Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Biting my tongue. In honour of Andrea Blasman

Andrea Blasman

Sometimes it's all I can do to bite my tongue. A couple of nights ago, we were at the Dairy Queen and I noticed a beautiful young girl waiting in line. She was blonde and leggy and strikingly beautiful. Many heads turned as she left with her friends.

I happened to glance outside in time to see her pull a package of cigarettes out of her purse and light up. My opinion of her changed in a heartbeat. It was all I could do to stop myself from running outside and pulling the cigarette out of her mouth. I am passionately anti-smoking. Why? Let me tell you about my friend Andrea.

Andrea was a funny, feisty, talented woman. She had a smile that would light up a room, she was a loyal friend, an amazing mother, a beautiful singer, a talented actor and a dedicated worker. Andrea collected friends like some people collect shoes. She gravitated to the talented and her mix of friends made for lively get-togethers. She was the first one to cheer anyone on, and I don't think she realized how talented she was, she was so busy applauding everyone else's accomplishments.

Andrea was the mother of 4 kids and loved to share their accomplishments with anyone who would listen. She was their biggest fan, their staunchest supporter and their loudest cheerleader in whatever they chose to do.

Three years ago, Andrea was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had started smoking at age 12, but had stopped 12 years prior to her diagnosis. Her husband continued to smoke, even when she was on palliative care and oxygen. Her family and her sister continued to smoke as well.

Andrea fought cancer her way. Upon being diagnosed with cancer, her "theatre friends" rallied around her to have a party that would send her off to treatment with positive love and energy encircling her. Although she was not supposed to, Andrea was quaffing wine at the party, and she quipped that she planned to "drown the tumour", making her body an inhospitable place for it to remain.

She lost ground very quickly. Feisty and determined to the end, she planned her own funeral, and included instructions to her friends to wear bright colours in her honour. She chose her own music and asked some of our friends to sing for her. Included in the funeral was a video from a dream vacation to Hawaii that the family had taken after she had finished Chemo, before they found out that the cancer had spread and was now terminal. Most of it was Andrea's kids, but the last line of it reduced all of us to tears. Andrea always ended phone calls, and often, e-mails with "I love you." The last words of the video were "I love you. bye." in Andrea's voice. In typical Andrea fashion, she had found a way to say goodbye to all of us.

We lost Andrea in 2006. I miss her everyday. I keep tabs on her kids through Facebook, but from a distance. I didn't know them that well, and didn't want to intrude.

When I see young people (or anyone for that matter) smoking, I want to run up and tell them about my friend Andrea. I want to tell them about her smile, her spirit, her courage. I want to tell them about her pride in her kids, her love of dragonflies, music and cats, and I want to tell them about how she looked when I saw her last, bald, jaundiced and shrunken--so changed that I didn't recognize her at first... until she smiled.

Is a cigarette worth your life? Is a cigarette worth your mother's life, your friend's life, your child's life? Is a cigarette worth everything that you could lose?

Let me tell you about my friend.

Me, Akasha and Michele serenading Andrea before she started Chemo, Sept. 2005. She died in May 2006.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Confessions of an Olympics Junkie

My name is Lisa, and I am an Olympics junkie...For the next 2 weeks, I will waste an inordinate amount of time watching all sorts of sports I couldn't care less about the rest of the time. Although I prefer the wild and wacky winter Olympic sports (I mean seriously, what kind of alcohol was involved when the person who invented Luge or Skeleton thought it would be a good idea to put an oversized ice skate on their butt?) I will dutifully watch the summer Olympics just because, well, it's the Olympics...

Maybe it stems from living in Montreal when the 1976 Olympics were held. Nadia Comaneci became my hero. I've actually been to an Olympic event-our friend of the family got tickets to one of the track and field events and we sat in La Stade Olympique (which, from certain angles looks like an upright vaccuum cleaner...) in the chilly morning and watched people run around the track. I also vaguely remember being at an Olympic pre-qualifying event for men's gymnastics with the Allison cousins. I thought I was seeing the women, so I was disappointed and bored...but it was the Olympics.

I certainly don't watch the Olympics because I have any sort of Olympic athleticism...just the opposite. I suck at sports. All sports. I was good at soccer baseball when I was a kid because I could run like the wind until puberty hit. I danced competition level ballroom dancing for several years (and yeah, it IS a sport-try dancing 3 hours of quickstep and jive and then tell me it isn't) and that's probably the closest I've come. In the olden days, when there was still a Canada Fitness Award, I would get Gold every year. I couldn't do the flexed arm hang to save my life, but I was really good at speed situps, the 50 yard dash, and whatever that thing was called where you ran between lines and put blocks down. I'm so NOT an athlete. Don't believe me...let's do a run down-winter and summer.

Baseball: I could hit and I could run. The one season I was on a ball team, I was put in "deep roving right field" and the short stop and 2nd base players covered right field because I couldn't catch...and if I did manage to get the ball in the glove, I couldn't throw it where it needed to be. Alas, my baseball career (Or I should say, softball) ended when I lost a pop fly in the sun...and found it when it bounced off my face at warm-up before a game. I had to play the game anyway or we would have forfeited. So broken nose and all, I played. It was actually the best game I ever played; I hit something like 5 home runs because I was terrified of getting hit in the face again.

Swimming: I took swimming lessons, and was on the swim team at the community pool. I've never learned how to do the butterfly, because I couldn't do a dolphin kick to save my life. I looked more like a hippo in a death roll. It wasn't pretty. The one swim meet I entered, I was on the 2nd team of our squad's relay, and I was supposed to swim the first leg. We were kids, and the coach forget to "coach" us, and the 4 of us didn't make it onto the blocks in time for the start...we were still warming up when the gun sounded. So much for swimming. A guy that I went to Wilder Penfield Elementary School with, David Churchill, made it to the Canadian Olympic Team in 1984. That's as close as I'll get.

Figure Skating: Like every Canadian little girl, I took figure skating lessons. I managed to master the bunny hop and shoot the duck. My favorite part of skating lessons was the hotdog and hot chocolate that my mom bought me after. I hated being cold, and I've never learned how to skate backwards properly or non-ankle skate. Scratch that one.

Cross Country Skiing: I grew up in Quebec...of COURSE I cross country skied. My aunt and uncle had a farm with acres and acres of fields. My mom and aunt could watch us from the warmth of the kitchen window and keep an eye on us for miles. I like it, but never excelled at it...perhaps because the skis we used at the farm were actually downhill skis with cross country bindings. Still, it's the one sport I always enjoyed and plan to introduce to my husband and daughter this year. Even a klutz can cross country ski. I'm living proof.

Track and Field: Before puberty hit I could run like a deer. I held the school record in the 50 yard dash. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted because my grade 7 class at Queen of Angels Academy voted ME the sports rep for our class, because I held THAT school's record first year. I also clearly remember trying to resign from the position because the class sports events were held at lunch hour...and so was choir practice, and I was watching out the window at my class play basketball...while I sang. Alas, between grade 7 and grade 8 hormones kicked in, I gained huge boobs and 20 pounds over the course of a summer...and never ran fast again. I never had stamina, but I was good at sprints.

Hockey: Well, okay, for me it was ringette. Girls didn't play hockey. Girls played ringette, a really stupid game with a rubber ring and broom sticks. Let me tell you, boys and girls, that ring hurt when it hit you because the stupid thing was frozen. Now, I've already mentioned that I ankle skate and I can't skate I'm playing ringette? I couldn't make heads or tails of the rules, so I was never sure which set of blue lines I wasn't supposed to cross so I mainly skated in between them...when I skated a shift...which wasn't very often. I did manage to get my stick on the ring once...I couldn't do anything with it but I did manage to touch the ring once...that was a good minute.

Tennis: I learned to play tennis on the road. I was pretty good at street tennis...and then some dumbass went and put a net in the middle of the court. Tennis is my husband's passion, and he's very good. I try to play tennis with him once in awhile, but he just stands at centre court whacking the ball back at me as I run all over the court. If I manage to actually get the ball back over the net (and stay in our court...I don't normally like to be confined by one court...and heaven help the people on other courts if we have to share...because I really suck) he doesn't have to work too hard. I can't serve overhand...I still do the bounce the ball on the ground and whack. I'm not much of an opponent. I've got no backhand so I try to run past and use the forehand. Maybe our daughter will be better.

Gymnastics: I took gymnastics. I'm afraid of heights, so the balance beam wasn't good for me even though I had good balance. I bruise easily and I have crappy tendons and have sprained or otherwise done damage to every joint in my body. I have no upper body strength, and never ever managed to do a kip unto the low bar, forget the high bar (did I mention I'm afraid of heights...) I could run, so I might have been pretty good at vault...except I had plantars warts all over the bottom of my right foot (and I mean ALL OVER-they had to be surgically removed) so running barefoot was excruciating. I have absolutely no flexibility so that ruled out floor. Okay, let's be honest. I sucked.

Cycling: I haven't ridden a bike since we left Montreal in 1977. Now, if the bike is not positioned in front of a television at the gym, I'm not putting my butt on it. 'nuff said about that.

Downhill skiing: I grew up in Quebec and went on the obligatory school ski trip. I'm afraid of heights and wouldn't set butt on the chair lift. It took me all week to master the t-bar...and never did learn the snowplow. I gave up downhill skiing for the sake of my fellow human beings.

Diving: I was afraid of heights, and I wore a nose plug. They wouldn't let me wear the nose I couldn't figure out how to do the right form with arms overhead...and still plug my nose because I never learned how to breath properly. I had to be dropped off the higher springboard by the diving coach because I got to the top, got to the end of the board, looked down and was paralyzed with fear. I couldn't jump and I couldn't walk back off the board and down the ladder because I was terrified. It wasn't pretty.

Synchronized swimming: I could wear my noseplug...I could skull. I have no flexibility...wounded hippo in death roll.

Volleyball: I'm short and klutzy. End of story. Ditto for basketball.

I could keep going, but I think I've had enough fun revisiting my childhood angst and failures. I appreciate the courage and tenacity that elite athletes must have. For the next two weeks I will cheer any and all Canadian athletes on. My eyes will well along with them when the flag is raised and the anthem plays. When the games come to Vancouver for 2010, I'll burst with pride and we're still trying to figure out a way to go out to see some of it in person. Until then, I'll watch all of the amazing athletes. Whether they medal or not, they are all heros in my books. And for the Olympians like Ian Millar who has been to every games since the 1970s, for Kyle Shewfelt who broke both his legs 1o months ago and still turned in a kickass performance today at the Olympics, and to every athlete from whatever country who is or has been an Olympic athlete, I stand and give you all a standing ovation.

But I still gotta say...GO CANADA GO!

Oh Canada, our home and native land...

And if you want to read a really inspiring story, check out Kyle Shewfelt's blog.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Guest Blogging

Hi all
I'm guest blogging today at, a website by and for stay at home moms.

Check out my rumination on whether or not I'm a bad mom for mourning the end of summer playgroup!