Columns

Sitting Around

Three seconds.

That’s about how long it takes me to tell if a couch is comfortable.

My husband and I have spent the past two weekends sitting around. It wasn’t laziness that caused this loafing; it was the need for new furniture.

When our son, Zachary, told us he’d found an apartment and was moving out in early October, we offered him our living room set. It’s at least 10 years old, and despite rigorous use by us and our four sons, it’s held up pretty well.

Zach was pleased to take it, and we were pleased at the thought of updating our living room. That pleasure faded about five furniture stores into our search.

Turns out sofa-shopping isn’t nearly as much fun as couch-surfing, and I’m here to tell you that there are more than 50 shades of gray. A lot more.

We shopped everywhere, from big chains to small, locally owned stores. We knew what we didn’t want. No leather, no large overstuffed pieces and, ultimately, no gray. That was the easy part. Finding what we did want proved more challenging.

But first a word about pillows. If you want folks to purchase a spendy sofa why, oh why, do you cover it with pillows the size of Oregon, making it impossible to actually sit on?

I hope throw pillows are actually meant to be thrown, because I tossed more this weekend than a 10-year-old during a pillow fight at a sleepover.

Our customer service experience varied widely from overbearing to nonexistent to the Goldilocks happy medium of just right.

At two stores no one greeted us at all. At one store, a nice young woman followed us from couch to couch, taking surreptitious notes about our preferences. I finally had to tell her we’d like to discuss our purchase in private. Still, she was a fountain of information when we did have questions.

Knowing we’d quickly lose track of where we’d seen the furniture we liked, we photographed the most promising sets, noting the price and location.

I became the designated sitter, because after 33 years of marriage I know my husband’s comfort needs. If I felt the couch warranted a second opinion, Derek plopped down beside me and we evaluated the firmness of the support, the quality of the fabric, and the ease by which we could extricate ourselves.

By far the most interesting place we visited was Consign Furniture and Jewelry in Liberty Lake. If you’re in the market for dead animals to decorate your den, this is the place for you. They had everything from a ginormous elephant head to a taxidermic mountain lion pouncing on an unsuspecting Big Horn sheep.

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Desks, dining sets, beds and bookcases mingled with artwork, lamps and end tables. They also had lots of couches, but I was quickly distracted by a solid wood phone booth (phone included) and an amazing Wurtlitzer jukebox that came with a box of 45s.

Finally on Sunday, I put out a call on social media asking friends where they’d purchased their last living room set. Lo and behold, there were actually two stores we’d missed during our citywide search.

Within minutes of entering the first store, we discovered the sofas we’d been looking for. The helpful sales associate found we could get a better deal by ordering from the company online, and quickly placed the order for us. The delicious complimentary cookies offered at the entryway only sweetened the deal.

Our new furniture should arrive at the end of the month. Soon we’ll be able to sit around all weekend in our own home.

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Columns

Picking Perfect Paint Problematic

It’s amazing how a fresh coat of paint and updated décor improves a home’s entryway.

It’s equally amazing how challenging it can be to find the perfect color of paint.

Several years ago, my husband ripped up the brown carpet in our living room and installed beautiful hardwood floors. We chose Hazy Jade paint for the walls. The warm green offered the perfect accent to the oak floors.

We finished the project just in time for the holidays, and Derek said we’d tackle the entryway in the spring.

Spring came and went, but when a new round of holidays approached, we set off for the paint store.

We wanted something that would complement, but not detract from our Hazy Jade living room and hallway. Something off-white perhaps?

I’m here to tell you that finding a whiter shade of pale proved pretty near impossible.

We took home samples of Chantilly Lace, Dove Wing and Sea Pearl – all too white for the high walls of our split-entry doorway.

“Maybe we should go toward yellows?” I wondered.

Samples of Cornbread, Hawthorne and Philadelphia Cream came home.

None of them were right.

Finally, we settled on what promised to be a soft cream with yellow undertones.

Out came the ladder.

Derek painted the topmost edges.

“Look good?” he asked.

I hesitated.

“It’s hard to tell from down here.”

The next day Derek painted around the door and halfway down the largest wall.

Turns out, that once applied, soft cream looks more like butter. Bright, yellow, sunshiney butter.

I hated it. Derek didn’t like it either.

For the first time in our marriage, I actually asked him to NOT finish a project.

We hosted holiday gatherings with half the wall painted and the other wall primed.

Actually, we hosted several holiday gatherings that way, because Derek had moved on to other projects; a retaining wall in the backyard, window boxes for the deck, a fence-repair in progress.

This spring when Mother’s Day approached, I told him I only wanted one thing: the entryway paint job finished.

“You know you’ll have to look at paint samples, again,” he warned.

(For me, looking at paint samples ranks right up there with going to the dentist.)

I nodded. I was heartily sick of looking at half-painted yellow walls.

My husband, having had several years to think about what went wrong, said he thought we should look at more earth-toned palettes.

He was right! It only took two visits to the paint store to decide Wheat Toast would perfectly complement Hazy Jade.

Derek and our son went to pick up the paint. Unfortunately, they left the sample card with the paint name at home.

“I picked up a gallon of Burnt Toast,” Derek texted.

Thankfully, he was teasing.

The entryway was finished shortly after Father’s Day, and we are thrilled with the color. Of course, now we needed new décor to tie everything together.

A friend had recently given me a beautiful quilt, and I thought it would look lovely in the entryway. We pulled out my hanging quilt rack from the basement and back up the ladder Derek went.

The quilt was perfect.

“What are we going to hang over the door?” he asked. “How ’bout a wreath?”

I’ve heard there are husbands who aren’t interested in such things. Not mine. Derek has an artist’s eye for color and space, and he’s much handier with a hammer (and scaling scary ladders) than I’ll ever be.

For several weekends we scoured home stores, and I decided I wanted a sign with our last name under whatever wreath we found.

I knew we (actually, he) would have to make it because Hval isn’t a common last name. We sorted through bins of wooden and metal letters and discovered V is for Very, as in very hard to find.

Finally, all the pieces came together and our entryway is done. It’s warm and inviting, just the way we want our home to feel.

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“We make a good team,” Derek said, as we gazed at the finished results.

I agreed.

“You know,” I said. “It’s been a long time since we painted the living room. Maybe it’s time to update that, too?”

Derek didn’t say a word, but his complexion took on a greenish hue that looked distinctly Hazy Jade.

Columns

Quilts and the ties that bind

 

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Newly retired, Dad waited by the front door to take my mom grocery shopping.

“Tom, you can’t wear that,” Mom exclaimed.

“Why? Don’t I match?” he asked.

A fair question, since Dad was notoriously color-challenged.

But that wasn’t the problem. He’d donned a sport coat and a snazzy red tie with multicolored stripes.

“Sweetheart, you’re retired. You don’t have to wear a tie every day anymore, especially not to the grocery store,” Mom explained.

Disappointed, he removed the tie, but kept the jacket.

Dad loved his neckties.

He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas. As he labored in the sweltering heat, he dreamed of a different life – one that involved a desk job and wearing suits and ties.

His career in the United States Air Force, followed by a career with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, allowed him to achieve his dreams.

When he died in 1995, he’d amassed an amazing collection of neckties. My husband kept a couple, and most of them were donated to a local thrift shop. But I couldn’t part with all of them. I set aside a few dozen and gave them to some dear friends who incorporated them in a beautiful quilt. That quilt hung in my Mom’s bedroom until two years ago when she moved to a retirement facility.

Now, it’s draped over our living room sofa where I can see it every day and think about how blessed I was to have a dad like mine.

It’s also a daily reminder of the friends who took the time to create such a sweet remembrance.

I love quilts, like my dad loved ties. The beauty, artistry and stories behind the patterns fascinate me. Sadly, when it comes to sewing, I’m all thumbs and totally lacking in skill or patience.

Thankfully, I have friends who work magic with fabric, needle and thread.

The necktie quilt isn’t my only memory-filled patchwork. Eleven years ago, our oldest son was struggling through adolescence. His actions and attitudes grieved me. I worried. I fretted. I prayed.

A friend made a lap quilt for me to curl up in when I felt overwhelmed. Because I’d often referred to our firstborn as our “golden child,” she incorporated big golden hearts throughout the design. The border features the worlds of one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

That quilt kept me mindful of my son’s true nature. Every time I wrapped myself in it, I felt cocooned in the comfort of my friend’s love and prayers, evident in each tiny stitch.

My husband has his own special quilt. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips a few years ago rocked him. A strong, active man, he struggled with the reality of a degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Bonnie, my sister-in-law, knows that pain all too well. So, she went into her sewing room and crafted a cat-covered quilt for Derek. Using masculine colors for the backing and border, the counterpane delighted both of us – especially when we spotted the cat curled up in a basket that looks just like our Thor.

And recently, a new quilt arrived in the mail, made by an extremely talented, prolific quilter.

Its vibrant colors brighten our bedroom, adding homespun cheer, and the accompanying note warmed my heart.

“Thank you, dear friend, for all your glorious words which help so many,” she wrote.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on beautifully pieced quilts, but the quilts in my home are priceless. Each one is threaded with memories, and has been stitched with prayer and bound with love.

Columns

Like the seasons, decorations come and go

It started small.

Several years ago, Mom was downsizing her autumn decorations and gave me a wicker cornucopia and a figurine of a Pilgrim woman carrying a basket of produce on one arm and a pumpkin in the other.

“I don’t know what happened to her Pilgrim husband,” she said. “I’ve been looking everywhere, but I think she’s been widowed.”

My Mom was a serial seasonal decorator. From pilgrims and pumpkins in the fall, to angels, candles and a Christmas village in the winter, followed by roses and greenery in the spring, she marked the change of seasons with change in household decor.

I, on the other hand, confined my home embellishments to decking the halls at Christmas.

That also started out small: a crèche, a nativity calendar, some stockings and of course, a tree.

Those few homey decorations somehow evolved into many large red and green plastic totes filled with wall hangings, wreaths, framed art, pillows, candles and a multitude of heavenly hosts.

Holiday fever spread to my kitchen and dining room with Christmas dishes, stemware, towels and serving pieces.

Then my husband and our youngest son caught the contagion, and now sometime after Thanksgiving, our lawn will be filled with lighted deer, candy canes, a nativity and angels.

I do have some self-restraint. I drew the line at a toilet paper holder that plays Jingle Bells. And even though the Santa bathroom set complete with a chimney on the tank cover tempted, I resisted. I mean, he already knows when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake; he doesn’t need to know anything else.

So, I should have known better when I adopted Mom’s harvest decorations. They looked lonely perched atop the piano.

We took the kids to Green Bluff, and I bought a few little pumpkins and corncobs. Then I added a couple vases Sam had made in elementary school. I really liked the autumn look, but the trim still seemed sparse.

Derek suggested we visit Hobby Lobby – a suggestion he has come to regret. For one thing, he didn’t really think I’d go. I have a deep-seated aversion to any type of craft or fabric store.

“They have home decorating stuff,” he said.

What he really meant is they had some cool outdoor decorations for the garden and his shed.

But he was right about the home decor. I browsed the harvest-themed shelves with Thanksgiving in my heart and picked out a few items.

Then I went back later and picked out a few more.

By now my eyes had been opened, and it seemed like every store I visited had some kind of autumn trim. Coasters, candy dishes, tablecloths, lighted garlands. Before I knew it, I’d somehow amassed a bin full of fall decorations, and there was more fall foliage inside our house than outside.

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When I added a welcome mat and a couple outdoor “Welcome Autumn” signs, I felt I’d tied the theme together and vowed not to add anything else.

So far, so good.

Last year Mom moved to a retirement facility, and the transition was difficult. She spent her entire life turning houses into homes as she followed my dad’s Air Force career. Moving from a four-bedroom, two-bath home to an apartment was quite a change. But she rallied, and last week I thought it might be nice to add a few fall touches to her new place.

Of course, this required a quick trip to Hobby Lobby, but I wasn’t distracted in my mission and just picked out a couple of small things for Mom.

She was delighted and asked if I was still using the decorations she’d given me.

“Do you still have the Pilgrim lady?” she asked. “Did you ever find her a husband?”

“No, she’s still unattached,” I replied.

I’m not buying anymore decorations. I really mean it. But don’t you think that poor Pilgrim has been single long enough?

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Columns

Keep the Orange in Halloween!

Sometimes you just have to take a stand – a produce stand.

After two back-to-back zucchini columns, I really thought I was done writing about squash.

I thought wrong.

You see, autumn is my favorite time of year. There’s nothing better than taking a stroll around the neighborhood under a crisp blue sky. Leaves crunch underfoot and trees show their best colors; a riot of russet, red and gold.

Halloween and fall decor comes out with bats, witches, spider webs and jack-o’-lanterns appearing on porches and lawns.

But the past few years I’ve noticed a rather alarming trend – ghostly white pumpkins. At first I thought folks were painting them, but then I saw the pale imitations popping up in grocery stores.

Turns out farmers are growing varieties of albino squash with names like Lumina, Cotton Candy, Full Moon, Polar Bear and miniature Baby Boos. They’re planting them mostly to keep up with decorating demands.

That’s right. Pinterest is ruining pumpkins!

An article on a travel website about the new crops, stated, “Orange is so yesterday.”

Have they even noticed who’s in the White House?

Speaking of, I don’t mean to be divisive, but unlike the Lorax, I didn’t speak for the trees, the Christmas trees, that is, and look what happened.

White flocked trees meant to simulate a dusting of snow, quickly devolved into madness when the new generation of artificial trees arrived. You can now purchase Christmas trees in most any hue; silver, pink, blue and even rainbow.

Taking the green out of holiday trees is an abomination. We might as well jettison Santa’s red velvet suit and put him a tux. While we’re at it, we could color his snowy white hair, trim that fluffy beard and give him a man bun and a soul patch.

Obviously, I’m a holiday purist.

Pumpkins have been orange since the Garden of Eden and I see no reason to adulterate them. Honestly, I find the albino variety ugly. Our landscape is soon going to be buried in white; can’t we enjoy a bright splash of tangerine before winter dulls our vistas?

As expected, when posting a potentially controversial opinion on social media, the haters came out in force. I was called “squashist,” “gourdist” and even “orange supremacist.”

I accept the charge of pumpkin profiling and am not ashamed.

This slope has already proved treacherously slippery. One Facebook friend admitted to owning a pink pumpkin. PINK! For the love of gourd!

My sister told me she’s even seen a teal squash. That’s something you can’t unsee.

It’s enough to put me off my Chocolate Chip Pumpkin bread and my Spicy Pumpkin muffins. Well, almost.

Another friend posted a meme of a field of albino squash captioned, “White pumpkins drained of their spice by illegal poachers. Please demand ethically sourced Pumpkin Spice lattes.”

Someone else replied, “#allpumpkinsmatter.”

I admit that gave me pause, and I briefly considered aborting my “Keep the Orange in Pumpkin” campaign, but I’d already gone to the trouble of creating a #pumpkinpurist hashtag, and feel it could be trending soon. It would be a shame to lose momentum.

When a friend wrote, “I judge a pumpkin by the content of its character,” I had to admire the sentiment. To be fair, if you slice into an albino pumpkin, you’ll find orange flesh, and supposedly these pale imitations have thinner skins, making them easier to carve.

Nevertheless I must persist.

And while I’m at it, pumpkins are fruit, so don’t go saying you got your vegetable servings in for the day, after three slices of pie.

As I wrapped up my research, I read this headline, “There’s no rule that pumpkins have to be orange.”

To that I can only say, well, there should be.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval