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December 2011 Archives

Celeb Scoop: The PreZcotts
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prezcotts_album.jpgIf you have siblings, then you know how fun it can be when you find something you can all do together (instead of, you know, wanting to kill each other). Maybe that's a sport or playing instruments, or putting on plays, or making videos. In the case of 17-year-old AnaLeyna and three of her sisters -- 15-year-old ChaLyn, 14-year-old RaNelle, and 12-year-old MaRiah --that's writing and singing songs about where they've been, what they believe in, and what message they want to share with others.

As The PreZcotts, these four young women have just released their first album, filled with catchy melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and gorgeous harmonies. When we heard it, we were struck by how real the sisters sound. No auto-tune or professionally-written-by-some-adult songs for these ladies! We talked to AnaLeyna about sisters, songwriting, and how music can help others connect through topics like grief and bullying.

IML: Tell us a little about the original songs that are on the album. It seems like each one has a story to it.

AnaLeyna: Oh, yeah...definitely! I think the ones with the biggest story would have to be "Strength" and "Free." "Strength" was one of the first songs I wrote after my father passed. It was for the funeral of a friend of mine, about three months after losing my dad. She was only nineteen, and her parents wanted us to sing a song that would help the people there to heal a little bit. And I didn't have a song like that yet, so I took all the emotions from when I lost my dad and I just poured them into this song. It brought people to tears, but it was like...people were feeling better after they heard it.

IML: Wow. It must have been very therapeutic for you to get all those feelings out into a song.

analeyna.jpgAnaLeyna: Oh, definitely. And it was even helpful for my sisters. We got together to celebrate his birthday a year after he passed, and we sang "Strength." And it was hard seeing his family there, and we all broke down. Because, when you listen to the words, it's exactly how you would feel if you got put in a situation of loss. We recently sang it at another funeral, and they just absolutely loved it and thanked us. And we said, "We see it as an honor to be able to support you guys, because we know what it feels like to lose somebody you love." So, it's been a really healing and emotionally supporting song.

IML: You mentioned another song called "Free." Tell us about that!

AnaLeyna: It's special to me that "Free" is on the album, because that's the only song that my dad actually heard. That was actually one of the first songs I wrote, when I was ten years old. It was his favorite song, and it was one of the last songs we sang to him before he passed, so it kinda has this little special tie-in. And then of course, you open up the CD and open up the poster, and you see the dedication to him. So even though he couldn't be involved here with us, he's involved. You see him there. I thought that was really special.

IML: You also have an anti-bullying anthem called "Stay True," which is a really awesome song.

AnaLeyna: I actually wrote that with RaNelle and MaRiah. They actually have experiences that are a lot more fresh. Just last year, RaNelle had to deal with a lot of girls bullying her, right before the summer. And our manager was like, "You guys need to write a song."  So they gave me all the words, like "He got a new hairdo, he got a new pair of shoes," stuff like that. I said, "This is great, let's try it." And it turns out to be this really cute song that speaks to kids about being yourself no matter what other people are saying. Because society really does have a huge influence on kids. "Everybody's wearing the new shoes. Oh, no! I have to go get them." It's like...no you don't. You are perfect just the way you are! Don't let people tell you that you have to look different to fit in. Because you don't. It's really cool to see kids singing along with that song, and they realize what they're saying...and they love it. They're like, "Oh, yeah! You're just like me and I'm just like you. I like this."

IML: What is your songwriting process like?

AnaLeyna: They all come differently for me, because it's really natural. I'll just be singing in the car, and I'll realize, "Hey, I like that!" I'll write it down, and then I'll go back to it later. But usually I start with music first. I'll play music on the piano, and if I like the tune I'll start to put words to it. Sometimes the words just come, because I hear them while I'm playing the music. I like writing the chorus first, like the hook, and then I go back to the verse and I think about what the verses should be about to fit the chorus. That's how every song has gone, except "Strength." With that I actually wrote the verses before the chorus.

IML: You wrote "Free" when you were 10, so you've been doing this a long time. Have your songs changed as you've gotten older?

AnaLeyna: Oh, definitely. I wrote "Free" when I was upset at my parents. Just really simple stuff, emotional stuff...I was very dramatic. Now I'm really good at taking any topic or emotion and writing a song about it. But when I was younger, I wasn't really good at that. It was only stuff that I actually had an emotion for that I could write about, and the writing would be very simple, and not very deep.

IML: So from there, how do you collaborate with your sisters?

prezcotts.jpgAnaLeyna: I usually write songs when everybody's gone, because that's when I'm most comfortable with changing things, and then I'll introduce my sisters to it. After I write a song, we all come together and we sing it, first the melody, and then we break off into harmony. If it doesn't work for them, like, "Oh, I can't hit that note," then I have to go back to the song and change stuff. So in every song, they play some part.

IML: One of the things we talk about a lot on It's My Life is sibling rivalry, and fighting with brothers and sisters. What kind of things do you guys fight about, and how do you resolve those fights?

AnaLeyna: The most common stuff that goes on is like, "That's my shirt! You didn't ask to wear my shirt!" Stuff like that. But I'm the oldest, and MaRiah's the youngest...she and I have completely different perspectives on life, so we're gonna react differently, we're gonna argue about stuff. But we know each other too well to not be able to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. And after you do that, you kinda get a better perspective. Even my younger sisters who are eight and six...I'll try to figure out what they're thinking, and then I realize they're feeling left out, so we've been able to fix that and make them feel like part of the crew!

IML: What would you like to see happen in the next year for the PreZcotts?    

AnaLeyna: Mostly for it to just get around! It would be so amazing to hear kids in Paris or London like, love our music, and knowing that people around the world are hearing what our messages are, that would just be a crazy big deal for us. I think the biggest deal is the fact that we have music in us and we want to share it with everybody. We're not trying to be selfish with it. I want to be able to have kids just begging for us to come sing for them...wanting to tell us all their stories so we can write songs about them. I like connecting with people and so do my sisters!

IML: Thanks for chatting with us, and good luck with everything!

AnaLeyna: Thank you!

You can learn more about the PreZcotts and check out their music on their website at www.prezcotts.com. We leave you with their very fun video of the song "Gossip"!





How not to get broken by the holiday break
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Just two more days until Christmas, which for many of us means 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!

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!



Yoga for the "Shanti Generation" (that's you, by the way)
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Yoga. Does it make you think of celebrities, hippies, or your mom? Does it bring to mind pretzel-like positions and standing on your head? Does the yoga stereotype of thin and super-attractive, healthy-looking people make you think there's no way you could "qualify" to do it too?

shanti-generation-yoga-skills-for-youth-peacemakers-abby-dvd-cover-art.jpgIf that's the case, you could be missing out on a great activity that makes a big difference in your life...or at least is a lot of fun. We've always been a fan of yoga here at IML, and included it in our section on great "Solo Sports." A new DVD called "Shanti Generation: Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers" aims to get that message across, helping tweens and teens discover

"Shanti Generation" is organized into different yoga sequences, breathing techniques, and meditations that are perfect for beginners, and lets you focus on certain skills each time. We loved that the DVD doesn't talk down to tweens, and especially liked the "Meet the Peacemakers" section where the young people featured on the DVD share what they love about yoga (see video below!).

We asked Abby Wills, a yoga educator and the creator/host of "Shanti Generation," to tell us more about why yoga might be something IML'ers should check out.

IML: When did you first start practicing yoga, and what difference did it make in your life at the time?

member-abby-wills.pngAbby: I started practicing in my late teens and it really improved my overall quality life. Yoga helped me find my way through a challenging time and cope with depression. Through my practice, I found a way to see my life as a treasure!

IML: What are some of the preconceived notions and stereotypes that tweens have about yoga? How can they get past them?

Abby: Sometimes tweens and teens think they need to already be a certain way to try yoga. For example, tweens might say "I'm not flexible enough." Or, "I'm not fit enough." Or, "I don't have enough concentration." What may surprise people is that anyone can participate in yoga and however you are right now is the perfect place to begin. I think the only way to get past preconceived notions and stereotypes is to give yoga a try and have your own experience.

IML: Why do you think yoga can be especially beneficial to tweens?

Abby: Between academics, sports, chores, friends and family, tweens lead super-busy, full lives. A lot of people don't get enough sleep, either, so they can get fatigued in all the whirlwind. Yoga is a way to relax and rejuvenate your energy in a short amount of time. And, it's free! Costs less than energy drinks and it actually works!

IML: What would you say to a young person who tells you he or she can't practice yoga because they're overweight, out of shape, bad at concentrating, has poor flexibility -- or any one of a ton of other excuses out there?

Abby: I would say, those are all PERFECT reasons to practice yoga! Yoga can help you with weight management, fitness, flexibility and strength. Practicing yoga most certainly helps to build concentration, too.

IML: You're on the faculty of two schools. How cool is that! Is yoga part of the curriculum there?

Abby: Yes, yoga is part of the curriculum and it's also part of the culture at the schools where I teach. Yoga is one of the ways students and teachers take care of ourselves and one another. We do lots of group and partner exercises in yoga that give us all a chance to connect to one another in a peaceful way. Yoga practice in the curriculum gives an opportunity to be mindful of our own state of mind. This mindfulness helps is every other part of school, from academics to peer relationships.

IML: What would you like the "Shanti Generation" to get out of this DVD?
 
Abby: Empowerment that your choices MATTER. How you live your live is the most powerful choice you have. No one can take away your power to choose how you want to be. Yoga skills are tools that help you become the healthiest self you can be. When you feel healthy and empowered, it's easy to be yourself and have a positive impact on your world. Peace!

IML: Peace to you too, Abby! Thanks for helping introduce yoga to a new generation.

To learn more about the Shanti Generation, visit www.shantigeneration.com.