My machinations

by cheri block

Nineteen days after my 10th birthday, I hunkered down in our darkish den to watch the Twilight Zone. With me, were my eight-year-old brother Stevie and my four-year-old sister, Cindy. My mother had just given birth to Jimmie, eleven days earlier. She was somewhere in the house crying.

Had she not been postpartum, I’m sure she  would not have allowed the three of us to watch such a scary show.

I have Jimmie’s birth, then, to blame for my concerns about the reliability of machinery.

That night in 1960, I remember settling into a frumpy faux-leather sofa with scratchy pillows and a throw, covered with dog hair,  wedged down between the cushions. My younger siblings and I sat on that Gas Chamber-green sofa with our two German Shepherds, Dickens and Galaxy. At least we had protection.

That night, the episode, titled A Thing About Machines, scared the holy crap out of all three of us. When Mr. Finchley’s appliances turned against him and began to attack , I remember telling Stevie, “ Don’t ever put your hand into a garbage disposal again!”

Eventually, Finchley’s razor slides down the bannister and Finchley bolts. His car chases him into a pool where he drowns. He had, however, consumed alcohol.

Taking my bath that night, I remember wondering if the drain would suck me down with the water. And then there was the hair dryer. It all was too much for a little girl with a prodigious imagination.

My teenage years gave me little relief from those memories. I wondered if the chair lift at Tahoe Ski Bowl would suddenly rebel against its keepers and fling my brother and me down onto the tops of Douglas fir trees. Would my family motor boat, the SIX BLOX, circle around like a shark, while I was waiting to be picked up after falling on my water skis, and then run over me, shredding me like lettuce? Would my Willy’s 44 Army Jeep make a disobedient left turn and head up to frigid Quail Lake despite my braking?

I am happy to report to you, my readers, that now that I am a big girl, I rarely think about machines going rogue. Oh sure, every now and then in the BART tube under the Bay, I push away distant memories of that particular Twilight Zone Episode.

But, curiously, yesterday, I found myself transmogrified into the body of a Yellow Labrador Retriever.

It started when I turned on the vacuum.




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The lament of the candle makers


Tindaro Screpolato, a sculpture in the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy


by cheri sabraw

I taught Journalism I and II to precocious high school juniors and seniors for thirteen years (1985-1998) and served as the advisor to the newspaper staff.

You can imagine the decade-long censorial tussles, the moral dilemmas, and the delicate dance that I engaged in with my headstrong students. That dance– akin to a waltz when I agreed to the job was, in reality, more like a complex rumba.

During my tenure as advisor, my many staffs and I argued about stories concerning how much to print about a teacher’s death by overdose, whether the decision to print a silly quotation by a freshman about seeing his mother naked was inappropriate and libelous, about whether issuing the custodial staff a “D” in our annual report card was accurate and fair, about how to cover a teacher’s strike when the journalism advisor herself had chosen to come into work, and in one case, about a suggestive photograph in a hot tub. (Luckily, the journalism advisor was not in that tub…)

On the first day of class each year, I liked to begin our year-long  Saga of Free Speech with a discussion of what constituted “responsible journalism.”

And so.

I would begin by telling this little ditty:

The day in 1879 that Thomas Alva Edison and his scientists in Menlo Park, N.J., turned on the first incandescent light bulb, one that would last for more than 13 hours, was a momentous moment for all of mankind.

Before long, after  the news had spread throughout the township and in the scientific community, the reporters began to arrive in droves, eager to report on the dawn of an illuminated world.

Mr. Edison, after hours upon hours testing carbon wire in the laboratory, took the first question from an eager reporter:

 Mr. Edison, have you been in touch with the candle makers? Do you realize this invention will put them out of business? Are you concerned about the candle makers?


This story, along with a reading of Mark Twain’s short story The Stolen White Elephant (in which Twain lampoons the reporters’ inability to keep a secret and the detectives’ penchant for following dead-end leads rather than open their eyes and look), provided a perfect opening to a wide-ranging discussion about the role of the news reporter.

 “News reporters are to keep most adjectives and adverbs out of their stories,” I said, “the goal is to report news in an objective fashion so that your readers can draw their own conclusions. You are not to lead your readers in a direction you think they should go. That would be biased. If you want to influence reader opinion, then consider joining the editorial staff.”

Were I teaching today, I would have my students scan the Google News Feed, where headlines from the NY Times, the Washington Post, and other “news” outlets (even fake news outlets as Facebook has streamed) try to influence reader opinion by dressing up News in an Editorial costume.

Sadly,  we’ve become accustomed to this Mardi Gras of Free Speech, which, while creative, is anything but accurate.

This past election period seemed like a frenzied climax of reporter hustling.

Never, in any other election I have witnessed, has such an obvious press bias been so apparent. We expect this from the New York Times but from the Wall Street Journal?

Perhaps the Biggest Loser of this past election period was not the Democratic Party; rather, it was the press, which thought we Americans were stupid enough to believe what it said was the truth.

Let’s see.

How did those candle makers get out of bed the next morning?


Cheri and Martin Q. assessing the sculpture, 2014

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Capturing the best of life


Bunny and kitten, Labrador and Butterfly, by c. sabraw 2016

by cheri sabraw

I paint from photography in an effort to capture the essence of the photo and to enjoy myself, my mind far from the stresses of life.

In the case of these two paintings, done at the request of my two granddaughters, I learned how difficult it is to replicate a kitten’s nose or a dog’s tongue. I am humbled (sniff, sniff, lick, lick).

Saliva on coal-black lips, the tenuous and translucent nature of butterfly wings,the marble orbs of a rabbit and the soft pink spot in a kitten’s ear–all call into question the artist’s ability to paint  what she sees and to see what she paints.

And in the process, I have begun to scrutinize animals’ noses and tongues.


Highway 25, East of King City, Ca by c. sabraw 2016

And then there’s the technical challenge of  shadows, textured grasses, worn fence posts,  small trees and tiny steers on Highway 25, east of King City, CA. A blue sky? How to do it? Cerulean blue?

Now, as I make my way down our long and barbed-wired fenced road– the spikes and dips, iron wrinkles and old posts, who gather the iron in their arms and pull them tight–they speak to me and beckon a painting.

And what about heading west toward the town of Tehachapi at dusk, following a convoy of trucks on its way to the Coast.


A fiery orange sky, a silvery reflection, black pavement disciplined with bright lines of demarcation that remind the weary driver to stay in his lane.




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Dudes. The sky is not falling.


Omaha Beach, Normandy, 2010 photo by c. sabraw

by cheri sabraw

Sometimes elections do not go our way. Sometimes they do. It’s the ebb and flow of our democracy in which, unfortunately, Maturity and Critical Thinking are not mandated by our Constitution.

I remember when Obama secured his second term: I opened my eyes on the day after the election, felt a pang of concern about the future of the Republic and of the Supreme Court, got out of my bed, readied myself for the day, and went to my office.

To work.

Even though the election had not gone my way, even though we had elected a president who would, at times, ignore the law and write his own executive orders, I trusted the system to purge when needed.

Oh sure.

I felt like looting that day. I even considered running into the middle of the Sunol Grade on Highway 680 and stopping cars. Topless.

I felt like kicking a stick or swatting a fly—Obama’s rhetoric had been as hollow as  Daisy Buchanan’s—but I had students to teach, employees to guide, and parents to counsel.

Besides, I’d give Mr. Obama another chance because that is type of girl I am.

Life went on as it always does.  You know how that goes:

You want to make a quesadilla and find a package of shredded cheese with an appropriate expiration date at the bottom of the meats and cheese drawer in your refrigerator only to discover that it has begun to mold.

So you improvise and use hummus instead. You move on.

Of course. (Now get a grip)

There have been times in history when staying in bed over an outcome, hand-wringing until your knuckles are raw, popping tranquilizers, or moving out of your home country to Jupiter  (Cher and Streisand, you idiots)–might seem appropriate. Serious times in history or in your own life. I, myself, can think of a hundred examples.


Can you imagine this type of hyperbole during World War II? Can you visualize the Greatest Generation stopping traffic on 680?

Or better yet, can you visualize the millenials who vandalized the Pearl District of Portland storming the beaches at Normandy?


Omaha Beach as seen from the American Cemetery, Normandy, France 2010

Dudes. The sky is not falling. Only your entitlements are going away.

As someone I know said, “They (the Millenials) just want their binkies.”











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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.




Posted in Life, My childhood, People | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

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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