My Adventures In Reading

It was 1967 or 1968.  I was in first grade and my teacher at St. Eugene’s Catholic School was sister Joan Maureen.  I remember Sister Joan as a possibly heavy set woman with a florid face.  She had a great smile and I think she had an idea that school should be fun as well as disciplined.  I remember one time she had us form a fake band in the front of the class and we pretended to play rock and roll.  And another time after coming back from singing lessons she had those of us who participated come up and try to sing the song we were learning, which was Talk To The Animals from Doctor Doolittle.  I know for a fact I couldn’t remember the words.  Sister, I think would be proud to know I can sing that song straight through 54 years later.

I don’t know if Sister called my mother up for a special conference or if it was a regular parent teacher meeting.  I do know I was there because there was no one at home to watch me.  Sister calmly informed my mother that I was not keeping up with the class when it came to reading.  She wasn’t alarmed and she had a plan.  She told my mother to buy me comic books and let me read them and or read them with me.  I don’t remember which.  Sister felt sure that my reading would improve if mom did this.

Telling a child to read comic books in the mid sixties was a daring plan.  Comic books had gone out of favor in the 1950s with the publication of the book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredrick Wertham which alleged that comic books were a bad influence on the youth of the United States.  He alleged that they would cause all kinds of problems including homosexuality as Batman and Robin were obviously gay.  He felt that the violence by street gangs could also be traced back to the violence in comic books.  His views were widely accepted especially in middle of the McCarthy era where everyone and everything became suspect.  Sister Joan was a rebel.

The only three comic book heroes to survive Wertham’s book were Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  Batman survived by having Bruce’s Aunt Harriet come live with Bruce and Dick.  This would relay to the world that there was nothing sexual going on between Batman and Robin.  DC comics at this time introduced the first Batwoman and Batgirl so that each of the caped crusaders would have a love interest.

As I said at the beginning this was 1967 or 68 and The Batman TV series was in full swing.  To adults it was pure camp but to a six year old it was deadly serious.   So, it will not surprise you a bit to learn that my first comic book was Batman.  It, however, wouldn’t end there.  I fell in love with all comic books.  First I had my juvenile stage where I read Richie Rich and Caspar The Friendly Ghost Comics then I had my Junior stage where I read everything Archie and then I graduated to superhero comics and have stayed there ever since.

Comic books themselves opened up whole new worlds of reading to me.  Superhero Comic Books by the early 1970s had grown up a bit.  The market still included children, but it also included college students and other young adults so the comic book itself had to take on a more mature persona in order to keep its audience.  This was mostly due to the work of Stan Lee over at Marvel Comics with the creation of The Fantastic Four and Spiderman. Comic books began to grow up.  The good guys were more three dimensional.  Some of them were tragic figures even the bad guys were motivated for what they were doing.  Occasionally the comic books would quote other books. Alice in Wonderland for example or the works of William Shakespeare.  There was even a villain in the Marvel books named Sauron after the evil character in The Lord of the Rings.

This is where my own curiosity kicked in.  I wanted to know where those quotes came from and what they meant.  I was entering 7th grade by now and I no longer had any trouble with reading.  I was a bit lazy when it came to schoolwork so I was not as advanced as I could have been, but I wasn’t doing badly either.  Back then 7th grade was the beginning of Junior High School, the middle school system hadn’t started yet.  I had left St Eugene’s after my second-grade year and transferred to Primos Elementary which was right across the street from my house.

I should talk a little bit about Primos as I had some wonderful teachers there.  First there was Miss Arabia who had the class stage a mini production of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown where I was given the role of Linus.  I had already grown to love the Peanuts newspaper strip, but that love became life long after portraying one of its characters.  Then there was Mr. Monteith, every year Mr. Monteith read his fifth-grade class Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this was a great book and after he read it to us we all wanted to read for ourselves.  Also, in fifth grade my friend Jack Jennings and I read the book My Side of the Mountain together.  We both loved the book so we read it to see who could finish it in the least amount of time. In Primos I was also introduced to novel Peter Pan and found I loved it more than the Disney version and that goes for The Winnie the Pooh books too.

It was about the end of my elementary school career that The Walton’s became a part of my life.  The Walton’s was a CBS television show about a family surviving the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Its main character was John-Boy Walton the eldest son of seven children whose dream was to go to college and become a writer.  That changed a lot for me as I found myself imitating John-Boy so not only was I reading but I began to write too.  In sixth grade with the help of my best friend Charlie Meo we started The Primos Press and though I think we only got out two issues I was a published author.

Going into Junior High was a new adventure in reading.  Now there were books that I was required to read, but I loved them.  In those years we read Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and best of all A Christmas Carol.  My eighth grade English Teacher Mr. O’Connell taught A Christmas Carol and he did it with passion.  I knew the story.  There was at least one TV version Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, and my mother owned a set of records that had the original radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol which starred Lionel Barrymore.  Those were played every year.  But none of those were like the book.  I personally feel that A Christmas Carol is Dicken’s greatest book.  I believe literary society feels Bleak House is his best, but they are wrong, it’s A Christmas Carol.

School reading went forward thru the years, but my own personal library grew as well.  It was in High School that I began to read the works or JRR Tolkien and Agatha Christie.  If there was a popular movie, I would see the movie and then read the book it was based on.  Sometimes the movie held a rating that prevented me from seeing it like The Exorcist, but I read the book anyway.

As I grew older my tastes expanded.  I would read biographies and autobiographies.  One of my favorites is The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  The first half of the book would become the Sound of Music but the second half was all about what happened afterward and it was quite a bit.

I was never a popular kid in school.  Truth be told I was bullied on more than one occasion, but books gave me the escape I needed.  They were the best of friends always saying something different or taking me to strange places.  Reading became a refuge and a solace.  I found comfort in adventures, and I loved the books that in one way or another all the characters lived happily ever after.

CS Lewis said, “There will come a time when we will be old enough to read Fairy Stories again.”  For me that time comes around regularly as I love revisiting the books of my youth.  The Wizard of OZ, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the willows, and The Phantom Tollbooth all have lessons that we as adults need to continue to pay attention to if are to live well in this world.

A lot of people say they don’t have time to read or that reading isn’t worth their time.  There is one thing I have learned in this life is that you make the time for the things that are important to you.  If reading holds no interest than you won’t read.  If you are one of those people, I would like you take a moment and choose of the books I listed above.  Or go back and find the book that you loved when you were ten and read it now.  Find out how much more wisdom there is to find in its pages.

Books change us.  They rearrange our thinking and they do it without us even being aware of it.  I know I’m a better friend for having read The Wind in the Willows.  I know that I can think well because I read The Phantom Tollbooth and I know that prayer, hard work and healthy eating can make people well by reading The Secret Garden and lastly by reading Little Women I understand how important is to have family, to be honest and to have good manners.

My reading adventures were started by Batman, but I continue today to have adventures across the multi-verse by picking up a book.

PS.  Many thanks to Sister Joan Maureen who made all of this possible.

Auntie Mame or Mame

Mame or Auntie Mame as she was originally called has had quite the impact on my life over the years.  Auntie Mame was originally a novel by Patrick Dennis, a pen name for Edward Everett Tanner, and  was published on December 1, 1955 to a grateful public.  To be honest the book itself is rather dark in places and funny yes, but at times black humor.  The novel came to the attention of Lawrence and Lee, playwrights, they saw the potential of the novel and turned it into a hit play starring Rosalind Russell which opened at the Broadhurst Theater on October 31st 1956.  It was a huge success.  Russel would go on to Hollywood to star in the film version of the play in 1958.  In 1966, Jerry Herman, after his major success with Hello Dolly, which was originally a play called The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Set his hand to turning Auntie Mame into a musical, he fought to have Angela Lansbury as his leading lady and won.  And as a song from Jerry’s Girls goes, “The Winter Garden was sell out, when she played the hell out of Mame.”  In 1974 Mame would have one more incarnation as a movie musical starring Lucille Ball.  This is where I come in.

No I was in none of those productions, but I would have liked to have been.  If I lived in a different world maybe my folks would have seen my talent at being an actor and started me early.  I could have played a young Patrick or even the older Patrick a few years later.  My folks didn’t think like that.  As I explained in another blog I came across the original Soundtrack album of Mame in the bargain bin at The Bazaar Record Shop. 

What was that question?  What’s The Bazaar? The Bazaar was a sort of a mall.  Built in 1960 it housed between curtained off walls many independent stores.  There was a shoe store and shoe repair store, there was a bookshop, a candy store, a fruit stand, an Amish Market, a bakery, toy stores and hardware stores and a pet shop and many more.  If you couldn’t find it at The Bazaar, honestly it wasn’t worth having.

I spent a lot of time at the Bazaar growing up as it was just up the street and short walk through the woods to get there.  At first it was the toy store and book shop.  I could get comic books there that were out of date, so they were half price.  As I grew older it became less the toy store and more the record shop.  Being an old soul, I found myself going thru the bargain bins a lot.  I’d find music by The Lettermen, Bobby Sherman others whose time had passed.  It was here that I found Mame.

Mame as noted above starred Lucille Ball, and I love that woman.  I make the claim that Lucy was my first babysitter.  Well… Lucy and Jack Benny.  After my brother and sisters left for school, to get her chores done, mom put me in front of the TV to watch these two shows.  I think they became part of my DNA because Lucy and Jack feel like family to me.  As I got older, I could start watching Lucy on prime-time TV and no one missed Lucy on Monday nights at 9.  I also found out that there was a whole era of shows I missed.  I had seen all of I Love Lucy and never missed an episode of Here’s Lucy, but The Lucy Show, which aired in those years I had to go to bed at eight, I hadn’t seen.  Thank God for reruns.  I was able to see The Lucy Show and much to my surprise there was an episode that guest starred Jack Benny.  It remains one of my great moments in TV history.  Fact, in real life Lucille Ball and Jack Benny were neighbors.

I bought that bargain bin album of Mame and brought it home.  I played it constantly.  Before the week was out I think I had every song memorized.  Jerry Herman’s music was fantastic.  It’s Today, Open A New Window, My Best Girl, We Need A Little Christmas and If He Walked Into My Life were songs that I felt deeply about and still do. I didn’t know the story behind the songs, I only knew the music and that was enough for that moment.

I would get the book, and as I said above, it was dark humor to me and I didn’t see how the music could have come out of that.  Eventually I would see the film starring Rosalind Russel and that made sense.  Here was joy and life and happiness here was a woman I wish I had as an aunt.

Auntie Mame is the story of a woman who is left in charge of her orphaned nephew Patrick.  Mame is not exactly the motherly type.  Her lifestyle was that of a rich flapper in 1920s New York City.  She gave elaborate parties and was friends with all kinds of people.  It’s into this world that Patrick finds himself.  He arrives in the middle of one of Mam’s parties.  Though a bit out of his depth Mame loves Patrick from the start and does her best to raise him, but her ways and the trustees’ ways are different.  Mame is a Modern and the trustee a conservative.  After Mame enrolls Patrick in a school where all the children and teachers are naked, the trustee snatches Patrick away and puts him in a boarding school.

At that exact moment Mame’s troubles multiply as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 wipes her out financially.  She can’t do anything about Patrick unless she can make some money.  She agrees to do a show with her best friend Vera Charles a current stage star.  Now this is where we will depart from the straight version and go to the musical.  Mame plays the one-line role of the moon lady.  She needs to sit on a quarter moon cut out and let her rise.  Between the costume and the seat, she begins to fall off the moon and when she finally gets settled she can’t remember her line.  So ends her career in show business.

Mame contuse to try.  She becomes a telephone operator and other jobs until she finally ends up at Macy’s selling roller skates.  She can’t do this right either as all she can make out is sales slips for Cash on Delivery payment.  Into Macy’s walks Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a wealthy southern plantation and oil well owner.  He wants to buy a pair of skates and Mame gets caught modeling them for him.  She is fired.  In the film we see her trying to get thru Macy’s on one skate because the lace wouldn’t untie.  Miss Ball plays this kind of comedy well.

Mr. Burnside tracks Mame down to her apartment, feeling sorry for having gotten Mame fired, he invites her as well as the two servants Agnes and Ito and Patrick who is home for the holidays out to dinner.  Mame has found her man and her savior.

Our next scene brings Mame and Patrick to Beau’s Plantation where Mame dressed like Scarlett O’Hara meets Beau’s mother, family and his ex-girlfriend.  Mame is not well received by anyone and when she asked whether she rides, meaning horses, she brags that she does.  Not only does she ride but side saddle.  Beau’s Ex sees her chance, she knows Mame is lying to save face and so arranges a fox hunt for the next day.  Mame can’t even get her feet into the riding boots she is provided with but somehow, she gets on the horse and takes off.  Mame eventually falls off the horse but at the same time finds the fox sitting next to her she picks him up and nuzzles him.  Mame become the toast of the south.

Beau and Mame are married and spend many years touring the world with Patrick joining them during his summer breaks.  Patrick is growing up and getting involved with eligible society girls.  Mame is a bit put off by this.  She decides to go home and tells Beau.  It is at this point that Beau has climbed a little too high on the Mountain they were on he falls and is killed.

Mame comes home to NYC a wealthy widow.  She finds Agnes and Ito still there keeping it all going.  She finds Patrick engaged to woman that probably never had a thought of her own.  She makes up with Vera and together she and Vera team up on Mousy Agnes and turn her into a femme fatale.  The next time we see Agnes she’s pregnant.

It’s with Agnes that Mame makes her philosophy of life clear.  Agnes is afraid of the changes Mame wants to make in her.  Mame tells her to stop being afraid.  To Live.  “Live Live Live Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Agnes goes a little too far and get pregnant but that’s what living is about.  We make choices and changes and we have to live with the consequences.  That’s true for all of us.  But the choices have to be made.  Sure, you can stay in a safe little bubble, but what good does that do anyone.  So you go out and you do something and it falls apart, so what, you try again, and again or you try something else.  Live this life to it’s full potential.  Every person no matter how bad things get can make a choice to make it a little better.  Rich or poor, young, or old we can all change our lives and make them count.  That’s the message in Mame and coincidentally also the message in Jerry Herma’s previous hit Hello Dolly.

Mame does take on Patrick’s new fiancé and makes short work of her at the same time finding Patrick a suitable new woman.  All of this is done in funny outlandish ways.  At the end of the movie, play musical we see Mame now older trying to convince Patrick to allow her to take Michael, Patrick’s son, to India with her.  She wants to show Michael all that she had showed Patrick.  She wants her grandnephew to LIVE.

The story of Mame is funny, it’s a little irreverent and totally off beat.  Most of us though would feel lucky to have an Auntie Mame in our lives.  My cousin Joanne was like that to me.  She was about 18 years older than I and had endured the first open heart surgery in The United States.  She and her family lived next store and Joanne was always trying different things and going different places.  She took me to my first professional theater show which was The Wiz and also to my second which was 42nd Street.  She gave me the best Christmas gifts always to do with what I was interested in.  She was a devout Catholic and when Godspell became a film she took the whole neighborhood to that.

I would come home form school and go right over to her house.  We talked about everything, and she really helped me through my teen age years.  She was also the only person I ever knew who had real gold table wear.  The knives and forks and spoons all of gold.  It was only for formal dining, but it was amazing to me.

The songs from Mame encourage me.  Open a New Window.  An invitation to try something you haven’t done before and not to worry about what other people think.  We Need A Little Christmas, Christmas is the happiest day on the planet for most of us, and sometimes between January and November we need a little of that spirit in our lives.  In A Christmas Carol Scrooge makes it clear after his ghostly visitors that he would keep the spirit of Christmas alive in his heart all the year through.

If He Walked Into My Life is a song of regret.  And we all regret things we’ve done and said.  We wonder if we had the chance to do it all over again would we make the same mistakes, could we have done any better.  We have to examine our lives not only to see where we’ve been but to know where we will end up.  That sometimes means changing courses.

Mame said Life is a banquet and I believe it is.  I can back that up with Biblical text.  Jesus said “I have come to give life and abundantly.”  In other words, the man who I believe came to save people from their sins and from an eternity in hell also came to give abundant life.  He came to give a banquet one which everyone on this planet is  invited to.  They just must accept his invitation.  That abundant fulfilled life is not just what will happen after we die but its’s to be lived out here on earth.  Christians should be the most alive people on the planet and many of them are.  Some are not and they get all the negative media attention.  Christians should be alive and loving.  They should be in the moment as Mame Sings about in the opening song It’s Today!  Christians should be the front runners in science and innovation and social justice and loving our neighbors well.  Christians should be giving the best parties, serving delicious food and drink, Jesus went to weddings and parties and dinners all the time.  He also drank.  Not to get drunk but for the flavor and for joy of it. Christians should be opening new windows all the time.

Many of us don’t.  We live in fear of what may happen or if we will get it wrong.  I’m as guilty as anyone of doing that.  But I’m trying to change that.  I’m a writer and if I can’t get hired to write I’ll write this blog till someone sees it.  I’m an actor and director and it’s in my heart to produce and direct Mame on stage.  I don’t know how or where but I think it can be done if I don’t become afraid.  I must open doors and windows I’ve never tried before.  But this is life abundant, and this is life’s banquet.  It’s here, it’s now and it’s for everyone.

Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury started her career in 1944 in the film Gaslight.  She played a conniving maid who was helping to make Ingrid Bergman’s character think she was insane.  She would go on to play many other roles at MGM in many important and memorable films such as The Harvey Girls, Blue Hawaii and The Manchurian Candidate.  Though relatively young she was often cast as the mother of an adult child and never the star of the movie always the back up.  At least in the films she is most well known for.

I came to know of Angela Lansbury in 1971 when Disney released its now classic film Bed knobs and Broomsticks.  The film was a musical adaptation of the book with the same title written by Mary Norton.  The title was slightly altered by Disney.  The book is called Bed knob and Broomstick which is more accurate as there is only one of each in the book.

The score and the songs for the film were written by Richard and Robert Sherman the same two men who gave us the music for Mary Poppins.

The story centered around an apprentice witch, Miss Price, played by Lansbury, who is coming to the end of her mail in course on witchcraft.  At the same time she is forced to take in three war refugees from London. The film is set during WWII.  They find out she’s a witch and threaten to expose her unless she gives them something magical.  She enchants a bed knob which will enable the bed to take the children anywhere they wish to go.  At about this time Miss Price receives a letter from her instructor telling her that the school of witchcraft is closed.  Miss Price needs the next spell in the course, as she believes she can help the war effort with it.  She asks the children to allow the bed to take them all to London so she can get the spell she needs, and the adventures begin.

I was ten when this film came out and it was a delight.  My imagination understood more about good witches than bad witches.  I had grown up on Glinda from The Wizard of Oz and Samantha from Bewitched.  I could easily understand a witch wanting to help with the war effort.  I was also reading comic books at the time and Dr Strange from Marvel and Dr Fate from DC were both powerful sorcerers.  I reveled in the magic of Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, so much so that as soon as I got home, I tried out the spell that Miss Price used to bring inanimate things to life.  Much to my disappointment the spell did not work.

With in a few years of this, in the bargain bins at the Bazaar Record Shop I found the soundtrack for the musical Mame starring Lucille Ball.  Now I loved Lucy.  Still do, and though I knew nothing about the movie I bought the album and brought it home.  I loved the music and I loved hearing Lucy sing.  I had no idea of the story, that would come later, but I loved that album and wore it out.  Soon I was able to find a copy of the book the movie was based on Auntie Mame.  I had to special order it.  It may have been a best seller in the 50s but by 1977 it wasn’t sought after much.  I gobbled that down and then bought the original Broadway cast Album of Mame and Angela Lansbury was back in my life.

Angela opened in Mame in 1966 at The Winter Garden Theater in New York City.  She electrified crowds with her performance of Mame Dennis and brought the house down.  Miss Lansbury stayed with the Broadway production for 1500 performances and would head up two national touring companies.  In the 1980s she would bring the show back to Broadway for its first revival.

I love Lucy and I love Angela, but the truth needs to be written here.  As much as I love Lucy and was enchanted by the album of Mame because it was her.  She had no business playing that part, Lucille Ball was 62 when she played Mame.  To make her look younger they used filtered lenses on the cameras.  Mame could be played by a fifty something woman believably but not by a 62-year-old woman who was in fact showing her age.

Angela Lansbury should have taken the role to the big screen.  She had over 20 years of movie credits to her name when she opened Mame on Broadway.  People knew who she was and would have gone to see her.  The problem was Lucille.  Miss Ball bought the rights for the movie for herself and had every intension of playing the role on her own.  She basically stole that from Lansbury and the resulting film, though not totally horrible was mediocre at best.  When VCRs and VHS tapes became popular Mame was the first one I bought and though I love Lucy the film proved to be a disappointment.

Miss Lansbury was not in any way finished with her career.  Her next big stop would be, as far as I was concerned, as Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  She would engross audiences in song while she baked dead human bodies into pies.  Miss Lansbury would receive her 4th Tony Award for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett.  The other three were for Mame, Dear World and the Revival of Gypsy.

After taking on the big screen and Broadway it was in 1984 that Miss Lansbury would conquer the small screen in the role of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote.  It was at this time that Angela Lansbury’s career became a main interest to me.  I was able to watch her in all of her movie roles including Blue Hawaii which starred Elvis Presley.  Never being a Presley fan this one was hard for me.  I watched Murder; She Wrote every week.  It was one of the few shows my parents and I agreed on.

Murder, She Wrote became an important show for many reasons.  I think the first is that it settled around older adults.  The over 50 population had few shows they could relate to on TV.  Angela’s character of Jessica Fletcher was the first in a line of shows that spotlighted older adults as stars.  The Golden Girls would follow in 1985, Matlock with Andy Griffith in 1986 and Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke in 1993.  Angela paved the way for all of these shows to become hits.  All though Murder, She Wrote would go off the air in 1996 after 12 season Angela would reprise the role of Jessica Fletcher for four made for TV movies.

In 1991 Angela would come back to big screen but this time as an animated teapot in Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast.  Miss Lansbury would sing the title song and generation of children would grow to love her character as the motherly Mrs. Potts.

Angela kept going.  So many wonderful projects would follow.  The Shell Seekers for The Hallmark Hall of Fame. Mrs. ‘arris Goes To Paris where she plays a char woman who dreams of owning a designer gown and sees her dream come true.  And Mrs. Santa Claus where she plays the wife of the great man himself in a musical with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman the man who wrote Mame.

She would go back to the theater and win awards for her supporting role in A Little Night Music and Blythe Spirit.  In her 90s Miss Lansbury toured Australia with   James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy.  She would come back to the United States to play Aunt March in The BBC/PBS adaptation of Little Women and then play the small role of The Balloon Lady in Mary Poppins Returns.

I don’t know where Miss Lansbury will turn up next.  I do know that she has inspired me for years.  Her songs that are so heart felt have comforted me as she sings Beauty and the Beast or inspired me as she sings Open a New Window or It’s Today both from Mame.

Rosalind Russell played Mame first on stage in the n the non-musical version Auntie Mame.  She was the first to emphasize this life philosophy.  “LIVE LIVE LIVE, life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  But Angela would repeat that same philosophy over and over and then go on to live it.  She has proven that life is a banquet if we choose to see that way.  She has proven that at any age you can meet any challenge and still come out the victor.  She has proven that every day is a gift and to squander that gift is perhaps the greatest of sins.

I’m grateful for the talent of Angela Lansbury and I hope you are too.  I hope that her films and recordings will fill you with the same joy they fill me with.  And though in her 90s I hope that we will still see her grace our screens large and small.

Samaritan Cookbook A Review

     The Samaritan Cookbook by Benyamin Tsedaka with reicpes from Batia bat Yefet Tsedaka and Zippora SassonTsedaka.  The has photographs by Yadid Levi.  The book has a subtitle: A Culinary Odyssey From The Ancient Israelites To The Modern Mediterranean.

     The Samaritan Cookbook is definitely a cookbook that you read.  I’m not even sure that the ingredients for some of the recipes in the book are available in the United States.  But the book gives you more than just recipes.  It gives you a glimpse of the culture of the Samaritan people.  How they live now and how they lived thousands of years ago,

   The book is no longer in length than a feature magazine article.  It is, however loaded with pictures of the Samaritan people today, their celebrations and their cuisine.  Being fascinated by Biblical History I found the prose remarkably interesting.

    The book explains who the Samaritans are and were.  Those of us who are Christian know the name of the people from Jesus parable of The Good Samaritan and other stories about Jesus in The New Testament.  This book explains where The Samaritans came from, how they worship God today and even what their Bible is like.  One interesting fact given in the book is that there are only 850 Samaritans left in Israel.  These people, this remnant is trying to keep alive their centuries old traditions and sharing these traditions with the world.

     This book is well worth the read.  If you can find the ingredients, I’m sure the recipes are both healthy and delicious.  Here are a few things you can make: Beef Noodle Casserole, Avocado and Sesame Dip, Lamb Meatballs with Pine Nuts and a dessert called Kunafeh.

    If you have an interesting in Biblical History and Cuisine.  Or if you want to go on a definite cooking adventure look no further than The Samaritan Cookbook.

Conversations With My Inner Atheist A Review


Conversations With My Inner Atheist is by Randall Rauser and is published by 2 Cup Press.

     Conversations With My Inner Atheist is exactly what the title implies.The author takes on a journey through his doubts about the Christian faith by having conversations with his inner atheist.  That inner voice is named Mia, an acronym for my inner atheist, and Mia sets up the initial doubts of each chapter while the author does battle with these doubts. 

     Some of the topics include questions about Christian Academics, The theology of The Trinity and why does God allow evil.  Not every chapter is won by the author.  Sometimes you get the feeling Mia got the upper hand.

     This is not a book for apologists or evangelists.  This book addresses the questions most Christians have but are afraid to ask.  It doesn’t give easy answers, but it gives some answers and that’s better than many churches are doing these days.  Most churches would rather you kept your doubt to yourself.  My feeling is faith can’t exists without doubt.  To quote the original version of Miracle on 34th Street, “Faith is believing when common Sense tells you not to.”

     The book is in a way lighthearted.  Though every topic is taken seriously the dialogue between the author and Mia can be entertaining.  Mia is a sarcastic character and the wit displayed between the author and Mia is engaging.

     If you like me have had questions about your faith as a Christian you may find some of your answers here.  If you don’t it is a learning experience well worth having.

I Am A Christian

The Good ShepardChristianity is getting a bad name these day and I think it’s about time someone stood up and made some things clear.

First off I am a Christian.  I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior on September 9, 1979.  This alone gives me the ability to speak about what a Christian is.  I have done my best to be a good Christian since that date although I can say with certainty that there have been times I have wanted to throw in the proverbial towel.  Being a Christian is not all sunshine and Santa Claus, it is hard work and sometimes it leads you to despair, especially when you see the shape the world around you is in, but God always offers hope.

500 years ago on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his thesis on the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg Germany.  These Thesis would change the way the world would understand Christianity and it began the movement that became the protestant church of today, it also, over the centuries, caused The Catholic Church to change.  This is what is known as The Reformation.  The message of Jesus and the Bible hadn’t changed since Jesus died and rose again, but the access to the message had changed and with Martin Luther a new dawn for Christianity started and we reap those benefits today.

What really is a Christian?  The word Christian literally means “little Christ”.  We could almost say Jesus Jr.  In essence that is what a Christian is.  Someone who is attempting to live his or her life in the way Jesus led his.  It goes deeper than that too.  When an individual comes to the conclusion that Jesus really was who he said he was and accepts that as truth a fundamental change occurs.  That person receives the Holy Spirit and the world takes a new meaning.  Life itself takes a new meaning as that person begins to see his life and actions in the way God sees them.  The Bible, for some reason, begins to make sense and words that seemed hard to understand begin to take on a meaning that did not exist before.

The very heart of the individual is changed.  You see God really is love and he wants us to love as he loves.  He gives us a definition of love in Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth.  Paul writes under the influence of the Holy Spirit:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not Jealous, love is not pompous, it is not

Inflated, it is not rude.  It does not seek its own interest, it is not quick tempered,

It does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong doing but rejoices

With the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures

All things.  Love never fails.

This is how God loves and it is also how he expects Christians to love.  In fact, the apostle John, a Gospel and Letter write in The Testament of The Bible and it is believed Jesus’ best friend, tells us that “God is love” so you can easily change the word love in the above passage to God and see who God really is and his heart towards all people here on Earth.

Christian are to love others as was stated in the above passage.  The problem is that many times we don’t.  To be more specific I don’t.  I screw up a lot.  Really screwing up is simply another term for sin.  Sin is an archery term and simply means missing the mark.  Every time we admit to sin we are simply saying we missed the bullseye.  Sometimes we miss the target all together.

And this where Jesus comes in.  You see God is perfect, and being perfect his children must come to him perfect also.  The trouble is we can’t.  None of are perfect.  God knew this would be the case and so he sent his son to pay the price of our imperfection.  When Jesus died on the cross he died for every person that had lived and every person that will ever live.  Jesus paid the price for us.  When he rose from the grave he opened the doors to heaven so that we could enter those doors.  Now no matter how bad our sin is we are forgiven for it.  Our salvation, our redemption from our sins, from all our sins, for all the times we miss the mark, is gift we only have to accept.

Once we have accepted this gift the world we live in changes and we ourselves should begin to change, the trouble is sometimes we don’t or we are influenced by others, or we are simply too stubborn and that’s where the problems start.

You see Jesus himself said that many would come and say we did this or that in your name, or for you, but he will say to them “I never knew you.”  I do not want to point fingers but it may be possible that those who call themselves Christians and bomb abortion clinics or got to funerals of people who have lived a certain life style and protest and tell the mourners that their loved one is in hell, are not Christians at all and if they are they have shot an arrow that landed somewhere in the next field and never even came near the bullseye.  They are misguided, and how can I say that?  Look again at the definition of love the first two sentences say that “Love is patient.  Love is kind.”  There is no patience or kindness in those deeds.

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Scrooge questions The Ghost of Christmas Present about a certain practice that was being done to prevent the poor from getting their food cooked on certain days.  He accuses the Spirit, an emissary from Heaven, of being the perpetrator of the practice.  The Ghost grows angry at Scrooge and replies:

There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us,

and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry,

and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us, and all our kith

and kin, as if they had never lived.  Remember that, and charge their

doings on themselves, not us.

This is what many who are not Christians are doing.  They are blaming God for the evil that is in this world and those who truly try to follow him.  In essence the baby is thrown out with the bath water.  They are seeing people do things in the name of Jesus who may not even know who Jesus is.  Then these folks put all Christians into the bundle of these misguided or even evil people and the message of real Christians gets lost.

In order to give a description of what a true Christian does and how he or she attempts to live his or her life let’s look at another chapter of A Christmas Carol.  Jacob Marley says this to Scrooge as an account of the life he should have lived.

“Oh!  Captive bound and double ironed, cried the phantom, not to know

that ages of incessant labor, by immortal creatures, for this earth must

pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed!

Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere,

          Whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means

          Of usefulness!  Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for

Life’s opportunities misused!  Yet such was I!  Oh, such was I!”

Marley tells Scrooge that a Christian will work KINDLY in its little sphere and there will be so much to do that the work will not end when that person moves on from the earth.

To me real Christians don’t seek the spot light.  They do one good thing and go on to the next.  Not looking for attention or applause just looking to do good.  Sometimes the spot light of the world may fall on some of us.  We don’t look for it and if it does happen we go on with the work.  We don’t live in the spot light.  The satisfaction comes in what we do for others.  It comes from how we treat others.  It comes from how we love others.  The only approval we seek should be God’s.

It doesn’t always work out this way.  If I asked you could tell me story after story of those who sought the spot light and got so caught up in it they forgot what they were doing and took what they could for themselves.  These are all sad tales and most of us know them, but as the Ghost of Christmas Present said “Charge them with their deeds” and not God.”  And I could add all other Christians.

I’m a Christian.  I screw up a lot.  I miss the mark and as much as I want to I do not love as I should all the time.  I can be impatient as well unkind and I am working on this.  I have other moment too.  Moments when I am working in my little sphere and doing what good I can and I do love well at times.  I’m not there yet but I want to be.

This is what a true Christian does he strives to love others as best he can at all times.  He knows he can’t do it on his own and so in humility he asks God for help.  Sometimes he falls on his face and needs to ask forgiveness from both God and others.  We fall, we get up and walk for a bit and then fall down again.  But we know God is always there to catch us.

     CS Lewis said  “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 



My Adventures on Prednisone Part Two

JnaeSeven weeks ago I wrote the first part of this story.  Many things have happened since then and it felt right to continue it.  For the first five weeks see My Adventure on Prednisone.

As recounted in the original blog I was given Prednisone on what I believe was June 17 for a rash.  As soon as I took it I began to have high anxiety that would not go away.  I was hospitalized twice because of this.  Once to rule out stroke and once to rule out a heart attack.  I think I recounted the stroke story in the first blog.  I will talk about the heart attack here.

I have no definite feeling for time for the last seven weeks, what I can say is that it was slow and painful.  There have been many days where I could not leave my room because I was too scared to do so.  Let’s face it Anxiety is simple a nice word for fear and I was afraid of everything.  I was afraid of books I wanted to read, I was afraid of food.  I was afraid of people.  The weight loss continued and I have dropped 50 pounds now but not in a healthy way.

I continued my quest for a psychiatrist, and was turned down at office after office.  My primary care doctor continued to treat me with Ativan as it was the only thing we knew to do.  He couldn’t even find someone to help.

One night I woke up around three A.M. unable to breathe right.  I thought I was having a heart attack or a panic attack.  I stayed in that state until 6 A.M. when I could take the next dose of Ativan, I took the dose waited an hour and nothing changed.  Back to E.R. and an admittance for a cardiac work up.  They gave me a dose of Nitroglycerin as my BP was 188/122 and then gave me a dose of Ativan 1mg I.V.  In a few moments, I calmed down and I could breathe again.  The psychiatrist I saw in the hospital recommended Ativan 1mg every 8 hours which, for now, I am still taking.

Through the kindness of the psychiatric nurse at a local hospital I was able to see a psychiatrist, but she was in Mount Airy and wasn’t easy to get to.  She wanted me off the Ativan and on another drug which I took but I had a bad reaction to it and could not reach her.  I had to call my primary care and he stopped what she put me on and continued the Ativan.  When the psychiatrist found out I was on Ativan again she discharged me as her patient.  She didn’t get back to me until two days after I contacted her and then only by text message.  To be honest I was glad she was gone.  But that left me in the same place.  No Psychiatrist.

After returning home from the hospital I went on a new quest for a psychiatrist.  This time I used Zocdoc an app for locating doctors.  I found one on there that I could get to on Lancaster Ave off City Line on the outskirts Philadelphia.  I scheduled an appointment on the app and then called him  and left a message explaining my issues and asking how much he charged as he took no insurance.  Another issue I found with psychiatrists is their refusal to take any insurance they all want cash up front.  This doctor called me back but he was not interested in taking me on a patient.  He wanted to both take care of my medications and be my therapist.  I have a therapist who has been working with me for a number of years, to give him up would be stupid.  This doctor made a suggestion that panned out.  He recommended I call Penn Psychiatric and seek help there.  He even had the phone number ready for me.  I did not want to go into the city but I had no choice.  At the end of our conversation he did tell me what he charged, hold your breath $400.00 an hour.

Penn Psychiatric is located at 3535 Market Street in Philadelphia and is part of The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  The psychiatrists there are residents that are over seen by senior psychiatrists.  I was able to get in with a two week wait.  That two weeks was not easy.  I continued on the 3 1 mg dose of Ativan a day.  I went to see my Primary Care once a week to keep him apprised of what was going and to make myself feel like someone was paying attention to me.  I saw my foot doctor during this period and it was his belief it could still be the Prednisone causing all of these issues as he had patients that had side effects last up to 12 weeks after stopping the medication.  I had so much information that made no sense.  I couldn’t wait to get to the psychiatrist.

As the day approached I did however become very afraid of going to the City by myself.  I let that fact be known to a couple of people and a guy from my men’s bible study named Rob stepped up and volunteered to take the morning off from work and go with me.  We used Uber to get the office and the appt. went very well.  The doctor did not say she knew what was going on and I was quite happy about that but she had a plan for treatment that made sense.  She listened to the whole story of the previous nine weeks.  She entered every detail into a computer which will become a real blessing in a couple of days.  She listened to me and complimented me on my thoroughness and was glad that Rob had come as he was able to add somethings that I had forgotten.  He also remembered things that I would forget after leaving the doctor’s office.  After finishing my story she went to consult with her senior psychiatrist who came into the office and went over what the plan would be.

The plan was pretty simple.  I would begin taking Zoloft at 25mg once a day, it would help with both anxiety and depression.  For the time being I was to also continue taking the Ativan as the Zoloft would need to be built up in my system over time and the Ativan would take care of the symptoms in the meantime.  She was also going to call both my psychologist and my primary care doctor to get their input and keep them in the loop.  I felt like I had a team looking after me now.  I could also reach her Monday thru Friday during the day by phone and there were on call psychiatrists for after hours or weekend problems.  I felt safe.

I got home got the new medication and took it the next day, FRIDAY.  The med did not agree with me at all, I was walking around in a daze half asleep.  It was horrible.  I called her but it was Friday and too late, she had gone for the weekend.  Rob reminded me of the afterhours telephone number which I called.  I first spoke to a very nice social worker who basically assessed whether I needed a doctor or not.  She then advised me to remember breathing techniques to keep calm and made contact with the on-call psychiatrist who called me back very quickly.  He told me to take the Zoloft at night and see how it went.  I was taking 25mg and was to go up to 50 on Sunday but he advised against that until my psychiatrist called me back.

Here is the great thing about the system at Penn.  The psychiatrist on call had access to my entire chart over the computer, so everything that my psychiatrist had entered in the on-call doc could see.  It made helping me a lot easier and it made things easier for me as I did not have to go over my whole story again.  My psychiatrist then had the on-call psychiatrist’s note even before she called me back on Monday.

It was decided Monday that I would not go up to 50 mgs of Zoloft for a while.  When I started taking The Zoloft at night I woke up with nausea in the morning.  It’s a Zoloft side effect.  I finally figured out that if I ate a yogurt before taking the medication I could eliminate my version of morning sickness,

So as of now I am still on 1 mg of Ativan 3 times a day and 25 mgs of Zoloft at bedtime.  This combination has actually allowed me to sleep at 7 hours at a shot which I was also unable to do previously.  I had been waking up about every one to two hours.  The anxiety is not as bad, but the depression is getting worse.  There are times I am in extreme emotional pain.  I am hoping this will pass as we raise the dosage of the Zoloft.  Some of this pain, however comes from legitimate circumstances.  Basically, problems in my life I have no idea how to solve.  But these problems were beginning to manifest themselves right before I took the Prednisone now they need attention.  Hopefully I can find the help I need for these, but that’s another story.

My Adventures on Prednisone

ValleyAlmost 5 weeks ago I took Prednisone for a rash.  I had no idea it would turn into a five week disaster that is still not over.

The rash was truly horrible when I went to the clinic that day.  I had been scratching at myself all night and no cream had helped.  I tried to find a dermatologist to help but none were available for a week so I brought myself to a clinic which I thought could at least give me some relief until a specialist could take over.  The staff and doc at the clinic were great and I left hopeful with two prescriptions and a new cream to try.  Little did I know what lay ahead.

The prednisone was a step down pack,  You start with a high dose and then over a period of time go down to a low dose.  I had done this before and had no issues with it but there was a difference this time.  I had previously been on both anti depressants and and anti anxiety medications,  Those medications had shielded me from the effects of the prednisone.  Now there was no shield and boy did I react.  I went into a 5 week panic attack that still goes on now though it is a bit better.

At first I thought I was having a stroke as my arm went numb and my heart was pounding.  I had to go to the E.R. 3 times before I was admitted for a full stroke work up.  It was not a stroke and it was a reaction to the prednisone.  The prednisone was stopped in the hospital and I was told I would be ok in a few days but that wasn’t to be.

Days went by and this feeling of impending doom never left me.  I was in constant contact with my doctors, my psychologist, my pharmacist my pastor any one I could think of.  My doctor was talking to other doctors.  It was decided that the prednisone had to be out of my system and that what was happening now had to be psychosomatic.  I was scheduled to go away for 2 weeks I was afraid to go.  After talking it over with my team of professionals I went.  For the first day I was ok but slowly things began to creep back in and I made the decision to come home.  I had driven from Philadelphia to Ohio and then to Indiana so I was driving home from Indiana,  About 6 hours into the drive home I zoned out on the road and was pushing the car over 100 miles an hour.  A state trooper flagged me down which was a blessing as I may killed myself or someone else.

I did get home safely but the problem persisted.  By this time I was half out of my mind.  I couldn’t eat, food scared me, even drinking was hard.  I had gone down to eating mostly bread and water and my weight loss had come to about 30 pounds.  Something had to be done.

Finally I realized that the only help I could get would probably come from a psychiatrist.  A medication had messed with my brain some one who knew how the brain worked should know how to reverse this.  No psychiatrist could be found to help me.

Finally after speaking with a psychiatric nurse and my doctor it was decided that I should go to a local crisis center.  I wasn’t suicidal but I needed help.  I didn’t want to go but it seemed like the last alternative so I went.  I was thrown out.  I was treated rudely and down right meanly.  The doctor was annoyed I was even there,  He told me in essence that I should not have come and he would do nothing for me besides giving me phone numbers of other places to try.  I was pretty devastated.  It especially made me angry that he wouldn’t even listen to me.  If he had he could have guided me on what to do.  It was the psychiatric nurse from the hospital I was in that sent me to him,  He was mad at her too.

The psychiatric nurse did give me some advice that my own doctor was able to put in to action.  I was to drink a lot of water and Gatorade and begin to take Ativan.  You see the prednisone had never really left my system.  The psych  meds that I had previously been on had made my brain totally open to receiving and holding on to the drug.  There was no easy way was over this only through it.

So now I am taking half a milligram of Ativan in the morning and one milligram before bed.  I drink two quarts of water and one quart of Gatotade a day.  I spend a lot of time in the bathroom.  The Ativan has lessened the feelings of panic but has not taken it all away.  It may take awhile before this all washes out of my system but I have a drinking system down that finishes the liquids before 7 so when I go to bed at ten I”m not up all night relieving my bladder.  I don’t know when this will come to an end and this remains very frustrating.

On the bright side I have started to exercise and am still only able to eat small amounts of food, so the weight I desperately need to lose is coming off, however this is the hard way.  My name is on a waiting list to see an actual psychiatrist and I honestly have no idea when that will happen.  I hope soon as I have a feeling this does not have to be as hard as it is.