That’s a wrap, folks!

What it was all about – raising funds for cancer research.

It’s hard to believe that the 2012 Ride to Conquer Cancer has come and gone. It was an amazing experience for TEAM UBC.

The week leading up to the Ride was divided between carb-loading and nervous anticipation. On the Friday before the race, we battled rush hour traffic to drop off our bikes at the starting location. We were met with a sea of bikes, many sporting the yellow flags that indicated its owner was a cancer survivor.

photo credit: J. Ridge

TEAM UBC had a designated meeting point and time for Saturday morning. Only half of us managed to get there as scheduled, so there was no opportunity for a team photo (which was just as well, because the rain was coming down and no one really wanted to take off their jackets, no matter how cool our jerseys were).

Still smiling, despite the rain.

To put it charitably, the weather on Saturday was unkind. As one team mate commented: “It didn’t rain all day. Sometimes it poured.” If the rain wasn’t bad enough, there was a long stretch that we had to ride into a headwind, at times uphill.

By the time we arrived at the base camp at the end of day one, it was a massive, muddy field – picture Glastonbury, but instead of musicians, a town of blue tents and racked bikes. Unlike Friday night, almost no one had bothered to put a plastic bag over their bike seat to keep it dry – there wasn’t any point.

Dinner on Saturday night was a quiet affair. We went to a Mexican restaurant adjacent to the not-so-lovely hotel we were booked into. Despite the fact the décor was circa 1978 and the rooms smelled a bit off (seriously, they actually still have smoking rooms?), it didn’t matter as we were all so grateful we weren’t camping in a blue tent over at mud city.

Sunday was more promising. The skies stayed dry for the majority of the Ride, except for one downfall midday. Most of the journey was very flat, and allowed the riders the vantage point of viewing some rather interesting road-kill along the way. I’m still wondering:

a)      How a frog found its way on to the road, and

b)      If we were close to a nuclear facility, as it was the largest frog I’d ever seen (dead or alive).

Maybe it rained frogs?

Unfortunately the miles of flat, easy terrain lulled us into a false sense of security. Veteran riders had told us that Sunday was the “easy” day, and other than a series of three rolling hills, it was a piece of cake. What they didn’t tell us was that the three small rolling hills were actually three rolling mountains, and that they saved it to the end of the Ride when we were at our most tired.

Those f***ing hills were soul destroying. I was on the verge of starting to cry at one point. Paola admitted to thinking some pretty colourful language. Despite this, it provided the two of us with one of the most poignant moments of the ride. Paola and I passed Malcolm (we all had name tags on our bikes) a few times. We had pulled to the side of the road to catch our breath, and Malcolm shouted “on your left,” and shared with total glee that it was the first time over the course of the Ride that he managed to pass anyone. We loved Malcolm. He must have been at least in his mid-sixties, and seeing how wobbly he was on his bike, you had to know he had a damn good reason for being out on the Ride.

The Ride brought different challenges to the members of the team. Those who were worried about fund-raising the entry fee of $2,500 felt good as they had all reached what they thought at times was an impossible goal.

For Paola, the Ride meant something else. Her bike had three flat tires, and she changed every one of those flat inner tubes. At one point, a vehicle stopped to help and offered to “sweep” us to the next pit stop where Paola could get one of the bike companies that had volunteered to fix the bike. “No, I just need a bike pump!” she responded, then turned to me and apologized. It would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to do, being swept to the next pit stop. But at that point, I realized how important it was to her to ride every single kilometer of the Ride.

And we made it through every bloody (three falls between us), windy, wet kilometer the Ride threw at us.

By the time we had reached the finishing point, the crowds had dispersed and the only two people cheering for us when we crossed the finishing line were Paola’s husband and son. Regardless, we both crossed the line with big smiles on our faces, Paola with tears running down her cheeks. I am so glad I didn’t miss a moment of this.

We crossed the finishing line sporting smiles and TEAM UBC jerseys. Yay us!

Looking happy and stylish as we crossed the finishing line in our TEAM UBC jerseys!

Would we do it again? Already all but two members of TEAM UBC have registered for next year, and we’ve already recruited two new riders. I hope you’ll consider joining us, too. There’s always room for more, whether on a bike or supporting the team along the way.

My original purpose for this blog was to share with folks some insight through the lens of a novice rider what it was like training and participating in the Ride. Alas, this is my final blog posting.

Thanks, everyone, for your amazing support.

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And now for something completely different.

Many thanks to food blogger, Emily Wight, for providing this week’s posting. When she’s not busy winning national competitions for her own blog, Well Fed, Flat Broke, she kindly takes time to mentor me in the world of blogging.

My kitchen has a window that opens directly above our building’s row of garden plots, and in the summer there is very good light and the space is warm and bright. This is, on paper, a very nice-sounding thing. To wake up in the morning and stir a pot of burbling oats or sip a cup of tea in a place where the sun whispers hello across the countertops does far more for morale than to stumble into the cold and dark in search of something – anything – to eat.

Sure, it’s lovely in the morning to make breakfast and hear birds in the trees and step over the cat, who has found a spot of sunlight on the rug under the sink. But the reality is that mine is a small kitchen, and I am a slob, and people came over for dinner last night and there are plates and pots everywhere and we don’t have a dishwasher and I hate doing dishes so the place is a mess.

And the baby is howling because he’s teething and he accuses us of abandonment for even the slightest breech of eye contact. Nick, my husband, is fussing because he has a paper due tomorrow and I need him to watch the baby for, like five freaking minutes so I can have a shower and suddenly I am so much older, snipping at him about how if he’d spent less time this week playing with his friends, he wouldn’t be so short on time for his homework.

I have no desire to stand in front of a stove flipping pancakes – I’d probably burn them anyway. And I didn’t even ride 120 kilometers yesterday.

“Pretty much everyone on the team went for long training rides this weekend and they’re all now complaining about how sore they are. Do you have an easy recipe that’s restorative?” Auntie Lynn asked via Facebook message.

I do.

It’s a cross between a popover and a pancake, just about a Dutch Baby. On lazy evenings, we often eat an unsweetened version with fried onions and sausage, called Toad in the Hole. This variation, with blueberries, is sweet and warming, and if you rode 120 kilometers, the calories in it won’t even count.

This recipe calls for buttermilk, but if that’s not something you usually have on hand, regular milk will work just fine. It will be best if you start with room temperature ingredients, but if you prefer to just pull the ingredients from the fridge and dive in, err on the side of a 30-minute bake.

Baked blueberry pancakes

(Serves four)

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups blueberries

Grease a 9” cast iron pan or regular pie plate, and place in the oven. Turn oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat buttermilk, eggs, flour, sugar, vanilla, and salt together until no lumps remain – batter should be smooth. Fold blueberries into the batter, and let rest until your oven has finished preheating.

Pull out pan or pie plate, and pour batter in quickly. Place back in the oven, and let cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until pancake is golden and puffed. Cut into slices and serve hot, with real maple syrup.

Farewell to a friend

It’s been a rough week. Last week’s planned long training ride was cut short due to inclement weather. And by “inclement weather” I mean it was raining sideways.  Work continued to be “work.” And I twice stepped in fresh cat barf. In bare feet.

All of this was put into perspective with the death of a friend from work. None of us knew that Nanci was as ill as she was, including Nanci. Those of us that regularly interacted with her had noticed that there was something amiss – she didn’t seem herself. She had been going through a really tough time with the loss of her Mom, so it was reasonable for her to be a little out of sorts. Unfortunately, her grief over her Mom’s passing masked a serious and rare illness that had been weakening her immune system.

Nanci was an exercise junkie and diligent about what she ate. When we first heard that she was in the ICU ward at VGH we were surprised, and as ill as she was, we all thought she had the strength to rally. Last Saturday an email from her brother was circulated that reinforced our confidence in her ability to get better. It came as a massive shock when two days later we learned that she had passed away.

It seems so perverse. She was way too young to go.

I really liked Nanci. She had her faults, and there were moments when she could be a pain. But, hey, those of us who live in glass houses … right? Over the years I had come to know that her heart was in the right place.

We would normally call one another a couple of times per week. She was my counterpart in another faculty, so sometimes it was just to let off steam about an irritating situation, to regroup after a particularly tragic advising session, to gossip, and sometimes just to share a laugh. Nanci’s laugh was usually funnier than the stories she told – the woman literally snorted.

Last week there were phone calls, but it was from colleagues from the other faculties. Shock and disbelief were the key themes, and considerable sadness.  Nanci had a lot of friends on campus.

Next week I’ll be attending a memorial service for her. I remember one lunch we had together where we had been talking about the passing of our respective parents, and what we thought we would like done at our funerals. She supported my musical selection of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter, and agreed with me that if people were going to be drinking my 21-year-old Scotch, the least they could do would be to squeeze out a few tears on my behalf. Neither of us thought that death was imminent, and it was okay to laugh about such things.

One thing I know for certain, there will be no shortage of genuine tears shed on Nanci’s behalf at her memorial. And for my part, I’ll have a drink for Nanci.

Brother, can you spare some time?

My teammates and I are now into the final stretch of training, with just two more weeks of long rides, followed by two weeks of tapering. There’s a frisson of excitement mingling with fatigue as our bodies begin to rebel against the training. We are united by empathy for what we’re enduring.

Learning to use clips is beneficial as being attached to one’s pedals improves efficiency cycling uphill. There have been a few scrapes and bruises as a result of forgetting one’s feet are attached to the bike – when you need to put your foot down in a hurry, it’s not a natural instinct to twist your foot first. A few of us have gone from being at one with the bike to being at one with the pavement.

Pavement is very unforgiving.

Many a knowing nod has been exchanged in discussions about the after effects of the long rides. No surprise that bike seats aren’t very comfortable, and the pain goes up exponentially after riding for a few hours. Those in the know understand that “I need a new bike seat” is actually insider code for “oh holy hell, does my butt ever hurt.”

My bike sans pedals. A preferable photo to a picture of my butt and/or photo of road rash caused by falling. If you like gore, I suggest “bike fall injuries” as a search term in Google images.

I think we’re all excited about what we’re doing, but at the same time, we’re longing to get back to the things that we’ve had to neglect as a result of preparing for the Ride. There’s not only time away from hobbies, but also from family. In my case, there’s also time being taken away from working on my thesis.

Hannah Arendt, the political philosopher whose theory I’m using for my thesis, had the unenviable experience of being Jewish during the time of Nazi Germany. She managed to escape the country and came to the United States as a refugee via France and Spain. The woman went through absolute hell and yet she maintained a capacity to not only forgive, but to love people. The other day on a friend’s Facebook page, I saw the comment “Because I love people more than I hate bike seats.” Arendt would understand that comment completely. So would my teammates.

Mike McKnight, a friend of mine who works for United Way Lower Mainland, once said: “If you change a child, you change a family, and if you change a family, you change a community.” This has stuck with me as it underlines the fact that what may seem like a small change can manifest into a big, positive change.

Mike McKnight – I hope he’s not reading this blog as I ripped-off the picture from his FB account and didn’t ask for permission. Shhhh.

Although I would dispute it when I’m trying to drag myself up a hill, I’m privileged to be able to take part in the Ride. I have the resources available that I can spend the time training, and I’m healthy enough that I will be able to get through the Ride. And I know I’m fortunate because once I get through this thing, I know that I have things that bring me joy awaiting my return. And probably a mountain of laundry as well – you have to take the good with the bad.

Alone, I’m just a participant that has managed to raise a modest amount for cancer research; not likely even enough to support one day of treatment for a single patient. We’d all like to be able to make the grand gesture of a large financial donation to the causes we believe in, but the reality is that most of us aren’t in the position to do so. But that shouldn’t stop us from doing nothing at all.

This week I’m going to ask you to do something nice for others. If you are unable to financially support a cause that you believe in, try to find other ways to make a positive impact. Donate some blood, volunteer your time, or make a point of saying “hi” to a lonely neighbour. I guarantee it will make you feel better, and the knock-on effect will be nothing but positive.

Why Bother?

It’s the busiest time of year at work for me, and frankly, the most unpleasant.  Most people associate the end of the school year with graduation, which is definitely a time of celebration. But the end of term also brings with it something we never like to openly discuss at the university.

Failure.

It’s inevitable that some students will not make it through their first year.

Almost all students struggle to adapt to the university environment.  Obtaining a space at UBC is difficult, and to go from the elation of admission to the despair of failure over a period of twelve months is a difficult experience.  I’ve watched how it rattles the confidence of the students – these were the kids that were the high-flyers in their high schools.  For many of these students, it’s the first time in their lives they’ve experienced what it’s like to not be at the top of the class, to not grasp concepts easily, to not be able to earn the “easy A” on assignments, to not have the instructors gushing over their performance.  It’s foreign territory.

Over the next month, my diary will be filled with meetings with students that have either failed, or have performed at a level below what they expected.  We’ll discuss where they think things went awry. We’ll discuss how to avoid these challenges moving forward. We’ll discuss whether they’re happy in the university environment.  Half of the meeting time will be spent simply getting the student to the place where they understand what has just happened.  The other half of the meeting will be spent trying to rebuild the student’s self-confidence and getting them to the place where they understand that their life isn’t ruined if they did poorly in first year, and that their personal worth isn’t reflected in their math and chemistry grades.

It’s more challenging to work with the students who have given up.  Oh sure, there are the students who partied a bit too much first year and have suffered the consequences. But there are also students that did put in the work, but didn’t get the results they had grown to expect. Trying to get this group over the initial hurdle of a poor first year is tricky, and motivating them to continue on is, at times, a futile task.

I empathize with our students.  I know only too well what it’s like to have a crappy first year. And I also know this is a part of life that they’ll have to grow accustomed to, because one’s best effort isn’t always good enough, and that there will be times that no matter how hard one works, things don’t work out as hoped. It sucks.

When faced with these situations in my own life, I will inevitably sulk for a while, but eventually I’ll come to the realization that if I keep trying, I’m more likely to succeed down the line. It’s no different for anyone else, and these are words I relay to the students: reflect on what happened and try firstly to learn from your mistakes, and secondly, try to find the positive in the situation. Whether it’s a situation that is imposed on us, or the result of our own doing, we all get knocked down from time to time; how we get back up is a reflection of our true character.

Take a moment to watch this video. It is a beautiful testament to courage and hope; this is a man that knows how to get back up again.

Someone made the cynical comment to me the other day that I’ve “raised a lot of money for cancer administration.”  In the same week, two of my work colleagues lost parents to cancer. I guess I could give up trying to make a difference.  But I’m still clinging to the belief that cancer can be beaten, and it may take a lot of attempts to get there, but eventually research will be successful.  A diagnosis of cancer is not necessarily the death sentence it once was – and this is what keeps me motivated that things will only get better. The stakes are much too high – I will not give up.

My little buddy, Hunter. I want him to live a long, happy, and cancer-free life. We have a lot of golf to play together!

From Cats to Cupcakes

Years ago, a friend invited me to her new home for dinner. Her place was lovely, and she made an amazing seafood stew for dinner. And although these two things still stand out in my memory, what I recall most about that evening were her two cats. The cats not only hopped up on the table while we were eating, one of them helped himself to a few choice morsels out of my friend’s bowl. I was appalled.

I’ll admit that I continue the Newman tradition of having poorly behaved pets. The problem is that we’re too soft when it comes to the wee beasties, and are much too indulgent. One family cat would appear in front of the fridge promptly at 10:30 every morning to demand her daily dish of shrimp, which my parents would buy, wholesale, specifically for her.

Admit it. You’d give her daily shrimp, too.

As much as I love dogs – big dogs, not those barking rats that seem so trendy – I am a cat person. Hugo and Thor are litter-mates, adopted from Katie’s Place Animal Shelter. Their personalities are quite different. Hugo isn’t the brightest light on the string, but has a wonderful disposition. Thor is a born hunter, and every night at bedtime she drags to me something she’s “killed” as what I flatter myself as being a form of tribute. Last night’s sacrifice was a red jelly bean; I hope it hasn’t stained the carpet.

Don’t be fooled. She’s a born killer.

One morning I was sitting at the kitchen table, eating my cereal, when I looked up to see Hugo staring back at me. I recall thinking, “at what point did I lose the battle with the cats?” Instead of shoving him on to the floor as I should have done, I scratched him behind his ears, and he flopped over on his side, assuming the adorable cat position made famous by Puss in Shrek the Halls.

His super-power is cuteness.

That covers the cats, but you might still be wondering what cupcakes have to do with anything.

The name of this blog reflects a fund-raising effort undertaken to raise the entry fee to take part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. There are so many great causes to support that the reality is you have to compete for support. I came up with the idea of exchanging mini-cupcakes for predetermined donation levels … similar to how if you donate to PBS, they’ll send you an Inspector Morse coffee mug as a thank you gift.

I needed a catchy name for “marketing” purposes. “Cancer Cupcakes” and its assorted variations didn’t sound at all appetizing – “Mmmm … cancer cupcakes, cooked with radiation and frosted with a healthy dose of chemotherapy!”

Uh, no.

“Good Karma Cupcakes” was the original idea, but a quick Google search revealed that the name was already taken. I work at a university … I couldn’t take someone else’s idea and try to pass it off as my own, right? Thor was sitting nearby when I was trying to come up with ideas; normally she’s a very chatty cat, but at that moment, she was silent. “Cat got your tongue?” suddenly morphed into “cat got your cupcake.”

I shared my idea with Paola and she liked it enough to lend her mini-cupcake pans to the cause. We discussed logistics and determined that transporting would be an issue, so we agreed to go 50/50 on a bulk quantity of boxes specifically for mini-cupcakes. We were a bit hesitant at first, because to use all of the boxes we would have to move 600 cupcakes, and we weren’t sure we’d get enough orders to make it worthwhile.

Between the two of us, we baked, frosted, packaged, and delivered over 2,000 mini-cupcakes, and had to place an order for more boxes.

A sample of the final product. I even made the little flowers, butterflies, and stars.

Trying to bake hundreds of mini-cupcakes in a single evening was a daunting task. I’d place them on the kitchen table to cool in between decorating and packaging, and having two poorly behaved cats added to the challenge. Not only did I have to ensure the area was constantly free of rogue cat hairs, I had to also keep it constantly free of actual cats.

With the generous help of our sweet-toothed friends, both Paola and I were able to achieve our fundraising goals through mini-cupcakes, and unless the Ride cripples us, I reckon we’ll be returning to the event again next year. If so, watch for our mini-cupcake offerings in October and December. For Hallowe’en, I’m thinking of decorating them in a black cat theme.

It was only a matter of time before I photo-bombed you with pictures of my cats.

It’s a Topsy-Turvy Life

Many thanks to Paola Baca for guest-blogging this week while I focus time on my other writing commitments. Enjoy!

Lynn and I sometimes wonder if we would have been friends had we met in high school instead of during our M.Ed. programs.  Where Lynn recalls making friends through sports, I recall making friends through helping others with their homework.  I’ve been 5’9” since I was 13, with a wingspan wider than my height, and spaghetti legs.  Gangly arms and legs result in coordination challenges when you’re young. It’s unlikely our paths would have crossed had we been in high school together.

Always a believer that you should focus on your strengths, I let athletics take a back seat in my life when I was younger.  Where I excelled was learning.  I loved every subject in school save P.E. (except for that module on square dancing).  From mathematics to literature, I soaked up books and concepts and ideas.  I developed an early love of research and the power it had to make the unknown understandable.

My first encounter with cancer was my grandfather’s death.  As a young man, my grandfather was part of the Chinese diaspora.  He settled in Peru, where he learned Spanish, raised a family, and owned a business and restaurant in Lima’s Chinatown.

When he retired, my grandparents moved to Vancouver’s Chinatown.  Grandfather’s last years were spent in the smoky Chinese societies playing mahjong with his friends.  He never learned English and got by in Canada just fine without it.  He was an amazing cook.  He smoked.  And when his doctor called him in one day, he knew he had lung cancer.

It isn’t surprising that one of my first school science projects was on lung cancer.  I dedicated my research to my grandfather.  His was the first funeral I ever attended, and the first loss I had to rationalize.  When I couldn’t, I turned to research to help me understand what had caused this illness that had overcome my once tall, stoic, gentleman of a grandfather.  I won second place for that project.  Although I know he would have been proud, I also know he would have asked why I didn’t come in first.

A budding researcher as evidenced by this stunning poster!

It’s not surprising that I work at UBC given the place oozes research on a daily basis.  I enjoy working alongside the people who came in first place on their science fair projects.  The ones that explore, understand, find cures, and save lives.

When I met Lynn, she was disguised as her research-nerd self in one of my M.Ed. classes.  When I mentioned that I was interested in supporting cancer research by walking in the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers, she revealed that she had already registered for her sixth walk and would be happy to have me join her.

Last year, when Lynn suggested that we trade in our walking shoes for bicycles, I looked at her incredulously.  Didn’t she understand that I had not been on a bike since the 1990s? Didn’t she know that I would never decline the opportunity to support cancer research?

So continues the evolution of our stereotypical selves.  Lynn is the one who continued to a doctoral program, happily engaging in the research that helps her to understand her work world. And I’m getting in touch with my inner athlete, working with a personal trainer, and looking forward to pedaling my spaghetti legs from Vancouver to Seattle.

And to answer my initial question, yes, I’m pretty sure we would have been friends if we had met in high school.

There is no “i” in team.

There is no “i” in team. Unless you happen to be French, bien sûr.

At UBC, where I work, there was some discussion awhile back revolving around whether its varsity teams should move from the CIS to the NCAA. Considerable consultation amongst a plethora of stakeholders took place, and the outcome was that UBC would stay put. Regardless of the outcome, one of things that I found disconcerting was the number of people that commented that “athletics has nothing to do with academics.”

I know a fair bit about both athletics and academics. They actually don’t have a lot to do with one another, but where they do intersect is that both have a lot to do with education.

Lessons learned about socio-economic status, sexual orientation, culture, and gender came from my involvement in sports. I learned early in school that I could tune-out the talking head at the front of a classroom and figure out what I needed to know by leafing through the assigned textbooks. It’s ironic that I not only work at a university, but that my research is on education, because my past educational experiences were almost entirely a waste of time. The only reasons I regularly attended school were because I really liked P.E. and History, and because all my friends were there.

“Talks too much in class” was a recurring comment on my report cards. I reckon that if you asked a few committee chairs at UBC about me, they would comment: “talks too much in meetings.”

I am UBC. I am also stuck for a photo idea for this particular blog as I don't have a team photo ... yet!

One of the best things about my involvement with the Ride to Conquer Cancer is being part of the UBC team, not-so-originally entitled TEAM UBC: Placed & Promised. (The upper-case letters make it seem so much cooler, don’t you think? No? Whatever.) This is the first year for TEAM UBC. We’re a modest-sized team comprised of people from different units across campus. We range in cycling experience from total novice to rather skilled, and occupy various rungs on the institutional hierarchy. Fundraising experience is also varied.

As it is with any good team, the group has come together to provide support to one another where needed. Fundraising for causes I believe in comes easily to me, but I’m still having my moments of doubt about the cycling. Conversely, there are a few cyclists on the team that are new to fundraising and who occasionally need support. The event is more than just a weekend with a hellish-long bike ride; it’s about the relationships that are forged as we work together towards a common goal.

Many people look at sport teams and see only what happens during a match. What people don’t see is the amount of socializing – and learning – that takes place outside of the matches. As much as I love playing, I love the social interaction even more. My work life is a bit richer for having met people from different areas of campus, and for being able to see people I regularly encounter in a different light. And I am heartened by the individuals that have told me they would like to participate in next year’s ride.

It’s a common practice at the university that we focus on the individual accomplishment. We always see the amazing researcher that made a breakthrough discovery, but no attention is given to the people that created the conditions for that research to take place. Research is very much a team effort, and there is absolutely no way cancer will be cured by one person alone. I can’t help but feel some pride in belonging to a small, dedicated team of people who are helping to cure cancer. They won’t be the people that have their photos in the media when cancer is cured, but to me, they’re all world-class.

p.s. Visit our team page at: http://www.conquercancer.ca/site/TR?team_id=47250&fr_id=1413&pg=team

“I miss, I miss, I make.”

Last weekend I spent several hours parked in front of the TV watching The Masters. I fell in love with this golf tournament back in the 80s when Seve Ballesteros was at the top of his game, and his English was still broken. Seve was an amazing shot-maker, exciting to watch, and very charismatic. He was taken from this world much too soon, succumbing to brain cancer in 2011. Fans all over the world mourned his demise.

Seve slipping into the coveted green jacket. Photo credit: The Observer

I never wanted to be a golfer – I had always thought of golf as a recreational activity for dads. Then my brother, Murray, gave me lessons for my 17th birthday. I didn’t want to take up the game, but Murray was keen to play, and he figured out that group lessons were a good deal.

The only time we could coordinate our schedules for the group lesson was on Friday evenings. I was less than thrilled.

I was surprised to find myself taking to golf like a fish takes to water. In one year, I went from being too embarrassed to admit to my close friends that I was spending my Friday nights at a driving range learning how to play a “nerd” game, to spending over 15 hours a week at the course, practicing until my hands bled.

Golf is a mentally exhausting game to play. There is an incredible amount of strategy involved. As you stand over your ball, you have to quickly run through your shot arsenal, trying to determine the best-case scenario for whatever you’re facing. You have to be honest about your level of ability; lie to yourself, and you’re hooped. But at the same time, you also have to be confident in your potential to succeed.

You also have to be able to maintain a level of composure unlike any other sport I’ve ever played. If your muscles tense even slightly, your swing goes into disarray and the ball can end up anywhere. The first tournament I ever played in, I was so nervous that I took a 12 off the first tee. Trust me on this, 12 off the tee is über-lame.

Bubba Watson, the winner of this year’s Masters, knows only too well about being honest about one’s abilities while striving to reach one’s full potential. Bubba has severe Attention Deficit Disorder, and struggles to maintain his focus over the course of a round. Similar to Seve, Bubba came from humble beginnings, has a lot of charisma, and manages to maintain a refreshing level of modesty. When asked by reporters if he ever dreamed of draining a putt on the final hole to win The Masters – pretty much the golf equivalent of scoring the game winning goal in the Stanley Cup final – he replied that no, he hadn’t ever dreamed that he could make the putt. Like Seve, Bubba wears his heart on his sleeve.

Bubba drained the putt to win the Masters in a play-off. He didn’t pump his fist, toss his putter in the air, or jump up in jubilation. Bubba broke down and sobbed. He hugged his caddy, he hugged his Mom, and a bunch of his friends from the tour hugged him, too. He never thought he could achieve so much, and he was overwhelmed by what he had accomplished.

It's the most presitigious article of clothing in sport - the iconic green jacket. Photo credit: The Telegraph.

Golf is an analogy for life. You get out of it what you put into it. Sometimes you get a lucky bounce, and sometimes the best hit shot can leave you in a hazard. And never up, never in – if you wimp out, you’ll never succeed.

I love it when nice guys finish first. It never gets old.

On Turkeys and Tomato Aspic

I let my niece, Emily, know last week when I’d be cooking a turkey this weekend, and that they (Emily has a family, not a personality disorder) were welcome to come by. She couldn’t come on Sunday as they already agreed to go to the in-laws’. Emily’s father-in-law is a minister, and Easter is important because “it’s a big day for Jesus.”

To be honest, Easter has never been a favourite with me. Between being an avid field hockey player and having avid gardeners for parents, the Easter long weekend meant either a trip to Victoria with the hockey team to play in provincials, or a weekend of spreading manure all over the yard and garden. I don’t need to tell you which I preferred.

Mum had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer that resulted in a mastectomy. By then, with marriages and the onslaught of grandchildren, there were usually 12 to 14 people for every special occasion meal.  After her surgery it wasn’t possible for Mum to lift a turkey, so cooking the meal fell to me. No one ever relied on me to cook before because I was rarely home at dinner time. My cooking skills consisted of putting leftovers on a plate and microwaving them on high for 90 seconds. Not a lot has changed.

Being of Scottish ancestry has its pros and cons. The downside is that everything in classic British cuisine is boiled or roasted to within a whisker of its molecular structural life. The rationale is that if it has been grown in dirt, or has come in contact with dirt, it then follows that it is dirty and must be sterilized of contaminants. The upside is that no matter how badly overcooked something might be, people of Scottish ancestry will happily eat it just so long as it is drowned in either butter or some sort of gravy. The bar for achieving an edible Easter meal was never set very high.

Dad was a surgical supplier, and he often brought samples home from work of things he thought might come in handy. I’d wager that we were the only family on Monarch Street that used post-mortem needles to truss the turkey, but Dr. Currie next-door was an orthopedic surgeon, so I’m not certain the wager is a sure bet. I remember the first time Mum walked me through making stuffing and preparing the bird for the oven. I’ll just say that she was a bit critical of my sewing ability, and commented aloud I should pop next-door for a quick lesson on suturing. I doubted that the turkey would care if it was left with an ugly scar.

Martha's Christmas turkey. I really should try making a bird into a floral arrangement.

The bird wasn’t the difficult part of the meal; it was the accompanying side dishes that made things intimidating. Each of us had a favourite Mum would make, even if we were the only person who liked the dish. To this day, I am oddly territorial about tomato aspic. It’s not as though anyone else wanted to eat it – seriously, it’s tomato gelatin. And if there’s any positive aspect to losing Mum, it has to be that I never will have to cook candied yams again.

It has been quite a while since I’ve cooked a meal for a large group of people, but every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I cook a turkey for George and the cats, Hugo and Thor. All the vegetables, save for the potatoes, are roasted in the oven. The turkey is brined and not cooked until its appendages fall off, but it will always be Mum’s stuffing recipe that I use. I still make myself a small bowl of tomato aspic.

I hope you have a happy Easter. I hear it’s a big day for Jesus…