Security Sisters

by cheri

I remember when Charles Schultz suggested that  security was “a thumb and a blanket.”

For me, security is still closely related to touch and sound.

Things soft–my lambs wool robe, downy slippers, Italian cotton blouses, and silk pillowcases.

Things consistent—ocean swells, one after another, crashing in on a breezy Aptos beach; Tahoe snowflakes falling silently, dusting my ski hat white; rows of Sonoma grapevines awaiting their September due dates, their harvest swelling, ripe, and heavy; hummingbirds in the summer sun, whizzing close to my ear, a two-ship reverie.

Our olive trees- capricious teenagers across the creek, swaying in the East Bay winds, their silvery-green hair decorated with budding fruit; the little creek chitchatting with the rocks as it heads downhill,as it has for 100 years, toward a brackish Bay



Security is five new cameras, like film directors, capturing all movement outside my fences, inside my house, recording license plate numbers, hikers, gawkers, loiterers, and sadly, those up to no good.

The cameras, fresh out of their sterile boxes, introduce themselves to the fertile walnut, the stately sycamore, and the feminine locust tree  who have reluctantly agreed to host them; three lenses perched high above the human eye, three Big voyeuristic Sisters, recording all movement, from squirrel to Jeep.

A new clinical layer adds itself to the soft texture of the Rancho.

Life moves on.



Posted in Growing Olives, Life, My childhood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Other Half-Circle of Hell


Two Marine iguanas from the Galapagos Islands

by cheri

Someone stole one of my blue ceramic pots from a small arched alcove up by our gate. To take the pot, the thief had to wriggle it  through Spanish iron. This is the second theft I have experienced in two months–first my wallet from my purse in Chicago and now, a simple cobalt blue pot. I thought, “Why wasn’t that rattlesnake I killed in my garage last month coiled under the alcove? Why wasn’t I looking at my security camera with a loaded shotgun?

I was so mad that I took my dog for a walk up the road at a brisk pace.

A sweet and gentle  woman who lives on our road stopped to say hello as she drove home from work. I lamented and vented. She suggested that I just “give up the pot” to that person.

This type of thinking, while a way to unload frustration and Buddhist in nature, runs counter to my whole existence.

“NO!” I said. ” Are you kidding me? The person who took my pot is a thief. That person deserves to go to that part of Hell reserved for those who take others’ personal property.”

While yammering there on the road to a woman who, in her last life was that of a sweet doe, I found myself up in one of the oak trees, looking down on a 10-year-old girl, with straight hair and bangs, trying to make a point on the playground to a bossy group of 6th grade boys. Such emphasis!

I think I scared her. Actually, I know I scared her. I asked her if she had read Dante’s Inferno? She said no. I suggested that a 13th-century treatise on morality might be important to have under one’s literary belt.

Ho hum.

If she had had her fawn with her, they would have leaped up the dead-grassy side of the hill, nosed hysterically through the barbed-wire in a panic, and trotted gracefully, as deer do, away from that little human with tremendous emotion.

I continued to march up the road, yellow Labrador in hand, hoping that the thief would find herself with other thieves in the Malebolge of the 8th Circle of Dante’s Hell, holding my blue pot, caught blue-handed. In that bulge would be snakes and dragons. She  would find herself bitten by dragons and snakes incessantly.

When I studied the Inferno in Fiesole, Italy, sixteen years ago, it was the Malebolge that captured my imagination. There, deep in the bowels of a fiery earthen cavern, lay ten darkened ditches  reserved for the worst sinners–flatterers, hypocrites, sorcerers, and thieves. These sludgy trenches led to the infamous 9th Circle of Hell where the worst of the worst were.

Perhaps, as you are reading, you are thinking that I am a bit dramatic–that this is an overreaction to the theft of a small nothing. That I should “let it go.”

I am not a doe.

I am a hot dragon. Well, a small hot dragon.




Posted in Life, My childhood, On fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

The Library Project


The Rotunda of the British Museum

by cheri sabraw

Today, many of us  still maintain and adore our libraries full of  hard-bound and paperback books,  testaments to classes we have taken,  reminders of our deep and abiding interests and loves, literary tickets to those unspoken desires or journeys we have imagined.


One hundred years from now, our  libraries may  become historical curiosities– old friends that have disappeared into the annals of time, like my hot hair rollers, tiny 1963 transistor radio,  45 rpm record of Leslie Gore’s It’s My Party , or the red rotary telephone that hung like a piece of modern art on the floral wallpaper that decorated our kitchen in 1960.


I have a virtual library on my iPad, with all of my purchased books–histories, mysteries–congeries of my deepest interests and a few wild stories that no one knows I am reading.

Take heart. We are not the only people in history whose physical libraries  have changed.


King Ashurbanipal (as viewed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Last month, while visiting the British Museum, I came upon this installation, right after seeing the Rosetta Stone, Were you to have visited King Ashurbanipal’s library in ancient Nineveh (Upper Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq) in about 640 BCE, this is what you would have seen.


The Library Project (as seen in the British Museum, June, 2016)

In his library was one of the complete sets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, twelve tablets written in approximately 1800 BCE and considered by many to be the first important work of literature.


Part of the Epic of Gilgamesh (as seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I read the Epic of Gilgamesh as part of my Master’s curricula in 2009 and summarized, on this blog,  just part the strangely modern story. If you are interested in reading all of it, I recommend this translation.


“The story that is now playing in my imagination was first written sometime between 1800-1600 BCE. That’s about 3800 years ago.

That it showcases a handsome king, that this king misdirects his passions, that he suffers a deep emotional crisis which sends him on an archetypal journey in search of immortality, that he returns to his city a wise but lonely character— reinforces our humanness.

The king’s name is Gilgamesh. He was a real person who lived during the Early Dynastic II period (2700-2100 BCE) in the city of Uruk in Sumer, the earliest known civilization in human history.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an old poem written on clay tablets in cuneiform a long time ago— before the Hebrew Bible, before the New Testament, before the Bhagavad Gita, before the Buddhist scriptures, and before Homer’s The Odyssey.

Archeologists found the twelve-tablet story in the Library of King Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE)

First translated into English in 1885, the Epic was written in the Mesopotamian language of Akkadian, one of the languages spoken in Ancient Babylonia, now present day Iraq.

The King Gilgamesh in the poem is a mythological one, 2/3 god and 1/3 human.

As with most who enter or are born into public service or royalty (think the Windsors, the Roosevelts ), Gilgamesh has, in modern parlance, issues.

He suffers from what many of today’s teenagers and 20-somethings expect: instant gratification. But hey, he’s a studly king, admired by Ishtar, the Love and War Goddess. He erects monuments, participates in contests of strength, and regularly sleeps with virgins the night before their weddings.

He has it all. All except friendship and perspective.

Instead of inflicting him with a venereal disease or a vulnerable spot that is his undoing, as with the Greek Achilles or the biblical Samson, the Mesopotamian Gods put their heads together and with a big Marine oorah,  and came up with what might be one of the most creative solutions in all of literature: they create a complement to Gilgamesh, the Wild Man of Mesopotamia, Enkidu.

Enkidu is Rousseau’s man: a natural guy, comfortable running with gazelle and resting by cool watering holes. All eight pistons are operational but his brain power is simple and functional. How to bring a guy like this to the palace for a visit?

In the forest one day, Enkidu startles a trapper, who then returns home to ask his father what to do about this hairy beast who is 2/3 animal and 1/3 man, a hybrid that has been setting the animals free from the traps.

The trapper’s father suggests that his son travel to Uruk where  King Gilgamesh, the strong and virile, lives. Perhaps the King might have a solution.”


If you want to know what happens, you will have to read the story. Its modern implications are many.

My Library Project.

Is  to organize my library alphabetically, by author. I think I’ll start this winter, when the skies turn grey, the days shorten, and when my natural inclination to ponder serious topics occurs.

This morning, I organized the library on my iPad by pressing a button.

King Ashurbanipal? His library is being organized by young scholars (and old) at the British Museum.






Posted in Education, Life, On fiction, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

The Gym


by cheri

It has been 10 months since I entered a space wholly unfamiliar to me. A space where iron clanks.

I can now do ten push-ups. My biceps I can see. My triceps are another story, still hidden by flesh that believes itself to be important.

My quads will now let me sit against a wall for a minute. I can run on the treadmill for 30 minutes easily. I may be 65, but I feel 51.

I am late to the party, I realize. Many of you have worked out for years. My good friends Muni, Ken G., Bill, Cindy U., Ken B., Sharon , Ben,  Jim, Gary W., Tiffany L. and a host of other people who occasionally read this blog, have pounded the pavement, climbed the hills, walked the trails, swum the waves, pushed the pedals, and pumped the weights.

So, now I am one of you, albeit not as fit (yet).

My question: what keeps you going back to endure the pain? I think I know the answers but want to hear from you.



Posted in Life | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Where we find ourselves, 2016


by cheri block sabraw

My great-grandparents came to the United States from several places—Lithuania and Germany. They came in the late 19th century to New Orleans, Louisiana, and through Ellis Island, New York. They came, as I have been told, to make a better life for themselves and their children. They came without much, worked extremely hard, secured an education, and touted the United States as the greatest country on earth. They were entrepeneurs, haberdashers, doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, and teachers. They were self-made people.

No one promised them success or “stuff.” They had to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. Hard work was an obligation, not a choice. In fact, hard work was a credit to the family.

Whether you were a Pole, a Russian, a German, or an Irishman was not of particular import. What was important was the embrace—of a new country that offered hard-working people a chance. Whether you were a Catholic, Protestant, or Jew really didn’t count on the success side of the ledger.

Today, many people around the world have lost their ways, content to suck off whatever the system will provide them without much work. Litigants, migrants, recipients—all working the system because they feel entitled to “stuff.”

Those of us who have worked slavishly to make whatever success we enjoy are somehow “bad guys.” We must have ripped someone off, or suppressed a race or gender in order to be where we are. We owe others. We have made it because we are not black, female, gay, or disabled.

The world-wide battle cry is “Support me!” Support my disability, my race, my gender, my helplessness, my ADHD, my autism, my allergies, my lawsuit. “Support me!”

Many world leaders now are scrambling to collect their little covey of quail who run haphazardly, frightened and brainwashed, who believe that the only way to get ahead is to be a victim. Road-kill.

There are still a few independent voices but they are dimming.

I find it pathetic and dispiriting.

Blamers, all of you.

Where is your dignity?

I know, someone took it. It’s never your fault.

Posted in Life, People, Politics | Tagged , , | 33 Comments

Lively London




by cheri

We had it easy last week, settling into a comfortable seat, sipping a glass of rose wine, while experiencing the Eurostar train descend from daylight into  darkness. We had left Fraaaance and had come to conquer London—seat of the unmatched Winston Churchill, the English monarchy, famous cathedrals and  fish and chips (in no order of importance)—and we were on route in much the same way another dynamic conqueror had come 950 years before across the English Channel. Well, sort of.

My husband fell asleep, lulled by the rhythm of the train and seduced by the darkness all around. He may have been tired because he was coerced into taking a French cooking class.

I sat wide awake and let my imagination run back to 1066 CE when one of the most dynamic and ruthless leaders of all time—Duke William of Normandy—commandeered his flotilla of over 600 ships, laden with war horses and men, and all the accouterments of war, across the English Channel to invade England in what most of us know to be the Battle of Hastings. He finished off the unlucky and decent English King Harold and marched into London, through Southwark, and held his coronation on Christmas Day, 1066, in Westminster Abbey.


Westminster Abbey, built in approximately 1275 CE


As we rode into London( by car instead of destrier),  we found her  to be energetic, hip, chic, and  magnificent. The Queen’s 90th Jubilee brought thousands of well-wishers and two unsuspecting tourists into a sea of cheering humanity, picnics on the Mall, and a St. James Park in full bloom.


Our friends from the blogging world and now from London, Richard and Glenys, took us on a historic walking tour during which we visited  the Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror in 1078, The Old George, a pub frequented by Shakespeare and Dickens, and  Southwark Cathedral, among many other stops. How Richard and Glenys walk so many miles without aching feet, I do not know. We ended our visit with fish and chips, beer and wine.


My husband and I visited the British Museum the next day to see the contents of an undisturbed Viking  burial mound unearthed  in 1939 at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia. Think Beowulf and the hoard. The ship itself was similar in construction to some of those that the shipwrights working for Duke William constructed for the Channel crossing.


This is the headpiece found in the burial site at Sutton Hoo, dating back to approximately 600 CE.

Oh, I could post the picture of some of the 250 naked men who rode down the side streets after the Queen’s Jubilee but I think not.

Instead, I’ll leave you with the sweetest image…of British schoolboys visiting the British Museum with their headmaster. I couldn’t help but compare their demeanor and dress with American junior high school students. I don’t think I’ve ever seen junior high boys in slacks and shirts!


Next post: the Churchill War Rooms and Olive Christopher



Posted in Education, Life, My photography, People, Politics, The Bayeux Tapestry, The Dragon in the Lobby: a fairytale about Assisted Living | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Petula Clark?

by cheri

I was so hoping to regale you with my report of Prime Minister Cameron’s answers to questions he fielded yesterday at 1:00 pm in the House of Commons. We just missed securing a seat in the gallery after waiting in a comfortable area, seated on a leather bench with heat flowing under our calves. Not to be.

“Oh well,” I sighed, and began to imagine how the  grand Westminster Hall, built by William II, the son of William the Conqueror (or Bastard, depending on your politics), might have looked in 1093.

Outside, the sun illuminated the gothic spires of the Parliament Building and of Westminster Abbey, right across the street. The Westminster Bridge seemed a perfect destination to evade the hoards of people swarming each intersection and tourist site.

On the bridge, I would be able to take a perfect picture of  the Parliament Building.

We were greeted with a hearty collection of vocal English men and women holding “Leave” signs looking over the bridge and down to the Thames, where fishing boats, small dinghies, and private boats circled by Parliament.



Then, a large cabin cruiser glided into the mix of boats with music blaring. Was I on a Petula Clark memory lane? The melody burst out of a sophisticated loud speaker:

“I’m in with the in crowd, I go where the in crowd goes…”

These party-goers were the Remainers, the In-Crowd.

The lady standing next to me, smoking–a hardscrabble woman whose hands and face were deeply lined and sun-damaged–told me that those people in the cabin cruiser were the “rich people” who want to stay in the EU because of their financial interests.

All around us were regular working-class people who want to exit the European Union, concerned about the easy and fluid immigration that is changing the British culture and the lives they had expected to live in their communities.

I could relate to what they were complaining about.




Posted in Life | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

A Tartuffian Enterprise

by cheri

Moliere’s 17th-century comedy Tartuffe is about the character Tartuffe who ensconces himself into Orgon’s house as a deeply religious man and then seduces Orgon’s wife, Elmire. Since its first stage debut in 1664, the word tartuffe has come to symbolize hypocrisy, particularly in those who use religious doctrine as a social or political tool to get what they want.

It could be argued that the hero of Stendhal’s 1830 novel, The Red and the Black, Julien Sorel, is a twitchy little scheming tartuffe in his own right. And a very successful one indeed, until the end of the novel, that is, when his head rolls from the guillotine. His second mistress, Mathilde-a sort of modern day self-absorbed drama queen with gorgeous blue eyes and other curvaceous attributes, steals  Julien’s severed head and buries it. His first mistress, the married M. de Renal, dies within three days of Julien’s death. This ending surely will be one of the subjects of the seminar in soggy Paris beginning on Monday evening.

Despite some of the psychological redundancy and overkill that Stendhal infuses into the young priest Julien, who impresses his employers with his photographic memory of the Bible and his ability to speak in Latin,  I am willing to consider the many themes intended for us, Stendhal’s  readers. I am always ready to consider.

To that point, each of us brings our life experience to the table when discussing a novel. Did we achieve our societal goals? Our materialistic goals? Do we agree with the politics of the time? Are we in business-like marriages? Are we religious? Would we like to take the arm of someone who isn’t our spouse and sneak away into a garden for a lot of fun? In our discussions, we also bring our secrets, which  remain secret in such discussions, but which often influence our reactions to the plot, the characters, and the takeaway.

Stendhal’s The Red and the Black is a piece of historical fiction about so many things–the political landscape of post-Napoleonic France between 1815-1830, the attempts at upward mobility by the young hero, a liberal son of a country carpenter,  the many tartuffes that pervade French society at the time (and of course today as well) ,  the role of 19th-century French women and the art (or lack thereof) of seduction, and infidelity.

I wonder how many tartuffes will be around the table?



Posted in Education, People, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

My first shooting lesson

by cheri


I burned all of the muscle energy allotted to a 105-pounder after my first lesson with Paul at the indoor gun range today.

Holding the small 20-gauge shotgun out in front of me, rotating it to the side, positioning it in that little hollow space between my shoulder muscle and my pectoral muscle, squeezing those muscles together, bringing my elbow to my body,  standing in a  Kung-Fu Panda position with my weight equally spread out over both legs, leaning forward, squinting down the flinty muzzle to the tiny bead at its end, and finally pulling the trigger, only to be knocked back a bit–all of this stimulation sucked all glycogen out of every muscle cell I have.

Thank god I’ve been working out. This lesson, however, revealed weaknesses in my workouts–namely, my arm strength (or lack thereof). I need to be able to do 25 pushups.

How John Wayne rode his horse at a full gallop in True Grit, shooting two shotguns at one time, I will never know.

To recover, I came home and inhaled two fresh fish tacos. More protein, my body commanded!

Note: The target above was only 7 yards away. Don’t be too impressed.






Posted in Education, Life | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

I love Flipboard!


by cheri

Today, I just couldn’t decide which article to read: how about ” Five Gadgets that Can Help You Relax” or  “How to Deep Condition Hair with Olive Oil” ?  Maybe I should sip my dark roast while reading “FYI: You Can Make Dog Food in a Slow Cooker.”

I’m logged into my go-to-news source, Flipboard, and even though it is headquartered in Shallow Alto, it offers the reader a  choice not to be force-fed a newsroom director’s decision about what is news.

This new way of aggregating what I read has fertilized my attitude.


“Where do you read your news, mom? ” my son Ben asked as we shared a cup of coffee in Portland, Oregon last winter. The rain whispered down softly. The grey skies mirrored my mood.

I leaned in to his handsome face and warm brown eyes and observed,

“That’s a pertinent question. I’m not sure anymore.”

(Before I continue, let me share that I have some experience in assessing a news feed. I taught journalism for 16 years at a top U.S. public high school. My students were frisky and precocious, the type of people I enjoy. The Smoke Signal  won a number of awards for innovative but fair journalism. Of that, I am proud.)

But. Is journalism today fair? Is fairness in the newsroom considered an attribute?

I would argue that today’s journalism, for the most part– be it print, digital, or broadcast– is about furthering political, lifestyle, environmental, and business agendas, to name a few.

You know, the type of reporting that used to fall under Opinion, now resides under News.

Ben suggested I download the app Flipboard after I observed to him that Google News is biased, the WSJ is predictable and boring, and the NYT is so far left (even in their news section) that I find myself grinding my teeth just reading the headlines. The Economist likes to pretend that it is unbiased but it is not—inside most articles are the correspondents’ not-so-hidden beliefs, tucked in by use of adjective or example. Fox News is as fair and balanced as the slot machines at Harrah’s, Lake Tahoe.

The best thing about Flipboard is that I choose what categories of news or opinion or feature that I like. Some of you know me well; others, from afar; others, not at all.

Can you guess what my feeds are? Here they are:

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 2.23.08 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 2.22.51 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 2.22.35 PMThese are just a few of the feeds I follow.

If you think I might like one that you follow, please let me know.








Posted in Education, Life, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments