The Murray Hotel and other thoughts


Photo by RM Sabraw All Rights Reserved 2019

We’ve stayed at the Murray in Livingston, Montana, many times.

Its Art Deco sign and sparkly marquis are the jewelry that this 1904 structure wears in hopes that modern travelers on the their way to Yellowstone National Park will be drawn to its sparkles.

On the other side of Park Street, to the left of the Cafe sign, is a rather earthy bar, which attracts locals and tourists alike, who are in varying states of inebriation.

The music pounds into the late evenings but is overcome by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains that rumble by about 75-yards from the Murray at 1-2 hour intervals all day and all night. The hotel even provides ear plugs.

Our room this trip was on the 4th floor by the H, so we had a corner view of the railroad tracks, the grain elevator up the street, and the Masonic Hall across the way. When I woke up to the sound of the train’s horn blowing as if it were trying to shoo people off the tracks, I saw the red neon of the H and thought to myself, ” How charming.”

If you cannot walk up four flights of stairs several times a day, you might want to stay in a generic hotel by the interstate because the elevator, circa 1904, has to be operated by one of the people who man the desk.

The floors creak, the shower is hot but not really, the furnishings are worn but the experience is the best.

I went down to the bar after a long day of hiking around with my husband to secure some ice teas. A glassy-eyed woman with her Bloody Mary seemed amused that I was ordering such baby drinks and sidled over to me on a bar stool.

” How do you like your room?,” she asked.

” I like it,” I replied, watching the bartender squeeze a lemon into our teas.

” You do know this hotel is haunted, right?” she slurred.

” I do know that but disappointingly, I have never seen a ghost here.”

On my way up four flights of stairs with ice teas in my hands, I ruminated on the concept of ghosts.

That night, as my sweetie slept like a dead one and I like a live-wire, I wondered if Sam Peckinpah might appear. After all, he spent 4-6 years living in the Murray.

Finally, I fell asleep, oblivious to the trains, the bar below, or the pounding music.

And then, around 6:00 am, I heard a ghost, sputtering and grinding.

I sat up like a conductor whose track is blocked by a car.

“Who’s there?” I asked.

“Just me, Mr. Coffee,” the pot mumbled.


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Values in a painting of Lake Como

IMG_5434by cheri sabraw

I haven’t been to Lake Como but my grandson Noah traveled there this  summer and took a lovely photo reference for his grandmother to try to paint.

This is the second version. As you can tell, I am no architect and any buildings I paint seem to have a wiggly quality to them.

I like this painting very much.

Although it is only 9×12, the world it portrays is mural size.

Walking down that shaded cobblestone pathway toward a beach with that view of the lake and boaters puts me in Italy now.

It is the late afternoon. The wind has come up. Sailboats leave their moorings. Motorboats retreat to their berths. If you turn right, in front of the watermelon-colored building, there will be outdoor chairs and small tables with young lovers sipping wine. Old marrieds are having espressos in the hopes that they will get a second wind for the late dinners that Italians love to serve.

The last vestiges of the sun warm the upstairs windows on the right.

The trees and bushes along the pathway are healthy and fresh. If you look carefully you will see rosemary in a box by the restaurant. The aroma of sauteed garlic comes from the restaurant in the butternut squash-colored building by the beach.

I choose to have wine instead of espresso.



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Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam…


“Montana Conference Call” 20×20 oil on Belgian linen 2019 by cheri sabraw

by cheri sabraw

These two girls above are back in Browning, Montana, with their calves born this past spring.

Bison, be they Wood Bison or Plains Bison, look different from individual to individual, just like humans. I find them appealing, not only because of their symbolism of a time in our land when they ran free, shepherded by various Indian tribes who, while using them for meat, respected what they stood for, but because they are symbols of an earlier America, albeit imperfect, but at least full of can-do people.

What did they stand for?

Certainly not Colin Pumpernickel, who needs to fight in a war (other than with his own ego) in order to bring him back down to earth.  And let’s add Nike, Inc. and Mr. Phil Knight to that list. Why even the Black Caucus of Ministers  asked Nike to get rid of Pumpernickel.

Certainly not the edgy four freshmen women in our House of Representatives. They need to go to Israel where women spend several years in the military, defending a country existing a bad neighborhood. Did I say Israel? Silly me.

Certainly not golfer  Brooks Koepka and his  girlfriend, who wore a see-through bodice so that her fleshy fake weaponry was on parade at an ESPN function.Would Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmers’ wives have done this? I don’t think so, as they lived in an era where modesty was an attribute and let’s face it: they felt good about themselves.

Certainly not mopey Tiger Woods? (Sniff sniff)  Does he really stand for something that we in this country can be proud of other than “…he endured four-ten back surgeries, was married to a lovely woman, had two nice kids, and a gizillion dollars…” Really Tiger? You need to change your name to Theodore Woods, read about Teddy Roosevelt, and then come back to play golf again without the drama.

The big bison this weekend was Ireland’s Shane Lowry, a joyful golfer (those are hard to come by) who carried his country’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders all the way to the final hole in the British Open. He smiled. He let it all out. He seems to enjoy food and drink and doesn’t look like some of the American male golfers who walk about the golf course like robots on steroids and by the way, their interviews seem the same.

Shane Lowry–just a regular guy (see my previous post). His wife–just a regular gorgeous mom with a raincoat on,  not a garish sequined see-through umbrella over mini-shorts and a torn tee-shirt revealing a beaver tattoo, sitting between two enormous rocks.


Oh give me a home,

Where the buffalo roam,

Where the deer and the antelope play,

Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word,

And the sky is not cloudy all day.




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Stripes and Solids, Eccentrics and Regular Guys



Photography by cheri sabraw

Eccentricity can be marked by the pets one keeps, the ties one wears, or the hobbies one develops.

Take William Randolph Hearst, for example. Not only did he collect valuables from around the globe to place in his castle high on the hill above Piedras Blancas, he also insisted that plastic mustard and catsup bottles be used on the long table where sat vaudeville stars and starlets. Never mind that he and Marion Davies lived in sin 2500 miles away from his wife. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

What is left of his exotic zoo of bears and tigers is this lovely tailored zebra contingency, replete with striped suits.

I’ve known several eccentrics personally.

My step-grandfather, Harold, an obstetrician to the stars in Beverly Hills in the 50’s and 60’s was one such man, whose small manicured fingernails, natty tie, matching suit and jewelry, not to mention his new Mercedes every year, drove my Beverly Hillbilly Grandma Rosie to a bout with shingles that never really went away.

Harold took my brother Stevie and I to meet Zorro (Guy Williams). I’m sure somewhere in my scribblings here on Notes From Around the Block, I have told this story. As an avid Zorro fan ( I recognized handsome dark-haired men with bravado very early in my life), I almost died and went to Zorro Heaven when Harold pulled his Mercedes up to Zorro’s ( I mean Mr. Williams’) palatial mansion in Brentwood, next to Westwood, where Harold and Rosie lived. I dashed into the hallway, almost slipped on the marble, but not before taking my index finger and swishing several Z’s at the sculptures.

Then there was Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Tony Curtis, who was a friend of Harold’s. Are you getting the picture? Since my mug above professes my grammatical acumen, I must clarify here: Tony Curtis was a friend of Harold’s. Harold delivered Jamie Lee.

My father Hugh, who was not an eccentric, but rather a “regular” guy, as he liked to muse about himself, thought Harold a dandy–a Primadonna of the first order–the kind of guy you want to take out by the barn, hoping he will slip in his leather loafers, loading them with manure. Then, as he tries to regain his balance, you grab his wrist and dampen his starched cuffs and diamond-shaped cuff links, with your sweat.


Then there is a man I know who has hundreds of ties, all filed by color and theme in his closet. When time came yesterday to finally, and I stress the word finally, cull old shirts, pants, socks, shoes and ties from his overstuffed closets, he was able to part with five ties. You read correctly: five ties.

When I ponder all of the eccentric people I have known, they are all men.

At some point in our lives, we must each ask ourselves the question: Am I an eccentric?

Let’s see.

I study food labels and will only eat foods where the fiber grams are more than the sugar grams.

I pack my own groceries because I like soft fruits on the top and hard veggies on the bottom of the grocery bags that I wash every week.

I silently correct people’s grammar and take great joy in the act.

I check my bank account several times a day.


How about you?



Posted in healthy eating, Life, My childhood, My photography, Nature photography, People, Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Homage to an oatmeal cookie

by cheri sabraw


Yesterday, the sky was special. I had to take off my sunglasses to make sure of it.

The blue was deep and rich, which accented the vaporous bright white shapes of the clouds like a velvet curtain of French ultramarine.

In my small painting of a massive Hereford steer up to his belly in grass, I decided to float the clouds right onto his face and point the viewer’s eyes up the hill by way of dead weeds.

This painting is meant to be peaceful.


You see what I mean about that sky and those clouds. This gate opens to a place I have never visited. Oh sure. I could hoist my little body over the gate and walk along, seeking out  photographic gems as I often do ( to honor my father Hugh), but the specter of baby rattlesnakes, of odd property owners, of mountain lions and of bobcats deters me. The oaks do beckon though. “Hello girls!”

At home, after serving myself a spicy fish taco and a tall glass of iced tea with a wedge of lemon floating above the ice for survival, Dinah and I trek up the mountain road to see how the maternity ward is doing.

All of us women who have carried a baby to full term can appreciate the  weight of that burden on the ankles. In my case, I spent most of my pregnancies oiling my belly with lotions and potions to avoid stretch marks. Those were the days when my belly was as smooth as a honeydew melon. Now, an over ripened cantaloupe is more descriptive.


In the cool shade of a California oak tree stands this swollen Angus woman bearing the weight with grace. Her shadow reminds us of the precious life cycle in which  we participate–some wittingly and some unwittingly.


The maternity ward is quiet today. At this precise moment in time, cud-chewing is out. The clouds float by, the oaks stop their whispering, the fence stands up straighter, and three women etch out what it means to be stalwart.

Dinah and I, for once, feel the need to be quiet too. No barking (Dinah), no talking out to the bull or the bluebirds (me).

Wherever you are today–in the glorious fog or the parching heat, in the windy valley or the confines of a room filled with bickering lawyers–perhaps a devotional to the sublime or, at the very least, homage to a oatmeal raisin cookie might be in keeping.

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Open to Beauty

by cheri sabraw      











Decorum was the Rule of Order during the US Open, hosted by the iconic and storied Pebble Beach Golf Course.

Unlike the drunken party that is the Phoenix Open, now called the Waste Management Phoenix Open (a perfect sponsor for the desert party that it is), Pebble Beach is like that innocent lass whose skin is milky and whose hue is rose.

At Pebble Beach, crowds are quiet; the ocean is still; the vistas are breathtaking; the turf is exceeded only by the opulence and old money that circulate like subtle breezes off the coastline.

I must admit that even though I had sprained my ankle the night before, tangling myself in my new vacuum hose and missing a step, I knew that nothing would keep me from the atmospheric fog of Pebble Beach.

We saw the usual crowd magnets but somehow the views and stateliness of old Pebble Beach dwarfed whatever expectation I had about seeing Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Brooks Koepka. (yawn). Only Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler–two fine representatives of their generation and of men who seem about something more than themselves, were of interest to me.

I’m over Tiger Woods. Actually, I never was in to him anyway as I was with George Harrison, Franco Nero, and other men whom I have admired along the way of life.

The real draw at Pebble Beach is a sensual, arresting, imaginative look at Cypress trees, small perfect beaches, and the luscious quiet, even around the greens. That sliver of turquoise water rolling into a white sand beach!




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San Simeon to Gunnison…notes from an artist


San Simeon School House, 1909, oil on linen 9×12 2019

by cheri sabraw

My oil painting skills are maturing, a testament to instruction by self and by teacher.

This small painting above sprung from a reference photo I took several years ago when my sweet husband and I left our home in Cambria seeking tortilla soup and meatloaf sandwiches at Sebastian’s, a delightful restaurant in the San Simeon Cove.

Unfortunately, Yelp and other nasty apps have made Sebastian’s a tourist stop, so we do not go there in the summertime.

As a teacher, I am drawn to old school houses, where my imagination takes me back to a time when teachers taught multiple grade levels and multiple subjects to students captured in  rigid desks. Those were the days of spelling lists and rote memorization.

The Road to Gunnison, Colorado, 9×12 oil on linen, 2019

On our way to Gunnison, Coloado, a darling town on our road tripping down Highway 50, the Loneliest Highway in America, we passed exhausted sheepherders running along and several ragged border collies, pushing thousands of ewes down the canyon like a stream of undulating river rock. At first, I thought I was glimpsing a silver river but the bubbles of sheep backs were not river rock but bleating moving animals on their way to market.

At the turn, we passed a lovely canyon of autumn bliss set against a cerulean sky and orgasmic clouds. Cattle dotted the landscape.

I suggested we find our hotel and turn in for the night.

But not before sampling Trout Amandine at the local restaurant Trough.



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by cheri sabraw

Older means there was time before and there will be time after. Older is not Oldest.

Older can also mean a general sappiness in which you find your eyes misting up over a little fawn crossing the road or you break down and sob after eating lemon pound cake.

Or, in an effort to photograph a beefy bobcat trying to kill a turkey on your upper lawn, you just about kill yourself by tripping over a rug as you race to retrieve your camera.

Older, however, does not mean the loss of childlike curiosity.

I will admit to becoming more concerned about saving moths trapped inside my house, about rescuing a finch trapped in an outside sconce, and about communing with an old dog whose days on earth are now getting shorter.


I bought a new rug in lovely green colors without considering that thousands of Labrador hairs would embed themselves into it.

Older means understanding that  even though you have a nice bed, lying on a new one is more fun.


I suppose part of understanding why an old dog would prefer a new rug concerns our own propensity for something new when we are not new anymore but rather older.

Recently, I bought myself a new pillow and when resting my neck and head on it last night, felt as content as a California sea otter who has found abalone in the kelp bed.



And then there is the matter of flying low.

Flying low provides you with the opportunity to examine the details that you missed when you were racing to punch the time clock.

In my case, flying low means occasionally ironing a pillowcase (!!!), replanting succulents in blue pots, and noticing if my eyebrows have a wayward hair. It also means appreciating the fact that I still have eyebrows and even a waistline. These are things that when younger I took for granted.



It is very important as older become the norm that you never give in or up. Otherwise, why live? Why brush your teeth every morning and even floss? Why look at your feet (if you can see them) and say to yourself, ” Good job Jack and Jill for carrying me up the hill every day in a trudge similar to mounting Everest.”

Then there is the matter of scenes that take your breath away and you start tearing up again.


To all of you who have left California because of traffic and taxes, I say, ” Take a look at this scene…isn’t it gorgeous? Don’t you miss the Pacific Ocean?” Don’t you miss the luscious cool humidity? Sea breezes on your aging face?

Just about the time you are wondering why you are on this earth or what your existence means, you come across a scene that takes you back to younger.


And the world looks fresh.

Looks perfect for me.

Shall we both go to that little house and have a tea party?

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An older life in green

by cheri

As we age, we appreciate the beauty of a walk up the road.

Now, however, we look for shady spots to rest awhile, out of the sun. There by the side, sweet grass grows, which in our youth, we never noticed in our hurry to jog.

Our experience tells us that soon, the grass will change from its verdant radiance to a dull brown.

This awareness makes us sensitive and alert to the beauty of green now.



We seek out a thrill just to make us feel young again. Somewhere in that green is a delicious smell.

We give ourselves permission to take a break from our upward trek to lie down and cushion ourselves in joy.




At last, a comfortable spinal stretch where we are in the present moment, enjoying all of the experiences our senses offer.

On this holiday weekend, may you all enjoy a few moments like this one.

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What the University of the Pacific needs in a new president

by Cherylann Block Sabraw (School of Education, 1972)

Although I broke my father’s heart when I transferred from USC to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, my decision to attend this small liberal arts gem in California’s Central Valley was a good one.

My days spent at UOP were thoughtful ones as I took my studies in English and education seriously. So seriously, that the professors at the School of Education–now known as the Bernerd School of Education–invited me to be the student speaker for the 1972 graduation.

My speech, titled” The Great Teacher” I delivered as a naive 21-year-old on her way to making the education of our youth substantive.

For 42 years I endeavored to be the main character in my speech.

In other words, I have been an alumna who should have made the University of the Pacific proud, from whom the university might have sought ideas in addition to monetary donations.

Last month, an announcement for a speaker coming to  the Bernerd School of Education slipped into my email box, inviting attendance at an event where Renato P. Almanzor was the speaker.

He is, the email text read, ” …a transformation catalyst whose experience emerges from dedicating over 30 years to developing leaders committed to equitable communities, multicultural organizations and social justice. An expert in leading social change, he has taught at a number of universities and currently teaches leadership at CSU Humboldt. Almanzor also has held executive roles at UC Berkeley and Oakland Unified School District….”

In the State of California where test scores and student abilities to write, compute, and calculate rank 44th out 50 in K-12 education, we are inviting speakers  focused on social justice, equitable communities and multicultural organizations? Really?

Within a week of this email, a young man called our home at dinnertime to solicit donations for UOP.

” You know, I am not sure the University represents my values any more,” I said. ” For example, I just received an email from the School of Education, advertising a speaker who is known for focusing on equitable communities, multicultural organizations, and social justice when most speakers ought to be concerned with the quality of education being delivered in the State of California.”

I went on, ” In my 42-year experience in education teaching students of all races, religions, and ages (including business students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business) and in the academy I founded in 1998 , I observed that people are people, hungry for the knowledge they need to succeed in their next educational or vocational choices.”

After several minutes, I realized no one was on the other end of the phone line. How long I had been speaking to the flowers on my kitchen counter or to my old yellow Labrador rolling her big brown eyes, I do not know.

My donations are over to the University of the Pacific.

Perhaps I will now direct my educational funds to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where education is the main goal of the university.

As UOP searches for a new president, it may want to consider  getting back to basics and away from programs that fragment rather than unify people.

Those are my suggestions to the search committee for a new president.

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