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When life needs a repaint, choosing the color isn't easy.

Byline: WRITE ON By Patti Murphy For The Register-Guard

Please don't resent me. I'm a recent transplant, hailing from the county Luther Burbank called home. I hesitate to mention the name of our state, knowing its residents are so maligned that my husband joked we should stuff our pockets with fake cash on Halloween and go as Californians.

We're not all fat cats who migrated north, bought several houses outright and retired on Southern real estate profits to rest on complacent laurels. Our decision was both sentimental and financially practical, our hasty move prompted by a job-downsizing story so common you might skip reading it in the newspaper.

We're adjusting to unfamiliar beauty now, admiring this landscape of rugged hills and conical trees. Even the air is sharper. We chose our neighborhood because it reminded us of our former one before its proximity to wine country nudged the price of humble homes to more than half a million. Here, we've been told that we live on the wrong side of the bridge, but we're also told we've settled in the only town worth living in.

Civic rivalries aside, we were enchanted by our new neighborhood, where maples and evergreens shade the streets and homes are laden with that ineffable yet recognizable quality - charm. We're surrounded by a hodgepodge of architectural styles; many homes on the National Register sit beside those awaiting restoration. Ours was in good shape, and since job prospects and friendships that had suddenly become long-distance dismayed us, we decided to first turn our attention to making cosmetic changes to the house.

Preferences are arbitrary, trends come and go, but we all know what we can live with. Or can't. I picked up a severe case of pastel poisoning the day we moved. Outside, the shade of pink leaned toward taupe and was bearable. But inside, a bombardment of pale rosebuds on wallpaper, borders of garlands and floral decals on light fixtures and switch plates was dizzying.

Our first hasty project went well, though during it we christened our attic "The Room of a Thousand Pinholes." What we initially mistook for flyspecks were the result of 30 years of tacked-up posters. I sought muted sage paint and got celery, but since our moving van was arriving within days, we weren't fussy.

In an economizing measure, I'd made the mistake of bringing curtains from our previous home, where the kitchen's provence-print looked great against sunny walls. Here, we inherited a lavender kitchen, with a vinyl-coated border of butterflies lighting on swollen blooms. Determined to eliminate clashing and hone things down to a single color scheme, I scraped for days till I'd prepared the surfaces for paint. After three coats of white on every surface, it still looked ... lavender. My husband came home to find me rinsing paintbrushes and humming an Etta James song as if it were a dirge: "Wish I were a blind girl."

"Must be the countertops still making it purple," he said. "Reflected light?"

Next, I decided to abandon the kitchen and tackle an accessible project: our tiny hall. It required just a quart of what appeared to be toned-down jade in a magazine.

"Subtle, but intense," I said, promoting the hue to my mate. Though tolerant of my painting whims, he became skeptical when examining the color chip.

"Eeah!" I screamed when I put the first stroke on the wall and watched the runny paint dribble down. "Pea soup. Or worse." I went to the freezer and defrosted a single pea to hold against the paint - a precise match.

"Too bad I didn't bring it to the store so I'd know what to avoid. Maybe it's a contrast between old color and new." I covered a section. "Ugh. More is more."

But the following week, I was drumming my fingers on the kitchen tabletop, picturing colors for the bedroom and muttering to myself. "Beige. You can't go wrong with beige." In the store, I knew I was doomed; there was no sample chip listed as beige.

"Beiges are tricky," I was told by an expert in color selection. The chosen color was sandstone, just one of a plethora of options guaranteed to confuse the buyer.

I sucked my husband into the project. He rolled, I edged. Impatience shortened days and lower light eliminated our perfectionist tendencies. We fought back the admission that the beige I'd selected had a pink cast to it. Wincing, we tried to alter our thinking to avoid repainting. "Kind of Tuscan," we said in the quavering tones of the unconvinced. "Flattering to the middle-aged complexion."

Oh, it's all tricky when it comes to change. I know my focus on color is partly an avoidance of deeper concerns. But humans are susceptible creatures, partly to the notion that surface changes can be spiritual, too. Perhaps decorating is not just a diversion.

Marking our new territory, even with paint, offers proof that we can adapt even to alterations that make us want to scream. There are many ways of generating a sense of purpose and of finding a niche in a new land. Maybe paint really does work wonders.

Patti Murphy, 54, of Springfield, is a homemaker with writing aspirations. She has had essays published in The San Francisco Chronicle and a journal of personal essays, "Tiny Lights." Her first published short story is included in the current edition of The Dickens, a Sonoma County, Calif., magazine.

To submit columns

Mail your typed, double-spaced, 500- to 800-word manuscript to Write On, The Register-Guard, P.O. Box 10188, Eugene, OR 97440. Attach a cover letter with your age, address, phone number, occupation and a couple of sentences of biographical information. There is no payment for a published column.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 12, 2006
Previous Article:BOOK NOTES.

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