with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Tea With the Ladies Then Cleaning House in Seattle

I landed in Seattle late Saturday night after a full day spent in the church of Brent’s parents working on the quarterly Ladies Tea. The day before, I’d spent most of the morning slicing bread for the french toast casserole and cutting up piles of fruit and other things. Only nicked myself once when someone patted me on the back in greeting, distracting me and moving the tip of the knife just enough forward to catch the pointer finger. No big deal, but frustrating.

We had run out of bread and while waiting for more to appear, I’d been reassigned. Lynda Kay, Brent’s mother, started in on the new bread and I soon rejoined her. She was now using a latex glove, the hospital kind, on one hand. I asked why and she showed me her hand in the glove. Her middle finger was lost in a sea of blood inside the glove. I ordered her to stop and take care of it, but in the eternal martyrdom of mothers and volunteers, she said it was nothing and kept on going. As the pile of bread shrunk down, I ordered her to stop and put compression on it saying that I would finish this up. She finally obeyed.

Seems she had sliced off the very tip of her finger, not enough for stitches and the rush to the hospital, but enough so she will have an entertaining time of it when giving someone the bird for a while. I asked her if it hurt and she said no.

“Yet,” I reminded her. “It will hurt later. Andrenaline is my friend.”

About an hour later I was learning how to cut up more food to prepare it for the next day’s brunch when I heard a familiar voice issuing forth a sound I’d never heard come out of that familiar body. It was a raging scream of pain. Then the scream became words.

“You wanted it to hurt, Lorelle. Well, it hurts now!”

I rushed around the corner to find my mother-in-law in absolute agony, her face a blotchy mess of red and white under the skin.

“What’s wrong?” I moved quickly forward, watching from the corners of my eyes for towels and things I could use as bandages or whatever aid supplies I could jury rig from the kitchen paraphenalia spread out across the kitchen.

It seems that in an effort to be helpful, Lynda Kay’s best friend (and co-coordinator of the food for the teas), Joan, had decided to use the old styptic technique of putting baking soda on a cut and had poored some in a bowl and forced Lynda Kay’s finger down in it. Not good. I ordered her to wash it off and told her and Joan that this was for micro-cuts, the little shaving nicks and such. On an open wound this is like pouring acid over it.

Lynda Kay kept telling me, trying to laugh through her tears of pain, that this was my fault for wanting it to hurt. I reminded her that I told her it “would hurt” not that I wanted it to hurt. Small difference but she took some joy in trying to pass the buck with weak laughter. Hey, I’ll take the blame for anything if it makes others feel okay about the situation. It just rolls off of me. I’m used to it.

We cleaned her up and she kept the pressure on the end of her finger and she turned to supervision and then the setting up of our table.

The theme this time was ski lodge, log cabin, that kind of wintery thing. Some of the tables had little log cabins as their centerpieces, with minature skis resting by the door. Others had snowman themes and other winter looks. These women know a year or more in advance what the theme will be and they hunt all over garage sales, attics, and dollar stores to find the decorative bits. It’s amazing how much work they put into it.

Some use their precious family antiques, many not having seen the light of day for decades. I talked to several of the table owners who told me that this pot or this quilt was from their grandmother or great aunt, usually handmade. Just wonderful.

They don’t stop with just the centerpiece. They go full force with every bit of the table decoration. The plates and glasses and coffee or tea cups are brought by the table’s host, typically complementing the table’s design. One woman had the most unsual mossy green plates with pine codes painted on them with matching tall coffee mugs with birds of the forest painted on them, all looking hand painted.

Another one had the wonderful Dutch/English plates of blue and white with snow scenes of Victorian dressed people in carriages or walking across the dirt street. I’ve forgotten what those are called, but it reminded me of my mother’s father who married a Scandinavian woman late in life, Lily, who had a whole collection of these plates on her wall, and not just in blue but all kinds of colors. But only white plus a color. Never color scenes, just this mono-color effect of the old world. Lovely.

The stage and around the room were latice screens and more decorations that continued with the log cabin, hunting/ski lodge theme. People had brought their naked fake Christmas trees and these were creatively gathered into little outcroppings of the forest, a wonderful illusion, with a lot of batting cleverly used to create the effect of snow. Others, including Lisa, had brought in old metal and wood sleds and skis to incorporate into the lodge look.

On Friday, as the decorating was beginning, I spotted the numerous stuffed dead animals around, some with only their heads, others featuring full bodies. Racoon, squirrel, and other small creatures were featured in their full x-bodies, posed to look life like with glass eyes. Moose, elk, and deer didn’t rate full bodies but only heads and antlers. On a back wall of the mulit-purpose room hung a huge rack of moose antlers. I personally thought it would have looked more appropriate on the basketball hoop, but they hung on the wall suspended by wires.

I wasn’t thrilled with the dead animals, but on Saturday, they were positioned out of the direct line of sight off to the side and peeking out from among the fake trees so they weren’t so obvious.

Overall, the entire room was very well decorated and played out the lodge theme in a nice fashion. Warm. The candles and lights on the tables only added to the lovely effect.

Due to all the volunteer work Lynda Kay does for the tea, her and Lisa share a table and they tend towards the simple, though even to me it is a lot of work. Lynda Kay brought small fake trees which Lisa arranged on blocks to be a multi-level little forest. There was sparkles in the batting which we tucked under the trees to make snow. We sprinkled clear irridescent confetti over the trees and onto the batting, but it was almost invisible on the trees. So after much debate, I added the plastic and glittery snowflakes into the trees like giant snowflakes and it made it snap right up. The plates were simple white with crystal like water glasses featuring a gold rim, and a lovely white napkin was tied with a silver bow on each plate. I placed the white snowflakes that Joan had crocheted for the table under the edge of the ribbon on the napkin and then we added the little business card I helped Lynda Kay design which featured a bluish silver snowflake and the words “Jesus Loves You Snow Much.” Too cute.

There were no little workshops or mini classes this time, which was a disappointment for me, just the brunch and the guest speaker, one of the charismatic ladies in the church speaking about her relationship with god so that others would be inspired and motivated. I got caught up in the cleaning up, bringing in the food from the food tables that would spoil and quietly cleaning things up in the kitchen, and so I heard most of the talk through the kitchen walls, which was more than plenty for me. I’m not a fan of white people who scream and yell their praise of god. When done well, it is wonderful, but when done a little off…. I had more important things to do.

The people are wonderful and it is amazing how many husbands and family members showed up at the end to help clean things up. Kent had his hands in the dish water rinsing and scrubbing pots and pans before they were to go into the large restaurant style dish washers. I teased him that I expected to see dishpan hands when he was done, and sure enough, as we were leaving for the airport, he showed me his reddened and dried out hands. Sign of honest labor.

We wrapped up the left overs and scrubbed everything to a spit shine, leaving the gigantic kitchen ready for the next invasion. And Kent and Lynda Kay, her finger now wrapped up in bandages, left for the airport to get me to Seattle.

The flight was normal, a minor delay leaving Houston, as ususal. And I was lucky this time to have fascinating seat mates. The first short flight was a young priest-in-the-making who came to Tulsa for a retreat and to test drive the monestary there. I know that Tulsa is one of the religious meccas for Christains in the US, but a monestary? Wow. Part of the Benedictines.

We had a great chat and it was obvious that his retreat had been a quiet one, so he was eager to use words and express himself. He’s one of the young I heard about that feels old for this modern age, who wants to go back to the way things were rather than are. He was cute talking about embracing the new, but it was clear that he wanted to old, ultra conservative ways of the church to be brought back. I was forthright and a little more honest with him in my speech than most people would be (even got him to swear naturally), not intimidated or impressed by any holy people – or anyone – everyone wears underwear, shits and farts at one time or the other so we is all peoples – so I was a serious breath of fresh air to him. He loved that I could not only carry on a conversation but I KNEW something.

And he was refreshing to me because I have missed good dialog and debate conversations. I just love going round in circles with people about their thoughts and knowledge, interrogating and testing both them and me. Not that I cling on and hammer them, a real honest discussion of what is and isn’t and how the world goes around. In the US, I’m continually faced with surface talkers, those who are experts at the weather, how the day was (fine), and the pains in their hip or back. I want to talk about what they think is really going on in Iraq, how important the real weapons of mass destruction are in Iraq and North Korea, if the threats put forth by the US to go to war in Syria are going to amount to anything, and how the EU is going to cope with the influx of the modern but growing fundamentalistic Muslim Turkey – the real important things in life.

So we had a brilliant chat and I felt revitalized after months of stagnant discussions since our arrival in the US. I’ve had a few, but they’ve been far and few in between.

Luckily, my seat mate on the long flight to Seattle was even more charming. A young Brit on his way to meet his Internet love for the first time in three years (met in England and then continued through their correspondence and phone) and to visit the states for the first time. Too cute. We talked about everything, from funny stories of childhood to world politics, cooking recipes, and what to see and do in Seattle. I gave him my card and warned him that if anything happened during his three weeks that didn’t work out right, he was to contact me immediately and I’d help. We had such fun, I’m sure we kept people awake and irritated around us. We kept it down, but it was too much fun. I’ve only laughed that much when I was with Julia. Too great laughing days in one week, I’m spoiled!

His young love was standing across from my mother (who, as I predicted to young Alex, was wearing red and jumping up and down to see me) at the bottom of the escalator. I left him and his girlfriend to fetch my luggage, but he sought me out to introduce me, which I thought was wonderful. If she goes for him, she will be spoiled for the rest of her life, but it will not be an easy road. They have to get past a lot of cultural differences. He will have to learn to live with her ignorance and disinterest of the world outside of her little world and she will have to get used to intellectual stimulation from every corner. Who knows. Such geographical distances can be surpassed, but they are often the stuff of fairy tale romances that die after the bloom. I’ve seen it many times.

Still, it reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger and the lengths I would go through for what I thought was love. It was need, not love, but then, what is the difference. SIGH.

We made it home to Everett and I crashed in bed within minutes of arrival. The two hour time difference made arriving in Everett at ten equal to midnight for me. The next morning we were up and off to one of my mother’s rentals to scrape, clean, mud, sand, poke, and prode it back into life from the recently departed renters, making it ready for the next batch.

The home could easily be a duplex, a double apartment if the downstairs basement was finished, but it isn’t, so it is a single home with lots of room. At least lots of room to someone who lived in a smaller place in Tel Aviv and currently re-resides in a trailer in a trailer park. It has a huge master bedroom with two slightly smaller bedrooms, one bath (the only downside) and a large front living room and a huge family room that overlooks the wonderful Cascade Mountains behind the house and features a huge deck. The kitchen is open and roomy with a large area for a dining table. It’s an unusual layout, one that I would find hard to work around with only one bathroom for three bedrooms, but it is nice and roomy. The back deck is totally rotted and will be replaced with some new high tech stuff made out of recycled things, not requiring much maintenance for years, unlike wood. That will be interesting to see.

I scraped and cleaned the windows in preparation for caulking and painting. Duct tape had been used, for whatever insane reason, on the inside of the windows and outside on the sliding glass door and it had petrified, become hard as a rock and embedded itself into the paint and onto the metal. Yuk! I finally tackled it with the power sander but it was a beast to smooth out. Mildew and mold were starting to root in some of the windows, but only the older single pane windows. Some of the windows had been replaced with the new double pane insulated windows and looked great. Gave me a lot to think about when it comes to choosing our own windows for our new house.

I worked with my mother to sweep out the basement garage with its massive harvest of spiders, webs, and desicated flies coating the basement’s window sills. We then mudded and spackled the holes in the bare wall board as best as we could in preparation for the painters giving it a fresh new coat of paint. Mom went ballistic with some really strong primer called “Kilz” which not only acts like a solid base primer, it has anti-bacteria and mold eliminating properties and is called a stain fighter, covering up most stains. Hopefully this will all blend out with the paint layer over the top of it all.

They worked for hours on the bathroom, cutting out the old mildewed bathtub enclosure and replacing it with a nice open shower curtain and bath surround. Removing the enclosure opened up the little bathroom a lot, letting more light in.

We made the inevitable frequent trips to the hardware stores, something I always delight in, and finished up very late Sunday night, with me falling down around my ankles with the sleepies. A couple more days and I should be better with the two hour difference, but right now, with my finger still healing, I’m worn out.

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