My friends, the Clydes (again)

by cheri

I’m not sure when my love affair with horses began. I know they were the subject of most of my childhood scribblings, as well as role models for my cantering around the school playground, shaking my mane and swishing the tail I thought I had.

Before long, I had consumed every horse book written for children and young adults. I mowed through Marguerite Henry’s books as if they were made of alfalfa–Black Gold, King of the Wind, and Justin Morgan Had a Horse, to name just three.

I attended a children’s horse camp for years. In that time, I grew from a shrimp to a bigger shrimp but my size never stopped me from saddling the biggest horse in the barn, Amigo. Here is an excerpt from my story about Amigo:

“When I was ten and a big blowhard, I told all of the other buckaroos at Shady Lawn Farm ( a horse camp for children, not an insane asylum for the nervous) that I could back any horse into his stall, saddle him, and make him worship me. All the other little slack-jawed kids with oversized cowboy hats, filthy Western boots clumped with manure, and a moistened blade of alfalfa resting on their lower lips  took notice of this pint-sized horse whisperer.

To demonstrate my equine acumen, I selected Amigo, a 16-hand old Palomino gelding, to canonize  my standing in the Saddle Club.

With his halter over my shoulder and a sugar cube in my pocket, I presented myself in front of this massive horse and introduced myself, “Hey Amigo. I’m Cheri, your friend. Ha, ha.”

The Gang of Eight  scuffed back, leaving boot prints in the dusty pathway by the stalls.

Amigo awaited saddling.

As I reflect on that seminal moment with my present knowledge of the challenge of enduring banal repetition (being saddled for twenty years every day) and sharp pain of life (girths pulled too tight by inexperienced hands),  often delivered to the gentle and the kind, I should have expected Amigo’s recalcitrant response.

My father told me never to turn my back on the ocean. That same advice might be given when backing horses into their stalls.

I turned my back on Amigo, still with his worn leather halter in my gloved hands. There, in front of his massive chest, I elbowed him in that soft place between that wide chest and his mighty foreleg.

“Back, Amigo, ” I ordered. “Back up boy, that’a boy, Amigo, Back, back, back! I whacked my elbow back and forth as if tenderizing a brisket, hoping to impress the crowd now gathered at Stall Number 11.

Then it happened.

Amigo bit me on my head, right through my straw cowboy hat.

I won’t lie. It was a shock. I screamed. The crowd left. I do not remember adults assembling.

It all got down to Amigo and me.

As it always does in life.”

Life presented me with a new opportunity last fall when I stopped at the bottom of our road to photograph these two old Clydesdale horses, who at the time, were hungry because the hills were dry. I had apples and carrots, so they wandered on over.


photo by c. sabraw


And now, they are feeding me.


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Mr. Churchill, the painter

by cheri sabraw

I’m not sure when it occurred to me to begin painting my photographs.

But in doing so, new neural pathways of thought are growing  like spring jasmine tendrils.

I am not at the helm of  my frenetic business anymore or staring at a blank screen while writing my thesis, a deadline looming in front of me like a dark and sinister twister.I have the time to re-acquaint myself with oils and canvas, brushes and pencils.

But many do not have much time, either by choice or by necessity.

Winston Churchill wrote a short book, Painting As A Pastime, a collection of short essays that was first published in 1948. I commend it to those of you looking for inspiration to create a respite from the relentless march of your responsibilities.

Most of us, I would hope, are familiar with the excruciating stress that Churchill experienced as a public servant in his early life but even more so as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. How was he able to be such a steady leader in such unstable  times?

He love affair helped.

With painting, that is.

He began painting in 1925 and continued for fifty years. His paints traveled with him to North Africa to meet Roosevelt,  to the battlefield,  and to his home, Chartwell.

In Painting As A Pastime, he advocates rescuing your brain and emotions with something different.

 ” The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is therefore a policy of first importance to a public man. But this is not a business that can be undertaken in a day or swiftly improvised by a mere command of the will.”

He writes about mental fatigue and about mental rejuvenation.

“A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.”

He continues.

” To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real. It is no use starting late in life to say,’ I will take an interest in this or that.’ Such an attempt only aggravates the strain of mental effort. A man may acquire great knowledge or topics unconnected with his daily work, and yet hardly get any benefit or relief. It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.”

The Roman poet Horace has been credited with this quotation that, I might add, is included in the Publisher’s Preface  to Painting As A Pastime:

“Dare to great (wise): begin!”


My friends, the Clydes, who live at the bottom of our road

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On the road to Oklahoma


“Home watching the nest” photo by c. sabraw 2017

by cheri

My husband flew to Flagstaff, Arizona, last night to hook up with his high-school buddy, who is driving to Oklahoma to inspect the oil wells his father left him and his brother. Evidently, one well is not producing.

“Bring your work boots and gloves,” Bruce told Ron.

So off they drive into tornado country, two vital and manly sixty-somethings, jeans and work boots, memories and nostalgia.

It is a very neat (and sexy) package.

Masculine seems to out of favor these days what with the pelting of the American male by everybody and every institution on the West Coast and East Coast. And sadly, the American male has acquiesced, in some cases becoming soft and squishy.

I am attracted to a man who like his vodka tonics (and gets annoyed when the tonic is out of a gun), who approaches serious topics with serious intensity, who has a Skill Saw in his garage and can perform electrical repair, who chooses a hotdog at the turn instead of a salad, who knows how to shoot a rifle and a handgun instead of how to call the alarm company, who has served his country, who still carries a handkerchief in his back pocket, who has no idea how to  use Uber, and who still wants to enlist in the Israeli IDF (if needed).

This kind of man appeals to me.

God Speed.


“It’s OK to be prickly ” photo by c. sabraw 2017




Posted in Life, People | Tagged | 42 Comments

Jessica Mitford: Here I come!

by cheri

I’ve decided to rescue my mother and father’s ashes from their joint grave at the Chapel of the Chimes cemetery in Hayward, California.

How  to do this, I am not sure.  And I suppose I ought to run it by my three siblings.

Dad has been mulling around in that joint (as he would surely call it) since 1995. Mom, poor dear, joined him 2.5 years ago. She, of course, makes the best of whatever her circumstances, so unselfish that she has yet to complain that we four, for whom she did SO MUCH,  have  not installed her graveside plaque, a solemn stone tablet which in  seven (prepaid) words, captures the her entire 84-year life.

So Dad and Mom sit or huddle or nest or sink or do whatever ashes do– Dad with a glowing, albeit brief, report of his astounding life; mother, with a grassy roof and no words.

It seems to me they  wait for rescue.

My decision to abscond with their ashes and scatter them in Lake Tahoe, where we as a family enjoyed so many hilarious moments, came last month on a dreary grey day when I journeyed to the Chapel of the Chimes and by graveside, reminded myself that my biggest cheerleaders are really (for sure) gone and would not be returning to tell me how special I am.

I rarely visit the Chapel of the Chimes because seeing the markers of all who rest there in the Jewish section is akin to being at Temple Beth Torah on Yom Kippur in 1961 listening to an anti-war sermon instead of a spiritual one. I fantasize that after the sun sets and we visitors to the cemetery are fast asleep, the whole congregation buried there arises and complains about how long and boring the rabbi’s sermons were.

My feet try their best to avoid stepping on my parents’ friends.

Ahh…yes…there are the Levitts. I wonder how you are, Sarah? and you Sam?

And dear Bobbie Swedelson and Marv Cohen (what a great guy)  and even my high school chum, Cindy Newman. Gosh, I had just attended  your wedding on Treasure Island, with a view of the Golden Gate. Within  a week I learned that you had died in a car accident on your honeymoon. And here you are, at the Chapel of the Chimes of all places!  When we made mischief in Mr. Blum’s chemistry class, we could never have imagined this odd reunion.

I zig-zag among the graves, not wanting to offend my 5th grade Sunday school teacher  or disturb Harry Feinberg, one of the nicest jewelers who ever wore a saffron-colored suit (when he was 80). God Bless Harry. Thanks for selling Ron that little chip of a diamond for my engagement ring. Oh, and I wonder where Harry’s lavender suit went. I should ask Eva, his wife. Oh there you are, Eva. Where did Harry get that suit?

The temperature in the Jewish section of the Chapel of the Chimes is lovely and austere.

However. The entrance to the cemetery is NOT.

The wide lawn with the iron fence along Mission Blvd is now covered with grave site decorations that make the entrance to Chapel of the Chimes  look  either like a junior high science fair, with corrugated cardboard displays and kitschy paper mache volcanoes, or a three-ring circus in miniature, with balloons, whirling ribbons, popcorn and a good old hotdog, slathered with relish and mustard.

Were I a gopher, a vole, or a feral cat and I approached this scene, I would know, without a doubt, that I had died and gone to heaven or at least gone to the midway of the Alameda County Fair with rides, games, and colorful stuff.

A circus atmosphere for sure.

Dad and Mom, I think you would like Lake Tahoe instead.


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Crossing Moon River

by cheri block


photo by r. sabraw


Wallflower, I.

Growing along the banks of the 7th-grade gym, having tentatively planted myself there for stability, with other flat-chested girls whose buds had not bloomed, whose stalks were thin and green, whose flowers were years away.

Waiting for an 8th-grade prince, that one clutching a voluptuous red rose and swaying with her as the clock ticked toward nine.

Awkward, I.

A seed packet waiting for a green house, we girls on the wall,  fertilized with Shalimar and hydrated with punch.

Unselected, we.

The last slow dance announced, we, feeling like weeds instead of the pink tulips we were to become, edged back into the darkness, like cattails in a dark lagoon.

Romantic song, it.

Moon River, by Andy Williams.


Our oaks








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The sounds and hearts of the winged


by cheri sabraw

When I was ten, I spent most of a morning fashioning a set of golden wings. Akin to making a kite, which my father Hugh had taught me to do, I designed a balsa wood skeleton, added a thin veneer of paper using yesterday’s  San Francisco Chronicle and then pressed each seam down with Elmer’s glue. I had been saving real birds’ wings, discarded from sparrows and blue jays, and so began the laborious task of gluing each one down on my creation. The wings done, I sprayed them with glittery gold  paint.


If only they would carry me to the heavens, I speculated, looking up to a cloudless cerulean sky.

I still look to the sky, both day and night, for inspiration and reassurance that something more than the banal chitter-chatter of the day exists.

And often, I am rewarded not only with milky galaxies and twinkly planets, but often with creatures of iron and feathers.

Yesterday, waiting patiently on our desert patio, camera in hand, hoping for a hummingbird arrival at my feeder, I was awakened from my intense focus, along with the comfort and  silence of the rocks and cacti,  by the thunder of  F-16s, their deep roar in take-off from several miles away at Luke Air Force Base. I thought of the bravery and talent of my nephew Matthew, an F-16 pilot trained there and now stationed in Japan after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

A petite and sensitive desert bunny heard them too.



Four iron birds heading to Utah, no doubt, in a formation of precision.

My nephew Matthew, a pilot of one of these machines, has described to me what it felt like in the cockpit over Afghanistan:

The best way to see God’s creation is in a fighter jet – a single seat fighter jet. The best fighter jet to see it in is an F-16 in which we can fly low to the ground and maintain energy in a turn while sneaking through tight spaces.

In the last half hour of our four-hour sortie, it was as if the earth was on exhibition
before our eyes. The morning light brought out the color of the bronze corridors through the river-carved canyons with immense majesty and clarity.

What I experienced in my cockpits is something that Time’s privileged kings will never know. The exalting adventure of weaving in and out of these
passageways through the rock is more intimately inspiriting than a high mountain sunrise through the misting dawn.

The Viper, my steel Pegasus, armed to the teeth, carried me through some of the most enchanting and bedazzling land that I can imagine a man ever laying eyes on at 450 knots. We were riders in a way today that no one will ever be able to duplicate and I hope that this experience has been permanently woven into my fabric as a man.

I sat in my own cockpit here on my patio, ears pricked and lens focused. Surprising, I thought,  that this little bird stays gripped on his perch with all the racket.

p1070195And then, the hummingbird arrived, an F-16, if you will, in miniature.

p1070200p1070199p1070205It was time to refuel, just as Matt does now, mid-air and then off again, looking down at the sand swirls in the baranca.

Matthew described his view through the Bamiyan as he and his partner flew low through one of the canyons:

The equalized tune, made for our hearts, resonated for 15 minutes at roughly 500 feet and 450 knots. Velvet green foliage of the river’s shores scrolled beneath us placidly on our weaving journey. The walls on each side of the canyon turned in unison out in front of us, forming symmetric bends that subsequently blurred by.

At one point it opened up to a wide, lush and patterned agricultural plateau. I was so low I could see the details of walkers. Two women pacing in unison along a sandstone road, flowing trails of vivid violet in their veiled burqas went down my right shoulder as I knife-edged into another avenue through the ancient rock – thunder ,clapping my respect for their authenticity as the sun glinted off my canopy in a flitting wink that blended into my wing flash.


photo by cheri sabraw, 2017


Posted in Life, My childhood, My photography, Nature photography, People | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments



Highland Park High School, December 2016

by cheri sabraw

Since Donald Trump took office, we have been bombarded by the words fake news.

Fake is not a new word ( 1790-1810) but is without a definitive origin. Curious.

The word fake connotes many images, few of them aesthetically beautiful or authentic but most of them acceptable to a large portion of the  global society.

We in the developed world have grown accustomed to fakeness–in leather, meat, luxury goods, breasts, fingernails, personalities, orgasms, resumes, lawns, jewelry, enhanced photography,and even in extra virgin olive oil from Italy.

Places like Las Vegas and Hollywood are  the epicenters of American Fake.

We rationalize why we like fake: more affordable and interesting, more attractive and sophisticated, more convenient and time-saving. Healthier. Safer. Prettier. Sexier. Alas, our pedestrian lives are SO boring.

The list of the fake grows like Jack’s GMO Beanstalk–taller and taller. Everything from fake pharmaceuticals to currencies to advertising to education has a back room of full of fake.

But what has happened?  The back room has become the front room.


Steroid-laced electronic carrier pigeons  like Facebook and Twitter drop fake news poop worldwide  in  the time it takes to blink twice (2/3 of a second).

In newsrooms (virtual or concrete), the millenial rush to be the first reporter or collegen anchor to break a news story, the first to portray the sensational, the first to draw attention to one’s news outlet (and oneself!) surpasses the importance of fact-checking because doing so is la-bor-ious.  Besides, dude, literally ,someone else might get the story out first. Yup!

Fake, simply put, is out of control.

News flashes:

To call into question not only the content of the news but also those who promulgate it now dominates the front room.

News agencies are nervous for good reason.

Their credibility is front page real news. In fact, they are making it news!

They have an opportunity to restore their reputations as viable checks and balances to the Legislative, Executive, and  Judicial branches of government but will they?

I hope so.


Winston Churchill’s Map Room, London, England, June 2016

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A circus tent

by cheri sabraw

A tall handsome man with grey hair, nice teeth, and a positive attitude arrived at my house this morning to turn off our propane so that a fumigation company can tent our house (and kill all of my Boston Ivy vines that I have been enjoying for 16 years).

Although the fumigators are supposed to arrive any minute, they have not arrived.

It’s funny how once you know the heat cannot be turned on, you become conscious of the cold. You wish you could start the dishwasher or  do a load of laundry. You wish you could chop kindling and make a fire in your little stove. You are cold.

You wish you could make a cup of hot coffee but then remember the coffee is packed up and sealed in a gas-proof bag.

You mosey to the pantry for an almond or two or three. Or a cracker with peanut butter. But then you remember that all your foods in plastic packages need to be sealed and packed in a gas-proof bag.

Yep. Ten gas-proof bags hide in the pantry, the refrigerator, the freezer and even in my bathroom.

You  might be developing a headache, just thinking about the future unpacking, cleaning, and sorting all of the food, medicine, liquor, olive oil and anything else that could possibly become contaminated and kill you when you return to your home.

But the aspirin is packed in a gas-proof bag.

Your dog is off property.

When the gas enters the tent, your plants around the house will die, along with their friends the vines.

All of this because you saw a 1-inch piece of evidence that dry-wood termites “might” be in your tower on the second floor.

“Cheri, why are you dragging your feet and not calling the termite people?” the Man of the House asked over 1.5 years ago.

” I don’t want my vines to die,” I grumpily answered, taking a drag on my cigarette (just kidding).

“OK…let’s evaluate  your logic…your vines or structural damage to your home? Which is more important?” he questioned in a rational tone.

With my hands on the Sunset Garden Book, I swore to God and my country “My vines!!! and ran to the couch, sobbing (just kidding).

Today is the day.

The vines die.

And so does the one termite that is probably living in our tower.





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The Emerald Rancho

p1070146by  cheri

The rain pounds the East Bay hills and continues its drumbeat to this very moment.

The drought is over.

Moss tells me this is so.


This rock wall has been on our property for over 60 years. I have never seen a moss fest as lush!


On my way back to my fire, this branch insisted that I stop and photograph its latest green tattoo.

So much for global warming!


Posted in Nature photography | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

My late night at the Fillmore Auditorium

by  Freedom Dancer

Entering  the iconic Fillmore Auditorium on Friday night, looking hip with a colorful peasant blouse cinched by a thick leather black belt, along with jeans and boots, I put up with a required frisking as we entered the historic venue. Even Bill Graham would have raised his eyebrows to learn that in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, an East Bay chic like me had never visited the concert hall, so rich with the history of the Bay Area music scene.

A Lebowski-ish bearded mellow man with a ski cap asked me open my tiny purse to make sure I wasn’t bringing drugs in to see a bluegrass band concert.

Horseshoes and Handgranades were opening for the headliners, The Infamous Stringdusters.

Drugs? You say? Why I am one of the only people I know who didn’t try marijuana in the 60’s, I said, straightening my babushka and looking at him square in his swollen irises.

Well, you are really missing out, my dear,he responded lovingly.

It’s not good for your brain or your health or your lungs,I said sweetly and softly.

What? are you, a doctor?

Yes, I answered,  a neurologist, so I know what I am talking about.

And with that, I entered a world of yore and lore–the Fillmore in the Fillmore.


The Poster Room

All the musical names of my youth had played the Fillmore: Jefferson Airplane, Tower of Power, Johnnie Cash, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Allman Brothers, the Who and other groups known for psychedelic tripping to the light fantastic.

And groups not of my youth but of my kids’ youth stood on the stage and wailed or blasted or whined or hooted: the Dead Kennedys, the Smashing Pumpkins, Queen Latifah, the Mother Hips, Jefferson Starship and Counting Crows.

We headed up to the Poster Room where colorful posters of most of the headliners lined the walls like a super-sized stamp collection.


What I didn’t know was that I would have to stand for the entire show.No seats!

My lower back and feet grumbled upon learning this news, but hey!, I’m Cheri Block, hipster from the East Bay, yeah…Gramma Hipster with a glass of respectable Chardonnay, yeah…

My short-girl survival instincts told me to hustle to the front of the stage as fast as I could or I would see nothing. That move proved to be genius.

Flanked by my 13-year-old musical grandson, my 6’2″ son-in-law, my daughter (who earned several yellow cards and one red card in her high school soccer career) and my husband wearing a very cool cap and who is not to be messed around with when things get tense–I felt, well, safe.

By the time the headliners were in full throttle,  it was the 60’s. People with grey hair (Class of 68), beards and hippie shirts, young Appalachians and Alaskan-looking fishing and hunting men chugging one craft beer after another, solitary weirdos doing their version of the bluegrass hokey-pokey by themselves in the corner,  lots of clean-cut folks  having a good ol time, and yes, baby boomers vaporizing weed and blowing it into the air (for all of us to breathe)–so much for checking for DRUGS at the door.


Horseshoes and Handgranades

The New Orleans dinner we had at the Elite Cafe, about as heavy as an anvil in my stomach, proved to be a sustaining fact0r throughout a curious blast through the past.

How lucky was  I to have been to my first Fillmore concert at the age of 66 with my 13-year-old grandson?

On the way home in the BART car, I put on my doctor hat and discussed Mary Juana with him. He is a jazz musician with a great brain and good judgement, so I think he listened.

Right on, you groovy dudes!

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