Rancholivo at last

IMG_4811by cheri sabraw

Buddhist masters sit still on cushioned floors, inhaling and exhaling, practicing the art of nothingness. They attempt to disentangle their minds from thought and desire, from attachment and emotion. In their linen robes, they forsake the material life with its pull toward objects and people. Without drink or feast, laughter or tears, they hope to ascend to perfect understanding of life in the silent rite of nothing. No hope. No desire. No loss. No fire. It is true that if you desire nothing, when nothing happens, you have met your heart’s desire.

But. Is this life?

Life is full of heartache, wonder, suffering, joy, despair, gratitude. It is sensual, earthy, fragrant, sticky, and hot. It is roaring, messy, oily, and frigid. Life, in short, is a day and night of pressing olives after a day of picking olives after a year of spraying olives, and after years of watering, pruning, fertilizing, and dreaming of olive oil.

My sister Cindy and I can be simplistic, at times. Having not researched how man and woman have been extracting the oil from the olive, we thought the equation went something like this:

Harvested olives+olive press=olive oil.

Not quite.






The yield this year was small.

We ran out of time doing it ourselves.


Life in all its iterations happened–the deafening roar of the hopper splitting the olives into millions of shards of pit, skin, and oily meat; the rhythmic rowing of the grinder kneading the shards into a reddish paste, the slap of the disks on the table enabling the spinning spatulas to spread the material; the tremendous electrical surge of the press itself descending upon the disks; the trickling and then gushing of the liquid into the bucket…

The meaning of life?

It was in the oil.























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Fact-checker in the atmosphere

by Mrs. Sabraw

The adventure all started the moment I reflected on an event that happened twenty years ago when I taught  Junior Honors English students at one of this country’s top public high schools.

Watching the events unfold in Paris this week caused me to to write an account of the experience. As the words appeared on my screen, I wondered,  Is this how it really went? Were the events then as I  remember now?  Memory has a way of morphing  faces and words that may not have been a part of the story.

In order to assess the validity of my memory, I realized I needed a different view of the situation. An aerial view.

I invested in an airtight suit, a canister of helium, a pump and goggles, filled my suit with helium, un-tethered the ropes holding me to earth and off I levitated, blowing in the wind, floating in the atmosphere, and focusing on a troubling meeting I endured in my academic haven, my classroom.

Surrounded by blue sky, clouds, and a soothing wind, I called up the circumstances of November, 1995.

And they went like this…

*   *   *   *   *   *

I taught for 17 years at a top public high school. In the 90’s, new immigrants from Taiwan, India, Korea, and Pakistan made their ways to Silicon Valley, bringing three generations with them—grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and children, whom these new immigrants hoped would gain admittance to U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, Harvard and Yale.

I was a young teacher in my 40’s’s with a plum assignment: honors freshmen, honors juniors, and journalism I and II. Students lobbied to get into my class.

Many, many bright new immigrant students—with a perfect command of the English language—sat in front of me, ready and willing to execute any assignment I gave.

My political persuasion was more conservative than most of my colleagues’ in the English Department.

My father had instilled in me values that I held and still hold sacred today—honesty, fidelity, and justice. In my instruction of grammar, literature, and writing, rarely did I allow my personal beliefs to bleed into the subject matter. In those days, such adherence to the educational mission of predicate nominatives, Henry David Thoreau, and Lorraine Hansberry was an anomaly. Most of my peers used their podiums to further their own political messages.

I tried hard to stay apolitical as a teacher.

One day, one of my young Muslim students from Pakistan approached me and asked if I would consider becoming the Muslim Students’ Association faculty advisor.

There were no Muslims on the faculty, so I said, “Yes.” Why not?

The months went by with weekly meetings in my room, N-9.

The students, mainly Pakistani, Iranian, and Middle Eastern at the time, invited imams to speak and a  Black Muslim imam from Oakland even came to talk to the club. The boys sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other.

My role was nil. I sat at my desk in the back of the room, ate my sandwich, and corrected papers but always kept an ear to the discussion.

And then it happened one November day in 1995:

An Israeli right-winger assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yassar Arafat and Shimon Peres, for trying to shepherd peace into the Middle East.

At the Muslim Club the next week, one student after another, rose to the podium to cheer Rabin’s assassination. Vitriol spewed from their mouths. I wondered what the conversation had been at home with their educated parents.

I stood up from the back of my room and asked them if they knew what Rabin was trying to do in Israel—that he was a good man, trying to find a solution to the problems in the region.

They didn’t want to hear any of the facts—and continued on. These students were honors students. They were not stupid, just ignorant and unsophisticated and clueless about their Jewish advisor who was providing space and energy so that the Muslim students had a place to gather and exchange ideas.

I quit my advisorship on the spot and told them to find a new person who would spend an hour a week listening to the machinations of a “peaceful” religion.

That day, only six years before Islamists flew our planes into the World Trade Center, I wondered if an unholy Holy War were coming.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Today, after the melee in Paris, France and the downing of a Russian airliner  by an Isis bomb, and a Jewish teacher stabbed  while walking home on the streets of Marseille, I hovered above the fracas in order to think objectively about the Muslim Students’ Association meetings of 1995.

Blowing myself up for a cause yielded clarity.

Posted in Life, My fiction, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Olive the olives are ready to go…are we?

Arbequina olives at the TK Rancho, November, 2015

Our Arbequina olives

by cheri sabraw

The olive tree has been growing on  earth for 6000-7000 years. It is believed to have first sprouted in  Persia and  Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent),  soon finding firm and fertile ground in what is today’s modern Syria and Israel. In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries brought olive trees to California where the plants thrived in the rich and rugged California dirt and  temperate  climate.

Maurino olives

Our Maurino olives

The olive and its oil have been the subjects of ancient Persian, Jewish, Egyptian, Greek, Christian, and Roman rituals. Even King Tut enjoyed olive oil! We know this because olive branches were found in his tomb.

The olive branch has long stood for peace, hope, and reconciliation. It was an olive leaf that the dove carried over sand and surf  in her beak, dropping it into Noah’s hand, signaling the end of the Flood.

At the TK Rancho, we have no doves and definitely no flood but we do boast a flock of 100 wild turkeys, a yellow Labrador retriever, a patient man, and a semi-patient woman.

Thus, we approach our first olive harvest with anticipation.

After engaging in an all-out war with the olive fruit fly during the past four years and losing, we sprayed Danitol three times this summer. It did the trick. We are one week away from harvest.

Leccino olives

Our Leccino olives

Thirty people–from our grandchildren to our  friends and family–will converge to pick the arbequina, maurino, leccino, and frantoio olives from the security of their silvery grey-green branches.

Three Italian varietals  and a Spanish one will roll around with each other for the first time in an intimate blend before traveling up the driveway to meet their own fate at the press.

Solomon himself will be pressing his olives.

With luck,  the elixir of life will begin to drip into the fusti jars and shortly thereafter, we all will sample the oil with wine, bread, and pasta.

L’ Chaim! To Life!

Frantoio olives

Our Frantoio olives





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I’m a skinny fat girl

by cheri

Finding my muscles again–those buried alive by sub-cutaneous flesh made uber-fleshy from inactivity and/or chardonnay and crab cakes–has been tough but satisfying.

You will remember that my self-inflicted regimen of torture began on the day I discovered I could not execute one lousy push-up. (To be honest, the seed was also planted when I tried on bathing suits last May in a Tommy Bahama store.)  I can do 9 push-ups now.


Yesterday, I learned that I cannot do one stinky sit-up. The whole rediscovery of muscles who now mutter every day in an achy grievance like  lazy teenagers has been humbling, especially for a girl like me who looks pretty good in my clothes.

The gym is small, so I cannot hide.

My ebullient and bubbly personality magnetizes a varied combination of people: old men (over 78 years old…the 80-year-olds will not leave me alone), young men who for some reason like my energy and offer to be my workout partner , and Indian women, whose personalities gel perfectly with mine  (we like to laugh and we wear skin-tight workout clothes that make us look tight and shrink-wrapped when in reality, should a seam explode, lots of wiggly stuff would emerge with a big-time g-force.)

Yesterday, one of the young men–I believe Rudy is his name–commended my focus, my determination, my reps ( I’d done 20 reps without stopping to grunt or scream). My focus? I was sitting, legs spread apart, on a machine that works the pectoral muscles.

I laughed. I smiled. Ha, Ha, I thought. I need to come here more often where someone will notice my pecs. And then he said “it.”

Cheri, you are what we call a “skinny fat girl.”

My pecs dropped farther down than they already are. My big smile and pearly teeth kept their focus but inside, I knew he had stated the truth with a capital F.

Thanks, Rudy. I’ll file that comment in my motivation folder.

And so it goes.

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Italian pigeon brothers Giorgio and Luigi in San Gimignano, Italy

Italian pigeon brothers Giorgio and Luigi in San Gimignano, Italy

Luigi: Mi piace come mi sento sicuro dietro a queste punte di metallo!

              I love how secure I feel behind these metal spikes!

Giorgio: Posso prudere le mie penne della coda così facilmente ora.

             I can itch my tail feathers so easily now!

Luigi: Non importa quali ostacoli questi umani eretti, noi piccioni possono trovare il modo  intorno a loro.

            No matter what obstacles these humans erect, we pigeons can find a way                  around    them.

Giorgi0: La maggior parte delle persone non si rendono conto di quanto siamo intelligenti … veramente.

              Most people do not realize how smart we are–truly.





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Surfin Safari

P1020251by cheri

One of my fitness goals is to be able to stand up on a paddle board in Hawaii and keep my balance. I’d also like to be able to pull myself back up on my board after I invariably fall off. Of course, I will need arm strength to paddle around the bay and wave back at the beachcombers. I can now do 8 push ups, so I am on my way.

But let it be said that  I’ve never been comfortable in the ocean, even in a kayak. Out in San Simeon Bay in my own yellow boat, I feel like a vulnerable banana who will become food for a Great White shark. When I heard the news report of a sea otter hurdling itself into a kayak, I paddled feverishly for the beach and was dumped by a mini-wave into the sand, where I had my teeth flossed a’ naturale.

But in my fantasy world, I am a fearless surfer. No wave intimidates me. Like a dolphin, I sail up and out of the froth and then dive back deep into it in perfect arcs.

Last weekend, as I looked through my Lumix lens at the biggest waves ever to greet my eyes and listened to the deafening roar of each set of three twenty-footers (or more) pounding the shore with the ferocity and stamina of an angry water god, Nature’s capricious moods thrilled me.

P1020242I ordered a smoothie at the little hut by the shore and prayed that a brave surfer would enter the water and create the physical contrast I hoped to capture. The Smoothie God (non-alcoholic) delivered on her promise.

P1020264One leg out. Can he catch the wave?

P1020313He does. My camera cooperates. I spill my smoothie in my excitement and haste. The waiter and water rush over.

P1020258Across the bay by Fleming Beach, people challenge the warnings.

Fleming Beach, Kapalua, Maui

Fleming Beach, Kapalua, Maui

I put my camera on the table and try to drink the last bit of smoothie. No one can hear the rumble I create at the bottom of the glass because the ocean noise is deafening. I can be uncouth!

The surge of wind, water, air, and smoothie tell me, ” Get thee to a gym so you, too, can ride the waves…”

I go immediately.

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Saturday Symmetry

P1010889by cheri

Most marriage ceremonies concern the union of two individuals who pledge themselves to the institution of marriage–that is, they will proceed forward (and all “forward” encompasses), legally bound, until death parts them.

In new marriage, you accepted the sea unconditionally. If it was raging, you thought it romantic; if it was lazy, you thought it wise.

If the sky filled with clouds, your picnic was still grand; the sandwiches tasted soft and sweet; the wine, perfect.

Such is the beauty of young love.

P1010722The years leave their marks. The relationship grows; the rings of time crack in places, moss invades the impenetrable bark, but still, a ribbon of love reminds you of the sweet nothings of the day.

P1010569As the years advance in a marriage, if you have paid close and necessary attention, you are elated that you are not a facsimile of each other but rather, two different people.

Sometimes, the recognition of those differences is startling!

You tussle for ground, your redefine the terms, you do your best to be your best.

One of you–the one for whom aging has intensified the need for order and detail–has created this wood stack. The other of you–well, you are the one waiting to have a glass of wine in a weathered chair.

One of you photographs the detail of life.

P1010705The other of you photographs the expanse.

P1010901Your lives intersect like a complicated geometry proof. One of you heads out toward infinity on a straight line. The other swims in concentric circles.

P1010790And yet, you find symmetry in what matters most.


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My friends, the Clydes

imageby cheri

An indifferent wire and an unshaven fence both travel up the barren hill that lies at the bottom of my road. The cattle have ripped every last blade of dead grass from it.  The blue sky and white cloud conspire as if to mock the hill, the fence, the wire, and the stubby fescue. ” What a magnificent day for shining and floating!”  they comment with the help of a hot and gossipy breeze.

At the base of this tawny mountain, whose back looks like the deer which hide in her ravines, I reflect on my powerlessness to coax the rain from her boudoir and reveal herself. My spirits sag; my resolve, wanes.


Black Beauty looks to San Francisco and its delicious fog. His hooves heavy, he heaves a sullen sigh, looking for feed on a feedless promontory.

I whistle for my friends.

From across the way, they trundle down to greet me, the Clydes,  full of love and hope. I reward them both with organic ( non GMO ) Honeycrisp apples.


We agree on many things: the oppressive drought, the luxury of our freedom, and our need for a nourishing pedicure.


I rub their velvety noses; I swat flies off their strong necks; I confide in them: ” Guess what? I can now do 5 push-ups!” They remind me of all that is strong, patient, glorious, and gentle.


The time comes to bid farewell for now. I encourage them and in turn, they provide fodder for my spirit.


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Looking for Bullwinkle J. Moose


Unlike so many other forests I have seen, the forests in Atlantic Canada can be thick and short, crowded and scrubby. Balsam firs, white and red spruce, alders, pines and hemlocks vie for space and air. The winds off the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Northumberland Straits, and the Bay of Fundy seem to twist and stunt their growth.

In New Brunswick, a province I have been told, with only 750,000 people living in the entire landmass, you can drive for miles and miles on roads just like the one in the above picture, without seeing anything but a wall of conifers leaning out as if to say, “Watch it, buddy.”

Our route from Acadian side of New Brunswick, the east coast, to the provincial capital, Fredericton, turned out to be a race against the setting sun. We drove and drove without seeing anything but a viridian timberland wall on both sides of the road.


In many instances, the roads had been shaved on both sides by a cadre of barbers–heavy excavators swinging their boxes back and forth, knocking small trees to the left and right like toothpicks.

And why?

image“Oh, if I could only see a moose, ” I kept sharing with my stalwart driver who was trying to navigate a road that never changed its scenery for miles and miles and miles.

There are 500,000 to 1 million moose in New Brunswick, and every year, on certain stretches of highway, unsuspecting motorists and moose collide in a nasty dance of death and damage. Just learning this statistic caused incessant warnings to my driver “…to watch out in case a moose steps out of these woods.”

“Cheri, moose are shy (albeit huge–850-1500 pounds) animals who have no interest in us, so be glad that there is  daylight and stop worrying, ” he admonished, tired of my drama. My research told me that September is mating season, so moose are infused with hormonal energy.

Behind schedule and halfway across the province on a rural road that festered with potholes, we learned that the road had been closed. We needed to take a different route. My driver thought it exciting; I became preoccupied with moose.

Would we make it before nightfall?

In the lounge of our hotel in Fredericton that night, over a glass of wine, we marveled that we had not seen one moose.

Well, OK. I did see one.


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A Prince of an Island

By cheri

imageThe Confederation Bridge–all eight miles of it–links New Brunswick and the Canadian mainland with Prince Edward Island. Here, on this small isle where approximately 135 thousand people live, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, along with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, were formed as the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

The sand and earth here are rich warm red clay color, accentuated by the lush green grass which rolls out like a fertile carpet to every body of water that cradles the island shores. Other than a pastoral drive through the tidy Amish country years ago, I have never seen such pride of ownership of houses large or small anywhere in all of my travels.

The economy is fed from the sea and the land. Mussels, oysters, lobsters, scallops and fresh fish can be found at the end of every dock and harbor. Corn, wheat, and new potatoes are the primary foods grown here although we saw cauliflower and wine grapes planted in orderly rows.

The Malpeque Harbor, home of the Malpeque Oyster which won Best in Show at the 1900 Paris World's Fair

The Malpeque Harbor, home of the Malpeque Oyster, which won Best in Show at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. The land serves up a variety of vegetables but the new potato is Queen of Prince Edward Island.

How one tends to one’s property, be it an apartment, cottage, or farm says a great deal about the person. It’s safe to say that the residents of PEI appreciate order and precision.

The Victoria Lighthouse on the Argyle Shore of PEI.

The Victoria Lighthouse on the Argyle Shore of PEI.

Winters in PEI are frigid. Last year, over 400 cm of snow fell. The wood stove and wood stack are an architectural feature of most homes here.

Winters in PEI are frigid. Last year, over 400 cm of snow fell. The wood stove and wood stack are an architectural feature of most homes here.

I imagine no one who lives here suffers from island fever.

Beaches are vacant, hugged by a warm shoulder of sand dunes and cooled by balmy gulf winds and refreshing waters.

A reddish beach on the Northwestern shore/

A reddish beach on the Northwestern shore.

A stroll down the beach by Crowbush Cove with only the seabirds as our companions could not have been more perfect.

Some lucky lobster will not be caught in this trap, washed up from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Some lucky lobster will not be caught in this trap, washed up from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

You may remember my literary gaffe in mislabeling the novel Anne of Green Gables.

Thanks to my friend Richard, I didn’t try to find the House of the Green Gables here on PEI!

Instead, we followed a line of tourists, many of them Japanese, in our search for the house described in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel.

According to the literature, every room in this reconstruction is exactly how LM Montgomery described it.

According to the literature, every room in this reconstruction is exactly how LM Montgomery described it.

While there, we just so happened to meet Anne Shirley, the orphan who, in 1908, came to live with a middle-aged brother and sister, Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert. They had hoped to adopt a boy to help with the farm work but instead found themselves keeping company with one of literature’s most beloved characters.


I asked Anne why so many Japanese tourists made the pilgrimage to Cavendish to tour the house and visit New London, the birthplace of LM Montgomery.


She did not know that answer. All she could bubble about was the Haunted Forest and Lover’s Lane. Her bubbling intensified to gushing, so much so that I headed to the gift shop to buy my own copy of Anne of Green Gables.

Hanako Muriako’s 1952 translation of the novel into Japanese shortly after the horrors of WWII became a hit with Japanese girls and young adult women, perhaps looking for an idyllic salve to heal the wounds of displacement and depression. These girls and women told their daughters and so on and so on, so the next generation of Japanese tourist is still coming to see the red-haired girl and house with green gables. If you are interested in more of the story of this translation, you can find it on the internet.

We said “So long” to Anne and headed out in search of one of my favorite images–hay coils.

Prince Edward Island’s hay coils were like dollops of wheat candy to the eye.


We leave this pristine prince of an island tomorrow and head for the French Canadian coast of New Brunswick.

photo by Hizzoner, 2015.

photo by Hizzoner, 2015.

Posted in Life, My photography, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments