One Yard, Several Gardens And Two Retirees Needing A Village of Green Thumb Experts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Things change as we age...have you noticed that?  I remember when we bought our first house in 1995 I couldn't wait to create gardens, everywhere, and I did.  I put them in the front of the house, on the side of the house, all along the back border of the yard, you name it, I dug it up and planted it.  About a year or so ago it became pretty evident that my passion for enjoying the gardens had considerably surpassed my passion for tending the gardens.  Last year when it was so hot and humid, I barely tended anything beyond watering pots and maybe one or two weeding sessions.  It's not that I can't take care of the gardens, I just don't care to anymore.  So.....we embarked on a plan to revamp a little, including a total re-do of the front landscape and let me tell you, it took a village but the results are stunning.  Today's post is not to boast  about how pretty I think things look (they do) but to give some praise and publicity to the team that was involved in making the magic happen.  Maybe you'll be inspired to tackle your own yard and perhaps one of my team members can help you too.
There was nothing in front of our house when we bought it.  Since we had no extra change for landscaping lying around, we made due with Rose of Sharon transplants from my mom and used recycled Astilbes from our apartment garden.  It looked pretty ok during the week or so that the astilbes were in bloom, but after that not so much.  The Rose of Sharon were also 'ok' but got too big, even with annual trimming, and left a mess of spent blossoms on the sidewalk.
We had the massive triple-trunk maple on the left of this photo taken down in 2014 so it wouldn't end up in the house during a bad storm.  David's Tree Topping is our regular tree company - they are very reasonable and do great work.  Our hardscape guy, Mark Petrecki, had already built us a retaining wall and sidewalk in the past so when he offered his services to do the front landscape, we jumped at the offer.  We love Mark because not only is he a perfectionist, he is able to complete the job you've asked him to but the end result is always more beautiful than we could have imagined.  He just has a gift, a creative vision and never fails to produce an end result that far exceeds any of our expectations.  Mark dug out all the trees and astilbe, along with tons of Lily of the Valley, Bishop Weed and fern so we could begin with a clean slate.  This was just one small piece of his challenge!

I knew I wanted an airy look for the design, nothing too big, slow growers with room between shrubs and things that required little or no maintenance. We did our shopping at Kulak's Nursery on Balltown Road in Rexford. Pam listened to our goals, looked at photos we'd brought of the space and house and showed us possibilities that met with our requirements, i.e. light, space, etc... She was awesome! We brought home a bunch of shrubs, laid them out and went back for a few more. We ended up choosing some upright junipers, some Blue Star Junipers, a Nine-Bark, an oriental red maple, a Rubra Dogwood and a few others. I wanted a mixture of colors for interest, not just green shrubs.  Mark amended the soil with a combination of good quality dirt and compost and topped it with landscape cloth.    He also extended our original drip edge by a foot or so and left that area covered with stone.  After placing the plants in their designated locations, he cut large holes for the plants, mixed in the recommended amount of Bio-tone Starter into the soil, added water, then planted each shrub.  He finished the project with edging to keep the stone and eventual mulch separate, then added a beautiful coat of mulch and voila.....

My existing gardens were in dire need of work....weeding, dividing, transplanting, and a general clean out of all those invasive perennials that I once considered charming. That job was almost as labor intensive as Mark's landscaping job! Friends of ours happened to mention a gal who was starting her own landscaping business in the area, Maia van Holsteijn, Green Gardener, LLC.   I contacted Maia and put her right to I'm so grateful I did not have to do!  Maia worked diligently for 7 hours cleaning up messy gardens, weeding, dividing day lilies, eliminating rampant perennials and wow....what a difference.  This is the messy, crowded, over-grown BEFORE:

A very healthy crop of Bee Balm had overtaken the end of the garden, choking out my hydrangea.  And this is the clean, spacious and beautiful AFTER:

My side garden originally had a small section of split-rail fence that we installed in 1995, merely as a backdrop for a garden in the middle of the land between our house and the neighbor's. Last fall it blew over during the fall clean up...the posts likely rotted. I wasn't sure if  I wanted to keep that garden or not, but decided not to replace the fence. I asked Maia to do some of her magic there was overgrown with Evening Primrose which, again, looked great for a week or so when in bloom, but otherwise pretty boring the rest of the season. She yanked out all of those (hundreds I'm sure), transplanted a few sedum from other gardens out back, a Flox, planted a bunch of Iris we'd dug up in the fall, and before I knew it, I had a beautiful new garden!

This will look great soon when the Stella D'oro Lillies come into bloom! One of my grandmother's Iris is about to bloom too....she's been gone since 1989! I couldn't be more excited.

Mark put a fresh bed of mulch on all my gardens, we hadn't done mulch in a couple of years and it really helps keep the moisture in the ground as well as keeping the weeds at bay.  Speaking of weeds....we tried the concoction that's been all over the internet on a couple areas where we needed to eliminate grass and weeds.  We mixed a gallon of vinegar, 2 cups of Epsom salt and a couple teaspoons of dish soap in a garden sprayer.  Much safer than Round-Up for sure, but be careful not to use it near anything you don't want to eliminate!  A follow-up application was needed for stubborn (violets) weeds.
Mark also dug up several very large Hosta that were too close to our foundation on the back of the house.  He transplanted them on our lower level and moved some smaller varieties from the lower level to this space.  These varieties stay small and will let the stucco breathe, which is important to Mark since he stuccoed the foundation a few years ago when he replaced our basement windows!  That man can do anything.

To finish the project and add some color to the yard until the perennials come into bloom, we visited our local garden center, Sokolowski's Nursery on Grooms Road and bought some hanging baskets. I'd also gotten a few at our annual fundraiser sale at church. Now all I need to do is fill the old white birdbath with some small ground cover plants at Faddegon's for Elena's fairy garden and we'll be ready for summer! The only place I haven't made my annual pilgrimage yet is Shades of Green in Charlton....the source of all my beautiful hostas.  This year's visit might be easy on the budget because I don't see room for anything more, but you can never tell.
Post Script: In 2019 we completed our yard project by finishing off the slope of the yard.  Mark was tied up with other jobs so I enlisted the help of Sunshine Landscaping.  Three amazing workers dug out 20 years of ivy, pachysandra and fern, laid road cloth and stone to more neatly hold back our slope.  Maia helped plant about 8 new perennials and lay mulch and we could not be more pleased with the finished result.  Right after completion:

And a few weeks later:

Thanks to all my helpers....Pam at Kulak's, Mark Petrecki our mason, landscaper, and good friend, Maia my new garden fairy and Doug Smalley of Saratoga Turf Care who cuts our grass, and Davey's Trees who fertilize my trees and lawn and David's Tree Topping Service for years of tree removal.  Thanks also to Sunshine Landscaping, a dream to work with.  As I takes a village and without this group of amazing professionals none of this would be possible.  I can't wait to sit out back and soak it all in.  So this is what the Golden Years are like?  Yes, we probably could have done some of these chores ourselves, but life is short.  We'd rather be ridin' around the countryside snapping photos or playing with the grandkids than pulling weeds and spreading mulch.  No one ever said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd finished weeding my garden yesterday".  I know I certainly won't.  If you feel the same and need any of my pros to help you in your yard, I'm including a list with contact information.  I promise you won't be disappointed...they're all awesome!   Come back soon for more Life As I See It!
Petrecki & Son Masonry Hardscape - 518-858-6809
Maia van Holsteijn, the Green Gardener ( 712-240-6242
David's Tree Topping Service - 518-371-0361
Saratoga Turf Care, Doug Smalley - 518-371-0508
Kulak's Nursery - 518-399-2404
Sunshine Landscaping - 518-384-0086

Coming Full Circle in the The Circle of Life

Monday, May 28, 2018
When do you know you've traveled the 'Circle of Life'?  Certainly with the passing of elder members of a family or with the birth of new members of a family, but today I experienced another circle - a full circle of life.  Having had two daughters, (two daughters who were not athletic or interested in sports) instead of shuttling kids to practices and spending hours on soccer fields or basketball courts I shuttled our girls to dance class.  Katie started her dance career when she was 6 1/2 and Laura began at the ripe old age of 2 1/2.  For the next 14 years, there'd be a lot of dancing in our lives most of which culminated in a recital at the end of the school year, but not all.  Laura was born dancing and she danced all the home mimicking music videos on TV, previous dance recital dances on VHS, or simply choreographing her own dances to any music available.  Both girls began taking ballet and tap, each for a few years, and then both transitioned to jazz.  As a stay-at-home mom, money wasn't plentiful, but we made sure there was always enough to fund dance class, leotards, tap shoes, ballet shoes and eventually jazz shoes.  Sometimes we got lucky and Laura would be able to wear Katie's hand-me-downs.  A few times a year parents would be able to watch class and we'd get to see our little dancers leap and float across the dance floor. Sometimes they'd bobble or stumble, but it didn't matter.   Their teacher always emphasized that it wasn't about was about building confidence, self esteem, poise and grace.  Just like with any activity or sport, some kids have a natural gift and others have to work at it.  That's how it was in our house.  Laura had the music in her and although she certainly worked hard to memorize her steps, her body felt the rhythm and moved in response and it was easy to see she was meant to dance.   Katie loved to dance but it didn't come quite as naturally for her.  She worked diligently perfecting her form, her posture, her grace and was every bit the beautiful dancer as her sister. 
From 1986-2000 the end of May heralded the end of that year of dance with a dance recital.  Sparkly costumes were ordered months before.... and by the evening of dress rehearsal, emotions were high in anticipation of the big event.  I don't know about all the moms of dancers, but this mom never outgrew the stage mom nerves.  Besides the normal worries about whether or not they'd remember their steps, or lose a hair accessory during their dance, I had the added worries of a mom of a diabetic child.  Did she remember to blood test and snack before her dance?  Is she low?  Is she high from nerves?  Oh it was an emotional time for this mama!  But it was always fine and as I looked through the video lens from the back row of the auditorium, it was always such a proud feeling watching our girls perform year after year.  Katie danced right through her senior year of high school. Laura gave it up at the end of her sophomore year.
The girls weren't the only ones who had the dance bug.  John participated too.  He danced with other dads in the Dad Dance - a sort of comic relief dance right after intermission.  Unlike some of the other dads who participated for fun, John took his role pretty seriously.  He practiced his routine, over and over.  Consequently he became 'the guy to follow' most years.  This is where I should add that John is like Katie - not a natural dancer and those who know him won't be surprised to hear he did not spend his young adult life dancing in clubs.  That didn't stop him, nor did it dampen his enthusiasm.  He was a dancing machine.  Over the course of his recitals he danced to Uptown Girl, YMCA, Chain Gang, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Surfin' USA, Alley Oop, Dance With Me, and Soul Man.  And yes....we have them all on video tape.  So, you see dancing and dance recitals have been a big part of Life here in the Welter household.
That tradition came full circle today.  Today we attended a dance recital, not just any recital but a dance recital of the same dance studio our girls attended, in the same auditorium our girls performed in.  Only today the tiny dancer we were watching was our 7 yr. old granddaughter, Elena.  This is her third year dancing, but our first recital because her first two years were in Indiana.  Elena took tap and ballet, just like her mom and her little sister follows in the family footsteps, also taking tap and ballet.  Like our girls, one sister is a natural and one is a practiced star.  Not much has changed over the years.  Tension was high in the auditorium 45 minutes before the curtain rose, parents and extended family rushing to find the best seats, many armed with bouquets of flowers for their little ballerinas.  Unlike the old days, today I was merely a spectator - no camera or video camera with me.  I was determined to relax and just enjoy the show.  The theme for this year's recital was Circle of Life so the first several numbers were all from the Lion King and were all so well done.   Then came the younger dancers....Elena's first number was 7th in the series of 22 numbers.  She was also dancing in the 20th number.  I'd seen her demonstrate her routine in my living room, to the designated music, and was proud of how good she was.  She reminded me of Katie at her age - the look of determination on her face, her practiced posture, outstretched arms and pointed fingers.  Although I'd seen the practice version, nothing could have prepared me for today's performance.
From the moment the music began and these tiny ballerinas tip toed on stage as Taylor Swift's lyrics provided a backdrop to my first grandchild's practiced routine, my heart melted and my body shook as I turned into a blubbering, tearful mess that despite my most valiant effort could not be controlled until she walked off stage.  If you've never heard this song, the lyrics go like this:
Never Grow Up

Your little hands wrapped around my finger
And it's so quiet in the world tonight
Your little eyelids flutter cause you're dreaming
So I tuck you in and turn on your favorite nightlight
To you, everything's funny
You got nothing to regret
I'd give all the I have honey
If you could stay like that

Oh darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up.
Just stay little
It could stay this simple
I won't let nobody hurt you
Won't let no one break your heart
No one will desert you
Just try to never grow up

Of course it goes on and on, but I lost track of the lyrics eventually.  All I could think of was how my life has come full circle...from sitting here, in this auditorium where I watched so many recitals with my own daughters, and now here I was watching my granddaughter.  For a moment I felt like a pregnant, hormonal, crazy woman but in reality I know only the last of those adjectives is true.  Thank God I was wearing my waterproof mascara!  I don't normally cry easily, but everything about today made the stars align and in that moment I sat there feeling incredibly blessed, grateful to have lived long enough to experience such a sight, (not everyone does) and proud to have the love of dance continue in my grandchildren.  I'm pretty sure that granddads don't have the same reaction when watching their grandsons hit their first baseball, well they might but I imagine they hold it in better than I managed to.  Life is pretty awesome most days.  Some days can be a challenge but I'll take those challenges because days like today make it all worthwhile.  Life isn't always filled with joy.  In today's world there's plenty of things that can make us question, make us anxious, frightened....days like last week in Noblesville, IN where Laura and Eric lived when they were in Indiana.  But days like yesterday....I can praise God, not just for bringing my family back from Indiana, but for giving me a life that gives me days like yesterday that cripple me with humility, gratitude, overflowing love and pride and tears of joy that can't be contained.  Little Braelyn didn't get to be in the big recital this year, but I'm confident that next year when she tip toes across the big stage for the first time, with a smile the size of Texas on her face, dancing like a natural for all the world to see, I'll probably be the same teary mess I was today and I'll be prepared with my waterproof mascara and tissues and I'll be thanking God for giving me a life full of moments like these and people to love, not just on recital days, but all the days in between.   And this is where it all began........

Thank you Creative Dance Arts for 33 years of dancing memories!
Post Script: Here we are in 2022, after a two-year pause thanks to Covid. This past weekend we got to attend the girls dance recital. Braelyn danced a jazz routine and Elena danced jazz and modern…..both flawless and poised. I did not ‘ugly cry’ but a tear or two may have leaked as I beamed with pride, and my heart swelled with love for these young ladies who I’m lucky enough to call granddaughters.

Finding Solitude, Solace and God in Rural Amsterdam NY

Sunday, May 20, 2018
Eastern Kingbird
How do you feel about solitude?  Are you someone who needs to always be around people?  Or do you prefer a more solitary life?  Naturally you can love both....I love being with people but I also occasionally crave quiet and by quiet, I mean literal quiet.  It sometimes also means I need to get away - away from the noise of daily life, the noise of appliances, the noise of my inner voice reminding me of all the things keeping my head spinning as I try to solve the problems of the world, even if that world only involves my immediate circle of family and friends.  Some days we all just need that Calgon moment.  When I need a Calgon moment, my go-to remedy for quieting the chaos in my brain often involves a road trip to one of my favorite peaceful destinations.  If you're reading this post, you probably know from so many others that those destinations involve dirt roads, barns, endless horizons and on the best trips also involves an Amish community.  Why?  Because if you know anything about the Amish, you know that life is pretty free of modern noise and chaos!  A week or so ago when I was feeling the need for a little mental restoration, we headed to the rural roads of Amsterdam NY, and the beauty I captured on less than a handful of roads was enough to ground me in serenity again.  I'm sharing that excursion with you today in hopes that you might also find a moment of peace, a breath of calm, and some inspiration to find your own restorative escape.

 Just for today.....I will trust the path I'm on.

 Listen to yourself....and in that quietude, you might hear the voice of God.  
-Maya Angelou

Did it work? Did you find a moment of serenity?  I hope so.  I say it all the time and I know I probably sound like a broken record, but life is crazy.  It's filled with appointments and deadlines, chores and projects.  We work fast, we drive fast, we eat on the go and barely focus on the task at hand.  That way of life may get things accomplished, but at what cost?  When was the last time you took a moment to be still, to ponder your blessings, to ask God for a favor, to listen to your heart?  When was the last time you just stopped and looked at your inner GPS and figured out where you are in life?  Obviously you can't do that in traffic, and you can't do it while you're at your desk completing your next deadline, or hurrying to get your kids on the bus.  Some things in life call for a moment of silence and stillness.  Sometimes we need to get away from the chaos and the noise and listen and look and center ourselves.  That place that you choose to do this may not be a dirt road in Amsterdam or Easton.  It might be on a swing in your backyard, it might be in a parked car at the perimeter of a parking lot or it might be in church on a Sunday morning.  Wherever you feel at peace, that is the place you need to bring yourself to and once you're there, allow yourself to shut down.  Turn off the noise, quiet the guilt, and open your mind to listening to your heart.  Listen to God.  These dirt roads and beautiful landscapes are my second church home....they are the sanctuaries where I can feel God and hear Him and thank Him.  These moments are my calming drug, the place where I feel my pulse slow, my mind relax.  This week I challenge you to find your sanctuary and to make time to abandon the whirlwind you're in and find a moment of silence.  And when you do, I wish for you peace and calm and gratitude.
God's presence can easily be found at Auriesville Shrine overlooking the Mohawk River.

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