After the sun goes down, Gene Domanico, age 84, enjoys sitting on his deck to watch the light play across the paths and flowers of his small yard.
Domanico has loved light in his landscape since he and his partner, Kathy Butler, bought a Greenstone River District home in Greenacres three years ago. He started with 15 solar lights. Now the backyard alone has about 40 lights.
But his favorite, and the source of the sparkles, are the lights he recycled this spring from the original 15.
After three years, two years longer than the typical warranty on a solar light, the lights were brittle and broken.
“If you bump them, you break them,” says Domanico with a wry smile. But it was just the plastic light shades and bases that had succumbed to our four season climate. The solar caps, with battery and light, still worked.
“I was just going to throw them away,” says Butler of the still functional solar caps. “I figured, what good does it do to keep them?”
But Domanico wanted to find a way to use the solar caps.
“My dad used to say, if something is broke try to fix it,” says Domanico. “If you can’t fix it, forget about it.”
After a little experimenting with different reflective materials, like tinfoil and glass, Domanico settled on simple glass bowls filled with rocks and glass stones or marbles. The bowl and glass rocks cost a mere $2 to $3.
The rocks add weight and the glass stones reflect the light so that it sparkles, even in the daytime but especially at night.
“The solar light fits beautifully and the wind doesn’t blow the caps off,” he says, noting that the bowls have even withstood 45 mph winds.
Domanico likes his recycled versions better than the original lights and says it reminds him of his recycled life.
In 2003 his wife died of breast cancer. Shortly after that he had several small strokes, developed an eye cyst and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Depressed, he sold his home and moved into an assisted-living facility. But he didn’t fit in.
The spry widower, who bikes daily, runs stairs and works out three days a week at the YMCA, regained his normally positive outlook and worked to recover his active lifestyle.
“I was driving the residents nuts,” he chuckles. “They asked, ‘What is he doing here?’ “
Shortly after moving, in he met Kathy, who worked in housekeeping. “We rescued each other,” he says.
They hit it off immediately and within six months had bought their current home. Since then he has regained almost all the balance and coordination he lost with the strokes and his Alzheimer’s diagnosis has been downgraded to age-related dementia.
“I don’t remember the plant names anymore,” he says while walking the curvy stone path to show off the garden he designed and planted himself. Then he laughs. “So if someone says it is a weed, I just say it is a perennial that comes up every year.”
There are no weeds in sight and the geranium he calls by name. He has 60 of this favorite plant. On the deck and in the garden, several planters are simply arranged with a newly recycled solar light bowl nestled between two geraniums.
“They are beautiful,” he says with a sigh.
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