Release your “kid” inside!

by cheri

One of the secrets to living a zesty life is to remember what you loved when you were a kid.

When paying attention to that “kid” buried in work, adult responsibilities, or sappy nostalgia, you may find that she or he  will come to the surface of your emotions. Suddenly, any doldrums you may feel about the state of the world, the state of the state, or your state of mind will vanish.

In my case, horses remind me of good times.

I carry my camera in my car, hoping for a glimpse of my friends the Clydesdales who, along with a small group of other horses, graze eighty acres on several hillsides that look down on Interstate 680.

Now that the grass is green and my carrots/sugar/apples are not a draw, the little herd has not been down to the old metal corral the owners have in order to catch the horses, and as I learned on Saturday, to water them.

I had groceries in the car and things to do at home which required time.


On my way home, there at the top of the hill were my friends! I had to stop.


OK. The guy on the motorbike is over there. What happened to an old-fashioned round-up?


We are NOT coming down you mechanical monster.


Can we make up our minds?

You can see my big friend, let’s call him Clyde, with his ears pinned back. The other big draft horse is behind him with a roan Clydesdale following up.


OK. We give up. We ARE thirsty. And look who is there with her camera? It’s Cheri!


Easy does it.


There’s the old cowboys who own the herd. Hey Cheri, you want to go to the Rowell Ranch Rodeo this month? Sorry guys, I will be away that weekend.


Geez! That water tastes so delicious!


Cheri, you need to come back with your camera when we are not in the corral or when you are not all dressed up. Cute sandals, btw. Sorry this bar is blocking your photo but, as usual, we are putting our best noses forward.


There we go. Now give me a little kiss.

Jim helped me navigate over the wire fence with out getting a barb stuck in my pants and up the road I drove with melted frozen foods.

What is it that you did in your childhood that would reawaken your “kid” inside?

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A Woman of Fewer Words


by cheri

I used to be a fast-talker.

Nursery rhymes and pithy poems tumbled out of my mouth, one after another in a dizzying pace, like a carousel moving too quickly in its circular motion.

As the years themselves tumbled by, my speech pattern remained constant: belt out that lesson, that lecture, that funny anecdote before the bell rang in a short 55 minutes.

Time rumbled by. I escaped my 55-minute cage and entered the world of the private educational business.

Running this very busy business, which consisted mainly of East Indian and Chinese clients, exacerbated my motor-mouth.  The East Indians, the Middle-Easterners, and especially the Chinese spoke English faster than I in their frenzied cadence.

Picking up a voice mail from a South Indian and actually understanding it the first time around took the skills of an oral surgeon. Trying to extract meaning from such syllabic hash was not going to stymie me. No way, Jose. And so I continued to meet the challenge, replaying the voice mail until I broke the code. Aha! The caller’s child needed work in speech. Did we have a public speaking class available on Thursdays?

Then I retired. At the Rancho, I felt like a newly-minted Carmelite nun.

And then a slow-creeping disease, a little like leaf-rot, began to manifest itself in my home.

It looked like this:

(Cheri)  I spent the day trying to write one paragraph on my thesis but the topic is so troubling, good God, why did I pick this particular book to dissect? Ron, do you remember when we used to dissect frogs in __________________________________

(Ron) Mr. Evan’s class?

(Cheri) Yes. I remember sitting next to _________________________________________

(Ron) Eric Belden?

(Cheri) Yes. He was the best student. In fact, I think he might have been_____________

(Ron) Number One in our Class?

(Cheri) God Dammit. Will you stop finishing my sentences?

That disease.

The other night, while chopping celery for my chicken soup, I observed (aloud) that I was becoming a quieter person.

He had little to say about my self-analysis.

(Cheri) I suppose you will believe it when you hear it.


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by cheri sabraw

I stood at the counter at Nordstrom Department Store, waiting to pay for two wallets I was buying for gifts.

In the background, digitized music pounded out a syncopated rhythm that was undeniably nothing recognizable.

It was…just…there…filling the space. A hollow uninteresting beat, some sucking crescendos, repetitive whistles and counter-whistles—in short, a perfect medley of nothing, which reminded me of the music played at Valley Vista Roller Rink at the heyday of my roller-skating days. Ah, yes the organ music which seemed to emanate from a real person sitting in tails, pounding on the pipes as I laced up my roller skates.

A stylish young Indian woman came to the same counter, waiting for service.

“I wonder what Nordstrom would sound like if the manager turned off the music?” I asked.

“ You don’t like music?” she asked with an incredulous flare. (Such a leap of thought reminded me of the miserable critical thinking skills that have been allowed to compost in high school government classes.)

“Oh, I love music; but I don’t care for a digitized robotic sound, if that’s what you meant. I miss the piano player, which Nordstrom scratched several years ago when its market research told the CEO that shoppers preferred the loud hip-hopping slop to Beethoven.

“How do you feel about the quiet?” I asked her.

“The quiet what?” she asked, pursing the space between her lovely heavy brows.

“Oh, the quiet store, the quiet car, the quiet bedroom, the quiet theater. You know, when no music permeates the background of everyday business and life? When our thoughts and buying decisions are left to the recesses of our interior selves instead of a frenetic pounding and pumping and squealing?”

“What are the recesses of our interior selves?” asked the Persian clerk.

“The places in our souls where there is room to imagine and create, small tunnels of perfect silence in which we can feel free to think under the influence of only ourselves.”

“I like background noise,” commented the Indian woman, edging her way into my place at the counter.

“Most Americans do,” I said.







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My friends, the Clydes (again)

by cheri

I’m not sure when my love affair with horses began. I know they were the subject of most of my childhood scribblings, as well as role models for my cantering around the school playground, shaking my mane and swishing the tail I thought I had.

Before long, I had consumed every horse book written for children and young adults. I mowed through Marguerite Henry’s books as if they were made of alfalfa–Black Gold, King of the Wind, and Justin Morgan Had a Horse, to name just three.

I attended a children’s horse camp for years. In that time, I grew from a shrimp to a bigger shrimp but my size never stopped me from saddling the biggest horse in the barn, Amigo. Here is an excerpt from my story about Amigo:

“When I was ten and a big blowhard, I told all of the other buckaroos at Shady Lawn Farm ( a horse camp for children, not an insane asylum for the nervous) that I could back any horse into his stall, saddle him, and make him worship me. All the other little slack-jawed kids with oversized cowboy hats, filthy Western boots clumped with manure, and a moistened blade of alfalfa resting on their lower lips  took notice of this pint-sized horse whisperer.

To demonstrate my equine acumen, I selected Amigo, a 16-hand old Palomino gelding, to canonize  my standing in the Saddle Club.

With his halter over my shoulder and a sugar cube in my pocket, I presented myself in front of this massive horse and introduced myself, “Hey Amigo. I’m Cheri, your friend. Ha, ha.”

The Gang of Eight  scuffed back, leaving boot prints in the dusty pathway by the stalls.

Amigo awaited saddling.

As I reflect on that seminal moment with my present knowledge of the challenge of enduring banal repetition (being saddled for twenty years every day) and sharp pain of life (girths pulled too tight by inexperienced hands),  often delivered to the gentle and the kind, I should have expected Amigo’s recalcitrant response.

My father told me never to turn my back on the ocean. That same advice might be given when backing horses into their stalls.

I turned my back on Amigo, still with his worn leather halter in my gloved hands. There, in front of his massive chest, I elbowed him in that soft place between that wide chest and his mighty foreleg.

“Back, Amigo, ” I ordered. “Back up boy, that’a boy, Amigo, Back, back, back! I whacked my elbow back and forth as if tenderizing a brisket, hoping to impress the crowd now gathered at Stall Number 11.

Then it happened.

Amigo bit me on my head, right through my straw cowboy hat.

I won’t lie. It was a shock. I screamed. The crowd left. I do not remember adults assembling.

It all got down to Amigo and me.

As it always does in life.”

Life presented me with a new opportunity last fall when I stopped at the bottom of our road to photograph these two old Clydesdale horses, who at the time, were hungry because the hills were dry. I had apples and carrots, so they wandered on over.


photo by c. sabraw


And now, they are feeding me.


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Mr. Churchill, the painter

by cheri sabraw

I’m not sure when it occurred to me to begin painting my photographs.

But in doing so, new neural pathways of thought are growing  like spring jasmine tendrils.

I am not at the helm of  my frenetic business anymore or staring at a blank screen while writing my thesis, a deadline looming in front of me like a dark and sinister twister.I have the time to re-acquaint myself with oils and canvas, brushes and pencils.

But many do not have much time, either by choice or by necessity.

Winston Churchill wrote a short book, Painting As A Pastime, a collection of short essays that was first published in 1948. I commend it to those of you looking for inspiration to create a respite from the relentless march of your responsibilities.

Most of us, I would hope, are familiar with the excruciating stress that Churchill experienced as a public servant in his early life but even more so as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. How was he able to be such a steady leader in such unstable  times?

He love affair helped.

With painting, that is.

He began painting in 1925 and continued for fifty years. His paints traveled with him to North Africa to meet Roosevelt,  to the battlefield,  and to his home, Chartwell.

In Painting As A Pastime, he advocates rescuing your brain and emotions with something different.

 ” The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is therefore a policy of first importance to a public man. But this is not a business that can be undertaken in a day or swiftly improvised by a mere command of the will.”

He writes about mental fatigue and about mental rejuvenation.

“A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.”

He continues.

” To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real. It is no use starting late in life to say,’ I will take an interest in this or that.’ Such an attempt only aggravates the strain of mental effort. A man may acquire great knowledge or topics unconnected with his daily work, and yet hardly get any benefit or relief. It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.”

The Roman poet Horace has been credited with this quotation that, I might add, is included in the Publisher’s Preface  to Painting As A Pastime:

“Dare to great (wise): begin!”


My friends, the Clydes, who live at the bottom of our road

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On the road to Oklahoma


“Home watching the nest” photo by c. sabraw 2017

by cheri

My husband flew to Flagstaff, Arizona, last night to hook up with his high-school buddy, who is driving to Oklahoma to inspect the oil wells his father left him and his brother. Evidently, one well is not producing.

“Bring your work boots and gloves,” Bruce told Ron.

So off they drive into tornado country, two vital and manly sixty-somethings, jeans and work boots, memories and nostalgia.

It is a very neat (and sexy) package.

Masculine seems to out of favor these days what with the pelting of the American male by everybody and every institution on the West Coast and East Coast. And sadly, the American male has acquiesced, in some cases becoming soft and squishy.

I am attracted to a man who like his vodka tonics (and gets annoyed when the tonic is out of a gun), who approaches serious topics with serious intensity, who has a Skill Saw in his garage and can perform electrical repair, who chooses a hotdog at the turn instead of a salad, who knows how to shoot a rifle and a handgun instead of how to call the alarm company, who has served his country, who still carries a handkerchief in his back pocket, who has no idea how to  use Uber, and who still wants to enlist in the Israeli IDF (if needed).

This kind of man appeals to me.

God Speed.


“It’s OK to be prickly ” photo by c. sabraw 2017




Posted in Life, People | Tagged | 42 Comments

Jessica Mitford: Here I come!

by cheri

I’ve decided to rescue my mother and father’s ashes from their joint grave at the Chapel of the Chimes cemetery in Hayward, California.

How  to do this, I am not sure.  And I suppose I ought to run it by my three siblings.

Dad has been mulling around in that joint (as he would surely call it) since 1995. Mom, poor dear, joined him 2.5 years ago. She, of course, makes the best of whatever her circumstances, so unselfish that she has yet to complain that we four, for whom she did SO MUCH,  have  not installed her graveside plaque, a solemn stone tablet which in  seven (prepaid) words, captures the her entire 84-year life.

So Dad and Mom sit or huddle or nest or sink or do whatever ashes do– Dad with a glowing, albeit brief, report of his astounding life; mother, with a grassy roof and no words.

It seems to me they  wait for rescue.

My decision to abscond with their ashes and scatter them in Lake Tahoe, where we as a family enjoyed so many hilarious moments, came last month on a dreary grey day when I journeyed to the Chapel of the Chimes and by graveside, reminded myself that my biggest cheerleaders are really (for sure) gone and would not be returning to tell me how special I am.

I rarely visit the Chapel of the Chimes because seeing the markers of all who rest there in the Jewish section is akin to being at Temple Beth Torah on Yom Kippur in 1961 listening to an anti-war sermon instead of a spiritual one. I fantasize that after the sun sets and we visitors to the cemetery are fast asleep, the whole congregation buried there arises and complains about how long and boring the rabbi’s sermons were.

My feet try their best to avoid stepping on my parents’ friends.

Ahh…yes…there are the Levitts. I wonder how you are, Sarah? and you Sam?

And dear Bobbie Swedelson and Marv Cohen (what a great guy)  and even my high school chum, Cindy Newman. Gosh, I had just attended  your wedding on Treasure Island, with a view of the Golden Gate. Within  a week I learned that you had died in a car accident on your honeymoon. And here you are, at the Chapel of the Chimes of all places!  When we made mischief in Mr. Blum’s chemistry class, we could never have imagined this odd reunion.

I zig-zag among the graves, not wanting to offend my 5th grade Sunday school teacher  or disturb Harry Feinberg, one of the nicest jewelers who ever wore a saffron-colored suit (when he was 80). God Bless Harry. Thanks for selling Ron that little chip of a diamond for my engagement ring. Oh, and I wonder where Harry’s lavender suit went. I should ask Eva, his wife. Oh there you are, Eva. Where did Harry get that suit?

The temperature in the Jewish section of the Chapel of the Chimes is lovely and austere.

However. The entrance to the cemetery is NOT.

The wide lawn with the iron fence along Mission Blvd is now covered with grave site decorations that make the entrance to Chapel of the Chimes  look  either like a junior high science fair, with corrugated cardboard displays and kitschy paper mache volcanoes, or a three-ring circus in miniature, with balloons, whirling ribbons, popcorn and a good old hotdog, slathered with relish and mustard.

Were I a gopher, a vole, or a feral cat and I approached this scene, I would know, without a doubt, that I had died and gone to heaven or at least gone to the midway of the Alameda County Fair with rides, games, and colorful stuff.

A circus atmosphere for sure.

Dad and Mom, I think you would like Lake Tahoe instead.


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Crossing Moon River

by cheri block


photo by r. sabraw


Wallflower, I.

Growing along the banks of the 7th-grade gym, having tentatively planted myself there for stability, with other flat-chested girls whose buds had not bloomed, whose stalks were thin and green, whose flowers were years away.

Waiting for an 8th-grade prince, that one clutching a voluptuous red rose and swaying with her as the clock ticked toward nine.

Awkward, I.

A seed packet waiting for a green house, we girls on the wall,  fertilized with Shalimar and hydrated with punch.

Unselected, we.

The last slow dance announced, we, feeling like weeds instead of the pink tulips we were to become, edged back into the darkness, like cattails in a dark lagoon.

Romantic song, it.

Moon River, by Andy Williams.


Our oaks








Posted in My childhood, My poetry | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

The sounds and hearts of the winged


by cheri sabraw

When I was ten, I spent most of a morning fashioning a set of golden wings. Akin to making a kite, which my father Hugh had taught me to do, I designed a balsa wood skeleton, added a thin veneer of paper using yesterday’s  San Francisco Chronicle and then pressed each seam down with Elmer’s glue. I had been saving real birds’ wings, discarded from sparrows and blue jays, and so began the laborious task of gluing each one down on my creation. The wings done, I sprayed them with glittery gold  paint.


If only they would carry me to the heavens, I speculated, looking up to a cloudless cerulean sky.

I still look to the sky, both day and night, for inspiration and reassurance that something more than the banal chitter-chatter of the day exists.

And often, I am rewarded not only with milky galaxies and twinkly planets, but often with creatures of iron and feathers.

Yesterday, waiting patiently on our desert patio, camera in hand, hoping for a hummingbird arrival at my feeder, I was awakened from my intense focus, along with the comfort and  silence of the rocks and cacti,  by the thunder of  F-16s, their deep roar in take-off from several miles away at Luke Air Force Base. I thought of the bravery and talent of my nephew Matthew, an F-16 pilot trained there and now stationed in Japan after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

A petite and sensitive desert bunny heard them too.



Four iron birds heading to Utah, no doubt, in a formation of precision.

My nephew Matthew, a pilot of one of these machines, has described to me what it felt like in the cockpit over Afghanistan:

The best way to see God’s creation is in a fighter jet – a single seat fighter jet. The best fighter jet to see it in is an F-16 in which we can fly low to the ground and maintain energy in a turn while sneaking through tight spaces.

In the last half hour of our four-hour sortie, it was as if the earth was on exhibition
before our eyes. The morning light brought out the color of the bronze corridors through the river-carved canyons with immense majesty and clarity.

What I experienced in my cockpits is something that Time’s privileged kings will never know. The exalting adventure of weaving in and out of these
passageways through the rock is more intimately inspiriting than a high mountain sunrise through the misting dawn.

The Viper, my steel Pegasus, armed to the teeth, carried me through some of the most enchanting and bedazzling land that I can imagine a man ever laying eyes on at 450 knots. We were riders in a way today that no one will ever be able to duplicate and I hope that this experience has been permanently woven into my fabric as a man.

I sat in my own cockpit here on my patio, ears pricked and lens focused. Surprising, I thought,  that this little bird stays gripped on his perch with all the racket.

p1070195And then, the hummingbird arrived, an F-16, if you will, in miniature.

p1070200p1070199p1070205It was time to refuel, just as Matt does now, mid-air and then off again, looking down at the sand swirls in the baranca.

Matthew described his view through the Bamiyan as he and his partner flew low through one of the canyons:

The equalized tune, made for our hearts, resonated for 15 minutes at roughly 500 feet and 450 knots. Velvet green foliage of the river’s shores scrolled beneath us placidly on our weaving journey. The walls on each side of the canyon turned in unison out in front of us, forming symmetric bends that subsequently blurred by.

At one point it opened up to a wide, lush and patterned agricultural plateau. I was so low I could see the details of walkers. Two women pacing in unison along a sandstone road, flowing trails of vivid violet in their veiled burqas went down my right shoulder as I knife-edged into another avenue through the ancient rock – thunder ,clapping my respect for their authenticity as the sun glinted off my canopy in a flitting wink that blended into my wing flash.


photo by cheri sabraw, 2017


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Highland Park High School, December 2016

by cheri sabraw

Since Donald Trump took office, we have been bombarded by the words fake news.

Fake is not a new word ( 1790-1810) but is without a definitive origin. Curious.

The word fake connotes many images, few of them aesthetically beautiful or authentic but most of them acceptable to a large portion of the  global society.

We in the developed world have grown accustomed to fakeness–in leather, meat, luxury goods, breasts, fingernails, personalities, orgasms, resumes, lawns, jewelry, enhanced photography,and even in extra virgin olive oil from Italy.

Places like Las Vegas and Hollywood are  the epicenters of American Fake.

We rationalize why we like fake: more affordable and interesting, more attractive and sophisticated, more convenient and time-saving. Healthier. Safer. Prettier. Sexier. Alas, our pedestrian lives are SO boring.

The list of the fake grows like Jack’s GMO Beanstalk–taller and taller. Everything from fake pharmaceuticals to currencies to advertising to education has a back room of full of fake.

But what has happened?  The back room has become the front room.


Steroid-laced electronic carrier pigeons  like Facebook and Twitter drop fake news poop worldwide  in  the time it takes to blink twice (2/3 of a second).

In newsrooms (virtual or concrete), the millenial rush to be the first reporter or collegen anchor to break a news story, the first to portray the sensational, the first to draw attention to one’s news outlet (and oneself!) surpasses the importance of fact-checking because doing so is la-bor-ious.  Besides, dude, literally ,someone else might get the story out first. Yup!

Fake, simply put, is out of control.

News flashes:

To call into question not only the content of the news but also those who promulgate it now dominates the front room.

News agencies are nervous for good reason.

Their credibility is front page real news. In fact, they are making it news!

They have an opportunity to restore their reputations as viable checks and balances to the Legislative, Executive, and  Judicial branches of government but will they?

I hope so.


Winston Churchill’s Map Room, London, England, June 2016

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