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FIRST THERE WAS AEGEAN OLIVE, a green-brown (center top), as well as a brown-brown and a purple-brown. I stared at those three patches all summer. Then it became September, and a friend suggested we get on with it, and paint the exterior of my mid-century house in East Hampton, N.Y. Ourselves.

A date was chosen, texts exchanged, trips to the paint store made. I wanted the house to remain low-profile and blend in with its surroundings, in keeping with the brown tones of the houses in Japanese gardening books. The house already was brown, and I liked it in concept, but the paint job was ancient and I  wanted a prettier brown. I sampled two lighter shades: Country Life (left top), immediately adjacent to Aegean Olive on Ben Moore’s color strip, but disconcertingly much lighter when actually applied, and Tate Olive (bottom right), from Ben Moore’s Historic Colors line. That was lighter still.

Longtime readers of this blog know I can sample up to dozen colors for a single room, really make a fetish out of it. But the time was now and short (getting colder, busy schedules) and a decision needed to be made. So Aegean Olive it was, and the job began.

My friend is meticulous, enjoys painting, doesn’t mind ladders. I am more of the “let’s get it done” school, happier down low than up high. Together, with her guidance, we finished the job, neatly, in a marathon Saturday. Everyone should have such a friend.

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In progress…

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Next day…

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In the morning light…

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It needs touch-up, and the rafters still need painting. I’m planning to do the door and window trim with colors from those leftover sample quarts before too long. But heading into winter, it feels great to have the bulk of it done.

Belatedly — two weeks after our big painting push — I came upon this image, which I’d photocopied from a book called The Garden in its Setting by Noel Kingsbury. It reminded me of my own place, with the vertical siding and awning windows. Note the color! I guess I did, subliminally. And there’s the Japanese-style landscaping I so admire. Amazing how our minds file things away, even as they forget they filed them.

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TWO WEEKS AFTER SANDY, my friend M., who has invested huge sums of money and energy fixing up a 1930s bungalow, above, in the far reaches of Queens, New York, has just had her first experience with FEMA. A few blocks of vintage bungalows in the beachside community of Far Rockaway, survivors among a onetime colony of thousands, took a beating in the recent storm.

Most of the time, the beachfront location is a plus. M. thoroughly enjoyed her first summer in her bright, colorfully renovated bungalow, whose interior is shown here. She had even been considering living there full-time, as many of her neighbors do. After Sandy’s havoc, she’s probably not so sure.

Power has not yet been restored. The water went as high as 3’3″ in M’s basement (fortunately she has one), ruining her brand new boiler and hot water heater. FEMA came last Friday to assess the damage. M. says the assessor seemed generous on his visit, noting damage she had missed and putting it all in his report. Twenty four hours later, with efficiency I never imagined the Federal government capable of, she had an email from FEMA. The decision: M was to be given a grant of $499.99 (why not a round $500?) and offered a Federal loan of 50K. “So much for that!” she says.

M.’s report from the front today: “The situation out there is getting desperate, not so much in the bungalow colony, especially with the weather warming up a bit, but elsewhere. Utter devastation and too many poor people, too much public housing. Lines for food and supplies everywhere. Nothing much open business-wise and I wonder how many of them will reopen. Looks like a Third World country.” Transportation is still disrupted; the commute to Manhattan, normally under an hour, can take four.

Rockaway’s unique bungalow community will survive and who knows? In years to come, the whole area may see a turnaround. But it could take decades. Right now, focus is all on clean-up. “It’s exhausting,” M. says. “And I was one of the least hard hit.”

To read the back story of M’s search for a Rockaway bungalow and see photos before and during renovation, go here.

Among the perennially popular posts on this blog are two that constitute a bungalow-by-bungalow tour of the colony as it looked in February 2012. Rainy Day Rockaway, Part I is here  For Rainy Day Rockaway, Part II, go here.

THESE WHIMSICAL — OK, kitschy — mailboxes were photographed by my wasband (wubby?) in upstate New York.

I like to express my individuality indoors, but when it comes to something right out on the road for all passersby to see, I keep a low profile. My own mailbox is brown, to match the house, and that’s that. Though I suppose it would be convenient to say, “It’s the driveway with the rooster.”

If I were to do something creative, mailbox-wise, I think it would be funny to have one in the shape of a snail.

Photos: Jeff Greenberg

SOMETIMES WHEN ONE IS IN A STUCK PLACE (definition of my life at the moment), the best one can do is try to get a different view from the same spot. I’m still waiting for a signed contract on the house I’ve been on the trail of for two years, and I don’t blame you if you think I’m chasing rainbows here, to quote Adele. Trust me, it’s happening. I’m 99% sure.

The white-flowering stuff is ‘chocolate eupatorium,’ bought at a stoop sale in Brooklyn. Love it for its very late-season bloom. Don’t love it so much for its invasive character (but that’s why it does so well)

Meanwhile, I’m out in the country at my current home with newfound enthusiasm for yard work, which comes with the cooler weather. It matters not that I may not be at this house much, or at all, in years to come. I’m still moving happily forward on my no-to-low-cost vision for this landscape. I’ve planted a couple of new boxwoods, mulched everything, Hollytone-d the acid lovers. The leaves have not yet begun to fall — they’ve barely begun to change color around here — but my rake is at the ready.

Recently I heard Dr. Esther Sternberg on NPR (Krista Tippet’s On Being) talking about ‘healing places’ and how just being in nature and seeing trees, water, sunsets is enough to release endorphins and make people happier. I knew it! I’m definitely happier in the country than in the city. It’s just that way. And now I find out there’s a scientific explanation.

A dead corner of the living room improved with an inexpensive screen from Chinatown

After a morning of tidying things up, I took some new photos of my present cottage — partly for myself and partly for Craigslist purposes. I’m still trying to rent, and that, too, hasn’t happened yet, though I wholeheartedly subscribe to what a wise friend said: that perhaps I’m not meant to have a renter yet and that’s why I haven’t found one.

Here, from the State of Limbo, are some new angles on a much-photographed subject.

I DEBATED WHETHER TO CALL THIS POST The Disappearing House, The Solid Green Garden, or Midsummer Disappointments. But I didn’t want to be negative, so I’m calling it Half a Ton of Rocks, because those round rocks, above – all 1,000 pounds of them are the thing I’m most excited about at the moment. I chose them at Southampton Masonry, a stone yard, because they match the existing edging around my garden beds, below, which is incomplete and needs continuation. And because I’ve gotten tired, after three years, of scavenging from the woods, the beach, the roadside.

This summer, I’m planning to develop the wilderness, i.e. the backyard, particularly one area that’s a bit sunnier than the rest and where I hope to grow something colorful, i.e. flowers. Which brings me to the solid green disappointment. My garden beds are hardly ablaze with color; the pale-pink dwarf astilbes and caladiums, below, are about as colorful as it gets around here these days. I did have purple alliums, irises, yellow evening primroses, and some bigger, brighter astilbes in June, but at the moment it’s all just varied shades of a single color: green.

Some of those green things are thriving. The miscanthus are so big they obscure the house, below, which is fine with me. I like the screening.

But no color there either. Even my stand of rhodies, below, which I radically pruned last July, failed to produce more than a single bloom in May — that’s right, one flower on a 30-40′ hedge. But they do seem happy, foliage-wise, and I have faith that next year will bring back the blooms.

The overall lack of color is due mainly to too little sun and hungry deer. Combine the two, and there’s really very little that will flower well. The deer pressure, as they call it, is on. There are two new white-spotted Bambis visiting this season, along with their older relatives, so I guess that means the flock, or pride, or whatever you call a group of deer, is surviving the gradual suburbanization of the area. Below, the Japanese anemones I was looking forward to, reduced to sticks. And yes, I have been spraying Deer-Out, but it rains, and I was in the city for a while, and can’t always be on top of things. They got 90% of the buds. The other thing I was looking forward to for late summer color — ligularias, of which I had a dozen that were fabulous last year — have succumbed to the heat. Most of them are just one pathetic, slug-eaten leaf.

Even the house plants and containers on my front deck, below, are blah. That area’s not so very sunny either (facing east, under huge trees), and — would you believe — the deer come up there when I’m not home. The nerve.

I visited a friend in Shelter Island last Sunday who has, by my standards, an abundance of sun, and was sooooooo jealous of her coneflowers, below, and butterfly weed, and lots of other stuff.

My options:

  • I can limb up or even remove some big trees to create more sun, but I’ve already taken down 5 or 6 huge oaks, and many of the ones that shade my property don’t belong to me anyway.
  • I can sell my house and buy another one on a sunnier piece of property, but that seems rather extreme.
  • I can rent a 20′x20′ patch at a community garden a few miles away, well-fenced and in full, all-day sun, and even grow vegetables. Maybe next year; it’s only $175 a season.
  • I can embrace the color green. It is serene and beautiful, and I’m doing the best I can with varying shades and shapes of foliage, but that’s never going to be totally satisfying.
  • I can get a deer fence, finally, and that I am definitely going to do this fall.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a lot of rocks to play with.

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