Class Conscious

Live and learn with some of Houston's most entertaining courses

"Adult Education" isn't just the title of a horribly bad Hall & Oates song from the '80s -- it's also the concept that learning doesn't stop after you receive that diploma you cheated so hard to earn.

Each New Year, thousands of Houston adults make resolutions to learn something new or make a change in their lives. For the dozen or so who'll actually follow through, we offer a preview of some unique classes.

Leisure Learning Unlimited

So you were burned on investment opportunities with alpacas and llamas? How about trying your hand at "Goat Farming"? Co-instructors Teg Gregory and Shelby Brown find inspiration not in Oliver Douglas from Green Acres, but in 18th-century economist Adam Smith. "You have to treat it as a business, not a lifestyle. If a nonfarmer is willing to do his homework, he should be able to get a reasonable return on his investment," Gregory says. Not to mention companionship and slipper-fetching. "For me, goats are as personable as dogs."

Students will learn about care and feeding, breeding (you can buy eight pregnant goats for the price of a single cow!) and land management. And goats can be raised for either their meat or their milk. "It's true that goat meat is the world's No. 1 red meat choice!" Gregory enthuses. Can the McDonald's Double Cheese Goatburger be far behind?

Classes are January 20 and 22 or March 10 and 12; $30.

To get that goat scent off, you might need to apply some smell-good stuff. Make your own in "Blend Perfume Like a Professional." "Name-brand perfumers will use up to 200 ingredients in their blends just to make it difficult to re-create and develop a mystical aura," says instructor and certified aromatherapist Amy Findley. "But successful blending all comes down to your ability to develop your nose."

Students will learn to nearly duplicate a perfume that goes for hundreds of dollars an ounce in department stores. Calling the oils "fairies in a bottle," Findley says her students will get a bonus when someone "falls in love with the way they smell." And who says romance is dead?

The class will be held February 3; the cost is $25, plus $10 for oils and supplies.

Once you're smelling like a famous actor or actress, take the next step toward showbiz immortality with "Soap, Sitcom, Movie Scripts, and Plays -- Reader's Theater." But forget those boring Pinter and Ionesco scripts. Here, you'll read from stuff such as Friends, All My Children and The Godfather. And remember: Leave your Matt LeBlanc and Marlon Brando impressions at the door. "I'm not really fond of impersonations -- that's stand-up comedy. So it's best to find the qualities of yourself in the character," says instructor/actress Laureen Falco. In other words, find your inner Joey.

Classes will also include theater games, physical stretching, vocalization and improv, proving that even the simplest roles require some talent. "Karen from Will & Grace is absolutely a nut, but you have to be skilled to pull it off," Falco adds.

Classes will be held February 2, 9, 16 and 23; $60, plus approximately $10 for scripts.

After performing an episode of Cheers, impress your new friends with your own libations after you attend "Beer Brewing & Tasting 101." You needn't buy your own Laverne & Shirley-style workspace. "Surprisingly little equipment is required," says instructor Scott Birdwell. "Many people are surprised when they're given a beer that you've made yourself, even if they've had a bad experience with Uncle Zeke's prohibition-style homebrew."

There are added benefits to the class -- all in the name of higher education and research, of course. "We taste probably 25 different commercial beers," he says. So, bottom line: How long from kettle to bottle to lips? "As a rule of thumb, the more alcohol, the heavier the body, the stronger the hop bite, the longer it will take to mature," Birdwell says. The same might be said for a lot of people who enjoy the product.

Classes are January 18, 25, February 1, 8, 15; $39, plus $20 for ingredients and the tasting.

Of course, when some folks have too much to drink, their inner demons come out swinging. So it might be a good time for a little "Anger Taming." From terrorists and the economy to your nagging spouse and the asshole who cut you off on I-45, it seems there's plenty to rage about these days.

"Internalized anger can lead to defeat, depression and despair," says instructor Joseph Kaye. "Also loss of energy, job, interest, joy and, in extremes, suicide." Yikes!

The class will help students practice how to stop Hulk-ing out and instead convert their anger into a vehicle for life-lesson learning. Kaye also notes that the biggest pitfall is when people blame everyone and everything except themselves for their anger and its manifestations. If Russell Crowe had only taken this course, perhaps he would've used the telephone to reach out and touch someone, not smack the crap out of that hotel employee.

Classes are scheduled for January 25 or March 14; $25.

Even if no amount of anger management can keep you from wanting to sabotage a smarmy co-worker or circulate critical e-mails about your boss, maybe you need to "Learn to Love Office Politics." "In an office environment, you are playing politics whether you like it or not. If you think you can stay out of it, you are still playing, just doing poorly," says instructor and psychologist Robert Sarmiento.

His class will give you tips on how to play the game and promote yourself in a "professional and ethical way" to improve your standing in the nine-to-five pecking order -- even if it means dealing with that cubicle dweller you really, really despise. "If you don't like someone, don't get them in your network. But you can still deal with them -- just be up front about your differences," Sarmiento says. And who knows? The two of you might end up making out at next year's office Christmas party.

Classes will be held February 1 and March 29; $25, plus $5 for materials.

After the spiked eggnog wears off, do you think that person is right for a longer-term relationship? Take an analytical approach in "How to Evaluate a Potential Spouse." The class will look at things that can destroy a marriage -- including one biggie: "Many people are attracted romantically to others that they would never marry," says instructor Tom Kennedy.

He adds that potential "deadly differences" include finances, personality and romantic and sexual expectations. Even in successful, long-term marriages, couples aren't always "happy" or "in love" at all times. Maybe that has something to do with one basic rift between the sexes: "Women prefer much more romance than men do," he notes. "And men prefer much more sex than women do." Really?

For information about these or other Leisure Learning Unlimited classes, or to request a catalog, call 713-529-4414 or visit www.llu.com. Rice University School of Continuing Studies

If your New Year's resolution is to turn your brain from mush to the sharp, keen gray glob you know it can be, try "Mental Gymnastics to Boost Brainpower and Communication Skills," even if you've never spent a minute on the parallel bars. And don't believe that "we only use 10 percent of our brains" bull. "That's just misinformation -- the human brain is active at all times, even during sleep," says instructor Bernard Patten. "But most neurologists would agree that the human brain doesn't think at maximum efficiency at all times -- such as when we're tired, bored, sick or watching TV."

The class will teach students how to use the brain to increase memory skills, read faster, interpret other people's body language and express themselves better. "Students who really apply themselves will look ten times smarter with increased mental agility," Patten says. "And notice I didn't say they will be smarter."

The class begins February 15 for seven sessions; $139.

For information on this or other classes at the Rice University School of Continuing Studies, or to request a catalog, call 713-348-4803 or visit www.scs.rice.edu.

Houston Community College

If you're agoraphobic, or if you're on the computer so much that your hand has permanently fused to your mouse, never fear: Houston Community College is offering more than 1,000 online courses. "Students can work at their own pace or when their mind is up for it," says Madeline Burillo, HCC's director of online education. "And you don't have to deal with Houston traffic!"

The popularity of crime shows such as CSIand Bones and James Patterson's books has sounded a clarion call to all writers looking to the dark side of human nature -- and you'd better know how long it really takes a body to decompose or how much DNA you can extract from a pubic hair. In "Demystifying Forensic Science: A Writer's Guide," students will learn how to write like they've been playing with corpses at crime scenes for years. "Fiction does not need to be realistic, but writers who want to become better shouldn't rely on fiction for information about the real world," Burillo says. "You don't want errors sabotaging your credibility."

And, since it can be hard to get quotes from serial killers awaiting trial, maybe you should also consider "Achieving Success with Difficult People." Students will learn how to improve their relationship with Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy at home and, especially, the office. "Difficult people and their behavior can cause problems by undermining morale, creating conflict and impeding effectiveness," Burillo notes. "And a head-in-the-sand attitude can only make things worse." Yeah, but at least it blocks out having to hear those people.

For information on these or other online courses offered by Houston Community College, call 713-718-5149 or visit www.hccs.edu/onlineceu.

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