The Joads in Scotland, part one


The Four Block siblings in Scotland. Note that mine has a large kosher dill pickle in front of it.

by cheri sabraw

We exited Limerick, Ireland, heading to Shannon Airport to drop the VW Van off at the rental lot. We Americans are a wee bit spoiled. Why, we just assume that there will be personnel at a rental car return at 8:00 am in the morning. We also just assume that signs will direct us to  the rental car return.

In Ireland, such assumptions are rawmaish. Not only were there no signs for Sixt Auto Rentals– so we became stuck, twice in short term parking–all six of us and our  luggage, now gorged with souvenirs. Once located, the Sixt Rental lot, a mile from the airport, was dark and vacant.

In a mini-panic, we called the office and a sleepy young man answered. “We are here to return our van, hired in Dublin last week. Are you coming? (We did not mention its condition, wisely.)

“Ok, right! now, guys. On the way..” And so it went.

On to Scotland, home of golf, rain,midges, golf, lochs, haggis, rain, and kilts.

These robust Scots are wearing the Campbell clan tartan. We learned from our guide that the Campbell clan is Scotland’s (so to speak) black sheep and in a country where the sheep outnumber the people, that is saying something. They warred with the McDonald clan during the Massacre at Glencoe in 1692.  These guys, as you can see for yourself, boast some impressive calves and mighty shoulders.

















I should mention at this point that my sister and her husband, who had wisely decided to tour alone for part of the trip in London, arrived by train to Edinburgh, filled with tales of Brexit, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey and the like. Schooled in One-Upsmanship, the McBlock clan (known for warring with each other) tried out limericks and side-swiping but to no avail.

Now, there were four. Four siblings and four spouses, two of whom are related. Eight people between the ages of 58-69.

The group’s size, coupled with certain siblings’ and spouses’ decisions to cart duffel bags full of sport coats, golf shoes, and dresses!, had now burgeoned so much that we were attracting attention wherever we went. The word “went” is far too eloquent to aptly describe our gait. We trundled.

To get away from overdoing it in the whiskey category, we left Edinburgh and headed in a small bus over the Firth of Forth to the beach in the Kingdom of Fife, Elie, Scotland, where we had been told it would be easy to get up to St. Andrews, only 14 miles away. As it turned out, Elie is a charming sleepy beach village with two buses an hour, one deli and one souvenir shop. Where would we test fish and chips in Scotland? But more important, where would we buy our wine, vodka, tonic, limes, cheeses, chips, dip, meats, wine, yogurt, berries, wine and other foods?




We had been told that Scotland was modern, so “I know, ” said one of my wise siblings. ” Let’s call Uber.”

Look at this street. Do you really think Uber will come?

And no, it did not, so we were forced to all get on the same bus with the local school children to head to Anstruther, where we had heard the best fish and chips in Scotland is made.




The theme in the Anstruther Fish and Chips was the color white.

We downed the fish and chips, agreeing that they were delicious but those of us who had been to Ireland, voted the Fish Box still the best chips around.

To fully describe shopping in the Anstruther Co-op Market with 8 people, I will need to take a writing break, so as to fully characterize why being the oldest child can send said oldest children into therapy.


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The Joads in Ireland


by cheri sabraw

Pack three siblings and their spouses into one VW Van with the express purpose of driving together–on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car–and you have the basics for a good story, complete with vivid characters, typical themes, and the tension necessary to keep your readers’ attention. The saga all started in Dublin, Ireland.

There, from my dry but chilly perch in a hop on-hop off (what a misnomer) bus, I spied my grandmother and grandfather reincarnated into the two well-dressed individuals I remember them to be.


We as a group of six people had at least one thing in common: we were searching first, for the best fish and chips in Ireland, and second, for the sun,  the former of which was easy to find; the latter, not so easy.

We headed south to the small  coastal village of  Kinsale, where we had been told there was sun, fewer people, and Irish music. There we did find sun, Irish people playing American rock, and a funny couple from Bandon celebrating their 40th anniversary. Since we were clearly a group of noisy Californians, and judgements were being silently rendered, we sent dessert  to their table and all was forgiven.



Photo property of Cheri Sabraw, 2019

The next day in Kinsale at the harbor,  I found the buoy, boat, and shadows for which I had been searching as a reference for future oil paintings. Please note: there has been no photo enhancement here.

That afternoon, we siblings separated so as to capture some “space,”  two family members taking the VW van on their own little trip to Old Head, complete with wine, cheeses, and meats. The rest of us wandered aimlessly around by ourselves. Little did we know that not only had the van been side-swiped in the grocery store parking lot, without a note left, but on the way back from Old Head,  my family member herself hit a parked car, thus equalizing the scrapes, now on both sides. Only the back and front of the van were left unscathed. Keep posted.

When they were unable to locate the owner of the dented parked car, they found the local police station in order to fess up and file a report. If you have watched the British comedy Doc Martin, you will remember the local police officer, PC Joe Penhale. He or his twin was there in the Kinsale Police Department.

When asked for the VW’s license plate number, my family member fished deep into her purse, finally so frustrated at not finding the keys, she begin to empty it out entirely. Perhaps it was jet lag or a lapse of focus, but she ended up pulling out the brown paper sack with 1/2 bottle of wine left in it and put it without hesitation on the counter. Office Penhale’s eyebrows raised into a kind Irish arch. Let’s leave it at that.

We scheduled a tour of Kinsale with the local tour guide, who reminded us that the Lusitania had been sunk by a German U-Boat just off the coast of Kinsale. Although I had read Erik Larson’s book “Dead Wake: The Last Voyage of the Lusitania,” and should have been listening to the guide’s story, I found myself distracted by the number of kegs emptied at the Grey Hound, waiting for pick-up.



We left Kinsale, heading for the Dingle Peninsula where we had heard through the Irish grapevine that sunshine had arrived.

But before any sunshine could be relished, we piled into the Fish Box, a restaurant we had heard about all the way across the pond in California from my friend Sharon. Fresh off the family’s trawler every morning, fresh haddock, hake, and sole arrive for the daily Dingle crush of visitors heading for the best Fish and Chips in Ireland.


The owner and I agreed that Brexit should happen. He told me that the EU sends other member states’ fishermen to fish in Irish waters. As might be expected, this does not go over well with Irish fisherman when Greek, French, and Belgian fisherman draw up nets of white fish.

Speaking of chips. one cannot be in an Irish cab without the cab driver somehow slipping into the conversation the resentment they still feel about how they were treated by the Ulster protestants, especially during the potato famine.

Look at this gorgeous scene and study the tops of the hills, where hedgerows still can be seen, surrounding brownish fields.


The Dingle Harbor, photo property of Cheri Sabraw, 2019

I learned that those abandoned plots were formerly potato fields. That is how high the farmers had to plant to try to eke out food for their families.

Several of us had read Leon Uris’s Trinity before our Ireland trip and doing so, helped me understand why the Irish people have not forgotten what happened to their ancestors.

But back to the story.

We stayed at a lovely B&B, whose canine emissary provided a welcome greeting.


We six travelers piled back in the van in order to drive a long loop but before doing so, we thought to buy some ice. It was at the local Dingle grocery store parking lot, full of very small hybrid cars, that the third insult to the paint job occurred. My brother feigned whiplash as his wife backed into a pole with conviction. Now, we only had to demolish the front (God forbid) and the cause would be complete.

I’m making a joke about this but before I left, I did leave a long thorough note to my son-in-law about what to do if all of the siblings were wiped out on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car. Happily, the damage to the van was only a trifecta and we had purchased damage waiver insurance beforehand as if to foreshadow the insults to come.

We had only two days before we had to leave Ireland and about 4 hours of free time. Why not drive to the Cliffs of Moher, where the wind speeds must have been 40-60 mph?

Everyone agreed, so off we went, the van looking like a demolition derby car.

Maybe it was the GPS and its Irish brogue. Maybe it was that several members in the far back seat of the van had started nipping at last night’s left over wine and cheese.  Maybe it was lack of concentration.

All I know is that before we knew it, we were on a single track road with one blind turn after another passing lovely Irish estates. No one seemed to be concerned but me. I politely suggested honking the horn around said blind curves but was ignored.

Suffice to say, we made it to the Cliffs of Moher. Aside from my 107-lb body almost being blown off a cliff, seeing these magnificent cliffs was worth the long drive. Please note the tiny people on the first big cliff to get a sense of scale. Such is the power of the Atlantic to erode.


We headed to Limerick, a stopping place to spend the night and ready ourselves for our flight to Scotland from Shannon Airport. One member of the family began making up limericks about two hours before our arrival and would not stop his merrymaking. (This is the same family member who was at the wine and cheese. He suggested that each of us create our own limerick to recite to the receptionist upon arrival.

At this point, you can imagine where that suggestion went.P1120799




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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?



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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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