On the way to swimming lessons yesterday, Hadley and Harper came up with the “Fast Talking Company.”

“If you’ve lost your voice, we will give you a potion so you can speak again,” Harper explained.

We drove down Father Hurley across Wisteria towards the pool, and as soon as we got on the other side of the railroad tracks, I got a little nostalgic. I drove down this road almost every day, sometimes twice, for four years to take the girls to preschool.  Now, as trite as it sounds, preschool is a memory.

Father Hurley didn’t always extend as far as it does today.  When we first moved, I think it was a cul-du-sac, though I can’t remember. I’m annoyed that I can’t remember because it’s only been nine years. Anyway, we drove towards the pool, and I wondered if the reason I don’t run out and make plans to do stuff in the summer is because I want to be with Hadley and Harper as long as they’ll let me. I love going through our days together. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing. Sometimes it’s more of an uphill climb.  Still, I love our life in the summer. Well, I can’t quite put it into words. Something’s going on and it has to do with nostalgia and watching my kids grow up.

“If you have problems saying words,” Harper continued, “we have vitamins you can take.  They’re gummy vitamins so they taste good.”

I could use some of those vitamins, I thought.

“What if,” I began, “you really want to say something but you are afraid or nervous. Or you think you will be wrong to say it. Do you have something for that?”

Harper thought for a while. She looked out the window and twirled her hair. “OH! You mean, what if you’re shy?  Yeah, we have a potion for shyness.  You can drink that and you won’t be afraid.”

“We have potions for people who talk too much, too,” Hadley added.

“I think I need all your potions and vitamins,” I told them. “I think I have all these problems.”

“Our number is 888-668-8866,” Hadley said. “Do you want to write that down?”

IMG_1283When we got home, we worked on the bookmark page of our Summer Reading Journals over lunch. I used quotations from The Fault In Our Stars. (I realize I made a spelling mistake on the last one. Sorry.) I was wrecked after reading that story. Like Eleanor and Park, I think it will be a while before I can write something more than, “It’s so good; it’s so sad.” However, taking a few sentences and designing a bookmark allowed me to sit with the words for a bit.  It was sort of like taking a vitamin to help you say the difficult words.

IMG_1467Hadley chose the last sentence of Applewhites at Wit’s End by Stephanie S. Tolan: “They could never say later whether E.D. had kissed Jake or Jake had kissed E.D., but Winston’s tail thumped on the porch floor. Even the dog knew how much had changed.” Hadley read that and smiled. It was the sort of smile you feel at the end of a story that has a big pay off, you know? When I asked Hadley why she liked that sentence, she said, “I think it tops off the whole story, and showed how much change there was.”

“I’m keeping this one for myself,” Hadley said after she finished writing it. She stuck it in her journal for safe keeping.

IMG_1469She made a bookmark for her buddy down the street because, “This sentence is so much fun to say!”  (Are you reading the Skippyjon Jones books? They are hilarious.) After Hadley made the bookmark, she wrote her friend a three page note asking how summer was going.

Harper is reading Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. She loves the first two sentences in the story: “There was only orange juice in the fridge. Nothing else that you could put on cereal, unless you think that ketchup or mayonnaise or pickle juice would be nice on your Toastios, which I do not, and neither did my little sister, although she has eaten some pretty weird things in her day, like mushrooms and chocolate.”

IMG_1468Harper liked the sentences because, “That second one is reeeeeally long and funny.” She chose to draw pictures of Gaiman’s words instead of writing them out.

IMG_1472Harper also made a bookmark from one of her favorites, Cinderella.

IMG_1471“[Dreams] are wishes my heart makes when I’m asleep. If I believe in them someday they’ll come true.”

Maybe you don’t need potions and vitamins.  Maybe you hold on to your dreams and stories until you’re awake enough to share them with the world.

(PS-Purchase your Summer Reading Journals here.)

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Poetry at Lunch – How We’re Using Our Summer Reading Journals

The first page that Hadley and Harper completed on their Summer Reading Journals, was the “All About Me” page.  And really, who wouldn’t want to design their own superhero cape?

But I couldn’t wait to have them try their hand at the Illustrate It page. This is the one where you take a book you read, draw an object that has something to do with the story, and write words around it, so that the words become the object. It’s a great exercise to explore theme.

When the girls did their Library/Bookstore Scavenger Hunt, they found several poetry books that they chose to take home and begin the summer with. So over lunch last week, we read some of the poem and made some pictures.

Hadley really likes Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

IMG_1409She made an object poem from Silvertein’s “Itch:”

IMG_1414It’s a dollar sign with a line through it, because the narrator tricks the reader into believing that if s/he will scratch the narrator’s back, s/he will get paid.  This was not the case.

Hadley also made a poem for Prelutsky’s, “I Am Your Mirror Image.”

IMG_1416Harper worked on poems from Behold The Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems. Also by Jack Prelutsky.

IMG_1408IMG_1410After making her object poem, she found the word “mom” in, “Here Comes a Panthermometer,” and made sure to highlight that.

IMG_1411She decided that this cat isn’t just a cat that can tell the temperature, but it is also a mom.

It was a fun activity to do over lunch.



You can order Summer Reading Journals for Middle School or Elementary, here.

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“Baking Muffins” Post for Coffee+Crumbs

Legend has it that a woman in our church bakes muffins every morning. I write “legend” because it’s been years since I heard she does this, and I only heard it once. It was during a weekly bible study for women held at the church I attend, when this woman, I’m going to call her Maggie, placed fresh muffins neatly lined in a Longaburger basket on the table.

“Oh, Maggie. What did you do?” one woman chided as she reached for a muffin.

“I can’t believe you make these every day,” another one said, peeling back the paper liner and breaking the muffin so steam floated up and I smelled nutmeg.

Maggie told them in her quiet, humble way, that it’s not that big a deal. The base is the same: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. The liquid stays constant, too: eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted butter. Everything else you make up – throw in chopped fresh cranberries, chocolate chips, walnuts if you like, though they’re best if you roast them for a few minutes beforehand.

I loved listening to Maggie. She is slow to speak but every word is drenched in a soothing, subtle strength, and listening to her is like eating the most delicious, hearty meal. But it’s a meal that makes you want to do something: run a race, feed the poor, learn to knit, tend to the sick.

Read the rest on Coffee+Crumbs.

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Summer Reading Journals – Elementary

What’s that? You kinda sorta like the Summer Reading Journals, but you wish there was something for the smaller readers?

IMG_1372No problem.

You still get an All-About-Me page.


Chocklute milk and recesses.  All the recesses.

You get to make a Superhero cape.


Harper’s has to do with reading. She learned to, and fell in love with reading this year, thanks to her wonderful Kindergarten teacher.


Hadley’s has to do with soccer and Taylor Swift.

There’s a Reading Log and a Scavenger Hunt.




You can pretend you are one of the characters in a book  you are reading, and make a scrapbook page for him or her.


How about doing a little fishing for vocabulary words? That’s what Hadley’s doing here.  She’s reading Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride.  (Hadley’s mildly obsessed with Amelia Earhart. A few weeks ago, she prayed for her in children’s church. That’s a story for another day, though.) In this picture, she’s caught the words: determined, horizon, elevation, elegant, and outspoken. These are words that I think Hadley will find just right for her personality.



We still have this gem, but Becky designed it using a different book so it isn’t as complicated for smaller hands.

IMG_1377Both Summer Reading Journals have about fifteen activities that are designed to help kids sit a while with the stories they find this summer. We hope you like them. We hope you find lots of stories to sit with this summer.

Order your journals here.



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Summer Reading Journals 2015

What is it that Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail about what happens to you when you’ve been marked by a book? Something about being changed forever. I can’t remember exactly.

What about a little scrapbook for you to capture that change?


You have a page to make a collage and logo about yourself (mine is a coffee cup; Becky’s is the paintbrush).IMG_1264

There’s a reading log to jot down books you’ve read and maybe scribble a star or five to document how much you liked the story.IMG_1265And how about a scavenger hunt at your local library or bookstore? Becky and I have you looking for a Newberry or two, poetry, and nonfiction. We suspect you won’t come away empty handed.


What’s that? You’re totes into Instagram? We’ve got an activity for that.


There are pages to collect and design vocabulary words.


There’s a space to try your hand at newspaper reporting. The catch is you have to pretend you’re a reporter for the world your book takes place in. You can handle that, right? Who wouldn’t want to hang out at Hogwarts, or sit down for an interview with Eleanor from Eleanor and Park?


You can pretend to be a graphic designer for a travel agency, and you’ve been hired to design an ad to attract people to come visit the setting of the book you are reading. (I call dibs on Terabithia, but you can take the setting for The Giver. What does that place look like, anyway?)


Did you just finish The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and you’re thinking about friendship? Or maybe you’re haunted by the trouble in, but necessity of speaking up in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Perhaps you just finished Erica Perl’s When Life Gives You OJ and you’re wondering about chutzpah. You’re thinking about theme and we have a little art project for you.


This might be my favorite page.


Here’s what you do: you sketch out an object that unifies your thoughts about the book you read. Then you fill that outline in with words that describe the book and explore its meaning. What would you draw for Make Lemonade or Out of the Dust? What about Gary Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy? (A whale. Definitely a whale.)

We have a space for you to jot down some thoughts about a book you read. Nothing fancy, just a bunch of prompts that let you capture the story you just read and what you thought about it when you were 11, or 12, 13 or 14.


I love to collect quotes. Maybe you do, too.


Maybe you want to turn some of these quotes into bookmarks and send them to friends. (Trust me, people LOVE real mail: the sort you put in a colorful envelope and address by hand, the sort you seal with washi tape, the sort you use your finger to wiggle away the flap of the envelope so you can see what’s inside. That mail is the best.)

So we have a page to design and give away bookmarks.


Ever felt like you were on a metaphorical roller coaster while you read a book? (Helloooo, Hunger Games.) Becky designed the perfect plotline for you.


There’s no wrong way to fill your Summer Reading Journal out. You can do one activity per book you read. You can fill the entire thing out using the best book you read this summer. Take it with you to the beach, on vacation (it fits perfectly inside your book), or to church. (I’m pretty sure the story of Esther would fit that plot line perfectly. OK, any story in the Old Testament would work.)

The point is, mark time with a few good stories. Picture yourself walking around in those worlds. Try a few personalities on and see how they fit. Figure a few things out. Or don’t. But this summer, let a story happen to you. Capture what happened on paper.


You can purchase the Summer Reading Journals here. (Elementary Summer Reading Journals are up there, too, and will be highlighted on the blog Thursday.)

Questions? Contact me at

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“Do You Smell That?” -Relief Journal

My 8th grade classroom smells like mint gum, and body odor. The gum is not allowed. I am to tell the kids to get rid of it, and then report it into a shared record system that’s stored on the computer. After a certain amount of gum busts, I think the student gets a detention or something along those lines.

There is no rule against body odor. Body odor is allowed in my classroom, and by the end of the day the smell is knock-you-over palpable. So I say nothing about the gum because each shift in a chair, each reach for a book, stapler, or clipboard, each step towards the “complete work box” brings with it a stench followed by a cool minty breeze.

“Mrs. Feyen,” one boy walks up to me while I’m standing at a counter in the back of the room sorting through papers.

“Yes?” I ask and pivot towards him.

“I don’t understand this assignment. You want me to write about something beautiful, but it has to be bad in some way?”

As he asks, I see bright green gum stuck to his bottom teeth. When I was a kid, I was so careful to keep the gum at the roof of my mouth. I could even fold a Fruit Roll-Up so it perfectly fit inconspicuously in my mouth and I could enjoy it from noon until three. My teachers never knew a thing. I am sure of it.

I discuss baffling beauty, Lauren Winner’s book, Wearing God, body odor, and why I don’t follow the “no chewing gum” rule at my school at Relief Journal.  (Don’t tell my school.)

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Can’t Do It; Doin’ It Anyway

I read this week from an editor that a writer’s website needs 50,000 true followers in order to get a book deal. It made me cry a little bit.

IMG_1336This was written by one of my students last week during finals.  He wrote it at the top of the essay portion of my exam.  My essay question was this:

“It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating hearts, they must learn to love.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Explain what this quotation has to do with Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Freshman Never Lie. You must use three examples from each story. You may use characters, quotations, and/or events. Finally, explain where and/or how you see Rilke’s words ringing true in your own life.

He wrote my words at the top in order to motivate himself to write what he needed to write. I remember when I said those words.  The students were writing an exit essay to show their high school teachers where they are as writers.  One student asked me about a style question. That is, she had a story that would fit well but would be difficult to write. She had another one that wouldn’t be as difficult to write, and wasn’t as risky. In other words, she’d show her teachers that she is a fine writer, but there’d be no heart of the story. One would take longer to write. One would be more difficult to write. It was May, the room was hot, it was the end of the school day.  That’s when I said, “My gut tells me to take risks.” I said it because I knew what she wanted to do was write the difficult story. If I thought she didn’t want to try, if I knew her heart wasn’t pounding a little and her fingers weren’t twitching to put the words down, I would’ve said something different. But after working with her for nine months, I knew she wanted to try. So I dared her.


I put everything I’m teaching next year in binders.

IMG_1370IMG_1369IMG_1371Here’s the stack, plus The Hobbit which I don’t have a copy of yet.  I haven’t read The Hobbit and I’m a little nervous about it.  But you know what? I was terrified of Romeo and Juliet and in the words of Sarah Arthur, that book happened to me. Those two crazy kids plus Mercutio grabbed my heart and haven’t let go. I’m sure the same will happen with those strange footed short people.

I’ll be teaching 7th and 8th grade next year.  So, still part-time, but more than what I did this year. I’m not sure how I’m going to keep writing and blogging, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to go to graduate school and be a mom. I wasn’t sure how I was going to write and teach. Every time I sit down to make a plan about how things will get done, I get overwhelmed and then I read editors’ websites and learn that there is nothing I will ever be able to do that will make me a writer. There is no way I can be a mom, a teacher, and a writer.  It is impossible. But my heart pounds, and my fingers twitch thinking about trying. So I dare myself.

Here’s what I learned this year:

Teaching is redemptive.  It is the only thing in my life when I don’t hear a voice in my head that says, “You make too many mistakes. You are a fraud. You have no clue what you are doing. You are wasting everyone’s time.” Jesse saw me teach several years ago and said, “It’s like a light switch was turned on.” I’m glad he saw me when I’m at my best.

Teaching helps me write.  It is the perfect balance. Somehow, when I couldn’t figure out a story, a lesson plan would perfectly come together, and vice-versa.  This year I learned the mighty lesson of letting something alone and having faith that I would figure it out when the time was right.

Teaching helped me be a better mother, or, at least a more attentive one. Jesse’s seen me throw everything I have at teaching, and thank God he is a patient man because I focused on nothing but what I was doing from 9-3. I didn’t know any other way to do it, which is one of the reasons I was afraid to go back to teaching. I found out though, that teaching and mothering are like working two large, important muscles that help the rest of my body function.

I love to write. It didn’t matter if I was working on an essay, a possible book, or even report card comments.  I love to find ways to articulate what I see. This is not to say writing isn’t hard anymore.  This is not to say that I don’t have doubts about my capabilities. I am saying that I love writing and 50,000 true followers or not, I’m going to keep trying to do it. I feel like I am that young person Rilke is talking about, still learning how it is to love with my pretty anxious, upward-beating heart.

For year end’s sake, here are my favorite pieces from the different places my writing has appeared:

When I started graduate school in 2012, I thought, maybe one day I’ll get to be on Art House America. In 2014 I was. “A Subtle Grace” is one of my favorite essays from the year.

Writing about Bear is my favorite Coffee+Crumbs essay from this year.

My Darius Rucker essay on Makes You Mom is my favorite of the bunch on that website.

I don’t think I can adequately express how thankful I am that I get to write for Relief Journal.  I feel like I get to write with the big boys, so everything that’s been published on that site I am very proud of.  However, my top two are my essays on Dale Brown, and “He’s Not Here.” Both pieces knocked me out, and I don’t feel like I’ve been the same since. But that’s the way it is with mothering and teaching as well. It’s good to love these things, because they are difficult.  I believe in doing very difficult things.



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What To Read in June

IMG_1313The plan was to begin reading Harry Potter out loud to the girls when Hadley turned eight, because for years I thought eight was the age HP was when the story began.  Turns out, he’s eleven. Eleven years of sitting in that damn cupboard beneath the stairs. I hadn’t realized until we’d started it, and I’ll have you know it is nearly impossible to stop Harry Potter once you’ve begun. I have no regrets, though.  The week we started The Sorcerer’s Stone Jesse left for Alabama for a week and I needed a little magic. The girls sat on the floor and played with legos while I read until an exciting part came up and then they’d hop on the couch and read along, each would put a hand on one of my knees. I don’t think they would tell you they were scared when they learned about the troll in the bathroom on Halloween night, or when Harry kept getting thrown off his broom during his first Quidditch game. I don’t even think they would say they were scared when they found the dead unicorn in the Forbidden Forest and some mysterious thing came flying their way. (Yes, I have put them in the story. It’s what happens when you read Harry Potter.) I also don’t think they’d say they knew Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be OK through all of it. I think they trust the narrator, and when you trust a narrator, you will go anywhere with her no matter if it’s scary and you don’t know how it’ll end.

I’ve read the books a few times but this is the first time I am reading it with a deep thankfulness for Hermione. She’s the first girl Hadley has met who can hang with the boys.  She’s tough. She’s smart. She stands up for herself. I hope Hadley thinks about Hermione a lot while she grows up. I think Hermione will teach her a lot, and maybe help her feel less alone at times when Hadley’s figuring herself out.


Wave is perfect for the summer, and it’s perfect for all the ages.  Here’s how you can read it to kids who are about to enter high school:

You tell them to look carefully because there are no words. You might be a little nervous reading a picture book, because c’mon, they’re 8th graders for crying out loud, but you’re going to remember how much you loved your elementary school librarian and how sad you were when she decided you were too old to be read to. You are going to be brave and flip the pages carefully and show the 8th graders the story.

IMG_1319IMG_1320They’re going to giggle and remember what it was like to play in the ocean.  It’s a fun little book, you’ll agree, but then you’re going to tell them, “Now think in metaphor.  What if the water is high school? What happens to the story then?”

Take a deep breath, and start over again.

IMG_1321“High school might smack us down,” they’re going to suggest.  “It might be confusing and overwhelming,” they’ll say.

IMG_1322“But it’ll leave you with treasure,” they’ll say.

“What about the birds?” you’ll ask, “What do you think they represent?”

Friends. Sports. Things to keep you company, maybe.

IMG_1323You’ll show them this page, and point your finger to the upper left hand corner where a bit of an umbrella creeps into the picture.  “Look who that is,” you’ll say.

“It’s Mom!” they’ll say.

“Yes, yes,” you’ll point out. “It’s Mom. She might not always be in the picture, but she wants to know what you’re finding in that great big world. You’ll show her every once in a while, right? It’s pretty scary for her to send you off into the sea with the rip tide and the sharks and jellyfish. You show her what treasures you’ve found every so often, OK?”

They’re going to giggle at that. They’re probably going to think you’re being melodramatic. Someone might call you sentimental.  But say it anyway.

Then hand out blue card stock, glue, and cotton balls.  Tell them to make their own metaphor and write about it.



“The clam takes a rock and pushes down on it for years. As hard it can, it pushes on an ugly, single, worthless rock. The clam itself is ugly too, but once the clam feels the rock is ready, it opens the rock up to the world. It reveals a beautiful, coveted pearl that the world would love to have. That’s what high school is. It matures the smallest rock by putting tons of pressure on it so it becomes so beautiful it’s ready for the world to see.”

Here’s to lots of magic and metaphor in June.

{I’m linking up to Literacy Musing Mondays on Mary-anding Creativity today. Hop over to read more great posts on reading and writing.}

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While They Color






“Harper. What?”

“How much do you love me?”

Lately, Harper’s been telling us before she goes to bed, “I love you more than you love me.” She says it in a sing-song, silly voice that I’ve come to learn she uses when she’s feeling unsure about something.  These days, she’s interested in measuring love, and nobody in the family can really satisfy her when she asks how much we love her.  Hadley included.

Hadley’s working on a Superhero book when Harper asks the question. Her head rests on her left hand while she works on Pencilman. He can stab you with his pencil point, and also write messages that are real or fake to confuse villains. She tells Harper, “I love you a lot,” while she works on her heroes.

IMG_1309IMG_1307Scribbleman can be whatever he wants. He doesn’t need pencils with erasers because he’s not afraid to make mistakes. “He turns mistakes into something,” Hadley says.

IMG_1308Dotman throws stuff. “Does he throw his dots?” I ask Hadley. “No, he does not throw his dots. He just throws stuff,” Hadley tells me.

“I love you over the moon,” Harper tells Hadley.  “And the stars.” She’s coloring a page with cars all over it.  “And Jupiter!”


“Mmm hmm?”




“Harper, I’ve been saying ‘What.'”

“How big is the universe?”

“It’s immeasurable, Harper. It’s expanding as we speak.”

Harper picks up a celery stick and studies it for a moment. She puts it down on the plate and takes a bite of her sandwich. “So,” she says, chewing,”the universe is growing because we are talking?”

“No, no, Harper,” Hadley takes her hand away from her head and leans towards her. Things are getting interesting now. “The universe isn’t growing because we are talking. It’s growing as we are talking.”

“Mmmm,” Harper says. She walks over to the bulletin board and takes down the calendar. “This needs decorating,” she says and runs upstairs to get supplies: stamps, washi tape, more markers. She brings them all down using her t-shirt as a basket.

IMG_1306“June is the paradise month,” she says.

Hadley and Harper continue to color and talk back and forth the rest of the afternoon, and the universe expands immeasurably, like love.

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Then and Now – Old Friends From (Not So) Far Away

These kids twelve years ago.

IMG_1288Here they are about a week ago:

IMG_1252In the first picture, we were at Macri’s, a little deli and bakery across the street from The East Race in South Bend, Indiana. I always got an order of jalepeno poppers and a California wrap which I’m sure people from California would say, “This is NOT anything ANY Californian would ever eat,” and then begin to discuss the ridiculousness of Midwesterners but I thought it was pretty delicious.

The four of us were headed to a Chili Cookoff after dinner. There were supposed to be bands playing, I think.  Maybe Umphrey’s McGee? I don’t remember, but it took place in the spot where the St. Joseph River diverges into different paths: it could travel the route of the fish ladder where the salmon run upstream to spawn, it could turn into the raging East Race, the kayaking course people from all over (probably Californians, too) come to ride, or it could continue on as a river, towards Notre Dame and Michigan. Jesse and I lived a block away from this point and I could stand there and think about those different routes the water became every day. It’s a nice stretch of water, is all I’m saying.

Tim and Angela were teaching in the school where we first met. Tim was an art teacher and Angela was the second grade teacher. I’d left two years before. Why I left is a story I don’t think is worth getting into, but at the time the first picture was taken, I’d quit teaching and decided I wanted to take up writing and work at a scrapbook store.  Turned out I didn’t have the discipline to sit down and write (I seemed to like to talk about writing a lot back then, though), and it also turned out that I am the worst possible person you could hire to work at any store dealing with customers.  I came to learn that I don’t like to help people.  At all.

So Tim and Angela asked me how it was all going now that I stopped teaching and I said I hated working at the scrapbook store (I was too ashamed to say I was too undisciplined to write).  They said, “So quit.”  I remember looking at Jesse and he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Seriously. Why are you doing this? This is not you.” So about a week later I quit.

There is a lot more to the story but the point is it’s nice to know Tim and Angela in my twenties, in my thirties, and in a few months I’ll be able to say it’ll be nice to know them in my forties, too.  The four of us have been there to encourage (push?), laugh, and listen to each other when we were standing at different routes figuring out what it is we might become.

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