A Coffee Shop of One’s Own

by cheri block

Yesterday the rain cleansed and cooled the barranca in front of our desert home. The clouds moving east in the turbulent skies wore dark coats with swirling sopped paisley patterns, adorned with bulbous slate buttons of moisture. The scene was gorgeous.

To commemorate a rainstorm in the desert, I prepared a grilled cheese Panini accompanied by a petite bowl of tomato soup with basil. I sat down to eat, watching a small lake form among the cacti. I considered whipping up a strawberry shake, but something way back in the recesses of my mind told me to skip the shake.

Before I knew it, I was no longer in the desert.

*          *          *          *          *

My brother Stevie and I were sitting at a counter in a small coffee shop that hugged the banks of the mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. The year was 1960. I was ordering lunch for us. My father was fishing. Those were the days when two little kids could wander the docks unsupervised, making small talk with the Indians who gutted the salmon on a smelly workbench, sliding the roe and innards into the waiting mouths of mongrel dock dogs, not unlike my Labrador, Dinah’s.

At the coffee shop, I took charge.IMG_0517

We’ll have two grilled cheese sandwiches, two bowls of tomato soup, and two strawberry milk shakes, please. And can you make those shakes really really thick? Thank you.

We were Hugh’s kids and while Hugh was fishing for super-sized Chinook salmon with Oscar Ginsaw, his Yurok Indian guide, we were hanging out with an unadulterated freedom unknown to kids today.

We shot the breeze with the woman behind the counter. I exaggerated from start to finish. When we had sucked the last drip of shake out of the tall and ribbed soda glasses—a grating noise that sounded like bicycle spokes batting my loose jeans—I bragged to all in attendance about how many German Shepherds we owned, how many friends I had, and how many teeth my father had pulled in a week.

What a storyteller you are little miss, said the waitress Lucille, whose name tag, I remember, was stained with a splotch of ketchup on it.

Lucille’s astute observation only added fuel to the bonfire that had started the moment I had climbed up on the red swivel stool and helped hoist Stevie up there next to me.

Well, I continued, we own five German Shepherds, I have 100 friends, and my dad pulls 50 teeth a week. In fact, I continued, one of our German Shepherds, Miss Dickens, is expecting a litter of probably, oh say, 15 puppies next week. One of my 100 friends, Sissy Hill, was California’s Junior Miss, and my dad made me a necklace with all of the teeth he pulled last month, mainly molars with a few bloody incisors for decoration.

 I might have kept the conversation going all day were it not for Stevie, who whispered that he had to go to the bathroom. He wanted to go back to the room at the Requa Inn.111129279

Oh, OK, I said, and we scooted off our stools, full of sandwich and shake, and skipped out the door.

*        *           *           *

Why this memory continues to circulate every now and then, especially when grilled cheese sandwiches rest on my plate, I do not know.

What I do know is that the sense of independence I felt at that time in my making uninhibited and free-ranging food choices and in my grandiose historical inaccuracy without parental correction had a cache that I relish to this very day.



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Nostalgia at the ballpark


by cheri block


I remember the anticipation I felt as my Dad and I drove to Candlestick Park in San Francisco to watch my favorite team, the Giants, play baseball. On the way to our seats, Dad would hurry to the concession stand and buy a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for himself and a Coke for me. Two plump hotdogs smothered in pickled relish and oozing with mustard rested in my hands. Hurry was our pace because the hotdogs had a warmth shelf- life of about two minutes. Although tucked into their foil blankets, they cooled off fast. After all, the game was in San Francisco.

There in the bleachers overlooking center field where the frigid winds from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay swirled, sucking papers upward like a centrifuge, and where the pigeons glided overhead in a circular orbit  in preparation for their 9th inning scavenging, we settled in. Dad would unpack the wool blanket we would share on a summer night in one of the coldest stadiums on earth, not counting Rome’s Coliseum, of course. Most out-of-towners attending the game would freeze their fritters off, having forgotten that San Francisco is a beach town where the fog and wind roll in and out as consistently as the tide.

That year, the Giants were hot, unlike we fans at the game. There looking down on center field with my dad and regaled by players like Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal as they dazzled everyone—from old codger to young sprite—I thought that everything about life was happy. What more could a 12-year-old want?

Back at home on Mayfield Drive, where life was good and I was bossy, I wanted to listen to every Giants game on the radio, even though they  usually ended well past my bedtime of 8:30 pm. In 1962—because the Giants were having a killer season (especially against the LA Dodgers), my dad bought me a transistor radio so that when I was supposed to be asleep in preparation for a full day of school, I could turn it on quietly in the room I shared with Stevie, my little brother, and listen to the play-by-play coverage, called by Gil Hodges and Lon Simmons.

In those days, I knew every single player’s name, his batting average, and his other vital statistics—RBI’s, marital status, chosen philanthropies, and blood type. Only my acumen about the horse racing industry exceeded that of my baseball trivia.

When other girls at age twelve were shaving their legs and curling their hair, I was watching the win-loss columns of the Giants and yes, our arch enemy’s—the Los Angeles Dodgers. My grandmother, Rosalie, and my step-grandfather, Harold, lived in Westwood, minutes from Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers’ version of Candlestick Park.

Rosie didn’t know a baseball from a cabbage but Harold, an obstetrician to the stars (he delivered Jamie Lee Curtis and was friends with Tony Curtis and Guy Williams, aka Zorro, but that is another story) would take me to the Dodgers’ game at Chavez Ravine (which made Candlestick Park look like a San Francisco bum) when I visited them in Los Angeles.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, watching a game there was a warm experience, so comfortable and luxurious. Harold had third base seats, lots of money, and a star’s odd presence. I remember thinking, even in those days, how quirky he was. Those thoughts vanished when I sank into our warmed leather seats and when a waitress came to take our hotdog order.

Even at a young age, I possessed a sense of timing and, if truth be told, a sense of self, so you can bet I never told my dad what a cool person Harold was or how charming Chavez Ravine was. After all, I was a hard-core Giants fan.



Today, here in Goodyear, Arizona, anticipating my first Spring Training games—the Cleveland Indians vs. the San Diego Padres on Sunday and…..and….and…the Cincinnati Reds vs. the San Francisco Giants on Monday, my thoughts are of the impending 90 degree heat and the intimacy of this cozy ballpark.

Dad, Mom, Rosie, and Harold are long gone (like one of Willie McCovey’s shots out of the park), but their memories will be in the air, on the field, and in those hot seats at Goodyear Ballpark.

I shall report back….

IMG_2428 IMG_2423

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Turquoise turkey

by cheri sabraw

Something remarkable happened on Tuesday at the Rancho.

Beauty arrived in his mythological chariot and landed among the Beasts.


Was Flannery O’Connor sending a symbol? A Displaced Person? A Religious symbol? A Jungian sage?


I could not believe my eyes as they beheld one of the most elegant creatures ever Designed!

IMG_3660Upon His arrival, the usual Turkey Trot was on.

Males fanning, females running for cover, scratching and pecking, strutting and fleeing. What a raucous ruckus on the Rancho!

And then, a child’s scream. A shrill announcement to the Thanksgiving army!

IMG_3663Surely Beauty and the Beast! Elegance par Excellence meets Your Regular Joe Tom.


Where this peacock came from, I will never know. Ethereal. Gone.

His Beauty made all of the ugliness in the News vanish if only for a moment.











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Star Quality


Prague Castle, 2010

Prague Castle, 2010

by cheri block

Much has been written throughout the ages about stars.

Stars figure prominently in art, music, sculpture, and oratory.

Their appeal is their mystery.

Mauna Kea, 2013

Mauna Kea, 2013

And yet, astronomers high atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii have demystified much about stars. We know they are intense balls of energy that explode with light and heat. We know they have gravitational pull. We know that they die, eventually, but we here on Earth continue to view their light long after they are gone.

Joan Block, 2014

Joan Block, 2014

All of these thoughts apply to Queen Joan, who for many of us, was the brightest star in the room even as her light in this world began to dim. For those of us who studied the Constellation that was Joan, we sensed an other-worldliness about her.

Where did she come from? How was she able to twinkle when so much had been taken?

This song, Yesh Kochavim ( Kocha is star in Hebrew, vim makes it plural) is an earthly composer’s attempt to capture the light of a lost life. First, listen to the Hebrew and then listen to the English.

If one of your family’s stars has left your orbit, you will be comforted.



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by cheri block

Today, January 27, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Extermination Camp, Auschwitz.

Film makers, novelists, and historians have spent millions of hours, perhaps six million hours, trying to educate a distracted modern public on the atrocities that occurred in Poland and in other concentration camps during World War II.

Inherent in any Holocaust education is the notion that what happened at Auschwitz could happen again.

But with a large portion of the worldwide population that is uneducated and uncultured, and one that has been brainwashed to hate Jews , and one that rogue populist politicians manipulate, it is not hard to see why Jewish communities in Europe are the targets of violence and why anti-Semitism is on the march again.

We don’t need imagination to wonder how the Nazis incubated and then spread the hatred in the first half of the 20th century.

Today, we have radical Islam to continue the Nazi mission.

Today, we do not have leaders with courage like Winston Churchill. Instead, we have soft and malleable individuals, like Barack Obama and Francois Holland, like David Cameron and the entire leadership of South American countries, who behave like chamois clothes, and look over their shoulders before making their tepid decisions; cowards, all of them.

Cowards, all of them.

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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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