2014: The Year of Canning Lemons

a91f2a2e1d71a3c62e642201cf96d0acFrom the brain fog of in bed, I’ve been thinking how I’d rather be home sick than homesick. It’s good to be here. Mani is on the phone with her oldest daughter, scrolling through food boards on Pinterest, a half-torturous, half-hopeful diversion for her. I spent the day with a mountain of wadded-up tissues mounting at my side, water bottle after water bottle, cup of honey tea after cup of honey tea, a nip of brandy and a late-afternoon nap after actually managing to work for a few hours. Now, it’s Tuesday night, but it feels like Friday, like the end of something and the beginning of something all at the same time.

The college where I work is closed until January 5, which also happens to be the first day of my next two-week writing group. I now have 12 days, half of them with the girls, to prepare ten new prompts, plus ten for February if I’m on a roll, to rest more, and to enjoy the last weeks of being forty. Maybe it’s the sick, the way fever and being forced to stay put can burn away the extraneous. Or the way being home-bound for a stretch can make the world draw in closer before the cabin fever kicks in. Either way, I’m feeling all extra tuned in tonight.

A close friend texted me tonight, “If this past year had a title, a name, what would it be for you?”

“Canning Lemons” is the pin on Mani’s screen that just caught my eye. That might be a good name for this past year. Life gave us helpers the likes of whom I’d never imagined, and lemons so sour there were moments when my face was so puckered I thought it’d stay that way permanently. There was sweetness so simple and satisfying, I wanted to bottle it up and send it to the ocean so it could float back to me years from now as a message of what to remember.

It was a year of weddings–my cousin’s and my own. It was Pearlie in her dapper suits and Aviva discovering Barbra Streisand. It was a dozen trips to David’s Bridal. It was adrenaline and rush of heat and fear and oases of calm and hope and so much not knowing but waiting to see. It was taking risks and being vulnerable and intentions not translating and the messiness of finding the right language, the words that would heal. It was the year of the vow and the chuppah. It was watching Pearl as she relaxed into our new family unit; when Mani first moved to Massachusetts, Pearl wouldn’t even stay in the room alone with her. Now, she runs into our room after figuring out a new yo-yo trick–I have to show Mani!

It was the year of the Village and of memorizing the fastest route to the Emergency Room. It was do we call 911? It was courting Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and not taking it personally that they didn’t come. It was a year of industry. Sick days and showing up anyway. Juggling lemons. Canning lemons. Squeezing lemons. Lemons with honey and garlic. Lemon trees far, far away in the desert we’d love to see again, soon, but may not for some time. Lemon juice in the sun. Waiting for the words to appear.

It was Aviva busking and Pearl writing poems on the typewriter and selling them for $1 on the streets of Amherst. It was a year of mason jars and moving again and isolation and reaching out again. It was a yellow couch and now, no couch. It was Mani’s youngest harmonizing with Aviva to Lorde’s Royals, as if they’d been singing together for years. It was writing my way through it all. It was realizing that I must get to Israel, some day, somehow. It was paring down priorities, nothing I expected, both harder and more wonderful. It was a name that chose me because it caught my eye and I didn’t overthink it. It was throw predictions, projections, and the past to the birds. It was birds on branches, birds on wires, birds in fields and birds overhead and the little ones in my heart that chirp and cheep and keep me company.

It was early-morning Facebook poems and way-late thank-you notes (if you are reading this and gave us a wedding gift and haven’t received one yet, please please forgive us, they’re coming!). It was what really matters and best-case scenarios and it could be worse and funny misheard things like “glass thing” and “relaxing” and it was you had to be there and you can’t make this shit up and now it’s December 23, a week and a day to the end of 2014. The year of the lemon, canning, sugaring them up, bright yellow like the sun, that never once stopped shining on me, not even on the cloudiest mornings, the darkest afternoons.

Life: Thank you for the lemons. Thank you for the cans. Thank you for the sugar and thank you for the water. Thank you, for the tools and the resources and the research and the people and the love. Most of all, for the love. The hugs. The phone call where hearing “I’m sorry” brought tears and understanding. The conversation that broke the dam and began the change. The softening and the strengthening.

As I write a blue streak of free association, a post I will not edit or revise or craft to some kind of wished-for perfection, I’m realizing something. My birthday is three weeks from tomorrow. If this was the year of canning lemons, next year may be the year of the orange. I don’t know why. But it’s something to do with the juicy, the sweet. With tough skin the color of the tropics. With growing in droves, on trees in groves. Community, and alone. Sun-kissed. Pulpy. Unadulterated. Pure.

And this may be something of a non-sequitur, but there is just one thing I really, really want for my birthday this year. It might not seem related to the lemons of last year or the oranges of the one to come. But somehow it is, so I’m going with it.

I want a typewriter!

The one I got for Aviva off of Freecycle for her 6th birthday–which became kind of the family typewriter despite her reminders that it was hers–bit the dust last month, just after I hatched up the idea to lead online writing groups. This was a huge, huge leap for me, one that brought on a case of Imposter Syndrome that was tempered–obliterated, actually–by the actual experience of doing something that integrates everything dear to me: Writing, practice, connection, coaching, women (not by design–men are welcome), permission. Space to be real, unedited, unfiltered, imperfect. Showing up, and seeing what happens.

Writing on that old typewriter, just before the ribbon bit the dust for good, next to a big stack of favorite books… something in me sparked up one night in November. A blogging friend suggested a simple structure–two weeks, daily prompts, Facebook group. I pushed aside thoughts and worries about all the people who are already offering things like this, and there are many, and they are good. And then I realized, I didn’t have to push them aside; this is not a competition, it’s a community, and the more of us in it who are connecting and writing and feeling free to put words on the page, the better. So I jumped in, held my breath for a minute or twenty, and waited. And then you know what happened? The group filled up, and it turned out to be an incredible experience for me and the twelve participants. It gave me the courage to keep going.

It seems silly, that I would tie all of this in with a birthday present. But earlier today, when I was making such a “wah” face about being sick, Mani said I looked like I was five. And I said I felt about five. And five-year-olds make birthday wish lists. I also want a night in a hotel with my girlies for new year’s, one with a pool and an ice machine. I want Mani to get healthy and I want the weird white coating on my tongue to go away. I want my sister and her family to come home safely with amazing spices and stories from their Israel trip. I want my dad to enjoy his nascent retirement, and for my mom to get some deep, deep rest on her favorite beach in the world, the one where she practices her Wide Horizon Gaze.

I want orange trees. Typewriters. Angels on missions, dispatched while we are sleeping. I want better-than-we-ever-could-have-imagined and to wear humility and gratitude and wanting around a chain, along with a dagger and an anchor and a feather. I will keep looking for my help from the mountains, for patience in the hurry, for sparks in the darkness.

I want you, you who are reading this, to hear me say: Thank you. It is no small thing, to take the time.

Glass half-full, baby. Typewriter time. Goodbye, Year of Canning Lemons. I am taking the best of you with me, and moving on to orange.

Image: “Preserving Lemons” on Closet Cooking

4 thoughts on “2014: The Year of Canning Lemons

  1. Jennifer New says:

    Great minds…. 😊 Get better!

    This email was pecked out on a handheld device. Forgive any mistakes or impolite brevity; the intentions were good.



  2. Jean Ellison says:

    No wonder I love to read your writings. My birthday is on the 15th. Capricorns have a sense of community all their own, I’ve found. I too have a cold, and can’t seem to shake it. No amount of “ocean spray” will loosen the block in my sinuses. I have two services to sing tonight and two solos to sing on Sunday. I have no idea whether I will be a tenor or a bass!
    I’m thinking about this year and have to admit I really thought it would be the same as the last several – boring and without major blips of any variety. My job remains fulfilling, my relationship is status quo, but my love is slipping into dementia slowly, and it is hard to lose my best friend to confusion and fear. The brightest star came from left field. 27 years ago I lost a child. He would be 42. One day several weeks ago I was approached by his best friend’s fiancee to find pictures and writings and share memories. I was then invited to A Christmas Carol performance in which my son’s best friend dedicated his acting role to my son. It was unexpected and wonderful. It makes this year special, because in the last 27 since Mike’s death, Chris has not reached out to me, and now he has. I feel blessed. Maybe I can do a thing or two to make next year special for us both.


    • Jena Schwartz says:

      Jean, you have already done something so special for me, by sharing the blessing of this story. Thank you. Here’s to feeling better, singing up a storm, the Capricorn sisterhood, and a good, good year to come.



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