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December 2010 Archives

Meet tween outdoor adventurer Matt Moniz
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Thumbnail image for matt-moniz.jpgAt the IML Blog, we love discovering tweens who are out there doing something a little unique...something cool and challenging and inspiring. Like 12-year-old mountain climber Matt Moniz, who spent last summer on a trek with his dad to climb the highest peak in all 50 U.S. states in 50 days.

Since then, Matt has become dedicated to encouraging other young people to get outdoors, explore, be active, have fun, and possibly amaze themselves. He recently shared his experiences and advice with IML.

IML: When did you start mountain climbing, and how did you learn "the ropes"?

Matt: I started climbing big mountains when I was nine. My first major expedition was a trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Along the way, in addition to seeing awesome mountains like Ama Dablam and of course Mount Everest, I visited amazing monasteries and the Sherpa Hillary School.

I developed a lot of my core alpine skills while climbing mountains and learning from guides and Sherpas. Last spring I spent my break taking a six-day mountaineering course in Alaska. That helped me prepare for the challenges of climbing Denali this past summer.

IML: How did you and your dad come up with the idea for the 50-state expedition?

Matt: We both really enjoyed traveling around the world climbing peaks in Russia (Mt. Elbrus), Tanzania (Mt. Kilimanjaro) and Argentina (Cerro Aconcagua). In 2009 we were thinking that it would be fun to explore our backyard here in Colorado. Colorado has many high-peaks, known as the 14ers because they are at least fourteen thousand feet high. Out of that came the idea for the "14 Fourteeners in 14 Days Expedition" to raise awareness for a rare disease my best friend Iain has called Pulmonary Hypertension.

The climb was a success.  We were able to climb them all in just eight days and we raised over $20,000 for the PAH fund and awareness! So to continue the theme of exploring the world we decided to attempt all fifty state high points in fifty days, "50 States, 50 Peaks, 50 Days Expedition". Again, we were successful and completed the journey in 43 days setting the new world speed record.

IML: You and your dad spent a lot of quality time together during this adventure! What was that like? Did you get along?

Matt: I loved spending time in the mountains with my dad. We always bring out the best in each other. It would be hard for some kids to imagine that we got along great after spending so much time together in tents, on trails, sitting in the van and airplanes -- but we did!

Maybe the reason why we did do so well together is that we relied on each other on the climbs. A good example of that was one time on Denali, my father lost his footing while descending the steep headwall above basecamp. He was connected to me by a rope, and I remember just immediately dropping down and planting my ice axe in the snow and stopping his slide. All my training and experience just kicked in without ever thinking about the situation. Reflecting on my journey this summer with my dad, I think how lucky I am to spend so much time together and I know that if we can overcome these extreme challenges together, there is no mountain too high.

IML: We would imagine that reaching the summit is the most rewarding part of a climb. But were there moments on the way up or down that were also rewarding?

mattmoniz2.jpgMatt: Sure, we had many wonderful moments along the way to and from the summits, like lying out in my sleeping bag gazing at awesome night skies with millions of stars. Glissading, or sliding on your rear down steep snowy slope, was also really a blast. Maybe the most rewarding was all the wonderful people we met along the way who shared stories about their home state and lives that really made the expedition more interesting.  

IML: It sounds like you did a lot of your 50 state climbs pretty fast, without much rest before or after. How do you fuel up your body for maximum energy when you're going to do something physically tough?

Matt: Eating in the cold and at high altitude can be kind of a challenge. It's not much fun trying to chew a frozen candy bar when you're cold and don't have much of an appetite. I tried to find foods that I knew I would like no matter what the conditions. My favorites were potato chips, salami, hot chocolate, chicken and pita bread and of course candy bars. Between climbs I would try to eat as much as I could. One time before climbing Kings' Peak in Utah, I ate a steak that was almost as big as me!

IML: Visiting a lot of different states in a short period of time must have been eye-opening! What was the most surprising thing you discovered about a state? What was the funniest?

Matt: I never really expected that the Texas highpoint would be that interesting. I was wrong! At almost nine thousand feet in elevation Guadalupe Peak was incredible. Rising above the plains the mountain has ominous share granite walls and is covered in nearly five hundred different species of plants. The coolest is the brilliant red-barked madrone tree that looks like it is from another planet.

Funniest was driving through Pigeon Forge, Tennessee after climbing Clingman's Dome and seeing so many tourist attractions including the Titanic Museum, which has a gigantic replica ship complete with water splashing on the bow that looks so real you think it is going to come crashing across the road!

IML: Tell us about the organization Outdoor Nation. How can other kids get involved?

Matt: Outdoor Nation is about getting young people outdoors and, most importantly, that they learn how they can help protect our public lands and ensure recreation access for generations of kids to come. Just like other kids, I love watching movies and playing video games, but we need to be careful that we don't spend too much time in front of screens - it's easy to do, especially with all the great games and shows available. So get outside and ski, bike, hike, skate, play or do whatever makes you happy - you'll have a blast and feel better than sitting around in the house. You can join Outdoor Nation by going to www.outdoornation.org.

IML: What's your advice for kids who would like to get outdoors but don't have the access, the training, or the gear? What are some easy ways to just get and stay active, especially in the winter?

Matt: Good question! First bit of advice is just to get outside, look around and explore your neighborhood and local parks. During the winter I like to find projects to do outside like making a snow fort or building a ski jump to practice tricks. To keep things interesting, I like to go for a swim at the pool or climb indoors at our local rock gym. The important thing is to have fun, be active and appreciate how lucky we are to have so many parks and recreation choices.
 
A fun way to keep it interesting is with a little gizmo called a GeoPalz, a pedometer and website that keep track of how much you walk. The more you walk the more points you earn that you can exchange for fun prizes! You can combine the GeoPalz with hikes and new sports like geo-caching which is where you use a GPS to play a game of "high-tech hide and seek" outdoors. I took one with me during my climbs and it was really fun to see how many steps I was taking to climb the peaks!
 
I'd just like to say to other kids that you don't need to climb a mountain to have fun (although you certainly can). There are so many opportunities to find your passion for outdoor sports. Non-profit organizations are all over the country that can help introduce you to new ways to have fun and excitement in the outdoors. A few cool groups are Big City Mountaineers, The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, but you can do your own research, I'm sure you'll find many options. Reading tales of high adventure can spark you into action as well -- my favorite book is "No Short Cuts to the Top" by Ed Viesturs.

IML: Thanks, Matt! And good luck with your next adventure!

Matt:
Thanks!


 
How not to get broken by the holiday break
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Just a few more days until Christmas, which for many of us means just a few more days until a trip -- maybe a short one, maybe a loooong one -- to visit family for the holiday break. The thrill! The excitement! The adventure!

Yeah, not really.

Thumbnail image for familyvacations1.gifIt can be great hanging out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, or even parents we don't see as often as we'd like, but it can also bring stress and tension and general awkwardness. You know, the stuff nobody wants to talk about because it's kind of a downer at a time when we're all supposed to be jolly and generous. And traveling itself is often a drag and sometimes, if you're unlucky thanks to weather or other circumstances, downright disastrous.

You can't control what your family members or nature or cars and planes are going to do, but you can take charge of your own destiny here and make this holiday trip as much of a "vacation" as you possibly can. Here's some advice from our Family Vacations section:

  •  Tips for surviving the Getting There part of your holiday.

  • "Togetherness" ain't always a good thing, but here are some ideas for Keeping the Peace among family members.

  • Dealing with Relatives can be challenging and yucky; read our suggestions on how to make the most of that challenge (and yuckiness).

  • As always, check out what other IML'ers have written about memorable family vacations, and how they survived to tell the tale!

If you're one of the fortunate souls who gets to go on a vacation vacation this time of year, you'll find great advice in this section too.

Wherever you spend the next week or two, whether it's on a cruise ship or Aunt Mildred's house or just at home sweet home, we hope you have some quality time with yourself and the people who are most important to you!

 

Traditions outside the box
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If you look up the word "tradition" in the dictionary, you see words and phrases like "handed down," "long-established," "continuing," and "popular." We know, that's kind of a duh.

But we were noodling on the idea of traditions and how this is the time of year where they're everywhere...so everywhere that we may not even think about them. Santa Claus and the Christmas tree and New Year's party hats and giving gifts. We love these traditions, and can't imagine the holidays without them, but sometimes it's a little too easy to forget what they mean to us personally (if they mean anything at all).

That's why our favorite traditions are the ones that are different and unique and maybe even totally silly or weird. You know, something you do every year as part of a holiday that's special to your family, or to your group of friends, or to your school or place of worship, or just to you. For instance, one family we know has a "Crazy Christmas Sweater Party" where invitees are encouraged to wear the wackiest holiday gear they can find. Another hits the drive-thru for milkshakes on Christmas Eve and then takes a drive through their town to see all the decorated houses. And another makes a betting pool to see who can stick to their New Year's resolution the longest.

Why are these types of traditions extra-meaningful? Well, they help remind us of what's unique and special about our families, our communities, and ourselves. They give us a sense of connection from year to year and season to season, and help us feel like we have a good solid foundation in a constantly changing world. Plus they're fun, and they're something we can pass on. 

Do you have an out-of-the-ordinary tradition you'd like to share? How did it get started and what do you like about it? Tell us on our new You Said It page for Holiday Traditions!

If you don't feel like you have a tradition like this, but would maybe like to start one, here are some ideas:

Family Traditions
Everybody contributes a certain amount of money to buy toys to donate. Go for a walk, run, or hike together. Everybody writes down the one thing they hope to accomplish in the coming year, then take a picture of the family holding their signs. Choose a traditional "dish" to make on Christmas or New Year's...maybe something unconventional like tamales, lasagna, or fruit salad. Have a game night where everyone plays for special prizes.

Friends Traditions
Arrange a toy, book, or clothing swap with your best buds at the end of every year, so you can start the new year off with fresh stuff. Write your friends cards or letters thanking them for their friendship, and reminscing about the fun you've had over the past year. Have a challenge to see who can give the tackiest, goofiest gift.

Personal Traditions
Write a letter to yourself, predicting what will happen in the year to come, then seal it up to be opened the following New Year's. Buy a meal's worth of non-perishable grocery items to donate to a local food pantry. Go through your closet and pull out anything you don't wear anymore or are ready to let go of, then give it away to a sibling, relative, friend, or charity. Put together a photo album or scrapbook that will commemorate your life at this moment.

You may even have a unique tradition already that you don't even think of as a tradition...but still, you do it every year and without it, you'd feel like something was missing! Here at IML we hope all your traditions, big and small, common or uncommon, bring you closer to the things you love most this year.






Expert thoughts on cyberbullying
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bully6.jpgAre you sick of the word "cyberbullying"? We hope you are, because we hope you're hearing it a lot. We hope you're learning about it and talking about it and thinking about it. Because it's not simple, and it's not going away any time soon. Here at IML we're always trying to figure out what can be considered cyberbullying on our You Said It pages, so we were glad to have the chance to speak with Ryan Moreau, an expert in cyberbullying from KiwiCommons.com, a website that offers advice and information about Internet safety for young people. He has some great advice to help all of us better understand cyberbullying and protect ourselves -- and others -- against it.  

IML: What counts as cyberbullying these days? Sometimes the line is a little blurry!

Ryan: Cyberbullying comes in many forms but typically includes harassing, hateful, or threatening messages, posts or material through the use of digital media.  So what does this really mean? It means that a computer, mobile phone, digital camera, or any other Internet enabled device can become an avenue for cyberbullying if they're being used to potentially harm or make someone else even uncomfortable.

IML: If you think you're being cyberbullied but aren't sure, are there questions you can ask yourself to help figure out exactly what's going on? For instance, if someone is responding to you on a message board and they've hurt your feelings, what's the difference between them simply expressing a conflicting opinion or actually bullying and being cruel?

Ryan: The most important things you can ask yourself are: (1) is the behavior directed at me or another individual specifically, and (2) is it repetitive or a onetime occurrence? These two questions can also help us better define what counts as cyberbullying. You can also think about the question, is this person just generally cruel to everybody in the way they act online, or are they specifically acting this way towards me? Sometimes people act differently on the Internet because they feel it gives them the cover of anonymity. If this is how they act to everyone, they may be simply expressing themselves in a bad way; but if it is only towards you, then you may be being cyberbullied.

The other key thing to consider is whether or not the behavior or messages are being repeated. One mean message could just be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, or even unintentional. But if you find that they keep doing it over and over, it's likely an attempt to be a bully or make you feel bad on purpose.

IML: How can a tween avoid being cyberbullied in the first place?

Ryan: It's extremely difficult to avoid being cyberbullied because you really can't control what other people on the Internet choose to do.  One of the best things anyone can do is to be kind and courteous to the people they interact with on the Internet. Young people should practice positive digital citizenship in all of their online activities. Treat everything you do as if you were face to face not only with those people but also their close friends and family. Consider questions like, "Would I want my Grandma to see me saying these things?" Avoiding bullying is also a matter of not escalating situations to the level that they are cyberbullying.  If we see or receive a cruel message or something that hurts our feelings, we shouldn't reply with a nasty response, since this could cause things to get much worse.

IML: If you find yourself a target of cyberbullying, what are your options for help? What can you do if you don't want to involve an adult?

Ryan: The best thing to do if you find you're the target of cyberbullying is to tell an adult; but even if you don't want to talk to an adult, there are some things we can do to help stop the problem.  First, we should inform the bully that we feel they are bullying us and would like them to stop -- this should be done simply and nicely.  All conversations, messages, or images should be recorded along with dates, times, and links to the websites so that we can prove there is a problem.

No matter how much we may want to be mean back to the bully, it's important that we don't become a bully ourselves.  Instead, let the websites, message boards, or chat services know you think you're being bullied and provide a sample of what you recorded, and if you think the issue is serious you can report it anonymously to an organization like CrimeStoppers.

IML: Can you be cyberbullying without really intending to or being aware of it? Why does this happen so easily?

Ryan: It's actually very common to engage in cyberbullying without intending to or being aware that we are being a bully; in fact, most cyberbullying happens by accident.  This happens so easily because people don't consider how others may interpret what they say or do online.  When we don't consider that the people who see what we post on the Internet can't see our face or hear the tone of our voice, we forget that those things help people tell when we are joking.

We need to be very careful about everything we do on the Internet, especially what we say to and share with other people.  We should always think twice and consider if that's something we would want said to us -- if not, we should take the time to rethink and reword our posts.

IML: That is great advice! Thank you so much for sharing these words of wisdom with us -- hopefully they'll help a lot of young people out there.

For more of IML's advice and information, check out our section on Online Bullying.





Green Holiday Idea #2: Wrappin' It Up
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One of the things that gives us instant holiday blues: all those piles of post-gift-opening wrapping paper, crumpled and used and pretty darn sad. It's sad because the hoopla is over, but it's extra-sad because that's a lot of wasted paper. Did you know that half of the paper consumed in the U.S. every year is used to wrap and decorate stuff? Even if we're normally good about saving paper, it seems like the holidays are a time when people forget about conserving resources. But presents need to be pretty, right?

wrapping.jpgAh, but that's where you can really have some fun! Wrapping doesn't have to mean cutting a huge swath of store-bought printed paper. It can be a chance to get creative and express yourself, and make your gift extra-special because you did something different and original with it. Here are a few ideas:

  • First, the "duh." Save wrapping paper to reuse by opening it neatly. If you need a large sheet, try collaging together smaller ones.

  • Paper can be found everywhere. The Sunday comics is a time-tested favorite, as is torn out sheets from magazines. Where else? Think about old calendars, posters, unused wallpaper, and even old road maps. Fancy them up if you need to with a layer of clear or colored cellophane.

  • Tear open brown paper grocery bags and decorate the insides. Buy a roll of "butcher paper" at a craft or art store. If something's small enough, grab a brown paper lunch bag. Decorate with drawings, painting, stickers, rubber stamps, words cut out from magazines, glitter, etc.

  • Put something pretty (a ribbon, some glitter, beads, etc.) between two pieces of wax paper; ironing it will glue them together and make a single, spectacular sheet for wrapping.

  • Consider fabric, too -- fabric scraps make great wrapping material. If you or a family member like to sew, make reusable fabric gift bags that can maybe even become a holiday tradition in your home.

  • We have a ton of those gift bags lying around from gifts we've received in the past. Doesn't everyone? This is a great time to put them to use, even if they're not decorated with a holiday theme. Paint them, collage them, sticker 'em up. Even small paper shopping bags with store logos can be tricked out, and don't forget the good ole brown paper lunch sacks that might already be in your kitchen cabinet.

  • If you just have to buy wrapping paper, look out for the kind that's biodegradable or has recycled content.

And then it's time for the finishing touches! Give your gift some bling such as fabric or reused bows and ribbons, or take a walk in your backyard and scoop up leaves, fir or cedar branches, pine cones, and sticks. (Avoid berries, since they can be poisonous to young kids and pets.)

If you create something truly fantastic, snap a photo and email to us at itsmylife@pbs.org!


Green Holiday Idea #1: Make Your Own Cards
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Did you know that there are enough greeting cards sold in the United States each year to fill a building as long as a football field and at least 10 stories high! That's a lot of paper, and most of it does NOT go into the recycling bin!

homemade_card.jpgThere's no better way to save paper (and money!) during the holidays than to make your own cards for family, friends, teachers, and others in your community you want to show some love this season. Start with some plain solid-colored notecards or cardstock and try these ideas with items you probably already have in your house (and are just waiting to get used!):

  • Cut out images from wrapping paper, magazines, personal photos, and even last year's cards (if your family saved them) to make collages.
  • Dig into your stock of stickers for funny images and accents.
  • Fabric, ribbons, and buttons add a great artsy look.
  • Check the kitchen for aluminum foil and cupcake sprinkles.
  • If there's already a stock of craft supplies in your home, look for beads, glitter, pipe cleaners, sequins, felt, yarn, etc.
  • Make a design on the computer and print it out, then glue onto the card.
  • Go old school -- get some markers or crayons and DRAW!
Now you might be thinking, "Well duh, but I never know what to do with this stuff." Using these materials, you could make a:

  • Peace sign
  • Christmas tree
  • Cross
  • Planet Earth
  • Heart
  • Bunch of stars
  • Picture of yourself
  • Home
  • Snowflake
  • Snowman
  • Santa
  • Menorah
  • The numbers "2011"
  • Or anything you think your card recipient might like...
Besides helping the planet, remember this: If you don't have the cash to buy someone a gift, a homemade card created from the heart is a great substitute (and often even better!).

If you make a holiday card you're super proud of, scan it and email it to us so we can post it on this blog!



DVD Review: "The Original Christmas Classics"
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What's your go-to DVD for getting in the holiday spirit? Is it the Christmas episode of your favorite sitcom, or a heartwarming movie where some greedy, grumpy guy has to learn the true meaning of the season? Maybe you love to laugh at some cheesy old variety show where celebs of the past croon carols and put on skits.

For millions of people, nothing says "Holiday TV" like the works of producers Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. Back in the 1960's and 70's, Rankin and Bass were a two-man Christmas special factory, creating such classics as "The Little Drummer Boy," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

rudolphfrostysanta.jpgNow, a new boxed set of Blu-ray discs called "The Original Christmas Classics" offers three of the best Rankin/Bass shows ever: "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." With stop-motion puppets (Rudolph and Santa) and traditional cel animation (Frosty), along with inventive storytelling and catchy songs, these three specials are timeless classics, as awesome now as they were in your parents' and grandparents' day. More recent holiday specials may have better special effects and celebrity voices, but there's nothing quite like the old-school magic you'll see here.

Here are IML's picks for the best and not-quite-best things about each show:

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

misfittoys.jpgBest: That would be the Island of Misfit Toys. We know that Rudolph is the star of the show, but King Moonracer the gryphon is one of the coolest things about this story. He's a little strange and potentially scary, but he has a good heart and we love that he takes care of all the unwanted toys in his special kingdom. He's like the ultimate foster parent for toys, looking out for them until they can find a child to love them. The oddball toys are awesome too, and we've always thought that most of them would be big sellers, instead of rejects. Who wouldn't want an ostrich-riding cowboy or a squirt gun that shoots jelly? And while we're on the subject, what's the story with the Charlie-in-the-box? If his name is his only problem, can't he just change it? Whatever. We still love them all.

Not Quite: Jerky Santa. We're not sure what the writers were thinking with this particular version of Santa Claus, but he's not very jolly. More like, bully. He insults the elves after they go to all the trouble of rehearsing a Christmas song just for him, and he tells Rudolph's dad Donner that he should be ashamed of his red-nosed son. Yeah, Santa comes around in the end, but for most of this story he just doesn't have the Christmas spirit that he's supposed to have all year round.

"Frosty the Snowman"

frosty&karen.jpgBest: Frosty and Karen. Frosty is goofy and lovable, and Karen, the little girl who helps build him, is sweet and kind. These two characters form a great friendship, and they look out for each other like best friends should. When the temperature goes up and Frosty starts to get "all wishy-washy," Karen makes sure he gets on a train headed north. And when the refrigerated boxcar chills Karen and makes her sick, Frosty risks everything to get her someplace warm and cozy. Talk about a BFF!

Not Quite: Wanting more. This is one holiday special that's just too short. If you don't count the song itself, there's only like fifteen minutes of story here! Frosty is a classic character, and his story could have been so much more. This disc also contains the bonus sequel Frosty Returns, but while it's cute and entertaining, it just doesn't have the charm of the original.

"Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"

jessica.jpgBest: Miss Jessica. There are a lot of wonderful characters and scenes in this special, but Sombertown's red-headed schoolteacher is our fave. We love that she pretends to be all serious and strict, only to have her heart melt when the young Santa gives her the China doll she always wanted as a child, and we love that she grows old to become the iconic Mrs. Claus of the North Pole. We also dig the weird, wild, swirling and psychedelic animation that accompanies her solo song "My World Is Beginning Today." Wow...1970 anybody?

Not Quite: Complicated story. The filmmakers seem to be trying too hard to craft a plot that combines all the various details of various Santa Claus stories (not all of them accurately), and the tale comes out a little muddled in the end. We didn't really need to know that reindeer fly because of the Winter Warlock's magic feed corn, and the bit that explains how Santa's name is both Kringle and Claus seems a tad forced. Different cultures across the globe have different origins for our December stories, and it seems unfair to shove a bunch of them together without any background or explanation.

These three shows may seem as old as Christmas itself, but we enjoyed seeing them all crisp and shiny on Blu-ray, and being reminded of why they can honestly be called "classics."

IML's Rating: A