Parting is Such Sweet, Sweet Sorrow, 2010:

Friday, December 31, 2010

And I mean, that.  The sweetness of your departure cannot really be amply expressed.  It's the 365th day of you, 2010, you wretched beast of a year.  The very last day of what seemed to be an endless hit-parade of trials and tribulations.  The best I can say about you in retrospect was that you were unerringly efficient - with just 12 months to work with, you managed to pack a veritably bruising punch.

You took great delight in raising my hopes by delivering a price drop on the house I'd been pondering, and by the end of February, I signed on the dotted line.   And while all that was very exciting, you jerked the rug out from under me before I could get a stick of furniture moved in when Kudzu got sick just a week or two later.  That was a long and winding and emotional road to Tragedy Town.  Hours upon hours at the vet hospital.  Tests with bad results.  With no results.  With murky results.  The hope that he was getting better; the realization that he was not.  By the time Kudzu slipped away, I'd very nearly lost my mind.  His death left a terrible hole in my heart.

But I had to go on.  And you went on, too, taking another dear friend just weeks later.

There were less drastic measures in your arsenal - the 14-hour trip to San Diego and the $800 water bill from the running toilet at the house I didn't live in.  The occasion upon which I was mistaken for a pregnant co-worker.  A mistake that could arguably have been caused by my weight that yo-yoed between grief-stricken skinny and grievously chubbed.

Nashville nearly burned us to death.  And the burning question on everyone's mind was why, oh, why don't you live in your house yet?  At first, I was bothered, but as the year wore on, I became so accustomed to being asked that my hide toughened to the point that I had a pachydermal tolerance for it.  And I decided I didn't give a fig what anyone thought.  That's right.  I'm crazy - so what?  I do plan to finally move into the house, but that's to be filed under resolutions in a letter to a different year.

We started demolition on the kitchen in November - a process that seemed like it would be seamless enough.  But you, 2010, have managed to muck that up, too, and even as we speak, there's still work to do.

In addition to those things happening to me, you attacked the periphery - dear friends who lost brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers in sudden and terrible ways, leaving chasms in other hearts.  There were near misses, too, thwarted by surgical precision and medical miracles.  But at every turn, you were certain to point out to me that life is a desperately fragile thing.

You broke my heart, 2010.  In so many ways.  And so I find myself on New Year's Eve - chubby, single, cat-less and crazy.  You broke my heart.  But not my hope - I will ring in the New Year, a toast to your departure, filled with anticipation that your successor will bring better days.  Thanks for setting the bar so ridiculously low it's very nearly subterranean.

Good riddance,
Ash

The Kitchen Pit: An Update

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For the record, we're 50 days into the yet to be finished project.  And while we've made some progress - a floor! a refrigerator! an island! - it wasn't smooth sailing.

The Domino Effect - Everything depends on everything else.  Which is why the cabinets had to be installed before they could measure for the countertops and the countertops had to be put in before the sink.  And it's also why when the cabinet above the microwave failed to arrive with the rest of the cabinetry, the microwave couldn't be installed as scheduled and sat in the kitchen floor for a week. 

The Focus Effect - Not one of the installers is a multitasker.  That's why we've had different workmen to install the cabinets, countertops, appliances, floor and backsplash.  And why the kitchen sink was installed but not able to produce water until someone else came to make the magic happen.

The Second Guessing Effect - With a little extra time and anxiety at work, you second guess everything.  Which is why Mom picked three different floors and two different backsplashes.

The Murphy's Law Effect - Whatever can go wrong will.  Which is how the plumber got called to fix the water spewing from the old dishwasher connection.  And why the cabinet above the fridge has no doors because the ones they sent were the wrong size.  And why the stove isn't flush against the wall because it requires some mysterious plug that - you guessed it - the installer doesn't do.

The Nervous Breakdown Effect - This occurs during the later stages of the process when your bedroom smells like coffee all the time and you've eaten six weeks' worth of meals on a tiny coffee table and you sawed your way through broiled porkchops weakly seasoned in barbecue sauce because you could find neither a pan nor appropriate seasoning and when you have to make ONE MORE decision about whether to move the island two inches toward the refrigerator or one inch toward the table and then you discover that the brand new sink is leaking in almost precisely the same way that started this whole thing.  And that's when you start drinking.

So when will we be done?  I'm guessing two weeks.

Why BuyLife is a Dead End

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ryan Seacrest, Alicia Keys and Kim Kardashian are dead.  And I'm not sad - I'm a bit disgusted.  I wrote a guest post for the Jackson Spalding Thinkstand on why this week's BuyLife.org promotion for World AIDS Day is a grave misstep.  Please enjoy this little bit of shameless self-promotion - unlike the celebrities mentioned, I won't make you pay $10 for it.

Terra Cotta's Gotta Go from Walnut Grove

Sunday, November 28, 2010

When I was looking at houses, I passed over the one I bought a couple dozen times because I hated the shutters.  I know what that anonymous eponymous they say about getting hung up on paint colors that can be changed.  But this paint color gave the house such a repugnant drab watery look that I couldn't get over it.  These terra cotta shutters destroyed the whole house for me - so much so that it took a little convincing from my real estate agent to include it on the caravan of listings we were scheduled to see in the neighborhood.  Once I saw the inside and - let's face it - the towering trees in the backyard, I was sold.  Suddenly the odious repulsive shutters seemed like a small obstacle standing between me and home sweet home.  (We need not return to the list of much larger obstacles that have presented themselves since then.)  But back to the vile shutters that looked like this:

There's something so...old about those boring brick-colored shutters that do absolutely nothing for the brick color of the house.  It all melted together in one awful conglomeration of blah.  And I may be many things, but blah is not one of them.  As such, I decided to leave Terra Cotta Town for the olive-toned territory of Walnut Grove.  Behold the great greenness:

It's like a new house.  Like I left behind moth balls and knitting nights for swinging 21st century living.  Or something like that.  Also, I clearly need to spend some time admiring my new shutters while raking. *Ahem*  And while I was at it, I had the deck stained to better match the house, too.



Perhaps part of the moving problem had to do with the atrocious exterior - the dated ill-chosen shutters that made me feel like I might be learning macrame and hanging velvet paint-by-numbers inside while wearing orthopedic shoes and sporting shapeless day dresses.  But now that we're in Walnut Grove, I think that I have found a befitting haven for my stilettos, pumps and flats that is retro chic instead of retro shack.

Adventure Monkey: Tallulah Gorge

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Appetite for Destruction

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In the 27 years we have lived in this house, a lot of things about it have changed.  The county renumbered our street, taking our original 255 house number.  The carpet in the downstairs changed twice before getting the hardwood treatment.  Wallpaper stuck up and then stripped down off walls now layered with paints of many colors.  But aside from the avocado green and Gulden's mustard yellow fixtures in the bathrooms, the kitchen is probably the most constant.

The cabinet doors, once a depressingly dark wood, received a whitewash some time in the 90s.  But other than that, the white freckled formica counters and the pantry with the squeaky door and even the totally retro shelf paper have stood the test of time.  That is until a leaky sink led to rotted cabinets and the need for some serious kitchen aid.

Yesterday morning, I let a guy in who demolished those 30-year-old cabinets, stripped out the pantry with its squeaky door and pulverized those plastic-topped counters.  And now, we find ourselves inhabiting a house in which the following are true:

- The stove is in the garage.  The kitchen table is in my bedroom.
- When Dad put the utensil drawer under the table, he said to Mom, "Be careful when you pull out that drawer that you don't tear the carpet."
- I wash dishes in the bathroom.  I put them away in my bedroom.  My sister's bedroom.  And the dining room floor.
- The microwave is in my parents' room.  So is the coffeemaker.
- The poor cats are so distressed.  Last night I found one of them sitting in the bald patch left behind by the pantry.  He's since taken to sleeping in a cardboard box at the foot of my parents' bed.
- Half the contents of our refrigerator are at my house.  The essentials - creamer, for example - are in the tiny microfridge I had in college that now resides in our bonus room upstairs.
- Likewise, my mother carefully located the box of Splenda like she was transporting the Ark of the Covenant.
- You may be asked, "Do you know where the salt is?"  And the answer may be, "In Ashley's room."
- Yesterday morning, I was putting on makeup during the demolition, as the various lights in the room blinked on and off while they worked with the circuit box.
- Paper plates are dispensable.  And therefore, indispensable.
- We will not be hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year.

Just as I was about to post this, I knocked over my water glass.  I headed toward the kitchen to get a towel.  And of course, all I found was rubble.  And so it goes.

Introducing the New Guy in My Life

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A few weeks ago, I was on a whirlwind tour of five states in five weeks.  I went from D.C. to the hills of northwest Georgia.  Then west to Texas, north to Indiana and east to North Carolina.  Along the way, I acquired a new companion.  A lone Barrel of Monkeys monkey got mixed up at a bar with a bunch of Jenga pieces.  Who could leave such a poor bereft creature behind?  Clearly, he'd broken free from the confines of his barrel, consorted with a bunch of wooden blocks of questionable stability and made his way into my life.  And so following that night at a Dallas pub (in which the rickety Jenga blocks failed me several times), Adventure Monkey joined my travels.

As noted before, I am not a particularly fine traveler.  Adventurer in heart but trapped in a definitively homebody, I don't even have my passport.  But perhaps, with the help of a swinging monkey man, I can find my way to a few more adventures in life. 
Adventure Monkey is Born



Adventure Monkey takes on the Texas State Fair
Adventure Monkey in Kokomo, Indiana, City of Firsts

Adventure Monkey explores the cornfields of the Hoosier State
Rocking goat at the Valle Crucis Fair

With a little help from Dad, Adventure Monkey takes in the Valle Crucis view

Mama Harp joins in the Adventure Monkey game.


One of the 10 People from Heaven You Meet on Earth

Monday, October 11, 2010

On a dour gray day at the end of my first semester of college, I mounted the steps of the great white columned house of Berry's founder and pressed the doorbell.  Someone shouted for me to come in, and when I pushed open the door, I realized it was the large jovial man on the ladder who was disassembling an antique brass chandelier in the carpeted front hall.  He smiled and asked if he could help me.  I told him I was looking for Vesta Salmon in that tentative way of a green college freshman who isn't certain what she's just stumbled into.  "Kitchen," he answered.

In the kitchen - where I would spend almost as many hours during my college years as I did in my dorm room.  Where the white painted door was propped open, there was a long metal table where an army of college girls were seated with rags and toothbrushes and tubes of foul-smelling pink goop that they were applying to pieces of the antique chandelier I'd seen in the hall.  Among them, scrubbing and buffing with the best of them sat Vesta.  I don't know that I exactly remember that she said it, but I know she would've looked up, seen me standing there all lost and confused and said, "Whatchya need, hon?"

I needed a job to rescue me from the dreck of the college dining hall.  And ever since I'd seen a picture in the newspaper of a local girl who worked as a tour guide at Oak Hill and donned a beautiful hoopskirted dress, I'd wanted to be an Oak Hill girl, too.

The interview was brief; I don't remember if Vesta even asked me about my skills.  I would guess instead that she shrewdly assessed my puny spirit and decided somebody needed to look after this poor waify thing standing in front of her.  And by the grace of God, she decided that somebody would be her.

For the next three and a half years, I worked under the supervision of Vesta.  I dusted and vacuumed and scrubbed and polished every inch of that house.  I gave tours, dutifully telling the stories of the house and its owner.  I served lunches to potential donors and the college president.  Those were all the requirements of the job.

But more important than all that, I observed.  I observed Vesta in her provisions.  She cooked biscuits and hot tea for breakfast for the morning girls.  She made cornbread and big pots of vegetable soup when it was cold and blustery outside.  She made lunches for visitors and lemonade for the grounds crew.  When I was sick, she'd buy oranges and slice them for me to eat at lunch.  She fed my body.

She prayed for us all - including the poetry professor who dared give me a B on an assignment, assuring me that we just needed to pray for him.  (For the record, I ended up with an A in the class.)  She talked to us about her faith - one that she demonstrated in so many ways: by baking an endless number of lemon poundcakes (for which she is famous) for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy and get well wishes; by inviting those without family to her home for Thanksgiving and Christmas; by being involved in all sorts of causes that helped others.  She was the essence of moral fiber.  I never knew her to say no when someone needed her.  She fed my spirit.

Having lost my biological grandparents at a young age, I was thirsty for her wisdom.  She offered guidance in such simple and sage ways.  She hugged me close and dried my tears on more than one occasion.  Going to work became my refuge in times of turmoil.  I could always count on Vesta for advice or support or encouragement or a hot cup of coffee and a hug.  She fed my heart.

She once met Martha Berry.  And her cooking was featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  One of the professor's established a scholarship in her name.  Yet, she's always humble, always embodying the Berry mission - not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

I graduated from Berry almost 10 years ago, but Vesta and me have kept in touch through letters and cards and phone calls and the occasional visit to the alma mater.  I cherish the times I get a Vesta hug and get to hear her ask, "How are you doing, hon?" in that marvelous way that you can't wait to tell her and hope she's proud.

When I think about the lessons I learned in college, some of the most important ones were from Vesta.  She taught me so much about integrity and character and spiritual strength and just loving people so much that you can't stand but to do something to help them.  I know she's touched about as many lives as there are stars in the sky.  And I feel so lucky that mine is one of them.

Captain Fail Pants Goes to Washington

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Traveling with me is like traveling with one of the three Stooges - or maybe all three wrapped into one prat-falling package.  Case in point: last week's trip to Washington, D.C. for a conference.
  • We were greeted by the Head of the Conference who hugged me and asked how I was feeling.  How am I feeling??  And then it registered that she had me confused with the other woman of the same name who works on the account and is pregnant.  Oh, sweet fancy Moses.  She think I'm pregnant.  Do I look like I am with child?  
  • After dinner, the waitress brings a rather sizable glass dish mounded with blue cotton candy.  One of my dinner companions has a few bites.  And then I proceeded to eat all of it.  All.  By.  Myself.  And no one stopped me.
  • This lead to the mother of all stomachaches at roughly 2 a.m.  Like, fetal-position-whimpering-praying-to-God stomachache- a prayer in which I prayed that God would smite me for my gluttony.
  • Tuesday I woke up very late with a very serious spun-sugar-over.
  • Once dressed, I stood sideways and gazed upon myself in the full-length mirror for confirmation that I do not, in fact, look pregnant.
  • At Tuesday's dinner, I vowed to be very good and not overeat.  Instead, I stood up to go to the bathroom, dragging the tablecloth with me, and turning over an entire glass of water.
  • Later, I lost my cell phone - my precious 3-year-old Nokia flip phone with the busted front.  We were assisted in our search by the waitress whose attention was no doubt captured by me on my hands and knees with my head under the table in this very nice restaurant.  When she finally located the phone under the table, she told me she felt compelled to just leave it there, thereby deducting all the cool points I had in reserve.
  • Wednesday morning, I'm wearing a dress.  Which reveals the lovely blue goose egg on my shin, origins of which remain unknown.  Perhaps from crawling around in the restaurant?
  • I added to the attractiveness of my legs later while using industrial packing tape on a package and slipping the serrated edge against my knee.
  • My dress nearly gave me a heart attack at the self check-in kiosk at the airport.  Because when I bent to retrieve my credit card from my bag, I realized that the two most crucial buttons were gaping wide open.  In the middle of the airport.  Classy.
  • I thought I would be done with dress mishaps at this point - until I was also flagged by security for my "decorative belt loops."  Yeah, you have to watch out for synthetic bamboo.  It's a killer.
  • Once seated on the plane, I took a deep breath and hoped for a quiet flight back to Georgia.  Instead, I got teeth-rattling turbulence on a flight that I decided to brave without Dramamine.  By the time we landed, I had a greasy oil slick in the bottom of my stomach that would've made BP look like amateurs.
It's no wonder nothing gets done in Washington.

Me & the Closet have a Come-to-Jesus

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back in the spring, I made a valiant attempt to rid my closet of the unfit to be seen in and the simply unfit in the ongoing war of me, my shelves and pie - a battle between dignity, discipline and the capacity of my closet.  Despite what seemed like a battle well-fought, my closet still seemed to be full to bursting with items that, in some case, I filled to bursting.  When I put on the fourth pair of pants one morning that were unfashionably (read: unbearably) tight, I declared war.

Exiled from the closet.
On Saturday, I paraded in front of the illustrious panel of one judge (Mom), and we opened fire on my closet.  The first time she said that something looked "okay," I reached for clarification.  "Does it look okay or does it look fabulous?  I don't do this that often, Mom, so let's be real."  Given permission to declare the dreckitude of any subsequent ensembles, clothes started falling into one of the following categories.  There were the proud and the few who returned to the closet with a hero's welcome.  And then caught in the line of fire was the slim pile of fatter clothes I've managed to undergrow and the fat pile of skinny clothes that I continue to outweigh.  Behind enemy lines was a robust mound of clothes that were to be given away, bound for a new home; and lastly, those clothes so worn out or so...awful...that there was nothing to be done but trash.  Mom perched on the desk chair and snipered bunchy seams, tight bottoms, and baggy tops. 

Give it away, give it away, give it away now
As Colonel Mustard said, "This is war, Peacock.  Casualties are inevitable.  You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Any cook will tell you that."

In the end, there were causalities.  The fat and skinny will be allowed to stay, living for a time in the basement until we determine if I am going to stay at this size or continue to yo-up and yo-down.  But the giant giveaway pile?  It's collateral damage.  I've already donated some long slender pants to my tall slender sister. 

Lest you think that this war waged left me unchanged, I am a seasoned closet soldier now.  As much as I love shopping (and I do), I'm going to try to impose a few new rules on myself:

1) I will not buy clothing that does not quite fit or flatter because it is on clearance.

2) I will accept that I am no longer in my 20s and able to sneak by with inexpensive pants for my rather significant rear end and will invest instead in well-tailored bottoms for my well-tailored bottom.

3) I will limit myself to buying clothes with style and not add to my collection of simple, suitable, solid tops that make me feel simple, suitable and, well, a bit boring.

4) I will not purchase any more denim until 2014.

5) I will go to work tomorrow to earn the money to pay for the clothes I need now that I've dispensed with all that I had.

That's the Ticket

Monday, September 13, 2010

In attempts to make progress toward moving into my house (no comments from the peanut gallery, please), I do sort through possessions from time to time to determine what goes to the house and what goes to File 13.  I found a cherrywood box on the shelves in my room that contained a one-way ticket down memory line - a one-way ticket comprised of a plethora of little tiny tickets.  Tickets to concerts.  Tickets to sporting events.  Tickets to theme parks.  And like a confetti of memories, dozens of movie ticket stubs, each with the name of the movie and my companions written in tiny, tiny handwriting.

Earlier relics include tickets from White Water and the Braves game from my one failed attempt at summer camp (aside from sports camps) at 4-H's Camp Fulton in 1991.  Stuck to these was one square photo from a photobooth strip featuring Sally Aamoth, Jessica Purvis, Bryan Chancey and me. For the sake of all of our dignity, it is not included here.  Then there's the Campbell's Soup Tour of Champions Figure Skater's on Ice at the Omni featuring the 1992 Olympic champions of Albertville, France.  I remember sleeping in the back of Heather Putman's parents' Jeep Cherokee on the way back from Atlanta in what seemed like the middle of the night but was probably 11:30.

Into the high school years with some real treasures: the Variety Show ticket from our senior year at which David Nudelman dropped the infamous f-bomb - my stub is signed by legandary English teacher Roger Bailey as "Rog the Cow" due to his bovine performance in a departmental skit.  The 1996 Homecoming Dance themed "Into the Mystic" that I attended with a pack of girls including Allison Murrow, Jenn Oglesbee and Heather.  Instead of a dance ticket for my senior prom, there's a ticket for Six Flags where my sister took Heather, Niki Hancock and me since we had no dates to prom.  For the record, I also recently found photos of us from that same day with our calculus books that we turned into our teacher for extra credit.  (And in calc, I needed all the extra I could get.)  There's the Fiddler on the Roof ticket that I went to with my sophomore year crush, Chad Dudley.  And the Annie Get Your Gun and Sound of Music stubs from lending moral support to performances by Tim Burger and Jenn.

Which brings me to the slew of musical theater performances I attended when I latched onto drama with a vengeance my junior and senior year.  Singing in the Rain and Grease at the Classic Center.  And Les Mis.  Oh, sweet, lovely Les Mis in my very first time to the Fox Theatre.  I remember being in awe of the ceiling, the grandeur, the smell of the theater.  I loved it so much that I went twice in two weeks with Tim, Jenn, Allison and Tommy Raymer.  I went on to see Rent with the same crew sitting in the very last row of the Fox.  And Stomp - a notable event on the way to which I broke down on the side of I-85 leading to the demise of my beloved 1992 Honda Accord with the pop-up lights and at which was the first time I met my sister-in-law.  (A fact I recognized whether my brother did or not.)

Speaking of my brother, I found the Universal Studios stub from when we went in high school.  And a dozen or so tickets from baseball games and tournaments he played in over the years.  Also in the sporting category is my scorecard from the now defunct Q-zar that suggests I need shooting lessons.

Tempe Landrum took me with her to the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics.  I'm not sure I even knew who Jessye Norman was when I went, but I remember the still humid air being broken by her amazing voice.

Which brings me to a host of concerts - Don McLean, Rod Stewart, Counting Crows, St. Etienne, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, all three Lilith Fairs.  When I saw the stub for Jump, Little Children at the Georgia Theatre, I had to smile remembering going with Niki and standing under the mirror ball listening to "Cathedrals" and totally falling in love with Matt Bivins during "Body Parts."  And then I felt a little shiver when I realized the ticket was from a night almost ten years to the day before the theatre burned down.

As for theaters, there's a hilarious compilation of movie stubs - some mortifying - and some with funny notes like "First time I drove to Athens."  For the record, that was to see Apollo 13 with Niki.  My first rated-R movie stub: Legends of the Fall.  A first date to see Speechless with Michael Keaton and Gina Davis.  Major League 2 with Lizzy Keister, and Twister with Tempe - oh, how many times she watched that movie.  The Cutting Edge with Heather during my figure skating obsession.  Scream with Andi Jones, Jen and Niki when the Alps Cinema was "the dollar theater."  Remember how scary Scream was the first time you saw it?  Several stubs are noted as mine and Niki's "Loser's Night Out" - clearly, high school was bursting with self-esteem.  And speaking of Niki, the ticket that notes we attended opening night of Jerry Maguire was no doubt due to her undying love for Tom Cruise.

These little pieces of paper, bent squares of cardboard, some so faded you can hardly read them,  decades of adventures that all fit neatly in a little cherry box - which, for the record, is totally making the cut for the move to the house.

The Lawnmower (Wo)Man

Monday, September 6, 2010

Call me spoiled.  Or girly.  Or the baby of the family.  (All three would be apropos.)   But I have never mowed the lawn.  I do have a lawnmower - a housewarming gift from my parents - but heretofore the bright green self-propelled Lawnboy with the detachable clippings-catcher bag has been propelled by my dad.  But seeing as how the lawn looked like this:
The grass has reached new heights.
Crop circles are really just aliens' way of telling us we need to mow.

And because the overall curbview of my house was starting to look a little bit unkempt and had me worrying that the neighbors I don't know on the left side might start leaving nastygrams in my mailbox or spray-painting "Cut Me" on the front lawn because it looked like this:
What's up, ghetto lawn?
I decided that today might be the day that I learn to push the lawnmower.  I enlisted the instruction of the world's most experienced lawn mower who has been mowing lawns for eons and covered enough acreage on the Berry College campus (just ask him) to have dulled the blades of at least 87 farm implements: my dad.

We rolled the mower out of my basement and went over the basics.  The little lever you have to grab to crank it.  The best approach to pulling the start cord hard and fast enough to turn the engine over and the squeeze bar that controls the self-propellage.  Grabbing the lever as instructed, I pulled the cord through til I felt resistance and then gave it a yank.  Nothing.  Dad suggested I straighten my left arm out.  So I stood up and held my left arm out in front of me Macarena-style which caused Dad to double over in laughter.  "What?" I asked, perplexed.  He nudged me to the side, depressed the lever, and holding his left arm straight for leverage, gave the cord a mighty yank, immediately starting the mower.  "Oh."  After a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to get it started.  "NOW WHAT?!" I yelled over the motor.  Dad gestured to the overgrown yard like the world was my oyster, looked at my determined face, thought better of the "have at it" approach and directed me toward a rather straight patch close to the house that would be hidden by bushes if I totally butchered it.  But I didn't! 
Obligatory action shot captured by Mom

Dad made me shut off the mower to give me a few tips, and then I had to start it again.  Uh-oh.  Seriously, you've got to yank that cord from here to Mississippi to get the dratted thing to work.  Hello, lower back pain.  Hello, totally out of shapeness.  Hello, I look really stupid trying to start a lawnmower.
Look at me with my straight left arm!

I learned a few things today while mowing.
  •  That self-propelled thing is garbage.  There was pushing involved.
  • However, if you squeeze the bar hard enough, it will propel, and you will find yourself racing along behind a totally out-of-control Lawnboy.
  • Mom said I would learn to make the lawnmower work for me, but today, the lawnmower won.
  • It is best to close your mouth when removing and dumping the clipping bag.
  • I'm pretty sure that I have muscles in my butt that have never been used before today.  Let's hope that in addition to trimming the lawn, I can get some tush-toning out of this arrangement.
  • We're going to need some Rogaine for this bald patch stat.
  • If you lose control of the mower when it's going over, say the edge of the drainage ditch, it is possible to scalp your grass.
  • It is cruel, cruel fate when you choke the motor with your ridiculously long grass for the 57th time and remember that you requested a key-start mower to avoid the aggressive cord-yanking rigmarole.  And there, gleaming in the afternoon sun, after you've finished the back and front yard and pushed through to finish the side yard, is a key zip-tied to the handle.
With God as my witness, I will never go yanky again.

The shorn backyard in all its glory.
That, my friends, is a well cut lawn.