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June 2010 Archives

Book Review: "Middleworld" (The Jaguar Stones, Book One)
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Here in IML-land, we've started reading more and more books for tweens. Some of them are pretty great. Many of them are not. We're always on the lookout for a book that's well-written, tells a story we haven't seen before, and might help readers learn something new about themselves or the world around us. That's a tall order!

But we found one recently, and wanted to share it with you.

middleworld.gifIn "Middleworld," by J&P Voelkel, 14-year-old gaming master Max lives a pampered life in Boston with his parents, Frank and Carla, who are both archaeologists and experts on the Maya civilization. When they cancel a family vacation to rush to a dig in the tiny Central American country of San Xavier, he's had it with them always putting their work before their son.

Then they summon Max to join them, but when he arrives, he finds that Mom and Dad have gone missing. Now Max has a mission of his own, on which he embarks with the help of Lola, a Maya girl. It involves ancient secrets, mysterious strangers to whom he's connected in surprising ways, haunted temples, zombie armies, and bad guys appropriately called the Lords of Death.

The cover of "Middleworld" makes it seem more like a ride at Disneyland than a juicy novel, but once you get into Max's journey it's hard to slow down. The story moves fast and sucks you in, and is told with the help of fun, well-placed illustrations -- which are nice to see in a book like this. There's also a glossary of Maya terms and some other helpful facts about culture, and we liked flipping to those pages so we could better understand some of the people, places, and things introduced in the story.

It's hard to find action-adventure books that don't talk down to tween readers, and we felt this one does a great job of avoiding that. The writing is smart and the characters interesting, and even while Max is braving a lot of way-out stuff in the tropical rainforest, it's easy to connect with him. "Middleworld" is the first of a series of books, so if you feel you can stand being hooked on another epic tale, we encourage you to jump in! You won't be disappointed. (And you'll end up an expert on the Maya culture, or at least be able to make great chicken tamales.)

IML's Rating: A

Playing the Celeb Crush Game with Team Edward and Team Jacob
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"Eclipse" is almost upon us.

eclipse.jpgSome of you just went, "OMG, I'm counting the days!" Some of you are just like, "Whatever" ...and then some of you made a little gagging sound.

Sad to say, this time IML does not have interviews with the movie's stars. We're excited to see "Eclipse," though, and we liked the book. One of the things that has always fascinated us about the "Twilight Saga" is that before anyone even cast Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner as Edward and Jacob, there were readers totally crushing on these characters. Even feeling like they were in love with them, and choosing sides on Bella's behalf. Although we've never felt that the Twilight books were the best-written ones out there for tweens and teens, Stephenie Meyer has managed to create these two guys who just hook readers' hearts and draw them in. That doesn't happen very often.

Now with the "Twilight" films, fans can crush not just on Edward, but on Rob. You can have pictures of Rob as Edward all over your locker and wear him on a T-shirt. You can read and watch interviews with him, and learn more about this shy and humble and seemingly very sweet guy, and let your imagination run amok with thoughts of what he'd be like as a boyfriend.

Of course, celeb crushes have been around for ages. From James Dean and Elvis Presley, to Sean Cassidy and New Kids On The Block...every generation and every time period has its "teen idols." If you want a laugh, or just get grossed out, ask your mom or grandmother who she had a crush on when she was your age. This type of crush -- even when it veers into obsession -- is usually harmless and even a good thing. It's how we first start exploring our feelings about love and attraction. For more advice from IML on this topic, check out our page on Celeb Crushes (And giggle at our slightly outdated examples; we wrote that a long time ago. 'N Sync!).

In the meantime, what we're curious about is how much the crushability of Taylor Lautner and Rob Pattinson can be separated from the crushability of Jacob and Edward. Would Taylor fans like him as much if he'd never portrayed Jacob? Many of them probably wouldn't have "discovered" him, but if he weren't associated with "Twilight" in any way, would he be as wonderful-seeming? If Rob were to play an absolutely horrible, villainous person in his next movie, would his fans adore him any less?

And the bigger question: How long after the final film, "Breaking Dawn" disappears from movie screens and the press will Rob and Taylor's status as "teen idols" fade? Who will take their place?

Tell us: Who's your celeb crush? Why do you think you're drawn to this person? What do you think you've learned about yourself by choosing him or her?


Ballroom Kids: Jaryd and Cara
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To round out our series on tweens who are also competitive ballroom dancers, meet Jaryd and Cara!

At this point you may be asking, "IML, why are you doing THREE different interviews on this topic?" Well, when we met all these kids, we couldn't decide who would best represent their sport on our website, so we figured, why not introduce all of them? They're all awesome! We enjoyed getting familiar with this whole world we knew very little about, and helping IML'ers discover it too...especially if someone out there tries ballroom dancing as a result and finds it to be their "thing"!

jaryd&cara.jpgJaryd, who is 12 years old, and Cara, who is 10, have been dancing together for 3 years and have won numerous awards, as well as the honor of appearing on TV's "Good Morning America," "The Today Show," and "Dancing with the Stars." 

IML: How did you two first become ballroom dancing partners?

Jaryd: I've been dancing ballet, tap, lyrical, jazz, and gymnastics since I was 3 1/2 years old, and I started dancing ballroom when I was 8 or 9. One day at a party, my family and Cara's family were sitting at the same table. Cara's mom asked me if I was interested in us being partners. We tried it, and it worked.

Cara: Jaryd did a jazz tap dance and I was like, "Wow!" He was really nice and we felt we could be partners.

IML: You've been partners for 3 years and but soon you're each going to move on to other partnerships, right?

Jaryd: Yes. I really want to start doing 10-dance, which means you dance Latin and Standard dances, and Cara wants to focus just on Latin dancing.

IML: What made yours a successful dance partnership?

Jaryd: We really had fun, and Latin ballroom was a good fit for both of us.

Cara: It's been an excellent experience to be with a partner. The first partner I had was my brother, and he was too tall for me. We kept arguing because we couldn't get the steps right! That never happened with Jaryd. And he does so many different dances, which is so amazing. He was a great partner to have.

IML: Did you ever have any disagreements or conflicts when learning a routine?

Jaryd: Sometimes you trip or fall. You just have to keep working it out until it works.

IML: What's a typical day been like for you, balancing school and life and dance?

Cara: First I go to school, then Jaryd and I would practice together three days a week. We'd be rushing to the car and change and go to the dance studio. It was a little stressful.

Jaryd: I have something to do each day; I don't have a lot of free time. Because I have ballroom some days, and on other days I have ballet or hip-hop. I just made the Lil Torches (a junior cheer-dance team) for the New York Liberty basketball team. So I have to be at Madison Square Garden every week, and it's like a job because I get paid.

IML: Do you miss having free time, or do you feel like it's all worth it?

Jaryd: No, because it's always fun. I really enjoy it. At least I have time to do my homework, and that's important!

IML: Cara, how long does it usually take you to learn a new routine?

Cara: My teacher says I'm a sponge! Because I absorb things very fast. I can usually learn something new in an hour.

IML: Jaryd, your parents also compete in ballroom. Do you and they ever compete at the same event?

Jaryd: Yes! My grandparents and our friends come to watch and cheer all of us. Sometimes I'm waiting to dance right after them and cheering them on while I'm on deck.

IML: That must be a cool thing to share as a family. What have you learned from your parents as dancers?

Jaryd: Sometimes they give me some advice, like to not push my partner off her balance. They help, and it's good to have them around!

IML: Do each of you have a favorite dance style?

Cara: I like Cha Cha and Jive in Latin. In Rhythm, I like Mambo, Swing, and Bolero. I love the beats and the dance steps.

Jaryd: I don't really have a favorite. They're all equal for me. They're all fun!

2010Jaryd_n_Cara_Nationals.jpgIML: What are the judges looking for when they're scoring you?

Jaryd: Sometimes it's not all about the nice moves. It's about all the qualities you have. You should look like you're relaxed and having fun, and not dancing too upright.

IML: In general, what has dance added to your life?

Jaryd: It's given me strength and courage, and it makes me want to keep dancing. It's given me great opportunities because I've met so many people and been taught by so many people.

Cara: It gives me confidence. I think I've grown more because of dance.

IML: How do you prepare yourself mentally before you go out on a competition dance floor?

Jaryd: My teacher says he wants "first place" all the time. Which you can't always get, but he wants to put that in our minds. So before I go on, I think about that and try my best. You have to have confidence and not think, "I'm going to lose," because then you probably will.

IML: When you're dancing, are you aware of what other couples are doing and the audience watching you?

Jaryd: I go pretty much into my zone. I concentrate but also have fun. You can't dance without fun!

IML: What's your happiest or proudest moment from dancing so far?

Cara: When me and Jaryd went on "Dancing with the Stars". Everything was so exciting!

Jaryd: Winning is good, but then if you lose, it makes you want to try harder. You learn from losing.

IML: What's the funniest thing that's ever happened since you've been dancing together?

Cara: Me and Jaryd were practicing once and both of us fell because we tripped on each other's feet.

Jaryd: I slipped once and got up. When I spin sometimes, my snot comes out!

IML: That's hilarious! What advice do you have for other kids and teens who might want to get involved in ballroom dancing?

Cara: Never give up on yourself. If you think you can't do something, you really can...Anybody can do anything!

Jaryd: Keep dancing, or at least try it. If you think you're not good, just keep trying. Don't stop. Keep your confidence up.

IML: Thanks, guys! Good luck to both of you!

Watch Jaryd and Cara dancing their way to 3rd place at the recent USA Dance Nationals:

One thing we noticed is that even though all six of these "Ballroom Kids" work really hard and have to be super-committed to their sport, there's no doubt they love it passionately and truly enjoy themselves. We hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of ballroom dancing, and we hope to delve deeper into other lesser-known sports for kids in the future on this blog!

Do you know of a a cool sport or hobby that other tweens might not know about, and think we should investigate? Let us know!

Ballroom Kids: Ivan and Madelyne
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ivan&madelyne.jpgIf you thought it was amazing that Michelle and Dmitriy are such awesome ballroom dancers at such a young age, you'll also be wowed by Michelle's sister Madelyne and her partner, Ivan. Madelyne and Ivan are just 8 years old and have been dancing together for 2 years. They placed 1st the last four times they competed. What's it like to be dancing the Samba and Rumba and Paso Doble -- and winning medals for it -- before you're even out of elementary school? Read on!

IML: It was exciting for us to first meet you in the practice room at the USA Dance Nationals, then watch you compete, and then see you win first place! What did it feel like when you won?

Ivan: When there's two couples left, just you and another one, and they call their names for second place, you know you've won first place. We were happy before we even got our prize!

IML: How did you first get started in ballroom dance, and how did you get paired up together?

Ivan: I started when I was 4. I was pretty much with different partners every single day in my dance studio. Everybody else was lower or higher in level and age than me, and then I met Madelyn and she was the perfect age and height. Our birthdays are only 20 days apart!

Madelyne: I got started in ballroom dancing when I was 3 years old. When I was 4 or 5, I was dancing with a boy named Robert who was taller than me so I only danced with him for a little bit. Then the dance studio put Ivan and me together to try it out and practice together, and finally we decided that we could be partners.

IML: When you first started dancing together, what did you think of each other?

Madelyne: I really didn't know him at first. I wasn't sure if he would be a good dancer or a bad dancer...then I saw him and his partner dance together and he was really good!

IML: It seems like you have a lot of fun dancing together, which is important. Do you ever have arguments?

Ivan: No, never! Not even one time.

IML: Glad to hear it! Do you spend time together outside of dance?

Madelyne: Yes! Last year we went to the same camp so we were there together. Sometimes we have playdates together.

IML: Do your parents dance, too?

Ivan: When my mom was a little kid, she danced. I have three reasons why I like to dance. The first reason is that I was born to dance. My second reason is that I've always had the feeling that I want to dance. The third reason is because my mom danced and her hobby went to me when I was born.

IML: Does it feel special for you to share this hobby with her?

Ivan: Yes, definitely!

IML: Madelyne, does your older sister Michelle give you advice?

Madelyne: It's really cool to share dance with her. When I need help with something or if I want to get better at something, she's there for me. 

IML: Do each of you have a favorite dance style?

Ivan: I have more than just one. My favorites are Waltz and Paso Doble.

Madelyne: I like Rumba, Paso Doble, Waltz and Quickstep. In Quickstep I like to run and it's really fast, so it's like running but you're not running. And I like to dance Waltz because it's a very slow melody and I like the sound of it. With Rumba, you've done these other dance styles that are very hard but Rumba kind of relaxes you. I like Paso because you have to try really hard, and I like putting a lot of effort into my dancing.

IML: How much time do you spend dancing?

Madelyne: We dance Monday through Saturday, every week.

IML: And you never get sick of it?

Ivan: No!

IML: Dancers in the older age groups get to wear fancy dresses, and Madelyne, we watched you collecting lost sequins off the dance floor after they performed. Do you do that at every competition?

Madelyne: Yes! I collect sequins for when we get older and I can make a nice costume! I want to put some things on a dress to make it prettier. And I like to see how they sparkle.

IML: What's the funniest thing that ever happened to you during a competition?

Madelyne: Once I was at a competition regional. We were doing Samba and my partner forgot the whole routine, so I had to basically do all the steps by myself. It was really funny because you could see that we were messing up. We still won first place!

Ivan and Madelyne are proof that when it comes to being really dedicated, hard-working, and talented at something, age doesn't matter.

Check out Ivan and Madelyne dancing their way to first place at the recent USA Dance 2010 National DanceSport Champtionships. One of the things we found interesting about ballroom dancing for kids is that there are strict rules about what they can wear in competition, which puts an emphasis on what's appropriate for certain age groups.

"Ballroom Week" on IML continues this weekend when we meet Jaryd and Cara!

Ballroom Kids: Dmitriy and Michelle
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This is a really sweet spot of the year for fans of TV dance shows! "Dancing with the Stars" just ended and "So You Think You Can Dance" is getting underway. We've got all the Cha Cha, Waltz, Tango, Samba, and other ballroom dance styles you could possible ask for.

Ballroom dance has been around for a long time but in recent years, has swelled in popularity thanks in part to these television hits. For more and more people of all ages, it's a fun and exciting hobby, and for many, a sport where kids as young as 7 years old, as well as adults and even senior citizens, compete! 

Recently, IML was invited to attend the USA Dance 2010 National DanceSport Championships to watch the country's most talented young ballroom dancers face off in Latin and Standard divisions. (In Latin competition, dancers must perform the Cha Cha, Rumba, Tango, Paso Doble, and Jive styles; in Standard they perform the Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep. That's ten different routines!)

We were amazed not just by the level of dancing but also the passion and commitment of these kids and tweens. In the next few days, we'll meet three different pairs of "USA Dance Ballroom Kids" whose accomplishments and dedication we find inspiring.

dmitriy&michelle1.jpgFirst, meet Dmitriy and Michelle. Although they're just 12 years old, they've been dancing together for almost 6 years, during which they've won many awards and appeared on "Dancing with the Stars."  

IML: How did each of you get started in ballroom dance?

Michelle: I got started in ballroom dancing when I was about 6 years old. I was at the age when I was exploring many different activities, like swimming and gymnastics. One day my mom's friend introduced me to dancing and I tried it, and fell in love with it. It felt like I was sort of destined to do it. I was just so fun and I kept asking my mom to go to the dance classes. From that day on I've been dancing!

Dmitriy: When it was my 4th birthday, my parents took me to a dance studio and signed me up for a group class. I really liked it so I kept going week after week, and eventually I got my first partner. We went to a first competition and it was amazing to see how everything worked. I liked it a lot and I didn't quit and I kept on practicing, and now I'm here with my partner, going to different competitions, going around the country...meeting different people and seeing different things!

IML: How did the two of you get paired up?

Michelle: We went to this group class, and our teacher noticed that together we would make a very good dancing couple. We tried it out and it went really well, so from that day on we continued to be partners. And here we are 5 1/2 years later, still dancing together!

IML: That's almost half your life! How has your partnership changed in that time?

Dmitriy: We started off not knowing each other and then as the years went by, we got to know each other more, going to each other's houses. It became a very social and very comfortable relationship. Now we know each other really well and we're really good friends.

IML: What do you think makes a successful dance partnership?

Michelle: We both work together. It's not one person's job. If you don't enjoy dancing together, it shows when you're actually dancing on the floor, so having a good relationship really helps things build and helps you dance better.

IML: Do you think you'd be friends if you'd never become dance partners?

Michelle: We probably would never have met because we come from different areas!

IML: It sounds like dance exposes you to a lot of really great people you wouldn't normally meet. Tell us a bit about a typical day for you. You've got school and social life and family life and dance. How do you balance everything?

Michelle: A typical day would be going to school until 3pm, then we come home from school, eat, do a little bit of homework, and then go to dance at the studio. Usually we dance about 45 minutes each day. After that we come home and finish the rest of our work.

IML: Michelle, your younger sister Madelyne also competes in ballroom dance. Do you give her tips and advice?

Michelle: It's really fun because sometimes I teach her, and she gets to learn from me. I like to be the role model and to show her how to be a successful dancer. Because of dancing we've become much closer. She supports me in competition and I support her in competition!

IML: That's a great thing to share! Dmitriy, what kinds of comments or questions do you get from guys your age who aren't involved in dance?

Dmitriy: Most of them are just like, "What is ballroom dancing?" Other people are like, "We've never heard of this sport, it sounds fun." Some are like, "Oh, I don't think that's cool." I get a lot of different things people say. I just let everybody know how much I like it. Everybody sees my videos on YouTube and I'm cool about people having different opinions and different questions.

IML: Do you feel like you can educate other kids about ballroom? A lot of people don't know anything about it.

Dmitriy: We like to tell people about it, and some people even start taking lessons as a result. We kind of start them on their journey of ballroom dancing, and it's really great to see other people learning what it is. Some people take it to the next level.

IML: In a ballroom dance competition, you're scored by judges. What do they look for?

Dmitriy: They're looking at your technique and your performance overall. How you attract the audience. Like, you can be dancing and nobody really knows you're there, but some people can be dancing and you can just see the excitement in the audience about them. You want to be like that.

IML: When you're competing on a dance floor full of other couples, do you know when you're really standing out and people are noticing you? Or are you just focusing on your own routine?

Michelle: When we go on the floor, it's like we're the only people there. We just pretend there's no one there and that we're just dancing like we do in our studio, because that's where I dance the best. So I just enjoy myself and I have fun with it!

IML: When we watched you in the competition, we thought it was funny how everyone avoids bumping into one another or when another couple gets between you. It's part of the competition that you need to deal with that, right? Is it hard?

Dmitriy: It's sometimes hard to deal with in a big competition, but you get used to going around a person or you can modify a move to make it look like it's supposed to be in your routine. Sometimes it's experimenting with different things. Sometimes it actually makes it better...and sometimes it doesn't.

dmitriy@michelle2.jpgIML: Do you have a favorite dance style among the styles you do?

Michelle: We do Latin and Standard, and my favorite of those is Rumba. It's slow and it's sort of like the lady's dance, so I get to express my feelings and show my lines in that dance.

Dmitriy: My favorite dance is the Quickstep. I like it because it's really fast and there are a lot of really small steps. It's really quirky and there are lots of tricks you can do with your feet. It's fun to do and really fun to watch.

IML: What has dance given you in life so far? 

Michelle: Dance has definitely given me more self-confidence. When we go to competitions we dance in front of a lot of groups of people, so when you go into the world, it's more like you're comfortable with being around people. It's not as stressful. When you dance, you sort of just let go, and it helps you learn to do that in life as well.

Dmitriy: I've become more comfortable around groups of people when I'm performing. I feel like I can express myself more and I'm not as shy as I was before I started dancing. It's just given me a whole new opportunity. Now I'm more open to people because of dance.

IML: Why do you think ballroom dance has become so popular with young people?

Michelle: It's sort of like the new thing, and a lot of kids are trying it. They really like it and they tell their friends, and it spreads from there.

IML: What's your proudest or happiest moment so far?

Dmitriy: My proudest moment is when it's a big competition and you make it to the final, and you feel that adrenalin rush going through your body. Then you just perform everything you know, and you give it all your best. Then later when you're standing on the podium you're just thinking, what place am I going to get? You feel confident and proud that you've made it here, because of all the people who've helped you in life.

Michelle: My proudest moment is probably right before I go on the dance floor. Because I just feel like I'm getting really pumped and excited to show what I've been working for, and I can't wait to show my parents and other family members who support me how much it's all paid off!

IML: What's the funniest thing that ever happened during a competition?

Michelle: That was probably when we were dancing and I accidentally tripped! I stumbled and I got back up and continued to do the routine.

Dmitriy: My funniest moment was when I was dancing Quickstep and right in the middle of the routine, my shoe popped right off. So it took some time...we didn't totally stop, we kept on dancing. But I just had to take some time to put on my shoe and it was really funny to experience that.

IML: What's something that people might be surprised to know about ballroom dance?

Michelle: It's much harder than it looks. When we're dancing, we're just pretending it's really easy.  A lot of people start doing it thinking it's going to be easy and then discover how tough it really is.

Dmitriy: If you see people practice and how much effort and time people put in it, and how you have to memorize all the routines, you'll see the truth behind it. People get surprised by how hard everybody works.

IML: What advice do you have for other kids and teens who might want to get involved in ballroom dance?

Michelle: Ballroom dance is hard, so you have to be willing to work really hard. You have to be willing to not be afraid to go into a big crowd of people. But it's a really fun sport and out of it I've made a lot of new friends I would never have made if I hadn't been dancing!

IML: Thanks Michelle and Dmitriy! And good luck!

Take a look at Dmitriy and Michelle during a recent Latin competition:

And here they are doing their Standard routines:

Go Dmitriy! Go Michelle! For more information about ballroom dance, visit

Next, we'll meet Michelle's younger sister Madelyne and her partner, Ivan. Stay tuned!


"Glee" Season Wrap-up
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glee-cast.jpgDo you and your friends love "Glee"? Or are you already tired of hearing about it? Maybe you're not even allowed to watch it. Whatever your relationship with this phenomenon of a TV show, it's here for a while. Even though the season wrapped up last night, Fox will be rerunning episodes until fall and of course there will be a DVD release on top of all the songs already available on iTunes.

Over here at IML, we are solid "Gleeks". It's great entertainment, and we laugh and cry and sing along just like many of you probably do. Still, the show has its flaws, which can be frustrating. Now that McKinley High is out for the summer, we'd like to take a few moments to look at New Directions' first year.

The characters. One of the reasons why "Glee" works so well is the cast of characters (and the actors who play them). There's a good range of interesting personalities and backgrounds. Yes, a few of them are stereotypes. For instance, you could say Kurt is almost a caricature of a gay teen, but his struggle to be true to himself and his relationship with his dad is so compelling, we forgive him for being a little over-the-top. Mercedes and Brittany are also characters we've seen before. But sometimes good storytelling has to use characters like this in order to give the audience some familiar, relatable territory. For the most part, the "Glee" characters learn and grow, and occasionally surprise us. That's what keeps us watching.

The music. Well, duh. The music is awesome. Sometimes it's in a cheesy setting and sometimes it almost makes no sense. Like, the guys in the club are really going to completely dress up like Kiss and do a song? Mr. Schuester would really sing a sultry number to Sue Sylvester? Whatever. "Glee" is a musical, and like all musicals, you have to forget about reality and believability and just sway to the beat.

The storylines. Our biggest annoyance with "Glee" is that there will often be a fantastic episode that ends on a great note, with what they call "story arcs" nicely wrapped up, and then parts of that story will be totally forgotten. For instance, take the episode where New Directions figured out that they could beat Vocal Adrenaline by doing a funk routine. This episode ended with Jesse St. James and his fellow club members admitting to themselves that they were, in fact, "soulless automatons" and they could lose. It was a great moment. But in the finale, there's no mention of doing a funk number; they do the "Journey" medley (and Vocal Adrenaline does "Bohemian Rhapsody" even though, in a previous episode, they were planning some Lady Gaga). Argh! Of course, the real reason why this happened is that the producers behind the show want to create as many different musical numbers as possible; the more musical numbers on the show, the more record sales. But storylines get glossed over too often, like Kurt's football career and Finn being totally betrayed by Puck and Quinn. And just when we think Santana and Brittany are true "Glee" clubbers, they do whatever Sue Sylvester tells them to. Although we love all the characters in "Glee," sometimes it does feel like there's too much going on for the producers, and the audience, to really invest in everything.

The mature stuff. "Glee" is not a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel show. It airs at 9pm and has teenage and adult characters. So there's teenage and adult subject matter, language, and humor. That's just the way it is. "Glee" never planned to be so popular with tweens. Plus, everything that happens usually ends with a lesson learned or an upbeat, inspiring message. When characters do something that's morally questionable, there are consequences and they eventually understand that (even if it's just for an episode). In the end, it's up to each individual family to figure out what's appropriate TV viewing and what isn't.

The first season "journey". Bravo to the "Glee" folks for keeping the finale from being predictable or unsatisfying. The members of New Directions lost Regionals, but won so much more, and we're glad the show choir competition itself ended up being pretty insignificant. Rachel and Finn found each other on equal terms. Quinn loved her baby but knew someone else would give her a better home (the fact that it was Shelby, Rachel's mother and the Vocal Adrenaline coach...a little melodramatic but oddly perfect). The club got another year (uh, was there any doubt?). And Sue Sylvester has always been one of the most complex "villains" on TV; only she and the audience know how her vote went. We love that! We didn't get a big final kiss from someone like we did at the mid-season point between Mr. Schue and Emma, but maybe that would have been cliche. A few things were dropped too quickly, like the Jesse/Rachel romance (didn't he say he was beginning to like her, then he ditched them all with no explanation?) and Shelby's relationship with Rachel (that went sour in minutes, as if the producers decided they didn't know what to do with it). We hope these loose ends get continued next season.

Like most pop culture sensations, "Glee" won't always be such a big deal. Maybe in another season or two (how long will these kids stay in high school, anyway?), we'll be talking about how the show has gone downhill and we're kind of over it. For now, it's fun to enjoy and take part in the buzz. It's not often that something gets to be fresh and different and trend-setting. When it does happen, it happens big. We like being part of that!

Meet our fave new band, Kicking Daisies!
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If you haven't yet heard of the band Kicking Daisies, we bet you will soon.

kickingdaisies.jpgDon't call them a "kid band." Lead singer Duran Visek (15), drummer Caitlin Kalafus (17), guitarist Ben Spremulli (13), and bass player Carly Kalafus (14) work hard and love what they do, and are ready for a rockin' bright future. There's something about the combo of upbeat yet smart pop-punk music created and performed by four teenagers that really grabs us, just like it's already grabbed a ton of fans who love their live shows and are eagerly awaiting the release of their first album later this year.

IML recently had a great time speaking to Duran and Caitlin about their experiences so far.

IML: Hi Caitlin! Hi Duran! Can you each tell us a little bit about how you started playing music and came to be in Kicking Daisies?

Duran: I originally started as a drummer because my dad's a drummer. We had jam nights every Wednesday. It started with "Hey Dad, can I get a drum set?" and that was four years ago. A year later, I was like "You know what, it's time for guitar." I started singing and songwriting too. After that I started playing piano. I got a call from music producer Mike Mangini who said, "I've got a kid up here who wants to start a band," and I was like, "Awesome!" I'd only been doing solo stuff up until then. I came up to meet Ben and he was just like, this shredder guitar kid with super long hair. You'd think he was just some metal head who didn't care but he was the nicest guy, actually kind of shy but really awesome, so we instantly clicked. I saw his band play...Then I went back down to Florida and they found Caitlin on YouTube so me and Ben went to meet Caitlin. Caitlin brought in her sister Carly and that's how Kicking Daisies was formed!

Caitlin: My dad is a music teacher at the middle school here in my town, and he also had a band. He plays guitar so he noticed that I was really, really into music, ever since I was really little. Ever since I could talk my dad would put on a song and ask me, "What instruments do you hear?" So I had my ear trained. When I was 7, I asked him if I could play guitar and he taught me a few chords, so that's how I started. But I didn't feel like practicing with guitar, I hated it. I was like, "Dad, I want to play the drums." I remember one night specifically he took me to his band practice and I was standing in the room and the kick drum really stuck out for me. Every time the drummer hit it, my heart would pound and pound! So I just got really into the drums and would always stand behind the drummer in my dad's band when they practiced, and then begged my dad for about a year if I could play drums. He had this method he likes to call "foot-tap-hand-tap." It's a basic simple drumbeat. I couldn't do it just playing it on my legs, and he was like, I'm not going to buy a drum set until you can do that. On the last day of school when I was 8 years old, I came home and heard drums coming out of my basement and I noticed it was my dad on the school drum set. He said, "I brought it home so I could teach myself for the summer. You want to learn?" So I retaught myself foot-tap hand-tap on the drums and within seconds I could play it.

IML: That's clearly the instrument you were born to play! Tell us a little about the album you're working on.

Duran: On one hand, I can't wait for it to get done! On the other hand, I don't want it to stop because I've learned so much from recording it, going in to the studio and doing all these crazy recording tricks. I think it's going to be an amazing album. I've come so far from my solo stuff down in Florida.

Caitlin: I think it's so cool. When I record the drums we do it in this mansion. I literally play in the living room so we get this nice big sound. And I just feel like John Bonham from Led Zeppelin!

kickingdaisies_onstage.jpgIML: What kind of things do you hear from your fans?

Caitlin: I get a lot of anonymous messages from people saying things like, "You inspire me so much...on drums and off drums, in real life too!" And I'm like, I wish you'd tell me who you are!

Duran: It feels good; it makes me feel like we're inspiring other kids to get involved in music. We've helped our local music scene (in Fairfield, CT) just in the last few months. There have been four or five bands that have been popped up.

Caitlin: A lot of high school and middle school students forming bands, too.

Duran: Yeah, it seems the like musicians that we're friends with, they get together and start bands and contribute music. It's amazing.

IML: It seems like in general, there's an explosion of young people forming bands and getting their music out there with YouTube.

Duran: Definitely. I recently had a birthday party and the one thing I really wanted the most was a big jam session. And we had all these kids who had started bands come over and we all jammed. It was nuts! That's what makes me truly happy.

IML: What is it about playing music and being in a band that's so appealing? Not everyone can make an album and become famous and all seems like a lot of kids want to do it just because it makes them happy and it gives them a good release. Is that how you feel?

Caitlin: Yeah...When I'm on stage, I look at the crowd and see kids singing the lyrics to songs we wrote, and it's the greatest feeling in the world. They see us on stage and think, "They make it look easy" or "They look like they're having so much fun." It's kind of cool to feel that.

Duran: My main hobby and passion is making music and recording, and I think one of the reasons why a lot of kids want to do it is, it looks like fun...and it IS fun. Every time we're on stage we'll have moments where we'll be like, "Whoa! We're in a band!"

IML: Tell us a little more about being a band. What makes you all work together successfully? A lot of bands don't and end up falling apart.

Caitlin: It's interesting because we do come from four different corners. Carly was a gymnast, Duran was a popular kid, Ben was this crazy savant guitar player, and I'm a little bit older than everyone. But in this one element, we all are the same. When we come together, you wouldn't know that we're all different and got put together by other people. We're so comfortable around each other. We share the same humor. We all like the same music; one of us will be like, "Check out this band!" and then we're all get obsessed with it.

IML: Do you ever get into fights or disagreements, and have to resolve them?

Caitlin: Sometimes we do argue a little bit, just if any of us has a really strong, different opinion and it's kind of hard because we want to make a song great. When two people have different ideas that are both really strong ideas, it's hard to make a compromise. Sometimes we disagree about stuff like that but we always find ways to make things come together.

IML: Tell us a little bit about the process of writing a song and eventually recording and performing it as a band.

Caitlin: Sometimes we all write a song together. We just wrote one yesterday like that, jamming in the basement and then we'll come up with lyrics. At other times, I'll come up with the guitar part late at night in my room and I'll start writing lyrics, and I'll get Carly to play it with me. The next day Duran and Ben will arrange it and make it more "Kicking Daisies" and add their elements to it. That's how some of them start. We'll play it and play it so it's really tight and then show it to our manager, and he'll put his spin on it or tell us he thinks it's amazing. Then we play it live and the fans go crazy!

duran.jpgIML: Duran, you're considered the band's "front man." What extra responsibilities does that bring?

Duran: I'm the one who gets dissed the most in the band! I get ripped on and shredded and all this inner responsibility. Caitlin and Carly do backup vocals, which are highly important, but since my voice is my instrument I have more restrictions. For example, Ben plays guitar and doesn't sing, so he can stay up until whatever time he wants as long as he gets dressed and goes on stage. Caitlin and Carly are the same. Since I sing, I have to get up early and do all the vocal workouts.

Caitlin: The adults who are involved in this band are like, if Duran has a cold, it's the end of the world! But if Ben has a cold, they're like, "Okay Ben, you've got 30 minutes onstage and you can work through it." But Duran has to get up early and stretch his voice out, and sometimes I don't even realize how much he works on it. I'm kind of glad I'm not the lead singer!

IML: Caitlin, you were named World's fastest female drummer. How'd that happen?

Caitlin: I got that when I was 14. It's a competition at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show, which is a giant music convention. I went there with my dad and we went up to one of the booths because we noticed people cheering people on who were playing drums. I didn't know what it was and I went up there and hadn't practiced at all. The second you press the pedal down and it hits the drum, there's a sensor that counts down 60 seconds and all your single strokes. I did my back and forth as fast as I could with my feet and I ended up beating the world record! The record still holds because nobody's beaten me yet!

IML: It seems like girls play drums less often than other instruments, although that's changing pretty quickly. What do you love best about it?

Duran: She likes to beat the heck out of things!

caitlin.jpgIML: Is that what it is? Is it good stress relief/anger management to be hitting stuff?

Caitlin: I like that part of it! But I just always had an attraction to the drums. I remember when I was 8 years old, I started hearing Rush and Neil Pert became one of my favorite drummers. I just liked the complexity of all his beats and stuff. He and John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, those are my top favorite drummers who got me started. I've always been a tomboy. I skateboarded, I did karate. I like the fact that with drums I use my feet and my hands.

IML: What's it like being in a band with your sister? Do you ever have any sibling rivalry?

Caitlin: We're best friends so we don't ever really fight. It's funny because she wasn't the musical one in our family. Carly was always the very shy gymnast who's won 39 medals. I never expected her to get on the bass and play. It's just so cool that we're in this band together. Just to look over at her on stage and smile at her...I can't pinch myself because I'd have to drop a drumstick but sometimes I want to! Because she's my sister and I'm so proud of her.

IML: There are a lot of tweens who love music and want to be in a band. But a lot of them don't feel they have what it takes to perform or take it further than just playing for themselves. What's your advice for people like that?

Duran: I think what it takes is motivation, commitment, and responsibility. Plus having someone who's going to drive you to rehearsal...that's always a big thing. Just practice. A lot of practice. You have to have the motivation to do it. Songwriting is also a big thing and I'm so grateful we have a Caitlin Kalafus in our band. I know I couldn't bang out songs like those Kalafus girls can. You get better at it over time. It's all experience, and you're going to get better at songwriting and performing the more you do it.

Caitlin: Duran, don't you have a saying about the 5 P's?

Duran: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. That keeps me in line!

Caitlin: I would say, definitely have fun with it, and don't ever be stressed about it. And to learn everything. That's one of the things my dad told me from the start: Don't limit yourself. Learn every style of music that you can, and don't hate on something because it's different. Everything will help you. I don't do it because I'm told to or it's helping other people make money or something. I'm doing it because this is what I love...if I never got paid for it but I had fans who loved my music, I'd be so proud of myself. That's what keeps me going.

IML: That's important to remember. It's easy to think, "If nothing's going to come out of this, why should I keep doing it?"

Caitlin: There are times I sit down to write a song and nothing comes out. Or I'm practicing drums and I'm stinking so badly. I'm not going to quit because of that. I'm going to keep going because something will come out of it. You just can't ever feel like you're not able to do something. Everything's possible...except for maybe going into a black hole and coming out the other side!

IML: Thank you guys so much! It was fun talking to you, and we wish you lots of luck!

Duran and Caitlin: Thank you!

You can check out more about Kicking Daisies at and watch their latest music video here:

Checking In On Haiti, and Judith
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There is just so darn much news these days. It seems like something really big happens, and we hear about it constantly for a few days or, if it's particularly ginormous, a couple of weeks...and then something else grabs our attention. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of all the bad stuff. Oil spills. Kidnappings and murders. Celebrity deaths. And oh yeah, earthquakes.

It's hard to believe it's been almost 5 months since the earthquake in Haiti, which killed an estimated 230,000 people and made over 1 million homeless. It's all we heard about for a little while. And then other things went down, and we got distracted, and life went on. But the other day we thought about Haiti for some reason and wondered, "What's going on there?" Nobody's really talking about it anymore! We got curious and went looking for some updates, and found this great story from the UNICEF website which raised our spirits but also reminded us of how an entire country must be struggling together to survive.



Judith's story: In the face of grief, education brings hope in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 14 May 2010 - On the day of the quake, Ms. Lambert, our school director, sent us home early. I usually stayed after class to help clean the trash in the schoolyard. But that day, Ms. Lambert had heard that not far from our school a university teacher had been killed and there was fear of rioting. She insisted that we rush home and not linger on the streets.

Do you follow up on stories after they've faded from the headlines? What does it take for an event to really make an impression on your life and keep you from forgetting about it? It's interesting to think about, yes? For us, the Haiti earthquake stays with us because of the staggering number of children affected, and the percentage of those children who are the same age of IML'ers, trying to overcome incredible loss and heartbreak to get on with their lives and have a bright future. Go Judith!