize. Berkshire South Regional Community Center on Crissey Road in Great Barrington is hosting a barbecue this Friday, Aug. 26, from 5:30-7 p.m., in their outdoor courtyard complete with hotdogs, hamburgers and more. For a small fee family members can grab a bite to eat, spend some time on the play structure or bounce around in the bouncy castle. All one has to do is sign up at the front desk or call 413-528-2810. For more information visit www.berkshiresouth.org.

Can’t make the barbecue? The community center will also host a Community Supper Mon, Aug. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the lounge and meeting room. This supper, with seatings at 5 and 6:15 p.m. is free (monetary donations or donations of nonperishable foods are excepted) and features a fabulous meal prepared by some of the Berkshires’ finest chefs, including Naji Nejaime (Naji’s), chefs from the Route 7 Grill, Annie Dinan (Dinan with Annie), Jim Gop (Guido’s), Michael Ballon (Castle Street Café), the Berkshire CoOp, Tommy Lee, and the Masiero Brothers (Guido’s and Baba Louie’s). To reserve a seat call 413-528-2810, ext. 10.

OUTDOOR MOVIES

If the increased wearing of sweatshirts and layers are any indication that the end of summer is near then so, too, are the last of the outdoor movies. Today, Thursday, Aug. 25, at 5:30 p.m. the Norman Rockwell Museum will screen “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” in Stockbridge. For more information go online to www.nrm.org.

Then on Friday, Aug. 26, the town of Adams will celebrate Christmas in August with activities and a visit from Santa beginning at 6 p.m., followed by an 8 p.m. screening of “The Polar Express.” For more information visit www.celebrateadams.com.

The last of the movies on the summer schedule is set for Sunday, Aug. 28, on the Dalton CRA lawn, Main Street, Dalton, where a screening of “The Incredibles” will help celebrate Back to School Movie Night. The movie will begin at 8 p.m. Visit www.daltoncra.org for more details.

HISTORY IN THE AREA

If you have read any of my previous columns you will know that I’ve had a little infatuation lately with teaching my children about local history and, surprisingly, I have found that a cemetery is a treasure trove of historical information. Apparently the members of VOICES Theatre Company have found another use for the area’s cemeteries: performance space. Tonight Aug. 25, and also on Sept. 1 and 8 the company will perform “Shades of the Revolution: A Ghostly Re-Enactment of People, Places and Scenes from Pittsfield’s Past,” with actors dramatizing key scenes from Pittsfield’s colorful early history at the Wahconah Street Cemetery at 7 p.m. There is a small fee, but it sounds intriguing, for lack of a better word. For more information 413-442-1793 or pittsfield250.com for more information.

GOTTA LOVE ACTIVITIES FOR FREE

I love the fact that there is so much to do around the Berkshires that will entertain the entire family while leaving your bank accounts virtually untouched. I’ve discussed various free hiking opportunities throughout the Berkshires, and let me tell you the small price of a $2 parking pass was definitely worth the trip we took to Natural Bridge Stage Park in North Adams last week.

From local parks, to free community days at local museums and venues, to a plethora of art galleries and historic sites throughout the area, there is never a lack of something to do at anytime of the year. And if I wasn’t heading to Boston today for a much-needed parental vacation with my husband I would definitely be capitalizing on one of these free opportunities, Friday, Aug. 26, with my family. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield will offer free admission as part of the highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays. With myriad opportunities to view a variety of geckos, create an invention of one’s own, partake in an archeological dig, journey under the sea (lake, stream or river) and more, this is definitely a free activity you won’t want to miss. For more information visit www.berkshiremuseum.org or call 413-443-7171.

Another free activity for families, besides a hike on any one of the trails leading up to Mount Greylock’s summit (I still haven’t gotten to the Cascades in the Greylock Reservation, but summers not over yet), is the Aug. 31 “Guide to Understanding the Stars” with Kevin Collins beginning at Bascom Lodge atop the mountain at 6 p.m. Sounds pretty interesting, if the forecast is for clear skies that night our family just might take a short vertical drive that evening. Call 413-743-1591 for more details.

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Berkshire Family Fun: A Few More Weeks of Summer

Back to reality? Not yet

Feeding the animals at Whitney’s Farm Market in Cheshire, MA (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

I have been spoiled this summer. I took a five-day family trip to Alabama. I’ve been to Hampton Beach twice for day trips and took a brief road trip to Cape Cod to pick up a sea- and homesick 12-year-old boy. I’ve spent a few days enjoying my childhood vacation haunt, York Beach, Maine, with my mom, sister, our kids, plus one extra (he’s like one of the family) and I’m even sneaking away with my husband for a few days in Boston for some much-needed grown-up time. Did I leave out that we were given free preseason Patriots tickets for today? But even better than all that is the fact that I’ve gotten to enjoy an absolutely gorgeous season in the Berkshires with my husband and children, and though the summer is slowly winding down, I’m not ready to return to reality quite yet. So out with the back-to-school fliers and trips to chain stores for supplies, I’m taking a few more weeks to simply explore and enjoy the Berkshire surroundings with my family — and you can, too.

A RARE DAY WITH ONE

We’ve been introduced to Glendale Falls in Middlefield this summer and thanks to a rare single-kid day last week, my youngest, Shea, was finally introduced to the beauty that is Wahconah Falls in Dalton. But the falls wasn’t the only highlight to our Wednesday last week. The day began with Shea and I heading to the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, a 11.2-mile trail that runs from Lanesborough to Adams, with our bikes, beginning at the entrance of the Berkshire Mall. Despite a few grumbles from Shea in the first mile or so, we made the approximate 3.5-mile jaunt up the trail to Farnum’s Road in Cheshire and enjoyed a snack and a beverage on a bench overlooking Cheshire Lake. After a breeze sent a nauseating whiff of goose poop our way, Shea decided it was a good time to hop on our bikes and head back to the car, but I had a surprise in store for him.

After a little over a mile or so (before any complaining arose), I veered off the trail towards Route 8 and made a stop a Whitney’s Farm Market for lunch and a few farm-fresh veggies. (Sorry folks, I can’t remember the name of the road that you take before you hit Route 8, but you can see Whitney’s from the trail.) Shea and I ventured inside and decided on some fresh tomatoes, apples, salsa and guacamole for our dinner that night and a delectable roast beef, lettuce, tomato, and avocado Panini on herbed bread to savor at the picnic tables. Yum!

After a relaxing lunch, Shea fed a few of the animals at the petting zoo and climbed around on the wooden playground ship for a while, while I sat back and watched parents chase their children up and down the slides and wooden tractor structure. At one point I spent a few scary seconds scanning furiously around the playground to help a grandmother locate a “misplaced” grandchild. Note to readers: If you take a trip to Whitney’s and find yourself in a similar predicament, the lower-level of the boat structure makes for a good hiding place.

Shea and I wrapped up our trip by biking back to our car, grabbing Dad at his office and stopping by Wahconah Falls off of Route 9 in Dalton to introduce our poor neglected son to one of the area’s natural wonders. It was a rare occasion to spend this day with only one child, but it is something Shea and I will surely make time for again.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Staycation in the Berkshires

Plan Your Staycation in the Berkshires

At Glendale Falls in Middlefield, spent an hour climbing the different levels while frolicking in the little pools along the way. (Photo credit: Kelly McIlquham)

Sitting on our friends’ deck overlooking Lake Ashmere last week, my husband and I (and two of our three children) observed the most spectacular sunset. “Why would anyone want to leave the Berkshires in the summer?” Mark asked as we sat fascinated by the view before us. The silence that followed reinforced the fact that none of us had a plausible answer to his question. Beats me, the silence seemed to be saying. Mark repeated that sentiment again as we sat outside sipping cocktails with another family of friends at my parent’s lake house later that week while the kids splashed in the lake, while sitting on our porch enjoying a morning cup of joe this weekend, and then once again this past Sunday when we took a drive to nearby Middlefield to experience Glendale Falls for the first time. And it’s probably not the last time we will hear these words this summer (or this fall for that matter). The Berkshires is a treasure trove of possibilities for the whole family, which is why Mark and I decided to plan a “staycation” in the area for the upcoming weeks. The best part about it … because we live right here within the beautiful Berkshires we don’t have to plan our staycation for any particular week, we can spread it out over time, ensuring that we get our money and our time’s worth.

‘FALLING’ FOR THE AREA

I know Middlefield, and thus Glendale Falls, is not in the Berkshires but for those in the central Berkshire it is only a mere 15 to 20 minute excursion to the Trustees of Reservation property that will provide you with a free (minus the tank of gas) afternoon of views, swimming and family togetherness not to missed. This was the first stop on our relatively unplanned staycation. The falls were relatively easy to find and it was a mere 10-minute drive from our home in Hinsdale. For those coming from the Pittsfield area, take Route 8 towards Dalton and follow it into Hinsdale until you hit Route 143. Follow Route 143 through Hinsdale and Peru and into Worthington to River Road (approximately a mile after the Peru/Worthington town line on the right). Take a right onto River Road and follow the winding route along the Westfield River for approximately 5.6 miles taking a right onto Cartwright Rd. (after the “1990” bridge). Follow the road uphill for a little less than a mile until you see signs for the falls and the parking lot on the right. We found the falls without any problems and spent an hour climbing the different levels, frolicking in the little pools along the way and Max was even brave enough to stick his head under one of the mini-falls to mug for a photo. The views were absolutely incredible and the entire family agreed that return trips in the fall to take in the foliage and a picnic, and the spring to see the falls in all its glory after the snow melts were a must.

Glendale Falls is not the only waterfall worth seeing in the area. One of my favorites, especially in the winter when its all iced over, is Wahconah Falls in Dalton, which my youngest son just informed me he doesn’t remember ever going to. We will have to remedy that this week, maybe with a picnic dinner and LOTS of bug spray — it is in a very remote woodsy area like most of these falls. To find it: Take Route 9 east from Pittsfield through Dalton. Take a right onto Wahconah Falls Road (if you enter Windsor you have gone too far). When the road forks, keep right to get to the parking area. Follow the wide, well-worn path to the falls.

A few other waterfalls on our list this summer — hopefully we will make it to most of them — are the Cascades near Mount Greylock, Bash Bish Falls in Mount Washington, and Umpachene Falls in Mill River.

How to get there …

The Cascades: From Pittsfield. Follow Route 8 to Route 2 West in North Adams. About one mile past Hillside Cemetery, turn left onto Marion Avenue. Park your car and follow the Cascades Trail, a short, beautiful river walk following the Notch Brook to the falls. The entire hike takes about an hour and a half and is a mild hike, easy enough for even the most inexperienced of hikers.

Bash Bish Falls: From Great Barrington take Route 23 west to Egremont, then take Route 41 south to Mt. Washington Road. Follow signs to the parking area for Bash Bish Falls. Visitors can enjoy the falls from above (follow trail to left of parking lot), but to enjoy the picturesque view from below take the steep trail to the right of the parking area, an approximate half-mile walk to the base of the falls.

Umpachene Falls: From Route 7 in the center of Sheffield, follow Maple Avenue east. After a short distance, Maple Avenue turns into County Road. Follow for approximately 5.4 miles, then take a right onto Mill River Great Barrington Road. Follow this road for 1.7 miles to the end and take a right onto Mill River Southfield Road. At the end of Mill River Southfield Road take a left onto Clayton Mill River Road for a little over a mile then take a left onto Umpachene Falls Road. Cross the small bridge over the Mill River and look to the right for the entrance to the park.

Note: Do you know of any hidden waterfalls in Berkshire County or along its boarders? Leave a Comment below and let us know. And don’t forget to bring your camera when visiting any of the above locations.

CRAWLY CREATURES

Leaftailed Gecko (Photo credit: Joe McDonald)

Most kids love anything of a creepy, crawly and often slithering nature and this summer the Berkshire Museum is luring young visitors to its galleries with its current exhibit “Geckos: Tails to Toepads,” a definite possibility for the staycation agenda. All I have to do is grab one of those free family passes from our local library and we have another low-cost family afternoon full of reptilian fun! The interactive exhibit runs through Sept. 18 and includes 14 species of geckos from the New Caledonian giant gecko to the smaller neon varieties found is Madagascar. While there we will probably head down to the basement-level aquarium where the kids still love to explore in the touch tank and meander threw the tanks of various creatures that find their homes in the waters of the world. My kids also love to spend a little time in the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation where visitors are invited to invent their own way to make chores easier and build a model, solve puzzles and brain teasers, hunt for innovations of yesterday and today in “Williams Stanley’s study” and more.

To learn more about all that the Berkshire Museum has to offer visit www.berkshiremuseum.org.

DANCE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out Performances in Becket, MA. (Courtesy Photo)

OK, this might not sound like a lot of fun for the non-dance enthusiast, but there’s got to be something to the experience if even my husband and two sons don’t balk at returning to Jacob’s Pillow Festival’s Inside/Out outdoor theater space, the Marcia and Seymour Simon Performance Space, in Becket. Inside/Out offers free performances by emerging and established dance companies, sneak previews, and presentations by dancers of The School at Jacob’s Pillow every Wednesday through Saturday at 6:15 p.m. during the festival season. Families can enjoy anything from hip-hop and jazz, to ballet and contemporary dance performances at the space with each performance lasting only an hour — the perfect dose of dance for children of all ages. Better yet, children are welcome to move about freely throughout the area as long as those don’t disturb those who have chosen to come to the festival childfree. The spot is also ideal for picnicking, so be sure to bring a picnic basket filled with goodies for dinner. Note to parents: A bottle of wine shared with friends tops off the experience nicely.

Upcoming Inside/Out performances include:

For a complete schedule of Inside/Out performances visit www.jacobspillow.org.

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Berkshire Family Fun: July in the Berkshires of Western MA

The Fun Just Goes On and On in the Berkshires!

An outdoor theater performance of  the classic fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” previews on July 18th & 19th, 2011 at The Mount in Lenox, MA.(Photo credit: David Dashiell)

A recent five-day trip to Alabama had me counting down the minutes until an airplane would take me back to my awaiting Hyundai at Bradley Airport where I could drive the brief hour and twenty minute journey home. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the fact that I was with the in-laws, but Alabama definitely wasn’t for me. My husband, the kids and I stayed in the Tuscaloosa area, home of the Crimson Tide, and though the landscape was prettier than I expected (other than a few days hanging out on Lake Tuscaloosa and a amazing backstage tour of the Bryant-Denny football stadium, locker room and all, at the University of Alabama, the major highlight of our trip) there wasn’t a whole lot to do… and if there was, it was too darn hot to muster up the energy to do any of it. We did get to spend time with family that we don’t get to see often (which was nice), and a trip to Alabama Adventure, a water/adventure park in Birmingham by brother-in-law describes as the “Three Flags” of Alabama (as opposed to Six Flags up here), but I would take the Berkshires over Alabama any day (unless I was able to score some prime seats for a football game in that majestic UofA stadium).

Adventure in the Berkshires

We may not have Alabama Adventure or Six Flags, but the Berkshires does boast a number of adventure parks of its own. Bousquet in Pittsfield opened it’s new aerial adventure park earlier this summer with three challenge courses at varying difficulty levels consisting of over forty elements that range from low-to-the-ground beginner courses to expert courses hanging thirty feet in the air! The winter ski area also offers a small water park with three giant waterslides and an activity pool with three small pools of its own, mini-golf, go-karts, a climbing wall, bungy trampoline, a zip line and more to entertain all of its summer patrons. This is a destination guaranteed to provide hours of fun for family members of all ages. Trust me! We have spent many an hour there during summers past. For more information go to www.bousquets.com.

Another “winter ski area turned summer fun destination” is Jiminy Peak in Hancock. The area got a jump on Bousquet installing its aerial adventure park a year earlier with five different courses of varying levels and over 70 elements. I tried this course out with an employee and the owner of Absolutely Experiential the local company that designed and built the course last year and almost suffered from heat exhaustion when I attempted the most difficult course on my second try. I made it, but it wasn’t pretty when I almost tossed my breakfast on one of the final platforms. Lucky for me I didn’t eat any breakfast that day. Note to readers: Go easy on yourself, no matter what course you choose it is sure to unleash your inner-adventurer and provide you with hours of entertainment (and exercise). Like Bousquet, Jiminy also has a number of other activities at its mountain adventure park to tempt the risk-takers and those less adventurous types, including a mountain coaster, alpine slide, giant swing, climbing wall, spider web inflatable slide, kids climb . Need I go on? For more information on all that Jiminy has to offer including mountain biking and hiking opportunities visit www.jiminypeak.com.

The last of the adventure parks in the area can be found at Catamount in South Egremont and Hillsdale, N.Y. Catamount is the largest of the area’s adventure parks with eleven courses, 162 platforms and over 40 zip lines. The park even features two, 2000-foot zip lines. Want to find out more? Let your typing fingers take you www.catamounttrees.com.


DRUMMING UP FUN

My 9-year-old son is an avid drummer and periodically he will head up to his room to begin a chore and end up lost in the rhythm in his head as it pours LOUDLY out of his drumsticks and throughout the house. It is my experience that drums seem to fascinate young children in general, so here are a few upcoming opportunities for families to follow a beat of their own:

On Mondays at 6 p.m. at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts (28 Renne Ave. in Pittsfield) parents and mature teens are invited to participate in an Afro-Caribbean and West African Hand Drumming class with Aimee Gelinas of Gaia Roots. Participants with experience drumming through the use of traditional instruments such as the conga, djembe, djun djun, clave, cascara, bell and shekere. All skill levels are welcome. Classes are drop in. For more information call 413-499-9348.

Another drumming program, offered in conjunction with the Adams Free Library‘s youth summer reading program, is Otha Day’s “Drum to the Beat” program set for Thursday, July 14, at 6 p.m. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Day when I was writing a story last year about the healing power of drum circles and I can tell you he is one amazing and inspiring man. Day is an accomplished pianist who experienced a stroke a number of years ago. Against all odds he turned to drumming to fulfill his musical needs because his fingers no longer glided gracefully across the ivory keys, something that had been a way of life for him for years. Within a few weeks weeks of drumming though Day was nearly back to 100 percent physically and mentally, and when he experienced a second stroke soon after, he turned to drumming once again and was up, moving around and back to normal within a couple of weeks. That drumming led to Day’s exploration into, and later leading of, drum circles that have been used to encourage communication, community and creativity, to foster connections, cooperation and collaboration and to promote stress reduction and a healthy lifestyle. Day now takes his drum circles around the county to introduce community members to his practice, as well as to entertain and bring communities together. For more information about Otha Day’s appearance in Adams call 413-743-8345. To learn more about Otha Day and his drum circles log onto www.drumtothebeat.com.


MORE LIBRARY EVENTS

While midnight showings of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2″ at the Triplex (Great Barrington) and the Beacon Cinema (Pittsfield) will celebrate the release of the last of the Harry Potter film legacy, tonight Thursday, July 14, visitors to the Lenox Library can experience all things Harry Potter at the library’s Harry Potter event from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The evening’s activities will feature a Quidditch demonstration, tour of Hogwarts, Honeydukes candy sale, original shadow puppet play produced by Hogwarts students, owl-drawing demonstration and more. The library is located at 18 Main St. in Lenox. Call 413-637-0197 for more details.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Summer of Art, History, Movies and More

Plenty to Keep You Busy in the Berkshires this Summer

Berkshire Theatre Company will present “Hansel and Gretel’s Grimm Tale” at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, beginning July 6 and running through July 16, 2011.

Though there were a plethora of activities in Berkshire County this week I couldn’t resist the chance to sneak away to the northeastern coast of Massachusetts with my daughter McKenna to grab a little QT with my niece Kylee and my sister Tiffany. Better yet I got to spend some much needed “Mom and Kenna time” and dip my toes in the frigid ocean waters at nearby Hampton Beach while Kenna unsuccessfully attempted to body surf. But now we have returned and with the summer vacation months ahead we will be looking for anything and everything in the area to keep us busy.

LIBRARY FUN FOR ALL AGES

Summertime is all about the libraries once again, with local libraries serving up a variety of summer reading incentive programs and entertainment for all. Today, Thursday, June 30, libraries from South to North Berkshire County will have a little something for everyone. Beginning at 11 a.m. the Lenox Library will take visitors on an animal adventure with the Jungle Encounters traveling zoo, featuring six exotic animals from around the world. Find out more by calling 413-637-0197, ext. 105. Then at 1 p.m. families can head on over to the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield where the summer reading program will feature a performance by Len Gerwick, who will present “Aesop’s Fables,” a puppet show for children ages 4 and up which will be followed by a discussion of each fables’ moral message. Call 413-499-9480, ext. 5, for more information. Our last library stop of the day will end at the Adams Free Library at 6 p.m. where Don Jordan’s Nutshell Playhouse will present “Pirates,” a swashbuckling adventure featuring bold buccaneers, a mysterious map with a riddle, cursed treasure, a visit to an island that you can’t see, a pirate ghost and a magical journey to the bottom of the sea. The fun begins at 6 p.m. Call 413-743-8345.

A SUMMER OF ART

MOMENTS House in Pittsfield is a nonprofit organization working to open a facility to benefit all Berkshire County families living with cancer. This summer families can help the cause by attending one of the organizations “Art with Heart” programs at Chapters Bookstore in Pittsfield where children will create art projects that will be given to cancer patients after their treatments to brighten their days. The art programs take place every first Saturday of the month throughout the summer from 10 a.m. to noon at the North Street store. The next program is scheduled for this Saturday, July 2. Admission is a suggested donation to benefit MOMENTS House.

HISTORICAL GEMS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTY

I have mentioned before in this column my desire to explore the Berkshires and discover the regions rich history with my children this summer. On Saturday, July 2, Bidwell House Museum in Monterey will celebrate a little bit of that history during its “Bidwell House Museum Township No. 1 Day,” a community celebration of Tyringham and Monterey history featuring live music by local musicians, children’s activities, pie-baking contest, antiques appraisals featuring Charles Flint of Charles Flint Antiques, author talk by local historian Bernard Drew; “Historic Stone Walls” talk and walk by Land Planner Rob Hoogs and more. The event runs from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and is free. Bidwell House is located at 100 Art School Road. More information can be found at www.bidwellhousemuseum.org.

Another one of the area’s hidden historical gems is Naumkeag located on Prospect Hill Road in Stockbridge, and on July 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. families can explore the former home of the Choate family at the Trustees of Reservation property during its “Discovery Days: Secret Spaces, Special Places.” From the water features in the garden to the cows in the pasture, the Trustees welcome the whole family to enjoy a combination of guided and self-guided activities in the special places and secret spaces of the magical 48-acre estate. Children will enjoy finding out what the young Choates did for fun in the large house, whimsical gardens and the dairy barn. Families are encouraged to bring a blanket and a picnic lunch to enjoy at the noon break between morning and afternoon activities. The day’s events are recommended for children ages 6 and older. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Visit www.ttor.org for more information.

From 11 a.m.-1 p.m. July 9 the Trustees will host another discovery day, which will focus on Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman’s World at Bartholomew’s Cobble and the Ashley House in Sheffield. This time Trustees invite families to discover the Berkshires oldest stories in a cornfield by the river once tended by Mohicans, and in the kitchen that Elizabeth Freeman walked away from on her inspired journey to freedom. Join organizers for a combination of guided and self-guided activities in the Ashley House and in surrounding fields, trails and woodlands of Bartholomew’s Cobble. Again bring a picnic lunch to enjoy during the break between morning and afternoon activities. Suggested age for the event is 6 and older, siblings welcome. Children must be accompanied by an adult. More information can be found atwww.ttor.org.

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11 Berkshire Family Fun Events this Summer

Summer Fun in the Berkshires

TICKET GIVEAWAY: Hilltown Families has two pair of tickets to giveaway to see the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats at The Colonial in Pittsfield, MA on June 11 at either 2PM and 7PM and Hilltown Families! Email hilltownfamilies@gmail.com by Thursday, June 9th at 7pm with "Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats" in the subject line and be entered to win. Winner will be emailed Friday morning. One entry per household. (Photo Courtesy The Colonial Theatre)

Raising kids is a lesson in trial and error — sometimes we parents get it right and sometimes we fail miserably. That’s all part of the unofficial oath we took when we decided to have kids in the first place. Right? “I will try the best I can not to screw up my kids, but in some cases I might have no freakin’ idea what the heck I am doing.”

Lately I have been struggling with “doing the right thing” in terms of my children, and as many of you know that is certainly an uphill battle because in some cases the right thing can’t be found in the official Parenting Handbook. It is not defined in the dictionary and any number of parents would give you any number of possible answers to your question, “What’s the right thing to do” in any given situation. Shades of gray exist in a lot of areas of this thing we call parenting, but not in this case. My inner battle was SCREAMING for a black and white answer, and surprisingly Oprah did it (doesn’t she always?).

In her final goodbye show she said something along the lines of a higher power always speaking to you — sometimes in whispers and other times its almost banging you over the head with what it has to say — and when you hear it LISTEN. My whisper, actually it was more of a rising high-pitched squeal, was telling me time was slipping away. My priorities in the last year or so were somewhat backward, and I was losing precious time with my children. My nine-year-old had classmates whose names I didn’t know. My 12-year-old son was taking to going to friends’ houses after school and wandering the local neighborhoods until we came to get him for dinner because no one was home, and his twin sister was constantly asking me to hang out — paint nails, go shopping, read with her — and in many cases I bypassed this opportunity. After all I had work to do: stories to be written, articles to be edited and papers to be laid out and proofed. But as my husband often reminds me, our kids still want to hang out with us and that won’t be the case for too much longer, so embrace it!

So I did! I gave up the editing and the laying out, the proofing, the planning and now I’m just sticking to writing. Why? Well, for one, that voice has now stopped the irritating squealing inside my head; 2. My family is the most important thing in my life and I felt like in some ways I was losing track of them; and 3. There is so much family fun to be had in the Berkshires this summer that I wanted to explore it all with my kids!

CHINESE SPECTACULAR

I’ve heard from sources at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield that one of their most popular family-friendly shows each year is the Chinese Golden Acrobats, the world’s leading Chinese acrobatic troupe, performing more than any troupe. Do you want to find out for yourself? Then swing by the South Street theater on Saturday, June 11, at 2pm or 7 p.m. to see “world-renowned impresario Danny Chang and choreographer Angela Chang combine award-winning acrobatics, traditional dance, spectacular costumes, ancient and contemporary music and theatrical techniques to present a show of breathtaking skill and spellbinding beauty.” For ticket information call The Colonial box office at 413-997-4444 or go online to www.thecolonialtheatre.org.

DAN ZANES & ELIZABETH MITCHELL

Photo courtsey MASS MoCA

A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview musician Dan Zanes  — parents you might have known him in the ‘80s as the lead singer of the Boston-based band The Del Feugos — before a children’s concert at The Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. Now he returns to area again, to MASS MoCA in North Adams to be exact, for a 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11, concert where he and Elizabeth Mitchell — the two are considered two of the most beloved artists working in children’s music today — team up for a stripped-down acoustic set that will appeal to music lovers of all ages. For ticket information visit www.massmoca.org. The museum is located at Marshall Street.

TELL ME A STORY

If you are a regular reader of this column then you’ve  probably heard me mention StoryWalks before. StoryWalks take a children’s picture book and deconstruct it into individual giant-sized pages. These pages are usually posted somewhere public — a downtown shopping area, bike path, mall — for families to read at their leisure. Sometimes they are incorporated into a single event and other times they are left up for months. The Pittsfield Wee Reads committee has become a master of the StoryWalk and this week they are presenting a baseball-themed walk featuring the book “The Baseball Counting Book”  by Barbara Barbieri McGrath. Not coincidentally, the StoryWalk, will be held at, of all places, Wahconah Park in Pittsfield a half-hour before the evening’s Colonials game. The festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. where the first 100 participants will receive a FREE copy of the book. Following the walk families are invited to stay and watch the game, but first any child at the game is invited onto the field after the National Anthem is sung to sing “Take me Out to the Ballgame.” Tickets can be purchased by contacting Sue at sdoucette@pittsfield.net or by visiting pittsfieldcolonials.com. The first pitch will be thrown at 7 p.m. Play Ball!

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Mid-Spring Brings Family Fun to the Berkshires

The Middle of Spring in the Berkshires

Join families at the Lenox Library on Saturday, May 28th to fold origami paper cranes to be sent to Japan. For kids ages 8 and older. Details below.

It is rare for me to hear the groaning (aka whining) of my three children signaling an episode of utter and complete boredom during the school year. Between sports practices and games, sleepovers and school events there is hardly time to breathe let alone gather everyone up to head out to one of the fun-filled events the county has to offer. But summer is on the way and the schedules will begin to clear so maybe, just maybe … Until then, here are some upcoming events for those of you who have already begun to here the whines.

3rd THURSDAYS ARE BACK

One of my kids’ favorite summer events is attending Pittsfield’s 3rd Thursdays — monthly events when the town shuts down North Street in Pittsfield and fills the neighborhood with music and food and various other forms of entertainment. What’s not to love? Today, May 19th, will kick off the first 3rd Thursday event of the season, from 5-8pm (and beyond for adults). The theme is “Celebrating Youth” so many of the performances will feature local kids — Youth Alive, Berkshire Music School and Taconic High School students, Berkshire Rocks, the Hillcrest drummers, the winners of the Pittsfield Youth Commission Talent Show and more! Believe me, this is one event you won’t want to miss, but if you do, you can catch another one with another theme every third Thursday of the month through October.

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Spring is Full of Family Fun in the Berkshires!

Spring Activities in the Berkshires

Williamstown Rural Lands Foundations’s annual Sheep to Shawl Festival happens on May 7th at the Rural Lands Foundation in Williamstown, MA.

Between work, soccer practices, Little League cleanups, lacrosse games and running the kids around to anywhere else they “need” to be, there is little time to enjoy the endless amount of family activities offered up in the Berkshires. But if you have a little more time on your hands, or are just crazy enough to try and schedule one more thing into your busy schedule, then here are a few for fun-filled family events for you!

DRUMS OR SHEEP? YOU CHOOSE

Here I go again … more choices. But they’re good ones to have to make. On Saturday, May 7, there are two events during the day would tempt all three of my children (it just won’t tempt all three to the same one). If I had to guess my daughter would be drawn the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundations’s annual Sheep to Shawl Festival while my youngest son would definitely choose the youth drum and percussion clinic at Jae’s Spice in Pittsfield. My other son wouldn’t probably choose either one depending on his mood and the day. Anyway … here’s the scoop. The Sheep to Shawl Festival is held at the Rural Lands Foundation on Route 7 in Williamstown, MA and features crafts, local artisans and farm animals and more with a focus on the region’s historic fleece and fiber industry. The days events begin at 11 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m. More information can be found at wrlf.org. $

The percussion clinic will be led by drum instructors from the Pittsfield Drum and Percussion Expo, including Chris Hairston of the Blue Light Jazz Trio and Aimee Gelinas, founder of Gaia Roots. The clinic is free and runs from 10 a.m. to noon at Jae’s Spice located at North St., Pittsfield. For more information log onto gaiaroots.com.

WHAT DO BUBBLES, NATIVE AMERICANS AND BLACK VIOLINS HAVE IN COMMON

They’re all part of the family-friendly events taking place on Saturday, May 14, around the area. First off from 10 to 11 a.m. Child Care of the Berkshires will offer up a “Wind and Bubbles” science workshop for children ages 2 to 5 at the Haskins Center in North Adams. It’s free but registration is required. Call 413-664-4821.

If you’d prefer drumming, music, dancing, storytelling and teepee-raising over bubbles then head up (and I mean up) to the top of Mount Greylock to Bascom Lodge for its season-opening celebration from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Find out more details at bascomlodge.net.

I’ve been excited about this next event since I saw it in The Colonial’s brochure when it came originally came out (when was that anyway?) —Black Violin. It sounds cool doesn’t it? But what is it? Black Violin is a revolutionary music group featuring two classically trained violinists and their DJ who will perform their unique blend of jazz, hip-hop, funk and classical music.

The performance begins at 2 p.m. at the South Street in Pittsfield at the Colonial theater and you can’t beat the ticket price, making Black Violin the perfect opportunity for your family to check out The Colonial. For tickets and information call or visit thecolonialtheatre.org.

NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY IN THE BERKSHIRES

There is always more to do in the Berkshires from hiking, to kayaking to visiting the myriad museums, but I can’t possibly get it all into this column or I’d be writing forever, but I have a keen interest in teaching my children about the rich history of the Berkshires so I have been on the lookout for kid-friendly historical events in the area and this one sounded pretty cool. On Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. the Stockbridge Library on Main Street in Stockbridge will be hosting a program for children and families titled “Sounding Mohican Pathways: Flute, Song and Story at the Library with Shawn Stevens & JoAnne Spies” from 11 a.m. to noon. Stevens and Spies will share Mohican stories and songs for children of all ages. The event is free, but donations are welcome. For more information call the library at 413-298-5501.

AUTHOR VISIT

When my son Max was in the fourth grade my sister, a fourth grade teacher, game him a book that all her students were reading and loving — The Lightning Thief. Max was quickly immersed in the five-book series pleading for me to take to the bookstore the moment a new book was released. Now the creator of “The Percy Jackson” series, Rick Riordan, is knee-deep in two new series “The Kane Chronicles” and “The Heroes of Olympus.” The second book of the Kane Chronicles, Throne of Fire, was released this week. Riordan has hit the road to promote it and he’s coming to a couple of towns not-too-far from the Berkshires.

His first stop in the area is on May 5 at 6 p.m. at the Manchester Elementary School sponsored by one of my favorite places, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, only about an hours drive from North Berkshire locations. Then on May 7 (after a brief trip to Brattleboro, VT) at 3 p.m. Riordan will head to the Pioneer Valley via Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley courtesy of the Odyssey Bookshop. The Manchester event costs a small fee, but that fee can be put towards the purchase of the new book. Riordan’s visit in South Hadley is free.

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Berkshire Family Fun: April Vacation Week

A School Break Survival Guide

The Frog (played by Mark Hohlstein) offers the Princess (played by Honora Toole) the ball he has retrieved from the well in Castle Hill Theatre Company’s production of ‘The Frog Prince’ set to open Wednesday, April 20, at New Stage Performing Arts Center in Pittsfield.

School vacations at home always sound like a good idea until about the third day in a row of hearing those incessant whines from your children: “I’m bored.” “There’s nothing to do.” Well, this year you have one of two choices — you can lock them in separate rooms for the week and throw away the key or you can follow this simple guide to having some fun in the Berkshires.

STEP 1: KICK OFF THE WEEK IN STYLE

Start your week off on the right foot by celebrating the first weekend of vacation with a bang. Area museums, rec centers, theaters, churches, etc. are making it easy with a plethora of activities for the family; the difficult part is going to be choosing just one.

On Friday, April 15, Barrington Stage Company kicks off the weekend with the Pittsfield Youth Commission Talent Show from 7:30-9 p.m. at the company’s Union Street theater in Pittsfield. The event gives Berkshire County youth the opportunity to showcase their many talents in a fun and safe environment. You must purchase tickets but the prices are minimal. For more info call 413-499-9348 or email mmoyborgen@pittsfieldch.com.

Next up for the weekend … On Saturday, April 16, families can choose from:

  • 1 p.m. family movie, “Twas the Night Before Easter” at the First Congregational Church in North Adams
  • Easter egg hunt at Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Williamstown (call 413-398-8700 to learn more)
  • Healthy Kids Day for families featuring Zumba, gymnastics, a scavenger hunt and face-painting from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Pittsfield YMCA
  • Sheep shearing demonstrations at Hancock Shaker Village (Route 20, Hancock) from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • International Family Film Series at Images Cinema in Williamstown featuring animated shorts “Night & Day,” “Madagascar: Carnet de Voyage,” “The Gruffalo,” “Let’s Pollute” and “The Lost Thing” beginning at 10 a.m.
  • Shakespeare & Company’s whirlwind tour through the life, times and works of Williams Shakespeare in “Shakespeare and the Language that Shaped a World,” 1 p.m. Kemble Street, Lenox
  • “Life in a Vernal Pool,” at Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield where participants will take a look at egg masses of frogs, salamanders, fairy shrimp and fingernail clams from 10 a.m.-noon (413-229-8600)
  • Norman Rockwell Museum’s “Page-Turners: Creating Handmade Art Books” where teens can design, assemble and bind their own books made from fine papers, fabrics and art supplies from 1-4 p.m in Stockbridge.

If I weren’t in Florida my children and I would probably head south to try out the Bartholomew’s Cobble event and then wander on over to one of my favorite Berkshire County Museums — the Rockwell Museum — but good luck choosing from that list. I say, run yourself silly on Saturday and then sit back and relax at home on Sunday. That’s just my recommendation.

STEP 2: RUN DON’T WALK TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARIES

I know you’ve heard this from me before, but libraries today offer some incredible FREE programming for families and during school vacations many of them tend to ramp things up. Next week is no different and it all starts at the New Lebanon, N.Y., (just over the Hancock border) with chess instruction for kids of all ages and levels. Chess begins at 6:30 p.m. The library will also offer a bingo afternoon beginning at 1 p.m. on Monday, April 18, for kids ages 5 to 12. For more information call the library, located on Route 20, at 518-794-8844.

It’s family game day from 2-4 p.m. at the Milne Public Library in Williamstown on Tuesday, April 19.

Then on Tuesday, April 19, the Milne Public Library in Williamstown will celebrate “National Hanging Out Day” (you’ve gotta love that!) with a family game afternoon. Families are invited to bring a favorite board game or borrow one of the library’s to play between 2 and 4 p.m. One of my favorites is Sorry, but if it happens to be a long rainy afternoon you might want to try one of my kids’ favorites — Monopoly. The library is located at 1095 Main Street. For more information call 413-458-5369.

Next we move on to Wednesday, April 20, where the Lenox Library, New Lebanon Library, the Milne, and the North Adams Library all have programs scheduled. Read the rest of this entry »

Early Spring Family Activities in the Berkshires

Early April in the Berkshires

Shoes  - Berkshire Family Fun

The snow is melting (finally) and if the predicted Nor’easter bypasses us this week then hopefully it will be smooth sailing through the rest of the spring. Besides the appearance of a little green (or brown as it is in my yard) another sign that spring is here is the abundance of family-friendly activities on the local calendars.

AN ADVENTURE WITH INDIANA JONES

Our family took a trip to Washington, D.C., last May and if you’ve never been, it is definitely worth putting on your bucket list. The five of us squeezed as much into our four-day trip as humanly possible — we have the holes in our shoes to prove it — and the best part of all was that all of the attractions were free. All except one of my kids favorite, of course: The Spy Museum. We don’t have a spy museum in the Berkshires but Sunday, April 3, the Clark Art Institute is featuring a lecture “In Pursuit of the Priceless: Tales from the FBI’s Real Indiana Jones.” I know a lecture may not sound like a family-friendly event, but the description has me intrigued and we may just be wandering to up North Berkshire County this weekend to check it out. The lecture will be given by former FBI special agent and best-selling author Robert K. Wittman, who will share the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities, including the 2,000-year-old golden armor that was looted from the Royal Tomb of the Lord of Sipan in Peru, the rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments and an original copy of the Bill of Rights that was stolen by a Union soldier in 1865. Seems like just the thing my kids might be interested in. The event begins at 3 p.m. and it is free. The Clark is located on South Street in Williamstown. For more information call 413-458-2303 or go online to clarkart.edu.

TELL ME A STORY

I don’t know if any of you have heard of StoryWalks, the family-friendly phenomenon that is sweeping the Northeast, but they are taking the Berkshires by storm and I can write from experience, they are so much fun. The StoryWalk Project, began in Montpelier, VT, and were created by Anne Ferguson (visit vtbikeped.org for more information). StoryWalks deconstruct well-known children’s storybooks (in very large sizes) and mount the individual pages along a familiar walking route. Some have hosted StoryWalks on the main streets of their town or village, while others host StoryWalks at a specific location with activities and treats to go along with the theme of the book. On Saturday, April 9, from 10 to 11 a.m. the Family Resource Center will host a Family Fun Time event featuring a StoryWalk with the book “Shoes” by Elizabeth Winthrop at the Haskins Center, Route 8, North Adams. The event is free. For more information call 413-664-4821.

WHERE FOR ART THOU?

The language of Shakespeare can be daunting, especially for me. Try as I might, it just confuses me, but there are two upcoming events at two opposite ends of the county that aim to make Shakespeare and his text a little less elusive to kids (and their grown-ups). First up, the annual Williamstown Elementary School Shakespeare Festival on April 8. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. and run until 8. Highlights of the event include potion-making, fencing and other Shakespeare-themed crafts and games. And get this, the WES fourth-graders will perform “Hamlet.” You go kids! The school is located on Church Street. For more information call 413-458-5707.

Read the rest of this entry »

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