I haven’t been doing my daily blogging, taking a break through to the new year probably, but today I have an entry. About a month ago, I had a tooth that was sensitive. Actually, two were hurting, one right above each other. It was hard to know which was sore and which was only radiating / referring. I thought at first, hoped at first, it was just a standard sensitivity problem and a day or two later it would be fine. Extra brushing, extra flossing, it would be all good.
Nope, it got painful over about 4 more days until it was almost impossible to eat some nights. I’m a giant baby when it comes to dental stuff, anyway, but this was extreme even for me. I felt like on the pain scale I went from simple 1-2, through 3-4, 5-6, and by the end, a few 7s and 8s. And the throbbing was incredible at times. I discovered the alternate-stimulus method i.e. interrupt the signal with a different sensation, so I took to rubbing my check or beard to send a different sensation through the same nerves so that the pain didn’t reach my brain. It was good for 5-10-minute reprieves, but wasn’t sustainable.
It started on a Thursday, ratcheted up by Monday, and I phoned my dentist first thing Tuesday morning (they’re closed Mondays). He couldn’t seem me for at least a week. Ruh roh. But he gave me an antibiotic to hold me over, and it took the pain away almost completely. I had my appointment, and I needed a root canal. No cavities, nothing else going on, just a routine root canal. My first, but still, routine.
Because of my own stress and past experiences, I need stuff like that to be done under sedation, and so his assistant set me up for the “first available surgery” day which was the 17th of December. Almost a month away. Sigh. There was some question of her competency, and maybe she was new, but she had very little ability to work the scheduler, the payment system, any of it. It was a crapfest. But she very clearly booked me for 10:00-12:00 for the 17th, i.e. today. I would have to arrive an hour early (9:00) to take my relaxant before the appointment. But I was booked. If anything came up in the meantime, I should call.
Nothing came up. My tooth was a bit sensitive here and there over the last month, but never above a 2/10 for pain and rarely even above a 1. But the scheduling was a bit more complicated with COVID.
Because I do sedation, I can’t drive myself to the appointment or take myself home afterwards. I need someone else to do that for me. Andrea can’t drive, so I was taking a taxi there, easy enough, and a neighbour drove Andrea over so they could pick me up and bring me home. Problem solved, and grateful for the help even if I have to impose on a neighbour.
Today started slow. I really wasn’t in a great mindset to go, worrying too much about the surgery, the unknown recovery, the potential complications, the taxi, the pickup, all of it. If the vaccines for COVID would change the world by February, I might have tried pushing through until then.
I took a taxi, and distracted myself with my frequent topic-of-conversation with taxi drivers about how business is going (generally terrible). Upon arrival, the new people working the desk (hint, hint about the previous person), came to let me in and said, “Oh, you’re really early”.
I thought they meant that I was an hour early but I reminded them they wanted me to come early to take the pill onsite. Yes, she knew that, but I wasn’t scheduled until 11:30 a.m. WTF? There was no mistake in my earlier booking. It was 10:00 a.m., AND she gave me a piece of paper with the info that matched what I put in my e-calendar. Plus it was the same schedule as last time. Arrive at 9, surgery at 10, cleaning around 11:00, done at noon.
The taxi had already left, so they let me stay and suggested I could just stream something on my phone. Uh-huh. Whatever. Waiting wasn’t the issue, I needed to see if Andrea could now come at 1:30/2:00 instead of noon. Yep, they adjusted, it was all good. Worst case scenario, Andrea would just come in a taxi and get me. Okay, set.
So I was supposed to start now at 11:30. Which would mean not taking the relaxer until 10:30/10:45.
At 9:45, the woman comes over with the glass of water and pill, and I’m like, “Wait, aren’t we a bit early?” Nope, they’ve *changed the time* around and haven’t told me. The 9:30 person didn’t show up. Why? Because they thought they were booked for the 22nd. When the clinic isn’t even open. Which I got to hear her tell the person about 25 times during the phone call.
It was patently clear that the idiot I dealt with the first time screwed a LOT of stuff up. And apparently moved people’s appointments around in the system to make room for other things without ever telling the patients. Yet while I was sitting there this morning, the scheduling assistant was calling around to move other things, and they got me back to my original schedule. Great, right? Except I had already MOVED MY RIDE!
So I had to call Andrea and get her to confirm she was okay with the new time. She was, they were, it worked. Okay, time to focus. Relax. Meditate.
I go in the room, the chair that they use is in the same bit of disrepair as it was in a month ago. The left arm works fine, the right arm keeps collapsing. Guess which one my arm has to rest on to do the IV? Yep, the right. Anyway, the anesthesiologist tries to fix it, no luck; the dental surgery assistant tries, no luck. Then, while they’re PUTTING AN IV in my hand, the doctor is using wrenches and tools on the chair I’m sitting in to fix the arm. Meanwhile, I have to hold my hand out level for about 10-15 minutes (no exaggeration) while the woman tries to find a solid vein in the back of my hand. I hadn’t drank enough water, so find the vein was a challenge, but I also had no place to put my arm, and the doctor kept raising the arm on the chair to the point of bumping my arm. Each time, the anesthesiologist was like, “Hold it still, please”. The Marx Brothers would have a whole skit written before they left the room.
Meanwhile, the anesthesiologist is asking for my list of current meds, which I had already given to the woman at the desk earlier, so had to remind myself of their titles. 3 are easy, 1 I tend to forget. Got it out, marked, okay. Then the dental assistant says, “Wait, this is for a ROOT CANAL? I don’t have the right tools for THAT!”. No one told her I wasn’t the 9:30 patient, but the 11:30 patient. The fact that I was clearly not Diane didn’t trigger a thought process.
All in all, I wasn’t getting the warmest fuzzies for professionalism and organization. Oh well, I’m in the chair!
Eventually, the chair was fixed, my arm could rest, we got going, and I was OUT. I don’t remember anything after he got the arm rest fixed until I woke up mostly post surgery during a cleaning. There were x-rays happening in there too, I think, and the cleaning was much more aggressive than I expected. I think they turned the drip off early. The whole point of doing the cleaning was that I would still be out. But it was a much-needed cleaning…they might have sent out for extra tools from Home Depot, for all I know.
Andrea picked me up at noon-ish, I don’t remember much until she got there, and I vaguely remember paying but those details are slipping. The head nurse escorted Mr. Rubber Legs out to the car, I saw our neighbour, we got a ride home in her Tesla, but I wasn’t really tracking the conversation so I might have dozed off en route. At home, I went up to bed and crashed for four hours. Much of the details of the day are fading.
Andrea woke me up and brought me some food and drink. Apple sauce, I think, but those details are fading too. But I was awake now and went downstairs and had some toast. After 24h of fasting, basically, I was a bit hungry. For supper, I was able to easily eat chicken stew, milk, and I even managed ice cream. I haven’t had anything crunchy yet, will wait on that until tomorrow, but no sensitivities for warm/cold yet. I’ll hold off on “hot” too.
My mouth is probably at about a 2-3/10 on the pain scale at the moment. I was surprised, they gave me no follow up meds. I assumed anti-biotics and pain would be standard, but I guess not.
Overall, the logistics were a sh** show, but the work seems fine. It’s sorer now than it was a day ago, because of the trauma of the day, but I’m not “in pain” generally. I remember more of the day this time than last sedation — that time I remember being at the dentist and taking my pill, getting in the chair, paying, getting OUT of a cab at home, and waking up. About 15-20 minutes worth of memory in an eight-hour period. This time, I remember most things up until the chair was fixed until the cleaning was almost done. There was some serious gagging in there that had me freaking out with latex flashbacks to another dental appointment, but it’s done.
Today I chose to have a root canal. And despite being worried, despite lots of stressful quirks during the day, the surgery part seems to have gone fine, and now I can just milk my injury for some TLC at home. I’m hoping for a morning omelette. 🙂
Just over a week ago, I wrote a post based on a question in a book that I have, and the question was:
Who do you owe in life that you can never pay back?
Since I’m an analytical type, I immediately started thinking of “who” in terms of categories, and teachers was an obvious first choice that wasn’t too emotionally-charged and relatively easy to do. I had two elementary school teachers, both of whom have passed on; three high-school teachers and I think two might be still alive, but can’t find much of a digital footprint for them; two undergraduate professors who I reached out to in order to say “hi” and “thank you”, and I just heard back from one who is now retired but still going strong; a law professor who taught me almost 30 years ago at the start of her career who is now semi-retired and who confessed, not surprisingly, that she didn’t remember me but still said hello; a graduate coop advisor; and two professors at Carleton, one who passed away earlier this year and another who is still actively teaching, remembers me (it was only 15 years ago) and invited me to join one of her online forum discussions! One more is through a MOOC course, and she is young, attractive and teaches academic stuff related to programming and video games. Like many in that field, I suspect she hides her digital footprint post-GamerGate and it might seem stalker-ish for me to track her too hard just to say, “Hey, liked your course, thanks!”.
For part two of my little mini-series, I thought I would reach back to think about my supervisors and bosses. I wrote a huge series about the jobs I had previously, and I don’t want to repeat that of course (https://polywogg.ca/what-i-learned-from-my-previous-jobs-part-1/) . But it also gives me a starting point to think about my bosses or supervisors in that time.
A. Paperboy — No one, really. There were people at the paper but they seemed really distant. I could argue my bosses were my customers, but that’s a stretch.
B. Dishwasher — It was just one night, and I didn’t really know the boss. In a way, my brother was my supervisor and he gave me no useful perspective for the night…I had no idea that I hadn’t done a terrible job, but instead had done more work than most do. I felt like a failure, and in a way, that has inspired me to always be overly concerned about what feedback my teams get from me, or that they THINK they’re getting from me.
C. Telemarketing — No training, here’s your sheet, go. Pass.
D. Serials Assistant at the Bata Library — Well, this is a hard one, I had LOTS of bosses. My direct supervisor Barbara was warm and caring, but with a bit of a hard side (she was a union official) and I liked her a lot. She gave me room to do my thing and to get to know people around the Library. Helen was happy to have help, Marie was a bit difficult to work with at times, Anna I didn’t really get to know as the big boss. But Helena was not that much older than me, and a bit of a mentor to show me what I could do with my degree. A real job in a sea where I didn’t really know what university-educated people “did” with non-professional degrees. I think almost all of them have passed away now, but they were my first “work family”. I seriously considered trying to get a job in the Library when I graduated rather than going for an MPA or LLB or even work in government. I liked them a lot. My debt is three-fold. First, after growing up in a household where my father railed against the idiot bosses he had at the factory that never knew anything, I realized my bosses were real people, not faceless, nameless drones. Second, it was the first time I knew that bosses could be friends. And third, I learned that I was a bit different in how I worked and they both let me and helped me figure that out.
E. Assistant to the Treasurer — I helped the Treasurer of a nursing association, and she let me do as much as I wanted to do. Whatever I wanted to take on, she was willing to let me do that, to trust me. That’s a pretty good legacy.
F. Computer lab assistant — I never really knew who my boss was. Sure, I had people who did scheduling and gave me the ten-cent tour, but then I never heard from them again. Weird. One of the instructors who used the lab on a night when I was working taught me about gratitude with coworkers…I went above what she expected and above what others in the lab did, and she was grateful for it. Another notch that maybe I worked a bit differently than others. The legacy is that I try to show that appreciation to others I work with who go above and beyond.
G. IT Support (internal) — I can picture the faces of my three supervisors, and I don’t remember their names at all. They sent me out on calls around the university helping faculty and staff with IT issues. Another “job” that I wondered about doing long-term. It wasn’t that challenging but I loved being the one to go in and help people solve a problem, leaving them better off than when I met them. I don’t know that I feel a deep legacy, but I learned about what I liked.
H. IT Support (internal and external) — This is, in part, one of the same bosses. And the legacy is that they gave me room to figure out how best to run the office. As long as it was “running”, they didn’t care if it was chaos behind the scenes but it made it hard for all of us. So I took it on, changed some things, and rather than being upset with us, they were like, “Great ideas”. Another decent legacy in trusting the people who are doing the job to know how to do it better.
I. Law Co-op Student — I was a law student for a summer and fall at the Ministry of Education in B.C. It was my first “real office job”, in my career. My first GOVERNMENT job. And the legacy was immediate. I was relieved to see jobs in government that I wanted to do and COULD do. I worked for an Director, Peter, who was the big lawyer for our legislation and policy unit. Lots of briefs of Ministers, ADMs, etc. Then there was the Assistant Director, and he was the old hand. He knew how all the different parts worked. He was human, he was fun, he was a thoughtful boss. I’m distressed I can’t think of his name at the moment. I remember his last name had a double letter and that’s it. And then Diane, my direct supervisor and the lead policy person. I not only wanted her job some day, I wanted to BE her. I saw real world jobs that I wanted. I hadn’t been wasting my time thinking I wanted government but really not knowing what their day-to-day jobs looked like. Their legacy was both that I was good at government stuff (they hired me on and wanted to keep me, something they hadn’t done with previous students) and I had a path forward, a vision of my potential future.
J. MPA Co-op Student — My first 8 months at Foreign Affairs was as a co-op student, and I had basically four bosses. Ken, the Director was a very big, tall, lumbering man who laughed loud when he was happy and shouted loud when he wasn’t. Mostly he was happy. There was Ian, the senior policy guy, and other than having him approve stuff or going out in large groups for beers, I didn’t have much direct contact with him. My policy boss was Jim, and he was a great guy to have as a first boss. Not a micro manager, not a lot older than I was (although he HAD done his first posting already), and he trusted me to do things he assigned or come back if there was a problem. And Marilyn. I loved Marilyn. I didn’t see myself yet as a policy guy, more interested in admin, logistics and finance, and that was Marilyn’s job. She was the finance person for our big division, and so I was initially hired to help her and Jim get some program outreach done. I got sucked into policy work after three days, and logistics awhile after that, so Marilyn and I were often in/out of each other’s offices regularly. She too left me to do my own thing and trusted me to manage stuff. More importantly, she took a lot of time to answer my questions. She was my first real “mentor” and I learned so much from her about how government actually works…HR, finance, contracts. She passed away a number of years ago, and I still get the desire to chat with her about stuff. I’ll get an itch to discuss something with someone, and I think, “Marilyn would know the answer to that!”. That legacy runs pretty deep with me. I think, in part, it is why I make time for others when they ask me questions about HR, finance, etc. Because she did with me.
K. Contractor — I spent another 19 months at Foreign Affairs on varying forms of contracts. My Director stayed the same, and I got to see more of what he did with his day. Most of the Foreign Affairs managers acted like super desk officers all of their life, as far as I could tell, and I knew if I ever became a manager, that wouldn’t be me. I couldn’t articulate it, but it didn’t seem “right”. I learned more from Marilyn, I had a few other bosses go through (Phil, Michael, Cliff, Dan). But my best supervisor was Julia. I definitely reported to her, and she was definitely older than me, as they all were, but she didn’t treat me like a student or an inferior. She made me feel like an equal. We became friends too, and I babysat for her one night even, visited her in China. We’ve drifted apart and that saddens me. But one of the most endearing legacies I have from that time as a contractor was my friendship while working with her.
L. Temp — I worked for four months as a temp at CIC and my boss was Blake. He was great. He trained me with everything he had about contracts, and while the life of a temp is never glamourous, he treated me like a contractor he was going to have for years. I’ve tried to honour that legacy with my own teams. They may be passing through, but I’ll fill them up while I can.
M. Contractor — I went back to Foreign Affairs, and over the course of the summer, there had been a significant regime change. New deputy director, Jamie, and a new director, Ken. Ken was awesome. The type of thoughtful person you would always want as your boss. Good sense of humour, calm, reassuring. A great leader for the times we were in, at least for my side of the shop. Not sure how good on some of the other issues, as not everyone was happy, but I was. And their real legacy was giving me a term. 🙂
N. Term IS-03 — I became a term information officer at Foreign Affairs, with Ken as the Director and then DG, a new director Jim came in, my deputy director Jamie was still there, and I had Michael and Frances sharing me as a resource. Frances for comms, Michael for logistics. Overall, it was good. It is hard to point to something as a specific legacy, at least not in a positive light. Much of it was just good times during lots of late nights. I got to tour the country, got to sit in on important meetings, and generally I liked my jobs more than I liked any of theirs. I didn’t really want to be the big policy guy, I liked running things behind the scenes. I liked logistics. One legacy is more negative…I saw some behaviour from one manager that I never, ever want to emulate. Ambition can be a fickle mistress and blinds you to how you treat others at times. Years later I had the chance to return the behaviour in kind and I took the high-road instead. I didn’t want to be like them. Lots of people never see that lesson, I guess, so I’m somewhat grateful I could.
O. Desk Officer — I became permanent (yay!) working in the multilateral branch at CIDA. I worked for a bunch of people in the unit as the “junior” person in the team, including a fantastic boss, Roger, that I never heard anyone say a bad word about, just a lovely, lovely man. Everyone thinks of him and the word integrity just comes to mind. Margaret was a sea change in approach, and quite bright, but I saw how her personal style rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and made things more difficult as a result. People would die on a hill for Roger even if they thought he was wrong on something; nobody was dying on a hill for Margaret, unless it was friendly fire. It’s hard sometimes to remember that sometimes life at work is tough, it’s not all fun, and she had a difficult job to do that not a lot of us appreciated her approach or direction. I worked for Ginette, Claude, Ardith, all quite good in different ways. And I became friends with Daniele, a little fireball. But of all of them, I think my last legacy was working with Roger on stuff and seeing what DGs do, how they handle things. They all showed a lot of trust in me and gave me files well above my pay grade to try and manage. In their care, I formed the nucleus of the officer I became and remain, I travelled to other countries, I represented Canada at international meetings. It’s a hard legacy to repay.
P. Desk Officer — My next stop was in the Caribbean Division at CIDA for a short six months. My Director was Paul, but my main supervisor was Cam, plus some theoretical analyst duties for a senior policy analyst whose name I am blanking on tonight. It was a good experience, but the time there wasn’t a raging success for me, and the legacy is mostly that I confirmed what I had already suspected. I didn’t want to manage development projects on a bilateral program. I missed the policy and corporate work. I might have always wondered “what if…” without that experience, but with it, I realized where I wanted to be.
Q. Policy Analyst — I worked for two directors, Daniel and Christine, during my three years in the Policy Coordination division of CIDA. While the biggest legacy of the job is that I met my wife (!), my bosses gave me amazing opportunities including the chance to act as a manager. With their help, I supervised other staff, hired an ex-VP as a consultant, ran logistics for international meetings with Ministers, approved Comms materials for the branch, and generally became a Mr. Fix-it in the branch. I was in the policy coordination unit, but I frequently was given tasks by our DG or ADM around corporate planning and similar files. Between all of them, I learned to be a manager and I learned how to manage large corporate files in a complex environment.
R. Senior Policy Analyst — I mentioned earlier that working in the Caribbean Division showed me the “path not taken” and convinced me I didn’t want to be a project manager on a bilateral program. After Policy Branch, I moved for 8 months to the Deputy Minister’s Office. It should have been my dream job — high-level, you see everything, lots to do. But the lasting legacy was I saw how little time you got to spend on any one file. Most of the time you had to pick small battles to win while the war waged on around you. At times, it could feel like moving paper with no real impact. And I realized again, it wasn’t what I wanted. The DG, Susan, and an EA Director, again, blanking on her name, helped me a lot in the 8 months figure out what I wanted. I also got to spend time with a lot of senior executives, including the DM, and to see amongst all of them, which traits I liked and which ones I didn’t. I hadn’t realized as much until that time how much their individual strengths or weaknesses show up in a large room of their peers.
S. Manager — I became an official manager in International Relations at Social Development Canada, and my boss, Bob, was one of the nicest men I have ever met in my life. I liked his outlook on life, and while he was close to retirement and a Director, he put up with a lot of noise and chaos above him. The legacy I got, aside from wishing I was as calm as Bob, was that I didn’t want to be part of that upper chaos. I’d be remiss though not to mention that my lasting memory of his boss, Deborah, is that she used to bring cookies for people regularly that she made herself. Just a hugely warm person. One of the warmest “greens” (intuitive introverts) I have ever met.
T. Manager — After International Relations, I moved to Strategy and Integration to work for a previous boss, Christine. I worked my butt off for 19 months and at the end, I was burnt out. She was trying to help me, and it wasn’t the help I wanted, but it was all she could offer in the environment we were in. Her boss, Allen, was more timid than I thought he should be, partly as he worked for an ADM that scared the crap out of everyone. And we all suffered for it. Yet I wasn’t afraid of him. In the 19m that I worked on those files, the most engaging conversation I had the entire time was with him when the others felt he was eating our lunch. I thought it was awesome. I ended up with three lasting legacies … first, not to become emotionally invested in my files, although it would be hard not to on the type I was doing; second, not to scare people from telling you what they really think or to be afraid to tell someone senior they’re off track if you have to; and third, I pushed away from them towards corporate planning files that I’m really good at and enjoy doing.
U. Manager — After S&I, I did Corporate Planning for 9 years. Yep, nine years. The job changed around a lot in there, with multiple directors (Benoit, Gaby), multiple DGs (Lori, Alexis, Michel, Catherine), and multiple ADMs (Karen, Paul, Louis, Frank, Rachel). Of the eleven executives that were above me during that time, and I may have missed a couple in there, nine of them were really good experiences, and the other two, while not awesome, were not negative either. Ultimately, the lasting legacy is that I learned I was good at my job, I learned how to manage upward and brief them appropriately, and I learned how to manage a larger team, sometimes with direct supervision and a lot of time flying solo. I’m comfortable either way.
V. Manager — I gave up a great job to try something new in pensions, and it was good to stretch my wings, even if the outcome didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. The DG was good, but it was not the same open management environment I had enjoyed previously. I took the job not knowing who my Director would be, and while I used to think I would and could work with/for anyone, and have always had that from my past, I couldn’t find a way to work with my Director. I saw behaviour that was inexplicable, I saw behaviour that went way over the line for me on ethics. In the end, the lasting legacy for me was that I could not be happy in such an environment. I lasted 9 months and that was about 4 months longer than I should have stayed.
V. Manager — I moved back to Skills and Employment Branch and worked for two bosses, Gordon and Stephen. I knew both previously, and had no qualms in working for them. Like Roger way back above, they are both strong on integrity and working for them was a breath of fresh air. Gord shared with me some of his lessons learned from a lot of years in the public service, including in the DM’s office, and it is a lasting honour to have worked for him. Stephen and I have worked together from different parts of the organization for a long time, and as he had a short-term project to do that fit my skills set, I was happy to do it. I loved working for him, I learned from him as I always do, and he has forgotten more about corporate management than I will ever know. However, I think the lasting legacy from the project was that despite the best intentions from all those involved, sometimes higher powers decide your outcome for you and your anticipated result gets watered down considerably. Sigh. A painful legacy, and not one we could control.
W. Manager — CURRENT: I am in a new job in Apprenticeship since about 18 months ago, and it is still evolving. I am working with good people, and I like what we’re doing. Changes in the past two weeks make me think that I am likely to stay in the current job now until I retire, partly as about 30% of my job is about to change for the better. It’s way too soon to know what legacies I will derive from Chris, Mona and Jacinthe, or if there will be others in the mix before I retire.
A concluding thought
I confess this post didn’t hang together as easily as the previous one about teachers. It is hard to separate out what I gained from them vs. what I gained from the jobs themselves. But I guess I would see some common threads:
The importance of integrity;
That bosses are people, not faceless drones, and some can be friends;
Behaviour that I want to emulate as a manager — trust, mentorship, staying calm, clear feedback, opportunities, gratitude,
Behaviour that I want to avoid as a manager — micromanagement, over-reactions,
To trust in my own abilities, both as a manager and as an officer;
That I like large corporate files in government;
That I like HR, finance, logistics, planning;
That not all bosses are created equal; and,
Not all plans survive engagement with the enemy, and we can’t control the outcome.
As with my teachers, all of the ones mentioned above have nudged me in different ways with their examples.
I have a couple of resources of “questions to ask yourself” or “what if…” scenarios. Things to make you go “hmm…” or to play at parties with friends. I played with two “what if” questions last year, one about teleporting if you could and one about living through a specific war if you had to do so. Today’s is a bit different.
The question I have today is:
Who do you owe in life that you can never pay back?
Wow. That’s quite the question. Oddly enough, I know some people obsessed with financial debts would interpret that question to be about loans and things, but it isn’t about that. It’s about personal indebtedness or gratitude. If I cheat a bit, I can go back and think of things somewhat chronologically and it will help me write a series of posts.
Teachers are an obvious choice, with a dozen bright stars leaping to mind from my academic life.
My grade 6 teacher, Bruce Hutchison, had a Latin phrase that resonated with me, and looking back, I feel it helped define things for me. “De gustibus non est disputandum” — in the matter of taste, there can be no disputes. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes, views, preferences. Grade 6 was the year I started to think of the question “Who am I? What do I believe in?”. I was more consciously aware of choice creating reality, although I couldn’t articulate it in those terms. He held me understand that better.
My grade 8 teacher, Eileen Gallagher, was your classic quiet but firm old style teacher, the iron fist in the velvet glove. I struggled with social issues in Grade 8, and while she was of no hope for that (or at least I never tried to get her to help with it), she reinforced in me that I had better-than-average smarts for academia. I might not be the most popular kid, but in a relatively small class of 25, I could be the smartest. If I applied myself, I could not only get decent grades, but also top grades. If I did the work instead of coasting. More importantly, she was also the one who had to sign course selection forms for high school and she refused to sign mine. Everyone else’s went in without a hitch. But mine? She balked. Across the board, I had selected advanced level classes, but in English, my high school also offered an “advanced enriched” option. I hadn’t chosen it, and so she wouldn’t sign until I upgraded my selection. In her view, while my math skills were solid, she thought I was underestimating my writing ability as my real strength. That choice fundamentally altered my learning about language, writing, communication in general, although at the time it was simply, “Okay, I guess I can do that.” By the time I realized the impact of that decision, she had already passed on.
High school was a difficult time for me, which is probably a bit of a cliché to think I was unique in that regard. But in Grade 9, when I went from being in an mixed level class in elementary school into classes of all advanced students, suddenly there were a lot of really bright people around me who could kick my butt academically. Academics had been one of the few things I was good at and as it turned out, I wasn’t “that” good, apparently, with a mix of Cs and Bs. I found the relatively large increase in the number of students from my one-class-per-grade elementary school to four/five-classes-per-grade high school a bit chaotic. But amid the chaos, I had Mrs. Pearson for math class. It was an oasis in a storm, and while she was quirky, I liked the nerdy quirkiness. I had her again in Grade 10 or 11 (I forget which) and she was the computer teacher too, so I learned to program in Basic on Commodore PETs, thanks to her. She even hired me as a computer geek in Grade 11 to help setup the new computer lab. I had never really thought of myself as particularly gifted with the computers, but she saw something and wanted to nurture it. So she hired me somehow to learn the new systems and then teach her and her younger students. She also got me writing the math contests early on, which continued through to Grade 13. Math and computers were my rock when other things were quicksand.
In Grade 10, I had Mr. Tapp for English class. He had a biting sense of humour, a bit dark / satirical in his views of some of the works we were reading. The classic idea that “yes, it’s a book”, “yes, it’s assigned”, but more about “what does it make you think about, if anything?”. What do YOU get out of it? Sure, he had a curriculum to cover, but it seemed more fluid than that. My marks still sucked in English, despite my Grade 8 teacher’s view I was somehow gifted in English. I was a C+ student on a good day, and all through Grade 9, 10 and 11, that was my fate. If I worked hard, I got a 70. If I coasted, I got a 68. If I really, really, worked hard, I’d get 69. There was seemingly no correlation between what I did or wrote and my mark. So I stopped caring about the marks.
That was a watershed moment for me, and one that continued through to university, and cascaded into other subjects. I stopped caring what my marks were and started focusing just on what I was learning and in particular, in English, what was fun. I used to go to him in Grade 12 (I had him again in regular Advanced English when the Advanced Enriched program was cut), and say, “Give me something DIFFERENT”, not your run-of-the-mill essay topic. Give me a DIFFERENT book. So he assigned me A Separate Peace by John Knowles and told me to write how one of the characters is like a Christ figure. I even TYPED the essay (unheard of in our high school in 1986). I did a terrible job on it, but I had a blast doing it. I did EXTRA research to think about how I was going to make this argument, not based just on the text, but what knowledge I had from my Catholic upbringing that would infuse my essay. I started to have FUN with learning and writing.
I feel terrible about my next teacher, because for awhile tonight, I was TOTALLY blanking on his name. Mr. Allen. He was my Grade 11 and 12 teacher for Accounting and Law. He thought he was funny, most students thought he wasn’t, but not harshly, just more groaning. He picked me for an accounting contest, along with a more senior student, and sent us off to a city-wide contest. The test was a series of accounting scenarios, kind of like a math contest, where you worked through the word problem, figured out what they were asking, and picked the multiple choice answer that best fit the question. He chose me for the experience, the older student was quite good, and the teacher fully expected him to have a chance at winning. The student was even going to be an accountant for a living, that was his goal. I was in Grade 11, I didn’t even have a goal let alone a career choice, and I dutifully went along to be the junior rep. I won. I got a little trophy, the only trophy I ever won for anything in my life. It’s cheesy, but it’s still in a box somewhere. When I eventually get to it in my purge, I’ll take a picture and toss it, but it meant a lot to me at the time. Something I was good at that could actually be a career? That was news to me. Law was also fun, and despite my future, I didn’t feel drawn to it.
I did an undergraduate degree in Administrative and Policy Studies at Trent University, and of all my professors through the four years, I have a few choices I could use. My first-year computer professor, my second-year accounting professor, my second-year history professor (Elwood Jones) or my third-year environmental professor (Robert Paehlke), both of whom I am friends with on FaceBook because of a shared love of Peterborough! All solid choices.
But the one who changed my life was my politics professor, Keith Brownsey. For many students, particularly university students, this would devolve into a non-classroom description of discussions during office hours, or thesis writing, or maybe beers and mixers. Nope, I only knew him through the courses I took with him and some conversations on the margins of the class. I saw him once outside of class, a Christmas get-together in their dorm (he was a resident Don for one of the colleges), where I met his wife and kid, that was about it. But he influenced me in three major ways.
First and foremost, he would engage with us in real discussion on the content. We could be critical of the content, even completely disagree with it if we had our reasons, and he encouraged us to FIND those reasons. He was teaching applied political economy for recent real world events, not theoretical history/political philosophy of the 1800s. We were talking about REAL government decisions in ways I hadn’t done before. It got me thinking of government not as an institution but as a breathing entity that changed and acted and made decisions that affected us.
Secondly, when he engaged us in discussion, perhaps slightly irreverently, he didn’t dismiss our views or act condescending. One of my lasting memories with him was a discussion we had with 10 other students in a tutorial / weekly discussion class (at Trent, the tutorials are run by the professors, not TAs). We all had to sign up for a week in the semester to be the lead discussant, and I had chosen my week based on my fourth year schedule, not particularly looking at what the material was about or who had written it. When I went to read the texts, I was surprised to see that despite the fact that almost every class was journal articles written by other people, that week’s class were about two readings written by him and two others written by another K. Brownsey that turned out to be his cousin. All four readings were by his family and I had to lead the discussion? Grrreat.
We started the week and he joked about my having chosen the week with readings by him and his cousin, and was I ready to discuss them. I was, and when he asked me what I thought, as a general opener, I swallowed and said, “Well, I think you and your cousin are full of crap.” Yep, I said that. He looked at me from the other end of the table, with two sets of students down each side starely at me like I was crazy, and he said, “Well all right then, let’s rock.” And he made a production of rolling up his sleeves and leaned forward. We then proceeded to have a verbal ping pong match for about an hour where we went through his arguments and lines of evidence, and I picked apart some of his methodology as best I could. I really did think they had over-reached in their analysis, which is my view of political economy for the most part anyway, and the hour was one of the best I had in my entire undergraduate career. We left the room laughing, and he said openly that it was fun for him too. Meanwhile, the other students still thought I was nuts. Some would cast that as “truth to power” or “career-limiting moves”, or maybe just arrogance. But it is a recurring thread with me in life, I am comfortable pushing back on things I disagree with and having the discussion that follows. Pushing the envelope. I don’t always say it as diplomatically as I should, but I will ask tough questions.
Finally, since I had him in both third year and fourth year, some of our side conversations were about what happens after university. I didn’t really have a desire to do a Ph.D. and become a professor, but I did have a desire to do something somewhat government-related. And I started thinking of a MPA degree maybe or a law degree. I wasn’t sure. And while his degree was political science, both of my degree options are kissing cousins in many ways. There are lots of people in both who come from political science backgrounds. I considered both, partly because of him, but the big influence was my choice of university. He had gone to school at the University of Victoria, and both were rated highly for smaller law schools (perhaps top 3 in the West) and general public administration (probably top 3 in the country). His opinion was really important to me, and when he recommended the university, it went to the top of my consideration list. When I found out that I could do law and public administration together, along with a co-op option at UVic, my fate was sealed.
And yet, even with all that, he wasn’t the trigger for my eventual future. My fourth-year ethics professor was the catalyst. At the end of third year, I had reached the point where I was thinking I wanted to do something “government” long-term, and something more “practical than theoretical”, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I was thinking it was something called “public administration” but to be candid, I didn’t really know what that meant. I had an opening in my fourth-year schedule for a reading course, and I was trying to find someone in the university who would supervise me for a overview on public administration. I got no takers. He was the head of our faculty at the time, and he had no suggestions for me, nor did he want to cave and offer it himself. But just about the time I was banging my head on an intangible wall, the university got an invitation from the University of Saskatchewan and the Institute for Saskatchewan Enterprise for a student to attend a conference on privatization.
The invitation went to the President of the university, who kicked it to our overall faculty, who gave it to the head of our school of administrative studies who was my ethics professor for the coming year, Doug Torgerson. The invitations were for law students but we didn’t have a law school; it was for Masters Students in public administration, but we didn’t have a MPA program; or for political studies. He saw it and according to him, he immediately thought, “Who was in my office earlier today wanting to study government administration?”. It probably didn’t hurt that I was also a Peterborough boy and readily available to meet to discuss it.
I said yes, the University of Saskatchewan sent me plane tickets, and I went to Saskatchewan for a three-day conference. I had never flown before. I had never been out of the province on my own before. I was excited and also scared. While I would love to tell you it was a resounding success, it wasn’t. I was my normal introverted self, and I was surrounded by MA students and law students. I was the only one still in undergrad and I had a year to go to boot. I loved the panels, but I didn’t bond with the other students. I walked back to the university one day with two other students from downtown, about an hour-long walk, and the whole time they were debating federal politics. They went back and forth with points and counterpoints, I had no idea what they were talking about. I barely even knew the names they were throwing around as political figures.
But two things happened. First, as I said, I loved the panels and I saw for the first time something that looked like public administration above the municipal level and gave me the idea that maybe I could go to graduate school to have those types of conversations too. Perhaps outside of Ontario. And second, when I returned, there was an essay contest about privatization with five prizes. I won one of them, $1000 as I recall (I don’t think many entered), but in doing the research for it, I bought a copy of a book called Canadian Public Administration by Ken Kernaghan and David Siegel.
Oh. My. God. That text changed my world. I saw what an MPA would study and I was IN. I applied for law school and public admin programs that fall, wrote the LSAT and GMAT, chose UVic, and started graduate school at the University of Victoria 14 months after buying the book. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and it was all the different things described in that book. I still own that copy and if there were new versions of it today, I’d probably buy one.
Law school was a giant shock to me both in terms of content and living abroad. I’ve written about some of it before, but since this is a text about teachers, I’ll talk about my first-year Constitutional Law professor, Hester Lessard. At the time, the law school promised at least one “small” class in your program, under 25 students, and mine was Constitutional. In February, we were discussing a case where an average Joe got screwed not once, but twice by elitist judges, and it cut me to the core. I could see my family, my friends in Peterborough in this guy who got screwed, and it bothered me not only that he got screwed, but that nobody else in the class could see it or cared.
She spoke to me after the class and noted that I was still seeing the people in the cases, while other students no longer were, they only saw legal precedents or rules. It wasn’t a good/bad thing, it was just a thing, and she wanted me to know that if I was still seeing them, I would continue to do so all the way through law school. She wanted to give me that perspective so I wouldn’t be ripping my hair out that others didn’t see what I saw. And to be honest, the people in the case had been dead for 50 years, it wasn’t an “active case”. I had a similar experience when I was in my undergraduate law course, and again here with her. And four years later when I decided to drop out of law school to stay in Ottawa and just do public administration, it was the conversation with her that came back to me and helped me be comfortable making that decision, the right one for me.
When I started my public administration courses after first-year law, it was like a breath of fresh air. YES, this was what I loved. And the person who influenced me wasn’t exactly a professor. He did teach part-time for one of the classes, not one I had, but he was the graduate advisor for the co-op program. When I ranked first at Foreign Affairs and second at Treasury Board for a co-op job, Mark Loken encouraged me to take the Foreign Affairs job first, since I was more interested in TBS, and then take a TBS job later when I was closer to graduation. Considering that the Foreign Affairs job turned into a four-year stint at DFAIT, seven at CIDA, and two more at HRSDC doing international work, that’s a pretty big influence.
For my final two teachers, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend’s father, Martin Rudner. Back in ’94, my boss at DFAIT convinced me to stay for another semester instead of returning to law school, and I was worried about getting too rusty “academically” after having been out of university and working for 20 months. He suggested I see if there were any classes available at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton and maybe take an elective. I called over, bounced around a bit, and eventually talked to Dr. Martin Rudner. He let me down gently that all the classes were full, it’s hard to get into the program, etc. There wasn’t really an option to just “let” me enrol in a class willy-nilly. I told him it had been my boss’ suggestion, no worries, I understood, it had been a long shot to try. He asked me what I was working on, and when I said APEC, he became very animated. After chatting for another 10 minutes about what I was doing and the files, he said, “Hmm…you know, there IS one course you might be interested in. It’s my course on Asia Pacific regionalism, and since it’s my course, and I’m the current head of the program, I could let you into that one if you wished.” I did wish. I didn’t know it but the word APEC was like catnip at the time, a magic word to open all doors, as there was very little information publicly available about APEC and here I was offering to write essays about it for him based on what we were actually doing. And so I started my time at Carleton that eventually led to me switching all of my courses to Carleton and finishing my MA (public policy) degree there.
My last formal teacher to reference is the last professor I had at Carleton, Susan Phillips, who taught the last course I took for my degree, a class on Civil Society Organizations. It was awesome. I loved the comparisons with government, the focus on governance as a concept more than the institution, the issues that voluntary sector boards faced. A whole different spin on governance than anything else I had studied. But I think the biggest impact was my first paper for her. Without elaborating on what went before, I had a few professors who were more “regurgitate what I told you” than “tell me what you think”, and a couple of the classes were just “do them cuz they’re required”. By contrast, the CSO course with her was more participatory, similar to what I had enjoyed in my final year at Trent. I wrote a paper on tax regulations and CSOs, and I knew when I wrote it that I was going against the position that she herself had written about previously. I had a different take on it, directly opposed to her position, and I wrote it anyway. I thought I argued it well, had a good framework for it, and brought in accounting, law, social justice issues, etc. as well as simple government administration. It wasn’t some big thesis or anything, an early first assignment, and I still remember her comments. “Well-written and well-argued. You’ve even made me rethink some of my own position.” Wow. I was not only relieved, but just warmingly thrilled. The exact kind of teacher you would want every year. And I lucked into her for my last formal university course and every topic was fun to write and work on.
A final professor
It seems a bit strange to credit my next professor as I have never met her. Nor is she aware I ever took her class. Back in 2015, I wanted to try a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) to see if I would like it. I found one called “Understanding Video Games” taught through Coursera based on a live course at the University of Alberta for credit, and taught by Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas. Through a series of 11 weeks, the two walked students through the concepts of “what is a game”, “game mechanics”, and “social issues in games”, and what I thought initially was going to be some light class turned into a real discipline with rigour in their methodology and analysis. While Gouglas was good, I found myself riveted with Professor Hackman’s content and style of teaching/speaking. I loved the subject matter and she made it fun and interesting, even if the format of streaming pre-recorded video lectures could be kind of passive.
I had been wondering if I might do some more university classes, maybe a psychology degree or something, or legal studies (not law school), but I don’t feel the need for a “structure” or another degree when I’m done. I want to go where the wind blows me and find interesting classes that will engage my mind. The class with Professor Hackman convinced me that those classes DO exist in the virtual space, and with a bit of luck and searching, I could find them. I’ve only done one other one since (Meta-Literacy) and parts of two others (photography and a practical Powerpoint one), but when I retire, I suspect I’ll delve more deeply, with one per semester. I don’t need the institution, I just need the content and have it well-presented.
A concluding thought
For my teachers, I feel like the general theme is one of nudging me in certain directions that made my life better.
Mr. Hutchison taught me to believe that I could create my own reality and that it was MY choice;
Mrs. Gallagher encouraged me to write;
Mrs. Pearson got me interested in math contests and computers;
Mr. Tapp taught me to forget about grades, and focus on learning and fun;
Mr. Allen showed me a path forward for a career (law or accounting);
Professor Brownsey helped me to challenge experts arguments, to think of government as a living entity, and to consider law and public admin for further studies;
Professor Torgerson inadvertently nudged me to go outside Ontario and to consider public admin, which made me end up at UVic;
Professor Lessard helped me to see what was different about me from other law students, and also the source of much angst and dissatisfaction with the way law is taught in a law school;
Mr. Loken sent me to Foreign Affairs;
Professor Rudner welcomed me to Carleton;
Professor Phillips showed me another side to governance issues besides government and made me want to keep learning even though I was done my formal studying; and,
Professor Hackman showed me that yes, indeed, there was a place for me to study quality material in an engaging way without having to be in a degree program or a formal classroom.
All of them have nudged me in positive directions, all of them have created lasting debts that I cannot repay. All of them have helped me become who I am (or at least who I think I am).
Harvard Business Review’s mailing include a link to a cool article by Jeanne C. Meister about what HR people will be doing in the future, or doing “more of” in the future, given the impact of COVID-19 and the likely enduring switch to working from home. It’s based on a think piece from one of the thousands of organizations looking at the “future of work”, and there are tons of these reports coming out, as they have for the last five years. Most of them are, quite frankly, wrong. They’re pie-in-the-sky visions of “what could be”, not very practically tied to the current environment. In order for most of the predictions to come true, we would need to see a massive disruption in the workplace and workforce.
Like COVID-19 has now done, which makes some of the more recent predictions more closely tied to reality.
The report outlines 21 different job functions that HR people expect to see in the next 10 years and plots them on a 2×2 grid of how “techy” the companies are and time. It’s an interesting idea, but my take on it is that most of the 21 functions are “options” and not necessarily cooperative ones. People will make choices, and as paradigm one leads to some successes or failures, some of those other 21 options will fall by the wayside.
Here’s what I think is valid…
Well-being – the sh** gets real
Over the last five years, while there has been a lot of talk about well-being in general, and mental health in particular, one of the biggest challenges for the field has been to crystallize a specific problem to solve. While 10-20 years ago, disability was a question-mark for physical disabilities, people figured out access to buildings, retrofitting of offices, and ergonomic assessments. There was an identifiable problem to solve and people could focus on the task to find sustainable solutions. There were false starts, false successes, ongoing challenges, special cases, everything. But it was concrete, and a field developed around disability management and what it entailed in a full entity.
Well-being hasn’t really had that zeitgeist or defining moment. Some people see mental health initiatives being about formal diagnoses while others view it as someone simply having a bad day, and everything in between. Trouble managing work/life balance? Well, that looks different for everyone, right? So no blanket solutions. Working from home has always been a question-mark, often tied to accommodations of a individual worker problem or an incentive for a specific recruitment challenge.
Now? Everyone has similar headings to group their challenges under. Work/life separation when working from home. Time-shifting work duties to deal with home responsibilities like kids when all the schools are closed, while still trying to work and maintain productivity. Technological challenges. Isolation issues.
COVID-19 made all those issues real for EVERYONE. And so every sustainable return-to-work plan has to involve not only the return portion but the ongoing home portion. We’re not in a “temporary world” that people can cope with, this is the new normal. And organizations need someone to pull that all together for them to make sure their policies drafted in the old paradigm still make sense. Even something as simple as office supplies…if your old policy was that WFH was a privilege, so no office supplies were provided, but now EVERYONE is at home and needing paper and printer cartridges, who’s looking at the rules when bottlenecks or irritants crop up?
Where I disagree is with the suggestion that there will be “new jobs” being formed such as Director of Well-being and Work from Home Facilitator. In my opinion, those are functions that will need to be addressed, but most places are just going to assign them to HR and if they do use the new titles, it will be replacing old titles that are pre-COVID. Does that mean they are new jobs or just old jobs being changed? I don’t know.
Everyone will care about health and safety
OHS used to be something only the unions and a few people cared much about, particularly in an office environment. Sure, there were people who cared about scents; others who worried the lights were killing them; others wanted juice bars. But most of it was about regulations related to chemicals or heavy equipment. Ask yourself…when was the last time you read the minutes of an OHS meeting? Do you even know who your OHS officers are? Or who chairs the committee? Probably not.
But as people return to the office, that “health” role just went through the roof. They now have to understand social distancing, local and national guidelines, best practices in internal mobility of workers in elevators or stairs. Just as retail outlets had to figure it out for grocery stores. If people return to offices, will they need shields in front of adminstrative assistants? Will that be the “minimum standard” or a “gold standard”?
The research didn’t address this directly, other than as organizational trust, but their focus went to the IT / AI side, and quite frankly, most employees aren’t going to see anything like that anytime soon.
Nobody understands privacy
Oh sure, everyone understand the basics of privacy (permission to gather) and damage (leaks and breaches). However, while the survey work focused on AI and bias in algorithms, what they didn’t see coming that is directly tied to COVID is the sheer number of people working from home. I work in government, and we have long had a policy that certain docs can only be worked on at the office and saved on secure drives. Our regs are clear. But what do you do when people have to prepare those docs from home and the infrastructure from point A to point B is NOT as secure as what we had? Do you do the work and “hope for the best” or do you refuse the work because it can’t be done securely? In a time when rules are falling by the wayside all over the world to “get the work done”, privacy rules are likely being broken hourly. They aren’t breaches or leaks, but the assets are not secure.
As we move to a fully enabled WFH culture in many industries, what does that mean now? Fully encrypted VPNs, perhaps? And how long will that take to integrate into existing systems? Where I work, things are flying through the system at lightning speeds to meet immediate needs, which is great for productivity, but the reason they can do it is basically we relaxed all the due diligence rules that have been in place for some time. Red tape, a bunch of people say. Privacy laws, other say.
Other areas I’m not sold on
You could think that emergency preparedness and business continuity people will be important in the future, and I completely disagree. We just went through a catastrophic transformation, and while some people will say that proves the benefit for the future, the short version is that all of it was unforeseen. And very few orgs were able to use their BCP for anything other than phone numbers of key personnel. There was no loss of data, no damage to the office, we just couldn’t go to work. So we dealt with it. Not cleanly, not perfectly, but we did, and mostly WITHOUT BCP offering us anything. So if it didn’t help with the big event, why would I bother with it for next time?
Others want to argue for a more “woke” work culture, with diversity, safety in the workplace, community relations. Ethics in how we use info and how we operate period. Great. Except COVID also said “Stick to what we HAVE to do now” to keep the lights on and the trains running. We have legal obligations we aren’t meeting, and they expect orgs to pony up resources for ethical operations with the community? Most of them are going to slap a BLM announcement on their website and call it a day. They’re fighting to survive financially and economically. There are few examples of successful companies doing more than the minimum in those types of crises.
I want to embrace the calls for more creativity and innovation. I do. I’ve seen it on IT, I’ve seen it in options for WFH and everything else. It’s inspiring even. But I also think there will be a snap-back at some point, and innovation is going to be one where people start getting bitten. Oh, you did a new program with no due diligence and 2 years later discover massive problems? Snapback. Oh, you had a data breach while having all of your workers access confidential info on clients from home? Stick to your knitting. Lock it down. Not everything will be a home run, there will be failures. And when they do come, many organizations have a habit of NOT learning from failure nor celebrating it and moving on, but rather circling the wagons to regroup.
I am intrigued by the idea that there will be something called a VR Immersion Counselor. I don’t know who they talked to outside the executive suites, but a lot of organizations are struggling to switch to using Zoom, yet the CEOs think they’re ready for VR? There’s some pun in there about dreaming in technicolour, I think. I do think that HR will spend SOME time (i.e. a LOT) adapting to the new e-world. Interviews entirely by Zoom, time-shifting behaviour, references by chat, etc. It will be different. It will work, but it will take time.
I confess I am also not sold on the future of AI or “human machine partnerships”, at least not any time soon. If they want to give me a robot butler and everyone gets a smartcar, sure. Until then? Not buying it. I do think we’ll have better data algorithms to spot patterns in large data sets. But that still requires a human to interpret what it means.
Still, it was an interesting forecast. And unlike the ones of the last five years, it has a strong disruptive event to base its analysis on in order to make it realistic.
We have decided to retire our existing bread machine that is at least 15 years old, after Andrea discovered that there was some light corrosion on the inside of the baking apparatus. It is underneath the structure that actually holds the baking pan, nowhere near the food, but it is still “in” the machine, so safer to jettison for health and safety reasons. I knew that everyone went crazy on bread early during the pandemic, and stores are still low on yeast. But I hadn’t anticipated a complete lack of any bread makers being left. Sure, I’d thought there would be some scarcity, but not a complete absence of options. So let me tell you how that went.
My first reaction was to go to the internet, and I must say, bread machines have come a long way from the model we have. My first stop was Consumer Reports which is free to access if I use my Ottawa Public Library card but the search for “bread machine” gave me only two options — a hand mixer and a washing machine. Umm…I don’t think either of those is going to be very helpful. (But it did get me thinking about a new hand mixer too. Andrea agrees we need a new one, so something else to add to my research list for another day!) I tried bread “maker” instead of machine but I got the same result.
Okay, okay, on to the regular internet sites.
Features to consider
People recommended finding one with a gluten-free option, which is simple enough to consider. Not a high priority for me, but sure, why not?
Capacity is a factor although I was more concerned about the overall footprint. I don’t want something that takes up a huge amount of space on the counter or in our pantry where it will be stored. On the other hand, a 1.5-pound option might be too small for our family of three that eats a lot of bread. I’m not sure we could commit to making all of our bread, we’re not THAT crazy, but a loaf here or there would be good. Ideally ones we could use for sandwiches that I could slice thin enough and would be a bit lighter. But apparently some have multiple size options which would be nice.
The material for the pan defaults to aluminum and the sites suggest going with thin aluminum unless you want heavy thick crusts. I don’t, so thin is fine.
Oooh, there are horizontal loaf options now. That would be nice, although apparently I need two kneading blades and the cheaper models aren’t great. Hmmm.
Timers? Sure. Kneading blades? Sure, two please. Crust browning setting? Sure. Different types of breads? Of course. But I think my eyes were starting to glaze over.
Oh, good, they think I should consider price. Really? Ya think? Boneheads.
Oh, wait, another good point. Auto-dispensing options for ingredients, such as yeast, fruit and nuts, etc. Things you normally add part-way through but you have to stop the machine, open the lid, insert stuff, blah blah blah. The auto-dispensers remove the requirement to intervene — just fill it up in advance, and away you go, letting the machine insert the ingredients at the appropriate time. I like that option. Particularly if I was to set it up before going to bed to have fresh bread in the morning.
The top contenders
I narrowed my “reviews” down to about nine different sources, which left me with a long list of breadmakers to consider. Sure, some of them overlap, but even after allowing for that, there were at least 30 or so to consider. One major factor for me is the ability to find it easily in Canada since many of the review sites are American. And I am obviously going to weed for price. An $800 bread machine might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but at that price, it better slice and butter my bread for me! With the huge uptick in home baking caused by Covid, many models appeared out of stock too, so I thought, naively, that would “help” narrow the field a little.
Zojirushi is a very popular brand, with its Virtuoso Plus model getting high marks from just about everyone. In Canada, Walmart has it tracked at around $400, which is on the high side, but it is sold out everywhere. Despite the price, I would have considered it — everyone rates it high, the reviews are solid, and it has all the features I could want except variably-sized loaves. Impressive but not viable.
Sunbeammodels show up on a lot of lists with a 2-lb option in a compact footprint. Their “2lb Breadmaker” is programmable, handles different kinds of bread, only does vertical, etc., a nice functional model. And only $129. Which is why it too is also out of stock everywhere. But it also appears to have a durability issue according to user reviews and it vibrates while baking, in some cases actually enough to slide off a counter if it was too close. Yikes. Pass, even if I could get one.
I was doubtful of T-Fal for quality, but many of the reviews loved the outputs, even if they were a bit darker than normal. I started down a rabbit-hole, though, almost immediately looking at one-pot cookers that double as bread makers. Wait…what am I looking at? Oh right, I’m supposed to be looking at bread makers. This one is supposed to be really good for gluten-free but it doesn’t matter, it’s not available anywhere. Noticing a trend here?
I was trying to avoid going by “just what was available”, but clearly that wasn’t going to work in a Covid world. So let’s back up for other sites besides Amazon.
Canadian Tire only has 3 models — Sunbeam, Black and Decker, and Master Chef, and none are in stock.
Bed Bath and Beyond carries Cuisinart, but none left in stock.
Walmart lists Hamilton Beach, Breadman and Zojirushi, but there are none available.
Best Buy carries Breadman models, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, Breville, and Zojirushi, but there are none in stock.
Well, that will certainly narrow down my choices more than I expected. I had options to consider for Breadman, Panasonic, West Bend, Oster, Cuisinart, Breville, Hamilton Beach, Aicok, Cook’s Essential, Panasonic, Rosewill, and SKG but now I’m down to one vendor.
What’s left on Amazon.ca
Okay, let’s start my search again:
Searching for bread maker — over 10,000 hits
Kitchen and dining gets rid of a lot of books – still over 10,000 hits
Small appliances – 6,000 hits
Bread machines – 2,000 hits
Three stars and up – 16 options
16 is not encouraging. If I included “out of stock”, the list would go to 42, much more reasonable. But that doesn’t help me. Of the 16, half are actually replacement paddles for the interior of a bread machine. Another 1 is some sort of iPhone case with weird tags on it. 2 more are either bread slicers or bread rollers. There are sponsored links for pasta makers and toasters, which are not much help.
For breadmakers that are supposedly “in stock”, there are only four options.
The first is a Hamilton Beach model that is discontinued but is listed by a 3rd party seller for almost $500. Sorry, not interested.
There is a Panasonic Home Bakery model that gets okay reviews here and there. Sold by a Japanese import 3rd party seller, they want $1200 for a $200 item. Riiight.
There is a legitimate Panasonic Home Bakery model that is similar to the one above, and it says there is one left in stock for $750. I’m sure it’s a perfectly good vendor, I’m not at all suspicious that the description says:
In French and pan de look at things , ” the contents of the pan .” Crust of bread , a so-called skin against Enlightenment French bread , to find the taste to crumb to be a content
East odor can enjoy a less wheat original flavor and taste , more full-fledged pan
By mounting the inverter motor , while fermented by warming the dough , It will be able to sleep at high speed , can make bread in just 80 minutes
Compared to the regular ” bread ” course , swelling of bread hot from the oven is reduced.
Don’t get me wrong, normally anything that promises to sleep at high-speed attracts my wallet quickly, if only I could be sure of that vague potentially-racist “east odor” reference.
And last but not least, there’s a silicone bread maker. It’s basically a flexible pot that you can put all your ingredients in to mix and knead (or use no knead dough), and then tie the top together to let the dough rise before putting it right in the oven. When you take it out, it can cool in the same container. One pot / container from start to finish, can take temperatures up to 425F, and will go right in the dishwasher. It’s only $25, and since I can’t make it in a non-existent bread machine, I guess I would have to go this route. Or just use the bread pans we already have and never use for bread.