What is God to me?

I love National Public Radio.

Our local station is WHRV, and I listen to it most of the time. I especially love Morning Edition and BBC Newshour. In fact I also love the Cathy Lewis show, and Fresh Air. Okay, I love it all. There have been many times I have sat in my car in the driveway, or in the parking lot at work, and been late just so I can listen to a program. All the while thinking, “just a few more minutes”. I like listening to public radio because I feel smarter when I do.

I feel like I learn something new, or hear a different perspective than I had in my own head. I don’t always agree with everything I hear on the radio, but I always listen.
This morning was one of those mornings where I stayed in my car to hear the last few minutes of a broadcast. It was very interesting, and I heard someone speaking about something I had thought many times but had not put voice to. I heard a story about Eric Weiner and a book he wrote called “Man Seeks God”.

So it made me start thinking, “what is God to me?”

He talked about how he went to the emergency room at a hospital with abdominal pains and a nurse whispered in his ear, “have you found your God yet?” Being a person who works in the medical field I do find it a bit odd that she would say such a thing to a patient, but it was a good thing because it caused Eric to embark upon a quest. A quest to find his God.

In his book he talks about his journey through Islam, and Buddhism, and Christianity, and Judaism. He talks about the things he found and what it meant to him. I will probably buy his book and read it, but the whole topic hit really close to home for me. I mean, I am 47 already.

Have I found my God? I spent some time thinking about it.  I  talked to my clients about it, and my co-workers and my partner Karol. I asked myself what my religion is and I thought about my own spiritual journey.

I was raised Jewish, but we were a family who did not attend Temple. I did not have a Bat Mitzvah and cannot speak or read Hebrew. I do know the prayers and my parents always did the “big” holidays. We had a Passover Seder every year, and ate apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah. We fasted on Yom Kippur and had a dreidel box with presents in it at Hanukkah. It was next to the Christmas tree, but at least my parents taught me about my Jewish heritage.

When I grew up I had a roommate who was Mormon, and I married a man who was a Christian. I liked many of the things I learned in church, but could never quite wrap my head around the “only Christians get to Heaven” part. My parents were good people, but they did not believe in Jesus as their savior. Why did that make them unworthy? Why were only Christians the right ones? I never understood how they could be the only group that is “right”. To me it felt a bit elitist.

After I got divorced and fell in love with my partner I was looking for a church home for us and happened upon the Unitarian Universalist faith. That was a welcoming faith, and I love almost everything about it, but even there, I have some reservations about some aspects of it. I like some Buddhist beliefs, but can’t find my way to all of those either. I have studied some Wiccan beliefs and find those very interesting and comfortable also. When I came home today I asked my family what they believe their religion to be. My mother is an atheist, Karol said she was “raised Catholic”, but now says she “doesn’t know” what she “is”. The oldest son  also said he “doesn’t know”, the middle son said he is an atheist, and the youngest son said he is a “Jewnitarian”, (A Jewish Unitarian Universalist). So even my family is a hodge podge of religious beliefs.

So I guess there is no cookie cutter religion for me. I don’t think God is a man, yet I don’t think God is a woman either. I don’t think of gender when I think of God, I usually think of the universe, or an ethereal being of some kind without a body shape, just spirit. As Eric puts it I seem to have found an “IKEA God.” “Some assembly required,” he says. “[The] idea is that you can cobble together your sort of own personal religion, a sort of mixed tape of God.”

I liked that. It made sense to me, and somehow seemed to put the religious puzzle pieces in my brain into a cohesive unit. So I have decided that it is okay to be eclectic when dealing with religion. That you can take the pieces you like and that make sense to you and add it to the other things that make sense to you and stir it all together to make a wonderful spiritual soup that is palatable and I can live with on a daily basis!

Best Turtle Cheesecake Ever

A few years ago I was looking for a Turtle cheesecake recipe for Karol.  She had asked me to make a cheesecake for Christmas Dinner, and I know that caramel and chocolate are two of her favorite things!

Whenever she buys a cheesecake slice it is always a Turtle cheesecake, so I began searching online for a yummy looking Turtle Cheesecake recipe.   I found this recipe on the BlogChef website and it has become a tradition that I make this cheesecake every year for Christmas dinner.

The kids are not huge cheesecake fans, and Karol doesn’t really like to share this cheesecake, so they have ice cream or chocolate pie instead.

I promise you this cheesecake is amazing!  I have tweaked the recipe a bit over the years, but it is my “go to” Turtle Cheesecake recipe.  I want to share it with you all!  If you love chocolate, caramel and cheesecake this is the one for you too.  Try it, you will love it!!

TURTLE CHEESECAKE
Ingredients:

¾ cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs  (crushed)  **I used chocolate teddy grahams, because I couldn’t find chocolate graham crackers.

½ cup melted butter (or margarine)

3 (8 oz) packages of softened cream cheese

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
 (I use the fat free kind)

½ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels

2 tablespoons chocolate syrup

2 tablespoons caramel sundae syrup

½ cup pecans (chopped)

¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
** I add 1/2 cup sour cream to give the cheesecake a more “New York” style.

** I also take some caramel candies and melt them with a little bit of heavy cream and then pour on top of the crust to form a caramel layer between the crust and the cheesecake.

Step 1: Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees and grease a 9 inch spring form pan. Combine Chocolate graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Press mixture onto the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the spring form pan.
Step 2: In a bowl beat cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until its smooth. Add sugar, lime juice, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat together until fully mixed.
Step 3: Microwave chocolate morsels in 10 second intervals until morsels are just melted. Stir 2 cups of cheesecake batter into the melted morsels.  Then spoon separate batters alternatively into the crust. Start with the batter without the morsels, then with the morsels, and end with the batter without the morsels.
Step 4: Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cheesecake is set (when the center moves just slightly). When cheesecake is done, cool completely. After the cheesecake is cooled top with chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, pecans, and chocolate morsels. Enjoy.

 

Ingredients:

Crust in pan:

melt caramels mixed with about 3 tbsp of heavy cream:

Pour melted caramel on top of crust:

Mix Cream cheese, milk, and sugar until smooth:

Mix in eggs, vanilla, lime juice and sour cream (Sour cream makes it more dense like a new york style cheesecake.  It is optional)

Mix together until smooth:

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler.  (I prefer this to the microwave…less chance of chocolate burning)

Mix melted chocolate in with two cups of batter.  You will end up with some chocolate and some white batter:

Not sure why streaks in picture. It is chocolate batter in the pan. Then white batter goes on top, then chocolate and topped off with white.

Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.  The cheesecake will be slightly jiggly in the center.  That is okay.  Once it is out of the oven, decorate with caramel and chocolate syrup. I also put some mini chocolate chips on top.  And pecans if desired.

Then slice and enjoy!!

YUM!

Vietnam Vet shot and killed in his own home: we need more training for Police!!

One day a few months ago I was doing some research on local veterans for a piece I was writing. As I scrolled through local news stories, one in particular caught my eye!

I started reading and couldn’t stop crying. This was a story about a local Vietnam Veteran who suffered from mental illness (most probably induced from being in Vietnam), who was shot and killed while he stood in side his house. Now, to be completely fair, he did have a firearm, but you have to dig a little deeper to find out what really happened and what caused this mild mannered man (by all accounts) to be standing in his kitchen holding a firearm, and then being fatally wounded by local police.

marshallfranklin1Marshall Franklin of Portsmouth Virginia served his country and did two tours in Vietnam. According to his family (Marshall had 9 brothers and sisters), Marshall was a creative man and had a gift for painting and making crafts. But when he came back from Vietnam, they say he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He didn’t like to take his medicine because he said it stifled his creativity, so he didn’t always take it according to Marshal’s sister Alberta. Having nearly three decades experience working with mental health patients, Alberta says she knew what should have happened. So when she found out Marshall wasn’t taking his meds, she called the community services board and was sure he would get the hep he needed. However, that is not at all what happened.

Before police officers surrounded the home of Marshall Franklin and a SWAT team moved in, all Franklin’s family could do was watch. The standoff ended with two officers shot and Franklin dead, a scenario, Franklin’s family says that could have been avoided. That is, if they ever got a chance to talk to him.

So when her brother Marshall – who’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress syndrome – wasn’t taking his meds, she called the community services board and was confident he’d get help.

However that wasn’t what happened.

According to a police summary of that day filed in court – “mental health was on scene” and told police the suspect “came at her with some type of sharp object.” It goes on to say officers saw Marshall with a “shank to his throat.” When police tried to take him into custody, they said Marshall lunged at them with the weapon. SWAT was called. More than 20 officers showed up at the home, and snipers were positioned on homes across from Marshall’s. Canine units were also called and arrived at the home. Seems a little excessive to me!

Marshall did not have a phone inside the house and Police were informed about this by the family.

franklinfamily

Interestingly, according to a deposition taken in May by a high ranking police lieutenant and training director, in this incident “mental health may not have even been on site yet.”  Also, the mental health worker said in her deposition in June 2015 that she never assessed Marshall, and that an officer and a deputy were already there when she arrived. In fact, she said it was police who told her Marshall had a knife.

Also, according to a lawsuit filed by the family, there is no definitive evidence that Marshall fired the shotgun found next to his body or that the shotgun shells are even from that gun. While he did have guns and ammunition in the house , his family says he and his brother who lived with him in the house were avid hunters, and that is what the shotguns were used for.

You can find the lawsuit filing here.

To make matters worse, dozens of police showed up and surrounded the house, yet the family was not allowed to talk with Marshall, or have any contact with him. “He was blocked off from every single thing that he knew,” said his sister, Tony Franklin Dixon, “the people who loved him, the people who he trusted. He was not allowed to talk with us at all.” According to Marshall’s son, “When I got there,I asked them to let me talk to my father. But they wouldn’t let me go in there at all.”  “He died thinking that his family neglected him, didn’t care about him, and he was alone,” added Juanita Ebron, one of his other sisters.

When SWAT showed up at the home, they threw a negotiation phone in the house to talk to him. His family says it would have only worsened his condition.

“If you’ve got a person dealing with paranoia and post-traumatic stress and you’ve got bomb squads and people are throwing phones through your window,” said his sister, “obviously you’re going to go into a combat mode. Wouldn’t you think? And that’s what happened.”

Training the Portsmouth police better could have avoided this situation from escalating to the point that a man was killed and two officers were wounded (likely from friendly fire). Police Chief Ed Hargis has been named in the suit. He has since “retired” from Portsmouth and is now the Police Chief in Frederick Maryland. Interestingly in Frederick he has implemented the very programs that could have saved Marshall’s life.

edhargis1

The family is suing for $1.5 million claiming the former Police Chief Ed Hargis and his officers are responsible for Marshall’s death and they were negligent in handling someone with mental illness. “I would like for them to admit that they were wrong and they didn’t follow policies or procedures in this matter,” Yvonne said.

It will be up to a jury to decide the final outcome.

Here is a statement from the family:

“First of all, we are thankful to God that the injuries of the two police officers were not life threatening.  However, this incident demonstrates the lack of training and knowledge that the police officers have with working with the mentally ill population and those individuals who suffer with issues of post-traumatic stress syndrome after serving in the Vietnam War and military forces.  A mental health evaluation was requested to seek assistance with getting our brother back on his medication.  This matter was taken from a mental health screening request to a criminal matter before any shots were fired or any officers were injured.  His rights were violated, because he was at his home and he entered his property, which was his right.  No petition had been filed with the magistrate at this time; therefore, the police should have left the scene until a family member could have invited mental health evaluators into the home to complete the assessment.  Officers would not permit family members, i.e., hisuncle who lives several houses down or his son who was on site at the time to talk with him to deescalate the matter.  Instead the Portsmouth Police Department called 55 additional police officers, swat team, snipers, bomb squad, and military to handle one 60 year old man (soon to be 61 had he reached his birthday on March 5) suffering with paranoia and post traumatic stress syndrome.  Police surrounded the home and invaded him causing him to go into a combat mode due to feeling the need to protect himself .  Even after his death, family members were not notified by the Portsmouth Police Department even though detectives were stationed outside of nearby family member’s home where family was gathered.  We were notified by the local news and family and friends calling to express condolences.  This indeed is a tragedy for our mental health system especially following the incidents that occurred at Virginia Tech when people did not respond to warning signs and the need for a mental health evaluation.  Mental illness and post traumatic stress syndrome affects many if not most families.  We pray that this incident will not prevent other families from seeking mental health evaluations for fear that it will result in the death of the family member.  He could have been your brother, father, uncle, nephew, grandfather or maybe just your neighbor.  He was a hunter, artist, skilled craftsmen, builder, and a member and usher of the Garden of Prayer Temple #4 in Portsmouth.  We plan to seek assistance from our Regional Mental Health Advocate and the Virginia Office of State Protection and Advocacy.  We are also seeking any attorney who will assist the family with resolving this matter.  We would like to thank the community for your prayers and your support during this difficult time.”

And finally this report done by Wavy 10, a local station here in Southeast Virginia.