Cultivating Lemon Trees

When my late husband and I bought our first home in Clayton, California the first thing we did was hire a landscape architect to plant the beautiful backyard we had there.

My husband was a commercial concrete executive, and he told me he could pour me a concrete patio that looked like a Persian rug and he wasn’t kidding.  He ended up designing and building the most gorgeous patio room that I have had ever seen before or since.  It had lights embedded in the stone walls with concrete and stone benches that ran the entire length of the house allowing us to have parties where we could accommodate 100 hundred people.  We did this a few times in the six years we lived there.  Plus, we had our wedding reception there, our first daughters Christening party, and her giant first birthday party there.

It was one of the most beautiful homes I had ever lived in.  We bought it before it was built and picked out the lot, the floor plan, the fixtures, the finishes, tiles and so on.  We moved in and were married six weeks later. We were very happy there of course, and we had a lemon tree.  My first Meyer Lemon tree. It took three years to bear fruit.  I watered it, fertilized it, worried over it, and gave it liquid chelated iron until it’s leaves turned a glossy deep green.  Eventually, it bore fruit.

When we moved to cool Moraga I was at a loss. The roses and lavender I planted withered and died. I could get very little to grow here as the tulle fog from San Fransisco Bay, just 15 miles away, would descend in the summertime in what has been called San Fransisco’s natural air conditioning. Because of this I finally turned to cool weather plants like; azaleas and hydrangeas and beautiful camellias in red, pink and white.  I am able to grow rosemary, mint and thyme and many varieties of annuals; pansies and violas, vinca minor and impatiens. Tomatoes and basil do not thrive here, nor do the five rose bushes I planted long ago.  And, of course I have two beautiful lilac trees as these have been my favorite since I was a little girl growing up on the farm. In Oregon they grow wild on the side of the road, but in California they are fragile, and must be protected and planted in cool locations out of the sun and wind.

We have a large planter off our patio, it’s a focal point of our .75 acre backyard. We planted a Japanese Maple there initially, because that is what my husband had envisioned, we did a lot of gardening together back then, it was one of the interests we both shared and enjoyed doing together.

When Polly our doodle came along she used the entire tree as a chew toy and it eventually ended up in the middle of the yard roots and all.  Our gardener, Jesus, planted it’s chewed remains on the Eastside of the house where it miraculously came back to life and now thrives.  At the time Jesus asked me what I wanted to plant in it’s original place after the Japanese Maple met it’s demise.  Since my husband wasn’t around, I chose another Meyer Lemon tree.  Again, it took years to cultivate. Four years in, we believed it would never thrive.  Then it started to bloom and now it bears hundreds of lemons year round.  I do not exaggerate when I say year round.  I always have lemons. This has been a source of joy for me.

Recently, however, I am beginning to wonder why I would cultivate just lemons almost exclusively over everything else?  Lemons are tart. Lemons are associated with things that don’t work like cars.  I love my lemon tree, but what about strawberries, or raspberries? When I was a kid we had a raspberry bush outside our backdoor, I could walk by and eat them off their branches.  What about lettuce?  I could grow all sorts of vegetables, berries, and even more flowers. My obsession with lemons and making lemonade must end.

I am again beginning to compost and I will start another smaller garden by my pool house, this space gets 4 hours of sunlight and no more, and I will start new traditions and grow and cultivate what is sweet instead of tart.  A metaphor for life.

Plus, I think I want another rabbit.  I miss my rabbit.

Love and Blessings to all.

Letting Go

Truckee River
I took a quick trip to Truckee again. This has been the theme of the summer, back and forth to Truckee, but this time I didn’t feel compelled to go and check on the place where we spread my late husband’s ashes. Instead, I hiked the Truckee River with my friend Susan and talked about the future. 

It’s interesting that I’m not the only one in transition and facing an unforeseen future. Yes, we all have plans, but not like we once had when we thought; settle down, buy a house, have a baby, and save for the future. Well, the future is now. Having the road ahead open to so many possibilities is in itself stressful, but the flip side is the excitement of not knowing what comes next. 

When I came home last night from Truckee to the Bay Area, and my home surrounded by fog and flowers, I realized completely and with utter clarity that my husband really is gone and he’s never coming back. Never. I sat on my white sofa eating cherries and let this thought burn into my heart. 

I’ve reflected a lot on my life as a wife and mother and all that entailed. I will always be a mother, of course, however, now I am often alone with my books and notes, which I entirely love. I missed my own company during the busy and hectic days of raising a young family. 

I know my life won’t always be this way, but it feels good to let go of the past and spend these days with myself living entirely in the present.

Grounded

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I’ve finally started to feel grounded again, after a busy few weeks, I thought spending time alone in Tahoe would make me feel better, but it didn’t. 

What has helped me has been to come home, water my pink and white flowers, and pots full of impatience, pansies and daisies, tend to my basil plants, and trim my beloved Meyer Lemon tree and cook for my children. 

I should have known this, because nothing comforts me more than the fog rolling in and cooling off my creekside home in the summertime. I love the wildlife that thrives in our beautiful town, and the way we are so close to the city, but feel so far away. 

There is no better feeling than puttering around barefoot, watering the plants, and making dinner for the kids.

Love and blessings. 

Surviving Fathers Day 

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, St. Helena
My daughters were very nonchalant about Fathers Day, and I realized it was probably my own sadness on the many Fathers Days that followed the death of my own father, that made me dread this holiday for them. 

In church, there was just one moment when the eyes of my daughter filled with tears, and she asked if we could leave, and even though it was the middle of the service, I stood up, and we all filed out. 

From there, we headed to Napa with friends, and sat in the private tasting room at Darrioush Winery, then had an early dinner at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, where the food is beautiful and fresh farm-to-table. The restaurant is in a converted barn, and everything they serve is grown and raised by them. 

Siena and I started with the roasted beet salad with chimichurri and goat cheese. She said it was the best salad she had ever had, then she said the exact same thing about her entree. And it truly was delicious. 

After this, we got an iced coffee and walked through the gardens, and then on our way out of town, we stopped at A&W for floats and hot fudge sundaes.

With the exception of the missing fathers, the day could not have been more perfect, making me very aware of my many blessings.

As we were leaving, my daughter looked at me and said, “I could see you living here.”

And I totally could. 

I have to have my farmhouse, somewhere. 

Love and Blessings. 

Sydney on Motherhood – Misdiagnosed

As the year comes to a close I have taken time to look at my analytics and discovered some of my most popular posts are those that touch on the topic of motherhood, so I wanted to write something on this topic to close the year.  2015 has been one of the most spectacular for me.  I have learned so much and can finally see myself becoming the person I could have only dreamed of being.  It has been a long journey with many twists and turns along the way, but I am thankful for my experiences, good and bad, as they have shaped the person I am today.

 

Misdiagnosed

Ten years ago I was misdiagnosed with a fatal lung disease. My children were just four and six. I was given the news the day before my daughter started first grade. Nothing could have been more dramatic for a mother. I wore dark glasses and cried behind them on the first day of school. Luckily, all the other mothers and kids were crying too and no one noticed.

Huge epiphanies arose from the news. Everything I had valued up to this point was worthless. I was willing to give up everything in the world just to watch my children grow up. It took several months to go from, “get your affairs in order, Sydney” to “do you know how incredibly lucky you are?”

From that day forward I have really lived. When I was sick, really sick, I would lie in bed and wish that I was well enough to sit in my backyard and have a glass of wine. That was all I wanted to do. As time healed me (and an acupuncturist in Berkeley), I started to plot my future. I decided that I wanted to buy a house in Tahoe and be a ski instructor. I had always wanted to do that, but had thought that ship had sailed, but life sometimes hands us a second chance. So I took it and made it happen. I had always thought I would be a writer and I started to write. I had always wanted my children to have a dog, a black dog like I had growing up, so along came Polly.

I’ve continued to live my life through the lens that our days really are numbered and what we do with them matters greatly.  As I move through each day I am acutely aware that I am a reluctant role model for my daughters and all of the extraordinary young people I come into contact with.    I know I must do my best to be my best self.

I read once that the most important thing that I can teach my children is to tolerate anxiety, and I believe this is the single most important thing all of us can do as we attempt to live fearlessly.  Courage is necessary to attain our goals and dreams no matter what they are.   I wrote about this theme in my blog post on December 8th, Pacific Cup Race to Hawaii, and as out of my comfort zone as I am casting off from San Francisco to Hawaii – I am going to be fearless and do it.

When you are told you’re lucky to have six months to live, and you survive that, nothing else really bothers you that much.

Because of my illness, I learned that the simple things are the most important; the people we love, good books, cotton sheets, hot coffee, flowers in a vase, a loyal dog and of course, a glass of wine in the backyard watching my daughters turn cartwheels in the green grass.  These are things that money can not buy.  Be brave my friends, and wise with what you value, and with what you teach your children to cherish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flower Arranging 101

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When I started my blog, I wanted it to be about all of my favorite things, but because my cookbook, Real Food for Real People (available on Amazon), was launching I naturally wrote mostly about kids and food. Now that the book has been out for a while, I would like to write about other topics close to my heart.  I love food, kids, flowers and black dogs.   I also love white cotton sheets, good books and wine (more on these topics later).  Today, I would like to focus on improving our lives with flowers.

Flowers

Nothing lifts the spirits like beautiful flowers.  It’s easy to stop and smell the flowers when you are cutting them and putting them in fresh water.   I love a home filled with flowers.  A close friend of mine taught me to arrange flowers and it’s not difficult.   I use whatever I can find in my backyard.   A vase full of lemon branches are also lovely and fragrant.  Clip the stems, start with the longest in the middle and work your way around the vase.

Fresh flowers are such a small thing, but they make an enormous difference when you walk into a home.  I do a large arrangement for my kitchen table, which is the center point of my house and arrangements for my bedroom and each of my daughters bedrooms.

If you do this often enough it makes sense to grow as many cutting flowers as possible.  Heirloom roses and bulbs are especially easy to grow (anywhere in the country) and make glorious arrangements.  They also make a nice hostess gift.  Jars and inexpensive vases can be collected for this purpose.

Daffodils

I planted these from a bag of mixed daffodils bought at my local hardware store.  I planted them in the fall and they came up like little presents in the spring.  I avoided the traditional yellow daffodils in favor of these. Nothing could have been easier and it was miraculous to watch them pop up in different places around my backyard.  I had so many flowers I was able to give them to friends.  These are the little vases I made for my daughters below.

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Heirloom Roses

I purchased several bushes about five years ago, and even though I don’t have a ton of sun, they give me flowers for several months in the spring and  early summer.  What a blessing to have these all over my house.  Because they are so gorgeous, and also smell like heaven, you can stuff them in a mason jar and make a statement.  I used to feed them, but these just grow with little help other than a container of live ladybugs.  After blooming I cut them back and then cut them again in February after the last threat of frost.

 

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Summer Flowers

I inherited these Giant Allium flowers when I moved into this house a decade ago.  They grow without any type of assistance and are gorgeous in a large vase with the hydrangeas that I’ve planted along the way.  Hydrangeas do require some tender loving care.  I put my coffee grounds on them to make them very purple (like these) and keep them well watered and out of the hot sun.

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I will post more as the seasons progress.   Happy summer.