My Fitbit Fixation


by cheri

My friend Sharon and I went for a walk around our local lake to improve our health but    in truth, to solve problems. Loping around a lake, passing strollers with strollers, and dodging duck doo-doo, we moved like two fillies set loose in a meadow with tall grass.

I must add that Sharon is about 5’9” and a stately blond. Her stride is two of mine. I had to double-step to keep up. I might add again that I am a petite fake brunette but still look pretty good ( or so the retired men in their 80’s tell me…)

At the end of the what I thought was our 2.5 mile loop of the lake, our conversation was not finished.

” and so, Sharon, the best way to deal with a husband is to detach…at times…of course…let go of our sexpectations expectations. Let him be who he is and we will be who we are…” I philosophized, hoping to take my own advice when I found Hizzoner working again.

” Cheri, why that is sage advice,” Sharon observed. “But putting such a Buddhist twist on things so personal…well…I’ll try it,” she conceded. And I, too, hoped to take my own advice.

We approached the pathway that led to the parking lot but instead of turning right,  Sharon lurched left, and like an excited racehorse on the rail, I had no choice but to stay with her, lest I end up with a nose full of mud and in last place.

“Aren’t we going to our cars?” I suggested, inhaling.

“We are not done solving our husbands’ problems, Cheri,” Sharon stated without missing a step and charging on toward the back side of the lake where the reeds and tules wave like Argentinean pampas grasses.

By the end of the second lap, my thighs were burning but then, so was the conversation.

We made it to the cars and while catching my breath, Sharon reached into her blouse and there, attached to her bra, was a small gadget. Was it a microphone?

“See, Missy, we walked 7700 steps!”

I drove straight to the sporting goods store and bought a $59.95 gizmo called the Fitbit Zip.

Today, I have walked 8500 steps and only have 1500 to reach my daily goal of 10,000 steps per day.

Sharon, we need to solve more of our husbands’ problems next Monday, OK?

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Our Owl Box


by cheri

I’ve come to the conclusion that a barn owl couple will not be inhabiting our owl box, erected three years ago,  any time soon.

There is no good reason why not.

It’s full of ample room with pine shavings lining the bottom, the type you put in a hamster’s cage. The box faces east, out of the wind and overlooks a stunning silver-green orchard of olive trees through which, at night, must scamper mice and other delicacies that owls so enjoy. Everything that a pair of barn owls needs, awaits them in the box.

Everything but warmth, that is. Heat they must create themselves.

Whether owl or human, we all want to be warm when it is cold, right?

Sounds simple, but in the world of long-term marriages, such an obvious statement can become twisted. I know. Staying warm in our own owl box upstairs has become a topic of dissension  conversation.

I’ve been nesting with a  wise old owl for many years. As he has aged, he has become quirkier and eccentric about certain things but not everything. For example, when served a slice of meatloaf made up of of hamburger, tomato paste, onion soup mix, a non-organic egg, and  boxed bread crumbs, he is just fine. No problem thumping the Heinz Catsup bottle, scooting peas, and spearing tater tots. No request for epicurean improvement.


When it comes to getting into a bed with cold sheets (never mind the puffy down comforter resting above those sheets), he grumbles and hoots and has been doing so since he turned 60. “I’m your electric blanket; just be patient and cozy up,” I have suggested.

I’ve also kindly observed that wearing pajamas (or wearing something..since he has become more eccentric)  might be a good winter survival plan, but my suggestions have fallen on cold bums.

In his eccentricity, he has feathered our nest with electric blankets, warming mattress pads, and now, this season–a blanket that warms the bed without electric wires. Two red lights with the Number 10 on dual controls tell him his nest is inhabitable.

He settles in and falls asleep rather quickly.

I fly in, dressed for a winter night’s sleep in something commensurate with the temperature outside ( I learned this habit in the Guide to Human Survival), and slip into the heated shavings which could be used to roast marshmellows.

I find the bed is as warm as hot soup.

In the heat of the night, I reach over in the darkness, pat him in all his warmness, and click off my side of the blanket.

There in our mixed-use owl box, we sleep, dreaming that a real barn owl couple will see the same opportunities we have enjoyed in our co-habitation.









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The Hand

by cheri block

My father Hugh’s right arm  could rotate like a Ferris wheel and elongate all the way to the back seat of our Buick Vista Dome station wagon.

This superhuman feat Hugh could accomplish while also driving at a high rate of speed, which in the 50’s, was about 65 mph.

His arm took on Superhero attributes whenever one of his four children riding in the back seat got out of hand. But he was never out of hand because that paddle of his,  flat and worn from repetitive use, like an oar in a Greek trireme, would wheel around and whack whichever child deserved it.

Often, the child who had instigated the ruckus by insulting the dignity of one her her younger siblings–Stevie, Cindy, or Jimmie–could predict not only the angle and velocity of the strike but also its crucial timing device, that neurotransmittal moment when A-P=S, an equation which triggered its involuntary motion. This gift of locational prophecy yielded  satisfying results when the hand missed its mark and landed insultingly on one of the other passengers, who would scream out–not in pain but in injustice–and thus trigger the giant paddlewheel to speed up, wildly and furtively.

Thank God we were not on the Mississippi River.

My mother Joan seemed oblivious to this commotion as she read her Readers Digest condensed version of Michener’s Return to Paradise.

How could that same flat wedge of pain and insult become dexterious enough to practice dentistry on Monday morning?

I always wondered.

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Our Nest

by cheri sabraw

Those of us who have been in long-term relationships can speak to the power of silence.

All that might be said, has been said. Many times over.

So I’ve taken, at times,  to employing non-verbal communication signaled by a pair of fake birds that sits in our entry window.

For example, last week Hizzoner and I engaged in one of our weekly verbal arguments about how many hours he continues to work and preoccupy himself. How I am tired of it. How I want change of some sort. Change.


The next morning, I found that my residual feelings left over from this unresolved conflict in our marriage still lingered. But why bring it up again? So I reconfigured the birds. They can do the talking.

He, on the other hand, saw no conflict worth engaging in. At all. When I came home from my day out, he had realigned the pair to signal how he felt.

IMG_6240That’s funny. Not really.

Later that night, because of his incredibly long day, he fell into bed like a redwood tree going down in a storm. Good! He’s asleep, I thought, as I entered my side of the bed, hoping to sleep as close to the edge as I could possibly balance for the entire night. But he wasn’t fully asleep and moved over in hopes of mimicking the birds.

Oh well, I thought. Practice gratefulness. That always softens your heart. So the next morning, on my way to my busy day, I communicated my thoughts.


When I arrived home again to a dark nest house, on my way into the kitchen with logs for a fire and my iPad for entertainment, I let the birds do the pecking.


I made the dinner, seasoned it with cayenne pepper and spicy curry, and settled onto my perch.

The headlights turned down the driveway, the garage door opener grumbled, the door to our entry opened, the roller briefcase clicked across our tile, and the big bird entered, preening and pruning, dusting off his feathers, including the turquoise one in his hat.

I had nothing (at that moment) to say.

He went upstairs to unload.

I went outside to lug in more wood.

On my way out, I noticed the birds had been realigned.


Alright, I thought. That’s sweet.

How was your day, Your Honor?


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The Frog Princes

by cheri sabraw

Since my mother died, it’s been a reflective several months for me.

I have thought a great deal about aging but more about vitality–how to keep it and nourish it.

This evening, the glorious rain that has pounded Northern California for four days took a momentary break as if to say, ” There! Are you happy? Now that I have doused your fear of fire in the hills, what are you thinking?”

Good question. What am I thinking?

I stepped outside on my adobe porch tonight with my Labrador, Dinah. To be honest, I took with me a glass of Wente Chardonnay and sat down on the step to consider and reconsider how, under the constant pounding of both rain and time, I should approach the next decade.

Add to those thoughts and to the reflective nature of the night, the blowing of the North Wind Boreas and the croaking of thousands of frogs–maybe Leto’s peasants?– across our road, swimming and flirting in the old watering trough.

Talk about vitality.

The moon breaks through the rain clouds, creating a lovely halo around her visage.

The creek, anemic until this rain storm, its flow down to 12 inches, now carries leaf duff and little walnut-shell boats on a thrilling ride to the San Francisco Bay and to the sea.

The caterpillar I found on the fern, inches upward, looking for a safe haven in which to pause.

I am reminded of the energy of the visible and the invisible universe where atoms collide, where frogs bark into a dark moor, and where a yellow dog looks for affection.

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The Humbling of the Olive Farmers

Maurino olive tree marker

Maurino olive tree marker

by cheri sabraw

One of the images that blackens the literary sky of The Grapes of Wrath occurs before the wandering Joads even reach the “Promised Land” of California.

First, Tom Joad crushes a grasshopper on the dashboard of the truck whose driver has just picked him up. This insect, one of billions to swarm into the Midwest, takes on symbolic meaning. Soon California will be overrun with “Oakies,” migrating like locusts toward work and  survival. In Chapter Three, Steinbeck writes of grasshoppers so thick they block out the light of the sun. He was referring to  July 26, 1931, when such an event happened in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

The siege visited upon the Midwestern farmer was conducted by Uber-vermin, insects whose jaws grew larger as their swarm became a living machine that could chew through a wheat field more efficiently than any man-made combine.

Those of us who do not make our living tilling the soil have no idea how hard it is to produce a natural product or any product at all. When I buy red-leaf lettuce or  peaches, and nestle  kiwis into my basket alongside organic strawberries and blueberries, never do I consider the farmer who grew them, the insects who invade them in one way or another, and the patience it takes to bring them to market.

Never did I consider these factors until last year when the olive fruit fly destroyed our olive crop for the second year in a row.

And this year too, save for about 75 pounds of assorted leccino, arbequina, maurino, and frantoio olives, our crop again fell victim to the ravages of the fly.

Frantoio olive tree marker

Frantoio olive tree marker

On Monday, my husband and I picked the lucky little olives whose insides are not being turned out by fruit fly larvae feeding on such sweet oil. We hustled as  olives must be pressed within 24 hours of harvest.

My husband then drove them to the Central Valley to be pressed.

Trucks lined up at the press in Modesto, California, and the foreman asked, “Where are your  olives?”

“Why in a bin in the trunk of my car,” replied the gentleman farmer.

I’m sure good manners and some sympathy kept the pressman from laughing out loud.

This year, our harvest might yield 13 bottles of oil. I do not intend to calculate what each bottle cost us.

My husband asked my sister Cindy, who is producing the label for the bottles of our first harvest, to include this small paragraph on the back of the label:

WARNING: THIS PRODUCT IS NOT FOR SALE. This oil was not “organically grown.” Yes, we used Roundup and some pesticides to kill weeds and some of the olive fruit flies so that we could actually make the oil.  While this product is not a GMO, we would have done so if we knew how.  Consume at your own risk.  If you are among the very happy few to have been given a bottle of this oil, it is because we thought enough of you that we were willing to share the fruits of our labor. Please enjoy in peace and harmony and among family and friends, this splendid, mild blend!

There’s always next year. We have 60 trees. Each tree should produce a gallon of oil.



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A Proton


by cheri block

Joan left the earth’s atmosphere the other night after lingering for several weeks in and about her children’s homes.

Now a spot of energy in the Grand Scheme of Things, Joan is on her way.

I did not expect to be privy to the experience that took place on Thursday night last.

I had just taken a break from a long day of correcting papers and had stepped out onto our patio. My awareness heightened by the deepening darkness overtaking the Western sky, I looked toward the flickering city lights around the San Francisco Bay, and there in our meadow among the English walnut trees, moving at a tremendous speed without regard for limb or earthly life, was Joan in her new iteration.

A proton supreme, she arced and dove through my vision like Tinkerbell on her way to Never Neverland.

Not one to miss an opportunity to speculate about the Life Beyond, I telepathically caught her just before she left.

Where are you going, Joan? I whispered into the night.

Her hearing restored, she murmured, I’m drawn without resistance to the Supernova, Cheri. The one where exist other sources of inspirational energy. I’m hoping to locate Hugh and my father, Jimmie.

Oh. I communicated silently to her. I’m sure you will meet Eleanor Roosevelt there.

Perhaps, she twinkled back.

And then, before I could offer salutations, she was gone.

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Queen Joan of Ours


Princess Joan 1935, Dallas, Texas

Princess Joan
1935, Dallas, Texas

by cheri block

This Morning is quiet on the Rancho.

Oddly, the turkeys and their racket are absent.

A light wind flutters the oak leaves, so laden with acorns. My dear sycamores rustle; the creek dribbles with sympathy.

Light is still off on the eastern horizon; is it possible for this dawn to linger longer?

Queen Joan is dead.

Her legacy—for all who had the great good fortune to know her—is one of courage, resiliency, and gratitude.

Her approach to life in the face of adversity rivals the testaments of the great men and women whose stories color the biblical canons of human record.

May we all be inspired by her example.

Long live the memory of Queen Joan!



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Twin Bridges, Montana



by cheri sabraw

Every town or city in which we stopped, especially in Montana, became an opportunity for speculation. Is this a place where we could live part of the year and exit California congestion?

This line of questioning we pursued from Hamilton, Montana–a charming town in the Bitterroot Valley still undisturbed by tourists–to Great Falls–a city on the Missouri River, protected from California investment by its spartan offerings–frigidity in winter and wind velocity in summer.

Lured by the confluence of four famous Montanan rivers–the Beaverhead, the Big Hole,  the Madison, and the Jeffereson–we drove into Twin Bridges, population 350.

At the end of Main Street we found our lodging, the Kings Motel, owned by Don and Marsha and their son, Matt.


Don’t let the trim outside and gravel road deceive you. Marsha and Don take pride in the cleanliness of their rooms, complete with kitchens, lounge chairs, and homemade furniture.


While my husband fly-fished the Big Hole with Matt, I walked to the Shack for lunch and then crossed the Beaverhead on one of the Twins (bridges). I was on my way to the vacant fairgrounds, around which I had been told, was a walking path. The dry air, hovering at 85 degrees, along with almost a complete absence of other people, put me into a dreamy mood.

The Shack at lunchtime.

The Shack at lunchtime.

IMG_3511Should I order a Bud Light or a Brownie Sundae?

Later, I headed to the fairgrounds, imagining myself on my daily walk here in the Ruby Valley, free of the snarl of cars, the clang of my neighbors’ heavy equipment on Sunday mornings at 7:00 am, or the roar of the 737’s heading into one of three airports in San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose.

IMG_3524The fairgrounds were vacant alright. Not a steer, lamb, or hog to be found.


I’m sure the dear and deceased Paula, God Rest Her Soul, is thrilled that in her honor, bulls have their way with trapped cows. Makes me wonder what Paula’s hobbies were.

This sight caused me pause: will they name a room at Mission San Jose High School after me when I die? That freakish thought was answered before I could get Paula out of my mind. “Absolutely not, shouted the representative from the California Teachers’ Association! ”

The day became hotter; my checked cowboy shirt and jeans began to feel heavy.

The mile loop seemed like part of the arduous  Lewis and Clark expedition, which passed by Twin Bridges at Three Forks. There, to the relief of Meriwether Lewis, Sacajawea saw the Beaverhead Mountains and remembered her homeland.

On my walk by a tributary of the Beaverhead, a fella  enjoyed himself.



I rounded the bend,  about a half a mile from my motel room; the day was as still and dry as cornstarch.

Not much was happening in Twin Bridges. Should I attend  the Gun Show over there in  one of the fairground buildings?


Instead, I headed for the Kings Motel. The path freshened with the river. I called out to moisture. Moisture! Surely you will sooth my parched skin and slumping body.



And then it appeared–the Twin Bridges Oasis–Main Street.


Back at the King’s Motel, I fell into one of the Barca-Lounger chairs in my comfortable room and picked up the book I had deliberately brought to reread while here in Montana–A River Runs Through it.

In my view, this novella is as good as anything Hemingway ever wrote about nature, conflicted relationships, and sport as religion. As I asked my husband later that night at dinner at the Old Hotel in Twin Bridges, ” What do you think the “it” refers to in A River Runs Through It?

Could the pronoun have referred to Twin Bridges?

My husband, settled, loose, and unpreoccupied after a day on a river, and having enjoyed several glasses of Pinot Noir, missed the joke.

“Why Cheri, the ‘it’ refers to the tangled relationship that Norman had with his brother Paul.”


The Big Hole River, Twin Bridges, Montana

The Big Hole River, Twin Bridges, Montana




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The Palouse

IMG_6075 by cheri sabraw

We entered the Palouse without knowing it.

As far as the eye could see were golden undulating hills that looked like Mother Earth  had experienced a serious case of the shivers.

From Spokane to the Snake River and on into the Columbia River Gorge, the Palouse astounds the eye with her quiet vast blanket of bumps. On these hills, enormous combines–bigger than any others I have seen in Iowa or Kansas–crawl upward, cutting the wheat in an act that seems to defy gravity. It is a stunning sight and nothing like any other land form I have ever seen. IMG_6070My husband reminds me that in the old days, when the USC  football team would travel to Washington State University in Pullman, the network sports announcer, Keith Jackson, would say, “Well, here we are…..ready for the Trojans to take on the Cougars…here in the Paaaaaa–looooose!” IMG_6069 IMG_6071 The top of this hill has been tilled, ready for new planting. Truly, this is the grand home of Shredded Wheat. Eventually, the Palouse allows herself some some variation on her legumish theme. IMG_6103In a scene that hardly looks real, the Snake River offers a different style of life to the Palouse but she ignores him. In a spontaneous desire to experience the recesses of her hills (as opposed to riding a combine), we stop to play golf. The clubhouse is visible, but the course lies in the secrets of the Palouse. IMG_6086

Posted in Education, My photography, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments