Love the Earth

Earth Month may be coming to an end in the next week or so, but we’re never done thinking up creative ways to protect our environment. This month serves as a great reminder of just how much the earth provides us, how important it is to do our part to protect it, and what behaviors we can adopt each and every day to do so.

Those green activities you commit to during Earth Month shouldn’t end at the end of April; they should become a way of life that lasts all year! While everyone has slip-ups every once in a while (it’s okay if you forget that reusable bag once in a blue moon!), generally, this month’s worth of eco-friendly activities should instill habits that last throughout the year.

This time of year also continually reminds us just how amazing Mother Nature can be. April showers bring May flowers – up in Boston, our world is just beginning to bloom and the weather is starting to warm up, testament to how wonderful the environment can treat us!

As the summer gets closer, think of ways that you can continue to appreciate the earth by committing to enjoying its beauty through eco-friendly outdoor activities. Summer can be super green (bikes, hikes, walks, and swims) or not so green (long road trips, air conditioners, etc.), so prioritize green this year by planning out the following:

  1. Visit the farmer’s market. Stop by your local market, grab a healthy handful of beautiful seasonal produce, and bring it home to make your family or friends a unique meal that they’ll love. Buying your food locally means that it travels fewer miles to get to your plate, leading to fewer emissions and less pollution.
  2. Play games in your backyard. When’s the last time you played a game outdoors? Think back to when you were a kid: chances are you spent way more time outside. While responsibilities can get in the way of that sometimes, make it a priority to spend more time outside this summer just having fun! Toss a Frisbee or baseball, play cornhole, or get some people together for a quick game of badminton.
  3. During the summer, there are a wide variety of beach and park cleanups, clothing drives, Big Brother Big Sister play festivals, and other outdoor activities you can volunteer for. Check out your local listings for the best events in your area.
  4. Work with your kids to make recycled crafts. Gather up your old soda bottles, cereal boxes, and other recyclable materials, and let your kids’ imaginations run wild! If you don’t have many of those materials around your house (and good for you!), head outdoors and have them collect pinecones or leaves to create scrapbooks or other crafts. The world is your oyster!
  5. Look up at the sky. This one’s simple: when the last time you laid down on the grass and took a look at the sky? It’s beauty sits over us each and every day, but we hardly ever take the time to notice it. During the day, lay down and stare at the birds and clouds overhead; at night, find a spot with limited light pollution and stargaze. It’s a gorgeous sight!
  6. On a rainy day, head to your local Museum of Natural History. These showcase the animals, plants, rocks, and other natural aspects of our earth. It’s super interesting for both adults and children, and can teach all about the beauty that surrounds us.

How will you enjoy the summer this year while also engaging in eco-friendly activities? Let us know in the comments below!

During Earth Month, we are constantly trying to think of all the ways we can help our environment throughout our daily lives. There are so many different facets of environmental protection that need our help: oceans, rivers and lakes, animals, air, flora, fauna, and forests. Each of these aspects of the environment comes with a different set of ways in which we can all think of ways to help make our world a better place to be.

Today, we’d like to focus on forests. Our trees provide vital processes that make this world work; for instance, trees absorb carbon dioxide (something we have way too much of in our atmosphere) and turn it into oxygen through photosynthesis, which in turn provides us and our animal friends with the air we breathe. They also provide shade and habitat for animals around the globe that make up our ever-circling ecosystem.

Trees are absolutely critical to our success. Plus, they’re beautiful, and we enjoy them each and every day as we stroll through local parks, go on hikes, and sit underneath one for a family picnic.

That’s why, when we came across Trees for the Future, we just had to share how the organization protects the trees that give us all life, while all the time providing economic mobility for farmers around the globe.

Trees for the Future provides economically unstable and needy farmers with trees and plants, and teaches them how to grow a sustainable forest garden. Most of their work takes place in poverty-stricken areas in Africa.

First, they provide farmers with natural fences they developed, or “green walls”. These green walls are made up of plants but, due to certain properties, serve as a fence to keep out predators. They then provide these farmers with fertilizer-enhanced trees to plant in their gardens and beef up the soil, making it rich enough to place the remaining plants in the soil to grow.

Trees for the Future has found that, after a forest garden is established with a family, the program ends family hunger within a year. Only 13% of program participants were food secure before starting, and 86% are food secure after they graduate with flourishing forests.

The forests they grow provide food for their families, and for other families in the community. On top of that, though, these forests fertilize the surrounding soil which in turn allows other families to plant their own gardens. Not only does Trees for the Future help a single family through this program; they also help entire communities.

One way to help further their mission? Make a small donation. Any amount helps in creating a more sustainable world – both environmentally and economically!

From now through the 19th of April, we’re donating $5 to Trees for the Future for each pair of Earth Shoes sold. So grab a pair of new spring kicks and give back to communities around the globe and our environment.

April showers bring May flowers and also bring: Earth Month! With Earth Day coming up on April 22, we consider the full month a time to celebrate the earth that nourishes us. It’s a good reminder to be thankful for the forests, rivers, streams, mountains, and oceans that make this world go ‘round and allow us all to flourish in a greater ecosystem.

While we give our thanks to the earth, this month also serves as a good reminder to renew certain eco-friendly practices that we may be slacking on. There are so many simple ways to lessen our impact on the natural beauty that surrounds us all. It just takes a bit of patience and adoption of a few core habits!

  1. Between 30 and 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted and thrown out before it gets eaten. Reduce your carbon footprint, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions by using up all the food you purchase. Even better: follow these three steps for reducing your food waste from start to finish.
  2. While reducing food waste is vital, there’s another ways to reduce the impact of your much-needed consumption of calories: shopping locally and in season. The more local your produce, the fewer miles it needs to travel to get to you, and the fewer emissions you add to your personal footprint on the earth. Better yet: plant your own green garden this year to get super local with your food source!
  3. If you’ve visited the beach recently (we’re jealous!), you’ve probably noticed the immense amount of debris and plastic washing up on the shores. In fact, there’s so much trash in the ocean these days that experts predict there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Use this month to reduce your plastic use in 5 easy steps.
  4. Not only does April mark Earth Month, it also signals the arrival of warmer weather. With spring and summer fast-approaching, it’s time to start planning how you’ll make the most of the gorgeous warm weather that surrounds you. While you’re at it, add to the list a few eco-friendly activities that your family can enjoy this season.
  5. So many of us have closets that are overflowing with clothes we don’t wear or need. If you feel the same way, it’s time to de-clutter your closet and recycle those old garments (here’s a step-by-step guide for doing so).
  6. When it’s time to buy new clothing or shoes, search for companies that promise green practices in their production and distribution of new garments. It’s easy to green your wardrobe, from searching thrift stores to picking certain fabrics to choosing eco-friendly packaging.

In fact, at Earth Shoes, we do all that we can to reduce our impact on the earth that nourishes us. Earth Month is a special time for us to reflect, as our first store opened on Earth Day in 1970. Our heritage is part of the reason why we always:

  • Use recyclable shoeboxes to package all of our shoes;
  • Utilize water-based adhesives in our shoes to reduce chemical impacts;
  • Partner with trees.org to plant a tree for every pair of shoes purchased.

Overall, greening our lives can be incredibly simple (in fact, here’s 5 steps for simplifying your life to cut down the clutter and green each aspect of your day). Make it a goal to adopt one or two of these practices this Earth Month.

As you do, document your journey and include hashtag #MyEarthStory on social, or email us your progress at story@earthshoes.com. If you do, you’ll be entered to win a free $500 shoe wardrobe!

We can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Over the weekend, you always set out for Monday with the best intentions: eat well, exercise, be productive. You head to the grocery store and stock up your cart with all the fruits and veggies you can muster. You think through homemade recipes you plan to whip up after you get home from work or your daily to-do’s.

Then the week rolls around and a little bit of stress (or just the desire to have a little fun!) leads to after-work happy hours and get togethers. Or perhaps you have to work late and the last thing you want to do is cook when you get home. Inevitably, some of that food you so excitedly set out to cook ends up as a soggy lump in the trash.

Food waste is an unfortunate issue in the U.S. and worldwide. Not only does it mean wasted money for you (that could go to SO many better things, causes, and events), it also has a serious environmental footprint.

There are many advantages to cutting down on your food waste, and with a few small changes to your weekly routine, you can do so easily! Where should you start?

  1. Live by your shopping List. Before you head to the grocery store, think through what you’ll need for the week and make a list. Always check your refrigerator and your pantry before making the list so you know what needs replacing and what doesn’t.

    If you want to make a particular recipe for your dinners for the week ahead, list out the ingredients. If a certain recipe calls for half a bunch of kale, for instance, find another lunch recipe that may incorporate the rest of that kale. The more you can overlap your ingredients in recipes, the better. That doesn’t mean they have to taste the same, of course! Kale-topped tacos are much different than a kale-shrimp Thai curry.

    Once at the store, stick to your list (but do add that pint of ice cream if you really want it ;)).

  2. Prep food in advance. Setting aside an hour on Sunday is well worth not wasting food because the weeknights get too busy to cook. Prep at least a few meals for the week that you know you’ll eat. If your recipe makes more than that, stick the extra in the freezer, and set reminders for yourself throughout the week (on sticky notes or your smartphone) to take those meals out of the freezer if needed. You can always unfreeze – but you can’t un-rot.

    As you’re prepping, think creatively about how you can use ALL parts of your food purchases. And that brings us to the final step…

  1. Find unique uses for the bits and pieces. Unused herbs that aren’t needed for the aforementioned recipes can be pureed and made into a base for pesto or whipped up into homemade dressings with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Citrus rinds are great additions to your water pitcher, tea, or sangria, and you can always zest the skin to give your recipes a pinch of tangy taste. Small bits and pieces of any fruits or vegetables can be added to smoothies and won’t compromise the flavor. Bones, stalks, and unused bits of veggies make for the perfect base for a stock, which you can use next week for a homemade soup. Make it a game: the less you waste, the more you (and others) win!

There you have it! In three easy steps, you can cut down your food waste, saving you money and time while improving your health and that of the environment. 

Around the world, many families make less than $1 a day and therefore can’t feed their families or send their children to school. What we sometimes take for granted isn’t always a given for such families.

Many non-profit organizations, companies, and individuals attempt a range of solutions to help. But one solution recently impressed us: Trees for the Future.

This organization plants trees as a way to feed struggling families and allow their kids to go to school. How?

It starts with a patch of dirt. Trees for the Future helps a family build a fence, which makes that patch of dirt theirs to improve and grow upon. The organization then aids them in making the dirt fertile for tree and plant growth.

This land bears fruit trees and plants that provide the family with food and sustenance. But not only that, it provides surplus sustenance that the family can then sell for money to send their children to school. In fact, that $1 a day that a family was living on can multiply by up to 400 percent with this garden plan. And that’s the power of trees: their growth sustains the growth of families!

Planting trees educates children and empowers heads of household – men and women – to own a business. Trees provide hope, not only to a family, but to a community. The family can share seeds and cuttings produced by their garden’s plants with their neighbors… who can grow their own gardens. These families multiply into dozens and hundreds, and a sustainable and nourished community forms.

From seed to tree, parent to child, neighbor to neighbor… there’s a lot of community growth happening here, all thanks to a couple of seeds and a fence.

Trees for the Future felt like a perfect partnership for Earth Shoes as it combines two of our passions: the earth and giving to others. It seemed like a perfect partnership for a company that consistently tries to lighten the footprint we have on the earth we walk upon each day.

Thus far, Trees for the Future has planted over 115 million trees in rural and developing areas around the world, particularly in Central America, Asia, and Africa. Not only do trees provide the benefits we’ve described above, they also:

  • Absorb carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change) from the air
  • Provide a habitat and shelter for a wide range of animals
  • Filter pollution from the air we breathe
  • Provide the oxygen that we breathe
  • Keep evaporation down through their shade, which means healthier and more nourished ground plants
  • Nourish us and our fellow organisms with food
  • and more!

For these reasons, Earth Brands is committed to helping Trees for the Future plant more trees this year.

For every pair of shoes purchased on our site, we’ll plant a tree with Trees for the Future. In past years, you’ve helped us plant nearly 250,000 trees thanks to all your shoe purchases. Help us get that number up in 2018: shop today to donate.

It’s that time of year again: Halloween is here! In less than a week, kids around the U.S. will run door to door in search of those houses with the biggest candy bars and yummiest treats. Ghouls, witches, and many creative costumes will fill the halls of schools around the country and homes around your neighborhood. It’s the scariest time of the year – with the sweetest candy to boot.

With all those individually wrapped candies, however, Halloween isn’t the greenest holiday. We would never suggest that you ruin the fun and stop handing out candy, of course! We merely recommend a few tips and tricks to lessen your environmental impact on this creepy holiday.

  1. Choose secondhand costumes. As soon as September hits, stores line their shelves with costumes galore. While it can be tempting to just pick something off a shelf, those with the costumes you’re often most impressed by are made from secondhand clothes! Store costumes are often only worn once; the energy and resources that go into creating those costumes, just to have them thrown away after one night of wear, is quite unfortunate. Brainstorm a few costume ideas and head to the closest thrift shop to get your costume ingredients. Kudos if you can wear parts of that costume all year round as everyday clothing! After Halloween, donate used pieces back for someone else to enjoy.
  2. Buy foil-wrapped chocolates – or less candy. A huge portion of the Halloween fun comes from seeing the smiles on kids’ faces when you hand them candy at the doorstep. We of course don’t want to end this tradition. We encourage you to buy only what you think you’ll need to reduce the extra packaging and waste. Foil-wrapped chocolates are also a great option as the foil can be recycled and they require less packaging.
  3. Don’t recycle candy wrappers. We know – you’re trying to go green here! But hear us out. Recycling facilities can’t process candy wrappers, as they’re often made up of multiple materials that can’t be recycled easily. While cans (aluminum) and bottles (#1 plastic) are made up of single materials that can be recycled and sold for a profit by recyclers, candy wrappers are not. They contaminate the waste stream, even ensuring that recyclable materials don’t get recycled. Reduce the amount of candy you buy – then, either throw the wrappers in the trash, or…
  4. Reuse your candy wrappers. Type in a quick search online for ways to DIY candy wrapper handbags, wallets, or even jewelry. The opportunities are endless if you engage your creative side!
  5. Decorate your house the green way. Instead of buying throwaway plastic or Styrofoam decorations that will break after one year, invest in (or DIY) wood or cloth décor that you can use for years to come. The longer you can reuse the decorations, the less your environmental impact.
  6. If you host a party, prioritize reusable serving ware. This is a good tip for any holiday soiree – for any party you throw, avoid the disposable plates, silverware, and cups, and opt for reusable options instead to lessen your waste and impact.

Do you practice green habits during Halloween season? Let us know your best tips in the comments below!

Eating seasonally – you’ve probably heard this term come up around the food-o-sphere. This movement entails just what it sounds like: eating only produce that is grown in the current season in your area. It’s a way to eat locally and cut down on the miles your food has to travel to get to you, which in turn reduces emissions, pollution, and other negative impacts. Local food also tends to be more nutritionally valuable, as it’s inevitably fresher and richer in vitamins and nutrients. Buying locally helps support your local economy, enriching your life in more ways than one.

Seasonal eating is a fairly new term that hasn’t been around for very long; for centuries, people had to eat seasonally as food wasn’t trucked from other parts of the country – and the world – to huge grocery stores. Rather, people simply ate what the farmers had on hand.

If you’re feeling inspired to eat seasonally this fall, you’re in luck, as fall produce brings in some of the coziest, naturally delicious fruits and veggies around.

To start getting into this movement, you first need to do a little research. What’s in season in your area in the autumn? If you’re in New England, apples and butternut squash are at their ripest; in California, pomegranates and radishes are at their peak. It’s important to note that those fruits and veggies in your local grocery store are not necessarily seasonal; they may be trucked from miles away and are at their best on the other side of the country.

The easiest way to do your research is to visit your local farmers market. These farmers only come from the surrounding area and therefore will only have produce that stems from their very own farms. As an added bonus, you get to chat with the people that grew your food and connect to their processes and philosophies. On top of that, farmers market produce is usually the freshest, as it was typically harvested within 24 hours of the market’s date.

Another way to do this – without having to stop at the farmers market each week – is by signing up for a CSA. Through a CSA – or community supported agriculture – you pay the farmers a monthly or yearly cost up front, which helps them support their annual costs, and they send you a box of fresh produce every month. This is best for families, as the boxes typically come with lots of fruits and veggies, but some farmers have boxes for individuals.

When you’re shopping at farmers markets or sign up for a CSA, it’s important to commit to trying new things. You never know what new fruits and veggies you’re going to get from a farm, and they may not be those you typically buy. This is where food blogs come in: find a favorite blogger that lists their recipes by item (fruit or veggie), then browse through their recipes to find one that looks delicious to you. It’s fun to experiment with new produce, and you’ll even teach yourself some new cooking techniques!

Overall, eating seasonally is great for the environment and your health, and can teach you about your local economy and landscape. Commit to eating seasonally this month and let us know how it goes!

How often have you enjoyed a beautiful body of water this summer? Up here in New England, summer is practically synonymous with water; between the ocean breeze and cool lakes to swim in nearby, it’s natural that we find ourselves beside the water quite often this time of year.

While we spend a lot of time reveling in the beauty of oceans and lakes, we also can’t help but notice a looming issue: there’s a whole lot of trash and debris littering our once pristine sands and waters. In fact, this isn’t just a local problem: studies have shown that if we continue polluting the oceans at the current rate, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. That’s a whole lot of plastic.

That isn’t all that surprising if you’ve seen the jarring photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge, deep, swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean. The large gyre contains tons upon tons of plastic waste, much of which takes years to biodegrade; some of the plastics, in fact, never biodegrade at all, but break up into smaller and smaller microplastics that are ingested by fish and harm our ecosystems.

We love our oceans and environment, and it pains us to see patches of trash like this emerge. Looking for a solution? Reducing the amount of plastic you use every day – even if just by a little – means less plastic will end up in places like our oceans. While reducing your plastic use may seem difficult, if each of us takes a few small steps together, we can make large concrete change. So how can you begin?

  1. Reassess your plastic use. Chances are you’re using plastic in places you don’t even realize. When you think of disposable plastic, you probably think of plastic water bottles and grocery bags. However, plastic is lurking in all kinds of places: it packages your food, cleaning products, body lotions, and more. Make a list of the plastic-wrapped things you use every day to start the process out right.
  2. Pick a few things to cut out for the first week. Get started by reminding yourself to bring reusable bags to the grocery store instead of using the plastic ones they give you. You can also avoid takeout food for the first week, as those meals are often wrapped in plastic, and opt for cooking at home instead.
  3. Check the kitchen. Yes, the majority of our food these days is packaged. From cereal to meats and even produce, everything seems to be wrapped in some kind of plastic. When you go to the grocery store this week, shop the perimeter of the store as much as possible, rather than the inside aisles. Not only is that food less likely to be wrapped in plastic (think: produce like apples, oranges, and kale; butcher meats and fish), it also tends to be the food that’s healthiest for you!
  4. Assess your bathroom. Soaps, shampoos, and cleaning products are all typically packaged in plastic. One way to cut down on this is to buy in bulk. Rather than buying individual bottles of shampoo that last one month, head to a bulk store like Costco and grab the bulk version. Rather than buying multiple plastics, you only need to buy one large one, which in the end cuts down on your plastic use. Another, more advanced tip: try making your own cleaning products! Instead of buying a bathroom cleaner from the store, mix three parts vinegar and one part water, and put it in a reusable bottle. Use baking soda and lemon to get out the tough stains and keep your bathroom smelling fresh.
  5. Reassess your consumption. The best way to cut down on plastic? Purchase less overall. As you’ve thought through your plastic use, you’ve probably realized that the majority of what you buy comes in plastic. Each time you make a purchase, think deeply: do you really need that item? Can you make do without, or make your own? Is there a way to buy in bulk? Can you plan a trip or outing to enjoy time with friends, rather than buying something material?

Thinking through and changing your habits can be difficult to start, but with a little practice, these strategies become second nature. Not only can you divert plastics from our oceans and protect our environment, many of these tactics may help you live a healthier life and save you money. A win – win – win!

Ahh, summertime. That glorious time of year when we step into the great outdoors with fervor and excitement. When the weather is nice, it’s impossible not to facilitate experiences – restaurant patios, walks around the neighborhood, gardening galore – where you get to enjoy comfortable temperatures and warm sunshine.

If you’re looking for a new way to really soak in the outdoors this summer or fall, we’d recommend a day hike. Hiking can sound intimidating if you haven’t done it before, but not all hikes include camping on the cold ground, days out in the woods, and the need to forage for food. No, hiking can simply consist of a couple hour’s worth of walking through the woods, feeling the serenity nature affords, and getting in a little exercise.

Inspired? While much less preparation goes into a day hike than a multi-day extravaganza, there are a few key things you should prepare to make the most of your experience. Don’t worry – you won’t need to drop a lot of money on gear, as you probably already have all of the essentials in your home. We recommend a comfortable backpack stuffed with water, food (trail mix is a favorite; granola bars, fruit, or crackers can also do the trick), sunscreen and sunglasses, a small first aid kit, and a trail map. You’ll also want to be sure you have comfortable footwear that’s broken in; for easier hikes, your favorite athletic shoes can work, and for more treacherous jaunts, you’ll want to grab a comfortable pair of hiking boots.

Once you’re all prepped, you’ll want to find a trail nearby. We recommend American Hiking Society’s trail finder if you aren’t sure where to find hiking spots in your area. Even better – crowd-source! We’ve always found that the best hiking trails come from recommendations from friends and family. Be sure to print out or find a trail map before setting on your quest, and choose the appropriate mileage and elevation for your fitness level. Many online apps will tell you these metrics for different hikes you’re exploring, and, as we mentioned, help from more experienced friends will always suffice.

Throughout your hike, as with any type of exercise, pay attention to how your body feels. Are your shoes rubbing the wrong way? Do you have pain in any of your joints? If so, take a break on a rock and stretch it out, or take your shoes off and identify the spot that doesn’t feel quite right. Adjusting early and often will make your hiking experience all the more pleasurable.

It’s also important to stay hydrated and full of fuel, so put that water and those snacks to good use! While you’re on the trail, always bring any trash with you (tip: bring a small plastic bag in your backpack to store trash). You’re out there to enjoy the great outdoors, so you want to make sure you leave it the way you found it for others to enjoy!

All in all, hiking is a wonderful warm weather activity that helps you take advantage of the great outdoors while staying active and healthy. Try it out this summer, fall, or even in the winter – and let us know what you think!

Where are your favorite hiking spots near your community? Let us know in the comments below.

What activities have you been doing with your family this summer? Every year when the summer hits, we always try to make a list of all those warm weather activities that we want to get in before the season’s over. For some, it’s a trip to a beach-y destination; for others, it involves trying out new local restaurants with the family and making the most of your city.

No matter what your preference for summer fun, it’s always wonderful to spend time with those people you most enjoy, especially your family. However, it can be challenging to find activities to do that everyone in the family enjoys.

This year, we challenge you to think eco in your brainstorming! There are plenty of summer activities you can do to have fun while staying green. These include…

  1. Visit local farmers markets. Head to your local market to grab some delicious, fresh produce while supporting the businesses in your community. Shopping at farmers markets cuts down on the miles your food needs to travel, reducing energy use, emissions, and pollution. Bring your kids along to teach them the value of shopping local, and let them pick out a few things! Cook up your fare together for a fun family affair.
  2. Plan a trip to a national or state park. If you’re more of the traveling type, plan a trip to your local state park or a national park for some beautiful scenery. Being surrounded by nature helps you appreciate it, guaranteeing that you and your family will think twice about how the decisions you make every day impact the earth.
  3. Get some exercise. Hike, walk, bike, or run with your family! These active jaunts give you plenty of time to bond while taking in the nature around you. These activities also help you incorporate exercise into your summer – a key part of staying happy and healthy!
  4. Organize a nature scavenger hunt. Younger kids will love this idea; choose a bunch of items out in your backyard (bird’s nest, pinecone, oak tree) and have them grab those that they can carry and take photos of those they can’t. All that running around makes for some wonderful, eco-friendly fun that also allows your loved ones to become more familiar with nature!
  5. Create repurposed crafts. Old empty plastic water bottle? Make it into a bird feeder. Cardboard boxes laying around? Make a fort. That old stuff that you’re bound to throw away or recycle can have another life if you make it into a craft for the kids! This also allows you to reuse materials that would normally go to a landfill or recycling center, saving energy and emissions.

What eco-friendly activities do you incorporate into your summer? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!