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?

a year of Wooden: week 16

Hi, friends! I just got back from a lovely trip up the California coast to Mendocino {pictures & highlights coming tomorrow!} … we unexpectedly did not have cell phone or Internet service, so I was unable to post this week’s year of Wooden challenge until now. I guess it is more of a weekend year of Wooden challenge at this point. Thanks for being patient with me!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

This metaphorical shelter includes family, friends, good work, faith — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now we are focusing on the financial interpretation.

Last week, the challenge was to take one of your weekly discretionary purchases and drop the money into your spare-change jar. Instead of going to Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up, I brewed some black tea at home and sipped it out in the sunshine. In Mendocino, we packed brown-bag lunches a couple days and enjoyed picnic meals out on the hiking trail and at a rest stop along the highway instead of eating out in a restaurant every day.

This weekend, the challenge is to make a small change of habit that results in more money in your savings account. For example, when I was working as a graduate student teacher at Purdue, my paycheck was deposited into my checking account automatically each month. I found the more money that was in my checking account, the more money I was likely to spend. So I began immediately transferring a couple hundred dollars into my savings account, knowing that I could always transfer it back to my checking account if I needed it to pay bills. But, guess what? I never even missed it. And as a result, my savings grew steadily each month.

Another small habit might be related to the “cash back” incentives of many credit cards. Instead of using rewards points to purchase gift cards or material items, you might think about using your rewards points to deposit cash back into your savings account. I started doing this towards the end of last year and am on track to put about $200 of “free money” into my savings account this year.

Before I go, thanks to blog reader Tracy for telling me about financial guru Dave Ramsey — I love this quote of his:

dave ramsey

Questions of the day:

  • What are your current savings habits?
  • What small changes could you make to ensure more money ends up in your savings account at the end of the month or year?

a year of Wooden: week 15

Hi, everyone! Monday means it’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

This metaphorical shelter includes family, friends, good work, faith — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now we are focusing on the financial interpretation.

Last week, the challenge was to keep track of where you spend your money — even small amounts. Not counting staple items like groceries and drugstore purchases, I tend to spend my discretionary money at Starbucks, bookstores, the movie theater, and going out to lunch at places like Panera.

This week, the challenge is to take just ONE of your weekly discretionary purchases and drop the money into your spare-change jar instead. For example, maybe I’ll swap one of my Starbucks chai lattes for a mug of home-brewed green tea on my own back porch. Or instead of meeting up with a friend for lunch at a restaurant, maybe we can meet up for something free like a walk outside in this beautiful weather.

Having a savings safety net is so important, and these little actions can really add up! I’m inspired by these words from Coach Wooden:

john wooden quote

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you tend to spend your discretionary money?
  • What small change are you going to make this week to drop a little extra money into your spare change jar?
  • Have you ever had the experience of not taking the time to do something right the first time, and having to go back and do it over?

a year of Wooden: week 14

Hi, friends! It’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

For this month of April, we’re going to be focusing on Coach Wooden’s creed to “build a shelter for a rainy day.” This metaphorical shelter includes family, friends, good work, faith — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now we are focusing on the financial interpretation. In other words: save now to weave a safety net!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

Last week, the challenge was to create a “spare change jar.” Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop it into the jar. This week I ended up with $3.49. I’m planning to continue this spare change jar throughout the year!

This week’s challenge is to keep track of where you spend your money — even small amounts, like that Starbucks pick-me-up or the impulse drugstore purchase. For the next three days {or the entire week, if you’d like} make note of every penny that leaves your pocket. We’ll work with the results in next week’s challenge!

coach wooden quote details

Questions of the day:

  • Have you ever kept a strict budget before?
  • What are the “little details” that have made a big difference in your life?

a year of Wooden: week 13

Hi, everyone! Apologies for my extreme delay with this year of Wooden post… this week has flown by incredibly fast. My mom was in town, I had two job interviews, and last night was my final reading as part of my Steinbeck Fellowship. {More about that in tomorrow’s fabulous friday post!}

Now that we’re into April, we’re going to be focusing on a new topic for this year of learning from Coach Wooden’s philosophies and teachings.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.

Last week, the challenge was to help someone less fortunate than you are. I dropped off a donation of clothes to a local thrift shop; books and magazines to the library; and canned goods and toiletries to a homeless shelter. In these next two weeks, I’ll also be volunteering at an event my church is holding called “Winter Nights” in which we feed and shelter homeless families from the area until Easter Sunday. I’ll be helping cook and serve dinner and leading some activities for the kids.

  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day. 

This month’s challenge also comes from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed. I thought rainy April would be an appropriate time to focus on this credo! I like to interpret “building a shelter” in a multitude of ways: family, friends, work that satisfies and sustains you — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, I’m going to focus this month on the financial interpretation of “building a shelter against a rainy day.” In other words: save now to build a safety net!

For this week, the challenge is to create a “spare change jar.” Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop it into the jar. You could continue this challenge all month — or even {as I plan to} all year long! How much spare change will you wind up with at the end?

I’ve always loved this wise sentiment from Coach Wooden:

wooden quote peaks valleys

This month, we’ll work on building a shelter to keep life’s inevitable valleys that come along from getting too low!

Questions of the evening:

  • What are your favorite tips for saving money?
  • In what ways do you “build a shelter against a rainy day” in your life?

year of kindness challenge: week 50

I am a little in awe of the fact that it’s already Wednesday, and just one week until Christmas! My past couple days have flown by so fast, it feels like some calendar squares simply disappeared. Anyone else feeling this way?? 

At least my days have been jam-packed with good stuff… teaching writing workshops at local schools, long walks and catch-ups with friends, cooking dinner for my family, sorting through and delivering donated books as part of my annual Holiday Book Drive {more on that later this week}… I’ve been collapsing into bed by 10 p.m. and sleeping like a rock!  

year of kindness button

Last week’s kindness challenge was to give a warm drink to a toll-booth worker, newspaper delivery person, or your mailman/mailwoman. I brought hot chocolate to the people working the security gate in my grandparents’ neighborhood. They were so surprised and appreciative, and it made me smile the rest of the day. 

The Week 50 Kindness Challenge is to donate a toy or book to a child in need this holiday season, and/or to drop off a donation at a local animal shelter. 

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn AT gmail DOT com.

Have a marvelous week!
❤ Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the previous 49 weeks!

Questions of the day:

  • How do you find zen in the midst of such a crazy-busy time of year?
  • What acts of kindness happened in your life this past week?

year of kindness challenge: week 9

year of kindness button

Happy Monday, everyone! How was your weekend? Wonderful, I hope!

This past week’s kindness challenge was to donate toiletries to a women’s shelter or homeless shelter. I donated this big bag to a women’s shelter across town. {Yes, I am that person who hoards hotel soap and always has a “back-up” stash of shampoo and conditioner. I figured it was time to give it all away to people who could use it!}

toiletries

more toiletries

I could tell the woman working was SO grateful, and it really moved me. Much like last week when I took canned goods to the food pantry, I know I want to go back and donate more toiletries and perhaps clothing as well to this women’s shelter in the future.

Speaking of the food pantry, they sent me a sweet thank-you note in the mail this week. How nice!

thank you card

Here are some other good things that happened in my world this week:

  • I got to talk to my brother via Skype from Sri Lanka. It was SO amazing to “see” him — I miss him beyond words! He inspires me every day with his huge heart and unending generosity. I love this photo of him donating shoes at the Foundation of Goodness this past week:

greg shoe donation

  • I received a thoughtful and supportive email from a colleague that really brightened my mood during a stressful day. 
  • I ran into a former student on campus who said she misses my class. Aww!
  • I had lunch with friends on Friday and dinner with another set of friends on Saturday. It was so nice to take some time to catch up and laugh with people I love!

The Week 9 Kindness Challenge was inspired by Operation Beautiful, which I discovered via this moving post by Anne at Fannetastic Food. This week’s challenge is simple: write a kind or inspiring note and hang it up in a public place. This might be a bathroom mirror at school or work, a public bulletin board in a coffeehouse, or even a flyer on a lampost in your neighborhood! Write a message to brighten a stranger’s day and make him or her feel beautiful, special and loved. I would love if you would take pictures of the kind messages you send out into the world! Blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com. You can also share them at the Operation Beautiful website.

Have a marvelous week!
-Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter