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Doubling-Down on Goodness || The Cultivating Project
On Saturday I washed windows, inside and out. I scrubbed each window once with Dawn dish soap and water, squeegee-ing soapy streaks down the middle; once more with Windex* and a lint-free cloth. It was perfectly overcast and I didn’t know it would be. It was a surprise—I’d been planning to wash windows all week but hadn’t gotten around to it. (Planning feels good, but it doesn’t execute tasks.)
The notion that my windows need washing always comes on a warm, sunny day in April (just checked: it is April), when the earth has tilted or rotated or spun (whatever) just right and the evening sun now shines through the living room windows at dinnertime. From the table I see the horrible way bugs and water and dust have left their marks, like an abstract artist throwing stuff at a canvas just to see what appears. Spots, splotches, bug droppings; the imprint left by a bird in full flight. A sunny afternoon highlights the need but is not, itself, the right time to wash. You have to wait for an overcast day or, at least, an early morning before the sun is fully unclothed. (Sometimes you just have to sit with your problems awhile.)
I started inside. Rearranging the furniture to wash windows meant unearthing trapped dust, hidden objects, and overgrown houseplants in need of repotting. I moved the plants to the kitchen counter and dusted behind every piece of furniture. I dusted the leaves of my larger houseplants and the sill of every first-floor window (the second-story windows will have to wait another day). I washed the windows with vertical swipes and then polished the windows and then vacuumed the floors because of the dusting and plant-moving. I repotted plants and threw away wads of spider-plant babies that apparently proliferate when the mother plant is in distress and under-cared for (we must ensure the species!), and then I found new homes for the sun-starved and sun-scorched, alike. Everything looked good inside. (Whoa to you when everything looks good inside…)
Outside I lugged my small ladder around window to window. My husband bought this ladder specifically for me, for changing lightbulbs and dusting vaulted ceilings and washing windows. He knows I hate heights—when I was in high school I fell from a scaffold and landed on a metal grounding rod, skewering my left thigh and forever making me desire to be on solid ground. He bought me my own ladder so I would never have to use one of his dented or obnoxiously large contractor ladders. On the uneven ground outside our house I gripped the ladder harder as I climbed, as if holding tight to a wobbly thing would somehow secure us both. My toes curled in my shoes, incase that might help. If the ladder goes, I go with it—a kind of fellowship or commitment: I will hold on. (A ladder is supposed to hold you, not the other way around.)(Also, maybe don’t hold on so tight?)
The dogs followed me window to window, flopping down in the grass and waiting for me to finish my strange exercise. She climbs up; she waves her arm in a horizontal motion; she climbs down; she surveys her work; we move to the next window. We were all happy to be outside, sweating, panting, thankful for the cool breeze. A cow urinated in the field and I thought a faucet was on; a red-winged blackbird announced itself like a fountain of water, gurgling; a single car drove by on our dead-end road and I waved at the neighbor, wondering if they noticed my window skills. All winter there’s been a muddy circle on our garage window that faces the road, like someone intentionally took a dirty rag to it. I see it every time I pull in the driveway but by the time I’m unloaded from the car and back inside the house, I’ve forgotten the smudge. I wonder if the neighbors appreciate that I’ve finally taken care of that. (Nobody thinks about me as much as I think about me; except maybe my dogs.)
Windows are my least favorite household task—not because it’s especially hard to wash windows, but because of the (sheer) deception. Windows will always appear shiny and streak-free as you stand outside, soggy-fingered, looking into your face reflected in a freshly scrubbed sea of glass. You have successfully squeegeed away a winter’s-worth of debris and grime, carefully wiping away your own fingerprints and making sure no dog-nose-smudges or those awful yellow polka dots left by pesky insects remain. You even made a second and third pass with the lint free rag, just to make certain there’d be no smudges on your lookingglass this time. But you really have no idea how the windows actually look until the next sunny day, or that evening at dinner with the whole family, when the sunlight shines through and all you have to show for your efforts are the streaks and shmears apparently left by the dirty toddler who helped you. You wish for a toddler to blame, but there are none. You did this, and you are terrible at window washing. (The final product is sometimes no indication of the effort. Don’t judge.)
I left my ladder out and haven’t replaced all the screens yet. I am inspecting windows with an odd craning of my neck each afternoon, noting the direction of the shmears to tell whether they are inside-shmears or outside ones. They are both. I am irritated, but I reason that shmeared windows are better than polka-dotted windows because at least the shmears show that I tried. This is a job that is never really finished, but on a gloomy and overcast day my windows look pretty good. (Find something to be happy about.)
*Please don’t email me your natural, toxin-free window cleaner recipe. I’ve tried. I really have. If you have a face-melting, skin-burning formula that works, I’m down for that recipe.
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