Paramahansa Yogananda’s Excellent Adventure

When I related my daughter’s Koran shopping episode I noted that Barnes and Noble carries exactly zero books about Hinduism in its religion section. Being married to my husband, I know that not a single book at B&N is accidentally placed: exhaustive research is executed on buying habits of customers, and the potential profitability of each and every book. In fact, even how the books are laid out is thoroughly researched and deliberate. You know those tables scattered throughout the store? Publishers pay a premium to have their volumes displayed on them, as opposed to the shelves.

There are tons of new age, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist books– but nary a volume on Hinduism. Which is strange, because immigrant Hindus in the U.S. tend to be well educated and of the book buying capacity.

However, I do occasionally see one or two volumes published by the Self Realization Fellowship, which as far as I can tell is a quasi-Hindu organization devoted to bringing the “spirit” of Hinduism to a western audience. So it’s not exactly Hindu per se, but probably the closest you’re going to find at B&N.

One day earlier this year I bought one of those volumes: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, pictured below:

paramahansa-yogananda
ommmm…

I got the book home and my husband immediately asked: why did I bring Steve Job’s book home?

Huh? I had no clue what he was talking about.

As it turns out Autobiography of a Yogi was handed out at Mr. Job’s funeral per his request. The Self Realization Fellowship had to scramble to supply oodles of copies, and those who watched the scion interred walked away with a parting gift. Which I now happened to own as well.

The book is not what you think– or at least it wasn’t what I anticipated. I imagined a few hundred pages of Hindu apologetics, and while the volume does include that betimes, Mr. Yogananda’s chirpy, almost silly voice delivers a spellbinding tale that, like most truth, is stranger than fiction.

Way back in the 1930s Mr. Yogananda received a call from God to preach Hinduism, or quasi-Hinduism to the west. So he peregrinates to the States and not only was he well received here, but eventually, with a couple western disciples, embarked (in a model T Ford!) on an around-the-world journey to interview a variety of saints and gurus, including Mahatma Gandhi and stigmatic Therese Neumann.

While in audience of Ms. Neumann Mr. Yogananda uses his vulcan mind-meld powers (yes, he can read minds, but typically only does so with permission) to see if she’s a fake: she isn’t, and by entering her mind Mr. Yogananda witnessed the passion of Jesus Christ in excruciating detail, just as Ms. Neumann did during her stigmatic episodes. He concludes that Ms. Neumann was granted the gift of the stigmata so that Christians could have the veracity and suffering of Jesus Christ validated. (Even if you don’t feel like reading the whole book, reading that chapter alone is worth the effort and $12.50… not to mention the volume is available free online in pdf form.)

The book is not entirely autobiographical and does delve into Mr. Yogananda’s theological “unifying theories–” namely that there are no vital differences between Hinduism and Christianity. Of course, this will make your average believing Christian’s head explode, but he does offer salient points, or at the very least food for fodder. For instance there is evidence that early Christians held a tenet of reincarnation- as does mystical Judaism, from whence Christianity arose.  When Jesus heals the man born blind, he asks: did this man sin, or did his parents sin? Well a baby cannot sin, so where did this sin originate? Plausibly this is a reference to a previous incarnation, hearkening to the concept of karma. Furthermore the gospels imply that John the Baptist is the “recycled” (to use the hebrew term, gilgul) version of Elijah. In Matthew 11 Jesus says of John the Baptist, And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mr. Yogananda’s theories on Christian-Hindu unity are complex and I can’t pretend to understand them fully. However, one his stranger postulations is that the Hindu concept of maya– illusion- is synonymous with the Christian notion of Satan. This will be a foreign concept to believing Christians, who view Satan as a personified fallen angel who tempts mankind toward evil deeds.

The book is an easy read and would be of interest to anyone with an interest in religion or history, as the era in which Mr. Yoganada travels prefaces World War II. Heck, it would be an interesting read even for people with an interest in Steve Jobs! So if you are looking for a book to page through by the pool, this one comes highly recommended.

Zootopia Looks Like Staten Island

After all the hype, after my mother raved about it, after my children raved about it– including my 19 year old nerd son with ice in the veins– after my daughter put the dvd on view for her psych ward– I watched Zootopia once it was on netflix. I’ll reserve my observations for a future post, but I could not help but notice that the city of Zootopia greatly resembles Staten Island.

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staten-island

I’ll note this: if having a tiny bunny on the police force is novel, how does Zootopia police its rodent population? That doesn’t make sense.

Guardian of the Kakapo

There was no escape from Alcatraz. Over August I heard chatter of busting my daughter out in time to start school. Why? It’s not like she ever did anything there. I have never encountered anyone so absolutely unconcerned with academic achievement as this daughter. Even the simplest assignments went untouched and forgotten. Unable to keep track of anything, she lost six bus passes before giving up and walking home from school each day. For the atheists out there, let me tell you, the fact she showed up in one piece- though not always on time (more than once we were poised to call the police)- is absolute proof of a protective force in the universe, even if it applies itself haphazardly.

But one afternoon, recently, while driving her home from 4 hour a pass, she announced she wasn’t sane enough for school, she was better off behind locked doors, and she was willing to enter a day treatment program– basically the psychiatric version of Fame. This is probably what should have happened after her first hospital stint last year, and her willingness to enter it now was a visceral weight off my shoulders, as I dreaded yet another year of her wandering back and forth from school, shoes untied, koran in hand.

At a recent family counseling session (“family counseling” consists of her, me, and her beleaguered social worker- a stout fellow who likes chatting with us about science fiction) she asked me, did I know about the plight of the kakapo?

No, I answered.

They’re parrots that can’t fly, like green chickens! And cats were eating them! There are only 26 left! And she, the guardian of the kakapo, would travel to New Zealand to snatch them back from the brink of extinction.

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don’t eat me

*

Not to be outdone, my 13 year old, the comic genius, dropped out of middle school. Morose and mopey the entire summer, she read her summer reading but composed none of the required essays. I offered to write them for her. No! I offered to send her to a different catholic school. No! Public school. No! Come the first day of school it was pulling teeth to shove her out the door. She refused to go the next day, and the next. She made one more appearance before bowing out altogether. Unless she’s going off the deep end like her sister, she’s in the throes of adolescent angst. She’s dumb! She’s an evil person! Her life is meaningless! And she’s not that great of an artist!

I told her she’s not dumb, that less than 1% of humanity has an IQ over 140 and she is in that rarefied group. But she’s still dumb, she insisted. I told her there are people out there far more evil than she is, if she even is evil at all, and if she is evil, she should at least try not to get arrested. I told her that her existence has meaning by virtue of the fact she’s breathing (I really do believe that). And that she’s a beautiful little artist. Case in point, here is recent fan art from Stranger Things.

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zoom in on those wings…

But my daughter remained unswayed by my rousing endorsement. Since we’re technically, now, homeschooling, I asked her gently if she plans to read anything.

Yeah… I guess, she said, all sighs.

I gave her a stack of her brother’s math books from homeschooling days of yore. Could she complete a lesson a day?

Yeah… I guess.

*

The overachiever made her debut at high school. Out of the entire freshman class she’s the only girl electing to wear pants- every other girl is sporting the cute powder blue skirt and white knee socks. She came home the first few days telling me the school felt like a blond borg cube.

Over the summer she read the assigned books once. Then decided a second time might be worthwhile. Then reread a third time while taking copious notes. Then the optional reading assignment, and a related book her father mentioned in passing that might be applicable to class discussions. Already she is back to studying until 2 or 3am, obsessively organizing assignments, and barking at us if we’re not ready to chauffeur her at exactly 7:10 each morning.

*

As for myself, I thought I was dealing well with all this, but recently was forced to admit I’ve developed a strange and increasingly compulsive behavior. I keep buying food. Huge quantities of food. Once I have it home I don’t touch it; in fact I’m scrawnier than ever at 118lb. Sometimes I pawn it off on the kids, but before I know it I’m back at Costco, or Stop and Shop, loading up the cart with cases of protein bars (why? I’ve never eaten them), canned vegetables, bag after bag of frozen vegetables, fifteen boxes of crackers, endless pounds of chicken, lamb, the occasional duck (not cheap), massive bags of quinoa, flour, potatoes, five dozen eggs, I can’t stop! Now, given this is a large family, a lot of it does get eaten. But the downstairs kitchen I use as a pantry is now packed with enough food to wait out the zombie apocalypse threefold. I keep waiting for my husband to say something– honey (not that he ever calls me honey)– why has our grocery bill suddenly skyrocketed?– but as of this writing, he’s remained mum.

Does anyone want a case of organic lentil soup? Stop by the house, and it’s yours.

Corn Cooked in Husk

It’s corn season! I grew up in New England so corn season conjures up vivid childhood memories. Farmstands overflowing with corn, husking it with my beloved paternal grandmother at our kitchen table, my mother boiling it up in cauldrons of water, and biting into ears so fresh it tasted like candy.

Fast forward to my own kitchen, and being the safety conscious freak I am, I’m always reluctant to boil water on the stove top. We have a center island in the kitchen where the stove is located, and the kids love to sit, and pile paper, around that island. This led me to seek alternative corn cooking methods, and lo and behold: it can be baked in the oven, so long as the husk is intact. That’s right: you don’t have to bother shucking corn before cooking it. In fact the husk creates a perfect “envelope” in which the corn can steam.

So this is what you do: Preheat the oven to 350F; trim off any extraneous ends (or don’t, it probably doesn’t make any difference). Line up the corn on a cookie sheet:

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… and stick it in the oven for 30 minutes. I had something else going in the oven so it was at 400F for about half the time. No harm, no foul. Once time has elapsed remove it:

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… and you have perfectly cooked ears of corn. Surprisingly, the outer husks cool almost immediately, but to peel off the very inner layers I had to protect my hands with an oven mitt or paper towel. Voila:

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… a perfectly cooked ear of corn. Delicious and juicy, with no cauldron required.

Hamilton

Earlier this year my husband told me the most brilliant marketing decision in the past hundred years was not including the word rap in publicity for Hamilton. Because the kind of people who buy broadway tickets would eschew anything rap.

“What’s Hamilton?”

“A rap musical about Alexander Hamilton.”

“Rap musical? The Alexander Hamilton?”

“Yes– it’s hugely successful.”

“It sounds ridiculous.”

I didn’t give it another thought until I kept seeing references to the musical and articles about it. Brilliant! A work of genius! Shattering all barriers! Okay, I decided, let me listen.

Before I proceed further let me explain I’m a classical music snob. If it’s not classical, I don’t really consider it music. I can enjoy popular songs and find them interesting, emotionally moving, but music… not really. I guess it’s the difference between the Costco food court and a Michelin rated restaurant. It might taste good, but is it really food in the foodie sense? Plus, I have a distaste for musicals in general. I find them stupid and maudlin, with a handful of exceptions: I love most songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and “I’ll Cover You” from Rent is cute.

As it happens the entire soundtrack for Hamilton is available in spades on youtube. I listened to the show in full and have to admit I was surprised. If you’re going to create a rap musical this is as good as it’s going to get. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda creates an extremely clever, catchy blend of rap, melodic, and traditional musical fodder. But that’s about as far as it went for me: clever. In fact when all was said and done I felt I’d just spent two hours listening to advertisement jingles (beware, like commercial jingles these songs get stuck in your head!). My favorites being “Right Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Hurricane.”

So I fail to see what all the hoopla is about. $1000 a ticket? Seriously? I mean it’s a cute show but not the second coming. Though if I recall correctly, there was hysteria over Rent, which I also found lame. I think Steven Sondheim is kind of lame too (although my girls love, LOVE Into the Woods).

I would like to see this one day, as I’m curious how exactly it’s staged. There are paltry live clips anywhere that I can find, but instead of taking the ferry I’ll wait until it’s on PBS. And if Mr. Miranda is out there taking requests, I’d love to see a rap musical version of Vikings. Now that I might pay good money to see.

Socks and My Koran

When my daughter was first interred at the psychiatric hospital, she asked for poptarts. Red velvet, chocolate chip cookie dough, and strawberry. She lost interest in junk food and requested healthier fare: fresh mozzarella, turkey, and rye bread. Then she lost interest in food altogether.

“All I really want, mommy,” she said. “Is a pair of socks… and my koran.”

Allow me two segues here: when first admitted she refused any comforts of home and insisted on surviving with supplies from the short term unit. A handful of clothes, a stuffed animal alligator, her uniform shoes, and a notebook. Since the inmates (err I mean patients) get yelled at if they walk through the unit in bare feet, she wore her school shoes the first few weeks. Then relented and requested a pair of socks. And her koran.

Second segue. Rewind to June of this year (2016). She is at the height of her psychotic break and believes one of her younger sisters is plotting murderously against her. I had to finish birthday shopping for another sister, and not wanting to leave them alone in the house under these circumstances, I invited this oldest daughter to Barnes and Noble. “Sure mommy!” she agreed brightly. Because through sanity and insanity, she loves to go shopping. This was the day after the Orlando nightclub terror attack that left more than 100 people dead or injured.

We browsed the toy section and selected a few items for her sister. Browsed the young adult and graphic novel sections. Then, in the middle of the store, she announced gaily, and loudly enough for all to hear:  “Mommy, can I buy a koran?”

I cringed (remember, this is Staten Island…) looked around to ascertain who might be listening, and recalled it’s generally a bad idea to argue with anyone with a weak grasp on reality.

“Sure,” I said calmly. “Let’s find a good translation.”

And we headed to the religion section of the store.

Allow me yet another segue. The religion section of Barnes and Noble is interesting. There’s a ton of fluff Christian books (because christians love to buy christian books. Ka-ching). There’s a ton of books on buddhism (because Buddhism is cool, thank you Steve Jobs). There’s a ton of books on Judaism (more ka-ching). And there’s a ton of books on Islam (because it’s cool to be tolerant of Islam- most of the books were western apologetics for the religion)  And interestingly, exactly zero books on Hinduism.

We paged through a few korans and I gave my opinion on the best translation. I’d read the koran in college for a comparative religion class. We got in the checkout line, and bought it.

Over the drive home she poured through the book. “Hey it has Moses in it! And Joseph!”

“Look up the surah where mary gives birth under a date tree.”

“No…!” she said, incredulously, but found it in the table of contents.

And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.” But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented.

“This is so cool!” she said. “Two birds with one stone. Who needs the bible if it’s all in here? It’s so efficient.”

Fastforward to present day, and I kept conveniently forgetting the koran she requested (I did bring the socks). But she kept hounding me, and finally I typed memo on my phone:

bring daughter koran

And that I did this week. Do I hide it? In my purse, tuck it under my arm? How exactly do you smuggle a koran in these parts?

koran

I opted for tucking it under my arm, title facing in. They buzzed me into the unit and once in her room I slipped it to her hands.

“Don’t get radicalized,” I said.

“Oh mommy… would that really be the worst thing?”

I stopped myself from saying “Yes!” and instead joked she might end up with a Syrian husband. I briefly envisioned a bunch of Isis militants breaking into the unit for their bride. And the crazy grandchildren that would ensue.

She paged through the book as we chatted. She absolutely HATES when people spell koran with a K! It should be a Q! That is just the worst offense imaginable… and rambled on about learning arabic. She pointed to her roommate’s dresser.

She has a bible,” she explained.

“Does she read it?”

“Nah…. but she reads a bunch of other shit.”

And that was that. She gave me a bear hug on my departure, told me she loves me, announced “It’s my MAH-MEE” to the ward (as she always does), I got buzzed out by the grouchy police officers, and I drove home.

The Terminator

Somehow I managed to reach the tender age of 42 never having viewed The Terminator. I’d seen one of the later iterations, and more recently my husband forced me so sit through Terminator Genisys (a painful experience). Since his company has put out some Terminator books, I decided to finally watch the original version to see what exactly has been paying the catholic school tuition.

  • There are a lot of car chases and gunfire. At least 80% of the movie contains either a car chase, or gunfire. It gave me a headache.
  • While Linda Hamilton is a decent actress, the Sarah Connor character utterly lacks gravitas. Her pet iguana has more depth. No way can I believe the savior of humanity issues from her loins.
  • Michael Beihn is very good as Kyle Reese, the hardened time-traveling soldier sent through time to rescue Sarah. The love story between them is kind of sweet, and in theory could occur in an infinite loop.
  • Arnold is brilliant as the terminator. What stage presence! And hardly any lines. I asked my husband how he was cast for the role, and he says James Cameron got the idea for a near-silent character from Conan the Barbarian, where Arnold likewise barely speaks.

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strong silent type

  • I find it impossible to believe a ragtag, starving army of humans would have any chance against robots and cyborgs. If the robot apocalypse ever does transpire, we’re toast.
  • On that note, the portrait of humanity portrayed in The Terminator is so grim (note how Sarah is mistreated as a waitress) one wonders why it’s worth saving.
  • Squishing the terminator works, but blowing him up multiple times with nitroglycerin doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense.
  • Why does Sarah embark to Mexico to wait out the robot apocalypse? If anything life will be worse in post-apocalyptic Mexico than in the states, particularly for a single woman traveling alone. In fact, life is so dangerous for women along the border that female migrants go on birth control so they won’t get pregnant when (not if) they’re raped during the crossing.
  • Where did Sarah get the money for the new vehicle and german shepherd? My sister’s german shepherd cost nearly $2000.

So, would I recommend this film? I guess, if only because it has grown iconic to our society. For example, I never knew the precise context of “I’ll be back” until now. As my husband informed during the final credits: My dear, you’ve officially been inducted to geekdom.

The Accidental Vegan Baby

Back when I was vegan, I never expected my kids to be vegan. I made chicken and scrambled eggs for them on a regular basis, and they devoured blocks of cheese like locusts while I enjoyed my quinoa. In fact, one of my 17 year old’s first words was “cheeeeeeese.” Of course those days are long gone as I’m now a hardcore, low carb carnivore. I rarely crack 30 carbs a day.

Thus it was with some chagrin that it recently dawned on me that my 20 month old has been, essentially, a vegan baby since he weaned. And if breastmilk doesn’t count as “an animal product” he’s been vegan since birth. No, I don’t have him on a lettuce diet. He’s just a terribly finicky little eater, as were all my children. He lives on guacamole, crackers, fruit, and water (he absolutely refuses anything but water in his bottle). Yes, I have offered him milk, cheese, lamb, bacon, chicken, steak, fish and mayonnaise!! He shoves it all away with an annoyed glare.

As you can see, he’s withering away from this plant based diet:

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(Now that I’ve started allow me to spam you with more baby pictures:)

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If gobs of protein are so vital for human growth, why is he robust, beautiful, and healthy eating nothing but grain and avocados? I don’t have an answer, except for an opinion I’ve voiced previously on this blog. I think we humans are more like rats when it comes to food than we care to admit. We can thrive on just about anything- so long as it’s not outright poisonous or carcinogenic, and we don’t go overboard (or underboard (nothing like overuse of parentheses when writing!)).

So go ahead and enjoy your vegan diet, or your meat based diet, or your cookie diet (as long as you’re not diabetic!). Just take things in moderation and go for a long walk every now and then. And don’t forget to occasionally take a bath in the sink.

Vikings Better than Vikings

When I wrote my review of BBC’s The Last Kingdom I had not yet finished the 8 episode season. Binge watching is difficult with so many kids nipping at my ankles, my four year old being the absolute worst in this regard. When she’s awake she asks for something or requests my audience at regular 1-3 minute intervals. Sometimes she just wants to stare at me like a creepy stalker, or press her face against my stomach. It may sound cute- and it is, for the first few hours- but after 14 straight hours of being followed, demanded upon, and clung to, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom with shaking hands. Then she crams her hands through the space under the door, like the clever velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Anyway, while in the midst of trying to watch The Last Kingdom in three minute intervals I recommended it to my 14 year old daughter who is the one who clued me in to Vikings (which she watched while in Game of Thrones withdrawal). I warned her it wasn’t as good as Vikings and seemed much lower budget. However, like Vikings, it includes a wonderful bromance- between Uhtred and Leofric. She managed to burn through all 8 episodes in 24 hours and returned the next day with the pronouncement: Mom, it’s better than Vikings!

But what could be better than Vikings when it comes to vikings? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to be unfaithful to King Ragnar, but by the time I did finish The Last Kingdom I realized she was correct. The Last Kingdom is far more cerebral, nuanced, and sophisticated in terms of characterization than is Vikings. I’m going to assume this is because the book series it’s based on is well written- next time I place an order on amazon I’m going to buy it.

King Alfred (played by David Dawson) comes to the fore in brilliant manner as the season unfolds, both while in exile and in a decisive battle against the viking hordes. While my husband kept accusing me of watching yet another viking series to ogle the hunky danes, King Alfred is by far my favorite character in the series and is beautifully played by Dawson.

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world conquest in his eyes

A surprise close favorite to Alfred is his nephew Aetholwold. I won’t give anything away, but Aetholwold is faced with a moral crossroads that could have altered the course of human history. And the scene where Aethelwold deflects attention from Uhtred during their dual punishment is priceless and not to be missed.

The vikings are given less screen time in this series, though The Scariest Viking Award goes to Skorpa (played by Swedish actor Jonas Malmsjo). For some reason he always has blood on his mouth and a deranged look in his eyes.

skorpa
someone had a low carb breakfast

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you to watch Vikings, I better have convinced you to watch The Last Kingdom! On that note the four year old just woke up. Like Skorpa, I think she would eat me for breakfast if she could.