Spring endings and beginnings

Everyone eagerly waits for spring to come, but I’ve never been as impatient as I’ve been this year. Not for the spring that began on March 20, but the one that began on March 23. That’s the day I retired.

I’ve been anticipating retirement for years, thinking about it daily, picking a date, sliding it to the right. Again. And again. When the large aerospace company I worked for decided to move some 3000 jobs to Arizona (including mine), the decision was made for me: It was time to stop sliding the date and just slide out the door.

Sailboat and Sunset Island, from Key West's Mallory Square

Time for me to sail off into the sunset …

Leaving people I’ve worked with for years, as well as the Midcentury office complex and its beautiful landscaping (cherry trees bursting into bloom) was bittersweet … but I have my own gardens to tend, literally and metaphorically. What intrigues me now is this: Who will I become in retirement? The door is wide open. All I have to do is walk through. And, after working my entire adult life, I must give myself permission not to have a job!

While I won’t predict who the retired me will become, I can tell you I’m stoked to tackle my list of projects and I have all day, every freakin’ day to work on them whenever I want! Or not! I’ll share them with you as they rise to the top.

First up—outdoors: Finish pruning the Japanese maples, and weed, weed, weed! I felt pretty good about the way I tamed the backyard sumo wrestler, so I was eager to go after the smaller laceleaf in the front yard. I found it much easier to prune because it hadn’t had so many years to take off on me.

Now I can actually see the branch structure on the sumo wrestler:

Laceleaf Japanese maple in winter

South side

Laceleaf Japanese maple in winter

East side

In the front yard triangle garden:

Northwest garde in winter

Getting things trimmed up for spring.

Northwest garden in winter

Winter colors

Laceleaf Japanese maple in winter

All shaped up

Boxer looks through hole in fence.

Duke peeks through the cat hole in the fence.

White dog paw sticks out under gate.

Whenever I walk by the gate, I see this.

Boxer lying on pavers behind gate.

View from the other side.

Tuxedo cat between porch slats.

Crosby keeps an eye on things from the side porch.

Next, relandscape the backyard! The poor yard took a beating when our new back fence was built last fall. The rains came as soon as the project started, and although the fence looked great, everything else ran straight downhill. Duke has been confined to the north half of the yard ever since, which has suffered from him doing his business and from his excavation hobby. I’m hoping that closer parental supervision will ease his digging compulsion.

Overgrown winter backyard

The backyard looks awful …

Japanese maple with red buds

But doesn’t this maple look great against the house?

Step one of the backyard renewal is reseeding the lawn. After the fence was built, we kept the temporary Duke fence up to thwart his digging in torn-up gardens. I covered Duke’s worn-out lawn with cedar chips to keep down the mud. It worked well … or so I thought. I began to rake it up and bag it … and the ammonia stench overwhelmed me. Duke has a habit of stepping a few feet off the deck and relieving himself next to the laceleaf Japanese maple. After absorbing pee all winter, can you imagine the odor? It actually burned my throat! It ranked right up there with my other least-favorite smell: mildew. In fact, dog pee ammonia makes mildew smell kinda fresh.

Removing bark chips from backyard.

Raking the nasty bark chips.

Abg full of bark chips in backyard


I persevered and got rid of the bark. I assumed that repeated doses of acidic urine meant the soil should be treated to be more neutral, but when I researched the problem, I found that it’s not the pH, but the constant doses of nitrogen that damage the grass. Most sites recommend flooding the area with water to dilute the nitrogen. Not a problem in the Northwest, where it rains from the middle of October until the 5th of July. (Sort of a joke, but, sadly, closer to the truth.)

Pitchfork and Garden Weasel

Pitchfork and Garden Weasel

The most natural solution is to cover the ground with an inch or so of compost, which loosens and enriches the compacted soil. We picked up a few bags of compost at the store, along with a brand new Garden Weasel cultivator. (I love the way it jingle-jangle-jingles like a pair of spurs.) I got right to work running the Weasel over the hard soil. Fluffing it up only released more of the noxious smell. Then I aerated the patch by stabbing it with our pitchfork. Over and over and over again. The grass couldn’t be more dead.

Soil prepared for compost dressing

Forked and weaseled, ready for compost.

I was worn out by that point, but it was time to spread the compost, which turned out to be the easiest part of the process. Compost has its own pungent odor, but anything’s an improvement over ammonia. (Compost is made from decayed plant matter—it isn’t steer manure.)

Tuxedo cat sprays on plant

Crosby inspects and signs off on my work.

The next day, I started to cough. Despite taking allergy meds, I’m still bothered by seasonal allergies. I already had my usual spring sore throat. But the upper-respiratory cough grew rapidly worse, and I became paranoid. I looked up ammonia poisoning and found that breathing ammonia causes pulmonary edema. Eric pointed out that had I done such a job at work (unlikely as that seems for a technical writer), I would have had to wear a respirator. For two days I worried as the cough worsened. I hadn’t even been in a confined space—I was out in the backyard, in the clean urban air! Don’t worry, though … the cough was only the beginning of a monstrous cold. Nevertheless, if I ever clean up ammonia again, I’ll wear a respirator.

A few days later I re-raked the area, liberally tossed on the grass seed, and waited for rain. Now we’re just waiting for the grass to sprout. And I’m still trying to kick the nasty cold.

Seeded lawn patch

And … seeded!

For some relief, my next post will take us far away from our dreary Pacific Northwest spring.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it




12 thoughts on “Spring endings and beginnings

  1. Barbara H.

    Congratulations on your retirement! You’ll soon wonder how you had time to work. That was a huge, nasty job so kudos to you for getting it done. I hope you recover from your cold soon.

  2. Karen B.

    You’ve just described why we moved from our home of 35 years last July. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to work our our courtyard, detailing every square inch in under 3 hours. Enjoy your (much deserved, I’m sure) retirement. I haven’t made that commitment yet, but it may be in the not too distant future.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi, Karen! I’m beginning to appreciate that concept–courtyard gardening–but we have yet to make that decision. For now, having free time is the prize. Not sure what our future holds, but life is good!

  3. Donna O.

    Congratulations on your retirement! I’m sure your hard work in the yard will pay off when the weather warms and the blooming starts. I see you have framed stained glass hanging in 2 of your windows. Is the stained glass your own creation, and did you frame it yourself?

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks, Donna! I was telling Eric that I can’t wait until our backyard looks pretty again, and said he can’t wait until I get to work on it! The stained glass panels are vintage windows bought at a architectural salvage shop. They are in their original frames, which are in rather rough shape–pulled right off the house. They help block the view of neighbors.

  4. Nine Dark Moons

    First off:
    that’s SO AWESOME that you are officially retired. Hubby and I still have 9 years, 9 months, and 3 weeks… but we’ll get there 🙂 I envy you and it sounds very well deserved! Good timing too… if you’d still had 10 years to go and they moved to Arizona that would have been a very hard choice to either move or find a new job. Either one would have sucked (imo)! So CONGRATS 🙂
    Love the pics of Duke and the fence – LOL! And Crosby half in and half out of your porch railing.
    i love the color of the maple up against your house.
    I hope you feel better soon! I have such bad lung issues (always have, and I’ve never been a smoker!) that anytime I’m in doubt, I wear my respirator. I love it!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks, Alison! But who’s counting, right?! I think investing in a good respirator is in my future. In the meantime, I wish someone would cure the “common” cold–those viruses are fierce these days!! I can’t believe I don’t have to go to work now … what a gift!!

  5. Jo

    So exciting that you’re retired. I can’t wait to continue getting inspiration from your West Coast projects. The yard clean-up looks magnificent and you’re just getting started. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I’m excited too, Jo, but retirement doesn’t seem real yet. I just feel like I’m on a break. I feel like I need to accomplish something each day. I guess that’s not bad, it should keep me motivated! Now, if it would just quit raining!

  6. Africadayz

    Loved this post, D’Arcy. I’m sure retirement brings new challenges but I have absolutely no doubt you’re going to love every minute of your new free time.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I’m already loving it, Jacqui! Although it takes some time to wrap my head around the fact that I really never have to go back to work again. I’m getting there … nice problem to have!


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