Monday, November 12, 2012

A Super Fine Streak-Free Shine

Once in a while you learn something that you wonder how you got along all those years without knowing, and you wonder why you didn't think of it yourself. Now that you do know it, one of life's bothersome jobs is a lot easier, less time-consuming, and completed with much, much better results. What, you are wondering, is IT??

IT is super fine steel wool! When Devonne rescued me from my paint-removing stalemate, she shared with me the wonderful way super fine steel wool and paste wax clean and polish wood surfaces. She also casually mentioned that "you can clean your windows with it, too, and no streaks!" I put her suggestion to the test on a farmhouse window that had been splattered with paint. A razor blade removed the big drops of dried paint, but did not get all the residue, so I got a new pad of super fine steel wool and went to work. And IT worked like a charm, removing not only the paint but also all the dirt and grime. And just like Devonne said, there were no streaks. Anyone who's ever labored over cleaning windows with sprays and paper towels can certainly appreciate that. Many a time I have cleaned and wiped and rubbed and wiped, even using new coffee filters or tissue paper, only to find that when the morning sun shone through them, my "clean" windows were still covered with ugly streaks.

The windows in the farmhouse are really dirty. They are covered with sawdust, dry wall dust, and bug dirt, not to mention the glue from all those labels new windows come with. While the weather was unseasonably warm the past couple of days, I tackled cleaning the ones in the rooms we've been renovating. Cold temperatures will be back any day, and although the windows tilt in for cleaning from the inside, they are open during the process, which means freezing fingers and escaping heat this time of year.

In case you've never done it, cleaning windows involves more than just cleaning the glass. The frames, tracks, and sills all need to be relieved of dirt, dead bugs, and various bits and pieces of nearby trees. At the farmhouse, the new windows have been installed for two years now, and have never been cleaned. As you can imagine, just cleaning all the non-glass parts took a good bit of time and elbow grease. Although the steel wool works great on glass, it doesn't work on the vinyl frames and tracks. It doesn't scratch, but it leaves a grey smudge, so I  cleaned all the non-glass parts with soap, water, a rag, and a small brush. And because the glass was so very dirty, I did wipe it off with the soapy water and rag first, which only got the "top dirt" off, as my mother-in-law used to say. Once it was dry, I used the super fine steel wool, and wa-lah! Clean windows, with no streaks!

First, the bathroom window,

then the dining room window, which looks out onto the back porch.

Next came the kitchen windows. I love lots of light in the kitchen, but while I was wrestling with these big monsters, I was thinking that I could have done with a little less light!

Finally, the pantry window. Thankfully, it's a small one!

If you would like to try cleaning your windows with steel wool, here are some tips to follow:

1. You must use super fine steel wool, grade 0000!! Any coarser and you risk scratching.

2. Make sure the glass is completely dry and start with a new pad of steel wool. Then, just start rubbing! Vary your strokes, using a circular motion most of the time. Some spots need more scrubbing and pressure than others, but keep at it and it will all come off.

3. When you're finished, use the vacuum to clean up the steel wool fibers (I call them "woollies"), using the dusting attachment on the glass. Make sure you vacuum up the outside; I'm thinking wet woollies will rust and perhaps leave ugly stains on the paint/vinyl.

That's all there is to it! You end up with beautifully clean windows without any streaks. And all without the mess of sprays and the frustration of streaky windows despite all your hard work. Thank you, Devonne!

I like clean windows, but they are something I seldom have. Besides all the usual things that get them dirty, like weather, we have the house sprayed every fall in an attempt to ward off the lady beetles, cluster flies, and now, stink bugs. Consequently, most of the time my windows are dirty. Cleaning them was a big job that I was lucky to get around to once a year. Now, with the steel wool solution, I have no more excuses! I recently cleaned my kitchen windows so I can watch the birds at my feeders through clean glass and it didn't take long at all. What a simple solution to a chore most of us dread and put off as long as possible! The next time your windows need cleaning, give them a "super fine streak-free shine" with steel wool. This nugget of housecleaning know-how will sweeten the task immensely. It's a good thing to know, since the farmhouse has 12 more big windows to clean...

Friday, November 2, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention

You wouldn't think we would need to be overly concerned about a hurricane. We live in the mountains, after all, hundreds of miles from the coast. Maybe some wind and rain would make it to our neck of the woods, but nothing to worry about, right? My first inkling of Sandy's dire forecast came from my sister. We were both planning to visit my dad and his two sisters (all past 90!) from Sunday to Tuesday, but she chickened out when her local newspaper headline screamed that a "MEGA-STORM" was headed for Virginia. After her phone call to inform me she was staying put at home, I turned on the TV to see what all the fuss was about. The forecast was sober indeed, calling for not only a hurricane but a blizzard as well. Good grief! I decided to shorten my visit to a day trip, making sure I was back home before all that weather made it inland.

Drastic weather is becoming more and more common these days. Reminders of last summer's derecho storm are still around. Some folks say we're in for a rough winter since the Good Lord downed so much firewood!

Although we were without electricity for seven long, hot days after that storm, we didn't have any damage to houses, vehicles, or farm buildings. We were luckier than thousands. However, trying to charge neighborhood refrigerators and freezers and well pumps with portable but heavy and temperamental generators in 100-degree heat turned out to be a daunting task.

 We didn't want to go through that again, so we bought a new generator...a big one!

Our friend, Phil, who came to our rescue after the derecho, continued to help us out long after he went home. He found a good, used whole-house generator on EBay, negotiated with the seller, had it shipped to his house in South Carolina, and then personally delivered it to us here in Virginia! 

It took a tractor to move our purchase into place (it weighed around 600 pounds!). Robin had already prepared a "pad" of cinder blocks and gravel and dug the ditch for the gas and electric lines. A week after Phil delivered the generator, the gas company sent a crew to install a big propane tank and hook it up. That took two or three men and several hours.

Then, a few days later, the electrician spent a very long ten-hour day getting it all wired up to the panel box in the house.

It turned out to be quite a project, but it put our minds at ease to have it all done before winter weather arrived.

This new addition is a propane-fired generator that comes on automatically whenever the power fails. We heard it start up around 11 p.m. Monday amid the some of the worst wind we've experienced here. Besides the strong steady wind, there were gusts that slammed into our tin roof, making it sound like a very loud bowling alley up there. Needless to say, it was not a good night for sleeping! One blessing we always count when the wind blows is that we cut the big maple tree before it fell on the house. I doubt it would have survived either the derecho or Hurricane Sandy.

Our power was out this time, not due to downed or damaged lines near our house, but because of problems with a transmission line miles away. Just a couple of mountains to the west, almost three feet of snow fell when rain from Sandy collided with cold north air. We had no snow here, but it wasn't far away. Thankfully, we were without power only two days this time. However, we hardly missed it! The generator worked like a charm, humming along and supplying our whole house with plenty of juice. There were a few lights and outlets that didn't work, and I'm not sure I could have done laundry, but everything else was business as usual. The well pump and hot water heater, refrigerators and freezers, stove and microwave, and furnace never missed a beat. We were warm, clean, and well-fed through it all. What a blessing that was! So different from the stress, worry, and hard work that followed the derecho. Another reason we made this investment was to "love our neighbors as ourselves": Carter came for a hot supper and Robin's boss's wife and son came for hot showers. I even got used to the motor running constantly outside our back door, so much so that when power was restored in the wee hours of the morning and the generator turned itself off,  the silence woke me from a sound sleep.

Although the generator put a dent in our savings account, it was well worth it, and we're thankful we could afford it.  We didn't think we would need it quite so soon, but you know what they say: "One sweet ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!"