This year, skip tired New Year’s resolutions—like vowing to eat healthy and hit the gym every day—and go for something a little more cerebral: Boost your brainpower, beef up your skill set and expand your horizons by learning something new. Whether it’s something you’ve long avoided but really should master (that’s you, public speaking), a hobby you’ve always wanted to try (scuba diving, perhaps?), a bandwagon you want to jump on (read: mindfulness, meditation) or just an important practical skill (hello, home improvement!), we’ve got you covered.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every time something broke in your home or you wanted an upgrade, you didn’t have to call a handyman but could get down to work yourself? One stop at your local Home Depot could make this scenario a blissful reality, through its free, weekly workshops for DIYers of all ages and experience levels. The location in Mount Pleasant, for example, has popular weekend seminars on how to fix damaged drywall and install tile flooring. Seminars are taught by staff who work with the goods and tools every day. Check the website to see what classes are coming up near you.
Do you want to be known as the funny one, the person who leaves everyone in stitches? While some may think being funny is a natural gift, we at Westchester Magazine think it’s a skill that can be honed like any other. One way is to head to Croton Academy of Arts and enroll in their adult-improv class taught by professional comedian, Rory Scholl. Over four 90-minute sessions (for $100), you’ll learn how to think on your feet, laugh at yourself and others, and feel confident being your natural (and most likely hysterical) self in front of a crowd.
With both the Hudson River and the Long Island Sound beckoning us Westchesterites to get out on a boat, sailing really should be on our list of things to learn. A great place to start is the Croton Sailing School. For the past 30 years, owner Steve Jennings has been providing hands-on instruction aboard 24-foot Rainbow sailboats. His students learn to rig the boat, sail to a destination and execute all “points of sail,” practice safety maneuvers and return to port. Right-of-way rules and basic navigation are also taught. The Basic Hands On course, which runs $495 per person, is a two-day course with no more than four students and an instructor aboard a sailboat. Courses are taught weekends or weekdays from May through October. Private Lessons are also available for $70 an hour.
Scientists say that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. (And no, they aren’t talking about texting, emails, or emojis.) Whether you are dating, interviewing for a job, or speaking to your children, the 100 nonverbal clues humans use can be as important, or more important, as what you say. To master these skills, look no further than The Nonverbal Group in Manhattan. The center offers a range of classes, from two-hour introductory seminars ($100) to full-weekend classes ($995) that teach you how to identify, use, and make sense of over 100 different nonverbal clues. The end result: You’ll learn people’s true intentions and be better at communicating your own.
They say people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but if you made the glassware yourself, you can do whatever you want (including brag about it), right? Bullseye Glass Co., an international glass art company with a location in Mamaroneck, has glasswork classes for all levels. You can learn to make glass jewelry, plates, mini-sculptures, even glass tapestries to hang around the house. Introductory classes last two and a half hours. You can also sign up for more intense workshops, which last 16 hours over three days. Bullseye also offers online classes; $39 dollars a year gets you unlimited streaming.
Ancient Rome had Cicero; England, Winston Churchill; and South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Every generation and place needs great orators, and the US might have… you! If it’s always been your dream to give inspiring, powerful speeches (even if it’s just for your best friend’s wedding or your company board meeting), look no further than Westchester Toastmasters. This group meets from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm every first, third, and fifth (if any) Tuesday of the month at Eastview Middle School in White Plains, to work on public speaking and presentation skills with trained evaluators. All backgrounds and abilities are welcome, and no sign-up is needed; simply show up, and let the words roll.
Don’t wait to find the golden ticket that gets you access to Willy Wonka’s magical factory; turn your kitchen into a chocolate-making heaven on your own. A good place to start is Blue Tulip Chocolates in Rye, which offers a variety of chocolate-making workshops and events. For $50 you can take a 90-minute “How to Become a Chocolatier” class, where you create your own chocolates filled with ganaches and caramels, or one on how to color, roll, and mold fondant on mini-cupcakes. Or, for $40, try a chocolate-tasting class to learn what makes Swiss and French chocolate so different. The instructor is the head chocolatier herself; having tasted her sweets, we have full faith she knows what she’s doing.
Feel like you’ve checked-off every museum, restaurant, and attraction in your area? Itching for a new place to discover? Why not try the wild world under the water? Scuba New York in Yonkers offers scuba-diving courses for all levels. Beginners can earn initial certificates, while more experienced divers can take refresher courses or special classes like night diving and ice diving. This is the only place in the region with an on-site, heated pool, so there are classes every season and all day long. The instructors are also uber-qualified, having logged a combined 6,409 dives. Prices vary depending on the type of lesson and whether lessons are for groups or individuals.
Photo by Stefan Radtke
Stargazing (Times Two)
Once you start stargazing, you may never stop. That was the case for Westchester celebrity weatherman and News 12 Meteorologist Joe Rao, who became hooked at age 5 when his grandfather showed him his first lunar eclipse. If you’re ready to get hooked, too, take in a star talk with Rao at the Hayden Planetarium Space Center at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Rao first launched his monthly stargazers lecture series, Astronomy Live, in 1998, and now teaches three classes per year; his next lecture will be on May 3. If you’d rather not wait till then to start stargazing, check out the recently refurbished planetarium at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers (see pages 66-67 and above). Offering three shows per day on Saturdays and Sundays, including one geared for children, the museum’s dazzling celestial presentations will inspire even the most hardened souls to keep reaching for the stars. Hayden Planetarium’s Astromomy Live: $15 per ticket. Hudson River Museum: $10 per ticket (includes museum and planetarium).
Improved personal growth, spiritual exploration, quieting the mind—all reasons why meditation has become so popular. Want to jump on this bandwagon? The Wainwright House in Rye is a one-stop shop for all things meditation. Start your day with their morning meditations or head there in the evening to regroup after a long day at work. There are also “conscious dance” practices, a healing sound series, and a creative-writing outlet. For those who want to dive right in, enroll in one of Wainwright House’s meditation retreats or conferences. Some classes are as affordable as a $5 suggested donation—not a bad price for inner peace.
Play An Instrument
Dust off your guitar and polish your old French horn, because music lessons aren’t just for the kids. With a thriving adult-music-lesson business, Mike Risko Music School in Ossining can bring you back to your high-school symphony or garage-band days (and make you wonder why you ever stopped playing). Learn to play an instrument along with your kids, take lessons just for the thrill of it, or join one of the school’s rock bands. With a host of accolades (including multiple Best of Westchester wins), Mike Risko Music School has been providing music lessons to the Westchester community for 20 years and has more than 30 teachers on staff. Classes meet weekly through the year. Adult lessons start at $39.
Read Tarot Cards
We can’t send you anywhere in Westchester to become a psychic (at least not with a straight face), but we can suggest you learn to read tarot cards with Lisa Salvatore. She’s been reading them for 15 years, and she’ll teach you to do the same in a three-hour workshop at The Temperance Center in Eastchester. She runs one class per month there, capped at 10 people, but avails herself of groups of 4 to 10 people for private instruction, including for parties and events. Salvatore is based in White Plains but will travel to you for a small fee. $150 per person for workshops and private instruction.
If The Walking Dead has taught us anything, it’s this: When civilization collapses, you had better know a little something about survival. Enter survivalist and primitive-skills specialist Justin Sutera, who offers weekend-long wilderness-survival courses in Pound Ridge. Sutera studied at Tom Brown Jr. Tracker School and taught survival courses at Primitive Pursuits in Ithaca, New York, before setting up his own survival course in Westchester. If you’re ready to leave civilization behind (even just for a weekend), sign up for one of his courses, where students learn the basics of primitive survival skills, including shelter techniques that could save your life, methods of making fire by friction, water purification, primitive cooking, wild edible and medicinal plants, and primitive trapping/hunting techniques. Although chances of a zombie apocalypse are pretty low, it never hurts to be prepared! $300 per student for the weekend; food and all materials are included.
Writing a Memoir
You have a story to tell, and it deserves to be heard. Author Susan Hodara can help you hone your memoir-writing skills during her six-week seminar, Memoir Writing Workshop, at Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in Sleepy Hollow. An essayist for The New York Times and co-author of the memoir Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance with Our Mothers, Hodara guides aspiring memoirists in recording life’s transforming events. Each week, students bring their works in progress and read them aloud in class to get feedback. Classes meet weekly on Tuesdays for six-week sessions on an ongoing basis throughout the year. The class costs $320. Hodara guides aspiring memoirists in recording life’s transforming events. Each week, students bring their works in progress and read them aloud in class to get feedback. Classes meet weekly on Tuesdays for six-week sessions on an ongoing basis throughout the year. The class costs $320.
We live in a fast-paced county, in a fast-paced culture, at a time when most of us have mastered the art of multitasking. The recent push to become more mindful is easier said than done, and this is where Cheryl Brause and her company, 2bpresent, come in. As the cofounder and executive director of 2bpresent, Brause provides mindfulness classes and workshops—based on research-tested methods—to teach her students how to be more mindful. In her sessions, she stresses mindful listening: students pair off and are asked to take turns being an active listener; they are not permitted to respond, analyze, problem solve, or judge the information they hear; instead, they are simply tasked with absorbing it all. Workshops meet weekly for 90-minute sessions in Brause’s Larchmont studio. These workshops start at $240 and run for four-week sessions on an ongoing basis throughout the year.
If you have trouble keeping your elbows off of the table or remembering which fork to use when, it might be time to pay a visit to Establish Yourself NY’s Melissa Leonard, Westchester’s top etiquette and protocol expert. According to Leonard, who has worked with Fortune 100 companies, as well as thousands of private clients to polish their etiquette, individuals equate good manners with competence and bad manners with incompetence. Her etiquette classes run from 90 minutes to half-day sessions and are held in the client’s home; for corporate training, Leonard travels to the client’s office. Individuals will learn valuable business, social, and dining etiquette skills that should help create a powerful personal image. Private sessions start at $200.
Is your idea of fun waking up on a Sunday and whipping up a perfect Bloody Mary? Or perhaps an Old Fashioned after dinner? It’s not as hard as you think to become an expert mixologist. Just head over to Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry on the first Sunday of every month for cocktail seminars led by resident barman and beverage director Clark Moore. Participants will not only learn how to make two drinks a season; they will also understand the history of the spirits used and the reasoning behind why the cocktails taste oh-so-good. The cost is $75 per class (which includes appetizers); Harper’s also offers discounted packages so you can attend again and again.
You’ve made the jump from Budweiser to craft, but are you ready to take the next leap—homebrewing? If so, seek out Philip Clarke Jr.: He’s co-owner and manager of the Westchester Homebrew Emporium in New Rochelle and vice president of the Westchester Homebrewers Organization (WHO). He can set you up with everything you need to get started at his store for about $150. Then, WHO meets on the fourth Monday of every month at Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in Elmsford to sample one another’s beer and talk technique. It’s not a formal learn-to-brew operation, but they welcome beginners and are more than happy to show you the ropes. Fees run just $25 for the year. Clarke recommends starting with something that packs a punch, like an IPA or a stout, because it can hide a beginner’s errors. Homebrew Emporium in New Rochelle and vice president of the Westchester Homebrewers Organization (WHO).
In the words of dog whisperer Cesar Millan: “The most important thing that we have to provide [our dogs] is that we are the pack leader, that we set the rules, the boundaries and the limitations.” If you’re finding it hard to set boundaries for your pooch, it may be time to head over to Port Chester Obedience Training Club (PCOTC). With 75 years of experience, PCOTC has been teaching pet owners how to better handle their pets long before Cesar Millan was even born (let alone a household name). More than 60 classes weekly, held days, nights, and weekends, on everything from Puppy Pre-K to Family Manners and Agility Training. Classes start at $86.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be the next Suze Orman? Or, are you Orman’s worst nightmare, spending all of your discretionary income on shoes and booze? Either way, boot-up your computer and boost your financial prowess with Westchester Community College’s Keys to Successful Money Management one-day seminars. In the noncredit online course, a certified financial planner will walk you through the steps you need to take in order to get your finances in order. Learn about the broad array of investment choices available to you right now and the best ways to acquire and accumulate cash and real property. For $125, the course, offered on the second Wednesday of each month, promises to teach you how most wealthy people amassed their fortunes.
The ability to defend yourself, your children, and your family is a serious matter, and self-defense doesn’t get much more serious than Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system taught for real “street” situations. If you’re looking for a hardcore defense training, check out Westchester Krav Maga in Tuckahoe, where Sensei Vladimir Zolottev—who holds a black belt in the discipline Krav Maga—teaches techniques to overcome an attacker in virtually any circumstance, from punches and kicks, to threats with knifes and weapons. Beyond self-defense, Krav Maga improves physical fitness, stamina, balance, and coordination. The first class is free; after that, prices range from $12 to $40 per session.
Ride A Motorcycle
We know, there are certain elements of motorcycle riding that just can’t be taught (e.g., how to rock a metal-studded leather jacket, how to get your testosterone high enough to weave through highway traffic). But the good news is you can test the waters without going all-in, by learning the basics at Motorcycle Safety School at Lehman College in the Bronx, just south of Yonkers. For $90, the two-hour Introductory Motorcycle Experience acquaints you with the foundations of riding, with both a classroom and a practical component. Classes are offered seven days a week between 9 am and 7 pm, and 250cc motorcycles are provided; just make sure you dress properly (see the school’s FAQ online) and bring a photo ID. Oh, and if you decide to actually humor your midlife crisis and pursue a motorcycle license, the center offers additional courses that are worth a peek.
As recently as five years ago, archery was a don’t-make-me-do-it activity buried deep in the annals of high-school gym class. But Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen made it cool again when her arrow struck hundreds of millions at the box office. If you are riding the resurgence, Extreme Archery in Mamaroneck is the place to hone your target skills. For $35, you get a half-hour lesson with an experienced archer (some are even nationally ranked). Lessons are available individually or in groups, and they welcome any experience level. (Oh, and did we mention that hunting is legal in Westchester only with a bow and arrow? Do us all a favor, though: Sign up for some target practice before you hit the deer stand.)
Make Your Own Cheese
Three to four times per year, Sur La Table in White Plains runs a two-and-a-half hour workshop that covers all the basics of cheesemaking. And by basics we mean goat, Brie, and mozzarella. (If there’s time, you’ll also learn to make a simple Greek yogurt or cream cheese.) Instructors, all of whom are armed with culinary degrees, will group you in fours and then get you working hands-on. By class-end, you’re sent off with the cheese you made in class, plus recipes—and hopefully some confidence—so you can go it alone. Classes cost $69 per person.
Fencing is often called “physical chess” because it demands a rigorous command of mental strategy. If that sounds like your thing, why not learn under two-time Olympian Slava Grigoriev (or a number of other impressively titled instructors) at the Fencing Academy of Westchester? Just be prepared—fencers who come to the Hawthorne complex often take their game seriously: Division-I college students are en garde, as are competitive high schoolers and full-blown professionals. But they assure us that beginners—of all ages—are more than welcome. Lessons require membership (although your first month is a free trial); annual membership costs $800 for adults, $400 for kids. Private lessons vary by instructor but run about $40 to $45.
A Foreign Language
It’s true that the young noggin is a little more… absorbent when it comes to learning languages. But that’s no reason to limit yourself to plain-old English. ABC Languages in New Rochelle offers one-on-one language classes in everything from French and German to Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, and Korean. Instructors, who are all native speakers, come to you—or to a mutually convenient location like a library—for lessons, which last an hour and a half each, minimum. The focus is on speaking but can be tailored based on your need if, say, writing is more important. Classes are sold in two packages: 24 hours, which runs $70 an hour; and 12 hours, which will set you back $80 an hour.
Have you dreamt of having the best garden in the neighborhood, one that looks as perfect as it smells? Or perhaps you want to grow your own vegetables and turn your dinner table into a farm-to-table operation for your family? Look no further than the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which is famous for its gardening courses. You can choose from many classes, including floral design, gardening, botanical gardens, and landscape design. There are one-time events, which last a few hours (around $35), and series, where you fine-tune a skill with classes once a week for several months (around $550). All classes are taught by the very same experts who bring us the gorgeous botanical garden.
Are you looking for more than a six-second Vine video to tell your story? Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville offers a course called Getting Into the Story: Intro to the Documentary for college-age and adult students. It covers all the basics to get your nonfiction filmmaking up to par: interviewing, shooting, directing, and editing, plus technical support during open-edit hours, HD cameras to shoot with, and a crash course on the lingo of filming. This past fall’s course met once a week for two and a half hours from early September to mid-December and was priced at $756 for non-members, $681 for members. Expect similar parameters in 2016, but stay tuned for specifics.
Circus arts are not just for acrobats and runaways anymore. They’re for fitness enthusiasts, too. Westchester Circus Arts in Ardsley caters to all of the above, and its most popular class is for general “aerial” skills (it starts on the ground for beginners, don’t worry), which might include a go on the core-flexing aerial silks (two long curtains that hang from the ceiling) and the static and flying trapeze. Ground-based classes are offered as well, hitting on more familiar aspects of the circus, like juggling and acrobatics. Either way, don’t psych yourself out—there are classes for beginners, during which instructors will work with you to build strength and technique. Your first class is $20. From there, drop-ins cost $35; a five-class card goes for $165; and 10 classes are $315.
HTML, CSS, Java, iOS—WTF? If you’d like to once and for all demystify those bewildering tech acronyms and learn to code, head to The New York Code + Design Academy in lower Manhattan. The Academy offers part-time courses, mostly running twice a week for a few hours at a time, covering topics like front- and back-end design and app creation for Apple’s iOS. Or, if you want to build some serious coding skills, try the three-month, full-time (10 am to 6 pm Monday-Friday) Web Development Intensive (be warned that it will set you back $10,000). Instructors are professional developers, and career services are offered if you are looking to use this as a platform to switch jobs.
Fly a Plane
In the words of Amelia Earhart: “There’s more to life than being a passenger.” So, get out of the passenger seat and over to Academy of Aviation flight school at Westchester County Airport, where you can channel your inner Earhart (or Howard Hughes) and take control of the plane. The school’s Discovery Flight, a 60-minute lesson created for first-time fliers, costs $157. The Federal Aviation Administration requires 40 hours of training before you can fly solo, and the Academy of Aviation has packages, programs, and payment plans to accommodate anyone interested in learning to become their own pilot.