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20 August 2016

Psalm 12: The Double Heart

There seems to be a consistent longing among the men of God for a previous, more righteous, age, and this Psalm starts out expressing regret over the decline of civility and righteousness:

Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
-Psalm 12:1-2

David was hardly the only one to lament and long for a more righteous time. Nephi, just prior to the Lord's visit to the Nephites, talked about how he wished he had lived previously, in a time when the people were "easy to be entreated", and Brigham Young spoke to this same theme where he quoted James's words: 

In speaking of the tongue the Apostle says, “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” If the tongue cannot be tamed, it can be bridled. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridle not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” If this unruly member is not held in subjection it will work our ruin, for, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, and it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” If the tongue is unbridled and uncontrolled, it sets in motion all the elements of the devilish disposition engendered in man through the fall. The Apostle has represented it well, in comparing its influence to the fire of hell which will eventually consume the whole man.
-Brigham Young, JD 9:268

And it's true: words can cut deep wounds. When I was a kid someone taught me to tell bullies, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me," but in reality that sort of thing is false bravado. Words can deal deep and lasting hurts. I think it's telling that the Psalmist laments over the loss of righteousness among his people, and the very first proof he offers is that people are speaking wrongly, indulging in flattery, prideful speech, and speaking with a "double heart".

I had to spend some time searching out what, exactly, is a double heart. Elder Brough described what it is to have a single heart this way, using David's mighty men  as an example:

These men did not have a “double heart” which compelled them to seek their own personal interest ahead of that of Israel. Because of their single heart, manifest by pure motives, they did not aspire to a different position or rank within the armies of David. -Monte J. Brough, Oct. 1993

This passage was a favorite of Brigham Young's; he referenced it repeatedly, stressing the importance of serving God with an undivided heart.

I have never asked but one thing of the Latter-day Saints, and that is for them to serve the Lord our God with an undivided heart. One says, “I knew brother Joseph, but I do not know much about brother Brigham.” I do not care for this; the question with me is this, do you know Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
-Brigham Young, JD 10:310

I found a collection of verses that I'll be marking as a scripture chain. These verses are mostly ones that I found using the BYU database that had been quoted or referenced in context with Psalm 12:2 as I was looking through the various places where Brother Brigham referenced this idea of serving God with an undivided heart: 

Psalm 12:2 - they speak vanity, pride, and have a double heart
Hosea 10:1-2 - Judgements on Israel's empty vine and divided heart
Zechariah 8:17 - The Lord hates evil in the heart and false oaths
Deuteronomy 5:32 - Keep the commandments without swerving right or left
Moses 7:18 - The Lord's people are of one heart
D&C 104:3-5 - Cursings on those unfaithful to covenants
Psalm 119:16 - Delight in His statutes; do not forget His word

Then I started looking for connections between the heart and the tongue, and I added a couple from that:

Luke 6:45 - men speak from what's in their heart
Mark 7:21-23 - evils arising in the heart defile the man
Matthew 12:35 - evil hearts cannot speak good things
Moroni 7:9 - false prayers are counted for evil and not received by the Lord

At this point, I go back to my Psalm and reread it to recenter and refocus on the chapter I am studying. One thing that stands out, now that I understand the first two verses better and I'm no longer stumbling over the unfamiliar usage of the words, is the way that the Psalmist has contrasted the words of those who turn from righteousness against the Lord's words. The words of the failing faithful are flattering, prideful, and deceitful. In contrast, the Lord's words are pure, tried in a furnace and "purified seven times".

Another thing that strikes me as I study this passage and the related verses is the way that it sheds light on the character of Christ. In order to exercise faith unto life and salvation, we need several things, among them a correct understanding of His character, perfections, and attributes (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third). There is a tendency to focus solely on Christ's mercy, and to overlook or play down His justice and judgements. But if we are worshiping a smooth, easy, non-judgmental Being, then we are not worshiping Jesus Christ; He exemplifies both mercy and justice, having both attributes in perfection. Some of these verses really bring that justice into focus, particularly in relation to the dissenting believer that this Psalm is specifically addressing. These verses (and there were many more that could have been included) talk about how the Lord hates -and hate is a strong word- evils in the heart, how those evils defile us, and make our prayers useless. Useless prayers -one could pray regularly, but if the heart's wrong, you might as well leave it undone, the prayer is rejected. That's a sobering reality. And cursings - if we break our covenants He has said that He will not be mocked, and the consequences -the just wrath of an offended God- will follow.

No wonder Brother Brigham repeatedly emphasized the importance of serving Him with an undivided heart!

19 August 2016

Back to Nature

We usually school year round, but this year we took a summer break. It's the first time we've done that, and it's been a good call for us this year. But we're starting the process of easing back into school; the kids hadn't noticed: I checked this morning. But we've got stuff going on more and more of the time. Today, the thing we put back was Nature Study. Between our irregular schedule, and our nature buddies' irregular schedule, it's been hit and miss all summer. I think the park was excited to have us back; it was a really eventful day!

First, we saw these beautiful flowers. I'm still working on identifying them.

Then we found this fuzzy little guy. He was fast, and when we scooped him up on a stick so that he wouldn't be gone before the kids could see him, he curled up into a fuzzy ball. 

One of the boys found this bit of snakeskin. The park has a whole bunch of little snakes, and in winter they all come hybernate in the nature center's walls. So we occasionally see evidence of snakes at the park.

But as exciting as the bit of snake skin was, watching a snake eat a frog was even more exciting. 

I noticed them because the frog, not enjoying the process, was squeaking. The snake wasn't very happy that we were watching, but didn't seem able to leave until he had the frog all the way in his mouth. 

It was pretty hot and muggy outside, so we didn't last super long. We headed to the nature center to spy on the birds, and saw this juvenile Grossbeak, and there was also a juvenile Downey Woodpecker, in addition to the usual assortment of birds at the feeder. Lots of Nuthatches this time. 

Then there was this cute little guy. The nature center is a little bit earth-sheltered, so the windows by the feeders are at ground level, which gave us a great view of the antics of the chipmunk that was digging around in the mulch right at our eye level. He was hilarious. His face was all pouched out, and then he'd stare at us: "You better not be after my seeds." Then he'd dive through the mulch, come back up and stare at us suspiciously again. He was super cute.

Not too shabby for a little under an hour at the park!

18 August 2016

Novice Bakers

Tis the season: we've been given a bunch of zucchini. Which means zucchini bread - the kids want more. So, this time, Hero wanted to do the baking, and he's been doing really well with that. We're at the stage where I need to be available, but I'm not to hover; it's his project. So I set him up with the recipe, and I went and checked on some things, and when I came back things were ... interesting.

There was about an inch of oil in the bowl, along with the eggs and sourdough. When we measured, the eggs and oil combined came to just over 3 cups. I couldn't bring myself to just throw it out and start over -- and it would take several hours to get the sourdough ready. So we quadrupled the recipe. Mostly. I didn't have enough sourdough to actually do it, and the measurements were just a little bit, ah, fuzzy. We put it in the stock pot, because that was the only thing big enough to hold it all.

When all the mixing and measuring was done, we had enough batter to make 8 loaves. But we don't have 8 loaf pans; we have 2. So I started digging around. 

Two loaf pans. Check.

Two mini loaf thingys that I always burn. Check.

This time, they didn't burn. Yay! but the dough is so soft - I think we should have had a little more flour - that when I tried to get it out, the tops came off. Very messy. We ended up eating them with spoons out of the dishes. But we ate them, and they were tasty. Win.

Casserole dish. Check. This is a lot of zucchini bread.

Still going. Let's try the square pan. Check.

Finally. We used up all the batter!

So. Maybe it was because his sister was "helping" which could have been a lot for a new baker to deal with, in addition to managing the recipe on his own. Or maybe it was just one of those things that happens; we think he added the 2/3c oil, then looked at the sugar measurement and added that, in oil, as well. Whatever happened, we now have a ton of bread. And he has experience which he just couldn't have had from things going the way they ought to go.

He shared some with his cub scout den and with our violin teacher, who just had a baby. And we froze some. And we ate a bunch.

And it's all very yummy.

12 August 2016

What Did You Give Up?

I recently read the conversion story of a woman, a liberal university professor living in a lesbian relationship, and a little bit of her journey as she made the dramatic changes to align her life with the Truth she discovered in the Bible. It's a remarkable story, and I find myself wondering if I exemplify Christian love as well as the church she found does. There's a lot of food for thought in the story.

 I had some really burning questions for people. I would go up to my homeschool mom friends, and say “Look, I have to give up the girlfriend: What did you have to give up to be here?” I heard amazing things that made me realize I did not have any more to give up than anyone else. I learned there were other people in my church who struggled with sexual sin, with lust, with faithlessness … and they told me that! They took the risk of no longer looking all cleaned up to me.

What an amazing question. What did you give up? 

My initial reaction was that I haven't given up much. I was born into a family that's been strong in the church for generations. Nobody disowned me when I got baptized; Mom made me a beautiful pink dress (probably the last pink dress I ever owned), floor length, with a sweetheart neckline and this amazing satiny fabric. I was in Little Girl Heaven, and not thinking of sacrifice at all. There were cookies and out of town relatives all smiling proudly.

But later, when the dress and the cookies were done, the work began.

 There was mockery and ostracism at school. 

There was that young man I chose not to date because he did not share my beliefs. 

There was that time when, after I passed the audition, I found that rehearsal was on Sundays and Wednesdays, and conflicted with every church meeting. I can still sing several of the songs, even though I only went twice. 

There was prioritizing marriage over study abroad in Japan in college, and trips to Japan that I skip now because I put my children's needs -my role as a mother- before my martial arts practice and dreams of travel. 

There are homeschool groups I cannot join, opportunities my children are barred from, because we are the "wrong" sort of Christians. 

Job opportunities and other activities our family has walked away from because they demanded Sabbath work. 

There are days and weeks and months and years spent at home, rather than on career, travel, adventure vacations, and so on. 

Once I start thinking about it, there's a fair amount of sacrifice. But it doesn't usually feel that way. Once it did. In junior high school, when I was a pariah, and nobody would talk to me except to mock me, and I wasn't certain of my conversion, when all I saw was stacks and stacks of rules, Thou Shalt Not, but I had not yet discovered why God's plan is called the Plan of Happiness... I'm not so different from the rich young ruler; I was being good, but I couldn't see where it was all headed, either. And we don't know how his story ends; there's no knowing if he came around again later.

Eventually I realized that there are 1001 reasons why we call it the Plan of Happiness; gradually the glimpses of what He is trying to do with my life started to feel real. Things are still hard. They're hard right now, and adherence to the faith is a major factor in what's going on. But there is immense joy in the journey, and satisfaction in the service, too. There is deep satisfaction in knowing that you have done your level best to do God's will - and that He knows it, too. My efforts to give up all I have and come follow Him are still imperfect - but He knows that I am giving it my very best. Effort counts. Intent matters.

When I stack things up and count the blessings and the cost, I find that I have been richly rewarded for the sacrifice. This was the phrase that came to mind:

...it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over...

There's another important thing she says in that paragraph:

I learned there were other people in my church who struggled with sexual sin, with lust, with faithlessness … and they told me that! They took the risk of no longer looking all cleaned up to me.
-Journey of Grace, emphasis added

I think this is important, but it's so, so hard. It's hard to be vulnerable to judgement, to risk revisiting painful episodes, to know how to deal with talking about problems that involve other people without being gossipy, to risk exposing the messy, broken parts of ourselves. We have to be kind and gentle when those around us are not looking "all cleaned up". There's a lot of sensitivity to the Spirit that needs to be had in having this kind of conversation. But look at the fruits that it bore for this church and their new friends, when they had the courage to allow a peek past the cleaned up parts: look at the understanding they were all able to develop, the bridges they became -I love the quote, “You are a bridge, and bridges get walked on.” There's so much truth in that. It's not easy. She talks about how the conversion process creates "comprehensive chaos", and I think she's right. And not just at the outset; conversion is an ongoing thing; we can never stop trying to become better, more Christlike, and the process continues, upending things we thought were solid. Sacrifice is a process of sanctification at any point on the path, not just at the beginning of our journey with Christ.

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth's sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
-Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith 6:7

So, what did you give up?

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Saga: Part 6

 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

Before I tried again, I checked the with a sourdough bakers group online that I like, to see if I could find some ideas for how to proceed. And I learned some more things:

1. Sourness is adjustable. I'm actually not a huge fan, and so I'll be messing around. Apparently, baking soda can help, since it's alkaline. I'm not sure if I can add it directly to my start, and adjust it right at the outset, or if I'd have to continually adjust the dough. I may make a test batch of start and try it out to see what happens.

2. Another suggestion was to try a springform or other pan with tighter sides nested inside my dutch oven. The dutch oven keeps in the steam - and with a nested pan you can add a couple ice cubes right before you put it in - and the steam helps slow down crust formation. That would help two of my problems with the last loaf.

3. Somebody stopped by the last post and clarified about bakers' percents in the comments, which was very nice of them - it's by weight, not volume. Which is tricky; I don't have a good way to measure weight, and going out to get new equipment is not in the cards right now. But it's good to keep in the back of my head, and they had a suggestion of how they deal with the differences, which should be very helpful. I just have to figure out what this new information is going to mean when I am standing in my kitchen doing stuff.

4. I think the last batch may have been too wet, which lead to it not holding its shape. I need to read some more about hydration. Which will mean diving into more percent stuff.

So I cooked a batch of white bread with a little oats in it because I like it that way. And it turned out lovely.

So back to sourdough. I decided that the last dough was too wet, and that's why it hadn't held its shape well enough to rise up. And I took a suggestion from the sourdough people to try nesting a springform pan inside my dutch oven. That shrinks the space just a little, and gives a bit of support for the sides, and I still get the lid hold in the steam. So I made the dough and set everything all up. 

The dough felt good, and it rose nicely, I shaped it and put it in the pan, and let it rise again. I was making dinner, and looking at it, and it wasn't quite done. So I stared at it. It didn't make it go faster, but I did it anyway. My husband and sister laughed at me a little. But I kept peeking at the bread because it was acting right, and I was getting excited. Turns out there was good reason for that - it turned out great! So here's the final recipe:

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
1c sourdough start
1c warm water
1T honey
1t salt
2-3T oil
about 4c whole wheat flour

Put start and water in the stand mixer with honey, salt, and oil. Begin mixing and add flour a little bit at a time. Dough should ball up around the dough hook, but still feel spongy and moist when touched (do that with your mixer turned off so you don't break your finger). Let rise 2-3 hours in the bowl, until doubled. Spray a springform pan that fits in your dutch oven with Pam, oil the dough to keep it soft, and set it in a warm place to rise till double, about 1 1/2 hours. Squeeze an ice cube between the springform and the dutch oven to provide steam, and put the lid on the dutch oven to keep it in. This helps the crust stay softer and thinner. Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes covered, then uncover and bake 5-10 more. Remove from pans carefully, and let cool 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Isn't that pretty? It's tall enough to use for sandwiches. The crust is soft enough to please even Dragon - he devoured his piece and came back for more.

It was delicious.

Up next: sourdough muffins. 

10 August 2016

Whole Wheat Sourdough Saga: Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

OK. So, you know how I said that I wasn't going to be learning about bakers' percents? I sort of did it by accident. And it might even be useful.

In using baker’s percentage, each ingredient in a recipe is expressed as a percentage of the flour weight, and the flour weight is always expressed as 100%.

So if I have 4 cups of flour (100%) and 1 cup of water, then the water would be 25%. Huh. I learned about it by accident here, when I was reading about the role of oil in bread. They say that, on average, the oil in pizza dough will be between 2% and 5%. So in a 4c of flour recipe, 1/4 cup of oil would be 5%. I am making approximately a 4 cup recipe, but then there's more flour hiding in the start, and I'm not quite sure how to go about determining how much. But it would put the 1/4c oil that I'm thinking about putting in right about in the right range.

So I'm going with 1/4c oil for this variant. Here's today's recipe:

Today's Sourdough Bread
3/4c sourdough start
1c water
~1T honey
1/4c olive oil
3 1/2-4c whole wheat flour

So I baked it, and it turned out the best of any of the loaves so far. Really, the only complaint I have is that it's so flat. It spread out, rather than puffing up, and I'm not sure how to troubleshoot that. I'm thinking I'll have to take my questions to the sourdough group. Once it's cut, it's shaped a lot like biscotti.

The crust is reasonable. It's crunchy, rather than almost not there like the white bread, but it's a pleasant kind of crunch. The texture is nice. The flavor is good. The kids are eating it, and describing it as "awesome, except more hard crust". I think Dragon, my fussy crust guy, would adapt.
I just wish it was a touch taller, so we could make better sandwiches. 

"Mom, can I have another bread with jelly?"
"We can have bread, and jelly! Together!"

And they both at it all up. Yum.

09 August 2016

Whole Wheat Sourdough Saga: Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 5.

I usually make at least some of our own pizza when we have a Pizza And Movie night, and since I'm on a roll, it was sourdough today. Actually, The Daddy got almost everything ready while I wasn't paying attention (he's sweet like that), and I quick threw in an extra pizza because the dough needed to be turned into something. So I slapped it into one of my cast iron pans, tossed some stuff on top an BAM! Pizza. I've used the same recipe for loaf bread and pizza bread for a long time with great results; it's all bread.

Shoulda been two pizzas, though; the crust was too thick. And that made the sourdough flavor, which is stronger than white even when the start is being cycled this often, a little too prominent. I'd increased the oil again this time, and it rose a lot more than the last batch - almost as much as my regular yeast bread. But it was still very dense in the crust. I will probably try this one again, and make it into a loaf in my dutch oven, so that I'm able to compare it in a more apples to apples kind of way. Anyway. My kids ate it, so it's a success - but I'm not done playing around to see if I can make it better. This is what I did today:

Sourdough Pizza Crust
3/4c sourdough start
1c water
2T oil
1t salt 
~3 1/2-4c whole wheat flour

Mix start, water, oil and salt in a stand mixer. Add 3 1/2 to 4 cups of flour; dough should be moist enough to be tacky, almost sticky. Roll onto two pizza stones or press into a pair of large cast iron pans. Prick with a fork to prevent air bubbles. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes; top with sauce and toppings of your choice. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, until cheese is melty. Let sit 5 minutes; slice. Eat.  

08 August 2016

Photoshop Elements Digital Painting

Digital painting has both The Daddy and I intrigued. So I'm gathering up some tutorials. Here's what I've found today.

First, the basics of using Photoshop Elements:

Tutorials from Adobe
20 Elements Tutorials - basic tools, swapping facial expressions, fixing lighting...

A playlist for getting to know Elements: various tools, layers, layer masks...

Smart Filters video Tutorail

So, you know your tools, then you can start looking at tutorials that are specific to digital painting.

The guy that does that has a pretty extensive YouTube channel, and this particular playlist has over 100 tutorials for a whole bunch of different things you can do in digital art stuff.


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