by Karen Gibbs
Looking around Slidell airport, I thought, “There’s no way I’d ever fly in one of those little planes.” I managed, however, to conceal this opinion while talking with pilot-instructor Don Pechon and his student, Duane Dendinger. As we spoke, photographer Dorothy Maloney was snapping away. Our job complete, we started for the car.
That’s when Don called out, “You girls didn’t really think you were going to get away without a ride, did you?” We stopped and turned.
“Got to be in Mandeville in 45 minutes,” I said, grateful for the excuse.
“I’ll have you up and down in 15,” Pechon countered.
“We really can’t,” I called back, just as Daring Dorothy said, “Wow, that would be great!”
The next thing I knew, she was sitting in the back and I in the front of the dual-control Cessna. In no time, Don had us off the ground and enjoying a bird’s-eye view of Slidell. The miniature world below was spectacular! Fascinating! I-12, the mall—this was giddy-all-over fantastic! “Okay,” Don said, “You’re going to fly now.” Hey, why not! “Pull back and take her up.” Oh, my gosh! “Level off now.” Hmmm, no roads up here. “Now push down and go back down.” The quick descent woke up the butterflies in my stomach.
“Whoa!” Daring Dorothy exclaimed. It woke up her butterflies, too! After a turn to the right, Don resumed control of the plane, headed for the airport and landed without the slightest bump.
Deplaning, we couldn’t thank Don enough for this once in a lifetime thrill. Then I thought—this wouldn’t have to be once in a lifetime. With flying lessons, a person could have this excitement anytime. That’s when the truth of this assignment hit home. A gift of learning is a gift of possibilities—a refreshing departure from the average present. Why not remember those you love in this unique way? Need ideas? Read on for perfect presents for all the adults on your list—and contact numbers for where to get more detailed information. The listing is not meant to be all-inclusive, but we hope it will give you a place to start!
Who hasn’t looked up to watch a small airplane fly overhead and wondered how it felt to fly a plane? Judging by the look of contentment on the face of 22-year veteran flight instructor Don Pechon, it must feel awfully good. Owner of Pechon Aviation in Slidell (807-3661), Don offers flying lessons with the assurance that students will fly the Cessna on their first lesson. Retired pharmacist Duane Dendinger is already 15 hours into realizing a dream of a lifetime—owning and flying his own plane. Encouraged by his wife to take lessons, Dendinger comes alive at the mention of flying. “I love it! It is an indescribable feeling, better than you thought it would be. On the ground, you think you know what your hometown looks like. When you’re in the air at 1,000 feet, it’s different. You see how your entire town is laid out. The main thing about flying is the freedom. You leave the whole world behind.” Sounds good to me. Flying instruction is also available at Cloud Chasers in Hammond (542-1163).
We all know people who never sit out a dance at weddings or parties. Give your wannabe dance partner the gift that will have you up on the floor swinging: dancing lessons. Jane Quillin and her husband, Scott, have taken only four lessons with instructor/owner Jay Miller (624-2988). “We love it!” says Jane. “Now we have a place to go to dance, have a night out and really enjoy ourselves. Jay’s an awesome teacher. It amazes me what we’ve learned.” Considering the Quillins can now fox trot, waltz, swing, rumba, cha cha and hustle, I’d say they’ve learned enough to make us wallflowers envious.
Foreign Language Study
For people whose ears perk up every time they hear a different language, give the gift that will take them to another country and another culture: foreign language lessons. The Speak Easy in Mandeville (792-0901) offers lessons in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and English as a second language—all taught by native speakers. According to co-owners Beatrice Germaine and Brigitte Gomane, having native speakers as instructors enhances the program, as both conversation and native culture are stressed. After studying French at The Speak Easy, Reid Falconer spent three weeks in southern France with his family. “The lessons made a tremendous difference,” he said, “especially when ordering in restaurants.” Another option is UNO Slidell (645-3505), which offers Spanish and Italian lessons as part of its non-credit program.
One look at the sparkle, mohair and suede yarns in Mandeville’s Knitwits (727-7407) and you realize this is not your mama’s yarn shop. Owners Cate and Bill Costello lure patrons in with unique yarns, then hook them with fabulous knitting lessons. Students learn enough stitches to make a scarf, afghan, sweater—you name it. One visit to Knitwits and you see a sense of family among students and staff, a knitting together of friendships as well as stitches. Lois Cherrier, a veteran of only four lessons, proudly displayed a boiled-wool tote bag she recently knitted. A frequent visitor to Knitwits, Lois brings her bag of yarn and sits around the table with fellow knitters laughing, talking and sharing hints. “That’s not unusual,” says instructor Lisa Stakelum. “It’s hard to stay out of here when people are creating all around you.”
Sculpting and Pottery
Bernard Mattox, recently selected as one of the top-40 young artists in America, is the sculpting instructor for St. Tammany Art Association (892-8650). “He is a remarkable talent and teacher,” says student Charlotte Coe, who enjoys producing realistic figures with movement and a lot of rhythm. “I appreciate that he encourages individual creativity.” Mattox also teaches the association’s pottery lessons—both hand-building and throwing. Potters wheel and clay sculpture are also taught at Mandeville’s Stone and Paper Art Center (674-9232).
Oils and Drawing
For those on your list with an artist’s soul, nothing is more pleasing than art lessons. St. Tammany Art Association in Covington (892-8650) offers group lessons in watercolor, oil painting and drawing with renowned portrait artist Lyn Hayward Taylor. The Stone and Paper Art Center in Mandeville (674-9232) has classes in watercolor, oil and acrylic painting, and drawing. UNO’s Slidell campus (645-3505) offers various art classes throughout the semester, including creative illustration, beginning drawing and watercolor, cartooning, figure drawing, beginning oil painting, pen and ink, calligraphy and porcelain painting. Classes are also offered in Hammond at the Toni Nelson Gallery (542-4278).
Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan
Know someone interested in meditation in motion? Give them lessons in Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan. These two forms of non-contact martial arts involve slow, deliberate movements geared toward improving balance, coordination, flexibility and strength. Tai Chi: Delgado Slidell, 646-6420 and North Oaks Wellness, Hammond, 230-6426; Tai Chi Chuan: UNO Slidell, 645-3505.
Yoga and Pilates
Nina Boasso has been taking yoga classes for more than six years and says she has never felt better. “With yoga I give back to my body,” she explains. “There is a mind-body connection; proper breathing practiced in yoga releases endorphins, the body’s ‘happy hormones.’” A variety of yoga offerings, including youth yoga, praise yoga, power yoga and seniors’ gentle yoga, are available. Pilates, an exercise system that uses unique apparatus to improve flexibility and strength, has also become quite popular. Franco’s Athletic Club, 792-0200; Pelican Athletic Club, 626-3706; UNO Slidell, 645-3505.
Would that certain someone on your list benefit more from a one-on-one exercise program? Hooking them up with a personal trainer might be just the ticket! “Personal trainers are the hottest thing going in physical fitness,” declares Franco’s Director of Fitness Jared Meacham. And, he’s quick to add, they are also the wisest. “I’ve seen ladies spend two hours every day working up a sweat but become frustrated because they don’t see a desired change in their bodies,” he says. “It’s like throwing darts in the dark. A fitness professional assesses the person, sets realistic goals and directs movement to be precise.” If someone on your list is lucky enough to have their own exercise room set up at home, call Fitness Expo (624-9990) and arrange for a personal trainer to come to them! Cross Gates Athletic Club, 643-3500; Franco’s Athletic Club, 792-0200; Pelican Athletic Club, 626-3706; Slidell Athletic Club, 649-7357.
One of Susan Hackney’s favorite ways to de-stress is to go spinning—power riding on a stationary bike, adjusting resistance and hand positions to work different muscle groups. Hackney has been “spinning” her wheels for nearly three years and says it’s the most intense cardiovascular workout she’s ever had. “If your feet bother you, spinning is more doable and less demanding than cardiovascular exercises, such as aerobics,” says the petite blonde. Franco’s spin instructor Molly Duet adds that spinning burns fat faster than any other gym activity. “It’s really intense and trains the body to access fat for fuel,” she says. And if you’re looking for a gift for someone who has already caught on to the spinning craze, Molly suggests giving special gear cycling shoes. The shoes clip right onto stationary bike pedals, making a workout more enjoyable and efficient. Cross Gates Athletic Club, 643-3500; Franco’s Athletic Club, 792-0200; Pelican Athletic Club, 626-3706; Slidell Athletic Club, 649-7357; and Gilboy’s Health Club, 875-0023.
Linda Franzo, of Passionate Platter in Slidell (781-4372), offers cooking lessons that will satisfy mind as well as palate. Students begin their culinary adventure with a champagne herbal tea and a tour of the on-site herbal gardens. With fresh herbs in hand, the class heads for the kitchen. Here Linda demonstrates how to prepare a seasonal meal fit for a king, and then invites her eager pupils to enjoy the feast with her. Passionate Platter lessons are the perfect gift for individuals, as well as families, bridal parties and reunions.
Want exercise without stressing your joints? Consider water aerobics courses offered at all area athletic clubs. Mabel Dinkins turned to water aerobics six years ago, when knee injuries kept her from traditional exercises. “Most people don’t know that exercise in water provides 12 times more resistance than exercise out of the water,” Dinkins says. “It’s kept me toned, maintained my weight, is a great psychological outlet and a great way to form new friendships.” Judging from the laughter of the women exercising around her, fun is a benefit she forgot to add.
Are there people on your gift list who are so afraid of water that a daily bath is their idea of swimming? Fear of water can be overcome, and private instructor Gitte Tannehill (626-9456) is the swimming instructor who can do it. With a master’s degree in physical education, Gitte’s gentle approach is aimed at building confidence and skill. Lessons in the beautiful heated pool at her Old Mandeville home will begin in March 2006.
You’ve got to really love a sport when you’re willing to take lessons in 98-degree heat. Such was the case with Beth Grimm and Pearl Milliet. When asked what they thought of tennis, Grimm and Milliet both chimed, “We love it!” The smiles on their faces showed that they were doing more than strengthening their legs and improving their coordination. They were having the time of their lives learning from their tennis instructor, Jonathan Zilke. Cross Gates Athletic Club, 643-3500; Chamale Tennis and Social Club, 643-4192. Check with other area athletic clubs for times and prices of tennis lessons.
James Leitz, a leading PGA golf pro in the state, offers classes in his indoor teaching studio at Pinewood Country Club in Slidell (643-6892). His four-camera set-up is an invaluable teaching aid for all levels of golfers. “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” says Leitz. And once his students put the picture of a correct swing together with the feel of that swing, “a feel is worth 1,000 pictures,” he says with a smile.
Delgado and UNO offer beginner’s and advanced golf at Live Oaks Driving Range in Slidell (641-5500); Mike Ladek, a PGA golf pro, offers group lessons and private lessons at the 9-hole, par-3 golf course. Franco’s Golf Center in Covington (892-0951) also offers a 9-hole, par-3 course—and is one of the best-kept secrets in town, says manager Pete Taggard. “We’re only $6 for nine holes,” he says. At that price, a nice gift certificate for the holidays will have your golfer swinging irons for weeks!