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How to Cultivate a Happy Home
"I'm sending you a lemon tree," said my mother, "to cheer you up." This was two years ago, when my bitter divorce was dragging on and on and I'd moved out of the high-rise apartment my ex and I had shared and into a small walk-up with our daughter. I felt like a shipwreck survivor—glad to have washed up on dry land, traumatized to be starting over from scratch.

A few days later, a package arrived. I opened it to find a beautiful green stalk sprouting several glossy emerald leaves. My first thought: It was the dead of winter in Manhattan—how would I keep this thing alive? But caring for the little tree proved easy; all it needed was water and a warm windowsill.

When it blossomed—white waxy stars with sunshine yellow centers whose sugar and honeysuckle scent my daughter and I gulped in by the lungful—our cramped apartment felt transformed. Encouraged, I hung pictures on the walls, bought new sheets and pillows, and even ventured out to meet a few neighbors.

The flowers dropped off in early March, leaving in their place tiny green lemons. In the months that followed all but one of those dropped off, too. The lone survivor grew and grew, bending the whole diminutive plant under its weight. We harvested our enormous lemon in August. It was sweet enough to eat whole, like an orange, but instead we made a small, delicious batch of lemonade that we drank on our stoop in the late-summer sun.
—Lara Kristin Herndon