Dear Ally,

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Loud doesn’t always mean angry

Dear Ally,

I thought, after last week’s heavy flashback post, I needed to lighten the mood, plus you sound like you could use a laugh.

As you might remember, my sophomore year roommate was the roommate that I lived with for the rest of college. We got along very well, but we still had to get to know each other’s quirks and habits at the beginning.

One day she says to me, “I’ve learned something about you.” “Oh yeah, what?” She then says, “Loud doesn’t mean angry.” This was definitely true, I yell for all sorts of reasons – excitement, emphasis, passion. When I’m angry or hurt I tend to clam up, sitting there silently seething.

I racked my brain trying to think of when she learned this, when had I been shouting and she took it to be shouting at her? Then I remembered the curdled milk incident. She liked to eat cereal in the morning and kept a quart of milk in our tiny dorm fridge. One day she was cleaning out the fridge and discovered that her milk had gone bad, disgustingly bad. She rinsed out the carton in the bathroom and brought it back to put in our recycling. It stunk up the entire room, so I began emphatically yelling, “Oh no, get that out of here. That’s so gross!” She sheepishly took the recycling bin to the container outside immediately.


I hadn’t been angry (just disgusted) or meant to hurt her feelings and I’m glad she realized this eventually. This was a good lesson for me that people don’t always express themselves in the same ways or interpret your meaning correctly. Most people are not going around trying to hurt other’s feelings on purpose, but it’s easy to think that someone’s doing or saying something to you out of spite or anger. Before you jump to this conclusion, ask them to clarify or just straight up ask them if they’re angry or upset with you for some reason. A conflict can either be nipped in the bud or completely avoided this way.

Hope you get your poster rolling and lab assignments done!


Aunt Sarah

Friends don’t leave friends behind

Dear Ally,

I should have written this post last year because it happened my freshmen year, but there was so many academic topics and funny stories to write. This story is a bit more serious…

The university I attended is well known for its large street party at Halloween and I’ll never forget my first Halloween. I hadn’t been at school more than 2 months and hadn’t yet met most of the people who became my real friends. I had met this guy, Kevin, at orientation who lived in the building next door and kind of liked him, so I was tagging along with him and some of his friends during Halloween. Several of his friends were visiting from other universities out of town (they hadn’t yet begun to limit dorm students to one visitor each during Halloween weekend).

When I met John, he was already obnoxiously drunk, having trouble standing, and was still drinking. (Don’t ask me where he got the alcohol because all of them were underage freshmen.) At this point in my life he was the most drunk person I’d ever encountered in my life and possibly still to this day.  We hung out in Kevin’s room for a short while and then it was time to go uptown for the festivities. There was no way John was going to be able to go and may have even been passed out already. (They had a quad suite and John had been taken to the bedroom.) So they left him – alone.

We walked around for a couple of hours, checking out the bands and costumes and then they dropped me off at my building and headed home. The rest of the events I heard about later, but when they returned John had become sick all over the place as his body tried to rid itself of the poison. He was alive, but unresponsive, so he had to go to the ER. Most of these events are fuzzy to me, except one thing: his blood alcohol content was 0.42. That’s plenty high enough for him to have died. Even if the alcohol poisoning didn’t kill him he could have choked or aspirated the vomit and died. I’m glad John’s friends, even though they left him, at least got him help and that this story is not tragic.

This scary close call was definitely not something I wanted to happen to me or to any of my friends. Looking back this probably had an effect on my psyche and is most likely the reason I looked out for my freshmen roommates later on when we would go out together.

You’re too young to drink legally and I hope you’re not around people who are drinking, but this advice might help you keep someone safe, maybe someone you don’t even know.

If you’re going to go out to a bar or a party where there may be drinking involved, be proactive and make a plan. What are you going to do if one (or more) of you has too much? This is what you need to consider:

  • How will you and your friends get home? If you drove, someone needs to be the designated driver or you have to plan for Uber or something.
  • How will you stay together? The buddy system isn’t just for kindergarten. NEVER leave a drunk friend behind or let her leave with strangers.
  • Who will look after those who had too much? I hate to use the word babysit, but that’s exactly what happens sometimes. When a person is drunk they aren’t thinking, so someone has to think for them – keeping them from losing belongings like their credit card or purse, making sure they don’t pick fights, keeping them from wandering into the street, etc This is scary, but someone also needs to watch your friends’ drinks because they are not going to be able to pay attention to whether or not someone puts something in it.
  • What if they get sick? If a friend drank enough to get sick, they should not be left alone for the night. Know the signs of alcohol poisoning so you know when to get help. If they are underage and need help, do not even consider the fact that they might get in trouble. The consequences of underage drinking are minor – this is a life or death situation.

I hope you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t have time to party, I have too much studying to do.”

Hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah



When will I graduate?

Dear Ally,

This post was going to be about college myths and while reading up about myths like “if the professor is over 20 minutes late, class is cancelled” (true at my school) and “if your roommate dies, you get a 4.0 for the semester” (not true anywhere), I found the biggest myth of them all: “Everyone graduates college in 4 years.”

The fact is that not even a majority of students graduate college in 4 years or less. Nationally only 65% of college students graduate in 6 years! This means that 35% of students take over 6 years to get their degree.

How can you find out when you can expect to graduate?

  • Calculate it. Take the total number of credit hours needed to graduate and divide by the average number of credit hours that you’ve been taking or plan to take each semester. The answer is the number of semesters it will take to graduate. (For example my school requires 128 credit hours and the average student takes about 15 credit hours per semester: 128 credit hours/ 15 credit hours per semester = 8.5 semesters. 4 years = 8 semesters, so students at my school need to take at least 16 credit hours per semester to graduate in 4 years.)
  • Map it. Charting your course through college can be complicated. You need to know which classes to take, in what order, and when they will be offered. Your school should have a general 4-year degree plan for each major – most likely available on the website. Your academic advisor should help you develop a personal road map for your college journey from the very beginning and should adjust the route, if you encounter any bumps along the way. If you do not have such a plan, ask for one when scheduling your next meeting with your advisor.

What can you do to graduate sooner?

  • Take more classes each semester. If you did the calculation and you’re coming up short, then you need to raise your average number of credit hours per semester, especially if your school has flat rate tuition – get your money’s worth since the cost per credit hour decreases the more courses you take at a time.
  • Follow the degree plan. Listen to your advisor and take the classes when he or she tells you to take them. My school requires a minimum of one science and one math course to be taken in the first year. It’s terrible to hear about a student who put one of these classes off because they’re scared of them only to fail it their very last semester.
  • Take only classes you need. Electives are fun, but too many of them add to your time in school. A double major or a minor might be enticing too, but unless you can work it into your 4-year degree plan, it’s going to cost you both time and money.
  • Pay your library fees and your tuition bill on time. What does this have to do with graduation rates? Students who have financial holds on their accounts cannot register for classes, which is the next tip….
  • Register for classes as soon as possible. Get up at 5am or whenever registration opens for your class’ rank. Why? Because you don’t want to get closed out of a class that you need to graduate and be forced to take it later, throwing off your plan.
  • Consider taking summer classes. Although I don’t recommend trying to squeeze a science or math course into the summer, it can be the perfect time to knock out a general education requirement or two. Talk with your advisor about your options – maybe your school offers summer on-line courses or maybe there is a school near your home that has courses that will transfer to your school as equivalent credit. Your advisor can help you figure this out, but you should start thinking about it in early spring semester – February or March at the latest.

Factors such as changing your major or transferring to a different school can have a serious effect on your graduation rate, so be sure to know all the details of your alternate plan so you can make an informed decision and know whether or not the change will be worth it.

All this being said, college is a wonderful experience that tends to fly by so…


(You probably don’t get this references because Billy Madison came out before you were born. This was one of my favorite movies in college.)

Hope you are having a great week!

Aunt Sarah

All the apps you’ll ever need for college

Dear Ally,

It’s a much different world since I’ve been in college. The tools I used most were pen or pencil and paper – planners, index cards, highlighters, textbooks, etc. Now there are digital versions of all these and more.

There are apps and websites to assist with all areas of college life:

  • Focus. Thank God Pokemon Go didn’t exist when I was in college.  If you find yourself distracted when you should be studying, apps like Self Control allow you to block certain websites for a specific time period. Forest rewards your time spent away from digital distractions by planting digital trees and when you’ve earned enough points can even be used to plant a real tree. If your friends are constantly texting you and you have an iPhone, the “do not disturb” setting is key. Use it to schedule regular study periods and sleep. Mine is set for every night 11pm to 7:30am.
  • Sleep. Whenever it was too noisy to sleep, my roommate and I would listen to her Yanni CD or I would try to sleep with my headphones on, but the end of the CD or tape would always make a noise that woke me up. Apps like SleepMachine have all sorts of soporific sounds to which you can fall asleep and Sleep Time can track your sleep quality and wake you during a time of light sleep so you’ll feel more rested and less groggy when you wake.
  • Write. I had to take my handwritten papers to the computer lab to type them up. Now you don’t even have to type at all, just speak and Dragon Dictation types it for you.  MLA, APA, ACS  – whatever style you need, the EasyBib app can put your citation in the proper format and can even create a citation by scanning a book’s barcode! Even if you don’t have a computer nearby, Microsoft Office Mobile lets you use your phone to work on papers.
  • Store. With cloud storage options like Google Drive and Dropbox professors no longer accept “I lost my floppy/zip drive/jump drive” excuses.
  • Plan. All those study plans that I recommended making are easy with apps like iStudiezLite, My Study Life, and Exam Countdown. Most of these combine to-do lists, calendars, and notifications. You might even be able to access your school’s course management system from your phone and receive notifications of due dates and exams straight from your courses’ calendars.
  • Learn. If I didn’t understand my professor’s lecture, I could read the book or go to office hours. Thanks to sites like iTunesU, Coursera, and Kahn Academy, you literally have access to course material from professors all over the world – notes, video lectures, audio lectures, etc.
  • Organize. We used to call them Concept Maps, but now graphical ways to represent concepts and ideas are call Mind Maps and apps like XMind and Simple Mind mean no markers are required.
  • Study. When I took ornithology a few years ago for fun, my classmates (some of whom were also my students) introduced me to digital to the flashcard app, Brainscape. I now have a lifetime subscription to the pro version and still use it to study birds before I travel someplace new. The best thing about this and similar apps like Quizlet, Flashcards+, and  StudyBlue is the ability share flashcards or download someone else’s deck.
  • Save. Keep track of your spending and manage your money with Mint.
  • Be safe. The Circle of 6 app lets you choose your 6 and two taps lets them know where you are and how they can help.

If you choose to check one of these out, let me know how it goes. If you like one that’s not on this list, please mention it in the comments.


Aunt Sarah



Is your major for you?

Dear Ally,

I hope that your classes are going well so far and your semester is off to a good start!

I am teaching one class this semester, sophomore organic chemistry. I don’t know if it’s the difficult nature of my class or a typical second year issue, but I’ve had two conversations this week with two different students questioning their career goals and considering other options.

Perhaps you or your classmates are going through the same thing. You’re starting to get into the real courses in your major and maybe it’s not exactly what you expected. You may not graduate in four years if you change majors, but it’s better to realize now that it’s not a good fit, than after you get your first job and find you hate it and end up going back for a second degree. Your uncle spent 6 years in undergrad because he changed from accounting to chemistry. I had a hard time deciding between chemistry and an education major and was discouraged from double majoring. I chose chemistry, but still wanted to teach, so I went on for a doctorate, so I could teach at the college level. Ten years into our careers we’re both managing people, which is very different from what each of us started out doing.

If you’re having trouble deciding to stick with your major or not:

  • Try out a variety of different classes. This is the beauty of a liberal arts education. You’re expected to take courses in different departments and fields of study, so take advantage of this and take courses in other areas that interest you. You might find a new major or maybe a fun new hobby like I did when I took ornithology, which I refer to as “the bird class.”
  • Get experience outside of the classroom. What you’re doing in class, which is usually foundational and theoretical, may be different from the day to day life of someone in your future career. Find out what it will be like by interviewing, shadowing, or interning with a person in the field. I’ve heard stories of nursing students who changed their majors once they got to clinicals because they found out nurses have to actually touch people.
  • Talk with a licensed career counselor. If your school has a career services center, make an appointment to receive career counseling. They can help you by giving you a personality test like the Myers Briggs or the Strong Interest Inventory. Some of these are available for free on-line. I took this 10 question quiz and it told me I have a social personality and that I would enjoy education, but that I should not become a truck driver.
  • Find your passion. Think about you would enjoying doing even if you didn’t get paid to do it.

horse plague.jpg

(This hung on my wall throughout my childhood.)

Hope this helps you either solidify the choice you’ve already made or discover a new career path.


Aunt Sarah

Fitting Both the Rocks and the Sand in Your Jar

Dear Ally,

Welcome to your sophomore year! I hope you had an awesome summer!

You have new responsibilities, are getting more involved in organizations, and taking  more challenging courses. With greater demands on your time, balancing becomes more important.

The key to managing your time effectively is planning. First carve out time in your schedule to do your coursework and other important things like eating and sleeping, then arrange everything else around that. If you’re trying to fit a bunch of rocks and sand in a jar, they won’t fit if you put the sand in first, but if you put the rocks in and then pour in the sand, it will fit in the spaces around the rocks.

For each week, plan out:

  1. What you need to accomplish.
  2. How long it’s going to take.
  3. When you’re going to do it.

For #1, write out a to do list based on the syllabi for your courses. Deciding when you’re going to study and do homework is up to you, but I recommend developing regular daily and weekly study routines that are easy to follow and that will become habit.

Figuring out how much time outside of class each course requires can be tricky. Most professors will tell you that you’ll spend 2-3 hours per week on work outside of class for each credit hour of class. Most professors probably either have no clue how much actual time the coursework is actually taking students to complete or underestimate the time it will take. This will be especially true of new professors or new courses.

At a workshop this summer, I was told about a wonderful Course Workload Estimator tool designed to help professors estimate the amount of time their assignments will take so they can determine how much work to assign. I used it to calculate the average amount of time my organic chemistry course should take students each week and it spit out 9 hours a week, which is what I’ve been telling my students for years, even though I don’t think they believe me at first. This year I gave them the link, so they can calculate it themselves. You can do the same thing for each of your courses. It even allows you to manually adjust reading and writing rates, if you’re slower or faster than the average student. If you want to find out the workload for just one week in particular, just put in the assignments for that week and under “Course Info” put “1.”

Once you know how much time your coursework will take, you’ll know how much time you have left for fun and other activities. Remember that time is finite and, once your jar is full, you’ll have to take something out to put something else in, so don’t over commit yourself.

Have a great first week of classes!

Aunt Sarah

I Scream, You Scream!

Dear Ally,

It’s your last week of classes! Hopefully you’re hanging in there so you can finish strong. My students have two more weeks, then finals. If it were 1996, I’d still have well over another month of classes. That was the trade-off for having a six-week break from Thanksgiving to New Year’s and not starting the year until after Labor Day.

This time of the year in Athens it would be starting to get hot and that meant you had to be careful. You would begin to see ice cream cones on the sidewalk in front of Perkins Hall, an all-guys, upperclassmen dorm. These were a warning to steer clear and give that particular section of sidewalk a wide berth. Perkins was right next to our beloved Shively Dining Hall, so it was possible that someone just dropped their soft-serve cone on the way out – but often there would be more than one cone – highly suspect.

A group of us used to sit on the wall across the street after dinner and just wait, wait for a group of poor, unsuspecting freshmen to come walking along, perhaps on their way to a math class in Morton. They would reach the target zone, and out of nowhere – splat! Several ice cream cones launched from an open third floor window would scatter the group like a flock of pigeons. And we would just howl, it was just hilarious. Even seeing the melted cones on the sidewalk made me smile.

The RA’s in that dorm never did find out who the ice cream hurlers were. The culprits would sling the sweets from a hallway window and dash back to their rooms. I had several friends that lived in that building, but, although they appreciated the entertainment, were never directly involved in the mayhem as far as I know. There were threats to no longer allow the cones to be taken out of the dining hall, but they never made good on them. Maybe I’ll go back for a homecoming and there will still be ice cream on that same sidewalk.

Study hard, but not so much that you aren’t also enjoying your college experience.

I really want some ice cream now.

Aunt Sarah

You Can Do It! Preparing for Final Exams

Dear Ally,

The temperatures are getting warmer and everyone is beginning to think about the summer ahead. In fact, I’m writing this post from my back deck, which reminds I need to change the cover picture for this blog to a more seasonal one. But you can’t let yourself fall into summer mode just yet. There are still a few weeks left and one big hurdle to jump before you’re free: final exams.

Now’s the time to begin studying for finals and working on final projects, not the weekend before finals week. Here are some steps to take now to help you study as efficiently as possible:

  1. Get all the facts. Look closely at the grading policies in the syllabus. Will the lowest exam be dropped or replaced with the final exam, if that grade is higher? Is there any opportunity for extra credit? Can you turn in assignments again for a second chance? What percentage of the class grade is the final exam or project? Is the final exam optional if you’re happy with your current grade?
  2. Do the math. Are you sitting pretty or trying to climb out of a hole? How many points are left in the class? How many of those points do you need to earn the grade you want/need? If it’s too complicated, make an appointment to consult with the instructor. I get so many “what do I have to get on the final to get…” requests that I’ve posted an excel file that allows students to plug in their grades and the desired final grade and it spits out remaining points they need. Hopefully there are still enough points left.
  3. Prioritize certain courses. You’re going to have to up your game a lot if there are any classes where you need to raise your grade, so plan to study way more for these classes than you did previously and less so for the classes that you’ve been able to get along just coasting.
  4. Make a schedule. One of the most common rookie finals week mistakes is to study for classes in the order you have the exams, but that won’t work, even if your finals are pretty well spread out. Study for ALL your classes a little bit every day beginning now. For example, if you have 6 hours of free time tomorrow, plan to spend 2 hours on your two most difficult classes and an hour each on the other two. (Six hours a day sounds brutal, but it will be worth it not to have to repeat a course and much better than trying to spend 18-20 hours a day studying during finals week. I really don’t think 100 total hours is unreasonable either. Right now studying is your job and everything else takes a back seat.)
  5. Study what you don’t know. This sounds obvious, but most students try to review everything if the final is cumulative. If you knew how to do it on a previous exam, you’ll probably remember it on the final, so don’t spend much time on it. Go back and look at what you missed and study those topics in depth, rereading those sections of the book and practicing more problems, even going to the teaching assistant or instructor for help or extra practice if necessary. That’s where you’ll be able to make up the most ground.
  6. Take care of yourself. Continue to eat right, get enough sleep, and practice good hygiene. Steer clear of that friend with the sniffles. You cannot afford to get sick now, you need to be in top form. Stay away from caffeine and sugar as much as possible (no alcohol either, but you’re underage, so that shouldn’t be an issue).
  7. Stay disciplined. It’s going to be really hard to stick to your schedule and keep studying, but remember that it will be worth it and summer is just around the corner, if you can just hold out just a little while longer. Plan little rewards for each day that you keep it up. The hardest will be the weekend before finals week. I don’t know why, but college students always go crazy the weekend before spring finals week. Plan this weekend as a reward for studying continually for the next two weeks, but don’t go hog wild and be sure not to stay out all night because that would ensure disaster.

You can do it! You’ve been working all semester and your professors have been preparing you all semester for this!

Stay strong,

Aunt Sarah

Phil 413

Social Media Do’s and Don’ts

Dear Ally,

Even with all the good that the internet, smart phones and social media have brought to our lives, I’m glad that, as a college student, I didn’t have to worry about someone posting an embarrassing picture of me or that my words written in anger will forever haunt me. College was complicated enough and looking for a job was stressful enough.

I’m going to admit right now that I’m not a social media guru. I am a heavy user of Facebook, have an Instagram account that features my two cats and created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of receiving instant updates on the location of certain bird species during the Biggest Week in American Birding festival. Most of the advice in this post will probably be common sense, or at least I hope.

  • Pictures. The general rule here is don’t post anything you wouldn’t want an older relative or your future child(ren) to see. Don’t let anyone tag you in a picture without you allowing it first (for Facebook: Settings –> Timeline and Tagging).  Don’t seem like a total narcissist and post nothing but selfies. Don’t be like the idiot who posted pictures of herself vandalizing the natural features of several national parks and post pictures of yourself doing something illegal. Do post interesting pictures that your friends and followers will respond to and enjoy.
  • Posts. Keep it positive and do not post while experiencing extreme emotions. Stay away from using profanity and making generalizations about people groups. Do not use your feed to blast a particular person (especially a professor, boss, or co-worker) or business. About a year after I got married, I tore apart our photographer on The Knot because he still had not returned our photos. I never saw him or our pictures again.
  • Likes. Don’t forget about activity logs and the fact that sometimes your friends will see a post on their newsfeed titled “Ally liked this…” I know plenty of boyfriends who got themselves in trouble for liking some sexy picture. All the pages you like are on your profile. I creeped on yours today and was appalled to find out you like the Pittsburgh Steelers. 🙂
  • Check-ins and Events. This post is mostly written to help you save face and with your future job-seeking self in mind (it’s probably wise to delete any sketchy past events like “Johnny’s Keg Bash” or previous check-ins like “Hooters”), but you also need to keep safety in mind. If you don’t want someone to know exactly where you are at an exact moment, don’t check-in to specific places or say you’re attending location specific public events. Also remember that when you announce where you’ll be or where you are, you’re also saying where you won’t be: home. Hopefully none of your friends or followers would rob you and I’m sure your address is not part of your profile, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution. One of the reasons I am writing this blog anonymously is to protect your identity.
  • Cleaning House. There are apps such as Simple Wash and Clear that claim they will go through your your social media account and flag anything that could be seen as inappropriate by a future employer so you can choose to delete it, but I just experimented and received error messages on both sites. The best thing is to assume that nothing is private and everything will be permanent and to think about what you post as you post it because, even if you delete it, that doesn’t guarantee that someone didn’t share your post or take a screen shot. Do not clean house if you are involved in or know you will soon become involved in litigation because this could be considered destroying evidence, even if it’s just evidence of your character.
  • Networking. Do create a LinkdIn profile and connect with your classmates, mentors and potential future places of employment. Join Facebook groups that are related to your future profession. Follow professional organizations or well-known people in your field. Interact with others and contribute to the discussion. After you graduate, join the alumni groups associated with your school.


As far as your personal Facebook page goes, it’s Aunt Approved! I don’t follow you on Twitter, but maybe I should make an exception and follow one non-bird-related person.

Have a good night!

Aunt Sarah







































and created a Twitter account last year for the sole purpose of getting instant updates on the location of birds I might want to see during the Biggest Week in American Birding festival.


The Plan…Ha!

James 4 vs 13 thru 15

Dear Ally,

The above is excellent advice. We are all guilty of trying to plan every detail of our lives and worrying about the future when the truth is, we have no clue and no real control.

I wrote the following brief autobiography in Spanish class, nearly 20 years ago:

Hola! Me llamo Sarah Courtier. Soy de Loveland, Ohio, cerca de Cincinnati. Cuando you era más menor creía que yo era un gato. VivÍa con mis padres y mi hermana menor que se llama Emily. Asistí Loveland High School. Mi familia tiene muchos animals, tiene 2 caballos, 5 gatos, un perro, y cuatro conejos. Teníamos una cabra y un par de cisnes pero eran demasiado apuro.

Ahora vivo en Johnson Hall. Me gusta mi cuarto y mi compañera de cuarto. Estoy especializando en la quimica. Me encanta la quimica. Soy un miembro de Reach Out on Campus, una organización religiosa. Atendo Athens Church of Christ. Soy un miembro del coro de ACC. Me encanta cantar.

Despues de graduación, mi novio y yo vamos a casarnos. Viviremos en o cerca de Loveland. Mi novio es ministro. Yo trabajaré en una fabrica de quimico.

I won’t translate the entire thing, but the gist of it is that I used to live with my family and we had lots of animals and now I like living with my roommate, love chemistry and singing. The last paragraph, which is the point, says “After graduation, my boyfriend and I are going to get married. We will live in or near Loveland (my hometown)…I will work in a chemical factory.” When I read this now I just laugh and laugh. Some things are still the same; I still love animals, chemistry, and singing. The boyfriend mentioned here and I broke up some months after this and, though we are still good friends, I can’t imagine having married him.  If someone told me then that I wouldn’t get married until I was 27, that I would move to northeast Ohio and work for a women’s college, I never would have believed them.

One day everything seems settled and to be going according to plan, our plan, but everything can change in an instant. Enjoy the ride and love the people that you get to live life with and don’t stress if you don’t have it all figured out because, chances are, it’ll get turned upside down at some point anyway and that’s OK.


Aunt Sarah

P.S. I learned how to make my own memes this week! 🙂

Jeremiah 29 vs 11