Shall we all get in better shape?

P1000881by cheri

You will forgive me. Although I have not taught since the fall of 2014, teaching for me is an involuntary reflex.

I’ve just returned from my cardio-exercise in preparation for my first training session tomorrow. I’ve been trying to do one push-up here at home (with no success yet). My lunges have produced a sore knee.

However, despite those deficits, I want to share with you what I  learned today.

Many of my readers already know how out-of-shape I am, up close and personal. Ken G. helped pick me up and move me to the side of the trail on the way up Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona, several years ago when I became dehydrated. My childhood friend, Bill, now a Ph.D in physical therapy and university professor, has kindly remained mute when I tell him about my sore hip or sacroiliac joint. Muni  is one of my doctors (and friends) who knows my chart intimately.  My cousin, Jan, could feel my flabby arms when she hugged me (almost to death) on Monday. The Judge, my husband, knows from, well, let’s just say he knows.

Whether you are in your seventies and sedentary, or in your eighties and frenetic, whether you are overweight, underweight, full of willpower or absent of willpower, whether you have great self-esteem or weak self-esteem–you can still do something to improve your physical health. Right?

So, here is what I learned today:

1. iPhones have not helped a nation’s posture. Most of us are looking down and not up. Most of us are on the balls of our feet, not our heels. Try rocking back on your heels and see what happens to your posture.

2. Your visceral fat index is the most important statistic. Luckily, mine was very good (which ameliorated my push-up humiliation). Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds your organs, the most dangerous of all. I learned that I am 26% fat, 28% muscle, and .7 % full of visceral fat. Those numbers ,along with my age, height, weight, and other data ( my lipstick color and shoe brand) were centrifuged. My goal is to be 23% fat and 34% muscle.

Now for the teaching part:

If you would like to join me on a  self-imposed health regimen of your choosing, perhaps we can cheer each other on.

Linda, who writes a dandy blog, and I are checking back with each other in a month. Kayti may hire a personal trainer, maybe. She writes a splendid blog.

After all the word “blog” means web log, right? Maybe you might want to weigh in…

As you can see from the picture, we all have people in our lives who are depending on us to be the best we can.


Posted in Education, Life, People | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

To the gym, I go

P1000597by cheri

Today I am beginning a weight-training regimen down at a small gym at the bottom of my road. This first-time experience will go undocumented by pictures.

I’m in my sixties and although I look somewhat fit, I’m not. I have no strength other than that of spirit.

Sometimes, I hate to admit, I fail to twist the lids from capers and sweet pickle bottles. Other times, when my husband closes off the hose nozzle, I cannot budge it from its recalcitrant grip, so  the begonias droop until he comes home to rescue their sweet souls and stems from water deprivation.

I walk briskly up a mountain road about 4 times a week and chase a yellow dog around the property, along with shooting shooing turkeys off the grass (now dead…the grass, that is), but these activities are not enough to improve my bone density, muscle tone, and strength.

So, wish me luck. Think good thoughts.


Posted in Life | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Mr. Holmes and Me

Mr._Holmes_posterby cheri sabraw

I arrived home last night at 9:30 pm after taking in the film Mr. Holmes, the story of Sherlock Holmes’ final years in Sussex, England, where he struggled with memory loss as he tried (successfully as we would learn) to recreate his last detective story for the young boy, Roger, his housekeeper’s son.

Although the multi-themed Mr. Holmes might take the viewer in many directions—beekeeping, dementia, loneliness, love, and nature—it is Sherlock Holmes’ method of detection that captivated me.

During the film, I leaned over to my husband and reminded him of the importance of detail in life. Whether he interpreted my whispered observation as a true reaction to the film or as a personal petition, I do not know.

Holmes’ attention to detail is at the epicenter of his sleuthing. In Mr. Holmes, the wasp, the scent of a woman’s perfume, and a glove all lead to his cracking the mystery. He reminds us that missing the meaning of a detail can lead us down the path of uncertainty and fear.

Consider my own detective story, the Mystery of My Right Eye, a vignette that occurred last night after I went to bed still relishing in the beauty of the film I had just enjoyed.

Early this morning, perhaps about 4 am, a throbbing right eye brought me from a deep sleep to consciousness.  Even the moisturizing drops I blinked into my sore eye did not assuage the minor but consistent irritation, which plagued me until the dawn broke and the blue jays began their squawking.

I padded into my bathroom and snapped on my lighted mirror, sure that by illuminating and magnifying my eye, the reason for my pain would be apparent. That my eye was not red surprised me. Is my vision still in tact, I wondered?

I put on my glasses to perform a test of my vision and walked downstairs in my slippers to fetch a cup of coffee, sure that a more alert brain would remind my eye to focus. I sat down on my sofa, and began my own optometric exercises, first opening one eye and focusing on an object and then closing it and refocusing.

Were the yellow begonias out on the deck as boastfully clear as they usually were?IMG_3067

The vision in my right eye was slightly blurred and I will confess to momentary panic. This less-that-logical approach to problem solving would not go well were Sherlock Holmes on my shoulder.

Back up to my bathroom and that mirror.

There on the sink rested my contact lens case, a bright red ladybug in full spotted regalia. Although not a wasp, it was a clue. It was still open.

Had I removed both of my lenses last night and tucked them into their baths after returning from the show? Of course I had. There they rested on a tissue, dried-up silicone hydrogels, now curling up from the air of the night. This is my routine and there was my evidence.

Mr. Holmes, known for his ability to take a clue to its logical conclusion and solve the mystery, entered my mind.

Would Mr. Holmes have approved of my slowly encroaching fear about an asymmetrical vision problem and a painful eye? No. Stay with logic, he seemed to mysteriously transmute.

I looked with my left eye into my right. No lens, only pain.

Now was the time to apply the Holmesian abductive reasoning: examine the detail and from there draw my hypothesis from which the premises may not necessarily lead to conclusion.

The two contact lenses I wore to the movie lay on the tissue.

I still had a pain in my right eye.

When I put on my glasses, the vision in my right eye was blurred.


Could another contact lens be in my right eye?

I looked again. Nothing.

At that moment, in frustration and I suppose, in reverence to Sherlock Holmes, I put my fingers to my right eye to pull the imaginary lens from it and in doing so, I retrieved a contact lens, one that had been heretofore invisible.

The mystery solved: I had put two contact lenses into my right eye before leaving for the film, the film about detail, memory, and pain.












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“How much is that Doggie in the Window” to “Why is that Doggie in your grocery cart?”

by cheri sabraw

It is fashionable these days here in the San Francisco Bay Area to accessorize with a  live dog. Peeking out of jackets and tucked under fuzzy sweaters, small dogs become for their owners conversation pieces. At least that is what they are hoping.

Never mind that only 20 years ago, people used to accent their clothing with  scarves, brooches, and ties.  Now, tiny canine faces, cold black noses, dark eyes with undulating eyebrows, and emerald-green satin bows tied into canine topknots sit in strollers, grocery carts, homemade wagons and baby carriers.

There is no location now, where a dog cannot go.

Here in Fremont, California, one is not at all surprised to see a Yorkshire Terrier in a Whole Foods shopping cart, usually nestled in a fuzzy pink blanket and often shivering. Its owner is often reciting poetry to it while examining non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free organic soap.

Across the bay in Palo Alto (also known as Shallow Alto)–lies the  epicenter for self-absorbed women and a few odd men, who are often accompanied by a cat on a leash or a dog in a stroller. Why, everyone seems to have their pets with them.

But!  In Palo Alto, a plain purebred dog, like that Yorkshire Terrier over in Fremont, is gauche. Why, at the Stanford Shopping Center, while trying to shop, one might observe a Maltipoo, a YorkiPoo, a Labradoodle, a Goldendoodle (talk about non-GMO) or an exotic breed like a Canaan Dog or a Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen–all  inside the store washing their paws in the bathroom, accepting a scallop in the café, trying on clothes in the children’s department, or combing  wind-whisked whiskers  at the Mac cosmetic counter.

I was in Palo Alto the other day, in the shoe department to be exact. I leaned down to inspect the laces on a tennis shoe I was trying on. While my head was down, a dog as big and black as a bear trundled right by my nose.

“Bubby, come along, inkypoo,” a 50’s something blond willowy woman with workout clothes encouraged her small Angus steer at the end of a robust red leash and matching collar. She stopped and looked at me and waited. Waited. Waited for the real reason she has saddled this Newfoundland dog up and was parading him through the Nordstrom shoe department like a circus act.

I felt sorry for her, looking at her face, fraught because of our pregnant pause. OK, I say to myself, just help her out.

What breed of dog is he?” I asked, with emphasis on he. The spell  broken, she sat the 170 pound Newfie  in front of me. While I observed Bubby’s flat coral-colored tongue to be almost the size of a piece of Coho salmon, she regaled me with Newfoundlandian history until I begged off that I must, yes, must pay for my shoes.

I don’t know. Something is wrong here in a society that decorates it dogs like children and takes them grocery shopping.

My dog, Dinah, a Fremont girl, a down-to-earth yellow Labrador who scavenges for Turkeypoo (not a breed of dog) squats on our lawn, and sheds blond hair all over the downstairs of our home would never be caught in Whole Foods or the Stanford Shopping Center.

Her place is in or by the home.

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My favorite (dwarf) planet is Pluto

by cheri block

The bright spot in this week’s news, brighter the prospects of a nuclear agreement with an untrustworthy country, and more luminescent than the prospects of a third ginormous loan for Greece, is the picture of Pluto and one of his little moons that the NASA spacecraft New Horizons beamed back to us this week.

To call Pluto a bright spot is dead wrong. I know because in the 5th grade, I wrote an exhilarating  report on my favorite planet and learned that Pluto was so far away that the sun’s rays had little effect—that visiting Pluto would be like stumbling around blind in my closet at night.Those were the days when having a favorite anything was a must in all conversations, assigned reports, and for Monday-morning sharing.

My favorite color was blue, my favorite Beatle was George, my favorite horse at Shady Lawn Farm was Herb, my favorite food was spaghetti, my favorite animal was the horse, my favorite South American country was Chile, my favorite European country was Ireland, and of course, my favorite planet was Pluto.

When Pluto was downsized several years ago to a dwarf planet and all maps of the Solar System became archaic and collectors’ items, I was as mad as hell. I knew that Charon, Pluto’s mysterious moon, named after the ferryman who boated the dead across the River Styx, would agree.

In 1961, I suppose  Pluto attracted me because it was so small and I, too, was a shrimp. Out there, circling the sun with all of the attention foisted on Saturn and her gaseous rings, on Uranus because of, well, because of all of the anatomical jokes of Your Anus, and on Venus because of Frankie Avalon’s song, I naturally gravitated toward the planet with no gravity. Pluto needed a patron and my report was superior. That might have been because my mom made Pluto cookies, I gave everyone in the class a yo-yo, and because the cover of my report my father had helped design: it was black with an aluminum foil spot glued on the edge.

Today, my eyes feast on the first images of Pluto, that dwarf planet so far away from earth. Sometimes, I too, feel as far away from the earth I used to know as can be. So far away from the obvious notions of engaging the enemy in a nuclear agreement or giving a country another loan when it has proven that it doesn’t understand a balance sheet. Or from electing a  president who is a socialist in what used to be a capitalistic country.

Let’s see. If asked today, my favorite color is green, my favorite Beatle is John, my favorite horse at Shady Lawn Farm is still Herb, my favorite food is pasta, my favorite animal is a yellow Labrador Retriever (go lay down, Dinah, dammit), my favorite South American county is, well, I have no idea but definitely not Argentina, my favorite European country is England, and my favorite planet is still Pluto.

Posted in My childhood | Tagged , , , , | 30 Comments

Hobby Farmers’ Assault: Our Olive Update

The olive fruit fly

The olive fruit fly

by cheri arbequina sabraw

Last month, we learned from our host Umberto at La Chiusa in Montefollonico, Italy that the olive fruit fly, too, had obliterated his entire harvest last year. In fact, the fly had stung most of the olives throughout Tuscany in 2014. (Note: much of the 2014 Italian olive oil you enjoy has been pressed with the fly larvae in it, so extra virgin also means extra protein!)

My husband lamented, “The fly has successfully stung almost every varietal in our orchard for the past four years despite my spraying  every week with an organic spray. “ He continued to Umberto,  “ Are you going to spray a pesticide this year after your loss?”

“No,” said Umberto, sipping on his Prosecco and offering one to us. Although it was only 11:00 am, we each accepted a tall elegant glass of the bubbling elixir perhaps to dull the memories of all the rotten olives we have stripped from our trees.

It was out in Modesto, California, last November when we drove the small number of olives ( maybe 75 pounds) that hadn’t turned a piebald and dimply purple and in which were not living wiggly larvae that we learned  our organic pesticide—touted by all at the county, U.C. Davis, and in the Bay Area environmental community as the way to eradicate the olive fruit fly—did not work.

Olives before the onslaught

Olives before the onslaught

“What are you using?” asked the old fella who owned the olive press there and who pressed most of the olives grown in the Central Valley.

“ GF-120,” answered my husband.

The old olive man tilted his head, raised one eyebrow, and nodded. “ Hell, that stuff doesn’t work. Everyone knows that.”

It seems that our orchard, unprotected from the fly by the intense heat of the Central Valley, lies in a micro-climate in which the fly thrives—cool nights and mornings, warm afternoons, and moderate temperatures into the fall. Coming to this orchard is like attending a feast extraordinaire.

Our orchard in the SF Bay Area

Our orchard in the SF Bay Area


“I’ve tried everything I can, “ I overheard my husband say to the county pesticide regulators this past spring.

“Well, you have to take a test in order to administer this treatment,” I heard a cold voice respond on the speakerphone.

July is olive fruit fly month when, during the previous four years,  the pest has stealthily entered our  boutique orchard of Leccino, Maurino, Frantoio, and Arbequina olives in their infancy to set its seed of destruction and leave its babies eating the fruit from the inside out.


Man vs. Fruit Fly

Man vs. Fruit Fly

Not this year, we hope.



Posted in Growing Olives | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

The Moral Inversion in Europe

by Mrs. Sabraw

Using the negative to express the positive has been around for more than twenty years.

Hey, Mrs. Sabraw, that book you assigned, you know, the Winter of our Discontent, well, that book is so bad.

 Gosh, I’m so glad you liked it, Dexter, I thought it was an excellent example of moral inversion.

Even within the last year, a younger thirty-ish person paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve received in many months.

Hey Cheri, I can’t believe you nailed down a part time job at the GSB; you are indeed a bad ass.

Gee, thanks Fred. I’m flattered.

 Steinbeck tells the story of a good man, Ethan Allen Hawley, a grocery clerk, whose circumstances in life tempt him to do things that he knows are wrong.

And funny, by the time the reader has swum around in Hawley’s mind, listening to the carping of his dissatisfied wife, accompanying him to his lousy little job where the canned goods talk to him, and watching his wormy son Allen, who plagiarizes his I Love America essay, repudiate the wrongness of the act, we find ourselves rooting for Ethan to rob a bank, have an affair, take a bribe, and turn his illegal-immigrant boss in to the authorities.

When the bad becomes good and the good becomes bad—we call that a moral inversion, because, in fact, we are cheering on the bad in the name of the good.

(Think of the 20,000 people who attended Bonnie Parker’s funeral in 1934, my grandmother, one of them…) We do this because of our own circumstances or our own personal history.

We are oppressed. We have been used. We are the wrong sex. We are the wrong nationality. We have been occupied. We have been gassed. We have been dominated.

Such an inversion is occurring in Europe right now.

The morning news tells of a vilified Angela Merkel and a vilified German working public, of a country that wants to dominate the southern European countries of Spain, Italy, and Greece—all countries whose social programs are top heavy and whose working class resents working.

So, working hard and saving money, what a population must do to stay solvent, is bad.

Paying back debts, or at least showing good faith with reasonable payments, is bad.

Leaders that lead countries that are doing such (or trying to, at least) are bad.

Or are they good?

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What would Pericles say?

by cheri sabraw

View of the Parthenon from our hotel

View of the Parthenon from our hotel

I visited Athens in May of 2010 to take a class on Alcibiades only two weeks after the fire-bombing of a downtown bank which killed three people, a violent act to let [then] Prime Minister George Papandreou know that some Greek citizens did not approve of his austerity cuts.

That act of violence was far different from the scheduled Greek demonstrations we were to watch unfold every day in the square that fronts the Parliamentary House–when men and women who had previously been lounging while playing cards under the trees or laughing and joking while drinking coffee would leap to their feet at the appointed time (usually mid-afternoon when most of us work),  look up to our hotel, where from the T.V. cameras and a slick anchorman recorded their scheduled wrath.

I’m sorry to say that my impression  of modern Athens was negative. Businesses did not open until late morning, graffiti covered much of the downtown and even the walls of the Plaka like an ugly tattoo, cab drivers complained at every chance, and loiterers flanked doorways, parks, churches, and historical sites–just about everywhere we walked. Add to those images the hundreds of homeless dogs on the streets. People were simply hanging out.

The contrast between modern Athens and ancient Athens is stark.

Being in the realm of ancient Greece and its stunning reminders of the genius, industriousness, and the pure beauty of ancient Greek drama, philosophy, mythology, literature, mathematics, and sport was an entirely different emotional experience.

The Parthenon by Day

The Parthenon by Day

Temple of Hephaestus

Temple of Hephaestus

One afternoon, we decided to drive to Cape Sounion which juts out into the Aegean Sea. There, according to Greek mythology, King Aegeus leapt to his death upon seeing his son’s ship sailing back from Crete  flying a black sail. The father and son had agreed that should Theseus lose his life in his battle with the Minotaur, the signal would be the sail. The tragedy of Aegeus’s death is that his son had simply forgotten to change sail colors.

The Temple of Poseidon

The Temple of Poseidon

Cape Sounion is also mentioned in Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey.

As we approached the promontory, the temple looked like the strong bones of Pericles himself.  I wondered if Lord Byron had really carved his name (and defaced)  one of the Doric columns. Soon I would see it for myself.

IMG_5648We learned upon reaching the closed gates to the Temple of Poseidon the ticket-takers, supervisors, and gift store clerks were not at work. They were on strike.


Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Greek drama continues today, June 30, 2015, long after Oedipus and Antigone. If the Oracle at Delphi is still in business (and agrees to pay her taxes), perhaps the Greeks can swallow their hubris, cut their pensions, tighten up their togas, and get to work, just like the rest of us.




Posted in Life, My photography | Tagged , , , , , | 36 Comments

Iris Origo and La Foce

The Villa at La Foce

The Villa at La Foce

by cheri sabraw

One of the imaginative exercises in which I sometimes engage is to place myself into the historical time and worn out shoes of real people who did not bring on their difficult circumstances through their own poor decision-making, but rather, who experienced their harsh slices of life at the hands of others or because of circumstances beyond their control. People like the Viennese psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl, and my heroic mother, Joan Block, are several people who come to my mind.

How such individuals handle stressful life experiences not of their own making with the effrontery of lions, I find liberating. Just thinking about their personal courage can be as emotionally sustaining as the awe I feel in the presence of a magnificent waterfall, a vast desert, or violent ocean waves pounding a rugged Northern California coastline. That type of experience reminds me that no matter what happens to me, I will push on and live the most meaningful life I can.

Iris Cutting Origo was one such person. Her peaceful life in Tuscany during the war years of 1943-44 was suspended by Mussolini’s Italian fascist supporters who betrayed their neighbors by turning them in, and by the German soldiers who executed boys in Montepulciano, farmers in Buonconvento, and Jews in Florence.

Iris Origo, her husband, Antonio, and daughter Donata, 1943

Iris Origo, her husband, Antonio, and daughter Donata, 1943

As Origo wrote on November 28, 1943,

“ We are being governed by the dregs of the nation [Italy]—and their [Republican government] brutality is so capricious that no one can be certain he will be safe tomorrow.”

Several weeks ago, we visited her home and the stunning gardens that surround  her Villa which still stands in the shadow of Mt. Amiata, perched on a rounded hilltop overlooking the vast Tuscan landscape of cypress and olive trees, Sangiovese vineyards and wheat fields– a place she and her husband called La Foce.

Mt. Amiata

Mt. Amiata

The visit became an opportunity to dwell on their lives, she in particular. They  purchased the untamed land in 1924 and spent the next 40 years beautifying it to its present splendor, but more importantly, they both risked Axis reprisals in the forms of Italian fascists and German soldiers during the German occupation of Italy by sheltering orphaned children, P.O.W.’s, and anyone who came to La Foce tangled in the throes of war. They did not turn anyone away.

Part of the garden

Part of the garden

Origo, an Anglo-American who married Italian Anthony Origo in 1922, chronicled these two war years in her diary which I read while in Italy: The War in Val d’ Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944.

 The most starting aspect of the diary is the almost detached approach that Origo takes as she keeps her daily notes that chronicle bloodshed, death, heartbreak, and human cruelty, notes that had to be buried in the garden each morning, lest the Germans find them.


The story (you will excuse the paradox) is subtlely riveting, especially when she is forced to march 60 of her charges, mainly children, six miles in the heat of the day from La Foce up the road to Montepulciano in the middle of gunfire, Allied bombing, and a road strewn with corpses.

The view of part of La Foce from the main Villa

The view of part of La Foce from the main Villa

This story is not one to miss. It changed me!




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Montefollonico, Tuscany, Italy



by cheri sabraw

In Italy this time of year–when the fields boast their fertility, when the grape vine tendrils twirl and pirouette  above their training wires like ballet dancers, when olive trees explode with star-shaped mini-buds sure to produce an oil fitting for dipping–the tourists swarm like the bees which pollinate so much here in Tuscany.

June is Busting Out all Over!

The Sangiovese vineyards of the Val d’Orcia

Thus, in an effort to spend a quiet three days looking across the valleys to Montepulciano and to visit Pienza–all while trying to decide if the topic of study this past week, Albert Camus, believed in hope–we decided to stay in a town of 700 residents–Montefollonico.

image imageIn Montefollonico, only 2-5 small restaurants, one large church, and a park sit on top of the hill. From our small hotel below, we hear the resonant rhythm of the church bells peal from little brother Montefollonico to big important brother–the one popular with all the pretty ladies and bedecked in finery and status–Montepulciano!


Montepulciano–How hopeful a sight!

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