The Phoenix Center Youth Theatre
Most of us writerly types are quite challenged when it comes to tying our own shoes, much less trying to create a work of fine art. But that doesn't stop us from trying, which is why we're glad we've found our art groove at this downtown Phoenix haven, located in the back of a former church a few hundred yards southeast of the library.

Sponsored by Phoenix Parks and Recreation, classes offered at the Phoenix Center range from metal work to ceramics to glass, and wanna-be artists who favor unconventional expression (translation: don't know what they are doing but want to give something new a shot) are welcomed with open arms.

Most of the teachers work other gigs in their fields, such as Ingrid Donaldson, a real pro who toils at Hot Sands Glass. A few words of warning: 1) Taking the classes won't set you back too much, but the materials you'll need to purchase certainly may; 2) This art-making stuff is addictive, and the teachers are so engaging and enthusiastic that you're likely to find yourself returning semester after semester.

MADE Art Boutique
Cindy Dach is a smarty-pants. She knows that when it comes to a downtown Phoenix business, it's not enough to build it — if you want people to come, you've got to get creative. So along with cute merchandise (most of it crafted by local artists) the owner of MADE has found other ways to draw a crowd. Dach has offered workshops in chocolate-making and beading, and hosted theme shows with artist-made birdhouses, cookie jars, and clocks. Her latest brainstorm involves something to trade, rather than something to buy, and we hear it's drawn its fair share of potential customers to MADE.

"TRADE AT MADE" started with a call to stop by on a Saturday night and bring along a mix tape meant for trading. Next, Dach hosted "TRADE AT MADE: FAVORITE BOOK." Both were big successes. So she did mugs, and later this fall, there will be a recipe exchange. Dach provides refreshments. Good times!

For years, we've watched with envy as other cities have built cool crafting communities, groups of people obsessed with things like glitter, beads, and yarn. When, we wondered, would we get our own craft mafia, like the one founded years ago in Austin, Texas? We got our answer this spring, with the creation of the Phoenix Craft Mafia. From their Web site, you can link to their online craft shop on www.etsy.com (a great site for homemade gifts — check it out) and get info on events like the Second Saturday craft fairs they've been hosting at Plaid Eatery in Tempe.
Cheryl Cobern-Browne's got the dream life — if you love beads and travel. We do. For our money (and we've spent plenty on both) there are few pleasures greater in life than just the right shiny trinket and just the right overseas trip. Cobern-Browne cleverly combined the two and created a business, leading tours that have included South Africa (Zulu beadwork), Ireland (modern lampwork studios), Turkey (Istanbul's bead shops) and the Czech Republic (Czech bead factories). Participants have a chance to work with master bead artists, as well as to shop and explore. Sign us up!
We love the Scottsdale Arts Festival because, unlike other outdoor art shows (which have proliferated with alarming frequency in the 37 years since Scottsdale started their own), this is a quality act. More than 200 artists are featured each year, and while you may find a stray ceramic tissue-box holder or something that looks like your third-grader's art project, for the most part the art is amazing, stuff you'd actually put in your home — if you could afford it.

Okay, so this is window-shopping turf for most of us, but it's still one of our favorite weekends of the year, and one of our favorite spots at the festival is Imagination Nation, the kid craft area, usually located on the north side of City Hall. You don't have to be a kid to make yourself a wide-brimmed brown paper bag hat, although you might want to bring along a third-grader to decorate it for you, for that authentic touch. Last year, our kid ditched the hat almost immediately after making it, and, with no free hands (we recommend the festival food!), we stuck it on our own head. We were grateful at the end of the day, when we noticed a lot of other sunburned faces. And we got a lot of compliments!

The 38th annual festival is March 7, 8 and 9, 2008, and it'll feature art, food and live entertainment. See you at the hat-making table.

BEST REASON TO WALK THE STREETS OF SCOTTSDALE IN THE DEAD OF SUMMER

Thursday Night Artwalk in July

Scottsdale's artwalk is still a booming tourist business in the nicer months, but where local coolios are concerned, it's become the too-pretty stepsister of First and even Third Fridays. And yes, it's tough to park and fight the rush of snowbirds on Thursday evenings in January and February, which is why we like to hit the streets of Scottsdale in July. Yes, July. Check the Web site for exact details so you don't land on an odd night, but on one Thursday in July, the place positively pops. We headed to Lisa Sette Gallery for her 20th anniversary show on July 5 and managed to catch up with just about every Phoenix artist we know. Now, some of them (Matthew Moore, Gregory Sale) had pieces in the show — an amazing collection of Sette's new and old favorites — but most were just there to hobnob. Which, let's face it, is what a good artwalk is all about, too.
Even if you have a backyard pool to dip the kids in hourly, summertime is not a fun time, in these parts. That's why we're so grateful that someone in the Harkins family came up with the idea for a summer movie series. For $7, you get a pass to 10 movies, one a week for the whole summer. Kid snacks are cheap, and the A/C is free. This past summer, the roster included Curious George, Charlotte's Web, Over the Hedge, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Open Season, Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Happy Feet, Barnyard, Nanny McPhee and Everyone's Hero, showing on big screens across the Valley.

We're pretty sure no one will say anything if you show up without a kid in tow. Hey, Happy Feet wasn't bad! Pass the popcorn.

We can't wait for October 19. Not just because there's a slight chance that, by then, temperatures will have dipped below 100 degrees. (Usually, around here, it's boiling hot 'til Halloween, when the temperature drops 50 degrees in a day, forcing all the kids to cover their costumes with heavy winter coats.)

No, we're excited for this year's Roosevelt Row Harvest Festival. Like many things in downtown Phoenix, the festival is still in its infancy. But we have high hopes — partly because Greg Esser, to whom we like to refer behind his back as "the city's real mayor," is involved, but mostly because we love nothing more than a street fair. Probably because we remember our elementary school days, when the school carnival (ours was lovingly known as the Hopi Hullabaloo) was as good as it got.

Greg, do us a favor. Along with the live music, the crafty vendors and the so-bad-for-you-it's-good street food, could you have a lollipop tree, just for old time's sake? And maybe a cakewalk? Oh, okay, we'll settle for a beer garden and pumpkin bowling.

BEST PLACE TO WALK OFF THANKSGIVING DINNER

ZooLights

Phoenix Zoo
Every Thanksgiving, the Phoenix Zoo kicks off several weeks of enchanted evenings with the opening night of ZooLights. The event, a quintessential "Phoenix thing," raises funds for wildlife conservation and children's programming at the zoo, and it's a nice, quiet way to decompress one more time before the holiday frenzy.

The landscaping and lagoons are charming. The light displays are ooh-inspiring. There's stuff for the whole family to enjoy, like camel rides, animal presentations, and a carousel (and, of course, the gift shop). And it's a lot of walking — or at least it feels like it after all those yams. Break out your cute sweater and hat and think of it as an Easter parade . . . in the dark . . . and without Judy Garland. You'll probably have made room for hot cocoa and a fresh, cinnamon-y churro by the time you're done. And on Black Friday? Sleep in. You've earned it.

BEST PLACE FOR JEWS TO GET TRASHED ON CHRISTMAS EVE

Mazelpalooza

If you're a WASP, you have a pretty good idea about where you'll be on the night before Christmas, but you've probably never given much thought to what your non-Christian pals will be doing. Don't bothuh, bubalah — they're doing fine. A coalition of Jewish singles organizations led by Tribe sponsors this annual hoedown, which features off-the-hook drinking, dancing, and elbow-rubbing with fellow "Hebes who want to hang." (Hey, they said it, not us.)

Sure sounds better than unwrapping that umpteenth pair of tube socks from Aunt Catherine and Uncle Jack. Oy, can the goyim come, too?

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