Saturday, April 27, 2013

One Cat, One Window, One Stepladder, and an Involuntary Body Piercing

There's a window in our staircase. When open, it provides a nice breeze through the upstairs landing and helps cool my writing office.

The only problem with opening and closing the window is that I have to stand on a stepladder to do it. If you're afraid of heights, that's a problem. You find yourself looking straight down several stairs, or peering out a window high in the air. A fall from there would be quite painful.

My cats like that window. They sit on the sill and feel even more like kings of the world than they usually do.

This evening I opened the window. When it got cool a little while ago, I decided to close the window. Jake--the current Cat King of the World--disagreed. He was perched on the sill. His way of getting to the window is easier than mine. He jumps from the landing to the sill, and he does it quite well. When we first bought the house, I was pretty sure I would find a cat-shaped hole in the screen and a cat shape on the lawn below.

When it got chilly and I wanted to close the window, I looked up at the sill and saw Jake looking down at me. I told him I wanted to close the window. He gave me a stare, in the way cats stare, that indicated he had absolutely no intention of abandoning his post.

A smart man would have let him stay there and gotten himself a sweater.

I'm not dumb, but I am a wee bit stubborn. I wasn't about to let a cat--King of the World or NOT King of the World--tell me I couldn't close a window.

I opened the stepladder, the one that leans against the wall under the window on the staircase for the sole purpose of letting me open and close the window, and climbed up.

I was eyeball-to-eyeball with King Jake. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way," I said. "The easy way is for you to jump over to your ledge and walk off with your dignity intact."

Jake, unlike most cats, maintains eye contact with humans. It's his way of showing superiority. That's my fault. I teach cats to look people in the eye. It freaks people out in a way that makes me giggle.

"The hard way," I continued as if Jake understood a word I was saying, "is for me to pluck you from the windowsill and carry you down this ladder to the stairwell."

His look said, "Bring it."

Life was about to get more interesting than I wanted. I should have known it would, but I had my stubborn on.

I lifted the cat from the sill.  I tried to make assuring sounds as I did so.

The assuring sounds came out in an embarrassingly girlish scream.

Jake poked a hole in my chest with a claw from hell. The claw to the chest made me jerk back on the stepladder. I was balanced on the stepladder with my big toe as the only point of contact. My scream caused King Jake to look me in the eye and hiss. Time froze, or at least seemed to freeze, as my big toe protested my weight.

I performed a little cat-like acrobatics myself, scream, big toe, cat and all...
...I think Jake and I actually switched places for a microsecond--with me in his arms and him holding the ladder with one claw from Hell...
...That scared Jake, and we switched back.

I used the big toe from my other foot, the one in the air along with the rest of me, and the cat in my arms, to find the next step down.

Big toes and cats and even small men such as myself are bound to invoke gravity whether we want to or not. I landed on a stair on my tush, which ain't nearly padded enough for such a landing, and expelled a rush of air (that sounded amazingly like a little girl's scream and a mix of manly cuss words) and found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a very unhappy hissing cat. The searing pain in my chest was not the result of a heart attack. It was the result of the freakishly large cat claw stuck in it. I think the claw originates somewhere behind the damn cat's shoulder, extends down his spine, and looks tiny from the paw.

He withdrew the claw, and bounded down my extended body...bouncing on my balls just to show me who's boss...before darting off to the kitchen.

Lying on the stairs, I realized several things:
1. I was alive, with no broken bones, and I had completed all the exercise I wanted to complete for the day.
2. The cat was no longer on the windowsill.
3. (This one is important) The damn window was still open!

I climbed the ladder again, closed the window, climbed back down the ladder, folded the ladder, and rested it against the wall.

Thankful I was wearing a dark shirt that hid the trickle of blood running down my chest, I returned to my writing office and hoped my wife would ignore anything she might have heard.

She didn't. She sat in her chair, reading a book on her Nook, and glanced at me when I walked in the room. "Did you get the window closed?"


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We Have A Rule: Don't Do Dishes in the Bathtub

...As you might guess, it's our rule, not my rule. In other words, I didn't make the rule...which means I might or might not follow the rule.

The rule came about because our crock pot doesn't fit in our kitchen sink very well, which makes it difficult to wash. I solved that problem once by taking out the ceramic lining and washing the thing in the bathtub.

Proud of my ingenuity, I left some bits of carrot  and a few hunks of celery on the bathtub drain and waited for my wife to inquire about the presence of vegetables in the bathtub, then admire my ingenuity.

The first happened...the second did not. In fact, she made up a rule: Don't to dishes in the bathtub. Not ever. Not one bowl, not one spoon, and certainly not a crock pot.

Dishes. She specifically forbade the washing of dishes.

She never said a word about ironing board covers.
I use a lot of starch when I iron. I also iron every seam when I make clothing, and I recently made a pair of pants. Our ironing board cover was matted with starch and bits of black thread.

Ironing board covers aren't expensive. I pay about five bucks at a store a couple of blocks away. It's not a big problem to replace the ironing board cover, but I hate spending money on such a boring purchase. Still, the one on the ironing board was beyond it's usefulness.

The cheap ironing board covers I buy don't hold up in the washing machine. They're made of cheap cotton and by the time they go through the spin cycle, they're shot.

But... As I was ironing a shirt before showering this morning, it occurred to me that I could clean the ironing board cover in the bathtub while I showered. This is known as killing two birds with one stone. It's also known as living dangerously. I do these things with the knowledge that I will--most probably--have some explaining to do when, not if, I get busted.

So, I removed the crispy thread covered ironing board cover and tossed it in the tub. I closed the drain and proceeded to take my shower. I kicked the ironing board cover around in the water, watching the water turn yellow with starch and fill with threads. When I rinsed myself, I rinsed the ironing board cover.

When I dressed, I went upstairs and put the ironing board cover back on the ironing board. Wow! It's clean, baby! Saved myself five bucks in the process, too!

I'm a genius. I don't say it often, but it's true.

Now we come to the part of my "genius" that's going to get me killed one of these days--maybe even this day.

You see, there's a yellow ring around the bathtub now. The yellow ring bears quite a few black threads.
A true genius would clean the bathtub.

I'm not going to do that. I'm testing a hypothesis. My hypothesis is as follows:
By the end of this day, there will be a new rule, a corollary to the Dish Rule of 2010: Thou Shalt Not Wash Fabric in the Bathtub.

I'm not a fan of rules...but for some reason, they tend to grow in my path. They grow like weeds in my path.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pride in My Pants. Wait! That means I made the pants.

If you know me, you know I'm not a big guy. If you don't know me, you're about to know I'm not a big guy. I have a 29" waist and a 29.5" inseam. It's not easy finding pants that fit.

There's a couple of ways around that without having to gain weight. (Yes, I'm prepared to go into the witness protection program if someone with anger management issues decides to chase me down the street with a pitchfork for complaining about being too small to find clothing that fits well.)

One would be to pay a tailor good money to build me a pair of dress pants. The other way is to learn to sew and tailor a pair of pants for myself.

I chose the second option. Sewing isn't new to me. From my first stint with a sewing machine as a 7th grader forced to take a home economics class, I developed an interest in sewing. As a Boy Scout hell bent on earning the rank of Eagle Scout before his 14th birthday (Yes, I was 13 when I earned my Eagle), I earned badges so quickly that my mother taught me to sew them on my uniform myself. That was a gift to me, and self-defense for her.

I have made several garments for my wife, and if you look around on this blog, you'll find some photos of quilts I've made. In fact, the background of the blog is a photo of one of my quilts.

Pants aren't easy to sew. There's a lot more to pants than people give them credit for.

I did it, as you'll see at the end of this post.

Here's how:
1. I dug out a pattern I bought a long time ago when I wanted to make a suit. Never made the suit, but I kept the pattern. It's still available, for about $15.

2. I took a trip to Joann's. I like that store, and I am almost always amused by the person who cuts the fabric. They're still not quite sure what to make of the situation when they find themselves face-to-face with a solitary man holding a bolt of cloth. It's almost as much fun as ordering a Happy Meal with coffee at the McDonald's drive-thru. It locks 'em up for a while.

3. I cut out the pattern pieces so I could take advantage of the cutting layout suggested on the pattern. Nowhere in the instructions does it say to do this--but the paper pattern is going to get cut into pieces anyway, and you can't match the grain lines (some pieces are cut on the long threads in fabric and some cut on the short threads, otherwise known as "warp" and "weft") if you don't cut the pieces out beforehand.

4. Then I cut the pieces from the fabric.
I use two pairs of scissors when I sew. The cheap ones with the plastic handles are for paper. Paper is made from trees, and it's hard on scissors. No kidding! Besides, I'm not new to the sewing thing, and I appreciate my Ginger sewing scissors--true left-hand scissors, but that's a different story--and use them only for fabric.

The piece on the cutting table is actually two pieces being cut simultaneously, the front of the pants.

There were more than thirty pieces cut for the pants. Everything from pockets to zipper flaps, to belt carriers, to facings for the pockets, welts (double welts for the back pockets), etc.

5. Then I read the instructions for the construction of the pants. Again. Then I read them again.*

*Let me insert a couple of points for those men who might be reading this, who might be tempted to scoff at the idea of a man sitting in front of a sewing machine. One: Don't think of it as a sewing machine. Think of it as a single-cylinder engine. One piston, holding a needle, punching holes in something. Feel better? Two: The making of tailored clothing was the province of men long before the word 'seamstress' entered the lexicon. Three: There doesn't need to be a "three". I refer you to one and two.

6. I fired up the third (behind scissors and sewing machine) most important piece of equipment needed for sewing a fine garment. I'm referring to my iron. I press each seam as I make it. Some seams can only be reached properly as the garment is being built, and that bit of detailing makes or breaks the garment, at least as far as I'm concerned.

7. I followed the instructions. Vogue has pretty good instructions, and those who use them do well to follow them to the letter. If you don't follow them to the letter, be prepared to use the fourth most important piece of equipment--the seam ripper.  I screwed up and sewed my back pockets closed. That was embarassing only because I didn't realize I did that until I put my new pants on and couldn't put my wallet where it belongs.

It's okay--indeed expected--to cuss loudly, frequently, and with enthusiasm when using a seam ripper. After all, you only use it when you screw up. Plan to screw up at least six times for a complicated garment, and less than that for an easy one.

8. As I completed each step, I tried on the pieces I built. Sometimes I used pins to see how the fit was coming along. That's one of many reasons I'm glad I used dark cloth. It hides the blood when a pin takes a little more interest in my skin than it does in the fabric... That's another perfectly acceptable reason to cuss while sewing, by the way.

9. Eventually, I ended up with a pretty darn good pair of pants, especially made by me for me.

10. Of course, I can't resist a little bragging about making my pants. Most people look at them, and me with a bit of disbelief. That's why I like to use printed fabric for the pockets. I refer you back to the photo at the top of this post. See the green fabric? That's leftover from a quilt I made my wife some time ago. You can't see it in the pants, but if (when) someone looks at me like they don't quite believe my pants are homemade, I just turn out a pocket and show them the green. That I'm using good fabric for the pockets also gives the advantage of having pockets that will last as long as the pants.

This final photo is of me in my pants: