This week has been a mix of contradictions. Sunny skies have been lighting up these early May days, the warmth nearly tricking us into thinking that summer has arrived. We spent much of yesterday relaxing in the backyard as we donned swimsuits, enjoyed sprinkler-running and bubble-blowing, and ate our dinner in the grass. Better weather hasn’t been seen in Seattle for quite some time, and while I don’t yet know what the rest of this season will bring, it has, up to this point, completely exceeded my expectations.
In contrast to the beauty of my surroundings, I’ve found myself in a slump today, physically speaking. Some sort of wretched sinus slash head cold combination has taken up residence in my body, and it’s hard to think of much besides resting. I long to cocoon under the sheets, but I’m trying to push myself outside. The sun seems harsh (even Eowyn has remarked on more than one occasion, “It’s too bright, Mommy!”), yet it is good. As much as I resist going outdoors, the fresh air and cool breeze always refresh, and Lord knows I could use the Vitamin D.
Given this, it wouldn’t be untrue for me to say that the tension of the tangible mirrors what’s currently in my heart. God has been showing his kindness and mercy to me in many ways lately, refining and filling me with greater direction and purpose in my role as mother. My joy has increased and it almost feels like my capacity to love is enlarged. (Dan will tell you that I’ve also got a mild case of baby fever, and while I know better than to indulge in that fantasy at this point in time, the mere fact of its presence is, to me, an indicator of progress.) Good things abound, but even in all of it, there is tension. There’s tension in the everyday, in the to-do lists and time constraints, and in the fact that God has set me here in this place for a specific purpose, yet I’m constantly wandering. I’m easily distracted from my task and am prone to seeking my satisfaction and sense of worth in things other than him.
I started reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts this week (which reminds me, I need to get on the ball and order my book club read from Amazon, stat!), and I’m smiling at God’s perfect timing with it. The book was originally recommended to me by a friend a couple years ago, and though it’s been on my to-read list ever since, I’m so glad I’m diving in right now, in this exact point in my life. Two things have stuck out to me thus far: one is the notion that to trust God is to say “yes” to him at all times, always looking forward and pressing in to the good that he has provided in the present. By stopping saying “No,God!” when tragedies arise, we submit our will to his and choose to believe that he can bring good even through life’s most difficult circumstances. (I hardly feel like I’m doing her words justice, but suffice it to say that, after reading this, I felt incredibly encouraged and excited about the joy of agreeing with God that yes, he has my best interest at heart.)
The second of Voskamp’s points that has me pondering is the “one thousand gifts” themselves. The title of the book, I’ve learned, is a reference to a project that the author undertook, striving to write down 1000 things for which she was thankful. One thousand gifts from God to her. They are simple, everyday things that she records (like the gift of cookies still warm from the oven and the rainbow of colors in dish soap suds), and the process itself ends up being transformative. Voskamp talks of the exercise opening her eyes to the tiny miracles that surround her constantly, filling her with joy and gratitude for where God has placed her. Instead of seeking abundant life in some alternate circumstance, she shares how God challenged her to see the richness of the life that she already had. So much of this book resonates with where I am currently, and I’m excited to continue reading. I may even start my own list…
When I first began my extract experiments last week, I debated whether I’d share them with you now. Making vanilla and star anise extracts is no quick process (taking weeks, months, or up to a year to fully age), and though there was a temptation to withhold posting about them until they were complete, I’ve decided it’s much more fun to invite you into my investigation! Here’s what I’ve done: for the vanilla, I’ve split open 11 or 12 Madagascar beans, placed them in a pint-sized mason jar and topped them off with a scant 2 cups of 100 proof vodka. In my photo, you’ll notice that the beans were somewhat unruly, and after taking that shot, I wound up shoving them in the liquid a bit more and snipping them as needed to ensure they were fully covered by the vodka.
The second mixture consists of star anise (0.6 ounces of whole pods) and 1 cup of the same vodka. Both brews have been tightly sealed and placed in the cool darkness of my pantry. I’m giving them a good shake every couple of days, and my plan is to let the extraction continue until my taste buds tell me they are ready. Some recipes I’ve seen indicate that vanilla extract can be considered complete in as little as 3 weeks while others tend toward a year. I’ll be doing the first taste test at the 3 week mark and will continue to taste every month or so after that to see how the extracts are coming along. No doubt, I’ll be sharing my findings with you here as things develop.