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: 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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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.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Chocolate, Black History Month and More in Western MA

Baby, it’s cold (and snowy) outside

O.K. Enough already! When there is too much snow to even snowshoe in the Berkshires, I’d say we’ve had enough. But as I sit here writing this column, taking periodic glances at The Weather Channel app on my iPhone, it is clear that Mother Nature doesn’t agree with me. It seems she’ll be dumping enough snow on us this week to last through to the month of June. Let’s just hope the following family-friendly events in the area are still a go and if they are, let’s hope people can unbury themselves from the storm to attend.

EVERYTHING’S BETTER WITH CHOCOLATE

O.K. mom’s (sorry to discriminate here), but do I have an event that has your name written all over it — the Chocolate Berkshires Kickoff Party. Yes, I said chocolate and party in the same sentence, and you can bet there will be plenty of both at Chocolate Springs in Lenox on Tuesday, Feb. 8, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The event kicks off the February monthlong chocolate festival in the Berkshires. Yes, I said that, too. Let me repeat it: THE BERKSHIRES IS HAVING A MONTHLONG CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL. Chocolate Berkshires is organized by “Berkshires own Willy Wonka” Joshua Needleman of Chocolate Springs and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and, according to its website, the monthlong event’s goal is to bring “friends, neighbors, local businesses, winter visitors and likely some chocolate-loving skiers” together as they dip the Berkshire Hills into a fragrant concoction of CHOCOLATE. The kickoff party will include complimentary hot chocolate and other treats while visitors mingle with other chocolate lovers and local businesses. For more information about upcoming chocolate events visit chocolateberkshires.com.

EVEN MORE CHOCOLATE

Shirley Edgerton and members of Youth Alive are shown here at the January 2009 Inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. Youth Alive has kicked off a chocolate fundraiser in conjunction with Berkshire County’s monthlong chocolate festival to benefit the organizations Rites of Passage Empowerment Program for Girls. (Courtesy Youth Alive)

If you live in or near the Berkshires chances are you have heard of Shirley Edgerton. If you haven’t, then listen up. Shirley is the executive director of Youth Alive, a community-based performance arts program with a mission to engage participants in performance arts and educational activities, to promote positive development, to provide an opportunity to experience success and develop leadership skills, and to learn teamwork. Last spring Shirley began offering another program through Youth Alive, Inc. — Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program for Girls, an initiative designed to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescent girls into womanhood and provide them with skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent and responsible young women. In conjunction with the month long chocolate festival in the area, Youth Alive has kicked off a chocolate fundraiser where people can indulge in some of “the best chocolate fudge ever,” while supporting this program. All you have to do is order your fudge from the Mill Fudge Factory and 20% of the money from the orders will benefit and support Youth Alive. Order by midnight Feb. 9 and receive your order by Valentine’s Day. And if you have never seen the Youth Alive step, dance and drumline troupe, then make sure to bookmark their website so you can stay up-to-date on their upcoming performances.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN THE BERKSHIRES

‘Escape from Slavery: Underground Railroad,’ by Jerry Pinkney is on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge as party of the museum’s “Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney” exhibit. Pinkney’s art celebrates and brings to life the contributions of important African-American freedom fighters. The museum will be offering a “Witnessing History” performance series in conjunction with the exhibit in celebration of Black History Month. (Pinkney: Courtesy Norman Rockwell Museum)

February is Black History month and there is plenty to do in the area to commemorate the monthlong celebration and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is leading the way with their “Witnessing History” performance series. The series, presented in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition “Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney,” celebrates and brings to life the contributions of important African-American freedom fighters. The series began Jan. 29 with “I Can’t Die But Once: The Story of Harriet Tubman” and will continue at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, with “Ain’t I A Woman: The Story of Sojourner Truth” and “On God’s Green Earth a Free Woman: The Story of Elizabeth Freeman” on March 26. If children are too young to sit through one of these performances, take a trip and wander through the art of Jerry Pinkney, a master of the American picture book whose powerful, heart-warming stories reflect personal and cultural themes, and explore the African-American experience in words and pictures. ($$$)

HEADING NORTH

There are myriad playgroups and story times throughout Berkshire County, but no one does it quite the way the Family Resource Center of Northern Berkshire in North Adams does. From toddler and preschool story hours to parent discussion groups to Science Saturdays the center has a little something for every member of the family. Upcoming events include: Toddler Time story hour at the North Adams Public Library every Tuesday at 10 a.m. for children ages 1 to 3; preschool story time each Wednesday at 10 a.m. for children ages 3 to 6; Make and Take Valentine Workshop, Saturday, Feb. 5, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for children ages 5 and up at the North Adams Public Library; Parent Discussion Group, a group for parents that focuses on self-awareness, self-care and support, Wednesday, Feb. 23, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Haskins Center located at 210 State St. in North Adams (free child care, transportation and refreshments included); and from 10:30 to 11:20 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, the Science Fun for Families, a hands-on science workshop where children and their parents will explore the properties of common, everyday substances found in the kitchen! Families will have a chance to enter and win a free science book featuring science experiments they can do at home. Space is limited so call 413-662-4821 to register.

WINTER IN THE GARDEN

Who says you can’t play in the garden with nearly 5-feet of snow on the ground? Not the folks at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. The Youth Education Office at the Garden is presenting a series of Saturday family-friendly workshops throughout the winter for parents and their children. Next up: “Make Your Own Paper,” on Saturday, Feb. 12, from 1 to 3 p.m., where participants age 5 and up will learn the craft of paper-making from beginning to end and take home their own homemade paper designs. The Berkshire Botanical Garden is located at Routes 102 and 183 in Stockbridge. To register for the workshop or to learn more about upcoming programs call 413-298-3926 or go online to www.berkshirebotanical.org.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

The Family Beat will celebrate its Feb. 10 launch with a party that same day from 3 to 5 p.m. at Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield with a variety of free activities and treats for the whole family. (Courtesy Photo: Family Beat)

For the last few months at my “day job” with The Advocate (www.advocateweekly.com) my editor and I have been working furiously to get ready for the launch of our new Family Beat magazine on newsstands Thursday, Feb. 10. That day, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield we will celebrate the launch with a free family-friendly celebration with free food, free raffles, free door-prizes, free crafts and more. Also while families are there they can hit the slopes for or try the tubing hill ($$). What could be a better way to spend an afternoon? To learn more about The Family Beat visit the magazine’s Facebook page or log onto our website at www.thefamilybeat.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kelly Bevan McIlquham Berkshire Family Fun

Kelly Bevan McIlquham writes our bi-monthly column, Berkshire Family Fun, sharing update, events and activities for families in the Berkshires.  Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, a chocolate lab, a very fat cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate and the Editor of The Family Beat in the Berkshires. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her non-fiction published by Wee Ones online family magazine. When not writing or editing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com — Check out Berkshire Family Fun the first and third Thursday of each month.

A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

(Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

Three little figures resembling the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man’s offspring weave in and out of the maze of spruce, firs and pines in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Immune to cold fingers and dripping noses, the threesome separates and soon their voices, muffled by the wind, are heard shouting through the dense man-made forest, staking claim on a tree.

As their parents who have been carefully watching this ritual from a distance approach, they overhear the protests.

“No, that one’s too short,” one sibling tells the other.

“Your tree is too fat,” another comments.

The parents call for a vote. Everyone carefully mulls over the pros and cons of each tree and places their vote carefully. “This one?” the father asks when it’s all done and said. The family stands by their decision.  The child whose tree has been chosen rejoices. Once again, we have found the perfect tree.

In our family it has become a long-honored tradition to trek to various tree farms throughout Berkshire County in search of the perfect tree. From the top of Windsor Mountain to the back roads of Washington to one of our favorite little tree farms on Barker Road in Pittsfield, no farm is too far for the McIlquham family as long as the trip produces the picture-perfect Christmas tree — not too short or too tall, nor too fat or too skinny, with soft, evergreen needles releasing their pungent pine scent — and each of us gets a chance at the saw.

Last year we forewent the car ride and the trek to distances far and wide and ventured into our backyard, which just so happens to be 100-acres of forested land. During a hiking expedition earlier in the fall, McKenna and Mark had found our tree tucked neatly between another mammoth pine and a barricade of pricker bushes; but nevertheless — it was perfect.

This year, we strayed from tradition and our children were none too happy. With basketball games and practices seemingly on the schedule 24/7 and feeling a bit overloaded by the impending holidays and early deadlines at work, my husband and I were struggling to find a day, hour or second to squeeze in a trip to a tree farm or even the nearby woods. And then fate stepped in.

My husband appeared at the front door, tree in hand, cut down from our friends’ yard.

“What do you think of this one?” he asked proudly admiring the tree and himself for finding a solution to our Christmas tree woes.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him how “Charlie Brownish” his trophy tree was looking and besides, he pulled out the “Green Mama” card.

“It’s a recycled tree, honey. How much greener can you get than that?”

But our children weren’t convinced and had no problem at all telling us what they really thought.

It was too bare, too prickly, too skinny, too nontraditional, too short, too sticky and on and on they went.

“What?” Shea asked through an exasperated sigh. “We aren’t going to cut down our own tree?”

Yikes! What were we doing to Christmas? Had our stressed-out, overworked, overtired selves turned my husband and I into Grinches? I wasn’t so sure, but continued to sell the tree to my children.

After unconvincingly assuring Shea and our other two children that although we were breaking tradition we would still have the “perfect tree,” and with a promise (that we have yet to keep) that we would head into the woods at a later date to gather material for a homemade wreathe, their protests finally quieted and they half-heartedly accepted that this scraggly specimen of pine needles and wood would grace our living for the next few weeks.

Now it was time to make it ours.

My husband somehow managed to get the tree into its stand by himself and called for my help getting it into the house. As I ventured outside he tossed me a glove. “You’re going to need this,” he warned.

Let’s just say the pricker barricade in the woods last year had nothing on this tree. The razor-sharp needles grabbed at my arms and threatened to breach the leather barrier between my fingers and its assaulting branches.

We managed to wrangle it into the houses (no stitches were required) and then spent the next hour trying to find our tree’s “best angle.” Placing it in a corner helped, but the sickly looking thing must have been crowded betweens its siblings on the edge of our friends’ driveway where it previously stood because its growth had seriously been stunted on one entire side and then some. But we made due … then it was time to send my husband in for the lights.

Another hour passed, and the battle wounds my husband incurred had us questioning whether this tree would have faired better on the top of our burn pile, but our quest to turn this deadly barbed porcupine disguised as a tree into the perfect tree could not be deterred.

After the first couple of scratches and periodic “ouches” my kids quickly learned how to manipulate the branches and their ornaments (and their gloved hands) in a way that produced the least amount of blood and displayed their decorations in the best light.

With each new ornament placed on the branches of our recycled tree, it began to resemble our perfect trees from the past and soon the jagged arms that had rendered us bruised and bloodied earlier, seemed to relax and soften before our eyes. As the kids shared each ornament’s story — who’s it was, when it was received and how it ended up on our— their eyes began to sparkle as brightly as the multicolored lights on the tree and their frowns of disappointment were replaced with smiles of a tradition not forgotten.

And when the kids were done hanging the last decoration and everyone took a step back to admire the finished project, just as Linus’ decorated tree had been unveiled to his friends, so too was our perfect Christmas tree.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

 

Green Mama: A Brilliant Way to Upcycle Your Kids’ Clothes

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Solutions for the Fashionista’s in Our Lives

Thirteen-month-old Kylee knows that stripes are making a comeback this season. (Photo Credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

My niece is a mini-fashionista. She has an outfit (or two) to wear for every day of the month (at least) before my sister even has to think about running a load of wash.

Wait a minute. Strike that. Unless my little fashion-forward niece (did I mention she’s only 13 months old) wants those clothes to curdle in her hamper, there is a little washing that needs to happen — but you do get my point. Don’t you?

Kids today have clothes, clothes and more clothes; many of them more stylish than their sweat pant-wearing, jeans-buying, comfort-seeking moms and dads. The problem? Many of those clothes occupying their overfilled closets and broken bureau drawers have never seen the light of day.

Come on all you moms out there. Admit it. Most of us have donated an item or two to the Goodwill, a friend or another worthy person or charity in need of clothes for their children with the original price tags still on them. I know I bought Kylee — that’s my niece — a Patriot’s onesie that for some reason or another she never wore. (Yes, my dear sister I just outed you online!)

Not to mention the money we parents are spending on outfitting our little divas or models-in-training. And just wait until they reach their “preteen” years.

My 11-year-old twins — one boy, one girl — are all about looking stylish. My son tried on shirt after shirt after shirt before beginning middle school this fall, each time asking his twin sister, “Does this look cool?”

My daughter McKenna had me toting her all around the county to find a sporting goods store that carried basketball sneakers that were stylish enough for her newfound “divalicious” tastes. Seriously? They’re basketball sneakers for God’s sake: last year’s sneakers still looked brand-new and if they wouldn’t cause blisters or her toes to permanently curl or resemble something right out of a Chinese binding ritual I would have made her continue to wear them.

I know I’m not alone with these concerns. Our kids are growing up and out of their clothes faster than many of us parents can get our busy selves to the stores or click the mouse on to our favorite online department store. But thanks to the new online company thredUP we now have an answer to our clothing prayers.

The company established in the spring of 2009 is the brainchild of James Reinhart, Oliver Lubin and Chris Homer based in Cambridge, Mass., and advised by current Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

The company is by far one of the greenest, most environmentally-friendly solutions I’ve seen for parents looking to keep their kids clothed, in the styles (and sizes) they want all at bargain prices, too. It’s virtually free!

Here’s how it works. ThredUP eliminates (or at least significantly decreases) one’s need to head to the department stores every other month for new clothing for the ever-growing children in our lives. The company does this by offering a way to “shop” for the sizes and type of clothing you want or need for your children. Essentially the company is a one-stop second-hand store that takes the hassle out of second-hand shopping by doing the work for you. Basically, parents can exchange full boxes of kids’ clothing, in the sizes they want on the company’s website (www.thredup.com) without ever leaving the house.

Kylee making a fashion statement in her JLo-like leisure suit and snuggling with her Aunt Kelly. (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

How do they do it? Parents find other parents on the site who have the sizes they want or who want the sizes they have. Parents looking for clothing — browsing by size, season and gender — pick a box of clothes for their children from the thredUP site. (Approximately 15 articles of children’s clothing fits in each box.) Parents pay only a $5 shipping charge for the box. Parents looking to donate gently-used clothes list their clothes and sizes online and when your box is picked you send it free of charge to its new owner via thredUP’s home pick-up and delivery option. Parents also can find a favorite sender and receive notifications when they list new boxes.

This idea is absolutely brilliant. Not only are parents finding a low-cost way to keep their children in the styles they want, but there are also a number of added environmental and overall parental benefits to the system.

According to thredUP’s press packet their system helps “Keep it Green”: “Over 20 billion pounds of clothing and textiles are tossed into landfills each year,” their press release said, “ThredUP helps combat the waste, encouraging families to “upcycle” kids’ clothing.”

ThredUP also claims to eliminate the number of hours many parents spend “selling kids’ clothing one painfully tedious item at a time” via eBay or consignment stores. In just 10 minutes, without uploading pictures or leaving their couches, parents can get rid of the clothing cluttering up their hallways, closets, attics and more.

ThredUP even allows you to send care packages to military families stationed domestically or overseas.

Currently I have two garbage bags full of items that no longer fit my 9-year-old son, who also no longer fits into his older brother’s hand-me-downs. They wear the same sized shirts and in another month or two their pant sizes will be the same size, too. That can get pretty pricey, not to mention the 11-year-old fashion diva living in the room next door. With her eyes on brand-name items I need to take on more freelance work just to pay for her wardrobe or better yet, she needs to get a job!

Or we can just find another young fashionista to swap with. It won’t be long until you see my name on thredUP’s “Super Swapper” or “Top Rockstar” list.

As for my favorite little 13-month-old fashion icon … You can bet Miss Kylee that I’ll be turning your Mommy onto this site very soon.

To learn more about thredUP and how the company works visit their site at www.thredup.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

Green Mama: Get Out Of Bed You Rotten Kids!

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

No One’s Ruining My Day

We marveled at the views as our car made its way to the Mount Greylock summit and then we took the rare family photo when we got there.

Authors note: This column was originally intended be about all things “green” from learning to be more environmentally friendly to my naiveté as a parent. As knowledgeable as I think I am about parenting (from my former days as a psychotherapist and now mom of three) there are always those days when I realize just how green I still am. The following column describes one of them.

“Get out of bed you rotten kids you’re ruining my Christmas!”

Those words were spoken more than two decades ago by my mother to her two teenage daughters who, like many teens, decided to lay nestled in their beds a little longer than she would have liked one Christmas morning. Grunting and groaning, begging for “one more minute please” Tiffany and I reluctantly crawled out of bed to begin the present-opening. And as usual we ended up having a wonderful family Christmas.

My sister and I still tease our mom about the rude holiday awakening we received that year, but Sunday I found myself on the verge of yelling very similar words from the bottom of the stairs to my pre-teen 11-year-olds; just a glimpse of things to come. …

Fall has been, to say the least, chaotic. From the slow-paced, unscheduled days of summer, our family of five leapt and bounded into September with force. School, drum and guitar lessons, sports practices and games were just a few of the myriad activities that engulfed the minutes of each day, leaving little time to breathe let alone connect as a family.

I felt as if my marriage had been reduced to the occasional flirtation via text or e-mail (in between the one’s that described when and who we had to shuffle where, and what needed to be picked up at the grocery store). And physical intimacy, well that consisted merely of the high-fives we gave each other as we passed each other on the way in or out of the house.

As for the kids … As involved as I thought I was as a parent the family was so busy that I missed the fact that my son’s medication dose for ADHD had long-since stopped working because I never saw him. My husband was usually responsible for getting him where he had to be so I didn’t notice the change in his behavior until my husband went away for a few days and I was carting him all over creation by myself. Poor kid. I also had no idea who the friends were in Shea’s class that he was talking about let alone the kid whose birthday he was invited to and McKenna, well my lack of attention to detail had me missing the fact that for the entire soccer season she (and most of her teammates) had been triple folding the waistbands of their shorts so that there butt cheeks were almost hanging out. What? I guess short-shorts are back in style, but that short. Really? I probably would have noticed what had been going on if I had stopped to breathe even once in the last two months.

So, I decided to do something about it… Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: Aerial Adventure Parks in Western MA

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Never Felt Greener

Aerial Adventure Park at Jiminy Peak in Hancock, MA. (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

“We were really green today.” That’s what my daughter said to me one day early in spring after we had spent the majority of the day outside being active. We had even forgone the car that day and bicycled to and from our destination — the lake, less than a mile away.

I don’t think I’ve heard those words since. Not that we didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors this summer. How couldn’t we? The weather in the Berkshires was absolutely amazing. But much of our time (when we had time) was spent lounging on the dock or riding around in the boat dragging a skier or tuber or knee-boarder behind us.

We were active, but not the “green” active my daughter was so excited about that day. The kind of active that gets you outside, among nature and trees. The kind of active that involves hiking or biking or some other kind of physical activity that leaves you feeling refreshed and exhilarated and frankly (I know this might sound a little cheesy), but one with the outdoors.

Zipping from platform to platform whets an appetite for adventure. (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

Well last week that all changed. I spent a day with John Ireland and Lisa Conroy, the owner and director of programming and training respectively at Absolutely Experiential, a local company that designs, builds, inspects and repairs challenge courses, aerial adventure parks, and zip line canopy tours. Not sure what any of things are? Think zip lining through the trees suited up in a harness and clipped onto a belay wire: canopy tour. Or wearing that same harness and clipping into that same wire, but this time navigating a variety of obstacles like rope ladders, cargo nets and zip lines all on your own, and 10, 15 and 20 feet above the grown: aerial adventure park.

These attractions, especially the aerial adventure parks, are a fast-growing trend and I was interested in finding out what all the fuss was about. So John, Lisa and I ventured to Jiminy Peak in Hancock, MA to try out their aerial adventure park which the company installed and Jiminy opened this spring.

In meeting up with the pair, one of my first questions, obviously, was: Why are these parks suddenly cropping up all over the place?

“Kind of what has happened is Europe, they’re big in the parks and down in South America and the Islands they’re big in the canopy tour,” John said. “There’s an emergence of both the adventure parks and the canopy tours in this country, and I think it’s because people are experiencing the canopy tours down in South America and the Islands coming back and saying, ‘those are so cool,’ and then people over in Europe visiting there and experiencing the adventure parks and coming back and saying, ‘man those adventure parks are cool,’ and (the resorts, etc.) seeing this wide open market. And now they’re exploding.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: Healthy School Lunches Begin at Home

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Back-to-School Means Back to Healthy Eating for this Family

It’s just about that time again. Time for alarm clocks and protests to sleep “just one more minute.” Time for grumbles over homework and carpools to sport’s practices. Time for frazzled parents and days where the schedule dictates your life. (Cue scream.)

Yes folks, the vacation’s over. It’s back-to-school time!

Take a deep breathe and you can almost smell the nervousness, anticipation and excitement in the air. And that’s just what some parents are exuding into the environment. What about the kids?

School is a touchy subject. Everybody has an opinion — about teachers, MCAS, the abundance of homework, the lack of homework, the importance of recess, the elimination of recess and most recently, the state of school lunchrooms.

There has been a strong movement in the United States, since Mrs. Obama started her Let’s Move campaign to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, to revamp school lunch programs. In April I spoke to Josh Viertel, the president of Slow Food USA a grassroots organization that, according to its website, “envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet.” Viertel spoke to me about the organizations Time for Lunch campaign which advocates for changes in the Child Nutrition Act, the piece of legislation that is responsible for funding and establishing guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.

“School lunch administrators, nutrition directors, lunch ladies … they want to feed kids food that makes them healthy and that tastes good but they really have their hands tied because of federal funding,” Viertel said. “Schools get on average less than a dollar a day per lunch to spend on ingredients, which makes it really impossible to serve food that’s good for kids.”

Viertel and his organization members are not the only ones who headed to Washington this year to address this issue.

Rachael Ray made a trip to the Capitol in May to plead her case. In an interview with Nightline’s Cythia McFadden posted on Ray’s Yum-o.org website she commented on the importance of this bill for kid’s education: “It’s an opportunity to really level the playing field, no matter what socioeconomic background a kid comes from,” Rachael said. “When they are in school they (can) have access — all of them — to good nutrition if we the adults provide it for them.”

I am a firm believer in revamping the school lunch programs in our schools. Afterall, I am guilty of throwing the organic eating out the window during the school day and allowing my children to purchase the all-too-often unhealthy school lunches. But I also don’t want to put too much emphasis on the school’s responsibility in all this. Yes, they are responsible for feeding our children the healthiest, most nutritious food they can with the funding they have available to them, but so are we parents.

“Nutrition and healthy nutrition has everything to do with the success or the struggle that (your child) will have,” said Izzy Lenihan, a Pittsfield-based life, career and wellness coach and mother of two, in recent interview.

In the interview Lenihan discussed the importance of sending your child off to school with a good breakfast in their belly because if you don’t, she said, “there’s an indication that you’re already starting him (or her) off for failure.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: Kelly’s Top 10 Reason to Live a Greener Lifestyle

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Let’s Hear It For The Bear

(ccl) Alan Vernon

Photo credit: Alan Vernon

Apparently no one told the neighborhood bear that the McIlquham’s were making an attempt to live greener and had enough forces working against them in their attempts to do so, so we most definitely did not need his/her help in thwarting our efforts.

Really, every time we feel like we are making great strides forward, something gets in the way. The spring sports season rules our dietary intake (as I’ve said before there’s nothing organic about the food at the Little League snack bar). My husband or I forget to pick up the organic fruit and vegetable basket for the week and have only canned, processed fruits and veggies to feed our kids for the week. The weather gets so hot and humid that the bedroom feels 50 degrees warmer than a sauna and we break down and put the air conditioning unit in the window. And now the BEAR.

As I might have mentioned in previous posts, we purchased a composter and began using it a couple months ago. We had been wanting to get one for a long time and when my husband came home one day and presented me with this beautiful, green, plastic canister I couldn’t have been happier than if he had done all the laundry, folded it and put it away. I purchased a pretty green countertop canister online to house our daily scraps and the kids were temporarily fighting for the chance to be the one to bring out the scraps and turn the composter. All was well and green at the McIlquham house. But the scraps were not composting as quickly as we had hoped and soon we had two problems. The smell began to deter our children from the chore of emptying the bucket while at the same time attracting our curious neighbor — Mr. or Mrs. Bear.

Each morning we would find the composter pulled of its stand and pushed half-way down the blueberry path. I guess the bear realized the encroaching forest would make it difficult to roll the canister all the way home so he/she developed another tactic: the bear decided to try and remove the compost cover and get at the goods inside, while hanging out in our backyard at all hours of the night.

His first few attempts merely left a few claw marks in the plastic and the composter left to be retrieved from the blueberry path, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out how to get the cover off. That incredibly clever bear was able to rip the screws right out of the plastic and the cover right along with it. After a few choice words, Mark had had it and for a week or two there the unused, coverless composter sat, our scraps making their way back into the trash can. Hey, it was a good effort on our part, but apparently composting in the backwoods of Hinsdale wasn’t meant to be. Or was it? Mark and I began making lists. These lists included all the reasons to continue our green journey. They also included all the ways that we had changed in a few short months. It was unanimous that one of the most noticeable changes was evident in the amount of trash we were collecting (significantly less than the waste months before), and that was a direct result of our recycling and (you guessed it) our composting.

Renewed with our lists my husband (with some help from my dad) found a way to fix the cover, we moved the composter to a sunnier location so it would compost more quickly, smell less thus deterring the bear from the area and not the kids, and we began collecting our scraps again. We are back in composting mode. Yahoo! We even used some of the composted soil to repot a few plants recently.

But I know this is not the end of the “forces that be” and I know somewhere along the line in the not-too-distant future we will contemplate just giving up on this whole green thing and be tempted to go back to living our old, wasteful way of life. So in anticipation of that day I have created a new list of why we should continue on this journey, for myself and my family … maybe it will help you when various forces of nature try to thwart your environmental efforts.

Kelly’s top 10 reasons to live a greener, more environmentally friendly, health conscious lifestyle:  Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: There Is Always Someone Who Needs It

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

A Lesson from Brazil

The honking of the car horn as they approached the driveway announced their arrival. Max, who had been helping me make the bed, quickly abandoned the task (and me) and bolted down the stairs to greet his friend. Discarding the pillowcase in my hand I quickly followed suit. Menial tasks could wait: Our friends who had just returned “home” after a year in Brazil could not.

Arriving seconds behind Max, my heart did a silent leap in my chest at the sight before me. All three of my children stood in the driveway taking turns embracing our visitors and then it was my turn.

I held out my arms in invitation and 11-year-old Nick quickly accepted. He ran into my arms and squeezed. My sentiments exactly, I thought as I proceeded to squeeze him right back.

The Julianos had moved back to their native Brazil last July after five years in the United States. None of us had been happy about it, Lilly and her children included. But that moment in the driveway reconnected us all in a matter of seconds and it seemed as though my friend Lilly and her two sons Nicholas and Arthur (her husband could not make this trip but we had seen him the previous week when back in the area on business) had never left and most importantly, hadn’t changed a bit.

But first impressions are deceiving, and after six days of togetherness and countless hours of conversation later I realized that one cannot go from the backwoods of Hinsdale, MA, to the suburbs of Sao Paulo in Brazil and not change.

The most notable change was with the kids. They had grown a lot in a year, not only in size but in maturity. Their English was interspersed with Portuguese more than ever and the two brothers who previously had only spoken English to each other slang and all (they were so “American” when they were here) most often than not spoke to each other in their native tongue.

Lilly still had the same laid-back, loving personality, but I noticed she struggled more finding the right English word to use in describing Brazil, food, her emotions … everything.

What I noticed most though, was Lilly’s unwavering appreciation for the place she called home for five years — Berkshire County.

She commented on the birds that woke her up in the morning: “It was beautiful.” She took great joy and even cried in the supermarket when she reunited with the brands she hadn’t seen in a year: “Ahhh, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” she said. She relished the low, low prices in the U.S. despite the current recession: “A $20 video game here costs $120 in Brazil.”

But most of all Lilly talked about how much we had in the U.S. — “You have no idea.” She discussed the great disparity in social classes at home, and she talked about the need of others.

In Brazil, nothing goes to waste. I knew that’s how Lilly lived here, the same food made it to dinner, lunch the next day and dinner again, and if it still wasn’t gone it was frozen for another day. In Brazil, Lilly informed me, everything is recycled as much as possible including clothes, furniture and other household items and appliances.

“There is always someone who needs it,” Lilly has commented on more than one occasion.

During this time with Lilly (that is not over yet) I even learned some things I hadn’t known about her. Like how disappointed she was when she moved that no one would accept the dining room table she wanted to donate so it ended up getting burned in a farewell bonfire. To Lilly that was shameful.

After living in a disposable society for five years, Lilly moved back to a place where everything is precious either because of the cost to acquire it or because you know that a great number of people cannot afford it.

It’s something to think about as I continue my Green Mama journey. Living greener, it seems, is as much about people as it is about the environment. I think sometimes that’s something that can get “lost in the translation” and we should work hard to ensure that it doesn’t.

So when Lilly leaves in a couple weeks she will not only leave me a little sadder and slightly heartbroken to lose the constant company of my friend once again, but also a little more aware, a little more appreciative of what I have and where I live, and little more inspired to continue our family’s journey.

Vamos nessa!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

Green Mama: Waste-Free Home

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

At Peace with Living Green

If you are a diehard environmentalist you may be familiar with the name Bea Johnson. And if you weren’t aware of her before there’s a good chance that name is now ringing a bell with families everywhere.

An Associated Press article that appeared in local newspapers across the country earlier this month documented Johnson’s efforts to create a “zero waste” lifestyle within her home and highlighted her blog (zerowastehome.blogspot.com) which documents the past year and a half of her journey. And if the new comments on her blog are any indication of her growing popularity, then it won’t be long before Bea Johnson becomes a household name.

Johnson’s waste-free endeavors put this green mama’s conservation efforts to shame.

Johnson shops in bulk with reusable bags, jars, etc. from home to aid her in her commitment to create a wrapper-free home. According to the article she uses sealable glass jars to house her meat from the butcher and fills reusable bags made from bed sheets with rice, pasta, oatmeal and nuts. She also blogs about her attempts to have a waste-free Christmas and this fashion-conscious mom replenishes her wardrobe each year by shopping at thrift stores.

After reading this article I was inspired to peruse my kitchen to see what extra waste we McIlquhams could eliminate in our home and was both pleased and appalled at what I found.

First I never did understand why grocery stores had plastic bags to house one’s fruits and vegetables. For years I found myself filling a bag with apples only to take them out as soon as I got home to wash them and put them in a bowl on the counter and throw out the bag. Without realizing it our family had eliminated the extra plastic when we switched from buying most of our produce at the grocery store to purchasing it from an organic market in town. The vegetables come in returnable plastic containers or cardboard boxes with no other packaging whatsoever. We recently switched to a cardboard box which we recycle because my husband kept hoarding the plastic containers and forgetting to return them, but I think we may rethink this choice for the future.

Thanks to Johnson I also ran into the grocery store the other day to pick up a red onion and passed on the plastic bag. Why didn’t I figure that one out before is beyond me?

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I looked in the pantry.  Read the rest of this entry »

Zen and the Green Art of Decluttering

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Give Me a Break

There is a saying that says something along the lines of, “If you want to see what’s going on inside someone’s head just look inside their drawers.” And this weekend as we were preparing to head out of town and stress levels were running high because we couldn’t find flip-flops, bathing suits, towels, sweatshirts, DS chargers, etc. … I knew it was time to look inside mine: my drawers, my closets, my laundry room.

One look around the house and I began to get restless. I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t get organized. My mind was cluttered and so was my house. I had been blaming my constant anxiety on our family’s state of greenness (see my last post), but in retrospect I think the state of my house was the culprit.

All these months of focusing on living a more environmentally friendly life, as well as running kids to soccer and baseball games, working my editorial job, helping with school projects, freelance writing and life in general had left no time to focus on our house and our family was paying the price.

We were leaving in 15 minutes, we weren’t packed because we couldn’t find anything and I was beginning to hyperventilate. I knew a trip to the shore would relieve me of that stress, but I still had to return. Something had to give.

So I did want any mother would do with a house (and mind) in the sad, desperate shape that mine was in: I threw the half-packed bags in the car (kids are resilient) and sent my husband and three kids off to his brother’s house in Connecticut without me for TWO DAYS.

Cue the beam of light and angels singing … Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

OK their might have been a small ulterior motive to staying home besides digging my way out of the heaps of clutter. My sister was in town with my 7-month-old niece (so cute) and I was definitely in need of some downtime (I don’t think I had taken a day for myself to just “chelax” since September). So I waved goodbye, shed a few tears (Ah the GUILT) and I headed off to the lake, played with my niece, ate lunch and came home and took a nap. Can you say heaven?

I even watched a girlie flick that first night with no interruptions or eye-rolling and side comments from my husband.

But then Day #2 arrived and the real work began. I headed to the laundry room and began to weed my way through the mountain of clothes. Did I mention I hate laundry? I separated. I washed. I folded and still that pile remained knee-deep. I could say that, being in the midst of our quest for green, our lack of washing was an extremely lame attempt to conserve water, but this was not the case.

Sports uniforms, the missing bathing suits and sweatshirts, the T-shirts I had already washed and folded not too long ago all lay before me in a giant smelly heap begging to be released of the dirt and grime. It tried to suck me in and divert me from the task at hand, but I persevered. I refused to quit. That laundry was one piece of the puzzle that when completed would resemble my long-lost sanity, and nothing was going to stop me from getting it back.

Then I moved into the guest bedroom where my husband had been dumping the clean laundry for the past month and folding about a quarter of everything he put there. I made a pile for things that didn’t fit anymore or that no one would wear. I put away winter sweaters and turtlenecks until next year and miraculously I began to feel a little less agitated.

Next I tackled the closets. And again I separated the piles. One bag of shoes and two bags of winter coats later I felt victorious. My house was beginning to mirror the calmness I was beginning to feel inside.

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Anxiety of Green Living

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

I’m Going Green Crazy

Hilltown mothers of the world would be proud. Two months ago my family embarked on a journey to eat healthier, but as we began our trek through the grocery stores talking about healthy eating, living, BEING it began to spark some interesting conversations.

Our family began to talk about the environment. We began to think about how our unconscious stream of living was affecting the environment around us. The kids worried about what was in their snacks and cafeteria lunches at school. They began to inquire about our recycling habits and occasionally they turned off a light or two.

And conversation wasn’t the only environmental flame ignited. My family actually began taking some steps to implement some really sustainable habits.

For Earth Day we purchased a composter. That big, giant, hunk of plastic was as pleasing to my eyes as the beautiful butterfly bush that used to reside in the stonewall flower garden our composter now calls home.

About two days after that little treat, the McIlquham family began a home recycling center. I even spent an afternoon grilling my dad about the best way to separate our recyclables for our local transfer station since he’s the one who makes the weekly trek to dump. (Hey, he’s retired. It gives him something to do, and besides I think he likes it.) Thanks to that afternoon of quality father/daughter time and multiple phone calls later, I think I’ve got it figured out.

That same week, my 10-year-old daughter (now 11, her birthday was last week) commented on how green we had been living that week. Thanks to the car being in the shop we walked a mile to a friends house, bringing along our own healthy, semi-organic lunches to hang out for the day, and even walked the return trip home knowing we could have gotten a ride. We enjoyed that so much, that we opted to leave the newly fixed car at home and ride our bikes to the lake the following day.

My children were so impressed by their multiple displays of greendom that week that they asked to go out to dinner (some greasy dive down the road, not a chance that anything there would be healthy or organic), to celebrate.

OK we aren’t completely there yet, but “we’ve come a long way baby!” And to be completely honest I don’t think we will ever be 100 percent there — completely green, organic and sustainable. But I’m OK with that. We are living healthier and more consciously and the environment is better for it — and so are we!

But there is one thing about this whole “Green Mama” adventure that I am not OK with and that is the neurosis I have begun to develop in the process.

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Green Mama: Vacation from Greendom?

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Everything’s Changing, But Will It Still Remain the Same?

Nelson Mandela said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” As I journey towards greener habits, attempting desperately to take my family along with me, I realize this statement is truer than ever.

Wherever I go — sporting events, family vacations, the living room in our own home — though much remains the same, everything seems different. And I know this is because my view of myself in the world is changing.

For the first time in my life, I am truly aware of how my actions — environmentally speaking — affect everyone around me, most importantly my family.

Those three bags of garbage acquired in a mere two days because of our lack of recycling, are three more steps towards a larger problem in our local landfill. The cheaper non-organic chicken purchased in a hurry, means more antibiotics and growth hormones in my children’s little bodies and the longer we continue making those spontaneous purchases the greater the consequences to my children’s health as they get older. Composting leftovers, means less waste and a more efficient use of our food and money. Those plastic grocery bags which made life easier just months ago because those handles meant less trips to the car when unloading, don’t seem to make life that much easier when you think of them ending up in rivers or oceans or landfills for that matter. Not to mention that I am constantly making trips back to the car to get my reusable totes so I don’t take home more plastic bags.

But the most important changes I am seeing are the changes in my children and how their views of how they see themselves in relation to their environment are slowly beginning to change.

When we started on this journey a couple of months ago, it was merely an attempt on my husband’s and my part to eat healthier so all five of us would BE healthier. And my children, though reluctant at first, have begun to jump on that bandwagon.

After-school snacks now include trail mixes and fruit, yogurt and cheeses, or cereal even, instead of bowlfuls of processed fish crackers. A trip to the grocery store now elicits comments such as; “Hey mom, is this organic?” “Are Cheerios or Corn Flakes healthier?” “Can we buy some more pineapple? It was delicious.”

Recently, the whole family relished in the fact that an entire meal was completely organic — free-range chicken, organic beans, Swiss chard and red cabbage coleslaw — and delicious to boot.

One of my children even brought up the topic of recycling the other day and how we should really work at getting a better system in our house for this. It is a slow work in progress with many bumps and potholes along the way, but we are all changing.

At least that’s what I thought until we headed south for our annual trip to Florida (from which I am writing this column).

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Green Mama: The Journey, One Box of Cereal at a Time

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Kermit the Frog often sang about the woes of living life “the color of the leaves.”

“I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow, or gold or something much more colorful like that,” he crooned.

Environmentally speaking, Kermit was way ahead of his time, but absolutely, 100 percent correct. It’s not easy being green, especially as a mom with three children who have grown up in a “disposable society.” Mini-DVD player broken? Throw it out and buy a new one. Printer printed out 10 copies instead of one? “Give me the garbage pail,” they say. Too much food on the dinner plate to finish? Deposit it in the trash or down the garbage disposal.

This is the way we’ve lived our lives — my husband and I for almost four decades, my children for one. It’s natural. It’s habit. It’s embarrassing. But even more so, it’s difficult to change that way of thinking, especially when it’s one person (me) trying to do all the changing.

I recently moved one of the most comfortable, old, beaten and battered living room sets from the kids’ playroom to our main living area. “What are you doing?” my husband asked suspiciously. “Well, I’m going to order new slipcovers so it will look like we have new furniture, and if I see this ugly thing everyday then maybe I’ll do it sooner than later,” I replied. Without missing a beat my husband responded: “Why don’t we just buy a new set?”

Immediately my thoughts turned to visions of giant landfills chockfull of discarded furniture, my beloved, battered couch sitting a the top of the heap, king-of-the-hill for a matter of moments, until the next unwanted, outdated, dilapidated piece of furniture took its place. My husband saw only a brand-new, possibly comfier spot to relish his morning coffee and read the Sunday paper.

But it’s not his fault. Besides the decision on both our parts to eat healthier, it is my need to change our carbon footprint that has driven this effort to live greener. I am the one who sees giant dumpsters, destroyed forests and a misdirected compost pile every time something is thrown away. I am the one who hears the buzzing of the electric meter and the ka-ching of the money we will soon be “donating” to the electric company every time I walk by my children’s rooms, hours after they have left for school, only to find the energy from various lights, radios, computers, etc. still humming with life, excitedly anticipating their users return. (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration; my husband does hear the ka-ching, too.) And my children certainly aren’t worried, at this point in their lives about the state of the ozone or their planet (although, I’m looking for creative ways to teach them about that).

Another thing that makes it difficult being green, which Kermit never touches upon in his song, is our effort to eat healthier, more organic foods and to do that on a budget. I guess when your diet consists mostly of flies that inhabit your home, you don’t worry much about eating organic — that just happens naturally — or the costs associated with it. But my husband and I do (more so my husband than me, I must admit).

My husband needs to find a good bargain every time he grocery shops, a difficult task when eating organically, and even though I don’t worry as much about the cost of the organic cereal I do cringe at the checkout every time the clerk rings up my total. That is why it’s hard to argue with my husband when he comes home from shopping with four boxes of the brand-name sugary cereals (he did grab a box of Raisin Bran in an attempt to be healthier) for $3, less than the cost of one box of our kids favorite Newman’s Own or EnviroKidz cereals, especially in this economy.

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Green Mama: One Hilltown Mother’s Journey into “Greendom”

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

No Such Thing As a Perfect Parent

Nobody ever said parenting was easy, but we certainly don’t make it easier on ourselves … and I’m no exception.

I am a 38-year-old mother of three — almost-11-year-old twins McKenna and Max, and 8-year-old Shea — I am somewhat of a perfectionist in certain aspects of my life, and I am slightly competitive too. (People who are reading this and who know me are having a good chuckle right now.) So, OK … I am VERY competitive. Those traits have served me well in school, in sports, and in my careers, but as a parent? Let’s just say that sometimes those traits can cause a little anxiety, quite a bit of insanity, and a whole lot of guilt.

I used to handle my downfalls as a parent much better when my twins were younger. How was I supposed to know that if the childproof lock on the food cabinet broke that it would result in a “fluffernuttered” black lab? Or that if you leave Vaseline on a changing table outside your two-year-old twins’ bedroom that their heads would glisten for days, or at least until you and your husband discovered that vinegar would return their hair back to a normal sheen?

But after Shea was born, and all three kids began to get older, my parenting mishaps seemed to matter more, almost as if one little parenting mistake could set my kids on a path for failure, destined for a life of crime. And that’s when the guilt, that I know every parent has experienced at one time or another, began to set in …

Was I “really” doing the best job that I could as a parent? Was I reading enough to my kids? Playing enough? Teaching enough? Was I yelling too much? Expecting too much? Giving too much? The guilt became overwhelming and it was beginning to depress me … and as my husband has often said, “If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” (I think that statement alone puts undo pressure on the mothers of the world, but that’s an entirely different topic.) But really, it was true — for a while.

My latest parental guilt fest occurred about a month ago, when I was watching an episode of Oprah. (No, I don’t have time to watch it daily, but I do TIVO it and try to sneak an episode or two in every weekend.) The episode previewed the new “Food Inc.” documentary about the food industry, and what we as a society were putting into our food and in turn, our bodies. Suddenly, the words of my friend, who I consider a “stereotypical hilltown” mom, were echoing in my brain: “Our kids only get one body in this lifetime, so I’m going to make sure I give my kids the best one I can.” She was talking about eating organically, and doing without the extra chemicals and preservatives that have become a major staple within the food industry. She wanted to ensure that she did everything she could to ensure that her kids were feeling the best they could physically and mentally.  Read the rest of this entry »

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