“Choices:” Hefty Word

Our Meyer lemon tree (organic goes without saying in this part of the world) is studded with gold. It is an enormous tree and bears hundreds upon hundreds of fruits.

Early spring is citrus season, and Santa Cruz is dappled with trees gilded with lemons and grapefruit. Lemons are known as a “citrus belt” plant. Southern California girl that I am, when I arrived–it was this time of year Bill and I married–I was surprised that seaside Santa Cruz was so hospitable to lemon trees. Curbs all over town were dappled with boxes heaped with fruit and hand-written signs, “Free!”

I just read that lemon trees “are not fans of dry air”–perhaps that’s our secret. (As for orange trees, I don’t remember seeing any, perhaps there are oranges in warmer pockets where I haven’t ventured.)

We also have two flourishing lime trees in our back garden. One is a tall Bearss lime–fruits could be mistaken for lemons. And Christmas half-a-dozen years ago we bought a lovely Rangpur lime hung with small orange orbs…that year it was our Christmas tree. In the ground, it is still small but stalwart–continually giving us limes that look like diminutive mandarins.

Where am I going with these descriptions of tempting fruit?

I’m trying to cope with guilt.

Today was going to be Lemon Marmalade Day.

I’ve often made marmalade from our Meyer Lemon Tree. Sunday Bill and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary and a baker’s rack in the cool garage holds jars put up many of those years. Glass jars of organic pale gold Meyer lemon marmalade make delightful gifts. Grab one on the way to supper at a friend’s for a hostess present…give one to special people at Christmas (favorite teachers, the dry cleaner, helpful nursery folks, the butcher, Tom the mailman, send some back east to loved ones for their holiday tables). An attractive–8-ounce or tall 12-ounce jar of homemade preserves is a doubly thoughtful gift in that the giftee doesn’t feel the need to rush out and return the kindness with a box of scented soap or silly bubble bath.

Oh, and it’s lemon…not easily come by.

The preserve is a marvelous keeper. Invaluable virtue… Perhaps by now you know me well enough to perceive I’m scattered. Usually running on the fly. For example, at day’s end getting ready for bed, I don’t take a few moments to directly hang up my clothes in the closet. Heaven help me, I’ve bought closet gizmos that are intended to make hanging up easy but in fact distributing my clothes on them is a test of creative thinking. I mean, how can I put a turtleneck jersey shirt on a hanger that’s set one-above-the other? I have to stretch the jersey neck out of shape. But I optimistically filled my closet with these inventions and while my clothes look good hanging, getting them on the hanger is…

Instead I choose to gracefully drape things across a chair murmuring, “Tomorrow morning.” Promise rarely kept. At 6:59 a.m. how can I stop and take time to hang up clothes when there’s Bill’s coffee, Cameron’s and my tea, Cameron’s, Bill’s, and Uschi’s breakfasts to prepare (my breakfast? I eat it wherever I can lean against something). Then (if it’s not raining and I don’t need to drive Cameron to school) off on our walk with our German Shepherd down to the ocean, then back to water the bonsai, read from the newspapers or last night’s political newsletters to Bill…feed Uschi…and… Eventually, by the third day, the graceful heap topples over onto the floor and I feel ashamed.

I am seriously considering the brilliantly savvy dictum of Marie “Throw everything out you haven’t worn in one year” Kondo…

I was on my way to saying with so many things to do (I’m not complaining! I love my life! I am deeply grateful for my life!), my state of mind is usually Pressed for Time. When I’m in the marmalade making mode, I’ll admit that after the filled jars have recovered from the violence of fruit and sugar being transmogrified into a preserve (boiling hard and fast, then after being poured into a jar and sealed, plunged into a boiling cauldron and more brute force) and it’s time to put them in a box in the garage, I’m rushing and I skip the step of writing on each jar its date and contents. Very bad habit. Very.

Mercifully lemon marmalade is self-evident. Clearly not strawberry jam. But the sad truth is that as a consequence of choosing to whiz the jars into the garage instead of stopping to identify them, I have a quantity of Mystery Chutneys and Mystery Preserves. These beauties are orphans. How can I give a jar to someone and not know what’s in it? Been there, done that, haven’t lost a friend yet–but maybe I have and just didn’t realize why I no longer hear from So-and-So. If I pry up the lid of the jar, all keeping quality is lost…I’d have to boil them all over again, and that would drastically affect quality. (Actually in truth I once gave a very close friend a murky jar of Sylvia’s Mystery Preserve. Never heard from her what it was, what she thought…but she’s still with me, for a mercy.)

I began by saying that I was going to make marmalade today. But I didn’t. Can’t. Too much else to do.

So that is my choice. Not to spend time in the kitchen washing then slicing lemons (I put the whole fruit through the food processor’s thinnest cutting blade, so nothing, not even seeds, which are rich in pectin–is wasted). Not stirring in the sugar, boiling up the syrupy stuff, on and on…

Can’t do it. Would love to but can’t.

Gardening to do–I see the lovely blue borage plants I bought a week ago are crumpling–not raining this week and I’ve been lazy about watering. An example of choices: I chose not to step outdoors in the chill and water the garden. Uschi loves the garden hose (as a puppy, she chewed up two hoses before we bought a hose sheathed in steel), and I don’t want her long fur wet in the house. So I have to keep her beautifulness behind the closed garden door, long nose pressed to the glass, pure pathos. I must make that unhappy choice, too. Thus I try to water the back garden when Uschi’s in the living room with Bill. Except when I slide open the garden door, it sets off a chirrup–installation from the alarm company–so I can’t fool her, can’t go into the garden without Uschi knowing it and she comes trotting.

Anyway. No marmalade making because I’ve got to continue putting my study to rights (I’m down to the second-from-bottom level). Got to send dear patient Danielle her birthday and Christmas gifts. Got to write my Christmas thank-yous… Got to read Bill the notes about Hitchcock he wrote for the talk he’s giving at the Alfred Hitchcock Festival next week…got to investigate whether I’m to repot the gingko bonsai now. That last intimidates me. It’s a glorious bonsai my mother potted fifty or more years ago…the last fourteen years after her death it was cared for by Ma’s bonsai teacher…but recently dear Frank joined my mother. (I wrote about the tree August 24th, 2023). Now I care for the treasure myself. Learning on the job.

The poor woman’s a mess... Is that what you’re thinking?

No. I’m just making choices, stacking up–dealing with–evaluating–negotiating the minutiae of living my marvelous life.

Tonight will I make the chicken-and-mushroom dish for supper or shall it be split pea soup?

After supper will I knit on the blanket for Tziporah’s baby while listening to Phineas Finn, the novel Bill will be teaching in May–or will we watch a movie…perhaps Blackmail, the early talkie Bill will be introducing next week at The Hitchcock Festival?

Choices. Choices. All is choices. Are choices. When you gather up the idea then hold it down, one realizes that day and night-while-we’re-awake we’re making choices.

Life is a continuance, a plethora, a bundle, a boodle, a royal bunch of choices.

As an example, when you enter your version of Safeway with your shopping list, do you first head for the produce section–That way I’ll get the pick of what’s left...but that way fruits and veggies will get squished being at the bottom of the cart…but if I go to the deli section first, perhaps when I get to produce there won’t be any of the raspberries that are on sale today…

Past shopping for groceries, how about the VERY BIG LARGE ENORMOUS CONSEQUENTIAL choices we must make, viz:

Do I really want to spend this much on an automobile (/vacation/house/tuition)?

Bigger: Is this really the character I want to spend the rest of my life with?

And then there are the small but also consequential choices.

Bill and I recently made one…in truth we’ve made it a couple of times but backslid…No More Traveling. A real toughie. A meanie.

Years ago I heard someone describe a person I’d not met, the sister of a friend, “She’s amazing. Seventy-four and still traveling!” Whoa. Bill and I last tucked away our suitcases at ninety-three and eighty-eight, respectively. We’ve traveled all our lives and had planned our next trip: visiting the towns where his grandmothers were born, Kiel and Bern, then, for me, Berlin (which we missed our last time through Europe)…and, somehow, at one end of the trip Normandy and Brittany then a whiz over to Ireland–we didn’t have enough time in Dublin and missed seeing Russ and Kathy in Waterford.

I can’t bear the thought I’ll never see The Pyramids.

But at this point, we must gracefully, gratefully, admit that we can’t do it. Traveling is finished. Too many physical nuisances.

But no matter. Teeny tiny in the grand scheme of things.

So now I choose to…

Work further on my study? (But you know, after thinking about it this morning, it occurs to me I’m just not interested in tidyness. I appreciate it, relish it when I have it, but it’s not a priority. I guess that’s a no-brainer but no-brainers do take reflection…)

Plant the thirsty blue borage?

Make tonight’s dinner guest my miraculous Ginger Cake?

We shall see.

And you?

5 Comments. Leave new

  • Captures you perfectly everything about you. There is to love, Linda.

  • John matusik
    March 3, 2024 11:00 am

    Wouldn’t you agree? Freedom to choose is the greatest gift of civilization.

  • What a lovely, genuine essay. Thanks, dear friend.
    As the occasional, grateful beneficiary of your citrus, I am grateful it isn’t all made into marmalade.
    I’ve spent a lot of time yesterday and today similarly trying to achieve a little order in my study corner — mostly in anticipation of tax time — but no matter how hard I try, there will always be a fat stack in one corner of my desk that should have a label “Chaos.”

    Oh and how right you are about borage. It seems to hate transplanting. But try to keep after it — if it sets seed you’ll have all you want in perpetuity.

    Sending a hug . . .

  • Regarding your statement that you’re just not interested in tidiness, I thought you might enjoy this quote I found on Facebook:

    “I HATE having a messy home. Not enough to clean it, but enough to give it a really disgusted stare from my seat on the sofa.”

    My sentiments precisely.


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