by cheri granola

I took my granddaughters to the newly named Oregon Zoo, formerly known as the Portland Zoo.

Aside from the fact that, unbeknownst to me, my homemade sandwich fell out of the backpack that I had strapped to my back like a sturdy mule, that the stroller (really a small padded chariot) I pushed weighed at least fifty pounds, and that the three Shave Ices we bought (for only 13.50) were the same sizes as the newly-born Australian piglets, the morning was joyous. Never mind that the 5-year-old dropped mine before I could plunge that straw down into that ice for a refreshing burst of pure sugar–and did I tell you that the Portland metro is having a major heat wave?

So glad for my newly minted muscles, but so disappointed that my healthy sandwich lies somewhere between the California Condor and penguin exhibits.

The Oregon Zoo, as you might imagine, is hilly. Down into the riparian forest exhibit and up to the giraffe enclosure. Down to see the bears; up to see the primates. In the 95 degree heat, many grandparents and even parents and even kids, plodded up and down like prisoners on a death march. But still, people in Portland seem way more laid back than we Californians, who are  all wound up like lemurs wearing huge watches, our eyes strained, our necks tense, our feet hot and humid in closed shoes.

Portlandians, especially the women, don’t seem as concerned about their appearance. Please understand what I am about to say. I’ll make the point by way of personal comparison. And please, do not comment that my daily make-up and hair routine is my choice (which it is).

Oregon women seem very OK with themselves. Either that, or they don’t care. Or, they’ve given up. I prefer the first statement. They have not drunk the Kool Aid. Make-up, eye-liner, mascara, rouge, lipstick–I don’t see that many women wearing this stuff. Cute sandals, albeit uncomfortable ones, do not make too many appearances either; rather, Birkenstocks, with their deep-dish pie effect, seem to be on every foot. Seeing all these feet can be a plus or a minus.

I, on the other hand, start off my day by putting on lipstick before I have my coffee.I’ve never gone out of the house, except one time to Urgent Care, without mascara, blush, and eye-liner. I wear cute sandals, even if they are not that comfortable. I’m sure many of you are now judging me. That’s OK, it’s cool. We are in Portland.

People in Portland seem nicer than Californians. Why, a young guy waiting for his wife and daughter to exit the bathroom stopped me to tell me my backpack was unzipped. It’s clear how that sandwich fell out. Out in the parking lot, a young  woman getting her own children into the car complemented me on my one-shot hoist of the chariot into the trunk of my son’s car.

“You remind me of my mom, ” she cooed.

I thought, “This would never happen in the Bay Area.”

We got back onto the freeway, where people actually drive the speed limit in their Birkenstocks.




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The Scarlet Letter (again)

by Mrs. Sabraw

If you have been reading my writing since 2009, then you will remember this entry.

If not, I repost it, not only because I find it entertaining to recall the world in which I operated, as deftly as a sushi chef, but also because it is still relevant.

This time of year invariably takes me back to all Septembers since 1984, when I agreed to teach honors American literature at Mission San Jose High School. The first novel in the queue was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850.

Most of us educated in the United States read this novel, a perfect pairing with American Colonial history.

I taught capable and gifted students, a daily challenge which necessitated a particular psychology  that I call upon now to cope with all of the blather and self-consumption that blooms in Silicon Valley from say, the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn groups.

Those of us in our 60’s and 70’s may recognize this student:

The Scarlet Letter Lecture


Good Afternoon, Jonathan. I understand that you missed my lecture about the Puritans and their relationship to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Is that right?

Yes, that is why I am here Mrs. Sabraw.

Great. Do you have your notebook and materials to take notes?

Yes, I do.

OK. To begin, the Puritans were a religious group whose beliefs originated from the teachings of a Swiss minister, John Calvin.

I know.

In England, members of the Church of England who believed that the Puritan viewpoint  was too extreme  abused them.

Yeah, I know.

Wow. You know quite a bit for someone in the 11th grade whose main focus is girls. Well, in 1642 a group of Puritans left England after its friends were tortured for their religious zeal. They had been branded with B’s for Blasphemy, had their noses slit and parts of their ears cut off. The Puritans, such as John Winthrop, were willing to risk scurvy and beriberi in the long and arduous trip to avoid such torture.

I know.

We are going to be reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter which tells the story of a puritan community in which the minister has an affair with a married woman and they produce Pearl, their impish odd daughter who dresses in scarlet clothing and asks pertinent questions and thinks critically.

Yeah, I know this.

Hmmm..I imagine that if Pearl were going to school here in California, she would be GATE identified; that is, she would be a mentally gifted minor, an avid reader, and terrific critical thinker who would perform at the top of her class.

I know.

But Alas, Pearl will be insecure and worried about her place in the world, not just because she is the product of her parents’ sin, but because she is so smart. Often times really smart people live with a profound sense of insecurity because (Now, Jonathan, I want you to listen really hard here) they know what they don’t know, as Socrates expressed, and that fact creates an awe about the entire life experience, a respect for all who have been and all who will come after us.

Yeah, I knew that too.

The children who teased Pearl were average human beings who felt A-OK about life because they thought they knew it all.

I know.

So, to wind up my lecture, Jonathan, the point of it all is that sometimes torture over beliefs causes people to leave their comfort zone and venture into new territory. Often, great authors decide to personalize those harrowing journeys in fiction. One such author was Hawthorne who wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850 and created one of the strongest female characters in American literature. I just wanted you to know that I know that you know all of this material before you start the book.

I know.

Posted in Education, On fiction, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , | 24 Comments

Summer sidles up to Fall


Big Island, Hawaii

by cheri

Bay leaves fall  onto my outdoor cocktail table; the sun sidles up to her lover, Fall. He’s still standoffish, waiting and plotting for the days to shorten, waiting for the yellow jackets to go home, the burning afternoons to chill, the begonias to drop their orange flowers in resignation of the coming West Wind, Zephyr.

I’ve been reading Harold Bloom’s Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages and thought to offer you all this summer poem, as She leaves us to contemplate Fall.

If you read it once and the images confound you, then try reading the first clause alone, and then start the next clause mid-line. It will make sense! For example,

I saw a peacock. With a fiery tail, I saw a blazing comet. Drop down hail I saw a cloud…and so on…the wonders of language!

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail


I saw a peacock, with a fiery tail

I saw a blazing comet, drop down hail

I saw a cloud, wrapped with ivy round

I saw an oak creep, upon the ground

I saw a pismire, swallow up a whale

I saw the sea, brimful of ale

I saw a Venice glass, full fifteen feet deep

I saw a well, full of men’s tears that weep

I saw red eyes, all of a flaming fire

I saw a house, bigger than the moon and higher

I saw the sun, at twelve o’clock at night

I saw the man that saw this wondrous sight.


The Aleutian Peninsula, Alaska

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The Big Picture


On the way to Multnomah Falls, Oregon, 2014

by cheri block


Being small is rarely about size.

We all know people who choose to be small rather than big, petty rather than generous, and selfish rather than selfless.

And, we have all been that way, some people more than others.

At times:

Standing on a vacant beach, surrounded by hot sand and noisy surf, we might see a sliver of the Big Picture.

Running to the top of a wooded trail, sucking oxygen, expanding of our lungs and feeling strong and accomplished, we may glimpse at clarity.

Gazing out into the New Mexican high desert, dotted with Pinion Pines and silhouetted against a scarlet hot sky, we may see that the opera of life seems momentary and trivial.

An opportunity:

To be big and magnificent, the stuff of Zorro, the Lone Ranger, and Ra.


Islam El Shehaby, who became smaller than a dust particle in the Sinai Desert by refusing to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand after their Olympic Judo match.


Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

My amygdala told me to do it!

Feb 2012 268

Burning fat!

by cheri sabraw

At the risk of alienating all of you, I am going to quote from Fat Chance.  I will paraphrase Dr. Lustig’s paragraph (p.71)  after you read it.

The Limbic Triangle: Disordered Eating, Obesity, and Disease.

These three brain pathways (hunger, reward, stress) drive hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin levels), resulting in obesity and metabolic syndrome. We call this model the “limbic triangle”—similar to the Bermuda Triangle: once you get in, you can’t get out. Chronic insulin action at the VMH inhibits leptin signaling, which is interpreted as starvation. This decreases SNS activity (sloth) and increases vagal activity (hunger). In the VTA, chronic insulin deregulates hedonic reward pathways by inhibiting leptin signaling (reward). You want to eat more, especially high-fat and high-sugar treats, which results in excessive energy intake. Chronic activation of the amygdala increases levels of cortisol (stress).By itself, this promotes excess food intake and insulin resistance, ratcheting up insulin levels and accelerating weight gain.This what is going on in virtually every obese individual.

Now, for my translation:

Either hunger, reward, and/or stress contribute to your pancreas producing more insulin    (a hormone) than you need. Insulin that is not burned is immediately stored in your fat cells, the number of which is determined by the time you are two. They are like balloons, hoping you will fill them with fat (storage) and forget to burn the fat off through activity. Excess insulin levels produce weight gain and obesity.

When your pancreas is overworked from sugar consumption and is producing more insulin than your body needs, the VMH, (the ventromedial hypthalamus)-which is like a CEO that balances your energy expenditure with your energy storage-begins to inhibit the  hormone called leptin, a protein which tells your hypothalamus that you have enough energy stored in your fat cells (so you are not hungry).  When  this happens, your hypothalamus tells your body it needs food for storage.

Your SNS ( sympathetic nervous system) slows (stops burning fat) because it has been told you are hungry. Feed me, it says. I need energy!! This imbalance is like that little sugar-devil on your shoulder that commands you consume more sugary (energy producing) foods.

When this syndrome becomes chronic, your amygydala ( an area of your brain) tells your adrenal gland  to produce more cortisol, the hormone that prepares your body for dealing with stress. This vicious cycle causes you to eat more and creates insulin resistance, which in turn, produces obesity.

As Dr. Lustig cleverly writes: “Desserts is Stressed spelled backwards.


Your insulin levels determine whether you will store or burn fat. Too much insulin creates insulin resistance, so you continue to store fat in those balloons.

You can take one small step today: reduce your sugar intake.

If I have made any errors, please let me know.

Posted in Education, Life | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Fat Chancery

by cheri sabraw

While we were walking down Liverpool Street in London last month,  Glenys, my new friend, asked me if I was familiar with the scientific work of Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist from UCSF. Had I seen his lecture on YouTube? Had I read his book, Fat Chance?

“No, I haven’t,” I replied, trying to keep up with her long stride, “…should I, and if so, why?”

You have all seen a shuttle launch into the atmosphere with smoke and fire from Cape Canaveral, the burst and then energy thrust of Thoroughbred horses from their Kentucky Derby gate, the pump and then red and gold flash of fireworks into a Fourth of July night, right?

Such was the energy behind Glenys’ answer.

Well! Cheri! Dr. Lustig’s thesis is simple: sugar is poison!!

I tripped over a slight bump in the sidewalk, regaining my balance without Glenys’ knowing. My glasses clouded from my breath. My hair, usually straight, began to frizz a bit in the London humidity. While trying to catch up with her (the men were far behind), my taste buds—one in particular—reacted bitterly to her statement.

And then the silky images of my favorite foods and drinks swirled into the part of my brain where I bake and serve my dopamine. Apple cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream, soft deep-chocolate brownies, Mojitos, buttery Chardonnays, oatmeal raisin cookies. It surely was a mind-trip from Clockwork Orange.

That night Glenys and Richard and Ron and I ate dinner in the bar of our hotel. I ordered my customary buttery Chardonnay and was just about to order the fish and chips (smothered in ketchup) when I looked over at sweet (and fit) Glenys who gazed at me with a pleasant and loving smile, like that of a therapist I once saw.

“ I’ll have the salad with the dressing on the side, “ I told the server robotically, who looked at me sadly, with sympathy. Out of some projection and perhaps defiance, I chugged my Chardonnay.

Two weeks ago, in my post office box, I found a book shipped to me from across the Pond.

I am reading it. And shall report to you all. By the way, I have just added a link to his You Tube lecture, sponsored by the University of California, San Francisco.


Posted in Education, Life, People | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

More strength training


by cheri sabraw

Meet Mary. Age 85 (but she quickly lets me know she will be 86 in November).

Mary is one of  a number of older women in our small gym, Snap Fitness,  who push weights. Her kettle bell is on its way up above her head. Cheering her on are a cadre of  workout compatriots most of whom are over 65  years old.

Their circuit, often lead by Richard, a high-school classmate of mine (though several years ahead of me) consists of climbing stairs, stretching all muscles, completing a weight-machine circuit, and executing planks, pull-ups, sit-ups, and other core strengthening exercises.

This they do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning.

The gym is a small no-frills operation. What it lacks in extras, it makes up for in heart, a quality I attribute to Esther, the owner of this franchised location.

Mary, with her infectious smile and  rock-solid will, is a person to remember each day.

And I do.  IMG_3470

Every day that I walk into Snap Fitness, I also remember my mother, Joan.


Here Joan is when she was approaching 80. What many of you do not know is that Joan had no balance, damage from a brutal attack of meningitis at the age of 67. Left deaf and disabled, she continued on to “be the best she could be.”

How to improve a balance that would never come back? Why not take boxing? One prerequisite: her trainer had to be “cute.”

Note her biceps and arms. Her fat left leg from lymphedema, a result of radiation for cancer, never slowed her down. She became the gym rat we all used to tease.


Here she poses without the aid of her walker or cute trainer.

And so, you can see why I now find myself trying to emulate Joanie and Mary.

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Mrs. Dalloway revisited

by cheri

After visiting the Westminster, St. James’ Park, and the Piccadilly areas of London in June, I felt that I simply must reread Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  

And so I am rereading.

What a brilliant work of literature!

I find myself thinking some of the same things that Mrs. Dalloway was thinking.

For example.

About a woman that Clarissa Dalloway wishes she might have been,  Lady Bexborough–“…with skin of crumpled leather and beautiful eyes…she had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.”

Clarissa “…felt very  young; at the same time unspeakably aged.”

And yet.

Clarissa’s “…only gift was knowing people almost by instinct…”

I believe myself to know people by my instinct.

I also feel, on occasion, invisible.

I am a romantic.

No question.

Where does this leave me?

Perhaps, as I continue on Clarissa Dalloway’s walk around London as she prepared for her party, I will gather insight.




Posted in On fiction | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Go out and do it!

IMG_0460by cheri

My grandfather Harry told me one time, “Cheri, the secret to life is to get up and get out.”

Pretty good advice from a 92-year who continued to stay as active as he could until the last two weeks of his life.

My brother Jim is a protegé of his grandfather, choosing to live life rather than have life live him.

There he is last May atop one of the red-rock arch formations in Arches National Park.

Jim is a dentist; his hands produce his livelihood. And there he is, waving those hands to the Universe.

Sure, he could fall, shatter his wrists, and never pull another tooth, never fill another cavity, never practice dentistry again.


That is not the way he wants to live his life.

I am inspired by this type of living.

His example reminds me to look up instead of down, to look forward instead of backward, to do instead of to don’t.

What do you do to live your life?

What are you thinking of doing?

Will you do it?

P.S. I need to answer these three questions myself!






Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

Security Sisters

by cheri

I remember when Charles Schultz suggested that  security was “a thumb and a blanket.”

For me, security is still closely related to touch and sound.

Things soft–my lambs wool robe, downy slippers, Italian cotton blouses, and silk pillowcases.

Things consistent—ocean swells, one after another, crashing in on a breezy Aptos beach; Tahoe snowflakes falling silently, dusting my ski hat white; rows of Sonoma grapevines awaiting their September due dates, their harvest swelling, ripe, and heavy; hummingbirds in the summer sun, whizzing close to my ear, a two-ship reverie.

Our olive trees- capricious teenagers across the creek, swaying in the East Bay winds, their silvery-green hair decorated with budding fruit; the little creek chitchatting with the rocks as it heads downhill,as it has for 100 years, toward a brackish Bay



Security is five new cameras, like film directors, capturing all movement outside my fences, inside my house, recording license plate numbers, hikers, gawkers, loiterers, and sadly, those up to no good.

The cameras, fresh out of their sterile boxes, introduce themselves to the fertile walnut, the stately sycamore, and the feminine locust tree  who have reluctantly agreed to host them; three lenses perched high above the human eye, three Big voyeuristic Sisters, recording all movement, from squirrel to Jeep.

A new clinical layer adds itself to the soft texture of the Rancho.

Life moves on.



Posted in Growing Olives, Life, My childhood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments