Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Endurance

Since we are discussing the difference in concept,

Endurance:
- Permanence or duration;
- the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity;
- the act or instance of enduing or suffering.

Looking at this definition it just sounds like a pretty grim thing, does it not?  Withstand, hardship, stressful effort, suffering.  Hardly the sort of thing that typically strikes one as "something I should be doing more of."

There are good ways that the term is used of course, especially in the pursuit of physical activities - I need to run farther so I can gain the ability to endure long periods of physical labor, for example.  And that is a fine use of the word and to some extent belies the concept of not enduring as a choice - as are the concept of enduring values or legacies (except when one puts it in the concept of withstanding hardship or adversity it becomes a bit more poignant).

Compare this to our discussion yesterday on Perseverance:

Perseverance: Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; the action or condition or an instance of persevering; steadfastness.

Note the difference:  trying to achieve something versus withstanding something.  Perseverance is directed towards a goal or objective while endurance is simply withstanding the current set of circumstances with no sense that there is an other side there.

After this review, three items come to mind:

1)  People use the words interchangeably but they are not interchangeable.  We persevere to a goal; we endure a circumstance.

2)   We may grow deeper in circumstances that call for endurance but may never accomplish anything more than survival or existing as the definition of endurance is to persist, not achieve.

3)  Endurance may move us no closer to any of the things we want.

We need to seek situations and relationships where we persevere, not endure.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Perseverance

Perseverance: Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; the action or condition or an instance of persevering; steadfastness.

As I had mentioned here I had come up with a word for the year, one which I was going to put various places and use to inspire me in my actions for the year.  A second word, perseverance, came up as something I needed to work on during my review process.

Perseverance.  I suppose not a word that we hear a great deal any more - in fact, as I write this I am trying to think of recent usages of the word that I have heard and am drawing a series of blanks.  That I can think of, it is only used of in two contexts.

The first is the context of the first person, where they have made a decision to persevere through circumstances to reach a particular goal.  This is self-imposed perseverance, the decision of the individual to move forward despite difficulties, failures, or opposition (to quote a definition).

The second is the context of the third person, where perseverance is being asked for or expected of us by others.  In this scenario it is not we ourselves that have made the internal decision to persevere but rather it is a condition that someone else is imposing on us.  "You must persevere"  comes the request or statement "because X needs to be accomplished."

My question is simply this:  can one true be expected to persevere under such circumstances?

Continued effort to do or achieve comes from within, a decision made to move forward no matter what because the end result is worth whatever intervening difficulties must be faced.  This means that we clearly understand what we are trying to accomplish before we are doing it or while we become involved in doing it.  But continued effort, especially when suggested or demanded by another party for a goal which we have truly had no engagement in, becomes less of an activity in moving forward despite obstacles and more of an effort of simply enduring a situation until we arrive.

The difference?  In the first circumstance there is a sense of accomplishment when the thing is achieved, in the second merely a sense of having made it - because quite often the thing which was being achieved that comes from someone else is not a thing that brings a sense of reward or arriving but one more activity that has to be done.

The trick, I suppose, is to find more things that one decides to persevere in that one can directly draw a relationship and benefit from.  If one is clever, one can find the direct linkage in most things we become involved in - somehow. It is teasing out that thing which is to be endured for that becomes the effort and constantly keeping that in the foresight of our activities.

Which causes me to close on a warning note to those who lead others:  be most careful when you ask others to persevere in causes or efforts not primarily their own.  You will find one of two results:  there will either be a grudging acceptance and endurance which brings no joy but only a constant struggle to stay enthused or a discovery of deep character reserves and the need to persevere in that which truly matters to them - which will often be followed by them following those things that matter.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Threading the Needle: On Management Styles

Trying to lead or manage under someone who leads or manages differently than you is a difficult thing.

My style - if I have a style - is that of "primus inter pares", or first among equals.  I make certain assumptions for the groups I lead:

1)  They are adults.
2)  At some level, they want to be there.
3)  They are capable to doing what they are asked to do.

Yes, I understand that this is a luxury to some extent - not everyone has educated people that they trust - but I am (usually) fortunate in this regard.

My way is simply to make sure they know what to do and let them go do it.  I will monitor from time to time and they are free to ask questions, but that is about all the oversight I typically give.  I have my own expectations to fulfill and tasks to do.

Unfortunately, this is not everyone's style.  In some cases their style is much more daily interactive and managed.  It is not wrong, but it is certainly different that how I usually go about things.  So my challenge is to meet it.

Well, to be fair, the challenge is really to meet the expectations that I have been given.  It is presumed or expected that this is the way to to this.

The problem?  That style works in some cases but not all - and when it does not, it goes wrong badly.  What seems like close oversight to some seems like micro-management to those who are under such a system:  every action is spelled out for them, every item to be done is carefully monitored and when not completed, a little more than "Oops, did not get done today" is expressed.

Where does it lead?  In my experience, it leads to people who become driven but not engaged, who learn to only do what is given to them lest they do the wrong thing out of turn.  It does not lead to individuals who think for themselves and take proactive actions - because those actions may be outside the realm of what they are supposed to do and it simply does not become worth it.

So here is my challenge:  to get the results that are expected of me while leading in such a way that I maintain the intellectual integrity and willpower of those who report to me - in other words, lead by example and gentle management while getting the results of someone that regulates tasks a great deal.

It will be hard - but when I think of managing the other way all I come up with with revulsion and anger and memories of my experience being managed that way, experiences that convince me that I can never do that to someone else.and effectively lead them the way I feel such things should be done.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Making Cheese: English Farmhouse

This weekend I made English Farmhouse Cheese.  It is a semi-firm fresh cheese, made to be eaten with a couple of weeks of manufacture:

Here are the ingredients and equipment:  1 gallon of whole milk, rennet, mesophilic bacteria, measuring cup, cutting knife, molds, calcium chloride, thermometer, measuring spoon, and large pot.


This is my cheese making bible.  I will probably never get through every cheese in here - although like everything else, I am always convinced I may need "one more book...

First the milk gets heated - in this case to 90 F and then the bacteria is added.  Temperature is very important in cheese making with some bacteria (mesophilic) are used at  less than 100 F and others (Thermophilic) at above 100 F.  It all depends on what you are making.

After five minutes of rehydration the bacteria is stirred in.

Next rennet and calcium chloride is added.  Rennet is an enzyme (traditionally from calves' stomachs but now also from plants) that coagulates the milk while calcium chloride helps with firming up the curd. They are dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water:.

Now we wait for 75 minutes.  At the end of this time the bacteria has been at work turning lactose into cheese while the rennet is making things firm.  I have tilted the pot so you can see that it is no longer liquid:


Meanwhile our cutting knife, molds, and draining container have been sitting in a sterilization solution.  We will use them now:

I now perform a cut to see if there is a "clean break"  i.e. if the curds are sufficiently firm to cut.  In this case they are, but I could wait longer if I have to.


In this case we are good, so we continue by cutting all the curd, first left and right and then at a slant to break up everything.  This allows the whey to drain more quickly.

Now the fun begins!  Using a skimmer, I begin ladling curd into the molds, allowing the whey to drain off. 

Filled to the top:

And now we wait.  The weight of the curds will slowly press the whey (mostly water, but some protein) out of the curds. This is a picture of the whey flowing off of the cutting board the molds are on.


After a while we need to drain the whey and refill the molds with the rest of the curd.



More waiting.  These is about 6 hours in.  You can see the curd slowly reducing as the whey drains out and the curds knit together:



This morning (approximately 20 hours later):

Now one has to remove the cheese from the mold.  I will be honest:  for me, this is a very difficult thing to accomplish with this cheese.  I have not yet (after 3 years) gotten the touch.  The cheese on the right is how things should look; the cheese on the left is how things actually look:

(Worry not, the flavor is not affected by appearance!)

Final step: Salt, both for preservation and flavor:


And here is the finished product, ready for storage in the refrigerator (no aging for this one; it typically keeps for 2-3 weeks).  It is delightful with crackers or just by itself.


This cheese is a favorite to make both because everyone loves it and it is not that extensive in terms of time: total time (outside of waiting) is about 2 hours to prepare, stir, ladle, process, and finish.  It can easily be started in the morning as I did and managed throughout the day with other activities.  Additionally, I get close to a gallon of whey.  In the old days whey was actually a drink of its own, now it is usually disposed of or fed to livestock or dried and powdered for nutritional supplements.  I just drink mine.

I enjoy making cheese.  It may not always come out precisely right, but I have never had one that was completely inedible.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Breather

So how did the week end  up?

On the whole, okay.  In spite of the rather tumultuous week it has been personally (I do not know about you, but I am pretty much exhausted!)  I am feeling in a pretty okay place today.  I got some sleep last night, which is always helpful, and my cold/allergies seem to have calmed down to a dull roar.

One thing I made a point of doing last night (which I am not always good at) was making sure that I gave myself the maximum time to rest.  Other than dinner and a little iaijutsu (because one should practice iai every day)  my evening pretty much consisted of reading and petting rabbits, which is a fine was to spend any evening.

One piece of good news we found out yesterday is that we are getting a bonus, which is almost the full amount that we could get.  That is a welcome piece of news (and relief) in a week that otherwise sort of went sideways.  We will ferret away most of it but there a couple of things that need doing before then.  It certainly beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (or worse, no bonus or not having a job at all).

For those of you that are new, thanks for sticking with me.  I would like to say that this is not the norm, but sadly I think it more or less is:  long periods of angst occasionally (and hopefully) punctuated by small points of wisdom and useful knowledge.

It looks like rain and cold this weekend so I am a little at a loss what I will work on around here.  We have gotten over an inches of rain in the last 36 hours so the chances of doing much of anything is out of the question (you would think I would welcome the chance to stay indoors).  I see The Ravishing Mrs. TB bought me a gallon of whole milk so maybe there is some cheese in my future.

A Happy (and much deserved)  Friday everyone!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Did I Ask You?

Last night was not an easy night.  I think I maxed out at two hours of sleep.

Post review, of course.  Wrestling with the outcomes - about what I expected, but still a disappointment.

But between my fits of cold anger and rage and muttering under my breath and tossing and turning - so much so that I eventually moved out to the couch so others could sleep - I came upon a fact I had not really anticipated finding:  maybe this is really what I meant to do.

Which made me all the angrier.

It simply cannot be, I argued to God.  This cannot be it.  I have so many other things I like to do, that I am interested in, that I am sure would be a great deal more useful - and useful to You - than what I do now.  Good heavens, I would much rather be a writer, as I would have much rather have been a pastor or even a farmer or sheepherder or maybe even a teacher of history.  I really much enjoy those things better than what I do now.  This cannot be the thing that serves You best.

But I am here, 16 years into an industry I never anticipated or trained for, 13 years into a career field, and 12 years into holding the same title with no progress.  Surely this is not it.

And then (I suspect somewhere around 0230 or so, between the writhing and the muttering) the answer popped into my head "Did I ever ask you to do any of that?"

Well, no, but...

"Did I ever ask you to do any of that? I mean, it is great that you enjoy so much of my Creation and I am appreciative, but I do not recall ever asking you to make a career of writing or pastoring or herding sheep or teaching history or any of the thirty things I know you are interested in.  That does not mean I might never ask you to do them as a career somewhere, it is just that I have not asked you to do them now."

But, I mean, this...You know I this is not my dream.  You know that I have little interest in this, that my ability to move forward is in practice quite limited, and that the idea of doing this for another 20 years depresses me beyond end, right?

"I know all that.  But you will have to trust Me that this is where You serve best right now - and by now it means until I need you somewhere else, which could mean the r est of your life.   I do not mean this to depress you but you are soldier in My army, not the other way around."

So everything else then?

"That certainly does not mean that you should do those things or even not do new things that interest you.  What you must not do is confuse these things  - call them hobbies or interests if you like - with the fact that I have put you in a certain place and I expect you to excel in that place as My witness until such time as I let you know that it is time to move on.  It is like Iaijustu."

Iai, Lord?

"You like Iaijutsu.  You have done it for almost six years and practice almost every day.  You like it so much that last year you got your Shoden Menkyo in it.  And I am glad you like it.  But you would never confuse your love and practice of Iai with the idea that you should suddenly become a samurai, would you?"

No...

"The same logic applies.  I want you to be well rounded - but I do not want you to confuse trifles with the main things.  When you are done with what I need you to do there, I will let you know."

I certainly did not sleep any better after the conversation.  I writhed back and forth some more, swearing for different reasons now - "I do not want to give up X as a dream.  I need to believe that there is something beyond what I do now.  I need to believe in - or at least hope for - something I like" - but like many other things I have found that once God has said what He needs to say, He does not really like to continue in the argument.

Am I fully adjusted to this thought?  I do not believe so.  It is hard to simply look at all of this and accept "This is what I need to do now - and not grumbling or angrily or with clenched teeth but willingly, even cheerfully when one's heart hardly seems to be in it.

But then again, I do not know this was ever really my argument to make.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reviews

Today is review day.

I have come to hate reviews.  I do not know that I always did.  The concept of a review, for those of you that have not spent time recently in corporate America, has changed a great deal from when even I entered it.  Once upon a time they were primarily measures of how you had done in the previous year.  You would list how you think you did, your boss would list how you think you did, you would get one or two "Did great at" and one or two "Need to improve on", you would discuss what (if any) your increase was for the year, and you both carry on about your business.

No more.

Now reviews are a vehicle for a whole range of things.  Not just how you did, but how others perceive you did - where you friendly, co-operative, team oriented, goal meeting.  Did you meet the goals that management set for you last year.  And wait - here are the goals that management will set for you this year.  And gathering all the ratings together, this is how you did and this is what more we want from you next year.  And this is your increase for the year.  Sign here acknowledging that you have received the review (even if you do or do not agree with it) and carry on.

I will admit that the last five years have been a tough row to hoe for reviews - so much of the process listed above seems to depend not only on how you actually did but how your boss views you and myself and my former boss definitely had differences - but I have come to value the process a lot less than I used to. Oddly enough, I think the major reason this has changed for me is a combination of goal setting and "ratings".

The goal setting is has become a concern because it becomes the point in the sand that your performance is tied to, regardless of actual events. Even if things change, even if there is a sudden departure from the schedule and you end up doing five other things, it often seems that such efforts have become expected now - and you still did not accomplish your original goals and so you did not do what you should have.

The other part, ratings, is a part that can break you in two ways.  There are various rating systems - three category, five category, numeric, letter, work based - but they all seem to have one problem: the reality of the reward is less than the rating.  If the rating is "high" but the reward is average is takes away from the urge to continue to push - after all, average reward for extra effort becomes difficult to sell after some period.

The other reason is the reward ratings are almost never tied to how to accomplish them - for examples, if I want move from "mediocre" to "extremely competent" the road for what this looks like is never spelled out on the form - and even then, it is subject to the vagaries of corporate politics that can make the efforts of one ordinary and the efforts of another extraordinary, based on how they are viewed.

Sigh.  But this is the world I work in.  So I will screw on my courage and my thick skin suit and hope, perhaps this year, that a meaningful review emerges instead of the seeming exercises in futility of so many years past.