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By Chelsea Murray Kaneb

The dark days of winter can drag on during a bitter cold snap in the middle of a pandemic, so finding safe activities can help lift the spirits.

We’ve been bundling our 18-month-old up every day to go for quick outdoor explorations, filling our lungs with crisp air in our yard, and adjacent field. Dressing a toddler head to toe in winter gear should be an Olympic sport. It sometimes takes longer to get ready than the time we spend outside, but it helps keep things interesting, and breaks up the day no matter how long we’re out there.

My husband and I put on our snowshoes (a Christmas gift I gave him a few years ago) and set off with our curious toddler and snow-obsessed dog. We’ve built some cool little snow people, made some wonky shaped snow angels, identified and followed tons of animal tracks, made some ice wreaths, done a few face plants in the crunchy snow, and walked and walked and walked until our daughter’s cheeks, nose and fingers called to go back inside.

Coyote tracks across a winter landscape.

Watching our dog dig ravenously in the snow looking for mice and critters is a hilarious highlight for our toddler, making her laugh deeply. Seeing my daughter’s eyes when she’s experiencing something for the first time, often over something that I’m bah humbug about, helps me to see the world in a different light. My little family unit has made the decision to lock down more during the recent COVID spike, and look for outdoor activities to pass the time. However, I’ve made sure to include some indoor activities in this roundup for those of you that feel more comfortable venturing inside. Check them out and feel free to email chelseawaterburyobserver@gmail.com or comment here if you have a family friendly activity or event that you’d like me to consider adding to the next happenings piece.

Family Friendly Winter Activities: Waterbury and Greater Waterbury Area:

* Winter is the Pits event- On Saturday, February 5th at 11:00am, The City of Waterbury and The Spirit of Waterbury will be hosting the 3rd Annual Winter is the Pits at Hamilton Park on 110 Hamilton Park Rd, Waterbury, CT 06705. This year’s theme is fire and ice. This year, the City of Waterbury is having an ice skating rink with free rental ice skate’s included. Along with the ice skating there will be: a large community bonfire fire, twelve fire pits for S’mores, ice sculpting performance at 3:30 pm, music, crafts, and games such as: corn hole, horseshoe, winter volleyball and more hosted by POST University. Available for purchase at attendees own cost, there will be food and drinks: Teds Food Truck, Borus Food Truck, Bills Hotdog Food Truck, MexiRican Food Truck, Nora Cupcakes, Police Activity League hot chocolate, and the Mobil Pub. The event starts at 11:00 am with free parking at the Hamilton Ave Commuter Parking lot. The Police Activity League will shuttle attendees back and forth to the event.

Mattatuck Museum: Museum Minis (ages 0-3)- Mondays starting January 31 (No class on Presidents Day) from 10-11 AM. $8 for members and $12 for general public and the accompanying adult is free. The Mattatuck Museum invites their youngest explorers and caregivers to meet up in the Museum galleries for some art and history fun while practicing developmental, social, and mobility skills. A museum educator will facilitate 30 minutes of playtime in the galleries with an opportunity to mingle with other parents and caregivers, followed by a 15-minute themed story, and a small art activity in the classroom that can be taken home.

The newly renovated Mattatuck Museum in downtown Waterbury.

Silas Bronson Library: The KidZone is open and taking proper precautions with sanitizing, masking wearing and social distancing, however the majority of their Winter programing will be conducted via the Silas Bronson Library Zoom platform. Pre-registration is required via the Silas Bronson website or by calling 203-574-8213 or email bronsonkids@waterburyct.org.

*Storytime at the Library- Wonderful Wednesday Stories- (Ages 2+)- Every Wednesday at 11 am via Zoom.

*Snowball Readers, the Winter Reading Club- All children from birth to age 13 are invited to participate- Register online at READSquared to keep track of your reading, or use the libraries paper logs. Children 0-5 can count the number of books read instead of hours, but children over 5 must read at least 5 hours to win a free book and participate in the raffle. The paper logs are available at the Silas Bronson Library and Bunker Hill Branch.

*47th Annual Poetry Contest open to all Greater Waterbury-area students in grates Kindergarten- Eighth Grade.

*Harry Potter Book Night: Magic, Lore and More! On February 3, 2022 at 4:30 PM

*A Child of the Amistad: Sarah Margu on Thursday February 3, 2022 at 5:30 PM

*Family Trivia Night: Black History on Wednesday, February 17, 2022

*Second Annual Author Spotlight: Local African-American Authors on Thursday February 24, 5:30 PM.

*Hike 3 mile round trip at Steep Rock in Washington Depot with 12 goats on Saturday February 5 from 9:30 to 12.

*Visit Kidsplay in Torrington for safe place to foster kids creativity and imagination in their multi-sensory, experiential, hands-on museum. From the words of their Learning Experience Specialist their Storywalk this month and next tells the story of a little boy whose grandma knitted him a warm pair of snow white mittens. Jan Brett reminds us in this fanciful story that the fictional mitten is stretchy enough to house a gigantic bear and other animals to protect them from winter’s cold. In real life, mittens work even better than gloves to keep fingers and hands protected from the cold times of winter. Taking care to share the reality of toasty warm hands during winter’s chill, Kidsplay is “planting” a mitten tree right in our lobby and they need your help for it to blossom. Please donate a pair of mittens or gloves (new, handmade, or gently loved), and the tree will blossom from your winter generosity. Donations will be given to FISH in Torrington, and FISH, in turn, may share them with other community resources.

*Mystic Aquarium, Mystic: Pancakes with Penguins- Breakfast buffet is served buffet-style up until 9am and includes pancakes with assorted toppings, scrambled eggs, sausage and various beverages on February 6, 13, 20 and 27th. Virtual Winter Vacation Camp. Ocean Ambassador Coastal Cleanup on February 12 from 10-12 PM and an Aquarium Overnight experience on February 18 at 7 PM.

*The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk offers an array of animal encounters and living exhibits each day from 10-5 PM and tickets must be purchased online in advance of your visit.

Bundle up for a tiger adventure at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport.

*Celebrate 100 years of fun, memories and learning about animals at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. It’s open seven days a week from 9 AM- 4 PM (check with the zoo on in climate weather days or holidays for their possible change in hours) and tickets must be purchased online prior to the visit as part of their COVID safety procedures. If you’re not able to make it to the zoo in person due to cold temperatures or schedules the zoo still wants to hear from you. Send letters to the animals and zoo keepers, drawings of your favorite species that are currently at the zoo (find out which ones are there on the website) or take pictures of how you’ve made your house into. zoo. Use blocks, costumes, stuffed animals- anything that you have. The Zoo will share these photos on Facebook, Instagram and on the Zoo’s website. You can submit them via social media or by emailing info@beardsleyzoo.org. You can also check out the live camera feeds of the Red Panda, Spider Monkeys and the River Otters on the Beardsley Zoo website.

*American Lantern Festival at Lyman Orchards until February 16- Enjoy a 1/2 mile walking path filled with exotic creatures including colorful dinosaurs. Dress warm as this experience is an outdoor one. Wed-Sundays 5:30-8 PM- Free for Children 3 and under, $20 per person ages 4-12 and $25 for ages 13 and up. Use the code LYMAN2022 for 15% off your purchase and register online ahead of time.

*The MLK 39 Racial Equity Mural Tour– CT Murals partnered with 39 communities across Connecticut to create 39 murals for each year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life. You can safely view these gorgeous outdoor murals and learn a thing or two in communities such as Bloomfield, Torrington, Mansfield, Danbury, Manchester, West Hartford and Southington. Check this link for more information and to find out how you can advocate to try and get a mural and celebrate the work of Dr. King and the power of public art in your community: https://www.theriseupgroup.org/mlk39?fbclid=IwAR0Wni7Efx6VoQ2eEl_PcChl_qx5_5C_yc94Nza0rXXV3YCYw23PGzYfP-A

Winter Sports Activities: Ice Skating, Cross-Country Skiing, Sledding and Snowshoeing:

*The Watertown Parks and Rec department will host open ice skating at Taft School on Sundays January 30th, February 6, 20, 27th from 3:30-4:30 PM and Monday February 21st from 1-2 PM. It costs $5 for Watertown Residents and $6 for non-residents. Bring your own skates and gear, no rentals available.

*International Skating Center of CT in Simsbury is open for multiple full service public skates throughout the week. Check https://www.isccskate.com/ to view schedule.

*Nadal Rink at Kent School in Kent, Lufkin Rink at Rumsey Hall in Washington, Goshen Center School in Goshen, Rink behind the Litchfield Town Hall,

Skate at your own risk on ponds and lakes in the area, but please visit CT DEEP website to read more about how to tell if the ice is safe and what to do if you or someone you are with falls in- https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Outdoor-Recreation/Ice-Safety

There is Black Rock Park in Thomaston, Burr Pond State Park and John A. Minnetto State Park in Torrington, Mt. Tom State Park in Litchfield and Bantam Lake in Bantam to name a few.

* Cross country ski, snowshoe and hiking over the expansive 4000 acres of land at White Memorial Foundation and pop inside the White Memorial Conservation Center’s Environmental Education Center and Nature Museum.

Downhill Skiing:

Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall, Mt. Southington in Southington, Ski Sundown in New Hartford and Powder Ridge. Both Mohawk and Powder Ridge offer snow tubing as well.

Litchfield County:

*A Winter “No Child Left Inside” Fest at Burr Pond in Torrington will take place on February 5th from 10-3 PM. The festival is put on by CT DEEP and a fun way to get people to enjoy the great outdoors. There will be outdoor games, a bonfire, refreshments for sale, a chance to learn about ice fishing, snowshoeing, demonstrations, hikes, safely enjoy time out on the ice and more.

Landscape photography in winter can be magical at sunset.

*Learn about Native American life at The Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington and visit a life-size replica of an Algonquin village with wigwams and longhouses built using traditional techniques. Check out their annual Maple Sugaring Festival that takes place in March as well as other events such as their Sunday Fun Day events and Snow Snake Workshop on Saturday January 29 from 11- 2 PM.

*Check out other local sugarhouse when the sap starts to flow in the Litchfield County area such as Flanders Nature Center Sugar House in Woodbury, Hilljack Sugar Shack in Litchfield and Brothers and Sons Sugarhouse in Torrington.

Valentine’s Day Ideas:

* Valentine’s Day Paint N’ Sip- Mattatuck Museum (limited spots left) on February 3 from 6-8 PM- $35 for members and $40 for general public. A fun Valentine’s themed date night at the MATT. Enjoy a free glass of wine as you work on matching portrait paintings at the instruction of a teaching artist. Additional drinks and food available for purchase from The Art of YUM.

*Fascia’s Chocolates– For $10 enjoy The Full Chocolate Experience, a family friendly activity offering an interactive lesson about the origins of chocolate and how it gets from bean to bar and then from bar to box. Enjoy tastings and demonstrations as well as a behind-the-scenes look into the factory and a chance to make your own chocolate bar with toppings of your choice. Schedule your experience at Fascia’s Chocolates on Chase River Road in Waterbury by calling 203-753-0515.

Fascia’s Chocolates in Waterbury

*Visit Thorncrest Farm, LLC and Milk House Chocolates in Goshen to scoop up some artisanal chocolates for your sweetie at their safe “no contact shop” and pay a visit to their gorgeous cows to see just where the milk for the chocolates comes from. Thorncrest has open farm and stable hours Thursdays-Sundays from 10 AM-3 PM. The barn visitation is subject to change since this is a working dairy farm, so it’s best to call and check ahead of time to make sure the ladies are available for a visit.

What to do with all this snow? Make some snow cream, of course!

Simple Dairy Free Snow Cream Recipe

1 cup Coconut, Almond, Oat or Any Dairy Free Milk

1/2 cup Sugar

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

8 cups of Fresh Clean Snow

Mix together the milk, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the snow that you just collected from your winter explorations and combine. Divide into bowls or mugs and top with favorite ice cream toppings such as chocolate sauce, sprinkles, fruit, chocolate chips, marshmallow topping and more.

Enjoy while snuggling up and watching your favorite snow day movie!

(Extra can be stored in the freezer and if you wish to use dairy replace the dairy free milk in recipe with regular milk or sweetened condensed milk)

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