Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Tree of Change

Over a month ago I first wrote about "The Tree of Change" {read it here}.  And as this week counts down to December 31st, my birthday, I want to share the details about the design, the meaning behind the tree, and the emotional journey of a year long project wrapping itself in the form of a snow covered spruce.
{a warning....this is a long one!}

The idea to design a tree for Halifax's Mental Health Foundation's Festival of Trees actually started over a year ago.  Last year, my friend and owner of FRED. Beauty, Fred Connors, was creating a tree for the Festival and asked me why I had never designed a tree before.   He adamantly insisted that I should use some of my creative talents to create a tree.  And when I began to put together my Forty 4 Change list of acts I cautiously wrote down "do a tree for the Festival of Trees" on the idea list.  Having celebrated Hannukah my entire life, designing and decorating a Christmas tree has never been on my holiday agenda!  So although I really wanted to try it I was slightly apprehensive.

In early October I was mapping out the last quarter of Forty 4 Change and again I came across that idea list.  So before I could change my mind I called the Mental Health Foundation and expressed my interest in donating a tree.  It turns out that Fred had already called and recommended me for the task so there was no turning back!

I began with drawing out the visual design I had in my head and even though I was loving that aspect of it I felt it lacked meaning....just designing a pretty tree didn't seem to be enough if it was going to be a part of Forty 4 Change.  Once I had agreed to take on this act I contacted my good friend, Ray Frizzell, asking if he would like to get involved in a special project.  I told him it would only require his design expertise....and possibly a shoulder to lean on as the true meaning of the tree took shape.  He agreed wholeheartedly and hence began the many conversations about the then named..."Tree of Change."

I knew I wanted the tree to represent a pay it forward idea....but how?  It was Ray's idea to design the tree in the notion of advent, to create 24 custom boxes, all carrying an act for the tree purchaser to do.  First things first.....begin collecting decoratives for the tree!  I had alot of help and education in this area.  My good friend Veronica took me shopping and explained about the number of ornaments needed, something called "filler", and how many items I would realistically need for a 7 ft tree!  Needless to say, I was OVERWHELMED!  I had created dessert tables, invites, events, parties....all from scratch...BUT, I had NEVER created a tree!

So I called in reinforcements....and I walked into my favorite floral shop, Props Floral Design, and asked for their advice.  Susan, the owner, and a huge advocate of Forty 4 Change, immediately sprang into action and committed to helping me in any way possible.  She even offered the storage space next to the shop as our tree decorating location, the assistance of Ashley {creative beyond words}, and the purchase of any items in the shop at cost.  I was so relieved and incredibly grateful for the support.

I began to lay awake in bed at night, virtually designing each custom box, trying to see the tree, the vision, and come up with 24 pay it forward acts to include in each box.

I think its important to outline a brief picture of what else was going on during that time.  It seemed that November was the month for all the last of the projects to be executed!  So there were a million details flying around in my head at all times....driving me slightly crazy!  There were quick trips to London and Boston in the middle of all the chaos....and just the usual workings of everyday life to throw into the mix.  SO, I took the advise of 2 extremely organized friends {thank you Megan and Becky!} and got myself some colored file folders...pretty ones of course....and set to work arranging those million details onto paper, into the folders, and out of my head!

I never worried about the design of the 24 boxes...that was my creative forte, and coming up with the 24 acts proved to be a lengthy process but a very rewarding one {more about the 24 acts to come in the last posting}.  It was the designing of the tree that frightened me beyond words.

So on Thursday, November 10th, after 17 hours of work creating the 24 custom boxes, I made my way to Props for the final tree decorating.  And very quickly my nerves began to settle, and I forced everyone to listen to the Glee Christmas album on repeat to keep us all in the holiday spirit!

While the tree base was being covered in birch bark and the branches of the spruce shaped into just the right form, I was busy covering the manzanita branches in spray glue and epsom salts.  It was all coming together.  Ray and Ashley were a huge support when it came to actually putting things on the tree....the apprehension stayed with me, I was so afraid to put something in the "wrong" place!  The last step...adding the boxes.  And after much debate we decided they would have to be glued onto the tree to stand the weight of their eventual contents.  I made Ashley do the first box....I just couldn't bring myself to spread hot glue all over these treasures I had spent so many hours designing.

I had to fight back tears many times throughout the entire process.....all the emotions of an entire year seemed to be getting to me.

At last it was done....and except for the adhering of the topper, and the filling of the boxes, it was ready to be transported and displayed at Statement Design.  Roger, owner of Statement, had willingly agreed to put the tree in their store window for the two weeks before the Festival.

In the aftermath of the tree decorating, over a coffee at The Smiling Goat, Ray and I had a chance to process all the emotions that had gone into the The Tree of Change.  I mentioned in my earlier post about the tree, that this year long journey seemed to have culminated itself into the design, the acts, and the process of creating the tree.  I have said many times throughout the year that this project......this crazy, fulfilling, gratifying, emotionally charging project has given back to me in a million ways I did not expect.   
Ray said something to me that day that will stay with me for a long time.....

......"over the next several months and possibly years you will constantly be shown how you have changed people's lives...how the things you have done have changed the world and the impact will show itself to you in ways you will never expect."

Ray enjoys making me cry.....apparently.

The list of thank yous just keeps growing and growing, I am overwhelmed by all the amazing support for Forty 4 Change, but specifically for the making of my Tree of Change.  I would most definitely NOT have been able to pull this off without Ray and Ashley!  Jennifer Partridge took the most beautiful shots of the tree and its creative process, thank you for the 100th time!  The encouraging text messages from friends everywhere were a huge support and the friendly drop in to check on the tree decorating process gave me the boost of confidence to finish it all! Thank you.

The countdown is almost complete....I don't know yet what form this blog will take, but I imagine there will be more stories to tell.


  1. wow, it is so beautiful and i love the pay it forward boxes :)

  2. Amazing! What an inspirational project! Your friend said it best.....many lives will be changed.. over and over and over.

    Side note: Your beautiful family photo card is a treasure!

  3. And our life was changed over and over and over with each opened box on this beautiful tree in our home. It brought inspiration, tears, giant smiles, excitement, eagerness to fulfil the acts of kindness and much pride that something so amazing was in our home. Couldn't wait to show it off and explain the amazing story behind it and about you to everyone that walked through our door over the holidays... Thank you Jennifer, you are amazing. Now, can I leave it up all year?!
    Cheers and Happy Happy Birthday,
    Brian and Audrey xx