My deplorable point of view


Cimarron, Kansas, Highway 50

by cheri sabraw

I heard Robert Shapiro speak this past month at a small dinner in Irvine, Ca. In case his name does not ring a bell for you, Mr. Shapiro was on O.J. Simpson’s defense team and helped to secured a not guilty verdict in Mr. Simpson’s high-profile murder trial. I wanted to ask him how he could participate in such a case but I knew what his answer would be.

As that trial came to a close, I was teaching English at our local high school. When the verdict was announced, my 9th graders cheered that O.J. had been acquitted. I was stunned and had to abort our discussion of Of Mice and Men. 

It seemed to me that O.J. had been living off the “fat of the land” and it was time for Lennie to stab him, just as O.J.  had done so viciously to Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

Shortly thereafter, President Bill Clinton was caught in yet another affair but this one was different: he had enjoyed himself in the Oval Office with a young intern and then lied about it. He was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice but was acquitted by a Congress full of men.

As the impeachment process came to a close, I was teaching Journalism I and II at our local high school. My seniors, many of whom who had enjoyed the same type of sexual experience that Monica Lewinsky had given to Bill Clinton, saw little wrong with such activity happening in the Oral Office. The grammatical gymnastics that our president sought to inveigh in his impeachment hearings did provide me with an opportunity to teach verb tense and the manipulation of “is.”

I remember most specifically that one of the lead Economics and Government teachers, a fellow whom I will call Bob Ericson, told me it wasn’t important or relevant what a president does sexually with whom, when, and where.

It seemed to me that Bill Clinton had openly stained the Presidency and lied about it.


As we approach the final two weeks of this unconventional presidential election period, I am reminded often by well-meaning friends via conversation and email attachments that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote into oblivion, that no sane person could possibly consider someone other than Hillary Clinton, a person, at least, with experience.

You know.


People justify.

Their self-interests.

I told one of my shocked friends that if Satan himself were running against Hillary Clinton, I would vote for Satan, since as a Jew, I am going to hell anyway.

That’s how much I abhor Hillary and Bill Clinton and everything they stand for.

And what about the boorish blow-hard (some pun intended) Donald Trump?

When I ponder the duplicity of Hillary and Bill Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, the IRS, the Department of Justice, American news outlets, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and all of the other corrupt institutions that heretofore, I thought really stood for something of value and integrity, he is a logical middle finger for some of us.








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Part Two: Gratitude: where is it?


Lake Tahoe on a fall day  (photo credit to D. Usedom) 2016

by cheri sabraw

Four years ago I wrote about gratitude, the quality of being thankful, and gratitude, a wire sign I saw on the wall of Lily’s Coffee House.

I purchased the sign for $45.00, intending to bring it back to my home and hang it on the bedroom wall so it would be the first word I would see when I awoke and remind me to take stock of my many blessings.

Unfortunately, I left the sign wrapped in newspaper, like a freshly caught trout,  in my little house on the Central Coast. My cleaning lady, Graciela, inadvertently threw away the sign, a mystery that took us, in both broken Spanish and broken English, several weeks to unravel.

No problem, Graciela. I am grateful for you and do not want you to worry that you threw the gratitude sign away,  I told her.

She was, indeed, grateful for my reaction and offered to pay for it.

No, my friend, you cannot pay for gratitude. It is something that you must ponder every day if you are to keep your sanity in this world.

Four years have passed.

I find that the secret to a contented life is to be grateful. Every day.


Chicago, May 2016 (photo by C. Sabraw)

So, in the spirit of taking my own advice, I will call up what I am grateful for this very October morning:

1. Fresh air

2. The ability to walk

3. Pandora

4. Brexit

5. A fat loving dog

6. A studly husband (note this list is not in descending order)

7. Siblings who agree with me politically

8. blueberries

9. Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan

10. Winston Churchill


Aleutian Islands, Alaska (photo credit R. Sabraw) August 2016

I am sure you have your own lists. Do you care to share?

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A mint julep

by cheri

Last week, we stopped in a college town, San Luis Obispo, on our way south.

At a local coffee shop at the end of Higuera Street, I waited in line for a dark brew for me and a cafe mocha for my husband.

Unlike the franchisian assembly line that is Starbucks, this establishment had one (yes, one) old lady barista doing everything–taking payment and making coffee. The process was glacial; I noticed my impatience and tried to tone it down by engaging in a conversation with the woman in front of me.

Her turquoise-rimmed glasses, magnifying dark and dancing eyes, emphasized her persona. Spiky hair, long flowing  skirt and billowing blouse all said, ” Boomer-Hippie.”

We traded early morning polite conversation.

Where are you headed? she asked me.

Los Angeles, I replied.

Me too although I am going to Santa Monica, she added.

What are you doing there?

I’m taking a seminar on ….on…well…on energy.

Maybe it was her garb, maybe I had a momentary flash of ESP, but somehow, I knew she wasn’t attending a solar conference. Definitely not Chevron.

Are you a shaman? I blurted out on a hunch.

Why yes, I am, she said. How did you know that?

Oh, I muttered modestly, I feel your energy.

*     *     *      *     *     *    *

I love people with positive, silly, mystical, curious or intellectual energy. Always have, always will.

And so in Disneyland this past weekend, to celebrate my  birthday, in the company of a 5 and 3 year-old and their 30-something parents, I sucked in more exuberant innocent energy than I have in several years.

At lunch at the darkened Blue Bayou Restaurant, listening to the splash of boats and screams of riders on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, sitting around a table under a southern sky illuminated by tiny fireflies and a large harvest moon, and cooling down in the air conditioning after waiting outside in 95 degree heat, I joined in with my granddaughters who insisted that I, like they, MUST order a drink (albeit $7.00 but who cares?) with a glow cube.

A glow cube! How cool is that?

Our drinks arrived; we squealed with energy.




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A Friday tasting—acorn shells


by cheri

If you own a Labrador retriever, you know that no food is off limits to the breed. I mean no food. And I include food that is intended for other species.And things that are not food at all.

At this very moment, I am watching my 70-pund fat Labrador grazing on the patio for acorn shells. You read this right: not the acorns which might provide some meager nutrition but rather, the shells, which as far as I can tell, stand a 50% chance of clogging a bowel tract.

Perhaps your dog eats anything but I doubt it.

Eight years ago this puppy dragged me into the vet’s office whereby I tripped over the doorstop and took a flying header into a cardboard display for Heartworm medicine. As a seasoned English maven, I know a symbol when I see it, especially at 4 inches. Even at that klutzy moment surrounded by edgy veterinary techs with purple hair and piercings, down on their knees to see if the dog was OK, I knew that this photo of a large stringy worm tangled all over a dog’s heart presaged years of canine culinary disgust.

And as usual, I was right.

I’ve written before about the 10-lb weight gain that this Labrador experiences during wild turkey season when 75-100 turkeys roam our property like prehistoric idiots, leaving green dollops of protein everywhere.

I’ve written about the tandem activity of the cat and the dog in flushing squirrels out of walnut trees, a sort of farm-to-table theme, in which a falling squirrel is eaten alive while the flesh is fresh.

Half-rats, small chickadees, jalapeno peppers, worms, moldy cheese, coyote poop, salmon bones, rat poison,and paper towels all have gone down the hatch. This dog also ate a frozen dead duck—a dim sum or sorts—instead of retrieving it—a natural instinct I was told– at a field trial we attended.

I miss my Rottweilers, who boringly enough, only ate kibble.


Have a yummy weekend.

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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!


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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.




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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.




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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…

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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 , | 30 Comments