Learn to Knit! It’s Easier Than You Might Think

“You have to decide what kind of knitter you want to be,” counsels Angela F. Thomas, while sitting in my sunny front room telling stories and explaining the difference between a knit and a pearl. I’m just concentrating on knitting today. Anything else is a mistake. Ideally, the rows will be identical, and I will learn to smoothly guide the yarn over the top of needle without looking—some day, maybe. Today is not that day. Oh, I get it, in theory. Now if I could only remember how to cast… It doesn’t matter; I’ve had my first lesson, and I’m hooked on knitting.


I’m convinced that with the right teacher, anyone can learn to knit and the benefits can make it worth your time. Knitting is not only fun, it builds manual dexterity, is a way to make TV time productive and buys a person entry into one of the oldest crafts in civilized society. I’m in. After spending time with a great teacher, I can see that another wonderful benefit of learning to knit is the community building it affords.


Storytelling is essential to knitting. Angela sits with her glass of green juice, instead of the Coke she requested, explaining how her mother and grandmother taught her. I tell her about green juice and my vegetable garden while I laugh at my mistakes. She steps behind me, wraps her arms around me and guides my hands with the needles in them. “We mustn’t lose this art,” Angela explains. We have to hold on to sitting together for these face-time moments. Life is not only emails and text messages. We have to have soup and tea while we share our gifts and tell our stories. Only when we tell our story while a friend listens do we become whole. The things we reciprocate, heal us, soothing out the weariness of city life, strengthening a connection born in another context. I feel as if I’ve met Angela’s elderly mother after sitting in a room knitting with her daughter for two hours. That’s the gift of presence that comes from making time for one another.


With knitting there’s also quality time with yourself if you need it. You don’t need company or music or a goal; you don’t need a lot of stuff—just a pair of needles and some yarn. Even when you make mistakes you still have the concentration, tranquility and productivity of making a knit. It’s good for your brain since you will get challenged, especially when you first start. This little hobby can keep you sane and healthy. And with any luck, you’ll wear your new scarf to work and claim, “I made it myself!”

Eight Ways to Cultivate Relationships with Youth

I’m a great believer that the job of parenting need not fall solely on parents. Parenting is full-time job; they need a vacation once in a while. That’s where aunts and uncles come into the picture, because in a community, we can all play a vital role in the outcome of our youth.

As a couple, we have lots of young people in our lives: biological and unrelated nieces and nephews, special students, godchildren and little friends who we adore. We are committed to them even if we’re not their parents. This has led me to consider my role and responsibility to them. We have to be invested, monetarily and otherwise. We have to make time for them and share their interests. I’ve also observed that when we hold young people accountable and responsible, we show them love and respect. We’re basically telling them we see them as capable and reliable people. High expectations are never bad things, especially when they are combined with love, guidance and support.

The pastor at my previous church always said that Faith is a verb, an action that we do on the spiritual path. After an amazing two weeks with my partner’s nephew, we’ve decided that “Uncle” and “Aunt” are also verbs. With the first wave of nieces, nephews and family friends graduating high school, going to college and finding out who they are, we’re uncling and aunting every chance we get. There’s another group of young people, some of whom I’ve had the great pleasure to know since birth, coming down the pipeline. I want to be there to see all the children in our community grow up and thrive. Therefore, I’ve decided, it’s time for this aunt to step up her game.


This past Christmas we had our nephew, a first-year college, visiting us from the Midwest. We got to play uncle and aunt full time to a teenager. We did some tourist activities, but mostly, we lived together as a family, cooking meals, working in the garden, making puzzles and talking. Over the years we’ve managed to expose our various young friends to our love of nature, much to the chagrin of their tender feet. This visit was no exception. For New Year’s Day the three of us walked 12 miles around beautiful Lake Chabot in Oakland, a special place for us because we had our first date there. To my surprise, our nephew had never hiked that far. And, just like that it was a major moment that we shared—a first. The long stretches in silence were opportunities to reflect on the strengths we bring into our community. Seeing him jumping from great redwood stumps and roll down the hillside gave me enormous pleasure and pride. I have little doubt that he felt some of his own gratification at having achieved these amazing feats and for beating me back to the car in a sprint born from a competitive burst of energetic youth. Well, someone had to get there last. At home, he tried exotic food, and made choices based on personal conviction. We observed Sabbath with him in order to be in community with him and respect his faith.


Whether it’s asking about successes and triumphs, scolding over a failing, or instructing in our particular areas of strengths, most young people want to know that the adults in their lives care about them enough to make a fuss. I think I’m learning to be a better communicator because I’ve found that I’ve accepted that I don’t have to be a chum to my friend’s 18-year-old son; I can be a mentor and elder, and that’s enough. It’s never too late to get better at that. They need to learn things from us and teach us what they know. We can lovingly support our youth and their parents or primary caregivers by engaging them in various ways.


First, Ask them hard questions about important things that maybe parents aren’t able to ask. Teach them some skills: share expertise and talents and create opportunities for connection. Reward and encourage them for doing those things that reflect personal growth and tenacity in the face challenges. Even acknowledging a hardship can mean a lot. Model good communication for them, and talk to them about the things that matter by engaging them in difficult conversation (you’ll both grow). Engage them in storytelling: Face time is critical; tell them about your mistakes, too! Occasionally, give unsolicited advice; what they do with it is up to them. Watch their favorite program with them, listen to their music and find out what they care about.


Last, show that you care by making time for them; hug them even if it’s awkward the first ten times—we all need physical connection; and don’t forget to tell them that you love them whenever you can. You might find they love you, too!

How to Juice Your Way to Good Health

Do I have what it takes to change your lifestyle? First thing I gotta tell you about juicing is that it’s addictive. If you want a habit that is packed with micronutrients, heals your body, encourages and causes weight loss all while making you look and feel younger, too, read on!

At first I was drinking sweet juice like apple and orange with a carrot or two. Within a month I was throwing in broccoli hearts, kale, parsley and cabbage from the garden. Last week I pulled up some beets, rinsed off the roots, clipped the wilted leaves and put everything else straight into the juicer. The result was a dark green, bold cocktail that I had to sit down to savor. No novice could drink that one, but I know that my juicer brothers and sisters are nodding their approval. Clear-headedness follows, as does mindful eating habits and deliberation over produce. A glass a day is all it takes.

What’s so great about live juice? Everything! Good nutrition improves skin, hair and nail conditions, promotes healthier eating and improves energy levels. Those are just a few changes I’ve noticed in myself. To learn more about nutrition and juicing, I recommend two films: “Hungry for Change” for anyone who wants to learn more about your dietary needs and nutrition, (http://www.hungryforchange.tv/ ) and “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” the documentary about two very sick and obese men who change their lives for the better, one juice at a time (http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/ ). Both films are inspirational and convincing. Plus, you’ll learn that you don’t have to be overweight to benefit from micronutrients.

If you’re not yet ready to invest in a juicer, these days there are lots of great places to try live juice, which is unpasteurized and unprocessed whole fruit and or vegetable juice containing live enzymes. For the casual juicer, you can grab the occasional nourishing glass of juice at lots of places in San Francisco. Herbivore (http://www.herbivorerestaurant.com/) is one of my favorite spots away from home to juice. Many farmer’s markets now have juice stands as well. For the rest of us, you’ll need a juicer at home.

When you get serious about juicing you’ll need a Breville. The Juice Fountain Compact is the best. I’m not used to promoting products, but I can tell you that this machine is worth every cent. I had an old juicer that lasted over ten years. It was good to me but so hard to clean that it became a deterrent. After trying our friends’ Breville Compact, which cleaned up in about five minutes, we decided to buy one. For only $99, the compact model gives you several advantages:

  • Expels a large percentage of liquid from each fruit of vegetable, making lots of juice from just a few items
  • The wide chute makes prep easy since most fruits and vegetables fit in without cutting
  • The sharp blades keep juice cool because they do their job quickly
  • It’s easy to assemble and disassemble
  • And of course, easy clean up (yahoo!)

Last notes: Never juice premium fruits like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries; it’s not cost-effective to put a half blueberry in the compost. Instead, make a smoothie or eat them whole. Your body will absorb more of whatever you put in the juicer. Make it count.

Bottoms up, my friends.  IMG_4404

Start a New Hobby Today! Three Hobbies with High Returns and Low Investments

There are many reasons to start a new hobby. The possibilities are endless, but I’ll make several suggestions and even give you some good reasons to begin now. Most hobbies can have a low-skill threshold with high returns and benefits that can have a lasting impact on the quality of your life. To incentivize you, I’m recommending projects that you can start with just 20 dollars or less. Have you ever considered soap-making, sculpting or flower arrangement? Hobbies let people share their creations and interests with others and can create important “social objects” that can be great conversation starters to keep life interesting.

A new hobby can foster:

  • Community: new friends and people who are involved in your chosen activity; intergenerational transmission of cultural heritage
  • Tranquility and serenity: most hobbies can be done alone or with company; plus, it makes you feel good
  • Challenge and growth: learning and engaging in a hobby can build skills and provide a sense of accomplishment
  • Passion and pride: hobbies can lead to joy, excitement and fulfillment
  • Communication: teaching, learning and sharing are inherent parts of acquiring a new hobby; storytelling is often involved

Hobbies bring people from different cultures together. They’re also a great way to transmit knowledge intergenerationally. And, they’re usually fun. Try one today.

Soap Making: It’s fun and easy to make a basic glycerin soap project; you can start with about $20. Get a basic Kiss Naturals DIY Soap Kit and use supplies that you have at home. Fancy soap molds start at under $2. This is a fun after-school project to do with children of eight years and up. If you like it, you can get fancy and invest in essential oils, coloring and other additives such as flower petals and grains. Make soap as your gifts for Valentine’s Day. Soap is always in fashion.

Organic Glycerine Soap with Shea Butter
Organic Glycerin Soap with Shea Butter

Flower Arrangement: You don’t need to go to school to arrange flowers at home. You can start this hobby for about $20, too. Go to your local thrift store and get 3-4 vases of various sizes and shapes. Stop by any place that sells flowers, and buy 3 packs of flowers (or if you grow flowers, get your clippers out). Try to pick colors or textures that contrast or place single stems. Trader Joe sells bundles that start at $3.99 each. Spend half an hour mixing and matching to fit your vases. Use kitchen scissors to cut stems to length. Arrange the flowers until you’re satisfied. Place each vase in your home or office to brighten up a desk, bathroom sink or an entryway. With a little primping, flowers can last 7-14 days. You’ll be hooked in no time.

Mixed Bouquet: $15 (plus additional smaller arrangements)

Sculpt: Sculpting has to be one of my favorite hobbies of all time because it’s so easy and fun. It’s inexpensive, too, starting at around $5 for clay. Use molding clay, Play Doh or make your own salty-dough at home (Here’s a recipe: http://fun.familyeducation.com/sculpting/recipes/37041.html).  Get your fingers dirty by feeling the medium in your hands. You don’t need a goal—you don’t even have to make anything. You can simply play with the clay, and put it away when you’re done. You can also make simple shapes such as boxes and circles or a cool incense holder. Have fun, and don’t judge your creations. It’s therapeutic to play with your clay. When you make something silly, whimsical or magical, let it dry and paint it later. Soon you’ll have sculpture all around your house. All your friends will want one.

Have fun, and let me know how it turns out!