by cheri sabraw

We are olive farmers. The harvest and press are six weeks away. Our olives are plump, sucking water like long-distance runners, so close to the finish line.

The smell of olives reduced to particulates, oil, and yes, probably a few fruit fly larvae, is a sweet, earthy and sensual.



This past weekend, our friends K. and H. invited us to stay overnight in a little house nestled in the middle of a fertile vineyard bulging with Cabernet grapes, just days away from harvest.

Most of us Californians take for granted the close proximity of luscious vineyards until this time of year when fall arrives like a proud papa to rustle leaves, heat up the air, and await the results of his rendezvous with spring.

Then,  we  Bacchanalian revelers only hours from Napa Sonoma, Paso Robles, Carneros, and yes, the glorious Alexander Valley, become children again, fawning over leaves, grapes, branches, vistas, and yes, wine. Oh, let’s add bocce ball to this picture.

With our friends, we sampled Primitivo, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Rose wines. To make matters juicier, we tasted Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Luckily, a wise woman asked for crackers.


The Alexander Valley lies north of Santa Rosa. Her nose points to Cloverdale; her hips broaden at Geyserville and her toes wiggle at Healdsburg. She is a beauty, especially when seen from Rodney Strong’s Rockaway vineyard above the valley.



Thank you to our friends and their friends for a dizzying weekend sipping the Fruit of the Vine!


Posted in Growing Olives, Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Waffles and Waffalls

img_3546by cheri

I realize this image is rather earthy: a warm buckwheat and blueberry waffle resting asymmetrically on a pedestrian paper plate, its blueberries warning of dark caverns filled with butter and pure maple syrup–a bite of hot crust that envelops the tang of hidden fruit.

Waffles and fall are the best of friends.

Today is the first day of fall, my favorite time of year, a season during which I summon all of the innocence and joy still in my heart while I stir  the flour, the egg, the oil, and Luca’s honey into the batter of my childhood.

The early morning smell of the marine layer still hovers in my memory, stimulating me, like injected adrenaline, to run like the dickens in a gold hooded sweatshirt  on a vacant Capitola beach, assisted in lunacy by  hundreds of seagulls circling and  calling to each other in a deafening ocean symphony. I call back!

My mother’s waffles, Belgian squares of heat and sweet, send me off to school where I run around like a little filly full of energy and oats. Oh to have a mother here, to make me waffles!

The days darken. I’m ten years old. At bedtime the fallen leaves blow in dried and crackling circles outside my window on Mayfield Drive. I listen like an owl  to their scratchy melody and anticipate my birthday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I have so much to look forward to!

Even today, I welcome fall with open arms and a waffle.




Posted in Life, My childhood | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

To Justices Cantil-Sakauye,Corrigan, Kruger,and Werdegar:

by Mrs. Sabraw

I abandoned public education in 1998 after spending 26 years in the system. A host of tenured teachers in our English department, vocal proponents of the California Teachers’ Association,  helped to make that decision easy.

I opened my own after-school program, which focused on writing, grammar, and literary analysis.  In five years, we had an enrollment of 1000 students who paid to enroll in classes in the Fall, Winter, and Summer Sessions. Their parents could afford to pay for the instruction, instruction which should have been taking place one mile down the road at the local high school. Thank you Tenure!

Justices Cantil-Sakaue, Corrigan, Kruger, and Werdegar: I present you with a true story of Tenured Teacher A and her modus operandi:

Assign a literary analysis paper on September 15 to gifted sophomores in high school, whose academic goals include a 4.2 GPA, admission to Cal and Stanford, and 4-5’s on all AP tests.

When the first drafts come in on September 21, collect them—all 100 papers from three sections of 35 students each.

Put the papers in your car, take them home, and set them on top of your dresser.

Don’t read the papers.

When the students finally work up the nerve to inquire how the papers are coming, tell them the papers are so terrible that it is taking you forever to get through them. That’s right: if you create anxiety, the students, Asians and East Indian kids in particular,  will work harder.

On October 15, carry the unread papers back into your classroom. In all three classes, announce to your eager students that you have not made one mark on any of the papers because, frankly, after reading them, you were appalled. Then say, “ Would you like to redo your papers for a better grade, or should I  correct them this weekend?”

All students readily agree to take their unmarked papers home.

On October 22, collect the second draft of the papers.

One month later, on November 22, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, return the papers with a tentative grade in pencil at the top. Again, do not make any marks on the papers.

Tell the students that if they redo their papers one more time, perhaps the pencil grade will become an inked higher grade. Don’t tell them that you have put B’s and C’s on all papers.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, your students will work feverishly.

Collect the final drafts  on December 5, take them home during the Winter Break and return the graded essays in early January.

Good job! You have only corrected one paper the entire semester while the little beaver down the hall in Room N-9 has corrected 4 papers in that time period. What a little sucker she is.

*   *   *   *   *

Justices: Your decision not to take up Vergara v. State of California was at best disappointing; at worst, irresponsible.

Thank you Justices Chin, Liu, and Cuellar for your dissents.

Tenure for public school teachers is bad.




Posted in People, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Fair comment


No Photography is allowed. I took this picture while my husband was sitting in a courtroom in London.🙂

by cheri block

I’ve been married to the same man for a very long time. He might say, in his charming and sincere manner that “…it seems like yesterday we were walking down the aisle. Life with you, Cheri, has been a real treat, from start to this very moment. “

I might observe “ It does not seem like yesterday. It seems like about 45 years. However, marriage to you has been a real treat for about ¾ of the time.”

What would he say to this little indiscreet observation?

He would say, quite judicially, “ Fair comment.”

These two words annoy me to the max.

The words “fair comment” never played a part in my growing up. There was no such thing as “fair comment” in the Block household. I just commented without censor, without thinking about how my many words might affect others. Keeping a thought to myself was unheard of—Silent Speculation, the Art of Tact, Walking in Others’ Moccasins–none of these finer skills of the Life Experience ever occurred to me.

We four children were little smart-mouths, full of creativity and confidence, who commented at will, especially at the dinner hour around our maple dining table, the one with the ugly maple hutch behind it, the hutch that stood against that corny wallpaper my mother had chosen, the wallpaper with baskets, no cornucopia of autumn vegetables. That wallpaper.

My father encouraged our comments. He laughed, most of time, when we talked about ripping a hole in the honeysuckle vines growing on our back fence so that we could see our neighbors’—actually our pediatrician’s odd five children—swimming in their lovely pool. “So and So never said a word while swimming and the other So and So just stared at her toes while sunning herself in a chartreuse swimsuit.

We, on the other hand, were busy in our pedestrian backyard tearing it up–arranging  vast battlefields, digging small trenches, and setting up miniature theme parks in the bases of all our trees. We trapped small moths and put them in underground dungeons secured by toothpicks. My brother might have spit at me on occasion. We called each other weirdos, fat butts, and scuzzy faces. I told my siblings I hated my teacher, knowing full well that “ hate is a very strong word, Cheri.”

We imagined what the dog run would be like if we weren’t forced to clean up after our two German Shepherds. When my mother, June Cleaver, came outside to tell us dinner would be ready in 30 minutes (Dad needed his bourbon and seven before dinner), we told her we didn’t like her fried okra and monkey-meat cutlets. She told us we were rude.

I only wish that at that tender time in my free-for-all life, I could have retorted,

“Fair comment.”

Such verbal sophistication would have prepared me for a life more under control, more measured, more…

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


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.




Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

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 , | 30 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

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

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