The Bayeux Tapestry and the Channel Crossing

212F2471-B9C0-4B9D-986A-761D429DDD6FPainting a sassy little filly this past week took my mind back to this post, which I repost in case you missed it the first time.

Notes from Around the Block

imagesby cheri block sabraw

In the dark winter of 2010, I listened to an engaging lecture on the Bayeux Tapestry given by Dr. Linda Paulson of Stanford University. On the screen behind the professor, colorful photos of the Tapestry moved from left to right reminding me of a medieval comic strip. The brightly colored panels of embroidery, depicting among many other things, the oath that Harold Godwin took  in 1064 in the presence of Duke William of Normandy, captivated me.  When Harold became King instead of Duke William, the oath became central to William’s decision to invade England from across the channel.

To accompany this segment of her class entitled War, Dr. Paulson assigned British  historian David Howarth’s short novel  titled 1066.  As the course progressed, she selected a number of insightful and well-written  books about war from Agincourt to Hastings, from Waterloo to the Civil War, and from World…

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Edna Mode


by Cheri E. Mode

My new, young dental hygienist told my brother, the dentist, that I scared her.

I was, well, shocked beyond shocked. OMG. A kind, funny, focused person like me–petite, interested, interesting, conversant, curious, and focused (did I say that already?) person SCARED her?

She did not tell me face-to page-boy, owl-eyed face.

No, scared people rarely do that; rather, they tell someone else.

The next visit to the hygienist, I said, ” I hear you are afraid of me. Why?”

To her credit, she stepped into the picture like an animated Hun.

“Have you seen The Incredibles movie? “she asked, and then offered her reasoning as a doctoral student would do to the committee of which it is so petrified.

“Do you know who Edna Mode is? From The Incredibles?” and with that, whipped out her cell phone and produced a picture of a little woman dressed in a black dress, black tights and sporting large round black specs.”

“No, I have not seen The Incredibles, ” I admitted, already making plans with Netflix for the night.

“Well, Cheri, Edna is focused and doesn’t take any S_ _ _ from anyone,” she stated so matter-of-factly that I clamped down on the whirling whizzy tool she was using to polish my focused white teeth.

“So that I may better understand you, am I correct in saying that you are not afraid of people who are scattered and malleable? ” I said, in between spitting in the bowl.

I watched The Incredibles, studied Edna Mode, and returned to the dental office, dressed in black, with a pencil behind my ear and a spring in my step.

As the hygeniest entered the waiting room to call her next incredible patient (me), I jumped out from behind the fish tank, just to the left of the coffee machine, and before the coffee table filled with dental implant magazines covering an occasion USC Trojan sports schedule.

” Are you still afraid of me?” I teased, ” and to her point I stated, “Don’t you see that Edna Mode is perhaps the best character in The Incredibles? She’s not scary at all! Rather, she has opinions, a work ethic, and a soul.”


(Let it be said here that Edna Mode, I understand, is patterned after the Hollywood Legend of fashion design, Edith Head)



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A simpler life

by cheri sabraw

Ordering a cup of coffee and a latte in Montana is an intimate experience.


Billings, Montana. We are in the grey car. Why ever go to Starbucks after this experience?

Driving off the highway and taking a conference call can be intimate as well.


Twenty miles from Cody, Wyoming.

Old cottonwood trees stand like sentries on deserted rural roads.


Rocks, sagebrush, grasses, cottonwoods and mountains remind we harried city-dwellers that a different way of life does exist in Wyoming.


We spot a huge nest built by a Charles Dickens’ architect atop a power pole. Upon closer examination, we see an osprey mother and her two chicks, seafarers looking for fish on the Shoshone River.



On the way to Cody, Wyoming, we are surprised to see a red rock bear paw on the side of the mountain, holding up the carpet of sage.


It’s windy in Wyoming and Montana. Here in Cody, the locals prepare for a nightly rodeo. We decide against attending; instead, we watch the flags ripple and wind swirl from a dusty deck.


We arrive at the iconic Murray Hotel in Livingston, Montana, where we understand personalities such as Sam Peckinpah, Robert Redford, the Queen of Denmark, and others have stayed. The rooms are quaint but small. The elevator hails from 1905 so in order to ride it, one of the employees must take you up.


From the Murray, we drive through the Paradise Valley, Montana. From this location, Yellowstone National Park is very close.

We leave Montana and head to Colorado.

After a long two days of driving, we arrive in Eagle Colorado, just in time to appreciate our friends’ glorious aspen trees and a marvelous concert at Bravo! Vail.


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The Disappointment Gene



by cheri sabraw

I’ve written about certain genetic mutations in my family which have manifest themselves in dramatic behavior rather than in physical maladies. You may remember that my Grandmother Rosalie (1900-1992 A.D.) passed down FFN Syndrome to me.

My mother Joan, the first member of the family to openly exhibit the symptoms of the Disappointment Gene (DG), expected polite behavior from her husband and children, reciprocation of dinner invitations and thank-you notes, a sincere interest from strangers in her well-being, a sagacious ability to just “know” how she was feeling, and worst of all, a genuine appreciation for her efforts and love. What a set-up for misery!

Very soon in Joan and Hugh’s family of four selfish and precocious children, it became apparent that she had DG and  we did not.

A sad  look would begin to spread all over her petite face when we didn’t meet expectation, which was as often as human breath. She would sigh and look up to the sky or over to Dad as if hoping that we were at a séance and in the presence of Edgar Cayce.

Surely when one puts such effort into being the best Joan/Mom she can be, her children and husband would naturally recognize such angelic predisposition and maybe, just maybe, thank her, bring her flowers, offer to empty the dishwasher or clean up the dog poop, or fold the mountains of laundry that had built up daily like an Alaskan snow drift.

Like or 23andMe, one might begin to wonder about our ancestors and what  goodies they have left on our double helix.

I realized I had DG while a member of the public school system as a child and later as a teacher. Why was my 7th Grade English teacher so boring? And years later, why do some members of my English Department not correct papers and still keep their jobs?

Despite the animus that erupts when infected with DG, there is an upside: those of us who have this gene perform way ahead of most other people. Our expectations for ourselves do not find us at Base Camp. No, No. We summit. We not only summit, we do it without oxygen. But we may need a psychologist after the climb.

The therapeutic process tells us that when expectations aren’t met, like a bad meal at a highly rated restaurant, we are told to lower them. That’s right. Accept mediocrity and over-dressed salad. Instead of being purple or red, we are told to be beige. Be a Buddhist: have no hope and you will never be disappointed.

Joan, wherever you are at the summit, you will be distressed to learn that you have passed DG on to your great granddaughter.

This past week, we had the pleasure of visiting our two adorable granddaughters in Portland, ages 7 and 5.

We planned a movie night in which the whole family would descend to the play room, eat pizza and guzzle milk (wine), enjoy a movie together, and cuddle up in blankies and pillows.

Somehow, the adults did not make it down in time.

As we guiltily went down the stairs, on the sofa, was a sad face that I recognized, full of disappointment, tears brimming over those luscious green eyes.

“This is NOT what I expected; this is NOT a family movie night” she stated as if arguing a seminal case in front of the Supreme Court.

“Come over here to Grandma Cheri, ” I said. ” I totally understand how you feel. You were expecting all of us to eat pizza together and watch a movie but it didn’t happen.”

Just the utterance “It didn’t happen” sent this child into a paroxysm of angst.

An old remedy wafted into the room.

“I have an idea!” I said, “We still have one more night together!! We can try again tomorrow night!!!

I, of all people, understood. The Disappointment Gene had flared up in a familiar time-honored way.




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Last night on the front porch…



by cheri

After an almost life-ending battle with bloat in May, our Labrador retriever Dinah is now on a low-fat gastrointestinal veterinary dog food, the price of which will remain between me and me. She has lost 12 pounds and as happens when one loses old-age weight, she has become more energetic and resourceful.

But let me be clear: she has lost one of her favorite daily activities– freedom to wander our property, all five acres, looking for tasty morsels of whatever. I use the catch-all term whatever because Dinah’s culinary tastes have always been eclectic and, truthfully, disgusting with a capital D. When she was retching her guts out in May, she heaved enough aluminum foil to cover a Thanksgiving turkey.

His Honor, in all his wisdom, asked from his easy chair, ” Where would she have gotten foil? ” Duh.
“Some idiot walking or driving the road must have thrown it over our fence, Your Holiness.”

So it goes.

In her youth, she ate part of a squirrel that had fallen out of a tree and half a rat which our cat, now in Feline Hell, had killed. I’ve written about these escapades in the past and should you want to gross out a grandchild or an annoying wife or husband, you can search my blog.

But for now.

Each morning and night Dinah is escorted in chains out of the house to “do her business” on a leash attached to an arm of a woman in a robe.

Her canine olfactory radar always on high alert, she senses owl pellets, turkey poop, or some other mystery meat from a mile away. Straining at the leash, she hopes the woman in the robe will trip, releasing her to make a beeline for said nightly snack.

By day, Dinah is now confined to a lovely patio where, through her wrought-iron prison, she can only hope and dream of her former freedoms, much like the prisoners at Folsom Prison did when Johnny Cash rolled out the line, “…I bet there’s rich folks eating from a fancy dining car…”

Dinah no longer jumps the creek and trots into the olive orchard to scavenge for tidbits or olive pits.

Last night, Dinah plunged to a new low.

“Your honor, the woman in the robe thought,  last night, after watching the newest episode of the Great British Baking Show, Dinah nosed your hand and licked it.”

I was going to suggest that you wash that hand, but alas, I didn’t want to hear a repeat of your chorus of you, yourself, and ya’ll  in an excoriating bad-mouthing of my dog.

Last night, when the lady in the robe took the starving prisoner out for her nightly constitution, something happened so fast that truthfully, your honor I have no idea whatsoever what occurred or did not occur or maybe never occurred.

I opened the door, it was dark, stepped out with Dinah, and in the time it takes a Venus Fly Trap to suck in a fly, Dinah surged toward  a post holding up our portico and ate something the size of small frog that was sitting at the base of the post.

“OMG,” I said to her outside. ” What in the hell was THAT?”

As with most incarcerated beings, she took the Fifth.


On the longest day of the year


“Contentment”  oil on linen  12×16  2018

by cheri sabraw

…we ventured into the olive orchard to inspect the trees, their tiny olives, and the gorgeous view.

We remembered the erudite and classy Charles Krauthammer, who so many in public life, might try to emulate. His wit, intelligence, measured comment and humor will be missed, at least in this household.

Dying at 68 years old is far too young for one who has  endured more than his fair share of physical challenges. As we say in Jewish mourning, ” May his memory be a blessing.”


We drove over to the orchard in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and hopped out.

The orchard looks magnificent except…

about 1/3 of the trees do not have any olives growing on them this season. We do not know why. Pollination? Water? Global warming (LOL)? Still, this lovely view of the last peachy rays of the sun on the longest day of the year overrides any disappointment about the upcoming fall harvest.

And then, approaching this day…

for the first time ever, I found a robust and cocky coyote on my driveway the other morning. Our property is fully-fenced to keep deer and mountain lions out! To say I was started is an understatement.

I ran out into the driveway, kimono and all, ordering the coyote to leave. Now! He was casual and in the aloof way of the species, trotted into our meadow, stopped, dared to look back at me (probably admiring my early-morning face and kimono) and probably scooted under a fence.


Because of the days of long light, I’ve ventured into the plein air painting space with my friend Mary this week, trying to mix colors and catch light before it changes.

In the orchard, I thought, this location will make a perfect painting. Fruit and celery-colored olive trees standing cheerily and tall while the two old oaks, cloaked in shadow and stately advance, hold court over their fruity minions.

On the longest day of the year, I sunk into my memory foam mattress last night, and listened to the hawks still talking to each other in preparation for the birth of their chicks. On the park district property across the road,  the cattle lowed.

Very peaceful.


Posted in Growing Olives, Life, My painting, My photography, Nature photography | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Equine and bovine traffic in downtown Pleasanton


Photograph by cheri sabraw all rights reserved 2018

by cheri sabraw

My horse Cricket, that feisty little Fox Trotter, left this world long ago and I never replaced her.

But today, present for the City of Pleasanton’s Second Annual “cattle drive” through this once pastoral community known as P-Town, now the home of multi-nationals and locals who commute to Silicon Valley and San Francisco, I sure wish I had.

Horsemen and women, old and young, thin and thick (mostly thick) saddled up to surround a herd of about 150 head as they made their way down Main Street, headed for corrals and the opening of the 2018 Alameda County Fair.

We staked our spot far from Main Street on a side street at the beginning of the route.

P1110278Fine looking Quarter horses and some draft horses pulling dignitaries led the parade, followed by the Mounted Police and Auxiliary Units.


When 150 longhorn head of cattle exited their corral, well, you don’t stop the progression of such beasts, well, you herd ’em!

Australian Cattle Dogs, Heelers, and Border Collies joined in the job.




What I love about this Second Annual Cattle Drive, a nod to Pleasanton’s rural roots, is that it happened. No lawyers or squeamish city council people nixed this country show through city streets citing “someone could get hurt” or “manure is disgusting” or “it will create traffic jams on a Friday commute day.”   Yippee!

Oh, the Sons of the Pioneers would have loved this day.


Photography by cheri sabraw all rights reserved 2018


Nathan and I headed home.

When I arrived at the Rancho, did I have a story to tell the locals.

“Hay, Guys…you really missed out today. Oh, I know you’ve been swatting flies, ripping grass and well…I can’t mention that on a G-Rated blog, but your brethren stole the show.


photography by cheri sabraw all rights reserved

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The Theory of General Relativity


by cheri sabraw

I’m almost finished with Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein titled “Genius.”

In it, Isaacson spends quantum verbiage trying to simplify Einstein’s remarkable equations that, post Newton, explained the significant physicality of our universe such as light, gravity, thermodynamics and the relationship (or relativity) of heavenly bodies to such invisible natural occurrences.

Einstein was able to conceptualize and then master equations that proved his theories largely by his early focus on thought experiments, his boundless creativity, and his feisty defiance of authority.

I’ve had to up my caffeine intake to understand this material.

Relativity isn’t confined to the subject of physics.

I remember during class discussions with bright high school juniors and even brighter university business students, often using the phrase, ” It’s all relative, isn’t it?” Here I meant that the subject at hand could only be discussed in relation to something else. For example, if we were discussing The Scarlet Letter, Hester’s decision to have sex with her pastor invariably came up. Was this wrong? A moral sin? Were there extenuating circumstances that the puritan community might have considered before banishing her to a life alone and to the branding of a large capital A on her bodice? The puritans saw her behavior in absolutes.

Some of us think in absolutes; others, in relativity.


Here, Ms. O’Keeffe is advocating for abstraction. Her point, I think, in this quotation is that painters who paint realistically aren’t as capable of communicating reality as are painters who leave things out…say one breast or a purple scrotum or a decapitated teapot. We the viewer are left with spaces, so to speak, to fill in with our own sensibilities. Surely, according to Ms. O’Keeffe such artistic expression is superior to the art of Maynard Dixon or William Keith who painted grand landscapes with recognizable trees and stony edifices called mountains.

It’s all relative, isn’t it Ms. O’Keeffe?

Which painting do you like? This one?


Or do you like this one?


When I tell you that the first painting is Cezanne’s and the second one is Louis Collin’s, does that color your opinion?

Here is a close-up of the lacy gloves.


Einstein girded his relativity theories with hard-core mathematical equations. They become absolute, do they not?

In art, we do not have E=MC 2.

All we have is a pool of relativity.


It’s up to us to decide the value of art by taking a close look.

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Tom Wolfe and “The Painted Word “

by cheri sabraw

Years ago, I sat down on an ugly pink bench in a MOMA somewhere trying to figure out why a large canvas with a gum wrapper and a streak of chartreuse paint was hanging there. In truth, I was just resting my feet. An  alarm sounded and a  large museum worker dressed in a suit wearing a blank face told me to get off the bench, which was part of the installation. I leaped off as if I had been sitting on an original Gustav Stickley chair. That bench was by So and So and it was worth a great deal of money. In truth, it was crap. No design, nothing aesthetic. But it was constructed by You Know Who.

Let’s face it. We have been bamboozled. Come on. You know what I am talking about, right? You’ve been at the Tate in London or MOMA in NYC and looked at a canvas with three stripes and a dot hanging on the cement walls, masquerading as art and said to yourself, ” I could have done that.” The proverbial answer we have all heard is “….yes, but you didn’t,” to which I would answer, ” it shows no talent whatsoever. Which agent, which impresario, which collector trying to inflate the value of his art has deemed THIS canvas worth millions?

Obviously, I must not know what I am writing about. Jackson Pollock’s work is a work of art, right? Just like Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, right?



Thankfully, a real talent skewered the modern art world of New York City in 1975 for its  tofu masquerading as abalone by wielding his razor-sharp knife entitled  The Painted Word.

That writer was Tom Wolfe.

Saucy and provocative Wolfe died last week and with his death  a unique literary voice, one that today is not often heard, has left our airspace. I’m sure he is in Literary Heaven still wearing his three-piece white suit, colorful pocket hanky and spats on his shoes.

Tom Wolfe challenged convention which, for those of you who have not read his books, may seem that he was a typical novelist–a reformer like Frank Norris, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and the like who make their livings by bringing to the fore serious social flaws like political corruption, prejudice, and workers’ rights. In fact, “major” American novelists Norman Mailer and John Updike, two self-professed chroniclers of the American zeitgeist (but overrated from this author’s perspective) rejected Tom Wolfe’s book of business because he was a commercial success, something they resented and rejected. He got even for their elitism in a short story entitled, ” My Three Stooges.”

Wolfe challenged the conventional notions of pretentiousness. Think of the  Hollywood Elite.  Think Modern Art and architecture. Think of all of those institutions that we 60’s kids have elevated in status and importance which really have not much heft, depth, or loft. Think the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Tom Wolfe had no problem reminding his readership that modern art–abstract expressionism, post modern art, pop art, and the Bauhaus School of Architecture were, in fact, drummed up faddish trends that  the New York Elite eagerly bought and monetized.  They knew “something” that we unsophisticates outside of the epicenter of cultural beingness did not.

Here is Wolfe at his best in The Painted Word:

Today there is a peculiarly modern reward that the avant-garde artist can give his benefactor: namely, the feeling that he, like his mate the artist, is separate from and aloof from the bourgeoisie, the middle classes…the feeling that he may be from the middle class but he is no longer in it…the feeling that he is a fellow soldier, or at least  an aide-de-camp or an honorary cong guerrilla in the vanguard march through the land of the Philistines. This is a peculiarly modern need and a peculiarly modern kind of salvation (from the sin of Too Much Money) and something quite common among the well-to-do all over the West, in Rome and Milan as well as New York.



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Oy My God


I’ve  schmoozed with brisket sandwiches in NYC and Chicago and even in my own kitchen, but none compare with the one, or should I say half of one, that I ate last Thursday in Philly at Hershel’s East Side Deli.

As with most redirected eating plans upon which I embark ( with the diligence of a Border Collie), someone, like a husband, or something, like a brisket sandwich, derails me.

And so the derailing occurred in a perfect place: the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia. Formerly a train station for the Reading Railroad, the space now bustles with hungry humans searching for pork, honey, ice cream, Whoopie cakes, and pastrami sandwiches on marbled rye or pumpernickel.

So much for a diminution of carbs and fat! So much for cutting back on cheese and special sauces! So much for a reduction in salty pickles!


I approached the counter with the anticipation one might experience when diet restrictions die by the side of the road, when all preconceived notions of triglycerides evaporate into heavy air, when the light turns a bright green and one is  behind the wheel of a high octane-burning race car—with the reckless abandon of a teenager.

The pastrami has been inhaled off the cutting board above. Pastrami  or brisket?

A short-circuiting began first in my brain and then in my salivary glands, much like my Labrador Dinah waiting for her meager meal each morning.

I asked the owner, Steve, to “ take care of me.”

When he returned with a marbled rye hot brisket sandwich with the Rachel—a layering of Russian dressing, cold slaw, cheese, and other family secrets—I descended into a culinary high rarely experienced.


To be honest, that sandwich put this old cracked bell to shame.

Liberty, Schmiberty!






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