VIU Campus

April Blog Post

Author: Dr. Deb. Saucier

I am writing this from my home office, which is above my garage. It is a bright and sunny day and I am happily perched among the Douglas fir and cedar trees that line my driveway.

The birds are zipping around, and I am on my third piece of toast. I feel remarkably blessed to work in such a beautiful spot. My office wasn’t always like this, as for much of the past year it was the dumping zone for things that needed moving during renovations. But now that I need to use the office on a daily basis, I spent time tidying and organizing and I am surrounded by the little tchotchkes that make me smile. It’s where I Zoom from and where I head to every morning to begin the day.

 

Three things

Thing 1

A strange thing happened about 10 days ago. I was chatting with a friend, and she said that their local store was out of yeast due to the high volume of people baking their own bread.  That is, there was no more yeast. I took that in, and we began talking about other things; but that statement rattled around in my head. I am not a yeast biologist nor am I a particularly skilled baker, but I wondered if making your own yeast was actually possible. I remembered (thank you ‘intro to biology’ course) that yeasts are everywhere. So I did a bit of research and found the following:

  1. Yeasts are single-celled members of the fungus kingdom. I’m not sure what I thought yeasts were, but fungus (think mushrooms and mold) was not high on my list. Of the approximately 1,500 kinds of yeast we know of, the kind that humans like tend to convert carbohydrates to either alcohol or carbon dioxide, which is how they make your beer or the bubbles in your bread. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, the word “yeast” comes from old English and means “to bubble.”
  2. Sourdough. My quest to find a science activity for my 12-year-old met my newfound interest in yeast and a sourdough project was the result. A great site for sourdough starters and their uses is at King Arthur Flour, and with that in mind, we made sourdough starter. Because I am a huge nerd, I made Mia learn about yeast types, their uses, and the difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, all while following the recipe on the website. 

I have tried to make sourdough starter before without much success. Typically, I wound up with either a stinky jar of goo or, after forgetting to feed it, I have been the proud owner of a jar caked with dried flour cement that defies all attempts to remove it. However, this time we read about a secret weapon ‒ raisins! It turns out that most dry fruits are covered with wild yeast and putting some raisins in the flour and water mixture really kickstarts your sourdough. Boy does it kickstart it (check out the photos) and I now have enough starter to make bread tomorrow. However, in the meantime, it has taken over the countertop and is making noises about needing an allowance. I’ll Tweet out how the bread turns out, if I survive the night. So much for there being no more yeast.

Day 1.  Raisins, flour and water

Day 3.  I feel like Dr. Frankenstein—It lives!

Day 10.  This may have gone a bit far. (it does smell right, though)

 

Thing 2 & 3

Does anyone feel busier than they were a month ago? I’m used to a packed meeting agenda, but somehow, I feel busier in April than I was a month ago. Maybe it’s because I’m learning a new technology and there are different rules for running meetings virtually that add to the load of my regular tasks. Maybe it’s the emotional intensity of the issues that we are dealing with. Maybe it’s because Zoom makes it easy to spend hours (and I mean hours) at my desk without that quick jaunt up the hill for coffee. I’m realizing that coffee was an excuse for a quick and needed break that gave me an opportunity to hear about your family or your new dog. Sometimes “coffee” was an excuse to do nothing at all, just let my brain simply hum quietly to itself. 

In our new reality, breaks between meetings are time to make sure my family has what they need while they try to hold classes of their own; to figure out why the dogs are barking like maniacs; to help with homework or forage for something nutritious. It’s not quite the same, is it? On top of it all, many of us are using the same technology (or similar tech) to socialize. This is definitely not the same as being in the same room as other folks, laughing and talking about nothing at all. I don’t really have a solution ‒ working from home is different. I miss you all. I miss running into you at Starbucks or in the cafeteria or on the stairs. Which is why I’m starting a regular coffee with the president Zoom chat for employees. Email rsvp@viu.ca to get your name on the list.

However, we will get through this. Until then I am making a concerted effort to go outside, take a socially distanced walk to the beach and put my screens (!) down. There are zero bars of reception at the beach by my house. Only seals, river otters and fresh air. Take care everyone, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Take time this weekend to celebrate spring and each other.  This may be an unusual Easter or Passover ‒ trust me, making cabbage rolls and turkey for three is hard ‒ but we are a strong community and we will get through this.

 

In my briefcase

Overthe past month, I’ve been a bit slammed. I’ve doubled down on re-reading books about strategy (Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy by Joan Magretta), leading through uncertain times (What Got you Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith) and how companies change to sustain themselves (Good to Great by Jim Collins). I won’t summarize these books for you, there are many great folks who have done that already and have done so much better than I can. However, these are books that I come back to again and again, they provide me great advice and comfort, especially when the world is radically turned on its head.

 

Podcasts that keep me company

This is what I’m listening to this month:

  1. Unlocking Us. Brene Brown has a podcast, and I’ve been listening to it over the past few days. The podcast starts with FFT’s (F*ing First Times) and why they are so uncomfortable and how to be kind to yourself and others when you are in the midst of an FFT situation. I suspect that we have all experienced a few FFT’s in the past week, so give it a listen and be kind to yourself.
  2. Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast is one that I binge listened to about a year ago when the third season came out. However, this weekend I re-listened to two episodes from season three: “The Imaginary Crimes of Margot Hamosh” and “Strong Verbs, Short Sentences.” And they really spoke to me about the importance of values-and evidence-based decision making. Here’s to more of that (You go! Dr. Bonnie Henry).
  3. Gangster Capitalism. Remember when the biggest story around universities was the admissions scandal? Gangster Capitalism’s Andrew Jenks investigates how this story broke, who was involved and its implications for universities. The podcast was thought provoking and caused me to reflect on the nature of privilege and the role that education can play in reinforcing status. Although this is largely about an American scandal, it is not a stretch to see the ways in which the Canadian system may be vulnerable to similar phenomena.

 

April’s playlist

The April fools ?!? tracks. With great appreciation to Fred Jacklin, who mostly curated this list.

  1. E.L.O.: Telephone Line
  2. The Police: Don’t Stand So Close to Me
  3. Joy Division: Isolation 
  4. Gary Numan: Me I Disconnect From You
  5. Billy Idol: Dancing with Myself
  6. R.E.M.: It’s the End of the World as We Know It: R.E.M.
  7. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive
  8. Bee Gees: Stayin’ Alive
  9. Men Without Hats: Safety Dance

10. Hall and Oates: Out of Touch

11. Carole King: So Far Away

Bonus tracks**:

Bill Withers: Lovely Day

Ellis Marsalis: Delilah (Delilah’s Theme)

John Prine: in Spite of Ourselves

**With sincere gratitude for their indelible touch on all of our hearts. We will miss you.    

 

FOOTNOTE: Oh, and did you notice I didn’t use the words pandemic or COVID in this blog? That was deliberate. The world is changing, but we don’t need to just focus on what is driving that change. We can choose to practice optimism, gratitude and make a deliberate effort to focus on some of the positive places that change might take us—and  with luck “there won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes.”

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