I WAS A very precocious young driver. I went to the DMV on my 14th birthday, scored a passable 17/20 on the written exam, and drove home. Of course, it wasn’t ACT that easy. My parents only drive cars with manual transmissions, so by the transitive property of equality, I would learn how to drive a manual. It all rolled along smoothly until I was less than a mile away from my house. Someone was tailgating me up Rabbit Creek Road and instead of shifting into 3rd, I shifted into 5th, stalled the car and gave up. I got out, walked around to the passenger side and made my mom drive the rest of the way home. I didn’t drive for a month after that.
Six months later, I felt confident enough to take the full license test. The only problem was I had another 18 months to wait until I could pass the first requirement - “Must be 16 years of age.”
My sweet wheels
So, just three days after my 16th birthday, I barely passed the road test and was granted my provisional. The "provi" (as it’s known to the young'uns) is sort of gray area. Some parents, like mine, enforce it's provisional status requirements (a teen may drive without a parent in the car, but only with family members who are of age - no friends allowed. No driving between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM, unless it's for work), while other parents totally disregard these rules, most likely because they’re just glad they glad they don’t have to be a kid chauffeur anymore. I’m not going to say whether I gave people rides during that 6-month period for legal reasons, but I can say that when I finally got my full license, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Although those rules seemed to be the bane of my existence for six months, I know without them I would’ve gotten at least a ticket, if not worse. Driving with friends is a complete distraction, even if they aren’t trying to be one. So while these restrictions are a real bummer for newly minted young drivers I'll bet they've saved a few lives.
I TOOK PART in my high school's annual Mr. Congeniality "Competition" friday. (It's in quotes because while there is a winner declared, nobody really cares about winning.) Any Senior boy can apply to "compete", and this year nine other guys signed up with me.
The competition consisted of an opening dance with all the contestants, a nightwear portion, indiviual talent, swimwear, and a question and answer segment. In short - it was a night for us contestants to goof off with an audience.
Before this momentous night is over, one of these boys will be crowned Mr. Congeniality...
Before the show started, all the contestants were petrified. We had heard that the school's theater (capacity ~250) was sold out and there were people standing in the aisle. Most of us were athletes, but we agreed that this was way worse. In sports, you've got your team behind you. But for this, nobody had your back, and you were completely exposed, at the mercy of the crowd.
Nobody took the competition seriously. For nightwear, I dressed a shirtless Batman; other costumes were a crossdresser (a given in a male competition), a shirtless firefighter, and a shirtless cowboy. Notice a theme here?
Can-can you spot Patrick?
For my talent I decided to exhibit my opera singing, which is largely an undiscovered skill, a surprise to everyone who listened to me belt out Por Ti Volare aka the Opera Song from Stepbrothers. I actually did pretty well, only having to resort to screechy falsetto once! The other talents ranged from country music, to stand up comedy, to terrible magic.
The last dress-up category was swimwear and I went hard. Taking my inspiration from Zoolander, I became a Merman for 30 seconds with duct tape scales all over my legs and my feet taped together with a tail to hold them there. I'd like to think that I at least won this round as my competition was only a scuba diver, a 6 foot 3 baby (complete with floaties), and Castaway with Wilson the volleyball as a prop.
Alas. I didn't win. In fact, I didn't even place in the Top 3. But I couldn't care less about the crown of Mr. Congeniality. I had buckets of fun, along with everyone else. I'm really glad I could do Mr. Congeniality, because I don't think I'll ever be able to do the things I did - with a live, sold-out audience - ever again.
RAGLAN IS A 3000 person surfing hippy town. People keep telling me that I should leave soon or I'll never get out. But of course, I have an airplane to catch on April 8th and because I'm not an expert surfer or have anything tying me to Raglan, I'm not too worried about being caught here. Actually, I'll be leaving tomorrow and going to Tauranga, on the other coast of the North Island. Driving from coast to coast is easy here, and without stopping it will take around 2 hours and 15 minutes.
I've spent most of my time in Raglan walking on the black sand beaches. Sometimes I'll strip down to my bathing suit and wade into the salty, turbulent water. Then at night I'll go to the small club by the beach and listen to New Zealand bands play to small audiences and sometimes be distracted by the vibrant stars. I love the stars in New Zealand. It fascinates me how they are all different ones than I am used to seeing in the northern hemisphere.
Friends in Raglan
The first day I was in Raglan (about 5 days ago) I realized that my camera bag was missing from my purse. I traced everywhere I'd been and thought over how it could have disappeared but never came up with a plausible solution. Finally I reported my loss to the police and a few days later I received a phone call. My excitment was lowered when the suited woman pulled out my black and red case. It was damp and covered in sand. I opened it and saw my electronics in the same condition but still felt relieved that I was once again in possession of my camera and phone. So in short, the universe has given me an opportunity to be exceedingly descriptive with my language and you the ability to add unique personalized visuals to my journey.
Listen below to part 7 of Aviva's travels in which she introduces us to a couple of Kiwi characters...
MY TRIP SEEMS to be flying by and I'll be back in the States before I can blink. I'm in New Plymouth, on the west coast of the North Island staying with a lovely family who I met through a few degrees of separation. There are around 45,000 people here next to the coast and the Taranaki volcano.
I came here to go to WOMAD (World of Music and Dance), an international music festival. It happened to be some of the best weather, which drew huge masses of people to the park. The selection of musicians was diverse, I appreciated the music of every band I listened to. Furthermore, the venue couldn't have been more perfect with the main stage surrounded by water and ducks swimming to and fro.
I've been touring New Plymouth on a bicycle and on foot. Looking through galleries, museums, unique shops, bakeries, and beaches.
I'm learning to be happy exploring cities and landscapes by myself, finding different ways to entertain Aviva. That may be one of the most difficult parts of traveling solo: being alone. I can't say how many people have gawked at my age and what I chose to do with my semester off. "You're so brave!" I've been told over and over.
Today I hitchhike to Raglan, another costal town in the west. Into the unknown....
Listen below to hear a sampling of all the great music from the festival...
PARENTS OFTEN STRUGGLE to find a happy medium for vacations involving teenagers, but between sullen silence and spurts of uncharacteristic cheerfulness lies an excellent opportunity for the whole family to adjust to this new phase of life.
The concept formerly known as “family travel” takes on an entirely new look once kids who used to jump for joy at the idea of a week together suddenly look stricken at the mere mention of same. Drive ten hours to see grandma? Not. Spend a week at the Grand Canyon, singing cowboy songs around a campfire? Bor-ing.
Vacationing with teens should to be handled with the utmost care and attention. Older kids, caught in that desperate “come-here-but-go-away” chasm between childhood and adulthood, want parents to take care of them, but not too much, and not at all when other teens around. Especially if those other teens are attractive. Ahem.
Alaskan wildlife in its natural habitat - hanging out in the hotel common areas with bears!
A word: these are not your mother or father’s teen years; heck, they’re not even mine. External factors exacerbate situations that might prove difficult, or even unhealthy, and we fully recognize that. But teens still deserve the benefit of a safe, structured, yet somewhat-independent activity with their friends. My parents rocked this concept, so here are a few tips a’la “KTDGrandparentsontheGO”.
1. Set the stage. Does your teen’s group of friends enjoy outdoor recreation? Sit on the couch one night with a map and casually mention you’d like to take a short hiking, rafting, or biking trip and suggest a pack o’ teens accompany you. Solicit your teen’s feedback. Where would he/she like to go? With whom? This sets up a win-win scenario for all parties - teens feel responsible for the trip, and parents know exactly who is going, when, and where.
2. Establish boundaries. Adults are in charge, but kids should be able to voice their perspectives and preferences for such things as destinations, activities, transportation, and the like. Do make clear your family value system well ahead of travel regarding issues like credit card use, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc.
3. Encourage independence. Staying in a hotel? Let kids hang out in the common areas, the swimming pool and such (after frank conversations regarding expected behavior, of course). Alyeska Resort is fabulous for their willingness to accommodate packs of skiing, swimming, chillin’ teens, and they are also offering a springtime special just for such activities. Camping? Give teenagers a place to congregate near the lakeshore or fire pit. My folks used to score two campsites; one for us, one for them (we all had to sleep in the gender-segregated tents, just for full disclosure). It was great. The Alaska Marine Highway ferries are also a great teen-pleaser, with a theatre, game room, and plenty of places to be, without parental units. The Alaska Railroad is another gem of independence, featuring a dome car and cafe’ where parents and children can be near each other without any annoying hovering.
4. Take it all in stride. There will be days when all seems wrong with the world, the trip, and you. Allow teens to “take five”, away from the rest of the crowd. It is not the end of the world if your son or daughter suddenly decides he or she would rather skip the guided nature hike and wait for you in the lodge, ear buds firmly in place. Really, it’s not.
For more trip ideas, visit AKontheGO.com.
NOT TOO LONG ago, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage visited Alaska. He took a few minutes out of a busy day to talk with Kids These Days! Savage told us about topics near and dear to him, like what got him started writing his internationally-syndicated column, Savage Love and what caregivers should know about the teens in their lives who may be questioning their sexual identity.
Host Shana Sheehy spoke with the columnist at UAA.
THE SUN IS now setting after 8:30. We have nearly 13 hours of daylight...and counting. The sky is slowly turning a deeper shade of blue after months of being so white that it looked like an extension of the mountains. I have a sudden urge to wear shorts and tank tops outside, even though the occasional wind makes the temperature around 10 degrees. That's right
summer spring is here. And coming soon is the last day of school. My god, I'm coming down the home stretch of my high school career.
Even though the last quarter of high school is a cakewalk, it brings with it a new type of stress. Stress over college takes precedent, as well as balancing work and having a good time during the summer, grandparents flying up for graduation, and AP Tests to secure the college credit that is much more real now than it was in August when I signed up for the class.
For most, me included, this stress is notable, but miniscule in light of the thought of crossing the stage, shaking hands with a few people, getting your diploma, and being free. Free from high school - and childhood along with it. As soon as I step down off that stage in May, I'll change from a high school student to a college student. Teachers that I've known since my freshman year will look at me slightly differently. It won't be noticeable to anyone else but it'll seem to me as if they're looking at me like a peer, perhaps, I'll be their student no more.
But before that day, I have plenty of things to take care of. Mr. Congeniality is next friday, my play (Top Gun) should run sometime in the next 3 weeks, prom is at the end of April, and I have to commit to a college by May 1st. It's busy, but fun. I made the resolution that I'd always be busy this year, and I think I've fulfilled that for the most part. Now, we only have a quarter left.
Only seventy-some days and they can't go by quickly enough.
CHAPTER 1: I'm all the way at the end of the Banks Peninsula. The town is named Akaroa. There are dolphins, seals, penguins and many tourists here but I haven't seen any of them. I hitchhiked here from Oamaru, the place with the most interesting architecture I've seen in New Zealand, a million second hand clothes shops, cheese, whisky and chocolate factories to tour, basically so much to see. I wandered around, getting lost in the gardens and sampling a few meat pies. I met many interesting people at my hostel..... more to come this internet is running out...
CHAPTER 2: The best part of Oamaru is that the little blue-eyed penguins come swimming next to the harbor right at dusk. I wanted to keep one of those spotted, waddling, adorable birds. Before Oamaru I was wwoofing for a few days. I pulled carrots and beets, tended to the cows and sheep, helped cook, baked bread, made butter, yogurt and cheese. Catherine, the owner of the farm, told the most entertaining stories about her psychopath ex-husband, her cowardly neighbor, her brave minuscule dog and all the other kooky people in her life. Ahhh this dumb internet...!
CHAPTER 3: From my wwoofing farm near Palmerson I was picked up by some Aucklanders. I told them about these Moraki Boulders I'd heard about and they loved me for sharing part of their own country with them. The boulders were marvously round and planet-like, and one looked like an egg being cracked open.
I didn't have enough time in Oamaru but there was another place I wanted to see before flying to the North Island: Akaroa. On the Banks Peninsula there are many little bays cutting into the mountains and the one close to Akaroa is the largest. There are no docks in the harbor, to access a boat a person needs to paddle out in a small kayak. I biked through the one-road town and hiked up part of a mountain with a girl I met. If not for my sunscreen, my whole body would have been burned like a marshmallow in the sun that day.
Back in cell phone service, I recieved a call from an elderly couple who picked me up hitch hiking and invited me to spend the night and a big smile of relief came over me. Sometimes, in the bustle of young travelers deciding where to go next and which pub has the best dancing music I seek out company from older people full of enthralling stories. Vicki and Reg laughed about their 5-week boat expeditions to New Zealand from England, the different farms they owned, the various marriages they'd dealt with, managing a rock band, working with the first computers in New Zealand and all the changes they've seen unfold in the years of resedency in what they call paradise.
Close to Christchurch, the home of sorrow and recent catastrophe, I am currently in the center of an old, inactive volcano. Like Alaska, New Zealand rests on some of the largest tectonic fault lines. The land has formed elevated mountain terrain and in the center of it all is my favorite: a lengthy tear-dropped spit of land, which is owned by the Maori people.
Travelers from big European cities have all shared with me their surprise at the kindness of New Zealanders. To me, people are similar to Alaskans in mentality, there are times I feel so happy and grateful for that. Vicki and Reg had no idea what they got themselves into by picking up an 18-year old hitchhiker I'm sure, but they generously shared their life with me for a day.
Later on today I will fly out of Christchurch and into Wellington. There I will be driving with a radio journalist and musician to a music festival called WOMAD where she has played in previous years.
Listen to Part 5 of Aviva's audio blog below... Have a New Zealand tip for Aviva? Leave it in the comments down under!
Miranda (right, with her sister, Hanna) hopes that through sharing her loss that she can help to inspire others through difficult times
AN INCREDIBLE STORY of tragedy, strength and inspiration - one young woman in a boating accident last year on Tustemena Lake on the Kenai Peninsula is now using that experience to encourage other teens to persevere through difficult times.
Meet 16-year old Miranda Udelhoven, credited with saving her own life as well as those of her younger sister, Hanna (then 13 years old) and friend, Athena Robinson (then 12 years old), after they were dumped into icy waters during a storm that took the life of her father (47) and friend, Katarina Anderson (16). She says that her faith in God is motivating her to turn her personal loss into a means to help others through hard times by starting a group, Teens Inspiring Perspective or TIP, which is still in the planning stages.
KTD host Shana Sheehy spoke with Miranda, her sister Hanna, and their mother, Gayle Koger.
THE AURORA WERE out in spectacular form this past week. My memories of the Aurora consist of my parents dragging me out of the house to look up at a murky red blob. It wasn't awe inspiring, not at all like those pictures you see in tourist guides. But, last Tuesday night, I got really, really lucky.
I went up to Flattop with a couple of friends to shoot photos for my fledgling clothing company, “Think Tank”. I started it with a couple of friends last July as a joke, but now it actually resembles something that could be mistaken as a company. We try to send the message of introspective thought with each of our products, and while we only have one product right now (a logo hat), the intense Aurora activity gave us a perfect setting to get some stunning shots for advertising this concept. I’ll write more about Think Tank next week.
On top of Flattop it was clear and with the full moon, the mountains would be lit up to produce some pretty solid shots. When we got up there, we realized that we were the latest victims of Alaska's fickle weather. It was now mostly cloudy, obscuring the moon, but the moon was still too bright for us to use the city lights in our shots. So we tried to make do for about half an hour, but really didn't get anything decent. Then my friend glanced northward, and thought he saw something green in the sky. I thought he was just seeing things so I ignored him. But then his voice got hysterical as he cried, "Guys, look! It's the northern lights!"
They were dancing like crazy, and were an emerald green shade reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz's palace. For the next 40 minutes, I took nearly 100 pictures of the Aurora, the uninspiring red blob of my youth now a distant memory.
I tried to get more shots for the next few nights, but I just wasn't lucky enough. I saw the incredible light show on Thursday, and even tried to climb Little O'Malley on Friday in hopes of getting above the clouds, but I didn't catch a glimpse of them. Really what it came down to was dumb luck. If you're in the right place at the right time, you'll get a picture that’s worthy of a publication. If not, you froze your butt off for the night, and all you got from it is a sore neck.
This is another reason why I'll miss Alaska. There is no other place in the U.S. where you can see natural phenomena like this, save maybe Hawai'I with the sunset Green Flash. I'll miss the prospect of being able to see the lights 6 months out of the year but now I have some great photos to remember how the Aurora can really look.