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Get off the Couch

By Sean P. Johnson

To paraphrase the late George Harrison: it’s been a long, cold Wisconsin winter.

It looks like it’s sticking around, too. Howard Porter knows how tough that can be on people. It’s easy, he says, to stay inside, stay on the couch and wait for spring to finally show up.

The problem is, that’s the wrong approach. “It just feeds into the depression they can experience,” says Porter, an active retiree and a former psychologist. “It’s important to get out, even if it’s just for a while.”

He follows his own advice. Porter’s active with a book club and regularly attends classes and events at the Appleton Public Library. He recently stopped by a program called Let’s Talk, a one-hour session where folks gather to discuss current events and culture. Sometimes the topics are predetermined, sometimes not.

The important thing, Porter says, is it gives people a chance to get out of the house, interact and maybe even learn something along the way.

Scott Schuldes, a family nurse practitioner with ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert, couldn’t agree more.

“People are really struggling this year, not just with the length of winter, but the severity of it,” he says. “We have to be inventive to find things we can do to stay active.”

Whether it’s a class to learn a new hobby, a chance to get the blood pumping or just an opportunity to socialize, Fox Cities residents have plenty of options to choose from.

The alternative is to go completely stir crazy by the Ides of March.

“We usually have between 20 to 25 programs a month,” says Elizabeth Eisen, who handles adult programming at the Appleton Public Library. “We have everything from poetry to board games to programs where you can just get together and talk.”

Event calendars for the region’s libraries are packed with activities for the winter months.

The Appleton Public Library, for example, offers a class on Tuesday’s called Creative Journey which includes activities such as learning to decorate cakes.

At Neenah, the Makerspace program for March includes learning stop motion animation and creating flip books.

If the library’s adult programs don’t suit your tastes, The YMCA of the Fox Cities has a full catalog of classes that can keep you active until Mother Nature gets around to a spring thaw.

It’s not just exercise classes, either. From fine arts to computers to foreign languages, the YMCA’s five locations offer a wealth of opportunities to keep both mind and body active during the winter months.

Some classes meet for several weeks, others may be just a one-day event. Even just an hour can help.

Schuldes says he recently tried snowshoeing at one of the region’s nature centers—almost all of which are offering snowshoeing, cross country skiing or outdoor winter nature hikes.

He and several employees at the clinic are taking a yoga class during the lunch hour.

“It’s important to take the time to take care of yourself,” he says. “Not only will it help you, but it will help you be a better spouse and a better parent if you do.”

People are creatures of habit, Schuldes says, and if the habit becomes sitting on the couch with a bowl of chips and your feet up, that can be really hard to break when the weather changes.

Keeping active is an important part of the many programs offered by the city of Appleton’s Park and Recreation department. Courses include learning foreign languages, exercise and a series of luncheon’s specifically designed to learn and socialize.

“For many of them, it’s that social component,” says Heidi Erickson, a recreation programmer with Appleton’s Park and Recreation department. “They can have that conversation.”

The winter months can be a great time to take a class to learn a new skill or try a hobby you’ve been thinking about. Many companies associated with hobbies such as woodworking or photography also offer introductory classes and seminars.

Not sure where to start? Fox Valley Technical College offers a wide range of adult education and enrichment classes, covering everything from computer programming to cooking to sewing and quilting.

If a class is not your forte, and it’s just an opportunity to get out and socialize that you crave, there are opportunities to do that costing nothing more than your time and a little effort to get there.

The Fox River Mall, for example, opens its doors early to give people a chance to walk and socialize while sheltered from the elements.

“For many, it’s a chance to get up, get out and socialize,” Schuldes says. “They have a coffee klatch going and it’s how they are effectively dealing with the long winter.”

That’s why Porter looks forward to his next outing. His book club will be discussing the latest book on the founder of Ripley’s Believe it of Not.

“I haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to the discussion,” he says.

—FC

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