Laugh and learn

Laugh and learn

“Chicks with Sticks” is a group that ebbs and flows. There are members who attend every Tuesday night’s knitting session at the Yarn Sellar in York, but there are also others who are less diligent, dropping in once a month or attending just long enough to finish a particularly challenging knitting project.

So it was not unusual when a new member walked in looking for some help and encouragement with a vest she had started knitting for her husband. What was unusual was that the unfinished vest had been sitting under her bed for the last 20 years.

But help, encouragement, and a few laughs were exactly what she needed to finally tackle a project that had been hanging over her head for the last two decades. Members recall that it was a joyous Tuesday night when everyone could toast her completion of the vest.

“This is very special group of people and so welcoming,” said Patty Venega of York Beach. “Tuesday nights, this is where you go. There’s not a lot of that gets between us. I’d prefer to not go to work, but I won’t miss Tuesday nights.”

The mix of good company, mental engagement, creative challenges, and, in some cases, sense of accomplishment offered by classes and group get-togethers such as the “Chicks with Sticks” can help brighten up the bleakest winter day. That’s important when you consider that the limited sunlight and increased cold deprive us of some our favorite activities and even cause depression-like symptoms in those who suffer from Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder.

“The diehard chicks with sticks come regardless,” said Carrie McVie, owner of the Yarn Sellar. “A snowstorm or pending holiday doesn’t matter.”

McVie said there are no strict guidelines to join the group, which runs every Tuesday night from 6 to 9. She doesn’t require members to buy their yarn at the shop, and members may show up later in the evening, perhaps after putting the kids to bed.

New knitters are welcome to come and learn from the more experienced members or take one of the classes that is also offered by the yarn shop. The shop has several experienced knitting instructors who teach knitting 101, socks, cables, and “The Doctor is In” class to help knitters on an individual basis. For those completely new to knitting, McVie advised that for most all knitting, you basically have to learn two stitches – knit and purl.

“Any project that you do is just various ways of manipulating those two stitches,” said McVie, who said you know you’re catching on when you begin to notice your own mistakes. “The biggest epiphany you can have is learning how to correct your own mistake.”

McVie said they usually do a show-and-tell so members can see each others’ work, and although there are some serious knitters in the group, the women in Chicks with Sticks – which also sometimes includes a token male member – do a bit of talking, too.

“A lot of times you bring projects you don’t have to fully focus on,” said McVie. “It’s very low key, which is nice.”

If knitting is not your thing, there’s no shortage of other offerings in southern Maine that allow you to meet new people and learn more about something you’ve always been wanting to try – or take a bold leap by trying something new and exciting.

If you’re shy or have always wanted to be a better public speaker, acting classes are one way to step out on the stage, whether that’s an actual stage or just improving your speaking ability in any setting. Acorn Studios in Westbrook, which has winter classes starting Jan. 17, not only offers acting classes, but also an introduction to audio voicing and public speaking for all occasions.

Prefer to stay behind the scenes or rather paint the scenes? Maine College of Art in Portland has many, many outlets including glassblowing, photography, sculpture, beadmaking, website design, and art therapy. The winter/spring semester starts in January.

For just a dabble in something new, one-day workshops can be found at Portland Fiber Gallery and Weaving Studio on Congress Street, which offers lessons in weaving, knitting, spinning, feltmaking, spinning and dyeing.

Looking for more of a mental challenge than hands-on learning? The Portland Museum of Art holds a monthly “What Do You Think?” discussion where a group meets to study and talk about a piece in the museum’s collection with a member of the museum’s education staff. Each discussion begins in one of the museum’s galleries and continues over lunch in the cafe – where you can meet new friends while perhaps learning a new perspective.

The social aspect of classes can sometimes be the main draw. Mary Moskowitz, of Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult and Community Education, said that often women will sign up for craft classes, such as cooking, knitting, and crocheting with their friends – or they join and make new friends. She said a group of people regularly sign up for their watercolor painting class, which is for all levels.

“They’ve become a little core group of people who socialize and get out of the house to work on their paintings,” said Moskowitz. “It’s their way to socialize and connect.”

Adult education centers offer classes in fitness, crafts, arts, foreign languages and more, allowing you to try out something you’ve always been wanting to try – or take a bold leap into something new and exciting.

Fitness classes combine the social aspect of classes with exercise – which is highly recommended for fighting the winter blues and can help you get on the right track for those upcoming New Year’s resolutions. Moskowitz said women who come to the adult education center especially love belly dancing and Zumba, which offer a fun mix of exercise and entertainment.

“Women love that,” said Moskowitz. “They laugh and have a good time doing it.”

Especially popular right now, Zumba is a dance workout set to Latin rhythms that is open to all fitness levels.

“People interact and laugh,” said Moskowitz. “People love it. It’s a great stress management. It covers everything. It’s one of the most popular classes.”

Even if you have to force it, laughter is one sure way to escape the winter funk. Laughter yoga, a class offered by Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult and Community Education, is based on the concept that if you make yourself laugh, you’ll feel better instantly. Laughter can reduce stress, boost your immune system – good for fighting wintertime cold and flus – and it’s just plain fun.

“It’s therapeutic,” said Moskowitz. “It starts out and you’re just faking it and then it catches on and everybody starts laughing. A lot of us take ourselves too seriously, and don’t laugh enough.”

A Closer Look

For more information on the resources mentioned in this story:

Acorn Productions

854-0065 |

Maine College of Art

775-3052 |

Orchard Beach/Saco Adult ?and Community Education

934-7922 |

Portland Fiber Gallery & Weaving Studio

780-1345 |

Portland Museum of Art

775-6148 |

The Yarn Sellar

351-1987 |

Diehard members of “Chicks with Sticks” make sure they never miss a Tuesday night knitting session at the Yarn Sellar in York.Classes at Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult & Community Education include Group Groove dance classes, as shown here.Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult & Community Education offers excellent basic physical defense classes.Get out of a winter funk by trying something new, such as a class in Thai cooking, offered by Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult & Community Education.

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