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Parent/Child Best Bets

Four terrific ways to celebrate parenting


The Play's the Thing
You already know the Triangle is awash in theater companies. Half a dozen local ensembles regularly present the fruits of their talent. You can't go out on the weekend without running into a thespian.

But here's the real scoop. High school drama classes are booming, from Cary to Carrboro, Durham to Hillsborough. This is the season for school plays--from large, grandly produced musicals, to dark, evocative, angst-dripping student productions. They're all great, they're all fresh and they're all so close and accessible.

Kids on stage--being kids, being grown-ups, playing off of each other--is quite a thrill for the performers and audience alike. Rarely are our children more on and entertaining.

Visit your local high school; call for a schedule. Most school plays have an admission fee of less than $5. Can you think of a better way to support the local arts?

The energy is contagious. Check out that supporting player in the back; he'll be the lead next year. That girl dancing across the stage, she'll be under the big lights in a few years. That drama teacher, after he's done grading papers, scribbles late into the night writing his own piece for production next fall. Be there for the encores.Strawberry Fields Forever
You're busy, I know. But this is one moment you don't want to let pass. When the local strawberry farms start putting up their "pick your own" signs, go there. We go to Lyon Strawberry Farm, in Creedmoor (528-3263). Go there the first bright morning or sunny afternoon. You and your kids will treasure the time.

Best reasons? 1. Your hands are nowhere near a keyboard. 2. You're harvesting real food. 3. Everybody around you, in the next row over, on his or her knees 10 feet in front of you, is smiling. 4. You'll have the best dessert ever that night. 5. Whipped cream. Most local strawberry farms have a little drink stand close by the fields. Some even have an ice cream kiosk and other fresh veggies and homemade shortcake available. First time tips: Take comfortable-to-carry buckets, wear loose clothing, take a hat, and bring a few water bottles (leave some in a cooler in the car for the ride home).

Remember it's impossible to pick too many. There's just no way. Strawberries freeze very well. Rinse them, pinch off the top and place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. A few hours later, dump your harvest into freezer bags: Perfect for summer smoothies.

Strawberry picking is a great time for kids to be kids and adults to join them in the fun. You'll get dirt on your knees, your face might get a few red smears, and your shirt should go straight to the laundry basket. But, oh, the rewards!

Make it a party. The pick-your-own- strawberry season lasts but a few weeks. Find the time and you'll have started an annual family tradition. Oh yeah, last thing: Leave plenty of time for hot baths when you get back home. And seconds on dessert are permissible, thank you.

Carolina On My Mind
Are we lucky or what? It's still snowing in New England, frosty winds are blowing through the Midwest, and rain is falling in California. We do get four seasons in the Piedmont, but the other three pale to the wonders of a Carolina spring. This year, discover the bounty at one of the many local and state parks. The phrase, "Think outside the box," takes a refreshing, literal turn. Open that front door, load up a backpack with goodies and loved ones, exit your house, and find a trail.Colors peek out from underbrush, the birds start going crazy, sunlight through the trees seems magical, and the bugs and poison ivy are still weeks away when spring breaks out. It's all out there, free for the taking. Plenty of free parking, leave your coupons and charge cards at home.

State parks, like Eno River State Park between Durham and Hillsborough (383-1686), often have convenient maps at the entrance, gauging distance and time for various trails. Explore. Give your explorer-in-training a mini-pack filled with her favorite drinks, fruit, and munchies for the hike. Find a stopping place before you get winded, spread out a blanket, and watch the show.

Any trip on foot like this is meant to be fun. So don't push it. Unscripted events are great! Dawdling, tree climbing, riverbank sliding, rock climbing are all part of the adventure. So you come home with wet socks or a boot full of water from an eager river rock jumping contest. Could be worse; you might have spent the whole afternoon inside.

Playgrounds are Us
When my kids were younger we used to search for "new" playgrounds the way some folks race to mall openings. This was before the recent wave of dumbing down play areas to make them safer. While I agree with the safety legislation requiring all those soft landing areas, watching a child clamber up, hand-over-hand (with proper supervision) a tall, non-plastic, old-school climbing structure, is one of those "priceless moments," still available in some older parks. There's a charm to a non-Disney, back-to-basics play area.Rope swings, suspended bridges and high slides were our favorites. Hearts and legs would pump, the world would spin, and one of us would always fall down, laughing. Wasn't the fun of merry-go-rounds to see how fast you could go? Not that I didn't double and triple check the safety straps on those bucket toddler swings, mind you.

Playgrounds offer a chance for kids and grownups to play, gossip, and generally unwind, side-by-side. Playgrounds are melting pots, free zones. Notice all those little birthday parties and teas happening on a sunny day. At most playgrounds, if you're walking by with your child, you, too, will be offered a piece of cake.

The playgrounds are still out there, in all configurations and degrees of maintenance, waiting to be explored and rediscovered by the next generations of climbers, jumpers, runners and sliders. Check out Durham's Oval Park on West Club Boulevard. A first time visit to Raleigh's Pullen Park is as much fun as a free-ride day pass to the State Fair--lots to explore, especially through the wide eyes of a child. While we might hesitate on diving into a sandbox these days, show me a good swing or slide and I'm there, next in line after you. EndBlock

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