Letter to the Adult-student Writer

Dear Working-Adult Student,

Hi, my (likely) stressed out friend. If you’re anything like I was when I decided to attend college at the ripe old age of 39, you have a family, one or more jobs (I had three), bills to pay, a home to clean, laundry piling up around you, a vehicle that needs regular maintenance, perhaps parents who need attention or care, and a myriad of other concerns that distract you from the business of classwork and study. In addition to those responsibilities, most of us have concerns about how things within the classroom have changed. Many of us feel like a duck in a forest: we’re old enough to be parents to those sitting by us, and that creates discomfort. There were times I felt that I couldn’t participate effectively because my background and ideas seemed so out of step with my younger classmates. I was flabbergasted at the expectations of and formatting used for papers, and I was terrified of using a computer for my written work. In fact, I spent much of my time feeling pretty overwhelmed, underprepared, and inadequate. Maybe you are feeling some of those things, too.

Friends, let me assure you that you can successfully earn that degree. You may have to delegate some chores at home and let some things slide, but you can juggle the most important things, and you can be a successful essay and research-paper writer. How do I know that? Because I was, and I hadn’t written a thing since my last English class in high school 20 years earlier! The truth is that sentence structure and the meaning of words haven’t changed over the course of our lifetimes. The shifts in language are so gradual as to be almost invisible to all but professional linguists, and that makes writing easier than we think it will be.

Oh sure, we may not be as up-to-date on slang or texting styles as our younger classmates, but they may not understand how to be formal in the same ways we do. We’ve worked in various settings. We know that talking with a prospective employer or current boss requires a formality that is foreign to most young people. We know how to persuade others: we persuade spouses and children, we persuade colleagues, and we persuade aging parents. So, we got this.

It’s likely that you don’t recall all the writing, grammar, or other academic terminology you learned in school. I sure didn’t. Nevertheless, we do know important things. Things like complete sentences. Things like how to successfully navigate the unknown or new. Things like negotiation. Things like how to meet deadlines. Things like how to organize time. Things like how to put the important stuff first. Things like not procrastinating until the last minute. All those things we know serve us well when writing essays and papers. We already know how to order activities; ordering thoughts comes easily when considering how well we already order work and family life.

What we may not know is that most universities have Writing Centers. (Yes, this may be a bit of a commercial, but bear with me because it will matter to you, too.) In these facilities, there are well-trained people who know the mechanics of writing, grammar, and formatting. They are there to help all students, faculty, and staff organize written class work. Most centers have extended hours and special tools to assist working-adult writers who find it difficult if not impossible to get to campus after working all day. Additionally, most writing-center people are willing to allow all students to decompress before diving into papers. Those writing helpers understand the pressures of writing papers, and they are all good listeners who are ready, willing, and able to give us time to talk and before helping make papers the best they can be. I used my own Writing Center staff for all my graduate papers, and you, too, should use your university writing center, my friend. You’ll be glad you did.

Sincerely shared from my personal experience,

DBU Students: For more information about the services offered by the Dallas Baptist University Writing Center, check out this link to our website. You’ll also find links to our various handouts and pamphlets on all things writing, as well as encouragement in your academic journey.

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Oh Christmas Staff

Anyone who has ever stepped into our office during the month of December can gather one important thing about us: here at the DBU Writing Center, we really love Christmas, and we go to great lengths to celebrate it. (If you don’t know what we’re talking about, come by our office anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You’ll get it.)

Why? Well, the classic answer, of course, is that we are excited to celebrate the birth of Christ. We all do our best to not be consumed by the crazy hubbub of shopping and decorating and eating and remember that Christmas is still the precursor to Easter.

The more honest answer is that we have many, many other reasons to love Christmas. So, we polled our entire staff on some of the other aspects of Christmas that get us excited for the season. We asked ourselves two questions: what are we thankful for this year, and what do we want to receive for Christmas this year? The myriad of responses we got were both thoughtful and funny, so we just had to share them with you.

Things for Which We’re Thankful:

Ashley: I am beyond grateful for all of the amazing advice I‘ve received during 2017.

: Outside of those obvious things we talked about, I’m most thankful for the people in my life: my husband, my kids, my grandkids, my friends, and my staff.

Taylor Hayden: I am thankful for the amazing support system of friends and family that I have to help keep me going when life gets rough. Lately, the semester has made life crazy, so having people to cheer me up, distract me, and/or encourage me has helped make it bearable.

Leah: This year, I am super thankful for the oven in my apartment! I love baking, and I can’t wait to make all sorts of Christmas treats now that I am out of the dorms!

Karoline: I am most thankful for words. Specifically, I am reveling in all the ways they can be used to build up, bless, encourage, correct, and teach others. Incredibly thankful that God speaks to us through His gift of language and for all the different means of language we have access to!

Michelle: I feel God has richly blessed me this semester at DBU with new friends, amazing professors, and a supportive family. I believe I am most thankful for God opening the door for me to come to DBU in the first place and experience all He has prepared for me.

Jack: I am most thankful for my family. They support me in so many ways and have done so much for me throughout my life. I am very grateful for them, and I love this holiday season where I can spend time with them.

Savanna: I am thankful for people who actually use their blinkers.

Catherine: I think I’m most thankful for the gift of friendship. My friends I’ve made at college have been the best friends I’ve ever had, and impending graduation is making me realize how much I appreciate their presence in my life.

Lindsey: I’m most thankful for Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas. I used to watch this Christmas movie marathon with my family every year; I love continuing the tradition even though I’m not at home anymore.

Taylor Hayes: I am thankful for the Chick-fil-a on campus! Without it, I’d probably starve.

Becca: I am thankful for where I live now. I like the people I live with and the environment that feels like a home.

Maddison: I am thankful for a wonderful extended family of friends and immediate family that have supported me throughout my life, but especially my college career. There have been good and bad days, but these relationships are ones that I seek to keep for the rest of my life.

What’s On Our Christmas Lists:

Ashley: I want money for Christmas $$$$$$$$$$$

: What do I really, really want for Christmas? A pony and a place to keep it. Realistically, though, I have all I want or need, so I would like more sparkly pens, a trip to Scotland, or a week in New York City doing all the NYC things on my list. What am I likely to actually get? Who knows, but my husband Michael is the best gift giver ever, so whatever I get is sure to delight the little girl that still resides in my soul.

Taylor Hayden: I am obsessed with baking and kitchen gadgets, so anything related to baking supplies and or/utensils and small appliances for my current and future kitchen are at the top of my list.

Leah: For Christmas, I would like some fancy pens. I really enjoy journaling and hate buying expensive pens out of my own money.

Karoline: My once-sturdy army-green backpack has some significant rips and tears. So a new book bag to tote my heavy essentials around during my senior year wouldn’t be too shabby!

Michelle: Honestly, I cannot think of anything that I want for Christmas. I have a loving family, both at home and at DBU (#DBUishome). But, if I was forced to pick one thing, I would enjoy a drone or electric helicopter.

Jack: What I really want for Christmas is an international trip to Europe, Asia, or really anywhere other than here. Of course, the chances of receiving this gift are very slim, but I can dream and continue to ask. Maybe one day it will happen.

Savanna: I don’t want anything realistic for Christmas, so Hamilton tickets would be fabulous. Or if Jack wants to include me in the trip to “anywhere but here,” that would be cool, too. I hear London is beautiful this time of year.

Catherine: I’m hoping for as many Lord of the Rings/Middle-earth books as I can get my hands on, and maybe some money for the new Sonic the Hedgehog game (#jointheuprising).

Lindsey: For Christmas, I want either some Harry Potter wand makeup brushes or a remote-controlled BB-8 droid!

Taylor Hayes: I would like gift cards to basically any of the eateries that surround the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Free food brings me joy.

Becca: For Christmas, I want an external mic to plug into my phone. (Little known fact about me: I wish I could record every conversation I ever have and keep it as a physical copy forever.) In a similar vein, I’d also like for Andrew to Dropbox me the broadcast recording of our Christmas Eve services at church.

Maddison: I would say I’d like to upgrade my very old and cracked phone for a new, not-cracked one.


Sure, we have a lot to be thankful for. We love Jesus, and we love the story of how He came down to live among us and save us from eternal separation from God. But we have some weird stuff on our Christmas lists, too, and that’s okay. Our goal with these questions isn’t to provide passive-aggressive hints to our parents (although, to any who are reading, we hope this helps). Our hopes and dreams make us human, they make us unique, and they draw us closer to God. We want to embrace them as the God-given desires they are, even as we remember all the wonderful things He has already given us.

Merry Christmas, writers, and keep dreaming!

Intro/outtro written by Catherine

Image credit: Catherine Anderson

Vashti’s Rejection

“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes” (Esther 1:19, New International Version.) For those unfamiliar with the book of Esther, this verse records a conversation between King Xerxes and one of his officials. After literal weeks of feasting with his friends, “drinking with no restrictions” and gorging himself on whatever forms of leisure and entertainment he deemed relaxing, King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, for one more favor. I can only imagine that this was likely the request which broke the straw on the camel’s back.

Picture one’s husband inviting his bros over for a football-watching party, not unlike a typical Superbowl bash. He informs you that there will be lots of soda, chips, yelling, and maybe a little rough housing. Most wives aren’t opposed to their man having a few friends over; however, what if he asked to have hundreds of friends over for multiple months, just to party it up? I’d like to meet the wife who would agree to this, ask her what is wrong with her, and then beg that she not subject herself to such juvenile carryings on. Realistically, Vashti probably didn’t have a choice about whether her husband could take over their palace with a myriad of friends to do as he pleased, but I assume that she had a few opinions on the whole ordeal. It seems natural, then, that when King Xerxes issued a formal request for her to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles,” that she scoffed and refused to be paraded around like a trophy wife. Right on, sister! You’re a literal queen, and you shouldn’t stoop to becoming mere eye candy for a bunch of drunken lads.

As a child and an adolescent, when we went over this story in a church or small group setting, there was a popular and understood consensus: Vashti was a bad wife for refusing her husband’s request. She, as Xerxes’ officials also claimed, set a bad example for women everywhere and caused “no end of disrespect and discord.”

I’ll be honest with you: I think that outlook is missing the whole point.

You see, Xerxes, at that time and in that state of mind, was not being a good husband. Scripture clearly states that he was drunk beyond reason and had been in that state for some time. The Bible asks us to be sober-minded and watchful in all that we do; considering that the king was quite the opposite of sober-minded, it stands to reason that the requests he was issuing weren’t good ones. However, that’s not even the worst part.

It becomes particularly infuriating a few verses later when he banishes Vashti, the queen and his wife, from ever stepping foot in his presence. It is never fully explained if they obtained a complete divorce, but either way, Xerxes immediately started looking for a new wife. He held a nation-wide beauty contest to find the prettiest replacement because who cares about Vashti, right?

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst forms of human rejection one could possibly receive.

As I read this passage a few days ago, a new thought occurred to me. Keep in mind that, up until this point, the only sermon I’ve ever heard regarding Esther chapter one was in agreement with drunken Xerxes: “Bad Vashti. Bad example. Don’t be like her. Comply!”

The thought that came to me was this: God would never treat us like Xerxes treated Vashti. The king made an unholy request of his queen while he wasn’t thinking clearly. Not only that, he didn’t so much as offer her a second chance. In his rage, he dismissed her forever and went on a quest to find someone better.

Although God may make difficult and unforeseen requests of us, He does not ask us to do anything wrong. Don’t mistake me, Christianity is uncomfortable. If we’re walking as Jesus did, we will likely be urged out of our comfort zone constantly. The most peaceful part is this: when we don’t follow His commands, either knowingly or unknowingly, God does not reject us in return. As Martin Luther said, we can “sin boldly,” not because we are banking on forgiveness, but because we know we don’t have to walk in shame because of one, one hundred, or one million mistakes. Our God is the King, but He isn’t at all like King Xerxes. Like Vashti was to her husband, we are His bride, made to serve Him in holiness, rest in His protection, and delight in His grace.

Written by Karoline

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Letter to the Overwhelmed Writer

Writing a paper is a huge ordeal. Plain and simple. The process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) can seem like an uphill battle. We’re all climbing Writing Mountain to reach the peak where we finally understand what we want to say and how to say it. From here, our thoughts flow freely and easily until the final point is driven home and we arrive in the next lush, green valley. But getting to the peak of Writing Mountain is probably the most daunting of all tasks. The climb to the peak can include getting the assignment, choosing a topic, selecting a stance, doing research, creating an outline, creating a thesis, penning the words, and restarting said paper halfway through. That’s a lot. No wonder it takes longer to climb than descend.

This little blog is for you, Overwhelmed Writer. I’ve been in your shoes, and I’m here to offer some advice on the matter of climbing Writing Mountain.

Give yourself time. There is nothing worse than waiting till the last 1-2 nights before the paper is due to start. Like I said, climbing a mountain takes about 2x as long as it does to descend. It will take you awhile to get your thoughts together, so give yourself that time. Set deadlines along the way to keep yourself on track and ahead of the due date. This way, when you get to the peak, you’ll have plenty of time to coast to a conclusion.

Break it up. There is a lot involved when trying to write a paper. If you’re like me, you like to plan before you pre-plan. All the planning and writing is like a giant tree that is blocking your path up the mountain. You have to take an axe and break it up. Make the logs small and manageable. If the chunks are too big, you won’t be able to move them by yourself. But don’t make them too small, or you will waste time picking up individual pieces and possibly leave parts behind. Figure out the right size for you to make them manageable but efficient.

Bring a guide. Climbing a mountain by yourself can be scary, especially if you don’t know the path. What happens if you get lost? What if you’re attacked by an animal? What if it gets dark? There are a lot of things that could go wrong along the way. The same goes for writing a paper. What if you can’t find sources? What if you don’t know how to format the paper or have terrible grammar? What if you just don’t know where to start? A guide can be a friend, a professor, or best of all, the Writing Center. The people at the Writing Center are paid to walk alongside you throughout your entire writing process. They help guide you up Writing Mountain. Lean on them and ask them questions. Once y’all get to the peak, it’s time for the guide to say farewell and let you start taking off down the mountain with your own abilities, assured you’ll reach the bottom successfully.

Don’t let Writing Mountain scare you out of climbing it. You’re capable, and you don’t have to do it alone. Give it time, break it up, and use your resources, and you’ll reach the peak in no time.

Written by Maddison

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How to Survive College According to Hamilton

Fans of the musical Hamilton will assure anyone that the lessons one can glean from the show are infinite in number. There is a reason people are obsessed with a hip-hop musical about the first U.S. Treasury Secretary; it resonates with the average American. With its themes of perseverance, writing, and self-discovery, Hamilton is also incredibly relatable for students struggling to survive (and thrive) in the college season of life. Here are a few wisdom-filled lines from the musical that may help new college students—Hamilton fans or not—stay alive and get the job done.

You really do write like you’re running out of time. –Eliza Hamilton in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

College is full of writing assignments. It doesn’t seem to matter how well you avoid procrastination; you will always end up writing at least one essay like a total madman at an unnatural hour of the morning at some point in your career. If you’re aware that such an experience is coming (usually near the close of a semester) you can be ready with multiple shots of espresso the day after.

Take a break! –Angelica Schuyler and Eliza Hamilton in “Take a Break”

You must take breaks. Sometimes this means a Sunday afternoon binge watching The Office, and sometimes it just means a power nap between classes. Whenever and however you squeeze breaks into your schedule does not matter. What matters is that you do not turn into Alexander Hamilton, who wrote 51 (loooong) essays in under 7 months but neglected his family relationships and friendships in the process.

Remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you – George Washington in “History has its Eyes on You”

Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t have been much older than me and you when this scene took place. True, few college students will lead revolutionary troops into battle, but it’s critical to realize that in many ways history does have its eyes on you. Universities are platforms for cultural innovation: politics, technology, music, language, and social norms. People are watching what you do. Let that inspire you to greatness, not scare you into mediocrity.

For once in your life take a stand with pride. –Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr in “Non-stop”

Even if you were the kid in high school who was shy about your hobbies and talents for fear of rejection and judgment, it’s okay; nobody on campus knows that. College is a fresh canvas waiting for your honest, artistic touch. Whoever you want to be, whatever you want to believe in, do it. In “Non-Stop,” the thing Burr is afraid to proudly endorse is the United States Constitution, and we all know how well that turned out. College is the place to grow into a better version of who you already are; don’t let fear dictate your life.

Look at where you are, look at where you started. –Eliza Hamilton in “That Would Be Enough”

Despite Hamilton’s public confidence, Eliza knows firsthand her husband’s insecurities about his past, and she consistently has to remind Alexander that he truly has accomplished much. You, too, will face this sort of doubt. One bad grade, one hurtful comment from a professor, or one internship rejection letter can taint an entire semester, if you allow it to. When you hit a low patch, find an Eliza in your life, someone who can remind you of how far you’ve come since high school graduation and highlight your vast potential.

Do not throw away your shot. –Alexander Hamilton in “Stay Alive”

Arguably, this is the main theme of Hamilton, and this line could have been picked from any number of songs. What is great about this particular usage of the line is that after preaching this sermon to himself, Hamilton encourages his friend John Laurens not to waste his own opportunity to impact the world. While you’re in college, reach for your dreams. Try something new. Take every opportunity to become a better person. And while you’re at it, encourage your roommates, classmates, and friends to do the same thing!

Pick up a pen, start writing! –President Washington in “One Last Time”

“Pick up your device, start typing” would be a fair modern equivalent of this line. In the song, President Washington is trying to orate his farewell address to Hamilton who, instead of taking notes from his Commander in Chief, is arguing about why Washington should not step down from office. This is not how you want your college experience to be. In no other stage of life will you encounter such a treasure trove of intellectual wealth; do not throw away your shot to partake of the wisdom. Take notes everywhere, not just in class. Go to free conferences and seminars held on-campus, grab lunch with a professor or advisor, and when you learn something moving or useful, pick up a pen (or your iPhone) and save it for later.

Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room? Soon that attitude may be your doom! –Aaron Burr in “Non-Stop”

My friend, you have much to learn about life, about education, and about yourself. Start college with a learner’s attitude, and you will graduate into the real world with a learner’s posture that will take you more places than you could ever imagine. Be confident in your abilities, but don’t assume that any amount of skill or knowledge that you have is enough. Stay hungry for wisdom and be humble in all that you do.

The fact that you’re alive is a miracle. Just stay alive, that would be enough. –Eliza Hamilton in “Non-Stop”

Tell yourself this during finals week. Plaster it on your Pinterest inspired bulletin board. Get a sharpie, and write it on your favorite mug. Sticky Note it to your bathroom mirror. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself that if you survived this long, you can survive to the end.

Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who, who is this kid, what’s he gonna do? –John Laurens, Marquis Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan in “Aaron Burr, Sir”

People are going to ask you this, just with a lot less pizazz than the Hamilton cast. The first few weeks of school are especially full of questions, club and social invitations, and a whole lot of names you may or may not remember. Soak it all in, but make sure you filter it out. Hamilton came to America with a huge list of potential friends, careers, and legacies. He couldn’t say yes to everything or become everyone, and the same is true for you. Know who you want to become, but also be sure of who you already are.

And then you’ll blow us all away! –Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in “Dear Theodosia”

College can be one of life’s trickiest phases, but it’s one of life’s greatest (and briefest) stages as well. Enjoy the next few years for all that they are worth. Whatever choices you make, make them with excellence and you really will blow us all away.

Written by Savanna

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Letter to the Returning Writer

Hey, friend. I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve written for school or for fun. Whether it’s been a semester, a year, five years, or even twenty years, the effects of passing time can be reversed more quickly than you might suppose. Although writing is a skill which can always be improved upon, it’s also a bit like riding a bike; those who have learned will not forget how to do so just because they haven’t gone for a ride in a while. Once you’ve conquered the mental road block that you’ve “forgotten” how to write or “don’t know enough anymore,” you can adhere to the following tips in order to maximize your success.

  • Read over your old papers. Horror writer Stephen King is known to lock away his manuscripts for ten years before revisiting them to correct mistakes. Why? Because the passing of time enables us to notice more potential improvements in our projects than if we read our own paper we wrote yesterday. By laughing at the old mistakes you’ve made, you can enter the new semester feeling confident that you’ve learned since your last writing attempts.
  • Visit the Writing Center. Yes, this is the shameless plug. But I have no shame in it because I’ve seen students arrive at our center the first week of fall semester feeling rusty and unsure of their skills. Most of the time, after sitting down with a consultant, the worry vanishes from their face. A second opinion is sometimes all that is required to reignite the writing part of our brain that’s simply been dormant for a while.

As you enter the new semester with eagerness and hope to improve your skills and learn inside the classroom, remember that you are not alone. No matter what your writing skill level may be, perfection is impossible; this should grant you hope! You and every student around you can work toward improvement, but few of them do. By reading this blog, incorporating advice, and visiting the Writing Center, you are taking a greater charge of your education than many students ever feign to do. Give yourself a pat on the back; you’re already ahead of the game. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia E. Butler.

Written by Karoline

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Get’ch’a Head In the Game!

“Coach said to fake right
And break left
Watch out for the pick
And keep an eye on defense
Gotta run the give and go
And take the ball to the hole
Like an old school pro
He said, ‘Don’t be afraid’
What you waitin’ on?
To shoot the outside ‘J'”

Zac Effron. “Get’cha Head In the Game.” In High School Musical. Directed by Kenny Ortega, Disney Channel, 2006.

Dear writers who’ve been on the bench in the game of writing,

In the words of High School Musical, “get your head in the game!” For out-of-practice writers, sharpening writing skills can be easily achieved through more reading, more planning, more writing, and more believing.

Study the game!

Most members spend post-practice hours with their eyes glued to TV and computer screens as they study the moves of successful basketball games and MVP’s from years past. While there may be some sense of entertainment and pleasure, most of this is study: team members studying others. Every jump-shot, alley-oop, and cross-over is on replay as they study the moves of their predecessors finding ways to imitate them. The goal is to improve the craft of the game. The same technique can be applied to writers looking to improve their craft as well. Every newspaper, fictional story, pressing excerpt, and Shakespearean read improves the writing skills of the reader. Although the reader is simply reading, s/he is processing interesting writing structures, illustrative phraseologies, and other techniques that they may recreate. Each reading experience is a new example for an individual to study writing- study the game.

Prepare!

Before every game, players are making “ball their lives.” They eat protein-dense meals, workout, and take ice-baths. Bent like pretzels and other weird shapes across gym floors, each player stretches their taffy-like limbs in preparation for a good game. They rehearse clever, point-scoring plays and strong defense tactics again and again, plotting the moves of their opponents. Writers too, must prepare to write. Not in the sharp pencil, fresh sheet of paper kind of way! Writers must know their audience, desired topic, and theme. Like ‘ball players must consider the moves of their opponents, writers must also consider the reactions of their readers. When writing, one must anticipate questions the reader may ask or topics that may need further detail for him or her to understand. One needs a game plan for a great game, and a writer needs a plan for a great paper. Prepare!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Players spend hours on-end practicing the game of basketball. They often attend camps for faster moving on the court, dribbling with both hands, and defending their positions against bigger players. A team may split off and have scrimmages or practice games against one another. Day and night, players practice to maintain and gain skill in the game of b-ball. Similarly, writers must practice writing to maintain and gain skill. Practicing allows writers to retain grammar rules, correct sentence structure, and pen a clear flow of ideas. Writers also find that this practice increases their confidence in writing and makes for an easier writing process each time, as they are able to see progression with each experience.

Believe!

Lastly, there must be more believing in the writer. The last thing basketball teams do before the beginning of the game is recite a series of chants that give them the confidence they need to do their best. Think High School Musical’s Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu), pumping up the team by loudly asking, “What team? Wildcats,” numerous times until they were excited. Writers don’t have to take such an intense approach, but they do need to believe in their writing abilities and themselves.

Review the game plan: one must read, plan, write, and believe. Get’cha head in the game!

Written by Ashley

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