Frustrating Weekend

Dave and I moved to a new place a few weeks ago — a long and frustrating process in itself — and there’s still much to do. We were going to be in San Francisco much of Sunday, so I wanted to get as much done on Saturday as I could. One of the bigger tasks remaining is getting our many dozens of boxes of books up from the basement and onto the bookcases that are on the second floor.

I decided the first thing I was going to do on Saturday was get the last bookcase bolted to the wall. The problem was that there was a TV wall mount solidly bolted to the wall that the previous tenant had left behind, and I didn’t have the right tool to unbolt it. Not that it was going to be a big deal, but I figured I was going to need a socket wrench, and I didn’t own any, and a set of decent socket wrenches was probably going to cost me at least twenty, twenty-five bucks. Money is kind of tight, though, since we just spent a lot on moving expenses last month, and Dave pointed out that we’d gotten a gift card from Home Depot for Christmas. Also, though Home Depot was a bit of a bus ride away, it was likely to sell individual socket wrenches, not just sets, and we could combine the trip with some other errands in the same area. So Home Depot it would be.

Indeed, Home Depot turned out to have individual socket wrenches at just $2.50 each. I had measured the bolt and gotten 7/16″ — I figured it was unlikely to be a metric size — and as the wrenches were inexpensive I picked up not just the 7/16″ but also the next standard sizes above and below, 1/2″ and 3/8″, just to be safe.

Unfortunately, both the bus ride and the errands took quite a bit longer than expected, and it was late afternoon by the time we got back. Even after getting the bookcase mounted, there wouldn’t be much Saturday left for carrying boxes up and unpacking them onto shelves. So I was eager to get at it, and I took the wrenches upstairs and tried them on the bolt.

Tried the 7/16″ — too big. Damn. Well, it was a good thing I’d bought the extras, then.

Tried the 3/8″. Seemed for a moment that it was going to work, but it was just a bit too small to fit around the bolt.

What the —? This is impossible. There is no other standard size between 3/8″ and — and of course that’s when I finally realized that these must be metric bolts.

Argh. It was kind of late to get to Home Depot and back and still have any day left for unpacking. We decided we would hit Home Depot on the way into San Francisco on Sunday, and I resigned myself to just carrying some more boxes of books up two flights and stacking them next where the bookcase would go.

At least now I could pinpoint the size I needed. In between 3/8″ and 7/16″ are 10 mm and 11 mm. I wasn’t sure off the top of my head whether or not 11 mm was a standard size of metric bolt, but in any case the 3/8″ wrench was very close to the right size, and the 7/16″ wasn’t, so what I needed had to be 10 mm.

I returned all three socket wrenches and picked up a 10 mm wrench the next day on our way into San Francisco. We got home after 11 pm, and I went straight upstairs and tried the new wrench on the bolts. I had the television mount removed from the wall in under ten minutes. And then I had to get to bed, since I was getting up early for work the next morning. So much for getting any books unpacked. (We did have a good time in SF on Sunday afternoon, though. More about that later.)

Ring Out the Old Year

Yesterday was kind of an odd mixed bag of a day to end the year on. In the morning I finished a lyric for The Golden Slipper that I had started several years ago — the middle of that aria is where I was interrupted first to work on The Manga Flute and then on the two versions of The Bat Bites Back (first just the dialogue for the Opera San Jose production of Fledermaus and then adding lyrics to create a full English version for the Lamplighters production). I think the lyric for Golden Slipper will be a hoot — I’m definitely back in the commedia dell’arte mode of writing with this one. But it’s also a bit of a struggle to pick up the threads after so long. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get The Golden Slipper back from “on hold” status to “work in progress” status. Fortunately, I’d made a fairly detailed outline before I was interrupted by the other projects.

(Looking for a brand new, very funny, family-friendly opera to present? This is a new libretto based on the ancient Chinese version of the fairy tale and using the score of Rossini’s Cinderella. It’d make an awesome holiday show for the right company.)

In the afternoon, I read an article about using Facebook better that suggested checking now and then for “other” messages, ones not from FB friends, because FB doesn’t alert you about them. I had not noticed this at all! When I checked, I discovered a message from a fan of my shows from back in May, and a message from a couple weeks ago from an old friend from my college days looking to reconnect after more than 30 years. Yikes! I replied to both, and chatted with the old friend for a bit.

Dave and I rang in the New Year by watching Dumbo and then going to bed about 11:30, where we read for a while longer (I’m nearly done with Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography, which is terrific and full of interesting history) till we heard fireworks going off outside somewhere.

Happy New Year, and best wishes for a 2015 that beats the tar out of 2014.

Macys Basics Pots and Pans and Loose Screws

If anyone else has bought some Macys Basics “Tool of the Trade” pots and pans and finds that they’re good, inexpensive pots and pans except for the fact that the goddam screws that attach the handles keep falling out, I now have the answer.

We’ve been tightening and re-tightening the screws pretty regularly for over a year, but recently we finally lost two of the screws altogether. So I wanted to go to the hardware store and buy replacements for them, but this turned out to involve quite a bit more careful measurement, trial and error, and self-education about international screw sizes than I had bargained for. Which I am posting about here in case there’s someone out there with the same problem.

So here’s what my investigation has uncovered. The handles are designed so that they can accommodate much longer screws, yet the frigging manufacturer is using the shortest possible screws that will barely hold the handle on at all. It looks to me that if the screws were even a millimeter shorter, the threads on the screw would not reach the threads in the pot or pan and the handles would just not be attached. The result is that the screws don’t have to get very loose before they suddenly fall out. I’m sure the manufacturer saves all of three cents per pan or pot through this incredibly stupid and irritating cost-cutting measure. (Other than this, as I said, they are good, inexpensive pots and pans. But dropping a screw here or there every few weeks is just ridiculous.)

As far as I can tell, the screws are metric, not U.S., which makes sense because the manufacturer is in Europe. At least, I couldn’t find a standard U.S. screw size that looked like it would work. The screws that come with the pots and pans are Phillips flat head machine screws, and the size appears to be M5 × 7 mm (sometimes given as “5 mm × 7 mm”). This is too damn short.

If you have this problem, too, what you need are Phillips flat head machine screws either in size M5 × 10 mm or in size M5 × 12 mm (sometimes given as 5 mm × 10 mm or 5 mm × 12 mm). The handles can accommodate a screw up to 12 mm in length, but a 10 mm screw is long enough to hold the handles on very securely. A decent hardware store should carry them.

(Just to complicate things further, you will also occasionally see these called M5-0.8 × 10 mm screws or 5 mm × 0.8 mm × 10 mm. The “0.8 mm” figure is the pitch, and it measures how close together the threads are on the screw. 0.8 mm is the standard pitch for a 5 mm diameter screw, so it is often omitted in the designation.)

Nineteenth Anniversary

Wednesday Dave and I celebrated our nineteenth anniversary.

When I was writing my libretto for Stories by Hoffmann, I needed to write a lyric for Hoffmann to sing to Giulietta that would express his yearning for a kind of love that could follow all the disillusions he had suffered with his first two loves. (Unfortunately, the poor guy has his worst disillusionment of all still ahead of him, because Giulietta is planning to betray him in the most devastating way possible, but he doesn’t know this yet and his words to Giulietta have to be deeply sincere.) I found the right words for Hoffmann when I thought about my own relationship with Dave. Hoffmann’s lyric ends:

A smile that knows regret,
A laughter laced with rue,
A heart both wise and true:
All these I’ve found in you.

More than anything else I’ve written, those four lines are for Dave.

Rice Porridge for Dinner

So yesterday I bit down badly on a piece of nut, which hurt like hell, but I brushed and flossed and water-pic’d my teeth and went to bed a little sore but figuring I’d taken care of it.

Then I woke up around three in the morning with my jaw hurting like hell again, and a look in the mirror revealed a comic-strip caricature of a guy with a toothache, one side of his face swollen. Fortunately I remembered that I had some oil of cloves in the kitchen — I use it when I need to control an infestation of ants (smear some on the path the ants are using to get in, they hate the stuff) — but I also remembered from any number of nineteenth-century novels that oil of cloves is a traditional toothache remedy. Sure enough, I touched some oil of cloves to my jaw and felt better quickly. Took a couple of acetaminophen and a hot bath, too, and was feeling OK again in an hour and went back to bed.

Nearly a day later and the toothache pain hasn’t really returned, but my cheek is still noticeably swollen and a bit tender. Dave was very sweet to make me some yummy rice porridge with zucchini and grated ginger for dinner (he poached two eggs in the cooking porridge, too, for some protein). Yum. Tasty, gentle in flavor without being bland, and — most important — soft. Very little chewing needed. Rice porridge is Chinese comfort food, something Dave often has for dinner when he’s not feeling so hot, and it was perfect for me tonight.

Dave and I walked to Safeway shortly after sunset for more ice cream — I’d finished off the last bit of the vanilla ice cream we had this afternoon — and on the way we walked to the top of the BART parking garage to look at the planets. Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter were all visible with the naked eye and neatly lined up, though Jupiter was much the hardest to spot, being very close to the horizon and dimmed by the haze of pollution near the ground.

While we were looking for Jupiter, I noticed that, not far from where the star map on my phone said the planet should be, there was the glowing red sign of Target in Richmond. I pointed to it and said to Dave, “There it is! You can even see the Great Red Spot!”

Eating ice cream in bed this afternoon with a swollen jaw brought back strong memories of having my tonsils out when I was, what, maybe eight or nine years old — something I haven’t thought about at all in many, many years. Two weeks lying in bed with a bad sore throat and meal after meal of ice cream, jello, scrambled eggs, and not much else.

That was forty-odd years ago, when two weeks of bed rest after a surgery was regarded as a good thing. Now staying in bed that long is regarded as a risk factor in itself, partly because of the increased susceptibility to pneumonia. Compare with my surgery thirteen years ago: They opened up my freaking skull to remove a tumor from my brain, which was about a gazillion times more invasive and unsettling and debilitating than having my measly old tonsils out, and then they insisted that I start walking around the very next day.

Oh, Horrible! Catastrophe Appalling!

The office refrigerator will be turned off during the long Christmas weekend, and we’ve been asked to take any perishables home with us at the end of the day today. I have a third of a tub of Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream in the freezer, and it ain’t gonna keep during my ninety-minute commute home. So I’m forced — forced, I tell you — to eat a lot of vanilla ice cream today.

I already put a scoop in my morning coffee instead of cream — mmmm.

Rest in Peace

I just heard yesterday about the suicide of a friend of mine a week earlier. He wasn’t a particularly close friend, but someone I saw at retreats several times a year for the last seven or eight years. I knew he’d been in iffy health and increasing pain for some years. But he always seemed to me to be a delightful, whimsical, prankish spirit — he was a dancer in younger days (which unfortunately sometimes leads to painful and disabling joint problems in later life, and I gather that this was part of his struggle), and there was always something about his personality that was leaping and frolicking around just for the fun of it. He was also a wise, kind, gentle soul. I’m sorry I won’t be seeing him again, and I hope whatever part of him rubbed off on me over the years continues to be part of my life. Godspeed, John.

Or Maybe It Just Needs the Word “Technically” in There Somewhere

OK, I’ve baked a lot, and I completely understand that you have to coat chopped dates in something, because otherwise they’ll stick together in clumps just as large if not larger than the dates were to begin with, and what would be the point?

In baking, one generally uses flour, because the muffins or whatever you’re baking are largely flour anyway, but I understand that if you are selling a package of chopped dates, you don’t want to use flour because the customer might want to use them for something other than baking (like, for instance, to mix into one’s bowl of yogurt for breakfast), and they’ll taste floury.

I don’t even really mind all that much that it’s dextrose the chopped dates are coated in. It’s not that much dextrose, really, and I eat plain yogurt which is sour to begin with, so a little added sweetness isn’t a bad thing.

But come on, good people at Sunsweet, how can you coat your chopped dates in dextrose and then in good conscience print on the front of the package the words “No Added Sugar”?



Mustard and Ketchup

Neat article in the food section of today’s Contra Costa Times about homemade condiments — flavored mustards, mayonnaises, and ketchups. Mmm.

I don’t care much for mayonnaise, but I’ve been making homemade mustard every now and then for a long time now. It’s very easy, and you can even whip up a batch in about 90 seconds and use it on sandwiches at once; while it won’t be as yummy as if you let it sit for a while, it’ll still have a great, fresh, bright flavor. (Just grind some mustard seeds to a powder and add a few drops of liquid to make a paste. That’s it. Use yellow seeds or brown seeds — which are hotter — or a mix of the two, use whatever kind of vinegar or wine or sake sounds good at the moment, maybe add a pinch of salt and/or any other spice that sounds good with the sandwich you’re making. Improvise! Yum!)

I don’t like ketchup, at least not the commercial kind — it’s too sweet for my taste and if you look at the label you’ll find out why — but I’ve never tried making my own, and I suspect I might like ketchup a lot more if it were savory rather than sweet. Doesn’t sound that hard, though if you make it from fresh tomatoes instead of sauce it takes a long, long simmer. Maybe that’ll be a project for a weekend sometime soon.