There are those days, as a parent, when stir crazy applies. Sometimes, on those days, you can just get up and out and go or do and sometimes, you can’t. Every once in a while, those days coincide with my having just barely enough energy—or someone else in the household takes over for this—to suggest creating an obstacle course. Jump on the mini-trampoline twenty-five times, crawl through the tunnel, make a wheelbarrow, ride the tiny scoot bike and maybe spin around for good measure. Climb the furniture. Kiss your feet.

Obstacle courses were part of our lives for about a year, for real, when Ezekiel, at seven, was in physical therapy working to gain core strength and balance. We had to turn him round-and-round on a spinning board (called the astronaut board, since astronauts must tolerate such dizziness) and we had to get him to jump and to hop and to skip and to do wheelbarrow walks. Sometimes, it was fun; other times, it was very hard work (for him and for us).

We were lucky that fabulous first grade teacher, Gina Cowley, finally helped us with words for what Ezekiel was struggling to accomplish in the form of gross and fine motor skills. During preschool, we mostly found ourselves pleading with the teachers that something didn’t quite seem right because our very bright, engaged, verbal son seemed so unable to play on the playground. Physicality simply eluded him and even though that wasn’t so very long ago (a decade), his preschool teachers mostly assured us he was great (we knew that) and told us not to worry (we worried; he was our first kid, so we worried). What he could not tackle was everything from properly holding a pencil to hopping on one foot to jumping down from a climber to spinning around (even just one full rotation). Turns out ours were legitimate concerns and ultimately, it was a huge relief to address them.

I remembered the whole obstacle course as engaging indoor activity when the first snow day befell us this week, because the snow—lots of glorious digging—turned to rain—lots of slick, heavy snow, and little incentive to be outdoors in the slippery rain. The realization that this was the first of many (well, potentially many) such days caught me off-guard despite my annually more impressive tenure as a New Englander. Trekking across icy spots, I remembered how winter is an obstacle course of slippery footing and driving, dark afternoons, cold, and wind, and slushy, mushy endurance.

And then, the snow glistens in the sun or the grey-purple sky seems swollen and expectant and the branches take on new shape with white perched along the brown limbs. I found myself thinking that if I didn’t live in winter, I might miss the glory that is four distinct, dramatic, gorgeous seasons. A moment later, I remembered that for nearly two full winters (we moved in early January), I lived in London, without much that approximated winter as New Englanders define winter, and I did not miss the coldest season one smidgen. That said, I live here and it is beautiful and it is hard and the challenge has its place; like an obstacle course, I engage with the process of how to keep us going through it.


My kids love treasure hunts, too (aren’t treasure hunts the companions to obstacle courses, somehow, like cousins or something?). Living here, in this valley—with sister hills just west in the Berkshires—there is more to celebrate than the fertile ground of soil so good for farming (though, there is certainly that, and Northampton has just gotten a Winter Market (9 AM-2 PM in the old Dynamite Records' space, basement of Thornes Market) to prove it; CISA is a source to keep you apprised of other wintry farming-related events and activity). There are outdoor activities, from cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, to snowshoeing, to skating on ponds when the freeze takes hold.

Perhaps especially this season, you can step inside and find there’s even more to enjoy. The second Friday of each month in Northampton art galleries and the Smith College Museum of Art open doors wider with shows and events (Friday the 11th, you can experiment with making a video using a Flip camera). Downtown, at five in Thornes Market, Uncle Rock will be playing music—both events for free. That’s just one afternoon.

If the combination of seeing art and shopping appeals, this is the weekend to head to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Its new exhibition is up: Golden Legacy: Original Art From 65 Years of Golden Books, which along with all else—cool art, cool history, possibly some cool memories—really speaks to a series of books that democratized reading. Meantime, the very wonderful store at the museum is having a big holiday sale. Books, books, more books, but also puzzles, games, stationery, and even fabric are on offer there, so go, shop, and if you’ve never been, you might discover one of your new, most favorite shops.

There’s some terrific shopping and museum-ing in the Berkshires, this weekend too (in downtown Pittsfield alone, Ferrin Gallery’s got small and local works on sale, the Emporium and Museum Facsimiles are all teaming up this week—December 12-19—to support the Berkshire Museum: show your membership card or ticket to the Museum and those stores will donate 10% of your purchase to support the Museum). Saturday is a family day at the Berkshire Museum. The holiday time exhibition Festival of the Trees is up through the holidays (January 3) and for the family day (from 1-5 P.M.), there are many hands-on activities, performances, and the official lighting of the museum’s tree (you can see, I love the tree with the condoms, whether that's considered family friendly or not!). At Mass MoCA, a new installation by Iñigo Manglano Ovalle, based upon Mies van der Rohe's uncompleted project, The 50×50 House (1951) is opening called Gravity is a Force to Be Reckoned With . A film by the artist will be shown on Saturday evening at the Clark Institute, as well.

That took very little looking to compile, a beginner’s treasure hunt. And we haven’t even reached the winter solstice… there are plenty more riches to unearth over the long, dark season—and I hope they continue to dazzle me and keep my spirits up when my bones get cold and I’m searching for glimmers of brightness.