At-home massage techniques, great deals on gifts, and backyard redo experts.
Reader Pick | Massage Therapist
The art of massage isn’t as much what you do as how you do it. So says Hana Levin, massage therapist for 25 years and founder of Melt Massage in Oakland. “People need touch like people need food,” she says. “But the same kind of touch doesn’t feel good for everyone. It’s important to learn what feels good to someone else when massaging them.”
The next time your spouse requests a rubdown after a stressful day at the office, give these methods a try—and don’t forget to ask about the most satisfying pressure and pace.
With the receiver face up, slip your hands to the back of the head at the neck. Make small circles with your fingertips at the bony base of the skull, moving up toward the top of the crown and outward away from the center of the head, then down and back to the center.
Slather your hands with creamy lotion (lavender is a calming scent), and run fingertips in circles from below the earlobes down to the shoulders.
Again in circles, move fingertips between the shoulder blades, pausing at points of tension. These are often found at the top inside corners of the scapulae. From there, ask the receiver if it would feel better to go up, down, right, or left. meltmassage.net. —Jennifer Wadsworth
Reader Pick | Personal Trainer
Sure, the boot camp instructor screaming in your ear may wring a few more pull-ups out of you, but Bill Daniels at Renaissance ClubSport in Walnut Creek takes a different approach: listening. “I like to really get to know people on a personal level,” says Daniels, who trains upward of 20 clients a week. “Part of being in shape isn’t just losing weight. It’s also making sure that we can function day to day and feel better when we move.” That’s not to say he will let you off easy. Daniels takes traditional exercises and then adapts them to tone more of your body. Try his favorite tweaks on traditional movements to maximize your burn. renaissanceclubsport.com/walnut-creek.
Up the burn: Add a dumbbell row. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and alternate pulling each arm into the chest, keeping the elbow close to the body.
Need more? Add a twist at the top, turning your body in the direction of your arm as it extends toward the ceiling and forms a line with the arm planted on the ground.
Up the burn: Add a press. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, squat down, and alternate pressing each arm above your head, or press both up at the same time.
Need more? Stand on the squishy side of a Bosu ball, which resembles a cut-in-half exercise ball, and squat and press.
Up the burn: Add a ball under your feet. Lift the hips, and pull the legs and ball in toward the body by bending knees and keeping hips lifted.
Need more? Try extending the hips above the torso, with only the shoulders touching the ground. —Kristen Haney
Editor Pick | Yarn
Crochet and knitting are red-hot right now (if you haven’t moved Grandma’s afghan from the linen closet to the sofa, do it now), and Oakland yarn and fabric shop A Verb for Keeping Warm is putting a local, sustainable spin on the trend. Its new Pioneer yarn line is made of organic merino wool, from sheep just 90 miles away in Capay Valley.
Tireless shop owner Kristine Vejar spent six years looking for the right herd of sheep, and she found them with farmer Sally Fox. Not only does Fox tend the animals organically and humanely, but she grows wool and cotton specifically for wearable textiles, which means she can focus on fine-tuning details such as the length of the fiber, cleanliness, and yield. This keeps sweaters looking beautiful longer.
The supersoft wool is dyed naturally with extracts, in part from plants and flowers grown on Vejar’s store’s back patio. The yarn is available in 20 colors (including a Diablo red) and spun into 160-yard skeins that retail for $26.
“That all these different people—farmer, shearer, dyer, spinner—came together to make this happen, at a time when much of America’s production has moved offshore, is extremely important and meaningful,” says Vejar. “Plus, as a knitter, Pioneer is soft and durable, and outstanding to work with.” averbforkeepingwarm.com. —LeeAnne Jones
Our favorite party-planning resources.
Make the plan
Reader Pick | Wedding Planner
With 26 years of experience coordinating parties big and small, Barbara Llewellyn and her Oakland-based team will work with you step by step, from menu selection to providing the on-site help you need to enjoy your own party. We asked Llewellyn for her top planning tips:
1. Establish a theme early, and stick to it. Set the tone with the invitation, and give guests something to remember it by as they leave.
2. Mix things up, and consider a breakfast reception or cocktail party, instead of a luncheon.
3. Reflect the personality of the guest of honor. A baby shower doesn’t need to be pastel if that’s not the style of the mother-to-be. barbarallewellyn.com.
Send the invite
Editor Pick | Stationery Store
Hip gift shop and crafting haven Paper Source opened a Walnut Creek location this spring—the perfect destination for invitations. Go DIY with paper and envelopes in a rainbow of colors, plus stamps, washi tape, and spools of fancy ribbon. Or meet with a consultant to design a custom creation. paper-source.com.
Set the table
Editor Pick | Linen Rental
Ditch cheesy party-store tablecloths for ivory satin embellished with taffeta roses or colored eco-friendly cotton with white polka dots. Napa Valley Linens in Emeryville offers a variety of colors and textures for rent. And the best part? Just send them back when you’re done, cake crumbs and all. nvlinens.com.
Order the flowers
Reader Pick | Florist
The staff at East Bay Flower Company in Danville will help hosts plan the perfect arrangements, whether by color, look, or with a simple seasonal spray. Go rustic with Mason jar containers or sophisticated with glass squares and tea light candles. eastbayflowercompany.com.
Find the favors
Reader Pick | Sweets Shop
Send guests home with dipped strawberries or sea-salt caramels, customized with piped chocolate words or symbols, from Danville Chocolates. Or opt for one of the shop’s seasonal specialties, like white chocolate fresh raspberry bark, packaged and tied with personalized ribbon. danvillechocolates.com.
Pour the bubbly
Reader Pick | Wine Store
One of the best-selling bottles at Berkeley and Lafayette’s Wine Thieves is Segura Viudas, a Spanish Cava (sparkling wine) that is $7.99. “People are blown away by it,” says co-owner Jim Meyers. “It’s perfect for parties and weddings because it’s inexpensive, it’s in a great-looking package, and it’s good.” winethieves.com. —LeeAnne Jones
Cottage Jewel’s owner has a lifelong love of vintage.
Reader Pick | Antiques Shop
It starts with a pebble or a shell found on the beach. Then, it grows into coins or stamps or dollhouse miniatures. Most of us start out as collectors, but only a few make it their life’s work.
Marcia Harmon, owner of Cottage Jewel in Danville, turned to jewelry design as a young girl, fashioning necklaces out of the vintage buttons she collected. “It gave me a way to assemble all the treasures I found. And to be able to wear and show them—not hide them away.”
This same concept guides Harmon’s 10-year-old shop. The small space evokes a treasure chest—antique chairs draped with pendants and strings of pearls, vintage cabinets and frames lined with sparkly brooches. Harmon is partial to Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, and Arts and Crafts styles, but her finds—from collection acquisitions and estate sales to mixed-media pieces from local artists—span the decades, and are arranged roughly by color. “Just tell me what you want, and I can put my hand right on it,” she says.
When a period film is released, such as The Great Gatsby, customers come into the shop wanting a similar look. And brides often bring in family heirlooms, seeking coordinating pieces. Harmon finds great accessories and shares a bit of the history behind them.
“I’ve had younger ladies come in and say, ‘Oh, you must have gotten that from Anthropologie.’ I just say, ‘No, dear, they bought it here.’ ” Harmon says this with a knowing but warm smile. “I’ve been in the business long enough and have seen all the trends. With technology, they move even faster: Every six months, another decade is all the rage. People come in wanting the new hot thing. I have them describe it, I figure out the period, and I help educate them.”
That education isn’t limited to the store. Harmon is well known in the community, serving on the Chamber of Commerce board and the Discover Danville Association. She gives talks for museums and book and antiques clubs, and hosts art and appraisal events. She says, “I’m trying to help people connect with the past, and to communicate with it in personal and creative ways.” cottagejewel.com. —LeeAnne Jones
Editor Pick | Way to Become Superhuman
Every good superhero needs an origin story: Spiderman’s arachnid bite, the Hulk’s radiation blast. I have a 13-year-old’s hands wrapped around my neck.
My story begins at Dublin’s Combat Sports Academy, where I am paired with my tiny foe to learn Krav Maga, a form of self-defense created in Israel designed to immobilize stronger opponents.
During my first class, I learn how to punch (no gloves here), before we get into person-to-person combat. The lesson for the day is countering an attacker choking you from behind, and I feel pretty bad pretend jabbing my teenage opponent in the groin—until she starts squeezing my esophagus. I get the hang of escaping the choke hold, and soon my new sidekick and I pair up with another duo. We take turns mercilessly ganging up on each other, and I get pushed around. But that’s OK: Most superheroes get knocked down before they rise to greatness. I leave class exhausted and bruised, but feeling strong, like I can take on villains.
Before I’m ready to tackle my foes, I should probably work on my agility. To be able to leap from building to building with Catwoman-esque reflexes, I turn to Apex Movement in Concord, a training facility for Parkour, which focuses on using your body and environmental obstacles to propel yourself as quickly as possible through your surroundings.
Although new students typically begin with a 10-week program to learn skills ranging from cat leaps to running up a wall, I sneak into a fundamentals class. After a warm-up of quadrupedal movements (getting around on all fours), I attempt the obstacle course. Stealth and grace are lacking, but I do manage to get up and over a few large obstacles, and slowly swing my way across one pole before falling off another.
Then, we focus on vaults, or jumping most efficiently over large obstacles and landing softly so as to not damage joints—or alert the enemies I’m about to kill. I learn a few different one-armed techniques and even launch myself over a few railings before returning to the course. I definitely feel more superhuman, showing off my new speed and balance abilities before dismounting with a grin and burning muscles.
I may not give Batman a run for his money anytime soon, but most superhero transformations take more than two days. Give me a few months, and I’ll be fighting crime—or at the very least, I’ll be able to rescue a cat from a tree. We’ve all got to start somewhere, right? csagym.com, apexmovementnorcal.com. —Kristen Haney
Adopting the Right Pet
Reader Pick | Pet Adoption Site
Walnut Creek’s Animal Rescue Foundation is renowned for its treatment of rescue animals, educational programs, and remarkable placement rate. We caught up with Amanda Conlon, adoption manager, for tips on picking the right pet.
Consider how much time you have for a pet; a puppy or kitten requires a lot. If you are working eight-hour days, an older mature animal is a better bet.
Just like when people meet strangers for the first time, a dog or cat may be shy or uncomfortable at first. Be patient.
Get Good Info
Adoption counselors can help you learn about the needs of specific breeds, like frequent grooming for long-haired animals or how to clean the folds of a “wrinkled” pug or boxer.
If you already have a pet, create a plan to slowly introduce the new one. Start with a damp towel that smells like the dog, and take it in for the cat to smell, and vice versa. Then, feed each on the opposite sides of a door at the same time, so they share a positive experience together. arf.net. —Peter Crooks
For a backyard redesign, do you hire a professional, or go it alone?
Reader Pick | Plant Nursery
Want to redesign your own yard? The amazing nurserymen and nurserywomen at Orchard in Lafayette know everything about which plants to use in this area to produce an effect you’ll love, taking into account the particular amount of sun and water your yard receives. “There’s nobody more knowledgeable around here,” says customer Margaret Majua, who has shopped at Orchard for years for her five-acre garden showplace. Bonus: The nursery hosts gardening-related talks and demonstrations, and has a gift shop full of wind chimes, garden statuary, and bird feeders, plus delectable lotions, potions, and bath gels. orchardnursery.com.
Reader Pick | Landscaper
Want to call a professional? The staff at Oakland-based Suma can transform even the worst scorched-earth yards into tranquil gardens of Eden. In this climate, that’s like adding a big living-space addition to your home. “The one thing that stood out for me was the creativity and the artistry of their plan,” says Stephen Ronan, who had Suma landscape his Blackhawk property. “They put a lot of effort into the details.” Those included exchanging a lime tree planted outside the kitchen because it didn’t produce the right kind of lime to pop into a beer. Bonus: Your yard could end up on HGTV, like a number of Suma’s other properties. sumalandscaping.com. —Michaela Jarvis
2161 University Ave., Berkeley, (510) 845-2453; 6754 Bernal Ave., Ste. 710, Pleasanton, (925) 223-8267; 1615 N. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 954-1490, mikesbikes.com
classes in Alamo, Danville, Moraga, and Walnut Creek, gumsaba.com.
1501 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-4269, laboxing.com
Lafayette Car Wash and Detail Center
3319 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-1190, lafayettecarwash.com
28 Days to Health
1711 Almond Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 478-8545, 28daystohealth.com
3470 Fostoria Way, San Ramon, (925) 973-0192, cfdanville.com
Doggie Day Care
10671 Crow Canyon Rd., Castro Valley, (510) 247-9600, clubk9inc.com
Home Accessories Store
702 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 837-1001, elegantclutter.com
Indie Book Store
550 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 837-7337, rakestrawbooks.com
Local Etsy Designer
Torn To Pieces
425 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 820-8222, mollyspup.com
Place to Work Out
The Bar Method
locations in Berkeley, Oakland, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek, barmethod.com
Nick’s Boot and Shoe Repair
3014 Crow Canyon Pl., Ste. E, San Ramon, (925) 866-0774, nicksbootshoerepairca.com
2217-N San Ramon Valley Blvd., San Ramon, (925) 549-2550, theyogafusion.com
teaches classes in multiple locations in Concord, Moraga, and Walnut Creek, zumba.com/profiles/17591/