And one more thing before you go

It's Kelly Byrd's birthday. Her 23rd.

An Ode:

O, my high flying Kelly Byrd:
she flies on the heights of the written word

Her birth will forever be marvelous in my sight
For without her friendship my life would not be alright

She lives there, and I live here
O, but to live what some would call "near"

I hope that this day leaves her glad
For her 23rd year will certainly not be all that bad

That is, if I am within it more than without
Which will be--it must be!--without a doubt.

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Kelly Byrd
Happy Birthday to you!

Tha End.



Tonight I made Italian pork chops, via Jennigray Hewitt, via Giada de Laurentis. And I burned the first one, undercooked the second one, and the third and fourth ones ended up on our plates. Bottom line, no more pork chops.

Last night we made homemade vanilla frozen yogurt to go with our stewed apples (thanks, Beckie!) for a little fall treat. It was almost too much--really yummy with the hot apples and cold, creamy froyo, but almost too much. I'm not a crazy apple pie fan and we were kind of channeling apple pie. Something about all the sweet sticky goo. Hm.

I'm supposed to get a Gallup Survey from Duke in the next few days. Anxiety = 10. Giddy-yap.

Going to women's prayer tomorrow morning. Excitement = 10.

I went to Snappy Lube today to get my oil changed. Of course, they tried to swindle me, telling me that every fluid needed to be changed, my tires should have been rotated, I really needed a pine tree air freshener, and my car would explode in 24 hours if I did not give them a large bundle of cash and my first born to become a master mechanic and climb the corporate ladder to become Snappy Lube Executive President. I said no thank you; I will take my chances.

I made a list on Google documents of all the things I love about Christmas--I'm brainstorming about decorating ideas. So far, I think my favorite items are: white lights, bells, mistletoe, nativity scenes, cider, plaid, music. I'm debating whether or not I'm going to make a pledge to not listen to Christmas music until Thanksgiving-- but it's a toughy. The way I see it, Thanksgiving is basically the kick-off party to Christmas. I mean, why can't we be thankful for Christmas?? All that business about the Native Americans and Pilgrims trading corn is a bunch of hogwash. I'm pretty sure the Pilgrims wrote the history books. (Just check the title page: Obediah Heidelberg). Biased? I think so.

I hate folding laundry. And there's a big pile of it.

When our lease is up in February, Andrew and I are hoping to move A) closer to Chapel Hill, if not in Chapel Hill, B) to a house C) with a yard with a fence, D) with wood floors, E) within our budget.

I'm wearing a purple tank top from Urban Outfitters, a grey sweater from Target, Banana Republic jeans (from hiiiiigh schooool), and my fuzzy LL Bean slippers. And pearl earrings from my mutha-in-lowah.

My pumpkin (the striped one) is totally imploding. I wish you could see it. I might just post a picture. Andrew's is fine, of course.

I'm going to bed now. Buenas noches, amigos. Dios le bendiga.


and the pictures to prove it.

Obviously, these photographs go with the previous post. And the painful truth is that they are mostly food.

On our way to the fair! We decided to bob for apples before we left just to get in the mood.

A serious snack.

Every. food. fried. Yes, that says deep fried cheeseburger.

The photographic evidence of a really good bad decision. Verdict: could have skipped the oreos, the Snickers was definitely worth it.

Carve Master Andrew.

There's always a better way with power tools.

Please excuse the fat arm syndrome. It must have been the Snickers.

The finished product now adorning our countertop for at least the next week.

Fall Breakin' it down

I've got two glorious pumpkins sitting on my counter. One with holes, one with stripes. And I've got Christmas lights on top of my cabinets. White ones that glow with the glow of a thousand Who's singing "Da Who Dores" a.k.a "Welcome Christmas" on Christmas morning. Yeah, you know exactly what I'm talkin' about. I love it so much!

This weekend was Andrew's fall break from UNC, which meant that he had a few extra days with no classes to catch up on grading lab reports. We were still able to have some serious fun, though. The first, was Thursday evening. We volunteered to take tickets at the UNC game as a fundraiser for Engineers Without Borders, although in true Andrew Armstrong style we were late. Outside forces were definitely to blame, however, because we had to get cash for the bus and then we had to fight traffic to get to the Friday Center where we parked. Because we were late we ended up ushering, not taking tickets. Usheringggg. Also known as standing for three and a half hours. We had to wear khaki pants and a white collared shirt--they could have just said dress like tools--so we already stood out amongst all the baby blue, garnet and gold. Then they hand us these GINORMOUS plastic rain coat looking jackets that say EVENT STAFF on the backs of them. The jackets might as well have been neoprene--they did not breath at all. Definitely can cancel my appointment with the endocrinologist because I'm positive my sweat glands are in good working order. UNC played FSU, the school from whence my father gained his undergraduate diploma in 1967 (I think), and lost. Yup, FSU won by a field goal after stinking up the field for the entire first half of the game. I think the Seminoles knew it was my dad's birthday, so they decided to win. Long story short, I did not enjoy my first Carolina football experience. But, we ended up going to Top of the Hill on Franklin Street after we left to watch the rest of the game on the big screen, so the night kind of redeemed itself. But we still looked like tools.

Friday, however was a much more glorious day. I did pretty much nothing all day (and by nothing, I mean nothing) and then we went to the North Carolina State Fair on Friday night! Fairs are known for their rides, food, animals, etc.--but most of all, they are known for the people that frequent their dusty, noisy grounds. And those people--you know the ones I'm talking about--were out in droves. I know everyone knows about this phenomenon, I just wonder if some people know that they, in fact, are the people everyone knows about. I'm talking mullets. I'm talking "Hell yeah, I'm American" paraphernalia. I'm talking jorts (jean shorts), tattoos, screaming babies, cigarettes, neon colored bras under sheer white tank tops, and more. Unicorn balloons. Airbrushed personalized clothing items. Cotton candy. Funnel cakes. Fried Snickers. Turkey legs. Infants to octogenarians, everyone was at the fair. Everyone who's anyone, really. All of this not to say that the Durham Armstrongs are exempt from that kind of hillbillyness--I wore my Frye boots, come on now!--but just to say that there are loads of interesting people at the fair. And being that Andrew and I are "people watchers", we saw lots of interesting people. With our jaws slack and our eyes glazed over from taking it all in, we wandered into the animal exhibitions: We saw the biggest horse I've ever seen in all of my days, we saw big fat pigs and their cute little oinking piglets, we saw goats, donkeys, baby chicks, cows, sheep--pretty much Old MacDonald and his farm. Side note, this little girl with a serious lisp was milking a goat for people to watch and answering questions--she was probably the cutest thing I've ever seen. And she was milking that goat like she was born to do it, yanking those teats like nothin' you've ever seen--it was mildly disturbing, but very impressive. Yes, I just said teats. Moving on. Confession...we ate fair food. Yes, I had a corn dog and Andrew had a Polish sausage and then we topped it off with a fried Snickers and fried Oreos. I know. I know. Paula Deen would have been proud. And yes, the treadmill is calling my name. All in all, a fabulous night. Many thanks to our dear friend Ann who got us in fo' free!

Yesterday, Saturday, we had plans to carve pumpkins and watch the Clemson game--and we did both of those things, but we had surprise visitors from Wake Forest come and join us! My old roomie Jess and her boyfriend Ryan were in the area and they came and watched the game with us--so good to catch up, laugh, and drink cider and eat sweet potato cookies and of course--cheer for the Tigers together! And cheer, we did! My heart was in my throat--I thought it was going to be a triple overtime repeat from four years ago. Whew! What a game. When Jess and Ryan left we carved our pumpkins into the glorious, if elementary, structures they are today. Not only did we carve them, we used power tools. Carving kits are for amateurs. :) While we were at Target getting our aforementioned pumpkins, I also picked up a few strands of Christmas lights from the very last aisle in the store that is just beginning to brim with the trimmings and trappings of Christmas. I have been looking forward to this for months.

Da who doooores, da who dore-es/Welcome Christmas, Christmas day!


Holy Ghost fiiiiyaaaah shut up in my bones

It's Tuesday and we're back from a drizzly, frigid--yet altogether joyful--weekend in the Appalachian mountains. Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Bauman are blissfully honeymooning in Mexico after an action-packed, albeit damp and freezing, wedding weekend. Friday we scampered to the Blue Ridge mountains, procuring an embarrassing shuttle bus along the way, to a self-proclaimed "mini-resort" called the Sassy Goose where the wedding party and its accompanying dates, wives, children, etc. was being put up for the weekend. What followed was--from my perspective--a frenzy of golf, dinner for 47 at a Mexican restaurant, hiking Triple Falls in the rain, rehearsing, rehearsal lunching, crying, crying some more, jambalaya cookout for everyone and their neighbor, and then the crowning achievement, the wedding. With a cherry on top. And now, we are le tired. But it was a glorious, and successful weekend.

The day of the wedding, Sunday, dawned clear, crisp, and cold. Everyone made their way to Pretty Place Chapel at Camp Greenville, arms burdened heavily with blankets, to witness the miracle of new birth. Miracle? Yes. As Dr. Coffield (the officiant) simply explained, weddings are in fact, miracles. Two families enter the sanctuary and three families leave. He spoke of redemption in Andrew and Christy's lives and the power of the covenant of marriage: I will do my part even if you do not do yours. And isn't that what God says to us every day of our short lives? He says, MaryGene, I will do my part even if you don't do yours. I will speak to you, even if you don't speak to me. I will love you, if you don't love me. I will send my Son in your place, even if you don't ask for it. I will, I will, I will--even if you won't. Gosh, I love Him.

Last night Andrew and I ventured to our new favorite frozen yogurt place in Durham called "Local Yogurt". A place lovingly referred to as "Yocal Yogurt" because I can never say it right, it has just about any topping you could possibly desire on plain, chocolate or, a seasonal favorite, pumpkin yogurt. Last night I had chocolate with Snickers chunks. Mmmm mm. So yummy. And just a tad more guilt-free than ice-cream. Tonight, though, I made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, recipe courtesy of a one Summer Stipe, but I actually did not have pumpkin, so I used sweet potato. So, technically they're Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies. But they have the same kind of feel, so it works.

This weekend is Andrew's fall break and we are so looking forward to a weekend at home. We might go to the UNC/Florida State game on Thursday, although I don't know who to "go" for. I will probably pull for Clemson. :) We've talked about going to the fair, although I don't think I have enough hand sanitizer in stock for that kind of germ-fest. That, and I grew out my mullet 20 years ago. I think pumpkin carving is in the mix of options as well, so that could be pretty spectacular.

Spectacular, spectacular!

Ok, I'm going to hang out with my husband. If I can tear him away from that blankety-blank lab report.


Fuchsia lipstick and pumpkin soup

Today is just one of those days that make you want to find a good movie, brew a pot of tea, and put your sweatpants back on for the remainder of the afternoon. That's not exactly how my day is going, but I am trying to follow the line of best fit. Went to the bank this morning--we're in the process to get me on Andrew's bank account, finally. I'm chomping at the bit to get my license and social security card in the mail. Come onnn America, move it!

I know I've been writing a lot lately, but I just have to tell this story. On Monday night we went out to dinner with a friend of Andrew's from home and toward the end of our meal, a sharply dressed elderly lady came up to our table trying to peek out the window at the rain starting to fall and immediately struck up a conversation with us. We talked so long that eventually she sat down at our table, introducing herself as Donna Parker. Of course, the weather was the conversation opener, but by the end, we had a snapshot of her life from Binghamton, NY to Miami Beach, FL where she was a model during her younger years. I'm telling you, this lady, I'm sure, had a crazy life. If the word "whipper-snapper" doesn't cover it, I don't know what will. She imparted her wisdom on marriage to Andrew and me, imploring us to wait a few years to have children (no problem, there). She told us she loved to "rock", meaning she loved dancing and rock n' roll music, (before heavy metal, she specified). Eventually, she left to get her food and eat her supper, but as we were walking out, she caught us and asked for a ride (her apartment was just up the street, but it was raining) so of course we gave her one. Before we left, however, Tim asked her if we could pray for her--we did, and she said that it was the nicest thing that anyone has asked her in a long time. She noted that sometimes you have to be careful talking religion to people because some people get offended easily. But she was not offended. She was blessed. And I'm pretty sure she was an angel. I would not be surprised. Her pink lipstick, pearl earrings and twinkling amber eyes spoke of a lifetime of experiences and wisdom. I'm really hoping we run into her again sometime.

Something struck me about Donna Parker. She was alone, but she didn't feel the quintessential American pull to remain independent and self-sufficient. She struck up a conversation with strangers, telling her story--telling the world that "I, Donna Parker, was here and I have something of worth to say". I hope I can be like her when I'm older. This is not the first time I've been blown away by an elderly stranger. One of my first patients as a student nurse was a woman who worked in a grenade factory in North Charleston during one of the World Wars. The second was another patient of mine, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. She was in one of the concentration camps with the Nazis and showed me her number tattooed on her arm. She barely spoke English yet she conveyed to me the horror of living through something like that and then growing old in a modern America-- such a different life. In a world filled with "get some and then get some more", it's important to be brought back to the reality that it's people that matter, not things. Here's to you, Donna Parker.

A few side notes...that have nothing to do with old people...I just saw the trailer for Disney's A Christmas Carol annnd I'm really excited. Not only is this movie a Christmas classic, but it's going to be 3D! Oh my eggnog, Santa! It's coming out on November 6th, just in time for my 23rd birthday. I just can't wait to haul out the holly and deck the halls! Not to mention donning my gayest apparel!

I made pumpkin soup yesterday--yuuu-u-uum! Different taste--probably because I'm not used to eating pumpkin, really--but it was quite delectable. Here's the recipe...the skeleton of this recipe is from Martha Stewart Living, but I added quite a few other things to make it especially scrumptious. What can I say...I am my father's daughter!

2 cans pumpkin
1 1/2 cans vegetable stock
1 can cream of chicken and mushroom soup
1 pint heavy cream
1 onion, sliced and diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
dash nutmeg
dash ground cloves
big dash cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper*
salt and pepper to taste

First, in the bottom of a big pot cook olive oil, onion and garlic until soft and aromatic. Add remaining ingredients, stirring until mixed well. It's a good idea to wait to add the spices until you have a more soup like mixture, that way you can taste it as you go along and temper your amounts according to what your own sophisticated palate likes. :) Bring to a low boil, turn down to simmer and then remove from heat. Serve warm and breath deep. Mmmm.

*If you are cooking for kids or just don't like spicy, either go easy on the cayenne (a little goes a looong way) or just leave it out!

That's it and that's all. As Dances with Wolves would say, "tatonka".


The weekend update with Seth Meyer. Just Kidding.

Yes, yes, I passed the second time. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I probably could have taken it immediately after I failed it on Thursday and passed because they recycle the questions. So there's that. It's official. Mrs. Mary Imogene Armstrong. Next, insurance and the bank.

This weekend I went to Satcher's lake house on Lake Junaluska to celebrate the singleness of a one, Miss Jordan Kinder. Fun times all around. Waaaaaay too much junk food--but still fun times. The lake was gorgeous (even though the guy at Movie Gallery told us it was polluted by a paper plant up-river--i.e. they've pulled two-headed fish out of it. Hooray! Anyone fancy a swim?) and the leaves were changing significantly more there than they are here. When I "decorated" for fall last week I had to go to the font of our apartment complex to find a tree that actually had some pretty changing leaves. And of course it was landscaped and had a spotlight so I was pretty sketchy throwing branches in the backseat of my car. I just took my kitchen shears and chopped away. All that to say, I could have chosen any tree in the mountains this weekend because they were all gloriously fall. The legend is, I think, that when the leaves begin change it's because Jack Frost is walking around the forest blowing on the trees and bringing winter with every breath. Truthfully, I think it is God showing us how beautiful death can be. And that it is, in fact, not the worst thing. Someone once said that "death is not a period but a comma in the story of life." Thank goodness, (thank Jesus), it's true. Fall is not just the colorful death of foliage, it's also harvest time-- I think it's interesting that God chose to pair those two things together. It's a purposeful juxtaposition--nature screams his purposes and his praises all the time, I think. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1 In the death of Jesus Christ is the harvest of mankind. In the death of our sinful nature and earthly desires is the harvest of the fruit of the Spirit, our character. Ah, life lessons. Death lessons? Hm.

This week. Will probably be fast. We have Andrew Bauman's wedding this weekend so everything points to that. Not gonna lie, I'm looking forward to a weekend at home. I've been burning up I-40 the past couple of weeks and I'm ready to give Stella Dijon the Avalon a rest. I'm in desperate need of a haircut--a trim really. Just to keep these luscious locks healthy and strong. That's about it, really. I'll keep you posted.

Over and out.


Department of Malicious Vipers

Ohhhh, the glorious to-do lists of an unemployed, childless, dogless wife. Many are the sticky notes and spare pieces of paper that get scribbled on and subsequently discarded among the cold coffee grinds and shriveled grapefruit halves of the day. I wonder how many to-do lists I've gone through in my lifetime and the percentage of tasks completed compared to the percentage left incomplete. Or how many times I've written the same task on a list: laundry. groceries. work out. Or the same item to obtain: q-tips. deodorant. milk. We shall never know. One thing I did cross off my list today, only to write it on tomorrow's, was to visit the beloved Department of Motor Vehicles. I went to Social Security yesterday, so it is official. No more Smith. But today, the task was to go to the DMV and get a North Carolina license as well as change my name. I had it all worked out. I brought every conceivable legal document I could think of--I was prepared to give blood or pee in a cup if I had to--and I did, of course, have all of the right things. Except that I haven't taken the written road test since I was fifteen. I was told by multiple people that I would only have to take the "signs" test, (you know, where you press your clean, sanitary forehead against the greasy, grimy machine to make the screen light up and tell them "railroad crossing, school, stop sign" etc.), but no. I had to take the (DUN dun dun) written test. And since I thought I would have time to wait (like you do when you go to the DMV every time) I also thought I would have time to study this so-called "pamphlet". I passed the signs test, administered by a man who had an ongoing narration with my information as he was typing it into his little computer. He kept saying things like "and your beautiful eyes are...green. and you were a little bundle of joy on, let's see--when was it? Oh, November... and you are clearly a blond. and..." yada yada yada--you get the point. Interesting. That's all. So, I proceed to the computer that's flashing "MARY ARMSTRONG" and of course I'm like, who's that? But I sit down any way and take the durn thing, only to find out that, indeed I would have loved to have had at least an hour wait at the DMV this morning only to prevent myself from having to come back tomorrow. I FAILED. Boo. I missed six out of 25 (you have to have five or less wrong to pass), but to be fair, the questions are HARD. Like what percentage of fatalities is attributed to alcohol related crashes? Why is it bad if your exhaust pipe is leaking? (Is my name Jimbo? Am I wearing a jumpsuit covered in grease? Didn't think so--leaking is bad because it's bad! When you say "car" and "leaking" in the same sentence it's never good, everyone knows that!!) What's the punishment if you get caught drunk driving?, etc. So. I have to go back tomorrow and do my thing again. Only this time, I've got a pamphlet. I did get even by telling them that their signs machine was disgusting and a hazard to my health. So there.

Welp. Better get studying. Tomorrow's only a day away.


Apples to apples

Sunday afternoon. Cool, overcast sky. Motionless trees only just beginning to blush in tune with the calendar date. October, "eighth month" in Latin (although, no longer the eighth month), synonymous with Fall in the Northern Hemisphere and Spring in the Southern Hemisphere. Funny how that works. The beginnings of death and life, and all that separates them is the tilt of the planet. Death and life. And all that separates them is the bent of our mindset.

The beginning of my weekend was spent in Clemson with friends most dear to my heart. I drove in on Thursday and came home Saturday evening in order to make it to church on Sunday morning. We couldn't get to Clemson fast enough and all of a sudden it was over, until next time. We reveled in our new found freedom of graduation and plans and hopes and all that the Lord has been doing since that fateful May when we traversed that graduation stage. Not all of us, of course, but Lauren might as well be graduated. Any minute now. We spoke of selling out, of making our passions our vocations, we spoke of life, art, love--love--and of this something that won't let us be free of each other, even if we wanted to be. As we nibbled on pumpkin bread, Kelly read us an excerpt from her latest project, one that we all want her to finish, if only to see ourselves from the outside. So what if the names are changed. Sell out, all of you, please. Sell out to the One who sold out for you. Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!/Oh for grace to trust him more!

Andrew went to the U2 concert last night at the RBC center (!!!!!!) which consisted of waiting in line from 7am until concert time, which was approximately 7pm. He said it was worth it. I believe him. We fell into bed, exhausted, and were almost late for church this morning. The sermon this morning was challenging--talking about modern day idols in our hearts, i.e. anything that we think we just cannot live without or anything that we go to when we don't know the answer or are struggling or burdened that is outside of God. Not just that, but how those "weeds" can strangle the roots of the Truth and distort our interpretation of who God is, what he has for us, and what he has for others. One example was "vacation", and how sometimes our society can be so stressed out that some people feel that they literally may perish without a vacation. Most of the examples cited were not bad things, per se, like careers, vacation, etc. but things that could easily become the center of our attentions, affections, and so on and so forth. We heard about Balaam's donkey from Numbers and how the iniquity in the heart of the king of Moab and the iniquity in the heart of the prophet Balaam so got in the way that the Lord used a donkey to stop Balaam from cursing the nation of Israel. Our "homework" was to do a "google" search of our own hearts and ask the Lord to reveal the things in us that we worship that are not him. Chewy, gritty, hard to face. But so very healthy. Our leadership class was partly on the Father Heart of God and Evangelism (two lessons each class period). Both were very good, especially the God the Father lesson. In other news, Catch the Fire has begun the process of buying a church building that will be a more permanent and accessible home for the members of CTF. We are so excited and are believing God and his promises--the work he has begun already will come to completion.

On the calendar this month is Collin's fifteenth birthday (today, actually), Jordan's bachelorette weekend, Andrew and Christy's wedding, and Halloween. Tonight, we rest, do homework, laundry, meal plan, and have dessert and coffee with Joanna and Graham at their new apartment--well, Joanna's new apartment until Graham joins her in November. I'm also going to begin changing my name this week-- social security, driver's license, etcetera. Hopefully I will survive the ordeal and come out on the other side relatively unscathed.

How 'bout them apples?