a letter to the tree they cut down outside our apartment window

Dear Tree,

I’m sorry I haven’t properly introduced myself before. I’m Dallas, and I live in this apartment with my husband Allyn, and I have loved you since the first day we moved in one year and two months ago. In fact, you were one of the first things I noticed about the apartment when we were looking at potential places to live around the city. I fell in love with your tall, thick-leaved, beautiful branches, stretching over the apartment balcony in a protective way. Your limbs waved slightly in the breeze — friendly, as if you were saying hello.

Over the next fourteen months, you gave us so much without ever asking for anything in return. During the extremely hot summer, you provided welcome shade from the harsh midday sun. Your pretty branches gave us some privacy from the neighbors all around us, making our apartment feel more secluded. When we dined al fresco on our little balcony, your lush leaves reminded me of the time we traveled to Spain and ate outdoors, and our home-cooked meal felt a tad bit fancier. My writing desk is situated right beside the window that looked out at you, and when I was feeling stuck I would gaze out at your greenery. You made me feel calm and inspired. If that wasn’t enough, birds perched on your branches and serenaded us. What more could we ask for in a companion, dear tree?

I wish I had told you all of this sooner. Sure, I appreciated you, but it was in the absent-minded way you appreciate things you take for granted. Things you think will be around forever.

{you provided such a lovely backdrop for our save-the-date photo}

A few weeks ago, the building manager knocked on our door and gave us the news. It was so unexpected. He said that you were old, and that with all of the storms lately you had become a danger. Trees fall over onto houses and apartments and sometimes they do damage and sometimes they hurt people. He said you were impeding on the apartment below us and next to us. He said you had to come down and that was that. There was nothing we could do. We don’t own the property — we are just renters — and so we don’t own you.

When the men came to cut you down, I couldn’t watch. I felt sick and sad and I kept thinking of this Jack Johnson song with lyrics about a tree that burns down. I promise, tree, that one day, Allyn and I will have a house of our own and we will plant lots of your brothers and sisters in our yard. Until then, I want you to know that I donated to The Nature Conservancy to plant a tree in honor of you.

We miss you, dear tree. We miss you a lot. We miss your shade and your beauty. We miss your quiet presence. We miss your wisdom that reminded us of the world that was here before we came onto the scene, and the world that will be here after we leave, and that maybe our problems aren’t so big after all, and maybe our lives are a little more precious than we make them out to be in the day-to-day tasks and busyness. When I think of you, tree, I think of how you were once a small seedling, and then a sapling, and how you just kept growing and growing and growing towards the sunlight. I want to be like you. I want to have your patience and your fortitude, your generosity and your grace.

Your final lesson to me was to focus even more of my energy on appreciating the lovely little details in my life. I loved you while you were alive, but I wish I had been even more present to your presence. I wish I had thanked you every day and marveled every day at the magic of having you in our lives, sheltering our little apartment and sharing your shade with us. You have reminded me of the fleeting nature of this life, and because of you I am hugging the things I love a little tighter, a little closer, a little fiercer. Because of you, I notice and appreciate all the other trees I come across {even though none of them are quite as beautiful as you} and because of you, I am saying prayers of gratitude for all the everyday riches in my imperfect, messy life.

Love,
Dallas

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to a tree that has been meaningful in your life.
  • Write a letter to a different object {natural or man-made} or a place that has mattered to you.
  • What is something small in your life that you can appreciate and be grateful for, right this very moment?

what our smelly little compost bin has taught me about hope

Where I live, waste management services not only take our recyclables and trash, they also take our food scraps to be composted. Composting is so important because it helps keep biodegradable waste out of landfills, thus not producing methane — the most potent greenhouse gas. {For more information on why this is so important, here is a helpful link.} Another amazing thing about composting is that it takes what was once “trash” and turns it into something useful — our banana peels and apple cores and egg shells eventually become nutritious fertilizer to help grow the next generation of plants, flowers and food.

However, in our apartment building, not many people compost. Here are the reasons the building manager gave: the little green bins get “stinky” {true — which is why you take them out often} and could potentially cause bug problems {not true in our experience}… also, that they are “a hassle.” But, when you think about it, pretty much everything that is good for you is a hassle! Brushing and flossing your teeth is a hassle. Cooking healthful meals is more of a hassle than the fast food drive-through. Going out of your way to help someone else is “a hassle.” All of these actions are more than worth it because they ultimately make our lives, our health, our communities and our world better.

Besides — especially when you live somewhere like we do where waste management services take care of dumping the big compost bins and carting the compost away every other week — composting is not that much of a hassle at all.

Still, something I have learned in life is that we can try our best to convince and persuade and motivate others, but when it comes down to it, we only truly have control over our own actions. Allyn and I cannot control whether the other people in our apartment complex care enough about the environment to compost their food scraps. But we can choose to compost our own food waste. We can choose to make grocery lists and buy less so food does not go bad wastefully. We can choose to buy food in bulk instead of in plastic containers. We can choose to carry our reusable bags to the grocery store. We can make small choices every day that reflect our values and make a tiny difference that, over time, adds up to big change.

*

When I was in high school during the second Bush presidency, one of my teachers was a Vietnam war veteran. He taught physics, but would occasionally go off on tangents about current events and politics. One day in particular, during the height of the Iraq War, he started ranting about the terrors of war. In a firm voice — the same tone he used to teach us the facts of the universe from our physics textbook — he predicted that there would once again be a draft and none of us would be able to get out of it. We would all go to war.

The fear in that room was palpable and contagious. One girl in the front row even started crying. She had a scholarship to play softball in college the next year, and by the end of class she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because she would be drafted into the military. I remember comforting her in the hallway during passing period, my own fear a steady pressure in my chest. I don’t think our teacher meant any harm. I think he was dealing with his own worries and his own memories of war, and we were a captive audience. But I learned that day about the power fear has to take hold in you, and how quickly the flames can be fanned. The dark cloud of fear can eclipse your bright hopes for the future, unless you are vigilant and guard against it with the best resources you have. When the smoke of fear billows up in your life, you have two choices. You can use the fear around you to fan the flames of your own fear. Or you can choose to try your hardest to blow away the smoke with faith and patience and love and hope.

*

Many people in our nation — in our world — are hurting and scared. This is always the case, but it is especially true right now. Maybe you are hurting and scared. What can you do today to show yourself self-care and self-love? How can you be gentle with yourself? How can you choose love over fear today? And what is at least one way you can reach out and help someone else who needs it?

*

When I lived in Indiana during graduate school, composting was not the norm. Recycling was not very prominent, either. I still remember collecting all my bottles and cans that first month of living there, and searching online to realize there was no place to redeem them as there had been in my California hometown.

I have always cared about the environment. When I was a little girl, I used to daydream about planting trees along the grubby highways when we would drive to Los Angeles to visit relatives. It sickens and frightens me to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the decimation of rainforests, the looming extinction of many animal species, and our rising sea levels. And I do profoundly believe that the actions we take make a difference.

However, during this time I let myself sink into complacency. I did not make the effort to compost, or recycle as much as I could, or cut down on my plastic waste. I drifted along in the easy culture of consumption, letting myself forget that the trash I produced would actually GO somewhere — it didn’t magically disappear by a magic wand when the garbage collector took my trash bags away every other week. I didn’t take the time — didn’t go through the minor extra hassle — to truly ACT on my values. I let myself fall into the trap of believing that my small actions weren’t important “in the grand scheme of things” — that my actions, for some absurd reason, could be exempt from having consequences.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I could make a lot of excuses for myself and my behavior. But I don’t want to. I feel sad that I let myself get carried away on the tide of apathy, but soon enough I found myself back on the shore. And, now more than ever, I know that I never want to be apathetic again. The thing about letting yourself “off the hook” — of choosing to look away, to not care, to pretend that you have no choice or power to change — is that it comes with a steep price. The guilt catches up to you.

*

Allyn very sweetly is the one who always takes our smelly compost bin out to the big green bins lined up by the parking lot and dumps our food scraps into the communal bin. When we first moved in ten months ago, he said there were hardly any other food scraps in there. Even worse, sometimes the big bins would be contaminated by trash or recycling.

But slowly, over time, a shift has happened. Allyn has started to notice the communal compost bins are fuller and fuller each week, and there is less and less contamination. Little by little, more people are beginning to compost their food scraps, even though it can be smelly, even though it can be a hassle. More and more people are beginning to care.

Every time I reach under the kitchen sink, lift open the lid of our compost bin, and dump in a banana peel or an apple core or an egg shell, I think about hope. I think about change. I think about beauty and love and selflessness. I think about doing whatever I can, in this singular life I have been given, to act on my values and do my part to make our precious world a better and brighter and more compassionate and inclusive place. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward and onward, I will make choices. I will choose to try. I will choose to care. I will choose to fight for justice and goodness and love. It is all that I can do.

I hope you will join me.

diy t-shirt pillow

Happy hump-day, friends! Hope your week is going wonderfully!

Back in August I promised to share a new craft project that I did to “upcycle” two t-shirts that no longer fit … sorry for the delay, but I bring it to you now! This might be a neat Christmas gift to get a head start on. It’s simple and straightforward — even if you don’t have much sewing expertise, I guarantee you can do this project!

diy tshirt

I made this t-shirt pillow for my brother {that’s one of his running icons, Steve Prefontaine, pictured on the front.} I made another pillow for myself out of an old, too-small t-shirt with a book-cover of Catcher in the Rye on the front. Both turned out great!

Here’s what you need:
– a t-shirt
– a needle and thread
– scissors
– stuffing*

* I went out and bought a bag of pillow stuffing from a craft store. But I also had some old, torn socks I wanted to upcycle. So I used scissors to cut up the socks into tiny pieces and mixed them in with the store-bought stuffing. It worked out very well and made the stuffing go further!

Directions:

1. Turn the t-shirt inside-out and mark with a pencil the dimensions you’d like your pillow to be. Use a ruler to draw the lines straight and even.

2. Pin the fabric just inside the lines so it will stay together as you sew.

tshirt inside out

3. Cut the extra material off the shirt {i.e. necklines, sleeves, etc.}

4. Sew three sides of the pillow, leaving the top open.

5. Turn the pillow inside-out and fill with your desired amount of stuffing.

6. Carefully sew the top of the pillow closed.

tshirt pillow

TA-DA! Now you have a fun, attention-grabbing, conversation-starting new pillow to display or to give as a gift.

you might also enjoy these crafty posts:
diy no-sew baby blanket
homemade photo collage poster
adorable homemade owl
upcycled gift containers

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: making the most of oven time

Hi everyone! Today I’m excited to be participating in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays, hosted by Tammy’s Recipes!

kttovenmittbanner425

I have a simple tip to share: something I’ve just started doing recently that relates to meal-planning, saving time and saving money/energy!

I eat a lot of chicken — for most meat recipes I use chicken, whether it’s baked with veggies, diced up in soups and chili, shredded in the crock pot, or tossed with a bit of mayo to make chicken salad sandwiches.

I used to just bake the chicken when I needed it. But one night I had an idea: why not bake some extra chicken to use later in the week? It seems simple, but it had never crossed my mind. Now, whenever I am baking a chicken dish, I put a couple extra chicken breasts in the oven. I usually cook them in a glass pan with a little bit of water or chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to keep them moist.

That way, I have cooked chicken to use the rest of the week! Now it’s so easy to add cooked chicken to salads, rice, sandwiches, or pasta. Making dinner is so much quicker!

This tip can also work with roasting veggies, baking cookies, or making bread. Now pretty much whenever I need to turn on my oven for one dish, I think, “Is there another dish I can also cook right now? This maximizes my use of the oven and saves energy, time, and meal preparation later!

What are your kitchen tips? I’d love to hear in the comments section below!

review of “7: an experimental mutiny against excess” by jen hatmaker

You know when you hear a ton of good things about a book or a movie or TV show, and there’s a part of you that is hesitant to delve into that piece of entertainment or knowledge because you’re worried that it’s been built up too much, that it can never live up to your expectations now that so many people have raved about it to you?

Often, when I do end up caving and watching or reading whatever it is everyone is buzzing about, I do feel a little disappointed in the end — I guess my imagination and expectations are too easily raised to insurmountable heights! But there have been a few exceptions, when I have just been knocked off my feet by something that had already been built up so much. Off the top of my head, I can think of:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • the musical Wicked {I saw it with my mom, who was similarly blown away}
  • Downton Abbey {Mike and I resisted this for a while but are now thoroughly on the Downton Abbey train! Still a little behind, making our way through Season 2 and trying to avoid spoilers on Facebook!}

And now I have a new thing to add to my list: Jen Hatmaker’s amazingly inspiring book 7: an experimental mutiny against excess.

7 by jen hatmaker

I bought this book because I kept seeing great things pop up about it on many of my favorite blogs. The idea behind the book really intrigued me; here is the synopsis from Jen’s website:

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.”

When sifting through my thoughts about this book, the first thing that struck me was that my experience reading this book is a little ironic, considering Jen’s message of taking your life back from the modern pressures of materialism and overindulgence. Because I gobbled up this book. I devoured the whole thing in less than two days. I just could not stop myself from reading “a little more, just a little more, one more chapter …” Talk about indulgence! 🙂

There were a number of things that made reading this book so addictive. First, I loved Jen’s voice. Much in the same way I felt like reading The Happiness Project was an extended conversation with author Gretchen Rubin over coffee, reading 7: an experimental mutiny against excess felt like I was sitting with Jen Hatmaker at her kitchen table, listening to stories from her life. She opens her home and her life to readers, and her voice is so warm and inviting. I read part of this book on a plane trip, and I had to bite my lip multiple times so as not to laugh out loud. She is hilarious!

I think one of my reservations about reading this book was that I would feel “preached at,” but this is not one of those books. The book is written in a diary format, so reading it feels like you are there with Jen in the trenches as she attempts to make these huge changes in her life. She chronicles her failures and setbacks in addition to her successes and high points — by the end of the book {or, to be more honest, by the end of chapter 2 or 3!} I felt like Jen was one of my good friends. Or perhaps my own personal cheerleader, encouraging me to take the leap and implement some of these ideas into my own life.

The book proceeds chronologically over the course of a year in Jen’s life, with each chapter devoted to a month of the project. {She took off a couple weeks between months to recharge and regroup.} Here is the breakdown of how Jen organized her 7 project:

  • month 1: Food
  • month 2: Clothes
  • month 3: Possessions
  • month 4: Media
  • month 5: Waste
  • month 6: Spending
  • month 7: Stress

I think for me, the most eye-opening and inspiring chapters were those devoted to waste/the environment, possessions and stress. After reading this book, I feel so blessed to have so much, yet also the pressing need to unburden myself from extra possessions — I want to give more to others, to use what I have for good. I feel even more committed to my year of kindness challenge and inspired to do even more! And I have plans in the works to create a more efficient and thorough household recycling system — I try to recycle what I can, but I think I can do better. I will keep you posted!

Well, this review is getting quite long, so I guess I should wrap it up … as you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book. It surpassed even my built-up expectations, moved me, made me think, and warmed my heart. Perhaps above all else, it made me feel hopeful and inspired to do my small part to make a difference and make the world a better, brighter place. Jen Hatmaker is a testament that we all can take charge of our lives, mutiny successfully against excess, and live a more simplified, healthier and happier existence!

——————-

if you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
review of The Happiness Project
review of Thirteen Reasons Why
review of The Secret Keeper

upcycled gift containers

holiday masterpiece

This holiday season, I am making an effort to produce the least amount of waste possible, in particular with gift bags, gift boxes, wrapping paper, etc. During the crazy-busy holiday season, being kind to the environment often falls down low on our radar. I mean, it is so easy to pop into the store and buy a brand new gift bag and reams of tissue paper. I cringe to think of the trash bags filled with crumpled up wrapping paper I’ve thrown away in the past. It seems so unnecessarily wasteful!

Then I started thinking about the concept of upcycling {which is defined on Wikipedia as “the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.”} It is even better than recycling because it is giving old products or materials new life! This seems like the perfect way to approach gift-wrapping this holiday season.

When I finished the last of my oatmeal a few mornings ago, I knew just what I wanted to do with the empty container:

oatmeal container

Upcycle it!

I wiped out the inside, wrapped it in some pretty paper, added a shiny red bow, and hooray — a lovely homemade gift container!

wrapped container

I filled it with a batch of homemade chocolate-covered popcorn and it made the perfect gift for a coworker of mine who has been especially helpful to me this semester.

I also have plans in the works to re-use metal tea canisters when making homemade chai tea latte mix for some of my friends. {Look for the recipe in an upcoming post!}

What are some of your favorite upcycling and environmentally friendly gift-wrapping ideas?

Hope your week is going great!
-Dallas

ecomom’s “green” friday sale

Just a quick post to let you know about a really great sale one of my favorite “green” living sites is having this week …

Ecomom.com is a site designed for moms who want to buy healthy, organic, nontoxic products for their home and family. They have everything from organic baby food to non-BPA reuseable water bottles to natural products for your home. I especially like their organic hair products and natural home cleaning supplies. You don’t have to be a mom to find great products on their site that can make your daily routine healthier for your body, and for our planet!

Until November 25, they’re offering:

  • $20 off orders of $50-$99
  • $40 off orders of $100-$199
  • $80 off orders of $200+

This might also be a great way to stock up on some early Christmas gifts!

Here’s the website again: www.ecomom.com. Happy shopping!