Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pink Day makes me Think Day (and write too)

I saw a sea of pink today.
It was at the girls' school.

Nearly every student and every teacher was wearing a pink t-shirt with the words,
Acceptance - Born this Way printed on the front.

Today was Pink Shirt Day in Canada.  It's a day to stand up and declare intolerance for bullying.  In case you're interested, it all started like this:

Pink Shirt Day began in September 2007 at Central High School in Cambridge, N.S., when a ninth grader arrived wearing a pink polo shirt.  He was bullied mercilessly by a group of 12th graders who told him if he ever wore a pink shirt again he'd pay for it.  When two seniors, Matthew Shepherd and Travis Price , got wind of  what happened, they had an idea.  They purchased 50  pink shirts and tank-tops and sent out messages inviting as many kids as possible to wear them to school.  Not only did they easily distribute the shirts, but almost 300 students showed up dressed in pink, some from head to toe.  One of the bullies saw the sea of pink and threw a trash can in protest,  but as Shepherd would say  later, not a peep was heard from the bullies after that day.  The story was picked up by the national media and later overseas as well.  Today there are schools around the world that hold annual Pink Shirt Days, all because two Canadian Grade 12 students decided to step up to lead.

(John Izzo, author of Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything)

The Dance Specialist at the girl's school, Confederation Park, took things a step further this year.  She joined Confed up with many other schools in the Lower Mainland, and one in New York City to take a stand against bullying in a tangible way.  The students learned choreography to Lady Gaga's anthem, Born this Way, and performed it in a public space on the same day.  The performances were videotaped then combined and edited and posted on YouTube yesterday in preparation for today's Pink Day.   One of the goals of the project was to show students that social media can be used to send a positive message, rather than only perpetuating bullying.   Here is their offering:

During the Community Gathering (we used to call them Assemblies) at Confederation Park this morning, the students entered the gym to Born this Way.  They danced their hearts out.  There were big kids and small kids.  Asian kids and white kids.  Indian kids and First Nations kids.   Kids with special learning needs and kids at the top of the class.    The dance was followed by drama and more dance, and an original rap.  It featured Ellie's class sharing their findings on special needs and Sasha's class performing a reader's theatre.  All of the kids wore their pink shirts with pride.

It was powerful and beautiful.

I was filled with sadness today too.

Here's the back story -

Last year, the Burnaby District of Education was proposing an anti-bullying policy which specifically addressed students and staff who fall into the category of Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLQBT).  Evidence pointed to the fact that kids and staff in the GLQBT community experienced more bullying than other groups of students.  Thankfully, some of the Trustees of the Burnaby School District drafted a policy and put it to the board for a vote.

It didn't take long for a firestorm to erupt.  One particular group of parents, who gave themselves the name Parents' Voice, became particularly organized and vocal.  They went to work at defeating the policy through the media and public forums.  It seemed that to them, the Bible says that being Gay is a sin and protecting those students in the GLQBT community would only draw attention to the "Gay agenda" - and possibly corrupt their children.  I know, I shuddered too.  But along with my shudder, I was embarrassed and sorry.  Why?  Because I live my life trying to follow the ways of Jesus.  And I grieved the message these members of Parents' Voice were perpetrating on behalf of "Christians".

On a personal level and an aside, our girls were taking their music lessons at the Willingdon Church Fine Arts Academy last year.  It was horrifying to me to learn that most of the most vocal members of Parents' Voice attend Willingdon Church.  Though the leadership of the church never endorsed the message of Parents' Voice, they didn't take a stand against it either.  But I had to.  We didn't re-enroll our girls in music lessons at Willingdon because we just couldn't be associated with a community that wouldn't stand up to adult bullies in their midst who were actively spreading fear and propaganda.  Evidently, I don't follow the same Jesus that the Parents' Voice members do.

In today's Vancouver Sun, I discovered that Parents' Voice was at it again.  Apparently, they'd written a letter to Premier Christy Clark and Education Minster George Abbott calling for the government to prevent teachers from posting the YouTube video of the Born this Way project.  Thankfully, the government did not intervene and the message of the song and the project were released as planned.

A few weeks ago I was reading the local newspaper online from the rural area in southern Manitoba that I'm from.  I read something that stopped me in my tracks and overwhelmed me with sadness.

You can read the story here.

Here's the thing I get stuck on.  Whether the parents in Altona who lobbied for the removal of the signs want to admit it or not, their are GLQBT kids in their schools.  In all of their schools.  And somewhere in that school that signs went up in, there's a kid coming to terms with their sexuality.  And in the midst of their own struggles, the soundtrack they are hearing is that even a small sign in one of their classrooms  that references the GLQBT community is too offensive to leave up without a fight.  If a sign is offensive, wouldn't you think that kid thinks their sexuality and identity must be too offensive to come out with too?  And my heart breaks for that kid.

Today's Vancouver Sun also featured a story about a 15 year old Richmond student named David Levitt,  who came out as gay when he was 12 years old to one friend.  That friend spread the news and horrific bullying ensued.  The boy tried but failed to kill himself three times because living in that kind of reality was too much to bear.  Together with support from his parents and the local GLQBT community, he's now working as an advocate to encourage more of the Lower Mainland's school districts to implement  explicit policy that takes a stand against bulling those in the GLQBT community.  What a fighter.

Only he shouldn't have to fight.

And one day, I hope kids like David won't have to.
(I'm not holding my breath.)

But the sea of pink at Confederation Park this morning gave me hope.
And for that, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hawaii - The Final Chapter

We stopped to take some pictures of the girls in their Hawaiian dresses on our very last day.  We let them each pick a dress that they loved in one of the hundreds of ABC stores in Waikiki!  (I've never seen so many of the same store in my entire life!)

After the photo shoot, we took one last stroll together.  Soon it was time for our cab to come - only it wasn't just a cab!  The girls freaked out when they saw that their ride to the airport was a limo!  That's the only thing that could fit our whole motley crew.   Hannah was the only one who had ever been in a limo before, so Ellie and Sasha were especially pumped!

It was an awesome 12 days together.  I loved spending time with the girls without the pressure of everyday life and living.  No reminders to practice instruments or do homework.  No setting the table or hurrying out the door for school.  I love that kind of time.

I'm so thankful for the gift of those 12 days.


Hawaii - The Home Stretch

One neat thing about the timing of our trip is that we got to celebrate Valentines Day together.    We spent the day relaxing by the pool and capped it off by a visit to The Cheesecake Factory for an early dinner.  We thought we would try and beat the crowds.  That place is nuts!  The throng of people waiting outside with their little vibrators in their hands when we arrived at 5:00 was daunting.  We only had to wait 30 minutes for a table and then could sit down and enjoy a yummy meal together.

Although we often tease the girls about different boys they may like, we all know that they have only one true Valentine - Daddy!  It's true!  I made a funny questionnaire for Ellie to fill in while we were gone.  One of the blanks said, "boyfriend" to which she wrote, "Daddy".    I think Mike might like it to stay that way for awhile!

Sasha actually calls Mike her "Lover boy" sometimes and regularly says she wants to marry him.  (Don't worry folks, this isn't creepy, it's cute.)  Here is the lovely couple snuggled up in their booth.

We capped off the evening with Cheesecake and our tummies were so full, so we took a little torch-lit stroll through Waikiki.

Every Friday night there are fireworks on the beach in Waikiki.  It's pretty neat to see all of the tourists lined up along the shore waiting for the show to start.

Hannah says her favourite dinner out was at a place in The King's Court called Rock Island Cafe.  It's a pretty authentic looking 50's diner.  Hannah loves the 50's.  The servers were dressed to fit the era perfectly, and the place was jammed full of 50's memorabilia.

Across the street from our condo was a place known for it's "5 napkin" cheeseburgers.  Here we are waiting for ours after our day in the waves at Kailua Beach. 

Mike had his own "happy place" in Waikiki.  It's a restaurant called "Yardhouse" where they have over 100 beers on tap.  Mike likes to try local brews wherever he is, and a Kona beer here did not disappoint.  Neither did the happy hour specials.  We went twice and had our last dinner in Hawaii here.  We couldn't resist.

On the last afternoon of our holiday, we took the girls out on a great adventure.

Over the course of our holiday, we made friends with a couple from Winnipeg who were staying at the same condo complex.  I first noticed him walking down the street on our second day because he was proudly strutting his stuff down the beachwalk with a Winnipeg Jets t-shirt on.  We stopped and chatted and enjoyed our conversations with Klaus and Erika very much.  Klaus passed on a "2 for 1" coupon for the Outrigger Catamaran.  He said it was really fast, and we'd likely get really wet.  He was right.

This wasn't your average boat ride, folks.  The catamaran has a huge mesh platform at the front of the boat on which you can lie right about the waves.  It almost feels like there is nothing between you and the water.  You can see a picture of it here.

The girls were quick to decide that they wanted to lie on the mesh.  Mike and I sat on the mesh too just a little further to the middle.  When we started, we thought the waves seemed huge.  By the middle of the trip, they were unbelievable swells that we were going over.  There were a few times when the boat actually left the water and slammed down.  

Look how calm I look (for the sake of the children).
When we went over the first few swells, I screamed a little to which my family informed me that I was embarrassing them.  

I tried to reign it in after that.

Still smiling and not screaming.  

I'd occasionally ask Mike, "Do you think it's going to flip over?  Do you think the girls are safe?  Do you think we should be closer to the lifejackets?"  To which he'd just smile and pat my leg and bop his head to the reggae music that was playing and say,  "It's all good, Karla.  It's all good."

 The girls smiled the whole trip. 
 Ellie and Sasha wanted to get splashed.... 

.... and they did.  Like this.  Many, many times!

It was the perfect way to spend our last afternoon.

Surf School

We didn't get to try surfing when we were in Tofino last May (too cold and rainy), so I wasn't about to let this opportunity go.  And Hannah wasn't either.  Ellie and Sasha both decided they weren't quite ready to try surfing yet.  So for $40 each, Hannah and I got a 1 hour private surf lesson from "Uncle Gil" or "Gunner" as he says his friends call him (he used to be in the Marine Corps).  He was such a character that I figured he must be documented online somewhere, and sure enough, if you Google "Uncle Gil Waikiki" you get this video interview of him:

And he was our teacher!  Apparently we got the best in Waikiki.

First we got the dry-land lesson for a few minutes.

And then it was into the water . . . after a few posed shots . . .

Uncle Gil would tell us when to start paddling, which was really helpful because the hardest thing about learning to surf is knowing which waves to pick.

Hannah did really, really well.  She got up almost right away.  On her 2nd attempt I think.  It took me many more tries and some helpful tips from Uncel Gil (move back a bit, keep your head up, eyes forward) before I managed to catch a wave properly and stay standing on my board.  But once I got the hang of it, I did pretty well if I do say so myself.  I had a few really good runs that took me right back to the shore.

Of course, just like every other touristy activity in Waikiki they take pictures of you and charge you an arm and a leg for them.  No pictures of me surfing, but I did do it, I swear!  I have the raw nipples to prove it (if you ever go surfing, wear a shirt).  They wanted $20 per single picture or $40 for all of them.  Yikes!  I had to buy one of Hannah though.  So, here's the money shot . . .

The waves were actually much larger than they look in that photo.  It's just the end of her run, after the wave died down.  The woman selling us the pictures at the end asked Hannah, "Do you do ballet or something?  You looked so graceful out there".  

After we were done surfing for the day, the girls all posed in front of the statue of Waikiki legend Duke Kahanamoku.  

Posted by:  Mike

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Polynesian Ping Pong

Confession time.

Mike and I really love to play Ping Pong.    Really love.

And you know what?   I'm pretty darn good at it.  (Mike isn't too shabby either).

When we went to Mexico for our anniversary a few years back we were pumped to see a Ping Pong table set up near the beach.  We played a lot of Ping Pong on that vacation.  Honestly, it wasn't just friendly playing - it was a vicious rivalry.  At the end of that holiday, I led Mike in wins.  I wore that outcome like a badge of honor and never let him forget it.  

Imagine our delight and the opportunity we saw for the rivalry to return when we saw the Ping Pong table in the games room of our building.

We played  lot of Ping Pong.  Sometimes we let the girls play.  There was a local Hawaiian girl who was always hanging around in the evenings.  She kind of joined our family.  Here are Kalayna and Ellie after coming out victorious over Mike and Sasha in a doubles match.

But enough about them, let's get back to the real reason for this post.  
The rivalry.

It was on.
Like Donkey Kong.

Did you notice how intense Mike looked in those pictures.  He was determined to not let me win this time.  By the end of our stay, he was leading me 17 games to 10.  I was humbled, but more determined than ever to reclaim my status as supreme Ping Pong player.

Enjoy your victory Mike.  It won't last.
I'll be back.

Kailua Beach

As we were planning our trip to Oahu, so many people made us promise to visit "Kailua Beach".   We were told that the water was turquoise and the sand was white and that it's been named one of the world's 10 best beaches.

We took the advice to heart and decided to see for ourselves.  

It didn't disappoint us one bit!

The beaches away from Waikiki are much less crowded and less touristy.   There is also less coral to contend with in the water.   The sand here was like the finest powder - it was white and soft and it got into everything!   We couldn't believe how clear and warm  the water was.

Give our girls a few waves and they'll stay entertained for hours!  I absolutely love these next pictures.  They capture the spirit of the day and the incredible amount of fun the girls had being together.

Later in the day,  Sasha and Mike got to work at building a sand fortress.  Notice I didn't say "castle".  Mike's goal was to use his engineering prowess to construct something that could withstand the tide coming in.  He and Sasha took their jobs very seriously.   There were dikes and trenches constructed that could put the Manitoba flood team to shame.

At one point in the morning, Sasha had an unfortunate experience where she was knocked down by two big waves.  She wasn't too pumped about them after that.  That left Hannah and Ellie to ride the waves on their own for a bit, and Mom to coax her back into the water.

Here I am giving the most logical and reasonable explanation for why 
she should trust me and the boogie board.  

She was not convinced.

Finally, we made some headway....

... until the waves came up!

And Sasha decided she was done.  
Notice my concern and serious response.

Mike had been inspired earlier in the day by the body-surfers at "Sandy Beach". 
 He thought he had skill too.  
Here are some of his attempts at riding the waves.

By the end of our day, the Penner Fortress was facing a serious threat from the tide.
By the time we had to leave, it was holding its own.
Chalk it up to the engineering team of Penner and Penner.

Kailua Beach was one of the most beautiful we'd ever visited.
We all ranked it as one of our favorite days on the Island.