You simply must try this.

2 September, 2014
Rat Fink

Leave it to me to go from posting serious and personal thoughts about suffering and other existential issues yesterday, to writing “HEY — BUY THIS CUZ IT’S LISHY.”

Rat Fink, Rat Fink. What a donkey. ;-) But for good or ill, it’s what makes RtB RtB. I wasn’t joking about the “at random” part of the slogan up there, Jim. Anyway…

If you are a fan of conserves/jams, you haven’t lived till you’ve tried this. It trumps all the homemade jams I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve taken home some great stuff from private kitchens over the decades. I’m not kidding; this beats all.

On last weekend’s bimonthly trip to Earth Fare, I discovered some jars of St. Dalfour on the shelf. Having never tried it (indeed, I never knew it existed), but noticing that there was no cane sugar added, I picked up two jars: blackberry and apricot. I also noticed it’s imported from France, which made me feel all foofy & such.

Fiends, I’m here to tell you that there are whole blackberries and huge chunks of apricot in that stuff.  And the aroma, oh my. Of course, the proof is in the tasting, and it was divine. Just the right amount of tartness, and most importantly, not cloying, which many jams can be. Of course, it’s not a treat for every day, but…wait, scratch that. I’ve had it every day since I bought it. haha

This morning, I went to Amazon and bought the black cherry and strawberry varieties. My excitement is visceral.

Are you a jammer? I know several in my family who are not (sister Mavis, son Seamus, others), but I’ve been hooked since childhood, when Dad would bring home Hostess powdered donuts, and we’d make an extra-special dessert by putting Welch’s grape jelly on them. To this day, I won’t eat a Hostess powdered donut without grape jam on it. Ah, the curse of connecting food with emotions…story of my life. (But that’s another long, serious, existential post.)

Well look at the clock, wouldya. Five-ten a.m. and I’ve been up since 3, thinking about the rehearsal schedule starting today. Bring it. Well actually, bring it after breakfast, which, of course, will include a slice of toast with St. Dalfour on it.

Happy Tunesday!

On suffering

1 September, 2014
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If you evade suffering, you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.— Ursula K. Le GuinThe Dispossessed

You will not know what it is to come home.

I tend to skim over quotes on the web. They’re positively ubiquitous, as everywhere you look, someone has turned one into a picture. Entire sites have been created for making your own quote photos, with no thought for the veracity of the text. This is particularly evident on social media (this one especially makes me cringe; friends have posted it on Facebook, and since I don’t want to come across as a joy killer, I don’t say anything). Anyway, you get the point. Overkill.

But this quote stopped me. I read it three times. Isn’t it true that we always, always endeavor to avoid suffering? It flavors our every choice, I’m certain of it. And for the purposes of this particular post, I don’t mean physical suffering, per se. Millions of us live with chronic ailments to varying degrees (migraine, arthritis, allergies, etc.). Some are afflicted with hideous diseases that disable and maim and kill. I will also exclude for today the suffering we endure after the death of a loved one.

Rather, my point is that we seek mainly pleasure in this life, true? Monetary, physical, emotional; we’re drawn to it. We crave it and wear it, and as the years roll out, we even come to expect it. Therein lies the curiosity for me today: many of us do not know how to suffer. I’m sure I’m in that lot. Moreover, I believe that we sometimes see ourselves as suffering, when in fact, we’re just being presented with circumstances outside our “locus of control.” My locus is likely very small, as I’ve suffered little in comparison to people I know who have fought in wars, dealt with emotional illness, and endured the horrors of abuse and addiction.

I think we’re hard-coded to resist and avoid hardship, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m saying that as a culture, we’ve honed to a science the pursuit of pleasure and the dreaded instant gratification to the extent that we will go to extraordinary lengths to keep the gravy train running. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, but…it desensitizes a part of our brains — the part that sees past the now and focuses on the “homecoming.” In our desperate mission to avoid unpleasantness, we lose the ability to cope with it. Then, in the inevitable collision with adversity, we often crumble.

Looking at the long view — the big picture — makes the end product sweeter, yes. But I think we (I) need to take it one level deeper. Instead of frantically grasping at ways to escape hardship at the first sign of pain, we might instead embrace the temporary discomfort (or at least accept it), and weather the storm while we figure a calmer, more long-lasting way through it, whether it be through personal introspection, faith, or other means. Only then we can know what it is to “come home.”

I don’t know why this simplistic ideal grabbed me so tight this morning. The above is no groundbreaking treatise. It’s just my version of what has been said for decades — heck, millennia. Still, it made me reconsider the benefit of suffering, for lack of a better term. I need to widen my personal orbit to include it, and resist the knee-jerk tendency to fear it and run from it. Who knows? I might learn something.

In the books

30 August, 2014
Rat Fink

The first full week of school, that is. And while I’m feeling pretty worn out, it’s good. My voice usually takes the brunt of the fatigue, what with singing with shy fifth graders and making demo recordings of various songs for cast members to rehearse at home (most of which are way out of my comfortable vocal range, oy). But thumbs up; we made it through, and I’m excited for the choirs and shows this year.

I think. :-)

One of the highlights of my week was going to the Browns/Bears game on Thursday night. What fun! We met up with friends from the Cleveland area who are season ticket holders, and we had a fantastic evening. The weather was perfect: mid-60s, no clouds, and a soft breeze off Lake Erie. Perfect night for football, and of course, stadium hot dogs. (Candid mouth-stuffed photo here.) First Energy Stadium in Cleveland has undergone quite the facelift recently, after being built in 1999 to encourage a heartbroken fan base that had just endured one of the cruelest sucker punches ever pulled. Whether or not Art Modell had legitimate reasons for doing what he did mattered little then, and is inconsequential now. The fact remains: the Browns haven’t been the same since.

Our view from the upper deck of the Dawg Pound

Our view from the upper deck of the Dawg Pound

But back to the stadium renovations. They are spectacular! If you click the “facelift” link in the previous paragraph, you’ll find a graphic that allows you to use your mouse to compare the views before and after the project. I must say, the design is impressive. Our seat location allowed us a great view of all these improvements, as well as the fixes to come. It’s exciting to watch; I just hope the team rises to the occasion.

As darkness fell, the crowd had relaxed considerably, and it was easy to carry on a conversation.

Preseason games are, of course, not well attended. But that was fine with us, as regular season games are pandemonium. During the 10-minute dashes to and from the parking lot, our friends shared their wonder at not feeling like a moving tin of sardines on the sidewalks. Emily kept holding her arms out to her sides as she walked, marveling at the amount of “personal space” she had on the concrete.

Winning didn’t hurt anything, either. (Props to the Thriller, who was likely one of 14.5 Bears fans in the entire stadium.)

And here we are, finally arriving at Saturday morning. We all survived, and I was fine yesterday, despite the three hours of sleep the night before. I’m taking my time, sipping coffee and enjoying 15 open browser tabs of Gothamist articles. Later this afternoon, it’s grocery shopping, cleaning bathrooms and folding laundry. I need this kind of day, because as you know, after Labor Day, yeah

Happy weekend, fiends!

It’s all right

25 August, 2014
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Have a good time, ’cause it’s all right. (Whooooa yes, my pathetic life is song lyrics.)

It’s all good today. It’s fine that I pulled an all-nighter on Friday night (we had an upset 5-year-old, having a terrible time with growing pains — aching arms and legs), and that Saturday was a mix of getting work done, resting up, and general craziness.

A definite “lowlight” was Pax getting attacked by two pit bull mixes at the dog park yesterday, completely unprovoked. He got a nice little chunk removed from above his eye, and his rear legs are extremely stiff. He now drags himself up off the floor like a seal or walrus in order to walk. We called the vet at 8:00 last night, and she suggested straight Benedryl to relax him until she can work him in this afternoon for a checkup and x-ray. And the hits just keep on comin’…

Before the attack (the offenders are on leashes in the background)

Before the attack (the offenders are on leashes in the background)

The park owner, who is wonderful and attentive to all visiting dogs, was mortified and apologetic, as the two attackers are his personal pets. He offered to pay the vet bill, and told us that these two particular dogs would be taken inside whenever we’re at the park — exactly the right things to say, and what we were hoping to hear (of course, we wouldn’t stick him with the bill). We felt bad for him. He usually keeps the two pits on leashes when dogs come into the park, until he’s certain that everything is peaceful. We all thought that was the case yesterday, until *bam* — out of nowhere, they went for Pax, who was minding his own business with the other four dogs. The owner and the Thriller immediately jumped into the fray to free him, but not until Pax had been jumped on several times, and bitten who knows how many. He was covered in dirt and saliva, so we bathed him as soon as we got home, looking for any hidden wounds.

Skinny McScrawny

Skinny McScrawny

He was already in bad shape when we got him into the car, as he couldn’t make the jump into the back seat, and had to be lifted. And while all this sounds terribly serious, which it surely is, we think he just got janked around, and he’s a middle-aged, underweight dog with joint problems. He’s going to be sore for a while, and he’s back to being quiet and clingy. But that’s OK — we will overcome, and he will heal, and all will be well. But sheesh — in your new home for a week, and you get mugged by thugs. Poor guy!

OK, enough drama for one weekend. I’m off to the school house for my first full five days. Goodbye, voice!



Something in the air

20 August, 2014
Rat Fink

In the hours before I take off for the official first day of school, I am inundated with news that smacks suspiciously of an earlier time. Chaos in the streets, racial unrest, senseless violence, looting, hatred.

After reading the umpteenth article about the violence in Missouri, and the jagged separation between the two factions, I thought to myself, This country has got to get it together. Ah, a segue…

As cliché as it sounds, if we want to fix this thing for the future, we really do need to start right where we are. I resolve this day to be an example of tolerance and peace to my students, and everyone else, for that matter. To bend a little with my opinions. To not be so rigid in my thoughts. To never bathe in schadenfreude. To listen without simply thinking about what I’m going to say next.

Fiends, the revolution’s here. I think we need to strive to make it a positive alternative.

Happy day to you all — I’m off to the schoolhouse to meet 230 of my closest friends. :-)