How to remember vocabulary for the rest of your life

The French Canadian coast of Clare in Nova Scotia. 2009, photo by cbs

The French Canadian coast of Clare in Nova Scotia. 2009

by cheri sabraw

Have you ever discovered that you have been using a vocabulary word incorrectly? For example, do you think the word non-plused means unimpressed? Or what about the word diffident? Do you think it means aloof?

Non-plused does not mean unimpressed; rather, it means “to render utterly perplexed; to puzzle completely.” *

Diffident does not mean aloof; rather it means, “lacking confidence in one’s own ability…timid, shy.”

Part of the problem is the remembering. When did you learn the meaning of a word? In what context? Most importantly, how did you encode the word into your memory? The way you remember new vocabulary is the key to a lifetime of accurate word recognition.

If there is one thing I know it is this: every student I have ever taught throughout the course of forty years knows what the word ubiquitous means. They all remember. When they hear the word ubiquitous, they think of me, of their junior year in high school, of that Bic pen with the u-shaped eraser, held by hands of stick figures drawn on a globe– all in a picture I drew on my well-worn chalk board. They will remember that ubiquitous means seemingly everywhere at the same time, as Bic pens are.

Deauville and Trouville, France, 2010. photo by cbs

Deauville and Trouville, France, 2010.

When they hear the word salient, most will remember the sailboat, with its angular sail jutting out, drawn on that same dusty chalkboard. They will remember that the salient point is the one that is most important.

In that same lesson I taught on memory by association or how to remember vocabulary for the rest of your life, they will recall the word capricious and see a stick-figure drinking a Capri Sun, then a Coke, then a Capri Sun, and then a Coke. My does he change his mind frequently! They will remember that capricious means fickle.

Athens, Greece, 2011. photo by cbs

Athens, Greece, 2011.

To this day, I train myself to remember vocabulary in the same manner.

For example, here is a sample of my running vocabulary list this week (with thanks to Vladimir Nabokov in his autobiography Speak, Memory).

You will see the word, its definition, and the way I will remember it:

1. palimpsest (n.)- a manuscript in which writing and pictures have been erased to make room for more writing. An overlay, almost a collage, like a limp piece of erased parchment.

2. palpebral (adj.) - having to do with the eyelids. In my wearinessI will palpate my eyelids.

3. photism (n.)-a hallucinatory sensation or a vision of light. When I had pho noodles at the Vietnamese restaurant, each bright noodle looked like a beam of light.

4. hypnagogic (adj.)- “of or pertaining to drowsiness.” Upon my hypnosis, I fell fast asleep.

Then, I might try putting four or five words into a silly sentence because humor can help us remember things.

On a dark and stormy night, I tried to close my eyes but a photism appeared on my wall, very close to a photo I have of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the most famous writers of magical realism. That beam of light and its intensity stimulated my hypnagogic state of mind  like a cattle-prod. I leaped from my bed, taking my fists and rubbing each eye like a startled child. My palpebral attempts to come to terms with the other-worldly beam of light were stymied by my sense of rationale and the ticking of my alarm clock. And then I saw IT on the floor, next to my Peet’s Coffee mug and the Harvard Business Review–a palimpsest. Where is Harrison Ford when you need him?


*All definitions in quotation marks taken from



July at the Rancho

Four little babies taking a rest; three facing east and one facing west.

Four little babies, taking their rest-three facing east and one facing west.

One stately hawk, resting on a branch-scanning for hors, here at the ranch.

One stately hawk, resting on a branch-scanning for hors, here at the ranch.


A husband and his wife, existing by design-one providing beauty and the other drinking wine.

A husband and his wife, existing by design-one providing beauty and the other drinking wine.

Fifty-eight olive trees, firmly in the soil-we in the house, hoping for the oil.

Fifty-eight olive trees, firmly in the soil-we in the house, hoping for the oil.

One llow lab, in per-pet-u-al motion-searching for rocks, balls, and devotion. ( with thanks to Peter and Linda for their perfect suggestion.)

One yellow lab, in per-pet-u-al motion-searching for rocks, balls, and devotion. ( with thanks to Peter and Linda for their perfect suggestion.)


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Have Dog, Will Travel, but why?



by cheri sabraw

You’ve seen Chip on this blog before. He was driving a car. He isn’t my dog, but his bravado, especially considering he is blind and deaf, is admirable.

Chip is a rarity in this age of neutered males.

As you can see, he is satisfying his appetites.

The best news is that Chip’s owners do not travel with Chip. He stays home, with a sitter.

Perhaps one of the newest trends trespassing into the travel, shopping, and dining industries is the traveling with one’s dogs. It’s ubiquitous. Everywhere–in hotels, in high-end stores, outside of coffee houses, and on planes, dogs are now welcome. At the root of this phenomenon is what has been at the root of most trends: money and self-indulgence.

Stores fear that the person who trots her little Yorkie through the cosmetic aisle at Nordstrom at the end of a pink sparkly leash and bejeweled collar will shop somewhere else if the store has a no dogs policy.

Airlines fear that turning down eccentric (and selfish) people who want to carry their little Poodles in a paisley plastic carrying case with netting for windows might result in canceled fares. Never mind the paying customer sitting in the seat next door dealing with the by-products that emanate from dogs.

The hotel industry knows that most people who travel with their dogs leave them in the rooms when they (the people) go out for dinner. Never mind the whining or barking dog. Never mind dog dander, fleas, or odor left in the room. Steam cleaning will sanitize the place for the next unsuspecting guest (sneeze and itch).

This past weekend in Oregon, I began to notice just how many people took their dogs along wherever they went: to a classic car show, where the temperature hovered around 90 degrees. Canine tongues fell out of slack mouths, whitish from the heat, and found relief in a community dog bowl outside a shoe store. Floating saliva bubbled around the dish until another muzzle plumbed its depths. To a farmer’s market, where hound noses sniffed tomatoes and kettle corn: to a restaurant, where heavy panting under a redwood table competed with conversation.

Most of these people assume that everyone not only loves dogs but also loves (and is interested in)  their dogs. They stand on street corners, extending their dogs’  leashes and talking baby talk to Ginger or Georgie or Slugger or Bowie. They look at you, hoping that you will ask what breed Ginger is or why Slugger’s eye is missing or who Georgie is named after or why Bowie has one leg missing.

Don’t get me wrong. I own a dog. I love my dog. She lives on our rancho with us and sleeps in the house, but I leave her home when I travel. It’s just common courtesy.

But then there’s a guy like Chip.

Natural Balance Duck and Potato was not his food, but who cares?



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The Washington Hospital Experience: Take # 1

by cheri sabraw

It’s been over 53 years since I made my television debut on The Mayor Art Show. You can read about my early (and abridged) career in television here.

Last week, I returned to a studio to be part of a new show, the Washington Hospital Experience, on the Washington Hospital cable network. This time, however, the studio was not a fake mayoral set governed by a silly host wearing a top hat and white gloves, who encouraged the child hosts to shout “Bluey, Bluey!” into a microphone.

Rather, the studio for this episode materialized in three locations: a busy infusion center, where nurse navigators were administering chemotherapy; a beautiful sunlit atrium, the tranquil view on which patients gaze while receiving their treatment; and the hospital lobby, a busy intersection of people and noise—elevator bells and the grumble of an espresso machine.

 To say the first morning of taping was a comfortable experience for me would be skirting the truth: I have a lot to learn. Luckily, I was in the hands of a capable crew, whose sole mission was to showcase the powerful work going on daily at the Sandy Amos R.N. Infusion Center at Washington Hospital in Fremont, California.

The man behind the entire production is Bill Emberley.

Bill has over twenty-five years of Bay Area television production under his belt. In his own words, he “ wears many hats in the mean lean guerrilla production world.  I am the director of photography, sound, lighting, writing and logistics all rolled into one.”

Bill wore a shepherd’s cap as he guided the initiated (me, myself, and I) through the process of video production.

My role was to ask questions, appear OC (on camera) for a short introduction to the series and this specific episode, and to tape a VO (voice over),which described the amenities in the infusion center such as iPads, portable televisions, comfortable rooms and chairs, and a specialty kitchen, full of healthy snacks and beverages.

I had hoped to ask just the right questions in the most evocative way, so that the two cancer survivors, Linda and Brenda, could tell their inspirational stories about their experiences in the infusion center. They, and two nurse navigators—Shari and Tammy—would deliver to the camera lens  short narratives about excellence, courage, aesthetic space, and dignity, all rolled into one.

In addition to learning that I must pause in between questions at least three seconds (for editing purposes), I also realized just how many “takes” are necessary for a creative perfectionist like Bill and his production manager, John, who will record 5 hours of footage, edit it, and then glue the parts of the day into a whole for the year.

Perhaps the most challenging (and at times hilarious) part of the entire experience occurred in the hospital lobby in front of not only a teleprompter, but also a sampling of senior citizens coming in for blood draws, urinalyses, and imaging (which we used to call X-rays…) who became amused, I think, while watching someone repeat the same scene, over and over, like the film Groundhog Day. Even the espresso machine silenced itself.

In the lobby, illuminated with lights of all shapes and sizes, and hidden behind the silky square black screen on which large white words in a blocky font scroll down in a speed determined by the production manager, sat the camouflaged camera lens—a five-inch critical eye that recorded every blink and twitch, tooth and hair.

Snaked up under my crisp powder blue blouse, resided the wire that connected the small lapel microphone to its power source, a battery box clipped to my waistband and hidden behind my blazer. How that microphone found its way to its appointed destination, I have no idea. (Actually, I do.)

All I was supposed to do was stand at the lobby desk and make casual conversation with Gracie, sitting behind the counter. Then, I was to turn and walk toward the camera, stop on a piece of duct tape, and say, “ Hi, I’m Cheri Sabraw, the host of the Washington Hospital Experience, a series of short segments that will highlight some of the service lines the hospital has to offer.”

How hard could this be? I remember thinking.

Twelve takes later, after tripping over my words, overshooting the duct tape, and laughing while on camera, the scene finally worked for Bill, his production manager, John, and the grip, Cody.

Bluey! Bluey!

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Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

IMG_5130by cheri

To a driver in the United (maybe) Kingdom, this scene is entirely normal, like fish and chips, haggis, nips and tatties, and overly-chatty cab drivers.

To a driver (and his passenger) from the United States, this scene jiggers years of stable neurotransmission in the wee part of the brain that synthesizes right from left and up from down.

How hard can it be to drive in Scotland? After all, our pre-trip planning sessions yielded a comfy statistic that eased any concerns we had about getting behind the wheel: there are more sheep in Scotland than people.

Living in the San Francisco  Bay Area, where a  large conglomerate of people behave like sheep but unfortunately are people, this information about Scotland and its wee population caused us to lower our shoulders, relax that part of our brains that signals danger, and hire (rent) a Mercedes tiny-coupe from Sixt Car Rentals in Edinburgh and drive off.

Sort of.

The lovely picture above, taken from the death seat, is on one of the only double-track roads on the Isle of Mull, a sparsely populated Island in the Western Hebrides of Scotland. Most of the roads there are single-track with petite turn-outs that help you avoid head-on collisions. Never once did we encounter a sheep crossing the road. Only large trucks carrying supplies to the outer edges of Scotland. Only the Mull teenagers driving at high rates of speed to cut the boredom that most teens must feel on Mull.

As I was saying from the death seat, the panoply of Scotland’s dramatic lochs (pronounced loccchhh, not lock), snow-capped softish peaks, and stunning coast lines, protected by castles such as this one, the Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, opened up, often revealing a car in our lane or trucks edging across their center line.

250px-Duart-CastleI have a bruised right shoulder from lurching to the right side of our front seat, an action I hoped would bring the left-drifting car out of the ruts and rocks and more toward the center line, which I might add, has no median. Speaking of shoulders, there were none on Scottish roads. If you broke down, you were in the fast lane, or should I say, the only lane.

In order to be ready to drive on the wrong side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the seat (notice my husband’s calm hand in the photo below), I watched at least three You Tube shows narrated by driving instructors with  Scottish brogues as thick as  cable-knit sweaters. They calmly directed their students through every type of “roooned-about” we might encounter. Funny, not one of those You Tubes showed other cars or double-axeled trucks or tour buses entering the round-abouts. IMG_5085Before we left, all of our friends told us to KEEP LEFT at all times. I can’t tell you just how many times I called out from the death chamber, like General Patton himself might have done, “Left, stay left, go left, keep left!”

By the way, that photograph above with that calm hand–that hand suffered nerve damage from one week of gripping that steering wheel, yeah, the one on the wrong side of the car.

IMG_5088 2While in Scotland, we only had one bumper bender, in which the driver of our car scraped a parked car in a small town, where the locals park their cars. That’s what I just wrote: parked their cars. So, you are driving on the wrong side of the road and all of sudden you come to a parked car in your lane. You must go around the parked car in your lane, out into opposing traffic.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Would we do it again? Not sure.

And yet, to see the land of Scotland, perhaps it’s worth the risk.





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Doting on Scottish dots

by cheri

“You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot!
You can love and think, and the Earth cannot!”

by William Brighty Rands, British poet


The Scottish Borders filled with wool dots.



Edinburgh filled with people dots.


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Scottish Beauty and her beasts


The Glengorm Castle on the Isle of Mull


by cheri

When the eyes come upon a scene that causes the heart to fill with joy and perfect calm, we experience pure beauty, an aesthetic and bursting rush of love and awe that dizzies the senses.

I feasted my eyes on such a scene last Sunday on the Isle of Mull in bonnie Scotland.

The Isle of Mull takes more than a wee bit of effort to visit–driving four hours on a fast and twisting road, straining at each curve, hoping another car will not lurch around the corner in your lane, and arriving in the charming harbor town of Oban to board a massive ferry.

On the Isle of Mull, most of the roads are single-track. One lane with little turnouts that meanders on for miles, just the way to find a people-less land full of innocent animals whose world is green and lush.

We follow the path to the sea  into Nature’s nursery.

There, such  symbols of innocence, the lambs, frolicked freely among the rich grasses and woolly lasses that are their mothers.






I do not eat lamb and on this day, one in which the bounty of the environs humbled my spirits, I am proud to say that I could wholly enjoy these sweet little creatures without any personal regret.

Our footsteps were almost silent, save for the swishing of the grasses and an occasional step into the recesses of a muddy bog. The Scottish mist, almost haunting, moved in as we approached the sea. Around the corner of a rock-outcropping came we–right into a small herd of Highland cattle!

They were very accommodating, moving off the trail for us to pass by.

I can still hear their precise shearing of the grass, their chewing, their movement onto higher ground. Gentle bovine giants, these sweet cattle.




The experience is still with me, sharing a morning with such lovely living things, spending time in silence, and welling up in contemplation of  the grand scheme of it all.

Scotland is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced.


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The gentle nature of friendship

Chip at the Wheel

by cheri

I remember visiting my grandparent’s home in Oakland in the late 50′s. On the wall of their kitchen nook was a framed cross-stitched message in blue which read, ” To Have a Friend, Be One.”

What an order! As the years passed, I glanced at that little frame, usually in a hurry.

This week friends named Sharon, Doug, Mary, Donna, Pam, and Linda have been on my mind. Zuby, Gary, Sara, and Ben. Christy, Joyce, and Anna. Richard, Don, Bill, and Susie. Kayti, Jennifer, and Vicki.

The souls I am privileged to call friends are  loyal, diverse, intellectually curious, and most importantly (for me), authentic. Some of my friends I don’t see often. They have been patient with me throughout the years and were you to call for their evaluation of my attention to the edict in the cross-stitch, they would say that I have always been too busy. Too busy correcting papers. Too busy running a busy business. To see me, one of my friends, Ines, would come by the office just to say hi. I always felt guilty when she left. I suppose I have been too busy and I regret the busyness.

Some of my friends are men. I like men because often, they are more real with me. Those of you who have followed my blog for years will remember the posts I wrote about my friend Joe, who died several years ago at the age of 79. Talk about real.

One of my dearest friends is my sister who has put up with my high-spirited nature and downright abuse since she was a little girl, six years younger than I. Cindy is my IMG_3453confidant. We Block girls are known for looking out for our husbands and our children. We still cook healthy meals every night. We love the details of a story. We are former party animals, now tame. (Well, if truth be told, Cindy was the party animal.) Cindy and I have a give and take friendship. I ask about her. She asks about me. That seems to be important to me in a lasting and intimate friendship.

Some of my most cherished friends are old in years but young in spirit. I like spirit in a friend. I consider Kayti one of my dearest friends, one of the oldest souls I have ever flown around a room with. If you follow Kayti’s blog, you will see why. I am proud to have one of Kayti’s sculptures in my home and one of her gorgeous watercolors of New Mexico in my dining room.

This week, I have been in deep contemplation, and as usually happens in times like these, my friends enter my consciousness like ethereal butterflies, fluttering through my thoughts, brushing my cheeks with soft kisses, leaving glitter where they go.

Were my grandmother (whose ring I wear) still alive and were she to ask me whether I have dutifully followed the imperative on the cross-stitch, I would have to say “No, Nana. I have not.” I have simply been too busy.

She would probably have patted me on the crown of my head and said, “There’s always tomorrow, dear.”

That there is.



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A Patio Reverie

by cheri sabraw


The quail pair doesn’t see me sitting so still on the patio, sipping my iced vanilla coffee, undetected. She, under an overgrown Bottlebrush shrub, pecking away for plant bits and seeds and he, parading across my line of sight like a shooting gallery target at the Midway of my youth.

Back and forth he bobs, his six-feathered black plume rising and falling like a Drinking Bird. He calls to his female admirers down by the Spanish Oak, “Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go.”  She scolds him for showing off. He puts out a pip and another harsh one: she responds dutifully, following behind him, like an East Indian old woman, draped in a sari, trailing behind her husband on their daily walk to the market.


The blood-orange bougainvillea blossoms, now faded to a dull pink rose color, having fallen only yesterday in a hot wind, swirl around at the mercy of the dry breeze. They scrape along the concrete, like potato-chip butterflies, listing on their sides. At the far side of the patio they come to rest for now, in a festive gathering, unaware that by tomorrow, they will be dead and part of the rock garden.


The bunnies rest in the  shade of a non-descript bush, hopping nervously out onto the hot rocks, nibbling the sparse vegetation in mini-bites, and returning to the safety of the canopy. I am tempted to put out a piece of celery.


Was that a Greater Roadrunner that just ran by?

I must be more observant.







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The Tree of Ténéré

by cheri

The last acacia tree still standing bravely against the harsh Nigerien sun and the raging and thirsty winds of the Sahara Desert fell in 1973, the arborial victim to a drunk driver.

Tree of Tenere ChapterFound on WikipediaIt’s hard to believe that with no other trees within 120 miles and only the dunes to contend with, a human could run into her lovely branches and take her down permanently. But then, she was an object in an objectless space.

Known in English as the Tree of Ténéré, she stood as a solitary reminder of strength and individuality.

To travelers headed across the desert in camel caravans, the tree may have symbolized the life they sought at the crossing’s end.

To the modern eye, the tree may represent the fearless stance we hope to take when the vagaries of life enter unannounced and force us to evaluate who we are and what we believe.

To me, the Tree of Ténéré represents innocence. I choose to believe she is still standing out there far away, untouched by messy hands and the impurity of the human condition.

You will, undoubtedly, have your own interpretation.




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