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Coffee with Mimi: Reaching the point beyond cleanliness

By MIMI BECKER

Contributing Columnist

We live in a 95-year-old house. It is on a street with many homes which are mostly older. They are lovely, large, some historic, homes. They are photographed and described in books.

Once, in a newspaper article touting iconic characteristics in small towns across America, our street was specifically cited for its picturesque old homes with trees and front porches all lining the street with dignity.

Big, old homes are a treasure. My family home was such. They have large spaces for living, even before the concept of “great rooms” was popular. Builders did not stint on windows, adding touches like stained glass accents or beveled sidelights. Interiors had interesting, French style doors between rooms, often with many glass panes. The effect is one of openness and light.

Our home is situated sideways and placed off center on the lot, half the size of most every other house and of a quirky color brick rather than the traditional painted wood or stately red brick. It was included in a picture book of historic homes probably because it is such an outlier.

When it was built, it was even smaller. Two additions have increased the efficiency of the living spaces.

We do share one architectural feature with all the grand, large homes on our street — windows.  Our pint-sized house has at least as many windows and doors as our gallon sized neighbors.  Including the interior French doors, our home has 47 installed features with panes of glass.  Aside from the obvious challenge of limited linear feet of wall space on which to place furniture, I love our light-filled home.

The windows, except in a few odd places and in the kitchen addition, are eight-paned with real wood muntins. Yes, they are a pain to paint; a task which can be tackled infrequently. They are more difficult to wash, a task which should be on the “to do” list at more frequent intervals.

Washing these windows is awkward and time consuming. They are not the simple and efficient modern inventions which can be tilted in and out from the comfort of the inside of the house by one person. Oh, no. 

Washing one window involves tackling each of those individual panes on the inside, manipulating the storm window units up and down to expose and clean the inside glass sections, then going outside, climbing up and down on a ladder to clean the outside of the individual panes and again manipulating the storm windows to clean the outside of them. Not to mention the tracks for the storm window units. A pox on the inventor of track storm windows.

My mother-in-law, who had a newer home with the magic windows, always advised me to just tackle one room of windows at a time, on a schedule. Even if I would be disciplined and dedicated, I would likely always be washing windows.

Once, we hired a commercial window washing company who, sight unseen, priced the job at a flat fee per window/door, inside and out. We were ecstatic. We left for work one day and returned in the evening to glistening, sparkling windows and doors — all at one time.   

The next year, we called to schedule our “annual” cleaning. They were not interested at the originally quoted price; smart business people. The new price was a reflection of the difficulty of the job. Don’t I know it.

Now is the time. I’m washing windows. I have a whole day, a ladder, a long hose and a bucket.  The outside is the most difficult, so that is job one. I can do the insides quickly and easily, it’s almost a reward for completing the outsides.

Through the years, even before we purchased our home, the windows, actually the storms, had experienced some bad times. Several have been lost or broken and are virtually ineffective.  They have become a detraction from the quaintness of the original architecture. What to do? 

I do love older homes. Light switches are not always in the most convenient places. Corners are not always at right angles and floor boards sometimes squeak. But, the craftsmanship is special and many details wouldn’t even be considered today.

Sometimes, efforts to modernize the original don’t actually improve the appearance or the function. It’s a balancing act and encourages perspective. And, a willingness to make mistakes.

You would think, in choosing where to start the washing, I would go with the most visible from the street. You know, people would see some results and so would I. Instant gratification all around. I surveyed the entire perimeter and determined that the side with the most repair issues would be my first target. I added a screwdriver to the supply list. Go with the simplest solutions, first.

In life there are some absolutes. After a hard day’s work, at a particular age, your body will not reward you, unless you consider just getting out of bed the next day to be your just desserts.  However, your mind is tickled pink with your progress even if no one else sees it. 

Window washing is a good thing. Maybe my mother-in-law had a point beyond cleanliness.