It seems as if whatever the season, a really perfect combination is this: kids and shovels.

Given the season here is winter and the gift from on high overnight was snow, there is the obvious kid+shovel combination, please, please take shovel in front of the house where the sidewalk is. There is also that lovely corollary that kids+brush/scraper=clean cars (and good fun). This morning, we woke to a dusting rather than a full-blown (necessary) project.

If we were in beach vacation mode—or lived where beach mode applied—the shovels would go into sand, and indeed whenever we go to beach (lakeside, Oceanside, New England, Florida, you name it), sand play is occupies time, energy, and imagination. When you think about it, those are the three things you hope to engage regularly for kids: time, energy and imagination (that parent of toddler saw, your job is to exhaust them daily so they will sleep).

Our backyard has a year-round digging project going: a giant hole (it didn’t start out giant; once, there was just relatively flat dirt) in front of our middle barn (the property came with three barns, no barn animals; the middle was mostly built for wood storage). Strategically situated under the overhang, the hole is somewhat protected from the elements. I think it’s safe to say the chief engineer from our household is Remy, who has been digging in that spot since he was a preschooler (lots with his pal, Benjamin, and these days the main partner-in-digging is Kate, who is also Lucien’s buddy/classmate; she’s a fixture, as in, I call her my second sixth grader and equally, Remy—and often Lucien and sometimes Saskia—have become more than regulars at Kate’s house). Lucien, too, plays an important role in the hole. I don’t think there’s really a name for it beyond the hole, not our hole, not the giant hole, just the hole.

In truth, we don’t need a whole (ha-ha) lot more than the hole to occupy us. Kate’s family is going out of town tomorrow (Remy’s other friends rejoice!). This means we might actually need a thing or two to do beyond the yard and the house (the house does boast some cool new things post-holiday, from toys to cookbooks to adolescent’s Facebook page). I don’t really fancy the term staycation, but we will be around more than not and so I started dreaming up a list of possible activities and day trips (including a visit to Jamaica Plain to see adorable nephew, Ian, almost four months and smiling and vocalizing tons). No way we’ll get to all of them; for that matter, it’s likely we’ll end up at just one or two new or favored old places. Every time I start thinking about stuff to do, beyond the usual hamster wheel run of ballet carpool, soccer games, school, and such, I am knocked out by how very much there is to do and see around these parts.

Amongst the places I’ve never been to but would like to go include Historic Deerfield (well, I did go once, when I was about fourteen, maybe, because I remember thinking I was seeing a scene in Death Be Not Proud), the Hadley Farm Museum and (hate to admit this) the Emily Dickinson Museum. In my defense, I planned to go with the sixth grade when Ezekiel was a sixth grade. That was nearly two years ago; on the appointed field trip day, Saskia was born and so I ended up at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester (I do not recommend that hospital; her arrival, through, made that day one of the best in my life).

Of places I haven’t explored enough and would like to return to, I’d include Hancock Shaker Village and more locally, the Mead Art Museum and the Mount Holyoke Art Museum (but don't go over this holiday break; they are taking a break, too).

With Thursday reserved for Northampton’s First Night and our much-anticipated Ian visit (where we’re also looking forward—really—to spending time with his parents, my sister, Emily and brother-in-law, Tom) I know high hopes will morph into modest reality (that’s always the way).

That said I am much looking forward to a day trip to the Berkshires. Along with lunch out, we are going to make two museum stops. We’ll go the Berkshire museum. There, we will see the Festival of the Trees, amongst other sights. If I were looking for a full day’s worth of occupying my school-age kids, I would feel ever so grateful that the Berkshire Museum was doing it for me Monday through Wednesday, by offering three workshops: Monday, Crime Scene Investigation (tricks of the investigative trade), Tuesday, Kitchen Kaboom (messy kitchen fun) and Wednesday, Animal Adventures (think, amphibians) from 9:00-3:00. Although we don’t have exactly the right age kids for the daylong workshops, the kids may well want to see the children’s theater performance of Beauty and the Beast, which goes up Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, otherwise known as New Year’s Eve, magician David Hall performs.

We will split our museum-going day with a quick visit to the Clark Art Institute to see Crow and Raven: Baskin, Hughes, Manet, Poe. We haven’t all gotten to see this show; with their grandpa’s work featured (Leonard Baskin), this is, for us, a must-see (before January 8th when the show closes). Beyond its interest and beauty, we are offered the added perspective of getting to see work we live with in such a different, special setting. For Remy, who is, at seven, very engaged with art and who has started to spend much more time looking at the art on our walls (most especially his grandpa’s), I know this experience will make a significant imprint.

If time and interest (or boredom) allows, a little hop to Amherst College to see the Museum of Natural History is also in order. That’s a place I don’t know well and one that offers dinosaurs (cool) and lots more to engage with that will satisfy the time, energy and imagination trifecta.

And if after that we are still energetic or distractible, we may zip by the Carle Museum, too, to see the Golden Legacy: Original Art from 65 Years of Golden Books exhibition. I’ve been perusing the accompanying book, Golden Legacy, by Leonard Marcus, and unsurprisingly, it’s making me want to go see the images up close. Truth is at the Carle the place we’re most likely to hang out is in the art studio. That’s the most favored part of any visit there, because we are playing and making art and the bright sun (if it’s sunny) is pouring in. When I think about it, that’s another of those perfect combinations: playing and making art with the sun pouring in.