The latest and greatest on CNN iReport, brought to you by Team iReport.
In the past week, the Kansas City, Missouri, region has been hit with two rounds of wet, heavy snow. The blizzards have caused plenty of trouble – caved roofs, downed power lines, fallen tree limbs and treacherous roads.
But on the upside, we now have lots of giant snowmen. And snow Frankensteins. And snow super heroes. And at least one snow fortress. Here are a few of our favorites this week:
Towering Snow Bob
In Pleasant Hill, Jeremy Newman sent this shot of his kids Wyatt, 6, and Camryn, 3, with the towering 8-foot snowman they made and named last week. As you can see, Snow Bob's legs are taller than the children!
They packed the snow in a rubber trashcan (which is why Bob has legs instead of the typically round snowman body). Newman, who stands 6-foot-3, had to stand on his tip-toes to slide Bob's head on.
Sadly, Bob melted away on Sunday.
In Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer had a challenge for his daughter, Alexandra: Build a snowman taller than a 12-foot snowman featured in The Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday.
Alexandra, along with two friends and her younger sister, spent four hours building a 13-foot "FrankenSnowman" Wednesday. Things got tricky once they reached 8 feet:
"Two of us would be filling buckets while one would be on top dumping them or catching snow chunks we tossed up to fill in the cracks. More than once you'd see a girl slide down a 10-foot mountain of snow or get a have a mini avalanche in their face."
Matt Noonan, an engineer in Kansas City, looked outside his door Wednesday to find his neighbors -- some college students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City -- constructing this elaborate fortress around their house while listening to “inspirational video game music.”
“I went outside and gave them an extra shovel because they were using their hands, sleds, and even a snow board to scoop the snow. They were very appreciative and promised they'd shovel my driveway as a thank you,” Noonan said. “They were more than welcome to all the snow on my property.”
Lastly, this one wasn't in Kansas City, but we just had to share this Super Snowman in Lansing, Michigan. Ryan Shapiro, a snowman-making novice, worked with his friend Steven Saules (slightly more experienced at this) to create the iconic character in Shapiro’s back yard Tuesday night.
The pair started out making an old-fashioned snowman. “Once we were done we realized we had no sticks or carrots but we DID have spray paint and butter knives,” Shapiro wrote in an email to CNN. They worked through the night using red wall paint, blue spray paint, gray primer and butter knives to sculpt and paint the figure.
Got a great snow creation to share? Upload it here! As always in severe weather conditions, please do not put yourself at risk.
It is considered one of the highlights of a trip to Egypt -- a flight on a hot air balloon over the temples of Luxor, seat of power for the country’s ancient pharaohs and home to some of the country's most spectacular sites.
But on Tuesday, one flight turned to horror: Nineteen tourists were killed Tuesday when their balloon in Luxor exploded and plummeted to the ground.
Here on iReport, vacationers who had taken similar rides were quick to share their images and experiences.
While the crash has led to some raising questions about the safety of such balloon flights, previous travellers were quick to praise the efficiency and professionalism of their Egyptian hosts.
"I felt very safe and in fact remember thinking that the pilot and crew for my balloon were overly cautious and constantly on the radio, monitoring the other balloons in the group to ensure we didn't collide," said Gene Roth, who took a balloon ride in Luxor in July 2010.
"There was a full safety briefing prior to the flight and reminders along the way."
Business owner Thomas Stevens from Astbury Park, New Jersey, said he found news of the crash particularly sad because of the “calm and peaceful experience” he had enjoyed, watching the lush green fields of Luxor serenely sail by in the cool Egyptian morning air.
He took the trip in November 2011. "It must have been terrifying [the crash], because the ride itself is such a calm and peaceful experience, normally," he said.
Aside from a slightly bumpy landing, Mac Hopkin and his wife, retirees from near Dallas, Texas, had no complaints about what he described as “one of the highlights” of their Egypt trip in 2008.
“We didn't feel in any way that it wasn't as safe as air travel could be," he said."The crews seemed reasonably proficient, and judging from the number of balloons, [flying] is a very frequent occurrence."
Florida resident John Baldwin and his wife, who undertook a balloon flight in 2007, admitted they were taken aback by the 26 people permitted in the balloon’s basket, but said they felt fairly safe.
"I was saddened to hear of the deaths in Luxor, but since we took our ride in 2007 there must have been tens of thousands of safe flights," he said.
"Air travel, whether in an air plane, helicopter or balloon, has certain risks."
But for at least one vacationer the experience was an unnerving one shesaid she would not repeat.“The balloon almost crashed down,” said Denise Pereira, who visited Egypt from Curitiba, Brazil, last June.
“On my video you can see the balloon suddenly coming down and hear the pilot screaming 'landing position!' while the balloon goes directly to the wires and then to the houses. While the scenery was stunning, she acknowledges she boarded knowing nothing of the equipment’s maintenance or the crew’s qualifications.
“We were lucky, there was time to get back the altitude and we had no explosion,” she wrote in her iReport. “[But it was] My first and last balloon flight... ever!”
You might have noticed something really cool happening lately: Three iReporters have had bylined opinion pieces on CNN.com!
iReport's focus has primarily been on photos and videos, but earlier this year, we started to receive some insightful, well-written essay submissions, too. First was Deborah Mitchell's compellingly titled "Why I raise my children without God," which soon became the most-viewed iReport of all-time. It was so good, in fact, that we did something we’ve never done before – we decided to run it on CNN’s Belief blog, where it received more than 1,600 comments. Last week, Richard Lucas penned a beautifully-written testimony about anxiety that ran that on CNN.com as well. And just yesterday, veteran iReporter Cynthia Falardeau published a fantastic piece on the Oscar Pistorius saga.
We’re thrilled to be able to show off iReporters' writing talents and thoughtful insights on CNN.com, and so proud of the iReporters who have earned bylines so far. We'd really like to see more of your personal essays and opinion pieces, so we've created this assignment to collect all your essay submissions, with the hope of running the best ones on CNN. Of course, writing a piece like this is often highly personal and can be difficult, so here are some tips to get you started if you'd like to give it a shot:
Pick the right topic. When you’re writing a commentary, opinion piece, or personal testimony, think about your passions. You need to feel strongly about what you’re writing and believe in your words. If you’re not engaged in the topic, pick a new one, because you don’t stand a chance of engaging your reader. If your subject is in the news at the moment, that’s great, but it doesn’t have to be if it’s compelling enough. Deborah Mitchell's piece on religion didn’t have a news peg, but it was something that she felt strongly about, and that passion came through.
Make it personal. You know the saying "write what you know?" It’s especially applicable here. When you’re thinking about essay topics, pick something that you can bring a unique perspective to, or something that you have expertise on. As someone living with panic disorder for five years, Richard Lucas could speak about it with authority. And Cynthia Falardeau brought a fresh angle to the Pistorius story by talking about her experiences with her son, who is also an amputee.
Show, don’t tell. One strong anecdote makes a point better than a paragraph full of generalizations. Be specific and try to avoid cliches. In Falardeau's article, she tells us a story about meeting a man at her gym that hammers home the thesis of her piece in an instant.
Let your voice shine. Imagine you're telling your story to a friend. Then write it using those words and that tone. Your piece should feel conversational, like you’re just chatting with the reader. Don't try to be formal or use words plucked from a thesaurus. It's your story, so tell it in your own voice. You can even try reading your piece out loud to yourself. If it doesn't sound like you, then try again.
Don’t marry your text. This one might be the most difficult of all, and as writers, we empathize completely. But you're going to have to edit your piece. You may really love that one little side note you included, or how you phrased a particular point, but if it doesn't support your thesis or move your story along, it has to go. Try to keep your piece to 1,000 words or less – you can say almost anything in that amount of space, trust us. And know that, if we decide to run your story on CNN.com, we'll make some edits ourselves. We'll work with you and make sure we keep the meaning of your piece intact, but if we brutally slash something that you loved, know that it's not a commentary on you – we just want to make your story the best it can be for when it hits the big time.
Excited? So are we. Get typing and share your pieces on our essay assignment. And leave any writing/editing questions in the comments – we'll do our best to answer them.
Last Sunday, some members of the iReport team found themselves dancing like fools on a MARTA train. My husband's sketch comedy group was behind the madness, and it was all to be part of the Harlem Shake -- the latest viral meme that's sweeping the Internet.
In case you're wondering, that's me in the crazy scuba diver helmet, Nicole rocking out with the lemur, and Germain showing off some sweet umbrella dance moves. You can watch the video here, as long as you promise not to judge us too harshly!
For the uninitiated, the Harlem Shake is a hip-hop dance and the title of a 2012 instrumental track produced by Baauer. In the past week, though, the song spawned a series of 30-second dance videos that start with a masked individual doing the Harlem Shake solo in a group before cutting to a wild dance party featuring everyone on screen.
At this point, it's nearly impossible to keep track of how many Shake videos there are in the world. People have taken the meme into offices, underwater, at a concert arena, and inside a fire truck. And while all of the videos are different, they're all ridiculous and hilarious and fun.
So, why exactly did the Harlem Shake take off? Because it's simple, fun to participate in, and, most importantly, structured. We've long observed that crowd-sourced projects that have clear boundaries allow people to be super creative within those limitations, and the Harlem Shake is a fantastic example of that. The videos all use the same song and start with one person dancing, then erupt into craziness once the beat drops.
At its basic core, the videos are simple. The dorm room one that really kicked off the trend likely took a few minutes to execute. But because of the simplicity and set rules of the meme, people have been endlessly creative and ambitious when it comes too pulling them off. And the popularity of the videos is no surprise, either -- viewers know that watching is only a 30-second investment of time with a great payoff towards the end.
Plus, there's wild dancing and crazy costumes in unexpected places. What's not to love? We only wish that we kicked off the trend first!
Calling all college and university students! We're looking for an intern to join our team at the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, this summer.
The full-time, paid internship lasts about 12 weeks and is open to college students currently enrolled in school. Course credit is available, and preference is given to candidates who have previously contributed to CNN iReport.
One lucky intern will work with iReport's editorial team, getting to know the worldwide iReport community. In addition to vetting iReports, writing stories, producing galleries, and joining in brainstorming and editorial planning, interns will also have the opportunity to learn from a host of CNN professionals in various departments.
Interested? Go here for more details and to formally apply. The deadline for applications is Friday, March 1.