Of Music and Mochi

Despite the wind’s wintery bite, Wednesday was a day of hygge (that newly ubiquitous Danish word), permeated by an inner sense of coziness and capped with little moments of happiness.

One of my favorite parts, appropriately, was listening to an album by a group called the Danish String Quartet. I first came across their music in NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series, and in a break from the quartet’s usual classical fare, they played their own arrangements of Danish folk songs. I fell in love. And then I did somersaults of joy when I discovered they had not one but two albums of such musical bliss.

As I was driving home from work Wednesday, I had their album Last Leaf blasting (can one blast string quartet folk music?) and I watched the pink sky mellow into dusk. (I also watched the road, of course, so don’t worry.) The track “Shine You No More,” which I have heard innumerable times now, blew me away once again and set my feet itching to dance. I heard in the “Unst Boat Song” the sorrow and joy and longing of 100 lives, and it invites you to write your own experiences into the music, too, whatever they are that day.

Music like this buoys my spirit when gray January settles in. It reminds me of the life that pulses even in the quietest moments and celebrates the softness and introspection of winter.

Image result for mochi

Before I tell this next vignette, I have to share a secret, burgeoning desire I’ve harbored for the last several years: I really, really wanted to try mochi ice cream, the sweet cream and rice-cake frozen treat invented in Japan and made popular in the States in recent years. However, as someone who is sensitive to milk and always has been and probably always will be, I assumed that tasting this delight would forever be beyond my reach. Vegan ice cream there may be, but vegan mochi? It seemed unlikely. When I would see freezers of mochi  in the grocery isle and hear them calling my name, I would sadly turn away and inwardly bemoan my dairy-free fate.

So you can imagine my delight when my roommate Jess informed me in passing that not only was there vegan mochi, but it came in GREEN TEA FLAVOR, which was, just as secretly, the flavor I had always wanted to try. So I bought some on my way home, practically bouncing gleefully through the grocery store isles.

After dinner, I opened up the freezer to inaugurate the beginning of a beautiful mochi-filled life and have some for desert. I invited Jess to try one with me, and before we ate, she bumped her mochi to mine as if we were clinking champaign glasses. I took my first bite.

Reader, it was heavenly. It was everything I could ask for and more.

The world is often a frightening, overwhelming place, and we have so much work we are called to do. Small joys like music and mochi cannot change these facts, but they can help gird us through our fallow, restful months and teach us to keep wondering at the world.

Born again yogurt

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The new batch with fresh blueberries

It was the smell that did it – the rich, sour, nascent yogurt smell, rising up from the bowl where I stirred the mixture gently.  The scent was surprisingly familiar and held in it all the many times I’d made yogurt in my previous yellow kitchen as well as all the many months it had been since I’d attempted the task.  But it wasn’t a reproachful smell – it might have even been hopeful.

When I first got my yogurt maker, I’d been delighted by the weekly work of turning soy milk into soy yogurt.  It left me feeling very accomplished.  And at that time, I desperately needed something that made me feel accomplished, like I was capable of something productive.  I was deep in the obscuring grey of depression, consumed by both apathy and mind-numbing panic.  Getting out of bed was a daily battle with every protesting molecule in my body, and fearful tears threatened to overwhelm each minute of the day.  I functioned, but only on a minimal level.  Medication eased some of the pain, but I still felt like I was standing on the edge of some endless and terrifying sheer drop.  Making yogurt was grounding and normal and gave me something to eat when my energy was sapped and I couldn’t even contemplate turning on a burner.

Then school began again, with its endless parade of books and papers and projects and meetings, and eventually I gave up yogurt making – I barely had the time and energy to eat anything at all. Every once in a while I’d see my neglected yogurt maker in its kitchen drawer and envision some new, bright day when I would feel well enough to use it again.

In April, the date that marked a year since the recurrence of my depression came and went.  I was still slogging slowly through the disease.  I was still on a yogurt hiatus.

This summer, things began to shift.  The why and how of my recovery from depression, which is still ongoing, is fodder enough for its own slew of posts – a myriad of things worked together to clear the fog.  And every experience entered with interested and strength has been one more mark of returning wholeness.

So this week, knowing I had extra soy milk in the refrigerator, I pulled out my yogurt maker from its new location in my new kitchen.  I opened the box, enjoying the clink of the jars against one another.  I measured out the soy milk and located my kitchen thermometer.  When the milk just started to boil, I poured it in into my great grandmother’s mint green ceramic bowl, and I completed chores as I waited for it to cool down to the proper fermenting temperature.  Then, when it measured just under 110 degrees, I poured the cooled milk into the yogurt starter.  And that’s when the smell began. It pulled me briefly from the present moment and returned me to frightened but determined moments in my old yellow kitchen.  But the present was strong and real, and I sniffed and stirred the mixture with contentment.  The sense of accomplishment that rose up came not simply from a need to prove my worth or my health but mostly from the joy of engaging in small tasks.  Every whiff of the yogurt and ting of glass said to me you made it; you are here.  You came through a hellish year and made it to the other side, made it far enough that now you can make yogurt – because you want to, because you have the energy to, because you can enjoy the smell of fermentation and the experience of feeding yourself.  And you even have the wherewithal to write about it later.

My journey to healing is far from complete, but the simple ritual of yogurt making, at once so familiar and so new, felt like a small practice of resurrection.

 

Be ever thankful (2)

This week I was thankful for:

– a long phone call to a faraway friend; sometimes it’s easy to pretend that we’re actually just sitting across the couch from each other

– a mother who lets me decorate for Christmas as part of my rent

– a workplace that lets me decorate for Christmas as part of my job

– clementines; it’s so easy for me to imagine how these little orange spheres of goodness featured so prominently in Christmas stockings of old

– the book The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming by Wendy M. Wright; I’ve been wanting to read this book during Advent for probably about 10 years, and I finally pulled it off the shelf in time for the beginning of the season.    This slim but full volume has provided me ideas to rejoice over and chew on, and I probably don’t do it justice by reading it just before I fall asleep.

Advent, the season of waiting and preparation that comes before Christmas; as someone who often finds herself in in-between spaces, it is comforting to know that there is an entire liturgical season that the church has dedicated to in-between-ness.  More on that later.

be ever thankful (1)

It’s always easier to be where you are when you know where you are.  (Say what, Yogi?) And what better way to know where you are than to recognize what you are thankful for.  Every week, a new list.  Every day, a new brick. (See be ever thankful tab.)

Things I am thankful for this week:

– improving health (being sick is dumb)

– noodles (especially: the slurping of noodles)

– Miracles on Maple Hill, a delightful children’s book that kept me company one of my sick days

– woolly socks

– a mother whose acts-of-service love language was speaking loud and clear this week

– a flexible and understanding workplace

– the return of sunshine

– a moment during the sunrise this morning when the too-large red sun behind the bare trees started setting upwards behind a cloud

– frost

– peppermint tea