Jason DeParle realizes that no one wants to read a book about the welfare system. Although he's fascinated by the Byzantine structures of policy and legislation, even he admits that it's a snoozeworthy subject.
So the New York Times senior writer and two-time Pulitzer finalist got to the heart of the story in American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare, profiling the human faces behind all the paper-pushing. "I didn't write this with a set of policy prescriptions in mind," explains DeParle. "I wanted to bring this group of people to life. There are millions and millions of people who never had a reason to think about the working poor."
DeParle spent eight years gathering material for American Dream. He spent time with fatherless families, watching single mothers move off welfare and into jobs . . . and still struggle to make ends meet. "I didn't go in there trying to prove that it was or wasn't going to work," he says. "I just wanted to get to know these people." DeParle talks about his book at noon Monday at the Cleveland Foodbank, 15500 South Waterloo Road. Admission is $15; call 216-781-2944. -- Michael Gallucci
HolidayFest puts Christmas on ice.
Santa ushers in Akron's inaugural HolidayFest on Saturday with a parade, live music, and the lighting of a superhuge Christmas tree. (Other events scheduled over the next month include visits to tree farms, The Nutcracker, and pie-baking lessons taught by Santa's old lady.) But it's an ice-skating rink and a Christkindl market that put us smack-dab in the middle of a winter wonderland. Skates are available for rent for $2 (that's a mere buck per foot!), and the craft bazaar includes toys, food, and ornaments handmade in the mountains of eastern Germany. HolidayFest runs through January 17 at Lock 3 (on Main Street, between Bowery and State streets in Akron). The ice rink and Christkindl Markt are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission to both is free. For a complete schedule and more information, call 330-535-3179. Michael Gallucci
Take a ride to the place where Christmas trees come from.
You can kill two partridges with one, um, ride at Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's Christmas Tree Adventure, which combines a train trip with the thrill of chopping down your own tree. "We shake and bale 'em, then tractor 'em back, where you can watch us load 'em onto the baggage car," says George Haramis, co-owner of the (for now) tree-filled Heritage Farms. And if you don't feel like getting your Paul Bunyan on, there are always pre-cut trees -- or someone there to do the work for you. The Adventure starts at 10:15 a.m. Saturday and Sunday through December 12 at CVSR's Rockside Station (on Old Rockside Road in Independence). Admission (which does not include the cost of the tree) is $21, $14 for kids; call 800-468-4070. -- Lucy McKernan
Billy the Magic Clown (apparently "Billy the Regular Old Clown" wasn't cutting it) joins Santa, Rudolph, and a marching band on Saturday to help Light Up Lorain. The daylong celebration includes a parade, holiday movies, live music, and historical programs. It all ends with a big bang of fireworks at dusk. Free festivities start at 11:45 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park, 200 West Erie Avenue in Lorain. Call 440-244-6503 for more info. -- Lucy McKernan