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 a yen for 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.

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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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zoo2

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.

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:

rawcorn

… 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:

cookedcorn

… 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:

huskedcorn

… 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.

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.

conan-the-barbarian-arnold-schwarzenegger-movie-image
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.

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.

the-last-kingdom-alfred-david-dawson
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.

Costco Caesar Salad Review

Have you ever bought food at the Costco food court? They have salad, ice cream, sandwiches, pizza, the famous $1.50 hot dog, and a few other concoctions. I usually avoid the food court because I’m in a rush to get home, though once, when pregnant with my youngest son, bought a turkey sandwich. It was ok but I slathered the inside with mayonnaise when I got home to make it edible.

Today in line, hungry, I stared at those tempting poster sized images of the offerings. Out of them all the caesar salad looked the lowest carb- or I should say appeared to be their only low carb offering- assuming I left out the croutons. If you’ve never read my blog before, I’m type 2 diabetic and have so far managed to control it completely without meds or insulin by eating very low carb. Case in point the blood work I received just yesterday. I think I deserve a medal for this. Or flowers.

aic

I’m not even in the prediabetic range; the highest I’ve been, since eating low carb, is 5.6. This, of course, doesn’t mean I’m no longer diabetic, and this a confusion you often get from the general public. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled but not eliminated. If I drank a glass of orange juice, my blood sugar would spike close to 300. All this means is that over the past few months I haven’t ingested more carbs than my body can metabolize, which as far I can tell is around 30-50 grams a day. A non-diabetic can metabolize at least 250 a day, and the average American consumes well over 300 carbs a day.

Anyway, back the caesar salad. It’s $3.99 plus applicable tax, and is made with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken breast, dressing, grated parmesan, and croutons.

costco caesar salad
an actual costco caesar salad, but not my actual salad; croutons not pictured

Once I unpacked it at home I could see there isn’t nearly enough dressing. So- you guessed it- I got out the mayonnaise and in a separate bowl slathered the chicken pieces with it. There wasn’t enough parmesan either- less than in the salad pictures above- in fact so little I couldn’t taste it in the mix. I’m not sure why Costco would skimp on the dressing; apart from the lettuce and croutons it’s probably the cheapest part of the meal. Whereas the chicken, which is definitely one of the more expensive ingredients, is provided in plenty.

The dressing, aside from being too sparse, was too salty, watery and nearly flavorless. I mean it was ok, but the mayo I put on the chicken tasted better. The romaine wasn’t cut finely enough either. I even found a whole, uncut leaf at the bottom of the dish! That is just bad salad preparation. If this were a food show, I’d eliminate the chef.

The cherry tomatoes were tasty and the chicken was absolutely delicious! It looked grilled but tasted poached, so I’m not sure exactly how they prepare it. In fact it was so delicious I may just buy this salad again, but put my own dressing on it once home.

I didn’t eat the croutons so I can’t tell you how they taste. However, my daughters loved them and said they taste like garlic bread.

In summation I’d give this salad a weak 6 on a 1-10 scale. Were it not for the chicken, it would be a 3.

 

Uhtred Son of Uhtred

While in Vikings withdrawal I noticed a series on Netflix called The Last Kingdom. It had a lot of stars (viewer ratings, not actors) so I gave it a try.

It was quickly evident that The Last Kingdom is a BBC spinoff on Vikings, focusing on the same historical era but from the vantage point- more or less- of the Saxons. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the true-to-history protagonist, a saxon lord by birth but adopted by vikings, raised as a firebrand, trinity denying warrior.

While The Last Kingdom is not as “sexy” as Vikings, we get lots of battle scenes, Saxon-Dane historicity, quasi rape scenes and sparknotes on King Alfred the Great, albeit all on a seemingly lower budget. I also got the sense, while watching this, that this was all based on a book (why I don’t know). And sure enough it is. The Saxon Stories, by Bernard Cornwell is the inspiration for the series.

Alexander Dreymon (a german actor who speaks english without accent) is good, but not necessarily great, as the oft beleaguered Uhtred son of Uhtred; some Christ innuendos are not unintended, but you have to watch it to see! David Dawson is simply phenomenal as the seething yet intellectual King Alfred the Great- he even looks like the ancient portraits of the true king! However the king is given less screen time than the sword wielding Uhtred, but to no ill effect.

I have to say the series plays delicately and notably with the visceral conflicts young Uhtred experiences between cultures. This is something I can identify with personally, as someone who was raised Christian but received tremendous “cultural” influence from Judaism. Just as Uhtred is caught between two worlds, I often feel caught between two religions. At times his fictitious plight brought me to tears; I neither believe in Jesus as Christians do, nor do I disbelieve in him as Jews do. Perhaps I should just settle for Hinduism.

Either way The Last Kingdom is highly recommended to any fans of Vikings!

What Ails You

Two weeks ago I woke up, stretched myself out in bed as I always do, and felt my right calf muscle seize up.

Now: I know some of you out there in blogland have had muscle cramps and spasms, but when I get a cramp in my calf muscle, it is a searing, blinding, excruciating pain. I’d say it’s beyond description but I have an absolutely precise description: it feels like giving birth without an epidural. The “contraction” in my leg feels exactly like the contractions of hard childbirth. Thankfully this typically happens once every few years, and lasts only a few seconds.

But this cramp didn’t stop, and once it did begin to fade, it seized up again. And again.

By the third “again” I was screaming in agony, my hands desperately pressing my calf in an effort to get it to calm down. I’d never experienced anything like this before! What was happening to my body?

I screamed for my husband and begged for a glass of water (thinking I might be dehydrated) which I glugged down. And a second glass. I was limping for the next three days, and couldn’t drive as it was my right leg.

But the spasms and cramps kept coming- not as severe as that one, but persistent, and not just in my calves. I began to feel them in my ankles, my thighs, even in my upper arms! What the hell! I began to wonder if I might be dying. So I turned to google.

According to google these spasms and cramps are caused by mineral and electrolyte deficiencies, namely magnesium, calcium, and potassium. They can also be caused by dehydration or starvation. I don’t eat much, but I doubt I’m in an official phase of starvation. I almost never eat less than 1200 calories a day.

I began loading up on magnesium, calcium, and potassium supplements. I bought NO SALT, a salt substitute made from potassium chloride. I stir 1.25 teaspoons in a glass of water and sip it throughout the day (yuck!). It helped, but the spasms kept coming like obnoxious sea waves.

So I finally broke down and scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician, a serious Syrian with a strange grasp on anatomy. When I went to him once for severe rib pain, he surmised it might be coming from my ovaries.

He looked at my legs. Pressed on my ankles, my calves, and under my knees. He wasn’t convinced the problem was muscular, he advised, but perhaps a vascular issue. He ordered bloodwork and prescribed a muscle relaxant, which I’m afraid to take.

Thus, here I sit dreading the next leg cramp, though I’ve learned to predict them and flex my foot upright to quell any oncoming cramps. And my right arm is killing me from the kid who drew my blood today– he looked all of 12 years old. You know you’re getting old, when the doctors start to look young.

Rude Awakening

gasleak

Thursday morning I overslept after a long night of nightmares and insomnia, eventually stumbling into my husband’s office to ask him something. But instead he asked me something.

“Go upstairs,” he said, “Tell me if you smell something.”

Still half dressed I stumbled upstairs and was hit by the stench of gas- the kind that feeds gas ovens- in our main kitchen on the second floor. This is the room I basically live in, during waking hours.

I inspected the stove. Nothing on. One burner dial was slightly askew but not “on.” There was no hissing or clicking. I uttered an expletive, opened the windows, and scurried downstairs.

“Call 911!” I told him.

“Huh?” he blinked. “Do we have to?”

“Yes!”

He shrugged. “Maybe we could just call National Grid?” He disappeared back into his laptop.

I threw on clothes and scrambled back up to see if my kids were still alive. My 10 year old was passed out asleep on the couch, breathing. 4 year old was awake and jabbering, 19 and 8 year olds passed out asleep and breathing. I concluded if my 4 year old was still alive, the bigger ones would probably survive. I ran back downstairs.

“Did you call?”

My husband rolled his eyes. “I’m kind of busy here…”

I handed him the phone and he skeptically dialed the emergency line. And when he hung up, he unbolted the front double doors.

Before I knew it my house was swarming with firefighters like an army of giant locusts. My daughters and I hid in my husband’s office so we caught only glimpses of them coming and going, until one burst into the office and nearly collided with me. He was huge- so tall I had to careen my head up to look at him.

“Dude,” I wanted to tell him– “You should audition for Vikings!”

They tested the upstairs oven. Tested the downstairs oven. Tested the dryer. All clear, but they too could smell gas. It was probably just a burner left a little ajar, they assured us, and we were good to go. They filed out, we rebolted the double doors, and my husband asked if I was certain they had all left.

“I assume so,” I told him, “Unless one decided he wants to live with us.”

So the moral of the story is: if you smell gas and cannot immediately identify and eliminate the source, unplug all electrical appliances, open the windows and straightaway call 911!