Sunday, September 7, 2014

Happy Grandparents Day!

In honor of this day, I thought I'd tell you about a pair of really terrific grandparents who graced my life when I was young.

Ladies first, so my mother's mother, the awesome Naomi Wilhelm, nee Rupert.  Pre-stepfascist, she shared the raising of me with my mother, watching me while my mother worked.  I inherited her love of animals, especially birds, for whom she would empty the toaster tray periodically to give them the crumbs to eat.  Her patience  with my continual chatter and queries was saint-like, and her ability to adjust her conversation to a child's level and teach me is something I still appreciate.

Grandma was a prodigious cook and baker.  My mother, the youngest of five children, remembers that frequently friends came home and ate at their house.  With all those mouths to feed, Grandma would make a 25 pound bag of flour into bread for the family every week.  While making the bread for the day, Grandma would prepare soup, chili, stew or spaghetti sauce -- something that could simmer all day while she turned out loaves of bread.  Have you ever kneaded bread dough?  If you haven't, let me tell you kneading that much bread dough gave Grandma a tremendous arm workout, especially forearms and triceps.  The weaker sex?  Yeah, right!! 

And talk about delicious, let me tell you, nobody on earth could touch Naomi Wilhelm's bread.  Nobody.  And nobody ever will.  They shame of it is that Naomi Wilhelm's granddaughter has yet to successfully bake a loaf of yeast bread fit to eat.  It's one of my aspirations, though, and I'll keep trying.  Grandma used to bake a loaf or two for us when I was little, and give me a pinch of the raw dough to eat.  To this day, when I make pizza crust, focaccia or yeast doughnuts, I'll eat a pinch of the raw dough in her memory.

Grandma was smart, too.  Although she only had an 8th-grade education, Grandma liked to read, devouring two newspapers on a daily basis.  And I remember her playing Jeopardy back in the day when its host was named Art Fleming and the highest dollar value of a clue was $100.  Naomi OWNED that show -- fuhgeddaboudit.  Same with Concentration -- nobody could touch her.

She had a few opinions, too (the women in my family are well-known to), and she didn't hesitate to share them.  She didn't like airplanes ("They're messing up the weather!"), and you never could convince her we landed on the moon, but she loved the Beatles and Jack Kennedy, wrestling and roller-derby.

Grandma died at age 67 of breast cancer that had metastasized.  I was not quite 7 when she died.  I think the saddest part for me is that she didn't live long enough for us to have an adult conversation.  So many questions I wish I'd had time to ask her.  I'd love to hear her thoughts on so many things -- computers, TV, modern life, books, my mother, my father, my stepfather, me.  And have her teach me how to bake bread.  God, I miss her!  :'(

And there was my stepfather's dad, Herman "Pete" McCall.  I treasured him for his consideration and sensitivity.  Mother and stepfascist hadn't been married long and wanted a weekend alone.  Off I was shipped to Grandma and Pap's.  Well, Pap knew they were strangers to me and I was probably nervous, so he explained procedures around their house every step of the way.  He did it in a kind, reassuring way designed to make me feel comfortable and part of things.  It was very sweet of him and made a 4-year-old feel more at home with them fairly quickly.

I loved spending time with him and remember hanging around him watching him do the most mundane things like cleaning the big grandfather clock in the dining room, mowing the grass.  He had special work clothes for these kinds of tasks -- overalls and work shirts and shoes, and he used to remind me of Mr. Rogers in that he had different clothes for different activities that he would change into with some ceremony.  He never went out to the (Eagles) Club without bathing, shaving, changing into nice clothes and wearing aftershave, unlike my stepfather, who usually couldn't be bothered to do those things and stunk everywhere he went.

I've said here before that Pap was the only one who ever spoiled me.  He did that in so many ways, large and small, that told me the one thing we all need to know about those who love us -- that he paid attention to what I liked and did/got for me when he could; he tried to please.  He knew all my favorite snacks and drinks and he made sure Grandma always them in the house.  And the times my parents were away salmon-fishing he and Grandma would have me over on two consecutive weekends, he found out what my favorite soups and TV dinners were so he could make sure to have them "in case Claudia gets hungry".  The first year, we went to Williamsburg, PA (not far from Johnstown, the site of the infamous Johnstown flood) to bring Grandma's mom home for a visit. 

As we traveled across the mountains, I drooled over the peaking fall colors, praising the beauty of the mountains ad nauseum.  From then until my parents' divorce, every year we "just happened" to go across the mountains that same time.  And if the fall colors weren't always peaking at that time, I still knew we were going because Pap loved me.

That evening when we got home, Pap scandalized Grandma by taking me with him to order pizza.  (Grandma was never known to spoil me in any way).  Left to his own devices, Pap would have come home with an extra cheese and pepperoni pizza.  But with me as his willing accomplice (Pap:  "You like mushrooms on your pizza, don't you?  Sure you do!  Put some mushrooms on there, Angie!" on and on in such a way through all the toppings on Angelo's menu), we came home with one plain cheese pizza, and one mondo-mondo, fully-loaded pizza.  Grandma was visibly (and audibly) in a high state of piss-off over the expense, and his spoiling of me, but her mom (called "Big Grandma" by all her great-grandchildren) settled the matter by defecting over to mondo-mondo, and leaving Little Grandma all alone with her cheese pizza and her piss-off.

Every year in in November, the Catholic church that Grandma went to would have its big to-do, the highlight of which was a multi-ethnic food festival.  I always went with my mum and Grandma, hitting the Italian booth for lasagna and ravioli, the Polish booth for apricot kolachy, the Syrian booth for baklava and whatever booth for cheesecake cookies, enjoying them all with great relish.  One year, a week before the festival, I overheard a convo between Grandma and my mum to the effect that Pap was going to be home that year instead of going hunting as usual, and boy, he would really love it if Claudia would stay home with him instead of going to the festival.  He would (read: induce Grandma to) cook something really special ;) and we could watch the Steeler game.  Would I?  Awwww!  Who wouldn't, when someone wants them around so much!  Just to make sure I didn't miss the Italian booth too much, he (made sure Grandma) cooked spaghetti and meatballs ;), then he violated his own rule that Sunday Dinner Must Always Be Served At Noon, waited till 1 PM, thus allowing us to sit out in the kitchen and watch the Steelers beat whoever-the-hell-it-was, and then, just to make sure the spirit of indulgence was complete, he let me drink a beer during the game.  A great time was had by both.

When I was about 9, I stayed with them one weekend.  Saturday was a bit chilly, but I went out to play after breakfast.  It began to rain lightly.  Light rain was not usually a cause to bring me inside in my mother's book, but Grandma read differently, and ordered me inside.  I pussed, but Pap had an idea.  While Grandma buzzed about her Saturday housecleaning, he went up to the middle bedroom, pulled down a ceramic box and came into the kitchen with it.  The box contained a bunch of foreign coins Pap had collected at various ports during his World War II service in the US Navy.  Each coin came with a story from his time in its country, and his memories of the port, the sights, sounds, food, and people that lasted the rest of that morning and well into the afternoon.  All well-sanitized for young ears, I'm sure, but a caring man's way to connect with his granddaughter and amuse her on a rainy day.  As I got older, I heard some of the stories over again and less-sanitized but I cherished every one.  I still do.

Pap died November 1984, also from the demon cancer.  It went to his brain and savaged it in the end, so he didn't know my voice at times when I braved my stepfather's possible meanness and called.  I hate it that the acrimonious divorce robbed me of three years with Pap.  I hate it that a weak part of me is glad I never saw him sick and suffering, and remembers him big and strong and healthy.

But I love it that I got to tell him I loved him three months before he died.  And that he told me he loved me, too.

All you that have living grandparents, please cherish the time you have with them.  Please don't resent it if they go on a bit at times with their stories.  Take notes!

After all, those are some of the stories you're going to bore your grandchildren with!  ;0

Now, go call your grandparents!

Good vibes to all of you,


Monday, August 4, 2014

So, Did You Hear The One About the Buddhist Who Refused Novocaine During the Root Canal?

Maybe this is a strange topic to address.  Religion and politics are The Big Two, as in controversial, that we are taught never to discuss in polite company, for fear of starting rumbles, riots and estrangements.  I am a Buddhist, yet I didn't start out a Buddhist.  How did that happen?  Thereby hangs a tale...

It's a long story -- you have been warned!  I think if you hang in and read it all, though, you'll find a pay-off.  And I will say from the get-go that I have no intention of offending anyone, but on her blog Claudia calls 'em as she sees and experiences 'em, and does not pull punches, so we got that straight.

Now, my becoming-a-Buddhist story...

I was baptized Lutheran, but we never were much for practicing.  Although I can remember being taught to say God-bless-so-and-so prayers, and attending two different Bible camps by age 10 (probably more to keep me out of the 'rents hair and to delay the onset of my summer vaca for them as long as possible), but only remember going to church a couple of times with my aunt, uncle and cousins, and Auntie always sat beside me with her pink stick at the ready to whack me one, lest I even thought about fidgeting or breathed too loudly.

The extent of my childhood Christian education can be summed up by that, and by the reading of a set of Old Testament Bible stories, supplemented by a very easy-to-read New Testament, courtesy of our good neighbor, Ed Kassouf.  If there is a heaven, no doubt Mr. Kassouf now resides there, for he was never to my knowledge anything but kind to anyone.  And he was endlessly patient with a young Claudia who was hungry for positive adult attention, and who would chatter the ears off of any ten adults in as many minutes, and still will.  But I digress...

So let's just say that God and I were, for the most part, not well acquainted until my senior year in high school, when I met a girl I'll call Beth.  Beth was a Born-Again Christian.  After she got to know me well enough to feel free to chide me, I would hear from Beth frequent pleas to also become a BAC.  "The end of the world could come tomorrow, Claudia," she would say.  "Do you know you're going to hell if you died right now because you haven't been saved?  I don't want you to go to hell.  I want you to be in heaven with me.  Please!  Get down on your knees soon and pray the Sinner's Prayer."  I always demurred, feeling fairly uncomfortable during these discussions.  I have never had a problem discussing spiritual matters, but someone proselytizing or attempting to convert me has always made me feel trod-upon, like they're crossing a boundary and invading something that is personal, private, sacred. 

But Beth's seeds eventually took root.  I was raised in fear of my stepfather, so fear of a patriarchal figure was what I knew.  The Christian Coalition was going great guns at the time, and conservative talk shows all over radio and TV echoed perfectly the value structure Beth espoused.  (Can one be Christian and liberal?  Sometimes it's hard to find evidence one can -- the loudest mouths with a Christian brand seem to jaw distinctly to the right, don't they?)  I began to believe Beth might have a point.  Then one day our garage door broke, and my mother didn't really know where the money to fix it would come from.  I prayed for a miracle.  That day, I found an ad in a local money-saving paper for a garage-door repairman; we called him and he came over the next day.  As he fixed the garage door, we talked, and it turned out I had gone to elementary school with his daughter.  It also turned out he was a BAC.  He had a very productive day as it turned out because by the end of it, he had fixed our garage door, invited me to dinner the next day to see his daughter again after all those years, and prayed the Sinner's Prayer with me that made me a BAC, too.

Interesting part about this family:  They were very short on follow-through, that is, once my soul was saved, they seemed to have little interest in mentoring Claudia the new BAC.  I suppose it's a feeling not unlike when you sleep with someone and never hear from them again.  I felt like just another notch on their Bible.

Beth, however, was delighted, and gushed in a letter from her new Christian college:  "Oh, Claudia, that's wonderful!  I knew God would someday do a great work in you."  (!!!)

In Claudia World, though, being a BAC was tough going.  How does one clean up language as salty as mine so that one is fit to "fellowship" with those with sweeter tongues and (apparently) cleaner thought-processes?  How many BACs does it take to convert recalcitrant, feminist Claudia body, mind and spirit to such a thoroughly patriarchal religion?  Do people, especially those with IQs near Mensa-level, still believe that a guy stayed in the belly of a whale for three days and other such tales?  And the burning question, never once competently answered by anyone or anything but my own experience, where was God when I was being abused as a child?

By 1987, about three years post-BAC-conversion, after working more, becoming less shy, and hanging out with people from a wide variety of faiths, I began to explore, studying Wicca (much to the horror of some visiting Jehovah's Witnesses), and settled on a loose New Age affiliation that lasted seven years or so.  ("You've backslidden!" tsk-tsked Beth).  Then the bombshell that won me back to Team BAC, at least for awhile...

My mum had a close encounter with some ice in a dark parking lot at her workplace in 1987.  It took almost seven years for the resulting back injury to render her unable to work at her job, and for more than two years, any job.  Suddenly, the mounting bills, possible foreclosures, having food to eat, were MY problem.  Having lived with the stepfascist, I was no stranger to fear, but never had I experienced anything so pervasive, so all-encompassing.  It is hard for one person working three or four entry-level, part-time jobs to replace the salary of one professional with 33 years of experience and the concomitant paycheck.  Every ring of the phone, every vroom of the mail truck seemed to bring more bad news.  When waking up every day seems to bring some fresh hell, it is easy to dread waking up.  And then I started to notice something strange: every time some new bill came, or we needed money out of nowhere (doctors, lawyers working on my mum's worker's compensation or SSI disability cases) came.  The form was ever-changing -- a surprise cleaning or baby-sitting job, some back pay my mother's workplace decided they owed her, whatever.  Always something, always just the right amount and usually no extra, and always at the eleventh hour.  I would've had to be blind not to notice a pattern and suspect an intelligence behind the happenings.  Jehovah became a frightened young woman's new hero.

Somehow we negotiated that humongous hurdle.  My mum finally won her disability on the second try, received some job (re)training and began to work again.  I went down to one job as of 1997 when I got hired at The Plaza back in the good old days when the flagship restaurant was Bob's House of Roast Beef. 

Those early days at The Plaza were great, in a way.  My mother was working again and not constantly underfoot, and I worked the 4-11 evening shift, so, unless I was out with my piano-playing friend hawking his merchandise, I was free to cook and do housework from the time I got up till about 3 or so, when I'd change into my uniform and walk to work. 

My morning ritual at this time allowed me to have time with God, and I availed of that time with prayer, Daily Guideposts books and the like.  Since I worked Sundays, church was out of the question, but I spent my spiritual downtime watching Joyce Meyer.  Joyce is like me, assertive, opinionated, forceful, and like me she was sexually abused as a child.  I like Joyce's style as well as her substance and still consider her a soul sister.

My problem always was I could never similarly bond with the God of the Bible.

As I healed from my stepfather's abuse, I became aware of the extent and depth of the damage.  Although the sexual abuse caused maybe some of the most glaring damage, it was the verbal/emotional abuse that, to this day, takes the biggest toll.  My stepfather was very controlling; he had many rules and regulations that were often random, arbitrary, and ever open to change and refinement.  I had no privacy.  My room was frequently searched, my diary read, and my stepfather was not the slightest bit ashamed he did this; indeed, he bragged about it.  At any time, my work ethic, actions, opinions, even my very facial expressions could be held under scrutiny, and were almost always disapproved of.  It was like living with the Gestapo.

During my entire history as a Christian, I was trying to conform myself to a religion whose God seemed to be all about "thou shalt not", and it always seemed like everything I thought, felt, did, or was was a "thou shalt not".  This God seemed like a patrol cop in the sky, with a humongous black book that he was ever busy writing down my legions of sins into.  Yes, I was frequently told by other Christians that God loved me.  But I was also told that His love was because of his goodness and holy name, and not because I deserved it, being like all humans born to original sin, as if I had very little intrinsic worth of my own.  And THAT was the crux of the problem between me and Jehovah.

Take a child like me, born out-of-wedlock in the 60's when that just wasn't done.  My aunt and uncle implored my mother to give me up for adoption, my father abandoned me for reasons unknown, and my stepfather abused me in every way possible for 12 years.  These experiences led to a deep core wound of shame and unworthiness that's taking a lifetime to heal.  Do we really expect someone like me to commit to whole-heartedly worship a God who reinforces her core wound, her unworthiness, her very sin in being born?   

I tried, I really did.  Not because I loved Jehovah, because I'm not the kind of person who can get close to anyone when I feel bad about myself in their company.  Like most people, I want to be around those who value my intrinsic worth, and if I perceive they don't, I will quickly and unceremoniously abandon the relationship.  With Jehovah, I tried unsuccessfully to love and worship him because I feared otherwise he would send me to hell.  Fear of punishment, plain and simple.  Way too many shades of the stepfascist. 

Eventually, my only bonds with the Christian God seemed to be in terms of millennial-era catastrophizing and "left-behind" theology, and those are thin tethers; and our local Episcopal church, whose services I attended during this time period, trying to find something Christian to hang on to.  In time I felt the futility that a person must experience in a very incompatible marriage struggling for common ground where there is none, and finding only reasons to divorce, not stay married.

Along about then, a couple of random events conspired to propel me to my current spiritual residence, with the kind of irony that makes true life sometimes stranger than fiction.

Sometime in the late 90's, I heard the sad news about the death of a friend I'll call Colin.  I had known Colin since junior high.  Colin came out to me as gay in the mid-80's after a rather devastating break-up with his boyfriend.  Not long after, he moved to a city in the Bible Belt, a sometimes difficult location for a gay man.  I visited him a few times there, always admonishing him to practice safe sex.  We lost touch over the years, but I'll always remember his kindness and non-judgmental attitude toward others.  He was fun to be with, and his easy-going nature always soothed and balanced my more tempestuous one.  The last time Colin came to visit, unfortunately, I did not get to see him and didn't even know he was here, probably being at one of my four jobs.  I was told later it was probable that Colin had been suffering from some complications to AIDS and that it was obvious at the time he didn't have long to live.  Also that he had been estranged from his mother, due to her conflict between her Catholic faith and his sexual orientation, and that estrangement apparently continued until his death.  Sad for both of them.

I had always heard extremely negative observations about homosexuals from BACs and other conservative Christians, very little Christian love or compassion ("Homosexuality is a gross sin in the eyes of God, and AIDS is the punishment!" -- Beth during a discussion of the AIDS epidemic, circa 1986).  A lot of these opinions were very heated and vehement, with blatant discrimination, hate, even violence directed at gay and lesbian citizens.  I was shocked to learn there are areas in our country where people can legally be fired from jobs and denied apartment leases simply due to sexual orientation.  Every time I heard such ugliness I thought of Colin and other gays and lesbians I had met while working along the fringes of the local entertainment industry.  We all know people fear what they don't understand, and that fear often turns people's words and actions ugly.  It seemed to me that many times people tend to wrap themselves up in the Bible (or flag) when spewing their poison -- one of my friends called this "using Jesus as a malicious shield".  I determined to find out what the Bible really says about homosexuality.

I investigated the true culture of the Middle East during biblical times, especially vis a vis the concept of hospitality; whether the Holiness Code is applicable to Christians today; the meaning of the word "abomination" in biblical terms.  I made exhaustive studies of phraseology of the approximately seven times in the Bible where homosexuality is mentioned, in the languages they appeared in (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek).  I strove to understand the biblical concept of the issue of homosexuality that was being referenced, which I understand to be much different than what we are perceiving today, because our culture is way different.  I even investigated ancillary issues such as:  How is the process of judgment for our sins carried out?  Is hell a place of eternal punishment for those sent there?  Did the ancient Jews and early Christians believe in a hell of eternal damnation?  How did several disparate schools of Christianity evolve into the religion we are being taught today?  How much politicizing was involved?  The answers surprised me, and may vary greatly from what some of us have been taught.

I emerged a far different spiritual woman at the end of this analysis, which lasted several years, and as I now perceived everything much differently than I'd been taught, I became a woman without a religion.  This went on a few years, until the other shoe dropped.

In 2011, I came across an obituary for Beth's father.  I considered sending a sympathy card, but we had not communicated in some 17 years.  Some gaps are tough to bridge, not just those of time, but of philosophy.  I sensed that I was in the middle of a spiritual evolution that I didn't want to discuss quite yet, so I sent a prayer for Beth's welfare and peace to the Universe, as it were, and called it a day.  A year later, Beth took matters into her own hands.

One night in March, I came home from work, stopping by the mailbox on the way in as I usually do.  I was flabbergasted to find a letter from Beth waiting for me.  It seemed her children were growing up, she had lost her father, she had some time on her hands, and wanted to re-connect.  There were requests for forgiveness, questions a tad bit personal for these many years apart, frustration that I am not accessible via social media, etc.  After mulling the matter over a day or two, I responded, offering the forgiveness she seemed to need, evading the more personal questions, answering some others, exchanging contact info.  She sent me an email a few days later; I forwarded a few back.  And then...nothing.  (As it stands to this day, two years later).  I assumed she lost interest and felt relieved.  Lots of water, and changes, under the bridge.  With the new spiritual direction dawning and the instinct to set up boundaries around it, I sure didn't want to discuss or listen to proselytizing at this point in my life, especially from someone who hadn't been there through the changes.

And then, about a week or so later, I had it.  The Dream That Changed Everything.

In the dream, I stopped by the little house where Colin lived.  It seemed he was ill.  I asked him what his temperature was, but he didn't know.  Apparently he didn't have a thermometer.  Concerned about him, I swallowed my usual lecture about "civilians" (people with the average layperson's knowledge of medical matters, which Claudia the nurse's daughter always urges those in her personal sphere to exceed), and told him I was going to the mall, and I would pick one up for him, but I had another stop to make, too.

The next thing I saw, I was at Beth's childhood home.  Apparently I had promised I would stop by and visit a bit.  As soon as I got there, I was overwhelmed by a sensation of heaviness, of feeling stultified, depressed, oppressed.  I really didn't want to be there.  Beth's stepmom and sisters were there; they wanted me to stay to dinner.  Ugh!!!  I tried to think of an excuse to leave.  All of a sudden, I saw something moving in the top of my vision.  I looked up, and to my amazement, a black bat had flown out of a square hole in the ceiling, and was dive-bombing us.  I hate bats.  They rank up there with snakes and rodents as things to be feared.  As scared as I was, Beth & Co. were even more frightened.  They screamed for me to do something.  I finally got them to hook up a hose to the kitchen faucet and I shot a torrent of water at the bat, who dutifully flew up into the square hole and out of sight.  Whereupon I dutifully made my excuses and flew the hell out of there to Colin's house.

When I arrived, Colin appeared much better than earlier in the day when I had seen him.  I took his temperature and though elevated, it was not worrisome.  He had a fire lit in the fireplace against a chilly September evening, which made his small house feel quite cozy.  A very relaxed and homey environment.  I couldn't resist mentally contrasting it with the sharp discomfort I had felt at Beth's childhood home.  Colin suggested we go outside and enjoy the early evening.

Colin's backyard was spacious, though it was hard to tell where his property ended and his neighbor's began, as the backyards flowed into each other.  We sat down at his wooden picnic table and looked toward the lowering sun.  We must have talked a bit, though I don't remember the conversation, only that at some point we stopped talking and I looked directly into his blue eyes.  Suddenly, there burst upon me the certain knowledge that Colin was dying, and sooner rather than later.  I looked closely at him, noted that his shoulder-length hair was snow-white.  When did he get old, I wondered.  It struck me then that when I had seen Beth and her family, they appeared no different than they had been in the 80's when I had first met them, as if they'd been frozen in time.  Meanwhile, I felt the age I was at the time of the dream, 46.  But although Colin's hair was white, his face was unlined, and startled, I noted little aging, as if a young man had dyed his hair white.  Our eyes met again, and I mutely rejected the thought of his death.  Colin continued to regard me silently and, as if he had read my mind, I felt him confirming wordlessly his imminent death.  Yet, looking at him, I saw nothing but acceptance, peace.  His countenance radiated profound wisdom and goodness, no struggle, only joy.  Being with Colin, I suddenly felt as if I was in the presence of a mystic sage. 

Sounds from the adjoining yard revealed Colin's neighbors, a single mother and her young children, out playing tag.  I couldn't help smiling as I watched them.  Seeing us watching them, the mother waved, and as he waved back Colin said, "I come and watch them every night when they're out.  It does my heart good."  I agreed, noticing squirrels and chipmunks playing in another corner of the yard, and nearby, a deer moved stealthily to a salt lick.  Birds twittered and busied themselves above us.  I sighed, contemplating the winter creeping up, and the metaphorical one the man across from me was facing.  But I looked at him and felt again his peace in his simple life and rustic home; even the prospect of his death left him nothing but serene.  He was dying but not suffering.  I didn't envy what would be Colin's early death, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't envy his mindset.

There is no way to overstate the impact this dream had on me.  It continues to this day.  When I lose my focus or perspective, all I have to do is return mentally to this dream to re-center.  I still want what my friend had in this dream, all of it -- the house, the yard, the neighbors and animals -- but most importantly, the wisdom, peace, joy and goodness.  And in the days and weeks after I had the dream, it haunted me in a good way.  I wondered what I needed to do to get there.  My very aura felt pregnant with a new spiritual direction; it was only a matter of time before it would be revealed.

Fast-forward about three months.  Early afternoon Saturday, July 1st, Canada Day.  I had just eaten lunch and was taking it easy after a busy Friday, the prelude to the American Independence Day coming up that Tuesday.  I was kind of daydreaming, but definitely awake, (and I want to emphasize that), when out of nowhere, I began receiving some rather lengthy insights.  These came through me, not from me.  And two things I will go to my deathbed believing:  1.  These revelations were as true as truth itself.  2.  They came from the all-knowing force of good in the universe, who we might call God.  And although I will not at this time go into all that I learned that day, these are some of the highlights:

Love is the sun -- bright, shining, eternal.  Everything else -- fear, anger, envy, etc., are clouds temporarily blocking the sun.  They mean nothing.  They are here today, gone tomorrow.  Pay them no mind, let them pass like mist. 

We must live in love.  God is not a white-bearded guy, patrolling from the sky, ready to thunder down on us.  God is love.  He only wants us to treat each other with love.  Anything that is not of pure love is not The Way, The Truth, and The Life.  It is literally Anti-God, Anti-Us, and Anti-Life.  We must never dehumanize or devalue anyone.  The true state of grace occurs when an individual operates solely out of love, because when a person operates out of true, pure, unselfish love, (s)he is literally unable to make a mistake.

Organized religions gave us laws, rules to live by, in order to preserve us and the earth and to keep us from hurting each other.  Most of these laws are common-sense and helpful, and very essential for those aforementioned purposes.  We make a serious mistake when we build worship around these laws, however.  They were intended as rules for the road, no more, no less.   

What we frequently interpret as God punishing us for our sins is actually no more or less than cause and effect, which is the precise definition of karma.  

There was much more, but you get the idea.  I don't know how long I sat and received these communications; only that as I did, I felt the most amazing bliss.  And when my head was spinning with the volume of information, and I could take no more bliss, I begged for (and received immediately) a time-out and promptly rushed to write everything down before I forgot it.

I subsequently received a shorter message 6 1/2 months later, with much the same tone.  By the end of the first session, if you will, I was anxious to figure out if there was any already-established religion that espoused what I had been taught.  When I tried to describe the experience of receiving messages from The Universe as I had, the phrase that sprang to mind was "pure knowledge".  Googling that phrase, I was intrigued to discover that I was not the first one to use it.  Indeed, the phrase had been used to describe experiences just like mine by practitioners of Hinduism and Buddhism.  And that was what led me to begin to study Buddhism.

Now, because I dislike proselytizing so much, I will not do it here.  If you want to learn about Buddhism, here are few good places to start:

In the time since the pure knowledge experiences, I have done a lot of studying.  I officially declared as a Buddhist late last fall when I went to the Triple Gem for refuge, and undertook my training vows.  I am at this time probably no better of a Buddhist than I was a Christian (I'm working on it!), but I am much happier and more comfortable with my choice, and that counts for a lot. 

I am not what you'd call purely a Buddhist, either.  Since I also studied Taoism over the years, and since the two philosophies share so much common ground that resonates with me, I actually call myself a "BudDaoist".

There is actually a lot of discussion and disagreement over whether Buddhism is a religion.  After all, it is non-deistic (no God to worship).  Yet, as I indicated, I believe I received pure knowledge from God. But this God was not the God of the Christian Bible, for many reasons.  As a result of my two sessions of pure knowledge:

I no longer believe God experiences emotions such as anger, jealousy, etc.  My impression is that is merely a human/animal métier.  Nor do I believe that God expects us to be on our knees worshiping him.

I no longer believe that God judges us.

I no longer believe there is a hell, except the one(s) we make for ourselves on earth.

I now believe God's only desire is for us to get a clue.

"Getting a clue" means learning how to live in true, pure, unselfish love.

That once we get a clue, we will join him, not in a physical place one might call "heaven", but literally our energy will merge with his, and we will become part of That Which Is ALL;
That as many times as we must go around until we get there, we will ALL get there eventually;

And that he's got all the time and patience in the world until we do.

I'll see you there...


Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Super" Bowl???

Well, the Super Bowl is being played as I write.  Back in the day, seems like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team I rooted for, were in contention to appear in The Big Game pretty regularly.  Sometimes I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

For that was before four separate women made four separate rape/sexual misconduct allegations against Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who, after receiving a very light slap on the wrist considering the amount of evidence NFL Commish Roger Goodell hinted he had gotten a gander at, was back on the job as Steelers' franchise QB.  That was the genesis of the alienation of affection between me, formerly a ferocious and loyal fan, and the Steelers.  And me and football.

Now, the latest.

I received an email Friday from Credo Action, a do-gooder group I have worked with upon occasion.  That email directed me to this website: 

There, I learned, to my horror, that the NFL does not (and has not since at least 1966, when came the merger that created the modern NFL), pay federal taxes.  Yes, you read that correctly, the NFL does NOT pay federal tax.  During the aforementioned merger negotiation, the NFL was able to obtain a sweetheart deal from the IRS whereby they would wear the designation of a non-profit organization.

corporate welfare, n

financial aid, such as a subsidy or tax break, provided by the government to corporations or other businesses, especially when viewed as wasteful or unjust.

Or, for the hell of it, how about we try input from Wikipedia:

"Subsidies considered excessive, unwarranted, wasteful, unfair, inefficient, or brought about by lobbying are often called corporate welfare."

Well, considering that the NFL earns approximately $9 BILLION a year and has reportedly spent $12.7 million in lobbying efforts since 1998 and $2 million in campaign contributions since '92, I would certainly call into question their non-profit status and would feel comfortable connecting a few back-scratching, one-hand-washing-the-other dots, wouldn't you?

To me, it's bad enough when a corporation whose product or service we need gets these subsidies.  Like oil companies, for example.  But do we truly NEED football enough to justify this gross inequity?

I remember watching an HBO documentary program in the 80's (though the title escapes me now, and research into this title has so far proven elusive) about pro football players years after retirement who were crippled, or whose health was adversely affected by the grind of the NFL and how many felt the NFL didn't do much to provide for the needs of these players as their health and quality of life continued to decline.  Since then stories abound of many former gridiron heroes such as Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who sustained several apparently undiagnosed concussions and consequently suffered from amnesia, dementia, and depression and was homeless for a time upon his retirement, dying at age 50.  Many players have been recently found to have suffered a similar fate.  The NFL is reaping a heaping of unhappy karma.

The Super Bowl, and the 2013 football season will be over tonight, bragging rights decided one way or the other.  But tax season is just beginning.  When I get done with this post, and my dinner, I'm gonna be on Turbo Tax filing my taxes, and knowing that I'm paying more because the NFL is paying nothing.  And I'm mad.  This post is just the beginning for me.  How about you?

A hearty thank you to Evan Sutton, who started the petition (may this post get you lotsa signatures, my friend), and Credo Action, for sending it along.

Good vibes to all of you,


In addition to aforementioned citations, I used the following as sources:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Little More Holiday Cheer

So, back on November 19th's post I mentioned that I had a holiday Frappuccino in mind that might interest you.  Here's the story:

At work on the 18th, I had a bit of time on my hands after all of my duties were discharged, and fell to ruminating upon the twin glories of having fashioned a holiday drink enjoyed by customers and co-workers alike, and having succeeded in winning a place for that drink in immortality via "The Secret Menu".  I determined to do what I could to formulate an equally relevant cold holiday drink to complement the hot one already created.  "But what flavor?" I asked myself.  "Ah, peppermint is popular," I thought, "but alas, always combined with mocha...hmmm...what about by itself, like a candy cane?  Yes, that's the ticket!  A Candy Cane Frappuccino!"  So, like a mad scientist, I commenced to concocting.  Woo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha!

Luckily I've received the genes of talented cooks from both sides of the family tree, so with two tries, and some valuable feedback from co-worker Angie, I developed my one-of-a-kind Candy Cane Frappuccino Recipe, then went home all fired up to check to see if there was a precedent for my frap; and if there wasn't, to go back to work Thursday the 21st and try it out on a longer list of receptive co-workers.

Unfortunately, the very next day, I was felled by a stomach flu gifted to me by my mother, and between it and my scheduled days off, did not work again until Saturday the 23rd, when I eagerly went to work and began recruiting lab rats among thirsty Plaza inmates.

Voila!  Success!  My Candy Cane Frap was well-received, so I came home dying to put my new drink on The Secret Menu.  Can you imagine my astonished disappointment when I went on that website and found that a mere 5 days from the advent of my version, there was now a Candy Cane Frappuccino on The Secret Menu?  Oh no!  Had someone come up with my recipe already and beat me to the punch?  But when I looked, the recipe printed was different from mine.  "Well,"  I thought, "I'll send them my recipe and document my timeline a bit, and I'm sure they'll see that there's room for more than one Candy Cane Frap.  After all, you go on recipe sites and see multiple versions of the same dish, submitted by different people, and no one thinks that's strange.  People just try them until they find the one they like best.  Heck, dueling versions might even bring more interest to The Secret Menu!"  So, with that I submitted my version and prepared to wait the approximately 10 days it takes to receive a positive response from the website.  Alas, two weeks later, none has been forthcoming.

Why?  Who knows?  Although I couldn't find anything on The Secret Menu site that indicates it, maybe they only accept one recipe per entrant.  Perhaps they figured they had received their Candy Cane Frap recipe and were concerned about engendering confusion with another one.  But here's the deal:  I believe in my creation, and although hardly scientific, I have conducted three blind taste tests, with 70% of my subjects affirming their preference for my version.  And even one who liked the Secret Menu-endorsed version better did volunteer his opinion that mine tasted more like a candy cane. could be what we need is a grass-roots campaign.  So how about I publish my recipe here and you all can go to your local Starbucks and try it (or both), and if you like it, let me know, and we'll give a little prod, whaddaya say?

           Claudia's Ultimate Candy Cane Frappuccino

Milk to the first line (your barista will know what this means)

Tall - 1 scoop vanilla bean powder
Grande - 1 1/2 scoops vanilla bean powder
Venti - 2 scoops vanilla bean powder

Tall - 3 pumps peppermint syrup
Grande - 4 pumps peppermint syrup
Venti - 5 pumps peppermint syrup

Tall - 2 pumps crème base
Grande - 3 pumps crème base
Venti - 4 pumps crème base

Appropriate size scoop of ice, blend, top with whipped cream, and here's the awesome Claudia secret touch: one pump of raspberry syrup on top -- I use a sample cup, squirt that one pump in there and then very gently drizzle it over the whipped cream and down the sides -- and done that way, my creation definitely looks like a candy cane.  Have a look!  (Thanks, Matt, for helping me with the picture
when I forgot my digicam like a ninny):

Look yummy?  Well, go get you one, and let me know what you think, and maybe as well, OK?

And thank you for your support!

Good vibes to all of you,


Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Obvious Question...

Today of course is, "What are you grateful for?"  The list for most folks is typical: my family, my health, my job.  If it's not too far beyond the pale, nevertheless, my list, in no particular order:

1.     I'm grateful any day I wake up and the world doesn't spin.  Sufferers of vertigo know exactly what I mean.  For a control freak like me, nothing is worse for making a person feel miserable and out-of-control.  Take it from me.  If you don't suffer from vertigo, be grateful.

2.     I'm grateful for people at my job -- co-workers, customers -- who care, offer their friendship, their companionship, and allow me to care for them.  I'm lucky to have them and even though, like most of us, I complain about my job, and sometimes, my customers and co-workers, not a day goes by that I don't feel warmed by at least one moment, one exchange sometime during the day.  And I know a lot of people can't say that; I'm grateful that I honestly can.

3.     My cat, the ever-handsome, ever-sweet, ever-mischievous Simba.  During a very black, but mercifully brief time a year ago, it seemed for awhile that Simba was the only one who loved me.  (And, boy, am I grateful that that time was brief; I can't imagine feeling that misunderstood, disrespected, unappreciated and abused all the time).  But I am fortunate to have an affectionate kitty who licks my face and literally hugs me.  Yes, I'm lucky!

4.     Even though she frequently annoys the crap out of me, I'm grateful to have my mother still alive and kickin' at age 75.  She's my role model for growing old, if not gracefully, at least with spunk, spirit, and defiance.  My mother follows the (Eight Is Enough TV family) Bradford formula of living: shoot from the hip, (often with highly amusing results) and then (maybe) say you're sorry later.  She's lost 166 lbs. since 2008, gotten totally off diabetes and blood pressure meds; she walks, to date, 25 minutes a day on the treadmill (and adding every week), and she reads voraciously, works very hard at nurturing connections with her friends.  Dreading the iron of her mind rusting into dementia, Mother deliberately watches crime shows and reads subject matter specifically designed to keep that mind active.  She frequently opines that even though a person may be old in years, "they don't have to act old," and believe me, she saves much of her choicest disdain for those who "act old".  But, Mother, we can't all wear Old Navy Rock Star skinny jeans in colors like purple and red -- especially when we're 75!

5.     I'm grateful to live in America.  The average citizen has a lot of opportunities he may not have elsewhere, the standard of living is high, and we have lots of choices.  A safety net to catch us should we become the victim of bad luck or choices.  Are we the best country in the world?  That's in the eye of the beholder.  Do some abuse the safety net?  Absolutely.  Are we guilty of laxness, softness, taking some benefits for granted?  IMHO, damn skippy.  But I've talked about that in other posts.  My very vocal regard for personal responsibility stands.  As does my gratitude.

6.     I'm grateful for the opportunity to air my thoughts on this venue, and to know that you are reading those thoughts.  Whether you agree or disagree, I'm fortunate to be able to communicate with you and know that I have been heard, by someone somewhere out there.  And maybe that I've touched you or made you think.  And this blog is my record, a way of saying, "Claudia was here."  Having not had children, it's very important for me to leave something that will hang around awhile.  Once it's on the Internet, it's forever, right? 

That's my list.  I hope we all, in our secret hearts, take a second or two, and really think about our list sometime today.  And maybe every day.  I believe what we feed, grows.  I hope the good stuff in your lives continues to grow.

Good vibes to all of you,


Friday, November 22, 2013

Passing The Torch

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy.

As is the case every year, but most especially this anniversary, the inevitable:  pictures, films, stories, memories.  Every city, every person, it seems, citing an individual connection to the awful theme.

And this, as in every year, come the inevitable questions:  Was there more than one shooter?  Was Kennedy the victim of a conspiracy?  And if so, who were the conspirators?  What if Kennedy had lived?  Is there a Kennedy curse?

It is not my intention to participate in the above.  Instead, I'd like to share a memory, (not of the assassination or of JFK, but his brother, Ted) and issue a challenge.

In my life I have met no one as taken by the Kennedy Mystique than my friend, Scott.  So, picture it: the fall of 1983, both of us fresh out of high school.  Scott hears that Massachusetts Senator Edward M Kennedy will be appearing at the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse on November 21, for a hearing on world hunger.  This event will be open to the public.  Would I, his ever-so-frequent partner-in-crime, like to attend and, perhaps, snag an autograph?

Would I!

I remember very little of the event itself, only that it took place in the early afternoon on a rather raw and chilly Pittsburgh day and was, therefore, not widely attended.  I do remember Kennedy's startled reaction to a dropped briefcase, the sound echoing like a gunshot in the quiet room -- you can't tell me the impending 20th anniversary wasn't on his mind.   But he wasn't wallowing, he was out doing good.

Scott and I did get to meet Ted Kennedy, who seemed to me very tall with humongous hands.  It may be very hard for those who know me now to believe this, but I was at that time pretty shy (my Plaza persona is often, by turns, mischievous, boisterous, and shall we just say, assertive) and could not manage a word to this Famous Person (even though he was humanized somewhat by a spot of Wite-Out-type correction fluid on his face), while Scott effected the most adroit of discourses.

Eventually, everybody left the room but Scott and me, and we began to scavenge, uh, collect, yes, that's the word.  Scott got Ted Kennedy's coffee cup, and I got his pointer.  (Get your minds out of the gutter, I'm talking office equipment here).  Thirty years later and I still have it, along with his autograph.  A great memory and the closest we ever got to Camelot.

Ah, Camelot!  1000 days of a presidency that still haunts us.  It appears to me that America was cruising along, high on dominance in two World Wars, in a postwar boom.  It seemed like there was nothing that American ingenuity and muscle couldn't accomplish.  Then two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, the complications and consequences of Vietnam and Watergate came to our awareness and suddenly, the world as we knew it ground to a screeching halt.  And to me, it just feels like it all started with the assassination of JFK.  

We can debate the rest, but John Kennedy could make a speech, couldn't he?  In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, Kennedy talked of a torch being passed.  We in my age group are almost at that place now, with children that are or almost are adults.  Are we happy with the world we are leaving them?  What would we like to change about it?  Do our children know they can affect change?  Do they know how to?  These, and many more, are questions we must ask ourselves as we prepare to pass the torch.  Aren't these much more important than the other questions we usually ask anew this day every year?  I submit that answering them, and following up with real actions that resonate with our value structures, and teaching our children to do the same, will do more to honor our 35th president than the way we customarily spend this day each year.  If you agree with me, I hope to see you in the trenches.                                     

Good vibes to all of you,


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Little Holiday Cheer...

Just for the hell of it, I thought it might be fun to step out from behind the hidey-hole of where I work just this much:

Coffee Paradise has a yummy drink called the Caramel Apple Spice.  It's a hot non-caffeinated beverage consisting of Cinnamon Dolce Syrup, steamed apple juice, whipped cream, and caramel drizzle.  Very popular in the autumn.  When the components for the new holiday drinks came in, I fell to theorizing, and experimenting, and came up with a variation I call the Holiday Apple Spice.  I tried it out on many of my co-workers, and, convinced of my success, submitted it to The Secret Menu.  I hope you'll look it up on
and go to your local Coffee Paradise and give it a try.  I can't guarantee you (non-alcoholic) Christmas spirit in a cup, but I wouldn't bet against it, either.  Happy Holidays, and stay tuned -- I think I have a special holiday frappuccino in me, too.  I'll keep you posted!

Good vibes to all of you,