625: Not Perfect

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I am not perfect. That is why I am Christian. I know full well I am not perfect, and that I need my God and a church family to help me be a better person than I would probably be left to my own devices. I need encouragement, I like being useful to others, I like helping out with activities and outreach. I need Christian accountability in the same way an alcoholic needs AA – when I am out of fellowship, I slide into sometimes destructive behaviors and ways of thinking that are not always uplifting and wholesome. I don’t want to focus on the problems, but instead – the possibilities. That’s not who I want to be, that negative person – so I attend, where I am in community with others who want to be reminded of all the good things we can do in love, and who we can be following the greatest example I can find. Church goers aren’t attending a saint’s club, but instead, a hospital for sinners who are looking for and wanting a better way. That’s a good church.

If I was a perfect person, I would not need a church family, or God, for that matter. I could be out enjoying my Sundays with all the other perfect people who don’t feel the need to attend. Why do perfect people need anybody or anything else?

What I am is trying to be better today than I was yesterday. I am not perfect, and don’t pretend to be.

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624: Standards and Expectations

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Organizations of people (schools, businesses, etc.) have expectations for their members. Many of those groups have codified those expectations into standards which are actually written down and distributed, to be sure that everyone who is a member (employee) of that group is on the same page, regardless of what is accepted behavior for them outside of their participation in that group, at home, or in other aspects of their lives.

This is completely aside from those professions whose expectations bleed over into private life, like teachers and politicians, to name just two. There, the expectations of professional life are also expected (by the public) to be scrupulously observed in one’s private life, too – despite the freedom enjoyed by others who are able to behave as they see fit outside of work hours. Still, that is a rant for another place and time.

This particular diatribe is for organizations which publish and distribute their expectations and professional standards for their members, in this particular case employees, and then deliberately flout them.

See, professional standards are written down so that there is a clear understanding of what is expected of an employee, regardless of upbringing, culture, or previous practice. Generally, these correspond to a visual and behavioral image the company wants to portray to their “customers.” This includes such common things as what is considered to be professional dress for that workplace, not being under the influence of intoxicating substances while on the job, and others.

Frankly, I don’t care what aspects of professional behavior a company feels important enough to commit to paper, but it they ARE important enough to commit to paper, they need to be followed and enforced. If they are not that important, don’t write them down as rules to follow and distribute that information to everyone. Common sense – which isn’t actually very common (another rant, another time and place).

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Well. The bee in my bonnet today is over the professional dress. It is explained in our employee handbook that employees are expected to dress in a manner which reflects good taste and a professional appearance. This is so that a teacher or other employee LOOKS like a professional to be respected – someone with authority – whether they actually HAVE any authority or not (that, too, is yet another rant for another time and place). So, wearing denim jeans are prohibited, because jeans don’t project that “professional” aura about their wearer to the “customer.” OK. Message received.

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Then, we are instructed: Wearing jeans is prohibited except for Fridays (if worn with a school spirit shirt) or other specified days. Wait a minute. Jeans are prohibited because they are not professional, but you can wear them every Friday if you pair them with a school/company logo-imprinted T-shirt. So, if that Friday clothing is considered professional enough for every week, what’s wrong with being comfortable Monday through Thursday in a pair of blue jeans and a school logo T-shirt, too? Or, is it that you are only allowed to be unprofessional in front of your customers (in this case, parents and students) on Fridays? Does that extend not only to dress, but all those other professional standards, too, where all those other things are prohibited (in writing) that might also make you more comfortable at work? How about a tension-relieving shot of Jack Daniel’s? Why wouldn’t that make the work place more tolerable and comfortable, too? Heck, how about a NAP? There’s actually some research to back that one up for improved employee performance on the job. Other comfortable (and questionable) things come to mind…….

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And, what about those other ‘specified’ days? At my work place, we were just given an ENTIRE WEEK to wear our jeans – and nothing was ‘specified’ about the school logo T-shirt this time. Does that rule still apply, or does that mean all bets are off on the chosen topper for those jeans?

I do understand about giving employees a treat (especially a treat that costs the management not a single penny), and has it crossed their minds that not everyone considers being allowed to wear jeans, contrary to the published dress code policy, to actually be a treat? Apparently not.

So, you are thinking, jeepers, lady – just don’t wear jeans, and shut up. OK. I suppose I can be pleased that we were given the opportunity to show up to work looking unprofessional, not the REQUIREMENT to do so.

623: Amish Friendship Bread

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Don’t do it. It’s a trap.

Over the course of my life, I have gotten from several acquaintances a container of Amish Friendship Bread starter. For those of you who have not been so blessed, it is a sourdough (sweetened) fermented dough, used as a leavening agent in a future bread product – in this case, a loaf of Amish Friendship Bread. Whether this has anything to do with the Amish, I haven’t a clue, but it does impose on your friends, hence the Friendship part of the name. See, when you get this container of starter, you have to stir it daily, and feed it in about a week, and stir it daily for another week until it is ready to bake; at which point you feed it again, divide it into three new containers, leaving you with enough starter to bake one recipe loaf of the bread, and one starter for the next loaf (plus three), in another two weeks – after the stir and feed routine. You are supposed to give the three starter containers to three of your friends, who are then obligated to do the same, like a kitchen coffee klatch-style pyramid scheme. I can foresee the stuff taking over the world.

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There is a Facebook post that I have seen several times, and it goes something like this: If you send me a messenger post that tells me to copy and paste, and repost to 10 of my friends (TEN!!!! Like, who has ten friends?): know this, dear post sharer: my inbox is where your messages come to die. I do not repost. I do not share.

I have learned similar lessons about the Amish Friendship Bread. I accept the container of starter, of course – who wants to be labeled a non-friend for refusing? I stir and feed it for the requisite two weeks, and when it is ready for dividing, sharing, and baking, I simply kill all of it by mixing up and baking four loaves of bread at once. Problem solved. No friends involved. I will take the finished loaves of bread to work to share with friends as it does make a tasty coffee cake and such is usually received with delighted gratitude and disappears with alacrity whenever anyone is moved to donate.

Just in case you are intrigued, poor hapless soul who has no IDEA what you are starting: here is the recipe.

To make the starter, in a glass or plastic jar (with a lid) or a gallon zipper plastic bag, mix one cup of milk (any fat level), one cup of sugar and one cup of plain flour. Do not refrigerate it. Stir it (mash the bag) daily for five days. You should see it begin to ferment (bubble) during this process. On day five, feed your starter with one cup each again of milk, sugar, and flour. Stir or mash well.

Day 6-10, stir/mash once daily. On day ten, you are ready to bake your one loaf and abuse/addict your friends. Feed the starter again (1 cup each milk, sugar and flour). By now, you may have to move up up a mixing bowl. Put three cups of the starter into three new containers (1 cup each), and give one container to three of your friends that you don’t care for overly much. They will each think of you repeatedly over the next two weeks, believe me.

You will also have a cup of starter for yourself, to return to your original, cleaned container to start your own feed and stir routine for the next two weeks, on your way to your next loaf (and next three friends, because the first three will delicately avoid you when they see you coming). That will leave you with one measure of starter with which to mix up your long-awaited loaf of Amish Friendship Bread.

To that last measure of starter, add the following:

1 cup oil (vegetable-based, your choice), 1 cup sugar, 3 large eggs, 1/2 cup of milk, 2 cups flour, 5 oz box of instant pudding (any flavor you like), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Optional: chopped nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, applesauce, craisins, etc. It’s a pretty loose recipe. Mix well.

Grease two loaf pans, and dust them with a sugar/cinnamon mix. It should take a teaspoon of cinnamon to a 1/2 cup of sugar to dust both greased loaf pans. Fill each pan with half of your batter, and bake 45-60 minutes at 325 until done – test with a toothpick in the center. Let them stand 10 minutes in their cooling pans before you loosen and tip them out to completely cool.

Or, forego the three new containers of friendship starter, and mix up four loaves’ worth of bread batter and bake the whole shebang yourself, and spare your friends. It is a pretty tasty coffee loaf, it freezes well, and it’s difficult to screw up the recipe, pretty much regardless of the extra ingredients you add. So, maybe you will want to share the starter for the first few batches – but nobody lasts longer than three months, trust me. Eventually the whole thing will sour on you – and I don’t mean the sourdough starter, either.

If someone ever tries to give you a container of starter – you are now forewarned and forearmed. You are welcome.