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Authors Posts by Flora Tsapovsky

Flora Tsapovsky

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Costume designer Abra Berman in demand at Bay Area theaters

Abra Berman costume designer Bay Area
One of Abra Berman's first steps as a costume designer is to make sketches, like this one, of what actors will be wearing in productions. Illustration by Abra Berman.

By Flora Tsapovsky

As with fashion, spring and fall are the theater’s peak seasons. This is when new productions debut, subscribers dust off their suits and dresses (or, in San Francisco’s case, The North Face jackets and fine jeans) and the buzz begins. Theater seasons may be subtle and not as widely celebrated as fashion weeks around the globe, but there’s still plenty of excitement to be had—and lots of incredible, timeless fashion. If you plunge deep into some of the Bay Area’s theater bills this spring, from San Francisco to San Jose, and look for the costume design credits, chances are you’ll see the same name over and over again: Abra Berman. Working all over the Bay Area, season after season, Berman is one of the busiest costume designers around, and she does it all while being based right here in Marin County.

Berman grew up in Mill Valley, lived in Novato for 15 years and currently resides in Tiburon, where she works from her home. She fell in love with costumes through ballet, preparing to become a professional ballerina all the way until high school, and even going through the typical Bay Area ballet child rite of passage—participating as an extra in the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker.

“I was a little soldier and even got a $10 paycheck!” Berman says with a laugh. After high school, her original plan was to audition in Europe, while her love for costumes led her to obtain some sewing skills in the process. She travelled to Basel and Gothenburg to try her luck, but found that she was “nearly not good enough.” Berman returned to California, certain that she’d be a costume designer for rock bands, “with no preparation or training!”

Finally, Berman’s parents convinced her to study fashion design, so she attended the Louise Salinger Academy of Fashion in San Francisco, an institution no longer in existence. There, a professor named William Eddelman influenced Berman’s sensibility and vision.

“I started seeing I really didn’t have it in me to produce five to six collections a year, and that the feminist in me couldn’t live with convincing women they have to buy a short skirt this season and a long skirt another season,” Berman says. “[Eddleman] encouraged me to pursue costume design in grad school.”

Out of the 10 leading schools in the country offering such a program, Berman got into nine, and chose UCLA, “because I thought I might go into film,” she says. It was, according to Berman, amazing. “I did everything I wanted to do.”

During her M.F.A. in Costume Design, Berman learned theater history, sketched endlessly, participated in actual shows and worked with fellow students.

Berman’s first job out of college was at a bridal salon in Pasadena, helping women get into elaborate gowns. The next steps were moving back to the Bay Area and taking a job at a couture bridal shop, as well as joining, back in 1998, Theater Bay Area, a local network for the industry.    

“It’s not a union exactly, but it’s a great meeting point,” Berman says of the network. She landed her first gig with the Palo Alto Players “and just kept going.” Her impressive resume now includes work with the San Jose Stage Company, San Francisco Playhouse, Ragged Wing Ensemble, Berkeley Playhouse, Marin Theatre Company, West Bay Opera and even Alonzo King LINES Ballet; having trained with the company briefly, Berman jumped on board when the group staged a new production of Scheherazade.

“I got to see my peacock tutu on a giant billboard in San Francisco!” Berman says excitedly.

Currently, the costume designer’s main companies are San Jose Stage Company, San Francisco Playhouse, West Bay Opera in Palo Alto and Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel. Audiences will soon see her work in The Memory Stick at San Jose Stage Company and Noises Off  and La Cage Aux Folles at the San Francisco Playhouse, plus Salome at West Bay Opera.

Additionally, it’s Berman’s second year teaching costume design, makeup and improv at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), across two campuses.

“I love that all sorts of people show up, taking a chance,” she muses about CCSF. “I’m working on a certificate program for City College actually, which will specialize in costume design.”

With jobs that take her across county lines, Berman travels a lot. “My poor car—she has 256 thousand miles on it,” she says with a smile (the car is undergoing a major repair as we speak). “I do a lot of schlepping, carrying bags of costume around.” And Berman’s teenage daughter, she says, “has been going to the theater since before she was born, seeing all the craziness.”

The job of the costume designer is varied and never dull—each day is spent differently, some researching in a library and some backstage, with endless nuances in between. Some companies, like Marin Shakespeare Company, have an established relationship with Berman, and she gets to choose the productions she’s interested in for the season; others offer one-time projects.

“I’m always a freelancer, so theaters get in touch with me to check availability, then they send me a script, a contract,” she explains, “and from there I’ll set up a meeting with the director, go do my research, meet with the production director again to see what works and what doesn’t, and then it’s time for sketches.”

After a number of tweaks, Berman usually has around two to three weeks to prepare the actual costumes, sometimes making them herself or shopping for vintage or modern items, according to the theme. Occasionally she’ll have assistants, if the budget permits. After dress rehearsals and opening night, her job is done. The work is, apparently, very ego-free: “It’s not about a spectacular design, sparkles and feathers, but about telling a story,” Berman says. “And you must love research and be a team player.”

On her resume, drama, opera and comedies mix, and medieval times meet the ’60s, fantasy-based looks intermit with accurate representations of the era.

“For My Fair Lady at the San Francisco Playhouse,” she says, “we put Eliza in pants, because we figured she’s a progressive woman.”

Another favorite is Samson and Delilah for West Bay Opera. “I’ve started noticing trends,” Berman says. “Recently there’s been a Game of Thrones styles to costumes; you can see that with Camelot at the San Francisco Playhouse. Then, there was a steampunk year, lots of named people; these trends are influenced by culture and politics.”

Berman recalls, for example, working on the San Jose Stage Company’s Disgraced, a play which pretty much predicted Donald Trump’s ‘muslim ban.’ “It was life imitating art, surreal and tragic,” she says.

With New York still shining as the country’s prime theater capital, celebrity productions, big budgets and all, one must wonder if Berman ever wanted to make the big leap.

“I never believed that with fashion or theater you must make it in New York,” she says. “I’ve always loved the Bay Area and Marin, so I decided to make it work here. I’m not even a city person.”

How does she regard the local theater scene, compared to the rest of the country?

“The theater here is world class,” Berman says, without a doubt. “A.C.T., the Berkeley Rep, a lot of shows like Angels in America originate here and then go on to Broadway. In general, it’s a really rich community for such a small demographic.”

And in it, Berman is clearly a mainstay.

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Headlands Center for the Arts provides artists with resources to push their work forward

Headlands Center for the Arts’ Artist in Residence program, a renowned opportunity for working artists of various mediums, allows creators time and space in the inspiring Marin Headlands. Photo by Andria Lo, courtesy of Headlands Center for the Arts.

By Flora Tsapovsky

If you crave the tranquility and inspiration of  Headlands Center for the Arts this season, you’ll have to curb your enthusiasm. The center, a long-standing Marin County staple, has been closed for the winter and will remain inaccessible to the public through spring. When it reopens, in summertime, a new area named The Commons will welcome visitors and artists. The redesigned outdoor space between the center’s two main buildings will enable, according to the press release, “more public programming,” and provide a “welcoming space to relax, connect with art and artists, and enjoy the natural environment.”

There’s more to the $1.8 million dollar project than originally meets the eye. Funded by a group of individual supporters and foundations, The Commons will feature newly commissioned, permanent artworks by local, national and international artists, an outdoor amphitheater and a promenade that connects the two main buildings—plus, of course, the location’s famous views. Among the artists selected to create specific elements of The Commons are Chris Kabel, a Dutch designer based in Rotterdam, and Nathan Lynch, a Bay Area sculptor and performance artist. Additional artists will help with the renovation process itself, led by San Francisco-based Conger, Moss & Guillard Landscape Architecture.

While change and progress are welcome forces in the art world (the center has spearheaded not one, but six rehabilitation projects since 1986), the campus has always kept a smidge of austerity and simplicity in its atmosphere, staying true to its military past. Originally home to the Native American Coastal Miwok, then Spanish and Mexican ranchers, and later Portuguese immigrant dairy farmers, the space was mobilized for military purposes in the 1890s, adding the Fort Barry buildings to its landscape. The area served as an active military center until 1950, and the National Park Service took over in 1972, eventually turning it into an arts center originally named Headlands Arts Center in 1982. Now, it’s the home of events, changing exhibitions, an Affiliate Artists Program, a Graduate Fellowship program and a lively bi-annual Artist in Residence program, running since 1982.

Offering residencies that are generally four-to-10 weeks, studio space, meals prepared by chef Damon Little and housing, travel and living stipends, the residency program is one of the county’s most sought-after gigs—especially given the dreamlike location and the program’s multidisciplinary approach (painters, sculptors, photography, film, video and new media artists are all welcome, as well as nonfiction writers, poets, dancers and musicians). Artists are chosen by panels—comprised of curators, educators, scholars and artists—specific to each discipline.

It is the program attendees who will get to witness the renovation in progress, as it will take place on campus this spring. One such attendee, Chicago-based artist Edra Soto, is looking forward to the experience.

I’ve never been to the West Coast,” Soto says. “Colleagues of mine that have attended this residency have the highest regards for it. I’ve been focused in moving my artistic career forward, and Headlands has the reputation of being a place where artists get visited by professionals in the field and engage in significant conversations regarding their art practice.”

Born in Puerto Rico, Soto grew up in an urban development in the San Juan area, spending her early years in a Catholic high school. “Attending church services every morning became influential to my art practice,” she says. “The stage and its symmetry, ideas of hierarchy and the impetus for congregating communities is all dispersed throughout my work.”

Soto attended Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico to pursue an undergraduate degree, and then moved to Paris for a year; eventually, she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for her M.F.A., which she obtained in 2000.

Specializing in conceptual art, installations and ‘architectural interventions,’ Soto plans, while attending the Headlands, “to develop a new body of work, create something site-specific while addressing issues that are interesting and personal to me. Hopefully, this is a place where I will be able to find growth, new connections and networks to expand my career’s visibility, inspiration and productivity.”

The artist is also looking forward to the weather and the famous Californian vibe. “Considering the great reputation of California’s weather, I am expecting nothing but the best,” she says.

Prior to settling in, Soto will be given the opportunity to visit her studio on campus. “This will allow me to visualize the space and its surroundings, and basically daydream about the possibilities before heading over to the residency to work,” she says. “My studio will be an open space that welcomes visitors to engage with me while I’m working, so when they told me about this particular aspect of my residency I was absolutely thrilled!”

Oakland-based Christopher White has completed the daydreaming stage—he attended the residency last fall, and is happy to reflect on the time spent at Headlands.

“The Headlands residency is quite well-known in Bay Area performance circles, and many friends have done it in years past—Jesse Hewit, Erika Chong Shuch, Larry Arrington,” he says. “I had heard wonderful things about the experience and decided that this would be a good time to apply, because it would give me the space to refocus on my art-making practice and slough off some of the sclerotic administrator-brain that had accumulated over the years.”

Working as a theater and performance artist, White started his career as a director specializing in new plays and new play development, which led him to “the downtown NYC scene in the late ’90s.” In 2000, he moved to Dublin, Ireland, and immersed himself in European performance theater, following groups like Forced Entertainment and Pan Pan Theatre in Ireland. A move to Boulder, Colorado followed, and White attended grad school at Naropa University. He was in the first class of an M.F.A. program in “Actor-Created Physical Theater.”

“My program moved to London after the first two years and became the London International School of the Performing Arts,” he says. “It’s based in the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq, a very influential French theater teacher and the training focuses on empowering actors as the primary creative force in creating a piece of theater.”

After school, White moved to the Bay Area with two classmates and co-founded Mugwumpin, a performance theater ensemble based in San Francisco. “For 12 years I ran the company, during which time we made many works, both full-length pieces for theater and smaller performance works for non-theater spaces,” he recalls. “All the work is created collaboratively by the ensemble and the pieces are generally non-narrative, preferring to explore thematic and emotional terrain through potent images, spacial dynamics, movement and a protean internal logic.”

About a year ago, White took a leave of absence, following a health scare, during which he “continued teaching and redeveloping my own voice as an independent artist, but as someone who derives power and inspiration from collaboration.”

White says that the residency allowed him ample time for reading, hiking, thinking and percolating.

“Of course, I also had an enormous studio space to work in, and took advantage of that as well,” he says. “I ended up focusing on ways to think deeper about collaboration as a process that I can engage in with the audience, not just with my fellow artists.”

While at Headlands, White created a piece called Asking, which he calls “a little bit Quaker meeting, a little bit seance.” For each showing, the artist recruited an audience member  and gave him or her a prompt question to elicit a story from their own life, followed by questions from the audience. “The key aspect is that

Headlands Center for the Arts, currently being renovated to include a redesigned outdoor space between the center’s two main buildings, will reopen this summer. Photo by Andria lo, courtesy of Headlands Center for the Arts.

the participant is never seen; instead, a performer wears an earpiece and is channeling the participant’s words in real time, never having heard them before, to the audience,” White says. “It’s a quiet, meditative piece that nonetheless carries a lot of emotional heft, largely because of its simultaneously intimate and mysterious qualities.”

According to White, the Headlands residency is a retreat, in the truest sense of the word. “The location is remote; despite its proximity to the city, you feel far from civilization, and you’re surrounded by miles of gorgeous hills and trails and coastline,” he says. “There’s almost no phone service, and the internet available there is very weak and spotty. It was very valuable because it forced me to get out of ‘go’ mode and shift into a more reflective mental space.”

For artists living in the current social climate and economy, such opportunities are fuel. White says that disconnecting, relaxing and carving out space and time allows artists to “connect to the basic root impulses that drive us to work, quieting some of the pressures of deadlines and technology and urban living that insidiously shape our habitual thinking patterns.”

Then, there are practicalities and not-to-be-underestimated human connections.

“It is an individual’s journey, but there [are] places like Headlands that understand that aspect of an artist’s professional needs, providing space for engagement, resources and time to develop your work and practice and exposure to their community,” Soto says.

Soon, the center will welcome her, along with more than 40 other artists from all over the world, to do just that.

Headlands Center for the Arts, 944 Simmonds Rd., Sausalito; 415/331-2787; headlands.org.

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Shopping for Ivanka’s line at Corte Madera’s Nordstrom

On February 2, Nordstrom announced that it was dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing and shoe line. Photo courtesy of Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock, Inc.

By Flora Tsapovsky

The Trump administration’s tribulations have offered very little to the average fashionista. That is, until the nationwide giant Nordstrom announced, on February 2, that it was dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing and shoe line. The move, which Trump said in a tweet was “so unfair,” was reportedly unrelated to politics, but rather to the fact that sales of ‘Ivanka-wear’ plummeted last fiscal year, with the biggest losses taking place in October. The timing of the decision to drop Ivanka, however, was dire, and speculation about the real reason was inevitable.

On a clear-skied Monday, the Nordstrom at The Village at Corte Madera shopping center was quiet and peaceful, almost impossible to associate with anything Trump. California was generally against the current president, voting overwhelmingly blue and sprouting protest after protest after the election results settled in. Would anyone at an average Marin County Nordstrom care about the big drop in sales of Ivanka’s line?

“Do you have any Ivanka Trump apparel?” I asked an unassuming elderly saleswoman in the evening wear department, after a short search online yielded images of black lacy shifts and business-like wrap dresses. The sales rep, who had just complimented my vest, now looked at me with piteous disapproval. “We never had those,” she said, desperately. When I showed her the images on my phone, she recovered her memory. “We hadn’t had the clothes for a while, but try the shoes.”

“Trump?” asked another sales rep, smiling faintly. “Maybe some shoes are left; they removed everything with Nordstrom’s new policy.” I asked why and the woman, who had a Russian accent, gave a brave answer. “It’s because of her association with her father, which I think is a stupid business decision.”

“No, no,” the first lady chimed in. “I spoke to some managers here and it’s because the sales weren’t doing good.” A groomed, middle-aged shopper overheard the exchange and added, “I wouldn’t buy her stuff anyway, the styles are so severe and uptight!” That shopper refused further comment.

Down in the shoe department, I approached a young sales assistant of Filipino heritage, chatting happily to a fellow employee. But once Ivanka’s name came up, the smile was off—the official voice was on. “There will be some shoes on sale, but the sale is only displayed on February 16,” the assistant said. “Would you like me to dig some up from storage for you?”

Something tells me that Ivanka herself would not like this option. I politely refused and inquired, with the best poker face I could manage, “What happened?”

“The sales weren’t doing so well so we dropped the line, but once she comes up with some better styles we might bring it back,” the girl said, reciting a memorized script. “We’ve had ups and downs with all of our lines.”

The response was nearly as uptight as Ivanka’s dresses, and it was nearly impossible to decode her true sentiment. Was she, like the Russian lady upstairs, feeling for Ivanka, a possible victim of a politicized fashion game? Did she vote for Ivanka’s dad or, like many Californians, for the sane alternative? At Nordstrom, the blossoming smell of perfume and the soft music scrambled all options into a pleasant, escapist blur—now, completely Trump-free.

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Local favorites and new boutiques make Marin a shopping destination

From Sausalito’s Klozet to San Rafael’s Viva Diva Boutique, Marin County has everything that a fashionista desires. Photo courtesy of Klozet.

By Flora Tsapovsky

It’s hard to believe, but spring is almost here, and with it, adorable new trends and a fresh motivation to shop for soon-to-be closet favorites. If in the past Marin residents would make shopping trips to San Francisco to get smartly dressed, these days it’s quite the opposite. Thanks to an influx of stylish destinations, it is now San Franciscans who drive up north to shop in style.

Over the last few years, a number of new boutiques, led by experienced fashion experts, have joined the ranks of true and tested fashionable institutions, making Marin more shoppable and fashionable than ever. Among them are chic multi-brands, a rugged boating emporium, a lifestyle boutique for the whole family and a couple of high-end establishments that could be easily mistaken for New York City shops. We gathered the best of the bunch, and caught up with the owners about Marin County style, spring 2017 trends and much more.

Branded Boutique (Mill Valley)

Celebrating a little more than a year in Mill Valley, Branded Boutique is a multi-brand winner, founded by a female duo; Kannyn January, who lives in San Louis Obispo and owns two other boutiques on the Central Coast, and Natalie Boatright, a resident of nearby San Anselmo.

“The downtown area just felt right for our store, since it has a great sense of community and we wanted to be in such a community environment,” says Boatright, who stocks the boutique with fashion-forward brands such as Ulla Johnson, IRO, Mara Hoffman and Raquel Allegra. “We wanted to select brands that were unique to the area; there are so many wonderful lines that had no representation in Marin.”

The bright and stylish boutique, skewing a little towards the younger and hipper customer, already has a list of devoted regulars, and some come all the way from San Francisco.

Branded Boutique, 118 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; 415/888-2135.

Guideboat Co. (Mill Valley)

Guideboat Co. isn’t your typical women’s boutique. Housed since 2013 in the 5,000 square-foot historic Mill Valley Lumber Yard, the store has been a masterpiece of branding, design and atmosphere. In fact, it’s one of the first retailers to revive the now thriving area, which is also home to Ambatalia textiles and Bloomingayles botanicals. Behind the brand, which specializes in small boats, sailing gear and outfits, is Marin local Stephen Gordon, who also happens to be the founder of the very successful Restoration Hardware. You don’t need to love sailing or even know anything about boats to enjoy this store—plenty of shopping awaits those who simply like the rugged, outdoorsy Marin style. Sturdy sweaters, shirts for men and women in boat-appropriate colors, boots and high-quality leather bags are all offered.

Guideboat Co., 129 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 415/888-2871; guideboat.com.

Klozet (Sausalito)

Open since June 2016, Klozet, a hidden alley boutique in Sausalito, is a hub of understated chic and urban style. The store was founded by Ko Ezzell and Christine Caria. Ezzell, a former fashion model and forever fashionista, has managed to exclusively sign more than 50 designers, making the place one of Marin’s prime boutique destinations. The selection includes premium denim brands like Citizens of Humanity and PAIGE as well as names like Frank & Eileen, IRO and Smythe, in addition to a small shoe selection, local jewelry designers and Kai beauty products. Chic framed photography and minimalist design complete the experience. Klozet opened in the summer of 2016.

“When I think of Marin style I think of what I like to call comfortable luxe,” Ezzell says. “That can take you from your house in Tahoe to an evening in any city.” Her favorite pick right now is a blush IRO blouse. “The color is on trend this season and the draping is romantic with a bit of edge. I also love anything that can be worn with jeans.”

Klozet, 30 Princess St., Suite C, Sausalito; 415/331-5598; shopklozet.com.

Koze (Tiburon)

In Tiburon, Koze is a true local institution—open since 2002 and owned by Darla Fisher, who has seen fashion from every angle. “I worked at all of the points of retail, from manufacturing to wholesale, for Nordstrom and designer Jessica McClintock,” Fisher says.

As a long-standing shopping destination, the boutique, she says, “caters both to the tourist and the locals, both Californians and out-of-state, so our lines have to be interesting enough, and at a friendly price point.”

Offerings include top-notch cashmere and denim, with names like Margaret O’Leary, REPEAT, Rails and luxury jewelry brand Chan Luu in the mix. “Marin style has a very relaxed vibe, youthful and modern, and the opposite of Southern California—a bit more refined, not as eclectic,” Fisher says.

For spring 2017, she loves texture tassels. “There’s a lot of emphasis on playfulness and texture, more in accessories than in clothes—it’s easier to take a risk with them and create the bohemian look. Our clients adapt it really tastefully, and in general, the Marin women are incredibly tasteful.”

Koze, 16 Main St., Tiburon; 415/435-1916; getkoze.com.

Haven and Nicolette (Larkspur)

Situated across the street from one another, these two relatively new Larkspur boutiques have marked the small town as a worthy shopping destination. Pristine and minimal Haven, the newcomer, caters to the urban, sophisticated side of Marin style, with touches of bohemian glamour. Brands like Antik Batik and Raquel Allegra are styled with Soludos shoes and chic Mar Y Sol bags, and spring 2017 brings even more excitement—designers like Derek Lam and Rachel Comey will join the ranks. Nearby, cozy and longer-running Nicolette offers personal styling and more opportunities to get your hands on desirable brands like Elizabeth and James, Equipment, and the highly covetable line by the Olsen twins, One Teaspoon.

Haven, 250A Magnolia Ave., Larkspur; 415/886-8995.

Nicolette, 499 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur; 415/927-0226; shopnicolette.com.

Blanc (San Anselmo)

In San Anselmo, Blanc serves both as a fashion boutique and a place to gather, mingle and meet fellow fashionistas. Owner Nancy Mayer frequently organizes trunk shows, lectures about dating and finances and other fun events advertised on the shop’s website. The boutique has been open since 2005, and quickly became a local fashion authority. Brands are added seasonally, and currently include denim by Citizens of Humanity, Goldsign and HABITUAL, carefully selected apparel by the likes of Minnie Rose, Nili Lotan, Obakki and Uma Wang and much more. The style is crisp, relaxed and timeless.

Blanc, 514 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo; 415/485-0104; blancboutique.com.

Viva Diva (San Rafael)

It’s hard to believe, but San Rafael’s beloved Viva Diva, a Fourth Street mainstay, will be 20 this July. Owner Amy Anderson started in the business as a retail sales rep, but, in her own words, “I quickly realized that my passion involved creating a space of my own with a true supportive ‘girlfriendy’ environment and racks of sexy contemporary fashion.”

Now, she employs two extra ladies to dress and style the local crowd in contemporary, feminine brands like San Francisco-based Amour Vert, Ella Moss and Free People. In terms of Marin style, “the Viva Diva customer in Marin is partial to bohemian, beachy styles paired with a sexy, rocker edge,” Anderson says, “perfect for the girl who craves a relaxed yet sexy wardrobe.”

Anderson is a big believer in wearable, practical trends, and always looks for “the best-quality contemporary styles with the biggest bang for their buck.”

Her favorite trend for spring 2017? “We are loving everything shoulder this spring! The cold-shoulder and the off-shoulder looks are huge this season.”

Viva Diva, 1327 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415/256-8380; vivadivaboutique.

Palette Boutique (Mill Valley)

At the one-year-old Palette Boutique, owner Tonya Milteer curates a palette of contemporary designers, established and up-and-coming, and some are local. Among the brands, you’ll find Bay Area’s beloved bag brand BAGGU, ever-cool clothing company BB Dakota, 525 America, GOLDSIGN denim, Level 99 jeans, Splendid and Subtle Luxury.

“We curate a mix that appeals specifically to the women of Marin,” says Milteer, who previously owned a women’s boutique in San Francisco. “Local ladies love their pilates and whole foods, so our pieces tend to have clean lines that highlight and flatter a figure; styles that recognize the trends without being overly trendy.”

Knowing her clientele, Milteer mixes in some athleisure as well, carrying beautiful printed yoga pants and soft T-shirts. “As you probably know, the most on-trend style for spring 2017 is the ‘off-shoulder’ blouse,” she says. “Splendid and Ella Moss, two of our most important brands, are shipping two pieces that interpret this trend beautifully.” Stay tuned!

Palette Boutique, 34 Sunnyside Ave., Mill Valley; 415/217-9628.  

Tumbleweed (San Anselmo)

A newer addition to San Anselmo’s evolving fashion scene is this smart multi-brand by owner Kasey Gardner, who is assisted by family members to run the business. Unlike most of the boutiques on this list, Tumbleweed, open since October 2016, carries both men’s and women’s clothing, plus a wide array of accessories, lifestyle and grooming objects (think aromatic candles, gentle throws and intriguing ‘beard oil’).

Under the slogan ‘roam free,’ the store’s selection is carefree, and every bit Marin. Free People, For Love & Lemons, a brand specializing in delicate sexy lace, casual Wildfox and classic Levi’s are all on hand. Browsing, and choosing the right products is fun in a welcoming, unbuttoned atmosphere—and it helps to know that most brands are from the U.S and specifically California-based.

Tumbleweed; 570 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo; 415/747-8118; tumbleweedcalifornia.com.

A Q & A on love and sex

A somatic sex intimacy and relationship coach and a clinical sexologist answer our questions about monogamous relationships, boredom in the bedroom and much more.

By Flora Tsapovsky

What does it really take to stay intimate with a partner and continue to enjoy your own sexuality? How does one address boredom, thoughts of an open relationship, regular date nights and physical activity to aid sexuality? And what about online dating? Could that get any worse? The answers don’t get any simpler, no matter how sophisticated our Fitbit gets, or how helpful our new Nest system becomes. Questions about love and sex are timeless, ever-present and surprisingly innovation-resistant; open any relationship book from previous decades, and you’ll find the same concerns, hesitations and worries (minus the internet aspect, perhaps). Hence, these questions are making the job of a sex and relationship coach one that’s always in demand.

Both Dr. Namita Caen, DHS, who specializes in somatic sex intimacy and relationship coaching, and Dr. Claudia Six, a clinical sexologist and relationship coach with an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology, are such experts, living and working in Marin County. Dr. Caen, who was born in the U.K., deals with relational and physical aspects of sexuality, often turning to tantra and somatic coaching. She works in Mill Valley and speaks four languages, including the stereotypically sexy French. Dr. Six, whose work often resembles that of a classic therapist with a sexual twist, works in San Rafael and has written a book,  Erotic Integrity: How to be True to Yourself Sexually, published in May of 2016. Both women have more than 40 years of experience combined, and plenty of insight about love, sex and intimacy.

Offering two very different approaches to counseling, the women were open to our request when we inquired about relationships, sexuality and that pesky ‘spark’—just in time for Valentine’s Day, but also looking at the year ahead. Below is what they had to say.

Flora Tsapovsky: What’s the biggest difference between men and women when it comes to sex in a monogamous relationship?

Dr. Claudia Six: “There’s a saying: ‘Women need to feel good to have sex. Men need to have sex to feel good.’ That’s a big difference that can cause friction and distance between a heterosexual couple who may not be on the same page. A lot of my work with clients is to help them breach that divide.”

Dr. Namita Caen: “We are all uniquely wired, but if I had to generalize, I would say that on the whole within a heterosexual monogamous relationship, men are often more sexually oriented, typically have a higher sex drive and tend to find monogamy more challenging and restrictive than women. At the same time, within the heterosexual monogamous model, women are viewed as more emotionally oriented and seeking a more attached connection with their partners. Women may often have a lower libido than their male partners and are less likely to look for sexual experiences outside the relationship. That being said, it’s important to remember that these are generalizations and that there are plenty of men and women that don’t fit these findings.”

Tsapovsky: How does one really, truly deal with the boredom of monogamy?

Dr. Six: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as sexual boredom, and I devote a whole chapter of my book to this. Boredom is the canary in the coal mine of relationships: It’s an indication that something is wrong. People tend to experience ‘boredom’ when uncomfortable feelings are bubbling up to the surface, when they have been complacent, when they don’t want to take a risk and be vulnerable and bring up what is true for them. So they stuff it, play it safe, brush it under the carpet, but it festers and erodes eroticism in a relationship.”

Dr. Caen: “Sustained interest in our partners requires a certain degree of sexual tension and the mystery of not always knowing every little detail about your partner. Too much routine and familiarity, and too little adventure and mystery breeds boredom. Keeping the passion alive may require taking time apart and having the opportunity to miss each other every so often, thereby creating space for longing and desire for one another. Missing each other builds healthy sexual tension, and maintaining a little sexual mystery avoids the sexual depressant ‘more roommates than lovers’ syndrome.”

Tsapovsky: What’s your strongest advice to couples who want to try an ‘open relationship,’ experimenting with other people? Does it ever work?

Dr. Six: “Most people who engage in non-monogamy, open relationship, polyamory, whatever term you want to use, are misguided. That is, they’re doing it out of emptiness rather than fullness. They don’t know how to create more of what they want in their primary relationship, so it’s easier to do the fun, sexy stuff with a shiny new partner than roll up your sleeves and clean up your relationship with the partner you take the garbage out with. To successfully do open relationships you need to have a lot of agreements about things.”

Dr. Caen: “Opening up a relationship is a very individual choice and there are infinite ways of going about it.  My strongest advice to couples is to make sure that their relationship is in a really good place, based on a solid, healthy foundation of love and trust before inviting others in. Some of the most important skills needed in open relationships, and in fact in any relationship, are excellent communication, healthy boundaries, empathy and the ability to collaborate and negotiate. It’s an ongoing process of checking in and honoring the needs and feelings of everyone involved.”

Tsapovsky: Many people complain about the mechanical, un-intimate pattern of online dating. Is there a way to break the mold and get to better, deeper ‘first dates’ in this new reality?

Dr. Six: “If you keep it superficial on the first couple of dates, the other person has every reason to believe that this is the level of communication you will maintain, which can be pretty uninspiring. You set the tone. 

Dr. Claudia Six is the author of 'Erotic Integrity: How to be True to Yourself Sexually.' Photo courtesy of Dr. Six.
Dr. Claudia Six is the author of ‘Erotic Integrity: How to be True to Yourself Sexually.’ Photo courtesy of Dr. Six.

If you interact on a level that is authentic and has some depth, you might find it rewarding. And I recommend not spending much time with emails or phone calls. You don’t really know about a person until you sit down across from them, exchange eye contact, hear their voice and notice your experience of yourself in their presence.”

Dr. Caen: “Define the purpose of your dating: What type of partner, relationship or experience are you looking for? What are your deal-breakers? The clearer you are with yourself about your boundaries and motivations, the better you will be able to present yourself and screen candidates for a first date. Representing yourself as honestly as possible without embellishing, exaggerating, trying to impress or pretending you are someone different from who you really are will help you attract the right matches and have a more authentic date. Preparing some interesting questions ahead of time that you can pepper throughout the date without it sounding like an interview may help you deepen the quality of your conversation. Finally, being genuinely curious about your date, asking deeper questions, noticing their body language, verbal and nonverbal cues and letting go of expectations will contribute to having a richer first date experience.”

Tsapovsky: How would you describe an individual who’s fully in touch with their own sexuality?

Dr. Six: “For a start, they’re totally comfortable in their body, and seem happily settled into it, relaxed. An individual who is fully in touch with their sexuality is in erotic integrity—that is they have self-examined and truly know who they are as an erotic being. They accept their sexuality, whatever it looks like, and they express it authentically. They don’t lie or pretend to be something they’re not, and they engage their desires unabashedly.”

Dr. Caen: “Being in touch with our sexuality is a journey that ebbs and flows throughout the course of our lives. There will be times when we feel deeply in touch with it and other times when we won’t feel it much at all. However, nurturing that connection deepens it. Some practices that can help us foster a healthy,

Dr. Namita Caen deals with relational and physical aspects of sexuality, often turning to tantra and somatic coaching. Photo courtesy of Dr. Caen.
Dr. Namita Caen deals with relational and physical aspects of sexuality, often turning to tantra and somatic coaching. Photo courtesy of Dr. Caen.

positive relationship with our sexuality are: Developing a positive body image, being comfortable naked, discovering what turns you on, asking for what you want sexually, letting go of sexual shame and conditioning, exploring healthy sexual touch and intimacy with ourselves and with our partner, feeling embodied through dance, movement, yoga and meditation.”

Tsapovsky: What role can sports, yoga and other seemingly non-sex-related practices stimulate sexuality? How does one make these everyday activities useful in a sexual sense?

Dr. Six: “Any kind of physical activity will get you out of your head. And you can’t have successful sex if you’re in your head and not in your body. So whether it’s solitary or as a couple, it will support your love life, from tai chi to skydiving. Taking dance lessons can sound romantic, though all the power and control issues pop up in that context. If you can navigate them successfully, it can lead to wonderful physical contact that can be foreplay for a sexier event, for years to come.”

Dr. Caen: “Sexuality is about being embodied and experiencing pleasure. Exercise such as sports and yoga helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle and activates our feel-good endorphin hormones. These activities help us get out of our busy minds and into our bodies.”

Tsapovsky: Finally, any tips and tricks to keep a healthy, loving marriage sexy and playful?

Dr. Six: “Have dates! I know it seems like couples therapy 101, but it’s true: You can’t maintain a relationship without regular and consistent dates, especially if you have kids! Pay attention, appreciate each other and say so. It doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s the foundation to a solid couple, and sexy and playful grows from that.”

Dr. Caen: “It’s often the small things done on a consistent basis that make the biggest difference in keeping a relationship sexy and playful. Morning coffee together before work, scheduling a regular date night, making time for intimacy, connecting about the highlights of your day, being generous with your partner in the bedroom and finally, keeping an element of mystery by taking time apart, building anticipation and giving yourselves the opportunity to miss, long for and desire each other.”

Learn more about Dr. Six at drsix.net, and more about Dr. Caen at sexandintimacycoaching.com.

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A first-time meditator heads to Anubhuti Meditation & Retreat Center

Novato’s Anubhuti Meditation & Retreat Center, on a hilltop surrounded by protected open space, offers everything from meditation workshops to longer retreats. Courtesy of Anubhuti Brahma.

By Flora Tsapovsky

Novato’s Anubhuti Meditation & Retreat Center, on a hilltop surrounded by protected open space, offers everything from meditation workshops to longer retreats. Courtesy of Anubhuti Brahma

The journey to Anubhuti Meditation & Retreat Center in Novato isn’t the most spiritual: An exit from 101 North takes a turn, and one passes nondescript office buildings and you-could-be-anywhere strip malls. At some point, however, the road opens up to Bel Marin Keys and adopts a picturesque quality. A couple of minutes later, you’ve arrived.

Anubhuti is one of those places that residents would be surprised to discover in their own backyard—remote, humble and very popular. A number of buildings, benches and meadows comprise the facilities, lacking the opulence and lavishness that other retreats often boast. I came here to meditate, for the first time in my life, and although a photogenic environment is always welcome, it didn’t feel necessary. From first sight, I realized that Anubhuti is about doing, not impressing. And for a cynical first-timer like me, this was both reassuring and worrisome.

Before visiting, I learned that the retreat center belongs to the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, a non-denominational NGO founded in India in 1937 and currently present in more than 110 countries all over the world. Led by women, it offers practical meditation tools—including retreats of various self-help shades, lengthier courses on positive thinking, Raja Yoga meditation and stress management—to cope with the everyday. In the U.S., the organization has 32 locations in 13 states. Anubhuti is Brahma Kumaris’ only ‘retreat’ location in California, built in 2007 and meant, it seems, to feel a bit outside of trends and times.

Vintage photos hanging in the main building’s hallway showcase Indian and Japanese groups in various community gatherings. The room through which you enter the meditation space is half English tearoom, half Indian hostel. Flowery pillows, abstract paintings of vortexes and sunsets and embroidered throws all coexist in the sunlit room, wrapped in a nostalgic, musty smell.

Shoes are off, but some participants bring their own fuzzy socks. As more and more sock-wearers of all ages come in, I contemplate the best and worst scenarios. The concept of meditation, going hand-in-hand with trending ‘mindfulness’ and ‘awareness,’ has always stressed me out—quite the opposite of its purpose. Exploding in popularity in recent years, meditation is now on our cell phone apps, in mainstream yoga studios and is even advocated by David Lynch, one of my favorite directors and a seemingly anti-spiritual neurotic (he likes the trandscendental kind). Accordingly, it has been lurking in the background for a while as a ‘good for you’ practice that I probably should be engaging in, given the fact that my most workable, profitable tool is my mind—which doesn’t get any rest. Thinking, conversing, conceptualizing and dreaming are bread and butter, and voided boredom is unacceptable. The possibility of meditation, or rather, giving the mind a break in forms other than sleeping, has been on my mind (no pun intended), but it has also carried apprehensions and resistance. How could I possibly sit quietly for a long period of time, no thoughts involved, if I can’t even get through a dull five-minute conversation?

Luckily, Anubhuti’s weekly, donation-based Sunday meditation practice is a relatively short affair—one hour and 45 minutes in total, which is a cheap price to pay for possible benefits. Upon entering the meditation room, where simple office chairs are arranged in a half-circle in front of a stage, I almost miss the cross-legged, Indian man dressed in white, sitting quietly by a microphone, eyes shut. This is Harsha Palli, a Raja Yoga practitioner and also an IT engineer, the facilitator of today’s practice.

Unsure of what to do, I join the rest of the group—11 people in total—and sit on a chair with my eyes closed for a while. It’s nice to gather my thoughts and relax, but soon I start growing bored and peep at the others and at the clock. Exactly 15 minutes after the official beginning time, Palli opens his eyes and addresses us with a warm welcome.

“Why are you here?” he asks quietly, inviting volunteers to speak. “To create a peaceful space,” says one. “To be at one with the world and my environment,” confesses another. “To give my brain a break,” I admit, worrying that my answer isn’t spiritual enough. The concern soon turns out to be unjustified—‘spirituality,’ with its wishy-washy, high-and-mighty, ‘light’ and ‘universe’ vocabulary, a concept which normally turns me into a bitter naysayer, isn’t what Palli or Anubhuti seem to be about. As evidence, right after the round of answers, Palli invites us for an energetic stretch, in a sequence of movements fit for a completely unspiritual, pedestrian yoga class. Hip-rotators, ankle-rollers, leg-shakers and eventually, jumps, follow, inevitably eliciting smiles and giggles from the so-far silent crowd. Would a serious ‘spiritual’ guru do that and not say anything about the body being a tree rooted in the ground? Or a temple in need of nourishment? I don’t think so.  And then, finally, it’s time to get down to business.

Palli instructs us to sit with our hands on our knees, and to focus on breathing with eyes closed. Over the next 20 minutes or so, he quietly releases abstract yet simple instructions, such as, “Feel the energy you breathe in with the fresh air,” and “Create a space of inner peace, of stillness,” while everyone around inhales and exhales vigorously. Here’s what is going on in my head: Spanish verbs. That ’90s movie with Kate Hudson about gossip (must Google name!). The awesomeness of cold grapes and that I probably should buy some. Booking hotels for my next trip. Article ideas. But slowly, as I focus on breathing and try to block everything out, a heavy, warm sensation emerges, and a sleep-like, soothing state ensues, making my head spin. After staying with it, in a few moments, I decide to open my eyes and focus on the burning candlelight in front of me, which turns out to be just as calming. Mindless, but not agitated, I watch the fire and listen to the bird sounds outside, in quiet observation and well, stillness. It is easy, and very new to me.

Palli invites us to ‘come back,’ and takes the next 15 minutes to talk about the basic rules of successful meditation: Awareness to the moment beyond bodily sensations, and the ability to ‘zoom out,’ “like on Google Maps,” to feel outside of a certain situation or reality. Are these clear-cut instructions to the novice meditator? Hardly. But after having sat at the session, guided by Palli’s gentle voice, they make sense to me.

At the end of the workshop, a smiling, elderly woman in a uniform similar to Palli’s comes in and offers us healthy-looking, raisin and oatmeal cookies. A simple gesture, received and consumed quickly as all of the sitting, stretching and mind-clearing makes everyone quite hungry. Soon, people—among them, a mother and daughter, a young Brazilian woman, a couple of elderly men and women and a student-type in glasses—get up (no Oms or ‘blessings’ are issued) and start leaving, smiling goodbye. Just like the uncomplicated, complimentary cookie, the whole experience is much more straightforward than I originally expect, and free of sugary additives and flavorings. No divine or holy anything. No higher purpose. Nothing to inflame my innate cynicism towards certain aspects of ‘practicing meditation.’ And most importantly, no aftertaste of inadequacy or doing something wrong, like you might get at your very first SoulCycle class or at a retreat for the ‘enlightened.’

Leaving, I feel rested (and slightly sleepy, in a good way) and certainly calmer, and that is more than enough. Enough to keep me coming? Possibly. For a first date with meditation, the center, with its low-pressure atmosphere and no-judgment, glitz-free premise, was a great option. Brave the suburban ride in, get rid of inhibitions and give it a whirl. The cookies, I promise, are great.

Anubhuti Meditation & Retreat Center; 820 Bel Marin Keys Blvd., Novato; 415/884-2314; anubhutiretreatcenter.org.

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Nick’s Cove Chef Joshua Seibert Showcases the Best of West Marin

Joshua Seibert, the new executive chef at Nick’s Cove, says that he wants to keep the regulars happy, and support ‘amazing local purveyors.’ Photo courtesy of Dawn Cooper Photography.

By Flora Tsapovsky

Nick’s Cove, the quaint collection of cottages and a restaurant on Highway 1, doesn’t really need an introduction. A Marshall landmark, the iconic resort has seen many ebbs and flows, most recently under the management of Highway 1 Hospitality, which runs several North Bay properties. Its oyster hut has overseen the waves and the sunsets for decades.

What is a newcomer to such an institution to do? Not too long ago, chef Joshua Seibert had to get accustomed to the historic and new-to-him surroundings, taking over the food aspect at the cottages as the new executive chef. A Petaluma resident, Seibert had worked at San Francisco’s Mission Beach Cafe before deciding to focus his energy on West Marin and join the Nick’s team.

Overseeing all of the meals and the bar, he’s also in charge of The Croft, the onsite herb and vegetable garden flourishing across the highway; he’s the designated man to put twists on the true-and-tested menu—and an oyster expert—all in one.

Honestly, I had no reservations about taking the helm at Nick’s,” Seibert says. “I was just happy and excited to be getting the opportunity to work in such a beautiful place with so much history.  I know that Nick’s Cove is long-standing on the coast and there are many regulars who may not be happy with a lot of sudden changes, so I want to be sensitive to them and make sure they are happy while I slowly make changes to the menu.”

Nevertheless, the menu did get a few upgrades as of recently, with “some small tweaks to the recipes, mostly seasoning things correctly and brightening them up.” Another step-up: Currently, the menu changes every day, according to what’s available and seasonal.

“I knew that it was really important to keep Nick’s signature dishes on the menu, but I also want to appeal to a broader demographic and showcase the best of West Marin,” Seibert says. “For example, I wanted to make the salads more interesting, so I’m adding some fun twists to them and some lesser-known ingredients that I love like chickweed, miner’s lettuce, cured fish, and curried yogurt. I have also been lightening up the dishes while maintaining flavor and the comfort-food aspect of them by utilizing more vegetables, especially leafy greens like bok choy and tatsoi, and vegetable purees that aren’t weighed down by cream and butter.”

How does it feel switching gears from San Francisco’s busy and competitive dining scene to the only place on the highway for miles? “It’s much more relaxed out here in Marshall,” Seibert admits. “Although it gets very busy like the city, the ambiance is more peaceful and everyone is happy to be out here in such a beautiful and tranquil environment.”

Seibert also loves being closer to his favorite farms, like the Green String Farm, where he’s able to pick produce and talk to the farmers, “then cook the veggies that day.” Veggies are an especially big deal; “The biggest thing is probably that I didn’t have a garden at Mission Beach Cafe,” Seibert says. “Now, every day I walk up to The Croft, and see what’s growing, pick some peppers, chard, mustard greens, lettuce.”

In the future, Seibert plans to “focus on cooking the best food I can, elevating Nick’s every day, supporting our amazing local purveyors and working with our on-site farmer to produce as much healthy and delicious food as possible.”

The garden is high on his list, of course. “I’m excited to … create a food system out here that is as sustainable as possible, choosing crops that will help keep our soil nutrient-rich, and enforcing a property-wide composting program,” Seibert says. “We are currently in the planning stages for spring, and I can’t wait to see what we can do. I’m probably most excited about the large bed of asparagus that we have planned.”

Almost as excited as you should be about the refreshed and brightened menu at the local staple.

Nick’s Cove, 23240 CA-1, Marshall; 415/663-1033; nickscove.com.

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Novato Embraces CycleBar

Novato’s new and welcoming CycleBar offers a sense of community on top of a good workout. Photo courtesy of CycleBar.

By Flora Tsapovsky

When it comes to cutting-edge workout studios, Novato probably isn’t the first destination on Marin County’s list. Glitzier Mill Valley and Sausalito often take the cake (or, rather, the vegan energy bar) in this area, but Novato got on the map this October with the opening of a brand new branch of CycleBar, a nationwide cycling empire conquering the country through privately owned franchises.

In Marin County, the team to pedal the studio forward is a trio of lifelong friends—Stacey Agoustari, Julie Kertzman and Cindi King. Having known each other for more than 20 years, the friends—Marin residents and local schools fundraiser veterans—bring a variety of skills and backgrounds to their new adventure. Agoustari has worked in the fitness industry for more than a decade as a personal trainer and indoor cycling instructor certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Kertzman joins CycleBar Novato after spending 18 years in sales and marketing management for IBM and Hewlett-Packard, on top of serving as a PTA president and Tam High Foundation Chair and sitting on a number of local nonprofit boards. King is an attorney specializing in startups and small businesses and an avid fitness enthusiast.

The women, Kind says, raised their kids together. “Once the kids ‘launched’ to college, we kind of thought, what to do next?” A friend told her about CycleBar, a relatively new and prominent

The women behind CycleBar. Photo courtesy of CycleBar.
The women behind CycleBar. Photo courtesy of CycleBar.

competitor to SoulCycle, which by 2015 ran in more than 10 U.S. cities. (In 2016, it came close to having 100 studios all over the country). King brought up the idea to her friends, and caught everyone’s attention. The search for a venue was on.

“Once we found the location in Novato, that was it,” King says. “There’s a big enough community there and it’s a big enough city. Finding the actual real estate was the most challenging part, and then the space had to be built exactly to the specifications of CycleBar, so getting all of it took a year.”

She’s well aware, of course, of Novato’s humble image. “It’s too bad,” she says. “We did look everywhere, including Mill Valley, and [the Novato] location is perfect. There’s a juice bar next to us, it’s right off the freeway. It’s not the first place you think of, but we realized there’s a real opportunity in Novato, and the community really embraced us. They’re really open to doing fun, interesting things, and the coolness factor isn’t such a big deal like in Southern Marin.”

Not to say that CycleBar isn’t cool—with its slick red and silver interiors and branded water bottles and towels. With classes named ‘Connect,’ ‘Mash Up Monday’ (cycling to the tunes of Aerosmith and INXS), for example, the Novato branch is a modern hub of wellness and health, minus the attitude that some cycling studios cherish and use as a promotional tool. When CycleBar’s competitor and cycle-craze pioneer SoulCycle first broke onto the scene, its cultish, member-club appeal divided the nation. Some got hooked on the mood music, uber-charismatic instructors and ultra-hardcore workouts, while others shied away and even mocked the model (an early episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, written by Tina Fey, is a must-watch).

“I have to be honest,” King says. “I did go to several classes at SoulCycle and it wasn’t my cup of tea because I really felt like I don’t fit it. I’m in my 60s, and the vibe is very young. Nobody helped me to settle in. And it did seem very personality-oriented; the instructors talked about themselves a lot. We have a lot of customers who’ve been going to SoulCycle and say they feel more welcome here.”

Like SoulCycle, the workout at CycleBar is a multi-sensory experience, in a theater-like setting with LED lighting, wide-screen graphics and an audio system with a DJ booth. Playlists are available to download and no track is played twice. CycleBar’s innovative additions are the high-end Schwinn bicycles, and at the end of a session, not only the playlist, but also the statistics of the ride, are emailed to the customer.

“Some people are very interested in those; some just come to have fun,” King says.

Another relaxed feature is the payment model, with no membership necessary, on a pay-per-class basis. Shoes, water and lockers are free, too.

“We have clients from every age and type, from a school mountain biking team to families and even riders in their 70s,” King says.

Working together turned out great for the trio, two of whom live in Novato. “I think it’s great working with friends and with women,” King says. “We have a common perspective because we have a lot of experience behind us. We’ve really been enjoying the community aspect, too, since we’ve been a part of our communities for so long anyway.”

CycleBar Novato, 5800 Nave Dr Suite J, Novato; 415/851-2162; novato.cyclebar.com.

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Alchemy helps clients feel their best

Alchemy, a salon and clinic, fills a hole in the wellness market. Photo courtesy of Alchemy.

By Flora Tsapovsky

Alchemy, slivered between two restaurants (San Rafael Joe’s and Fenix) on San Rafael’s Fourth Street, is easy to miss when you walk by—but a closer look reveals big windows, hints of ‘chic’ and a beautiful sign.

Open since June of 2016, Alchemy is the baby of Devon Foley Keane, Dr. Edmond Zingaro and Karen Cohen, a registered nurse. Foley Keane was born in San Anselmo and has a background in design and the apparel industry. “I moved back from Australia and teamed up with my partners to create this unique concept,” she says. “I saw a hole in the wellness market and thought it could be done in a more connected way, that was more encompassing in all areas that actually make us feel well.”

The salon and clinic offers a myriad of beauty and cosmetic services, from waxing to Botox to peels, and prides itself on a holistic approach. “We have taken the traditional ‘medical spa’ and combined it with the elements that spoke to us personally,” Foley Keane says. “We wanted to target the whole person, to address the issues we seem to all have in common … to offer an all-encompassing spread of treatments that truly serve the aspect that wellness plays in our lives, from the inside and out.”

Alchemy’s popular B12 push infusions are geared to inject the skin with the vitamin, bi-weekly or monthly. “B12 serves the body in so many amazing ways,” gushes Foley Keane. “It boosts the immune system, nourishes, detoxifies and rejuvenates, as well as targeting specific goals like facilitating weight loss, increased energy, improved focus.”

Other beloved treatments are broadband light photofacials. “Our clients are active Californians with a love of the outdoors, but are also concerned with sun damage and proactively preventing pre-cancerous lesions from growing,” says Foley Keane.

“We ask each client that comes through our door what specifically concerns them about how they’re feeling, how they are aging, what they see when they look in the mirror every morning,” Foley Keane continues. “We ask about the client’s desires—are they after immediate results-driven treatments that are measurable in the moment? Are they after a long-term plan for prevention in aging? Are they fatigued? Sun damaged? Are they interested in a postpartum mommy makeover? Do they simply want their mustache gone? Maybe they are just tired of shaving their backs? Sometimes it’s the little things that make a huge difference.”

It’s hard to disagree with that.—F.T.

Alchemy, 925B Fourth Street, San Rafael; 415/295-7953; alchemymarin.com.

 

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Conversation with a clinical herbalist

San Rafael's Gathering Thyme, an inviting wellness shrine, is devoted to matching remedies to customers. Photo courtesy of Gathering Thyme.

By Flora Tsapovsky

Located on a busy corner in downtown San Rafael, Gathering Thyme has been a local wellness shrine for almost a decade. With a nutritionist, herbalist, chiropractor and holistic psychotherapist on staff, the clinic and store, owned by clinical herbalist Cheryl Fromholzer, is a welcoming introduction to what may seem like a daunting, complex world of herbs, seeds and unfamiliar terms.  Since opening at the very visible location, Fromholzer, who has confident yet reserved energy, has been championing the herbal scene in Marin with classes, events, seasonal offerings and above all—plenty of patience.

Our customers tend to come in two flavors,” Fromholzer says. “Those who are educated in herbal and nutritional supplements and know exactly what it is they want, and those who have a health concern and are looking for advice.” And for those who put ‘getting healthier’ on their 2017 bucket list, who could be a better fit to lead the unaware and the curious into the world of herbal medicine?

Flora Tsapovsky: Why is herbal medicine important today?

Cheryl Fromholzer: “Herbal medicine is a journey in self-care which is a very different paradigm than our current medical model of healthcare. It was not that long ago when every family had an elder, usually grandma, who understood how to use herbs growing in the garden, and even everyday foods, to help with common ailments. These “folk” remedies included things like drinking cabbage juice for stomach ulcers, or applying raw grated potatoes on the skin for drawing out infection.

In many cultures this tradition of using plants for medicine is still very much alive, but has largely been forgotten in American culture with the advent of “modern” medicine. Now, we look to someone outside the family, who may or may not have our long-term best interests at heart, to help us with our ills. With rising healthcare costs and astronomical pharmaceutical drug prices, many people are coming back to the

Women at Gathering Thyme prepare medicine made from nature. Photo courtesy of Gathering Thyme.
Women at Gathering Thyme prepare medicine made from nature. Photo courtesy of Gathering Thyme.

traditional ways of health and healing, and for good reason—with a little knowledge and training, herbal medicine can be very effective both as a preventive measure, as well as to help with many modern-day physical, mental and emotional ailments.”

F.T: What would you advise a brand-new customer in terms of getting to know the field?

C.F.: “If you are unfamiliar with herbal medicine and would like to get to know the field, start by getting a good book on the topic. I highly recommend Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar. This book is a practical primer on herbal medicine and includes everything from growing to using herbs in your everyday life. Another excellent way to get introduced to herbal medicine is by taking classes. I am offering a free workshop at the Mill Valley Library next Saturday the 14th from 11am-12:30pm on “Congestion and Sinus Relief using Herbal Medicine.”  In addition, Gathering Thyme offers many short- and long-term classes on herbal medicine, nutrition, natural cosmetics and aromatherapy. A word of caution—while the internet can be a great vehicle for disseminating information, not all of it is credible. There are a lot of marketing websites, as well as sites that will tell you that ‘herbs don’t work’ or ‘herbs are dangerous.’ Avoid all of them and go straight to the source—sites written by practicing professional herbalists who know first-hand the safety and efficacy of herbs. Learningherbs.com is a great place for beginners to learn about Western Herbalism.”

F.T.: Why ‘Western Herbalism?’ What sets it apart?

C.F.: “Western herbalism draws from herbal traditions of Europe and the Americas, and emphasizes the study and use of herbs used in these traditions in the treatment and prevention of illness. For me, the most important aspect of being a Western Herbalist is the sense of wholeness it brings, of connectedness, of belonging. I think it’s important that we learn to use the plants that are native to our bioregion, as well as those wonderful wild ‘weeds’ that pop up in the cracks of our sidewalks and lawns.”

F.T: What is the ‘starter kit’ for getting familiar with herbal products and the right approach to gathering it?

C.F.: “I would recommend for every household to develop an herbal first-aid kit for common complaints. It really depends on the makeup of your household and what kinds of issues arise most frequently. For households with children, I would recommend an ointment for bumps, bruises, burns, scrapes and rashes, peppermint or chamomile tea for tummy upsets and perhaps garlic/mullein oil for ear infections. In addition, the general health issues we are asked to help with the most are insomnia, stress, reproductive health issues and digestive complaints.  We sell a wide variety of remedies in those categories and it all boils down to matching a remedy to a person.”

F.T.: What are some of your best-selling products and why?

C.F.: Among our bestsellers are herbal honeys, a delicious way to incorporate herbs into your diet, and elderberry syrup. This is a traditional remedy for colds and flus. Studies have shown that taking elderberry can be helpful as preventive medicine during cold and flu season, protecting your cells from viral penetration, and if you do get sick, illness tends to be shorter lived and less intense.”

F.T.: Are you aware of health trends and ‘buzz’ products? What’s your relationship with them?

C.F.: “While we are always analyzing the latest health trends, and will bring in new products that are of value to our customers, we steer far away from many of the trendy, ‘buzz’ products, as we find that they just don’t hold up to the claims made. We are passionate about the sustainability of ethically sourced products and refuse to carry some things that may be linked to the destruction of our rainforests or the demise of the herb itself through overharvesting in the wild. Our goal is always helping our customers achieve vibrant health. While many would like to believe it, there is no ‘magic bullet.’ Achieving your health goals doesn’t come in a bottle but requires a multi-faceted approach including diet and lifestyle changes. We can help on all fronts.”

F.T.: Are there ‘must-have’ herbs or spices for everyday well-being?

C.F.: “There is no ‘must-have’ herb or spice that would be beneficial for everyday well-being for every person. Many people indeed come into the shop asking for ‘the sleep herb’ or ‘the stress herb’—but herbal medicine is best applied when you dig a little deeper and can best match a remedy to the person. We take the time to ask questions to get a better idea of what may be the most beneficial for our customers. Herbs have energetic qualities, as do people. By ‘energetics,’ we mean herbs can be warming or cooling, drying or moistening to differing degrees. We look at balancing the constitution of a person with the energetics of herbs we dispense.”

Gathering Thyme, 1447 Fourth Street, Suite B, San Rafael; 415/524-8693; gatheringthyme.com.

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