Friday, March 30, 2012

Just say no.

The gracious refusal is a very useful skill to have.  I don't think a day goes by when something isn't put in front of me that I just don't have the time or inclination to be a part of.  Saying "No, but thank you so much for asking" has saved me from over-committing myself more times than I can count.  It can be tricky, to decline to be included in some task or event.  It's so tempting to give a reason.  "I can't because I'm busy doing ABCDEFGHI."  That opens the door for the downplaying of the level of commitment.  "Oh, it won't take much time/effort/money! You know you can spare just a little OK THANKS." and suddenly you're on the hook.

We all have our baggage.  We may want to seem like we can handle it all, or we have unrealistic expectations of how thinly we can spread ourselves.  Or maybe we just want people to like us.  Whatever the reason for burying ourselves under things we said we'd do, the fact is that nobody has more than 24 hours in a day, and how you spend that time is 100% up to you.  Really.  No joke.  Even your shitty job is a choice you made.  If you're like me, the reasons you have your job are more important to you than the job itself, and that's OK.  I choose to be in my cubicle (oh, that just kills me to write that...) for as long as necessary.  It pays the bills, and that's what we need it to do right now.

The things we agree to do in our spare time are what make us sane or crazy.  Some people thrive on being busy every night AND all weekend.  I say good for them.  If they can keep it together while being in a million activities and groups, rock on.  That ain't me.  I need to recharge at the end of the day.  EVERY day.  I actually remember the first time I admitted to someone (in tears, over something stupid that got way out of hand) that "sometimes I get overwhelmed" so no, I wouldn't be able to make it to their party that night.  That was a huge moment for me.  Because not only did I say something out loud that I had been afraid to admit even to myself, but my friend's response was SO AWESOME (she's a Ninja Mom, so I shouldn't have been surprised).  She's this Super Volunteer whose kids are well-mannered and her Christmas cards always have such great pictures.  She was like "Oh, I totally understand!  Stay home, get some rest, we'll get together soon!".  And it was fine.  There was no judgement.  She didn't think less of me for it.  She got it.

So here's my rule.  Someone asks me to do/be/pay for/go to something I just don't have room for.  "Oh, I can't, I'm sorry, but thank you for asking."  The ball is in their court.  They can either be awesome like my friend and realize that everyone can't do everything.  OR, they can try to pitch some guilt into the equation.  Ouch.  Guilt is hard.  They "only" need "one more person" or some such nonsense for their whatever-it-is to be perfect.  That's their issue, not yours.  It's not your job to make stuff perfect.

What are your priorities?  I have a pretty good idea of what mine are.  Family is number 1, and anything I need to do for my family comes first.  What we NEED to do for our families can be anything.   I need to keep the house picked up because it's easier for my daughter to run around pretending she's Tinker Bell if  there isn't a bunch of stuff all over the floor.  I need to stay on top of laundry because clean T-shirts and towels make Mr Incredible happy.  I need to read before bed because it helps me relax and sleep better, and EVERYBODY wins if I'm well-rested.

Nobody else can say "Oh, you don't need to do that for your family, you should do this other thing for me instead."   Nobody would DARE say that.  When someone puts their own over-commitments (come on, you know they're over-committed too...) ahead of your priorities, that makes it easy for any guilt they throw in to be completely negated.  You're welcome.

I leave you with this Great Moment In Time Management.  There are naked male bottoms, and, ahem, suggestive references.  But Empress Nympho knows her limits, and she knows how to say "No."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Give them the old Razzle Dazzle

I'm struggling with this whole "go to work" thing, lately. I know it's necessary, that no 8 to 5 cubicle gig is going to be my paradise, that the bigger picture calls for me to do this for a bit longer, that things are slowly improving here.  But man, it's rough right now. It was better for a while, but I'm afraid this (and this) is the new normal.

There's politicking going on.  I'm on a committee that is supposed to be autonomous, and yesterday it became apparent that we are expected to adhere to an agenda.  The consequences of not doing so aren't clear, but at the end of the day I felt uneasy about the whole thing.  I've been thinking about how to spin this to cover my own ass and still be a "team player".

My Shelf Of Professional Development
When I hit up my reference library to my immediate right, I find all sorts of good advice about breaking the rules and finding my strength and delivering happiness (and Audrey Hepburn's bio, but whatever) and not sweating the small stuff and I don't feel like much of that is applicable when employees are at such a professional disadvantage.  I seem to be in survival mode most of the time.  It's exhausting.

That's the name of the game right now for a lot of people:  Play along, but be careful.  Jobs are scarce, and even when you're under-employed (that's such a crappy phrase...) it feels like you need to tap dance extra quickly in order to remain in the kickline (that's a Rockettes reference, because I love me some Rockettes).  It's time (for me at least) to come up with a survival plan.  It's time to [insert trumpet fanfare] Get A Grip At Work!


OK, so what do you need in order to feel better about work at the end of the day?  For me, it comes down to how productive I was, if what I did had value or relevance, and how I feel I'm perceived by my colleagues.  The first one, I have a lot of control over.  For the first months in this department, I allowed myself to languish.  Like Susan Hayward.

I want to live!
Pauvre de moi.

I had to shake that off, because it was really having a negative impact on who I was outside of work.  I drank too much, I wasn't nice to Boo :( or Mr Incredible :(.  It really was horrible.  So, since I wasn't given stuff to do at work, I found stuff to do (like, um, write a blog, among other things...).  And that helped immensely.  It gave me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.  At the very least, it passed the time.

Adding value or relevance in how I spent my time was also something I could change.  I made a lot of noise about this, because I realized that if I wasn't an integral part of this team, I wasn't necessary.  OK, so give me something important (see also: something nobody else wants to do but it needs to get done) and I will KILL it.  I will do that unpleasant task so well that you can't POSSIBLY continue to ignore me.  This got me noticed, for sure.  Suddenly, the higher-ups were stopping by my desk to chat about work and not-work stuff.  Woohoo!  Kristie = Team Player!

How I feel I'm perceived by my colleagues... ugh.  When I was in college, I majored in Psychology (which is why I'm so wildly successful now...?) and one of the more unpleasant things I remember realizing that applied to me was the concept of being a high self monitor.  I get very involved in what I think other people might be thinking about me (when the reality is that I may or may not even be on their radar, which is its own set of anxieties...).  This is a tough one to get past, because there's a fine line between accepting that we all live in our own little worlds and being freaked out that people are flat out ignoring you for what must be reasons that they all talk about (um, hi, paranoid much?).  I've come to realize that if my first two Components of Workplace Contentedness are in place, the third one kind of fades away.  Funny, that. If I take charge of that which I can control, that which I cannot control loses its thunder.


As for the shenanigans that are happening with my committee right now?  Well, it's tricky.  I need to keep tap dancing and give 'em the old hocus pocus and assume that my time spent is spent well.  If someone has already decided what the outcome will be, then that actually takes the pressure off.  It's their game, not mine, right?  My stuff is documented (because, you know, I'm organized...) which means my ass is covered.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Give us this day our daily bread...on the cheap.

In the interest of Not Being Broke All The Time, Mr Incredible and I are constantly on the prowl for what we refer to as "no money fun".  If we can find something that kills time and has some other beneficial effect and it doesn't cost a lot, we're on board.

I'm not a big food snob, but ever since Boo was born, I've been more attuned with what's in our food.  We read labels, and we avoid high fructose corn syrup and saturated fats and all that bad stuff that you read about. It's not hard to do, really, but sometimes we have to get creative.

A couple of months ago, I baked a loaf of bread.  I found a recipe at The Simple Dollar that looked easy enough, so I bought a loaf pan and some yeast and tried it.  And you know what?  I freaking love to bake bread.  It's like therapy.  There are simple ingredients that you probably have on hand (except for yeast, because if you're not already baking bread you're not just going to have yeast in your pantry...), and you need about a 3-hour block of time where you can run into the kitchen for a few minutes at a time.  The benefits to my now weekly bread baking habit surprised me:

  • Homemade bread tastes SO.MUCH.BETTER. than store-bought bread.  There's no comparison.  The texture, the flavor, and you can throw in garlic salt or fresh herbs and you have fancy bread that will amaze your family.
  • Kneading bread is like punching someone.  You know how sometimes you just wish you could pop some jackass in the face?  This is the next best thing.  When your dough is the right consistency, you take it out of the bowl, put some flour on your knuckles, and you beat the crap out of that bread for 10 minutes.  Sometimes?  I name my dough.
  • Bread at the store is expensive.  Homemade bread is made from cheap, simple ingredients.
  • There is satisfaction in making something.  I come from a long line of quilters and crocheters and who knows what all is involved in making some of the crap crafts that some of them hang on every single wall in their homes.  That gene totally skipped me.  I have none of that.  I walk into Joann Fabrics, and it's like I'm on another planet.  But when I pull a nice warm loaf of bread out of the oven, I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder making something from scratch for my family.
  • This amazing aroma fills your house from the moment you add water to yeast.  You can't smell anything else--not the dog, not the man cave, nothing.  Just the smell of home cooking.  And it lingers for hours afterward.  It's so pleasant and soothing and homey.  
And then you cut into this still-warm bread, and you see a little puff of steam, and you take a deep breath like you do (or at least I do...) when you open a bag of coffee and you just take it in and it's incredible.

You learn lessons from homemade bread, too.  You have to deal with it quickly, but not too quickly.  Because there are no preservatives, it needs to be either consumed (no problem here....) or frozen long before store-bought bread is.  But if you put it in the freezer too soon, it will steam itself into a sad, squishy lump, and you'll still eat it (um, at least I will because I'm like that...) but it won't be that perfect puffy bread you pulled out of the oven.

You need to respect the process of the bread from the first moment to the last.  It's the simultaneous application of attention and patience.  You knead it for 10 minutes, and then you let it sit for an hour.  You have to leave it alone, as much as you want to touch it and maybe even take a bite?  Because it's dough, and dough tastes so good... but you leave it to do its thing. And every week's efforts yield a different result.  Bread is affected by what's going on around it.  Temperature, humidity, how angrily firmly you knead the dough, are all variables.  Bread isn't about perfection, but the result is invariably some version of perfect.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One Extra Thing

I like the idea of One Extra Thing.  No matter what you're doing, chances are, you are able to tack One Extra Thing onto the end of it.  It may be as simple as tossing some fresh flowers into your cart as you head to the check-out at the grocery store, or putting the bathroom rugs in the dryer on low to get rid of the lint and hair and crud freshen them up.  One Extra Thing is the cherry on the cake that makes it just a little bit better with not a lot of extra effort.

I have One Extra Thing as a category of its own on my cleaning schedule.  Every (almost) day, in every room, I take a lap and straighten it up, and then there's one more thing to do, that will take hardly any time at all but it's still important and will make a difference.  Some days I go off the grid and decide that the patio can wait but the cabinet under my bathroom sink cannot, so my One Extra Thing changes, and that's fine.  Because One Extra Thing does not make or break the whole process.  It's extra.  See?  Awesome.

What I like about One Extra Thing (enough to capitalize it!) is that it makes me feel like I'm doing well enough to do just a little more than the minimum.  Some days, the minimum (or less...) is all that happens, and that's cool, but on the days when there's one more minute to do something?  Doing something makes me feel like "Oh yeah, I got this."  And then the next day I get into my car and there aren't any Cheerios stuck to the windows.  It's the little things, the little Extra things, that are delightful, yes?  YES.

One Extra Thing becomes a habit.  If you do it enough, you don't even have to think about it.  It just happens, in unexpected ways (not just in housecleaning, because there's more to life than a shiny toilet).  It means that on a nice day when you find yourself cutting out of work early, you swing by daycare and pick up the kid, and instead of going straight home to start the regular evening routine, your Extra Thing becomes stopping at the park for half an hour and becoming the Best Mom In The World.  It means that when you finally make a hair appointment that's months overdue, you say "I'd also like some highlights" because highlights?  are totally Extra.  And they are worth it.

So what are your Extra Things?  Take a minute, think about what you've got going on, and I bet you can come up with some stuff that has been put off, and while it isn't a big deal, it will make a difference in the long term once it's taken care of.  These can be fun (like highlights!) or practical (cleaning out the freezer, which takes five minutes, for real, so just do it already OK?), to be performed as a solo or as an ensemble.  One Extra Thing really does matter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Failure is not an option.



noun: A thought experiment: an experiment carried out in imagination only.

What would you do if you knew you would not fail?  

I mean, besides the obvious "win the lottery" or "convince George Clooney that he should indeed get married again and that I'm perfect for him". When you're drifting off to sleep, or zoning out while standing in line at the store, or watching the clock at 3:08 PM on a Thursday, what do you think about doing? On a clear night, when you wish upon a star, what do you say?

I've always wanted to be in charge of what I did. The jobs where I succeeded the most were the jobs where I was given the autonomy to devise my own processes. I'm at my best when I am allowed to reach the end result in a manner of my choosing. I think it's a big part of why I've been struggling in my current position--even if I'd been given all the training and information in the world on this topic, it's not part of the culture here to carve out one's own path. I understand why, for the most part, given that we must maintain compliance with Federal regulations blah blah blah... but it's one more reason that this isn't where I'm supposed to be.

When I wish upon my star for that at which I cannot fail, it's for a world where nobody gets testy when I arrive at 8:03 AM or leave at 4:58PM.

My Gedankenworld (new. favorite. made-up. word) has no fluorescent lighting. We are encouraged to put holes in the walls as we decorate our spaces with things that inspire us. It smells nice because people know not to put fish in the microwave. It is a transparent world in which expectations match the reality.

The experiment I began to carry in my imagination in November 2011 has become a tangible thing--it's no longer just in my.... gedanken (which sounds a lot like badonkadonk, but I assume it's slightly higher, anatomically). I didn't know where this Get A Grip thing was going to take me, or whether it was even viable. It took months before I told anyone--even Mr Incredible wasn't in on it until recently.  

I knew I was on to something when I started thinking about blog topics, or implementation of Best Practices for the business instead of dwelling on the negative stuff that would keep me awake until the wee small hours. I just couldn't let go of this--it seems like it's what I'm supposed to be doing. So, although I never said to my wishing star, "I wish I may, I wish I might.... tell people how to clean their houses." I feel like I'm on the right track. I feel like if someone were to ask me "What's your passion?" I wouldn't just roll my eyes and think "oh shut up you freaking hippie"; I'd actually have a coherent answer.

I'm spending a lot of time putting the nuts and bolts of the business together, because the whole point of this project is to turn it into a livelihood. I'm excited to see where this is going. Big things are coming.  

This is what I am doing, because I know I will not fail.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Five Things That Will Make You Feel Like You Cleaned Your Entire House

Shortcuts are a big part of my day.  I'm talking about actual timesavers.  I'm talking about things that, when I do them, something significant gets done in notably less time.  And while that which lurks underneath the shiny surface is important, sometimes, all we have time for is maintenance of the shiny surface.  To that end, I've been thinking (because I'm like that...) about easy things that take little time and effort that make a big difference in how clean my house feels.

1.   Dust your TV
How many hours a day week do you spend squinting through an inch of dust while catching up on your stories?  Does your significant other write love notes on your TV screen?  Was the last person who cleaned any part of the TV actually your cat walking past it who just happened to swipe a bit of crud off with her tail?  Swiffer dusters are perfect for this.  Swiff swiff swiff done.

2.  Clean Your Bathroom Mirror!
You don't even have to clean the whole mirror--just the part in front of your sink where you brush your teeth.  YEAH.  You know what I'm talking about.  Get some Windex (or, you can make me extra happy and use your  homemade cleaner...) and a paper towel.  One minute later, you have a sparkly-clean bathroom.

Bonus points if you take your still-damp paper towel and wipe down the counter.  You know you need to.

3.  Sweep your front walk!
I don't know about you, but 99% of the time, we enter our house through the garage, and we never hardly ever see what the actual front porch looks like.  When I do take a minute to open the front door, chances are, I see that work needs to be done.  Dead stuff on plants, fliers from businesses who don't think "No Soliciting" applies to them, the detritus that follows a windstorm... yuck!

Go get your broom.  Take two minutes, sweep the leaves and dirt and (if you live next to my next door neighbor who doesn't address his pigeon issue...) and feathers.  Ta da.  Look how pretty that is!

4.  Flip Your Couch Cushions
This one may be a bit more involving.  At my house, when I flip the cushions, I also need to vacuum the undersides as well as the surface upon which they sit, where all cookie crumbs seem to end up.  But it's worth it.  Our couch is 13 years old.  It's SO comfortable.  And about once a month, all of the slouching we do on it rubs off, and it starts slouching too.  Sad couch!  Rotate the seatcushions, fluff up the ones in back.  Voila.  Better.

5.  Make Your Bed!  
I sound like your mom, don't I?  Because I know I sound like *my* mom when I say that.  I think my entire childhood was spent Not Making My Bed.  And then when I moved out and there was nobody to get on my case about it, my bed remained unmade in a clear declaration of my own independence.  And it looked like hell.  My dorm room, my room at the sorority house, my bedroom in my shitty college apartment?  All looked. like. hell.

When I bought my own house, suddenly there was a sense of pride in ownership, rather than in my foot-stamping insistence that Ain't Nobody Gonna Make Me Make My Bed.  Most days, my bed gets made.  It takes two minutes and it makes a huge difference.

First, smooth the fitted sheet.  One sweep of the arm, tug the corners.  Done.
Second, pull up the flat sheet.  Yank it, so it's snug.  Done.
Third, pull up any blankets and the comforter.  One sweep of the arm to smooth it.
Fourth, pick your pillows up off the floor.  DONE.

And suddenly your bedroom is no longer a bedroom but part of a MASTER SUITE.  

Any one of these small things will make a room look better.  All of them?  Totally clean house!  Company ready!  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Field Trip!

I'm over at Days of Chalk and Chocolate today!  Jenny is a good friend who has been wonderfully supportive of this endeavor of mine, and I'm so happy that she asked me to write about organizing craft stuff!  So, if you're visiting from Jenny's blog, take a look around, tell me if you like what you see, follow me (!!!), and let me know if you have an organization conundrum that you'd like to talk about.

And if you're one of my usual fans, go over to Days of Chalk and Chocolate and check out the amazing projects that Jenny comes up with.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sweet Sweet Chaos

Sometimes, a little disorder is in order.  Sometimes, what we need is a little superfluous complication, just to keep things interesting.

Today, the most wonderful contraption in the world was brought to my attention.

I love this thing so much.  It's like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang drove to Napa Valley and went Steampunk.  The simple act of opening a bottle of wine and pouring a perfect glass becomes an event that is replete with intricacy and detail.  I could built a house around this thing.  This... what is this.... this magnificent corkscrew is to wine what this thing is to playtime.  It does the job you want done, but in a deliciously over-the-top way that turns the end result into an experience.

Would I want everything in my house to operate in the most complicated possible manner?  Do I want to live in a world where molehills are intentionally turned into mountains?  Oh heavens no.  Can you imagine trying to navigate your daily obligations while at the mercy of a crank and fifty gears for each task?  Perish the thought!  We don't have time for everything we do to be about the journey, rather than the destination.  Everything cannot, and should not, be complicated like this wonderful winecork puller-outer.

What I've learned is that if most of what I have going on around me is kept simple, I have the inclination and discretion to seek out the occasional morsel of chaos.  When I'm able to stay on top of most of the important stuff, there's room to bring in variables that lend themselves to complication.

Hi, my name is Winchestergetoutofthekitchen.

Which is why we adopted a dog.  Not a puppy, because I'm not completely insane.  I'm open to chaos, not destruction.  But a dog?  A fully-grown, mostly-trained rescue dog who needed us even more than we needed him?  No problem!  So now we deal with dog hair, and the steam mop is in frequent rotation.  But that's cool.  I got this.  Because a happy Labrador Retriever (look at that tail in motion, and tell me he's not happy...) is just the right amount of chaos and sometimes, it can be about the journey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Posse of Ninja Moms

I am blessed, make no mistake.  Sometimes I look at my life, and I think, "Dang, girl, you really fell into a good situation in spite of spending most of your 20s making bad choices."  Opportunities and encouragement are bountiful, and I am endlessly grateful for this.  It's not that nothing bad has ever happened to me; rather I believe that even the bad things have helped me end up here, and every day is a victory.  Seriously, it's a world of Galore, and a big part of why this is so is my Posse of Ninja Moms.


Back in my college days, my Ninjas were my girlfriends, filling up my speed dial. We weren't moms then but we were already laying the groundwork for subsequent incarnations of ourselves. We laughed and cried and fought and drank celebrated together.  Through the years, I've added to my circle of friends, which is very easy to quantify, thank you Facebook...  And now, instead of calling one person at a time when I need help with something, I post a bat-signal on Facebook to my Posse of Ninja Moms. For real, these ladies, many of whom I've only known online, share their wisdom, empathy, funny stories, advice, attagirls, and support.

I love it.  I just love that my friends do this.  I love that friends will email me, requesting that I float their issue to the Ninja Moms.  It's so fantastic, these amazing women who take the time to help each other out.  The range of responses to a call for the Posse to rally is impressive.  We're all at different stages in our motherhood, but nobody is discounted outright.  New moms are given just as much credence as old established current veterans.  There is no judgement, no condemnation.  The Ninja Moms do not tolerate Mom On Mom Hate Crimes.  We discuss pros and cons of the suggestions, and it can go on for 100 posts with email follow ups.

It's a growing phenomenon at our house, too.  When Boo brings us to our knees with whatever at that moment makes us the Worst Parents Ever, Mr. Incredible will suggest that I take it to the ladies and see what they think.  What's fabulous about this, is that either we are given a foundation for a solution, or (at the very least) we are reassured by the knowledge that yes, this totally sucks but is completely normal, and no, this isn't permanent.

A century ago, I'm sure that there were Posses of Ninja Moms--I like to think that they had conversations just like ours as they were quilting, or putting up the tomato harvest, or having tea on the Titanic (100 years ago next month, can you believe it? I'll never let go, Jack!).  A century from now, our great-granddaughters will gather around the space-watercooler or send a telepathic space-message (I'm so high-tech and I think in terms of innovation, yes?) to their Space-Posse about some space-tantrum their kids won't stop throwing.

I hope that everyone has her Posse of Ninja Moms.  I don't know where I'd be without mine. Boo would likely have turned feral by now, that's for sure.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Let the light shine in!

It's March first!  It's March first!  Daylight Savings time begins in ten days!  Bulbs are sprouting!  My CSA basket has asparagus in it!

Spring!  Spring is thisclose to being HERE!  I love Spring.  I love it so much that I always capitalize it.  Spring! It's the inspiration for symphonies and young love and when you search the Google for images of "Spring" you get bright colors and clear skies and baby chicks.

It's when you open the curtains all the way, and you realize that your blinds are covered in a year's worth (or more... no judgement from me) of yuck, so you open the blinds and you realize that the windows are even worse.  Because who cleans windows every week?  I certainly don't.  As much as I'd like to think that I'm this?

Um, I'm not that.

Yeah, my windows look like your windows.  And that's cool.  Because every year about this time, I get inspired to clean up anything that isn't able to clean itself (in recent years this also included people, but fortunately Boo will enthusiastically partake in a nightly bubble bath).  

The weather gets warmer, so I open the windows and sunlight trickles into the house.  And that early Spring sunlight tends to illuminate things in a way that a houseful of light bulbs cannot (especially those ridiculous CFC twisty looking lights that are just so awful).  Spring cleaning is a big deal.  For me, when the weather warms up, I like to have people over for dinner or a movie or game night (Apples to Apples?  HIGHlarious with the right crowd).  From April until October, it's barbecue season, and even if we're not hosting, I like to reciprocate when I can. I'm more likely to do this when the house is clean.  

For me, it starts with the windows.  I have no illusions about doing them all in one day.  Or in one weekend.  Because I have things to do besides clean windows all damn weekend.  But for a couple of hours?  Like, during naptime?  I'm on it.

The one tool you really do need is something like this.  It telescopes, so you're not on a ladder.  It's one piece, so you're not switching between the spongy thing and the squeegee.
  1. Start in the room you use the most.  Those are the windows you'll be glad you cleaned first.
  2. Go take a look at your screens.  Figure out how to remove them.  Usually, they have tabs or something along one edge on the inside.  Screens bend pretty easily, so be careful, but they should just pop out.  Keep them in order--even if your windows look to be the same size, they may be just different enough that the screens aren't interchangeable.
  3. Lay the screens down on a flat surface (even on the grass...) and hose them off on both sides.  Stand them up so they'll drip-dry.
  4. Fill a plastic bin with hot water, two cups or so of white vinegar, and Dawn dishsoap (add the soap last so it doesn't foam up too much).  
  5. Grab a kitchen towel for wiping the squeegee.  
  6. Start at one end, dunk your spongy thing, start scrubbing.  Get the corners, get the sills, get all that crap off your windows. 
  7. Immediately follow with the squeegee.  Wipe off the blade after each swipe.  One window at a time.
  8. When your screens are dry, put them back on.  Don't rush this.  If you put wet screens back on your windows, you screw up what you just cleaned.  Trust me.
That's it.  It's a job, for sure, and you will not be clean when you're done.  But your windows will be crystal clear.  This is one of those once-a-year jobs, at best.  I did ours last May right after we moved into our house--it had been vacant for years, and cleaning the windows made me feel like we were really taking ownership of the place. I'm well aware that this likely makes me a total psycho.  I don't care. After a year's worth of wind and dust and storms and gunk, cleaning the windows makes it feel like Spring.