Sunday, November 2, 2014

Good Times and Good Waffles

Several weeks ago, Addy Goff, Sarah Austin, and I launched Waffle Wednesdays in Witherspoon. The event is at 11pm and $5 gets you a beautiful Belgian waffle and access to our grand topping bar and almost all the milk you can drink! All of the money goes towards Dance Marathon. For those of you just tuning in or who recently sold that rock under which you’ve been living, Charlotte Dance Marathon is November 7th and all of us will dancing our socks off for 12 hours to support the Levine Children’s Hospital.

Back to waffles. The idea came from our mutual love of the leavened grid cakes and our shared struggle to raise money for Dance Marathon.  Although it’s for a great cause, the three of us are much better at selling a product of where the proceeds go to Dance Marathon rather than directly asking people for donations. The response has been encouraging. We average about twenty people, which brings in around $100, per event.  This week will be our fourth Waffle Wednesday.

Everyone is welcome (even those of you who illogically prefer pancakes). The music is upbeat—featuring everyone’s dad’s favorite songs—and it’s a peaceful, syrup-y oasis from whatever stress you might be under. 

From left to right: Sarah, Addy, and myself at the first DM in 2013

“We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, but work is third.” -Leslie Knope

Don't skimp on the toppings.

Why do you own so many waffle irons?
-Why not.                   

What should I put on my waffle?
-Everything. Extra ice cream.

What if I don’t live in Witherspoon—can I still attend?
-Of course! Let us know and we’ll let you in.

Can I bring my own chicken?
-Absolutely, and good for you for kicking it old school with chicken and waffles. 

What milk do you have?
-2% and almond milk.

What is the history of the waffle? (**Honesty hour: no one’s ever asked me this, but who doesn’t love food history?**)
-The waffle is basically a leavened wafer. Around the 13th century in Europe, the wafer was typically cooked on a griddle that had an engraved design, most commonly of a Biblical scene, and the wafers were used for communion during mass. However, eventually a leavening agent (probably beer yeast) was added and the griddle design evolved. More or less, voila, the waffle had arrived and was here to stay.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Six Weeks in Shanghai

My summer internship in Shanghai was nothing short of six weeks of enjoyable sensory overload caused by relentless raw exposure to Chinese and European culture, which so frequently intermingle in the world’s largest city. My stay there was both educational and exciting as I regularly switched between hats of studious, professional intern by day, and avid tourist with a voracious appetite for all things cultural on the nights and weekends.
            I arrived in Shanghai two days earlier than recommended by my internship site so I could have some time to freely explore the city – as if such an opportunity would be hard to come by later on. Upon arrival I began sampling and ingesting every cultural aspect of the enormous, bustling metropolitan giant with an insatiable appetite. I went everywhere, saw everything, spoke with everyone – with limited linguistic capabilities – and ate just about anything I could get my hands on – much to the chagrin of my own digestive system. The only minor constraints I had on my unbridled exploration were really a reasonable budget and the need for sleep. It should be noted, however, the latter constraint was really subjective, depending on my willpower, caffeine intake and consuming curiosity.

            Accommodations were fairly basic and quite fitting for a young, twenty-something intern that had little interest in staying inside the confinements of a three-star hotel room for any reason beside sleep – which, again, was basically optional. However, I must say that living inside a hotel with 50 other equally vivacious interns has uncanny benefits for those who wish to live semi-vicariously through the escapades of others. The amount of time you spent roaming the city on weeknights depended entirely on the difficulty and fulfillment of your internship. I, fortunately for my peace of mind, had secured both a rewarding and educational internship and was thus committed solely to mild entertainment during the week.
            I worked as a media-marketing intern for a small, yet rapidly growing, pharmaceutical company. In a matter of weeks, my knowledge and understanding of social media marketing, as well as SEO and other internet-based marketing techniques, exploded. I owe this entirely to the warm and supportive nature of the company staff, and more particularly to the kind didactic nature of my Italian manager and the gold-hearted personality of my American “big boss.” Partially because of this company’s generosity and genuine interest in me as an intern, I will be returning to China in the winter to reconnect and to further professional connections in Shanghai.
            Over the course of my stay I also made several close friends, whom I plan to see again, and met a particularly wonderful Italian woman who still makes my day on a regular basis.

As briefly mentioned before, I received a great deal of exposure to both Chinese and European culture. Because Shanghai is heavily populated with Europeans and other Westerners, the city is fairly used to accommodating them and their “rowdiness,” as some would put it. Congruently, one can find a wide plethora of restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping centers, and family oriented entertainment that seamlessly blends Western and Chinese taste – sometimes more seamlessly than others. Thus my European, American, Chinese cohort and I were easily afforded regular sampling of East and West in Shanghai in the form of cheap yet authentic cuisine from all over the world, a few insane sporting events, as well as a Chinese art gallery or two. I experienced both the wildest World Cup match viewing of my life, had the best Italian food I’d ever eaten, and learned some Norwegian – none of which one typically expects to do in a Chinese city.

Mixed cultural exposure aside I was able to catch a few breathtaking views from atop Shanghai skyscrapers as well as traverse some of rural surroundings. I navigated the ancient water city of Suzhou and also climbed a 7-story pagoda. I hiked a 6-kilometer, near-vertical trek up the side of the Huangshan Yellow Mountains. (Unfortunately the summit turned out to be both underwhelming and hardly rewarding. On the plus side, it was a great calorie burner and the views on the way up made for a nice photo op as I was conveniently wearing a UNC Charlotte T-Shirt.) 

Overall my six short, yet full, weeks in China were extremely rewarding from a professional, academic and personal perspective. I could not have asked nor dreamed of experiencing something more exciting or eye-opening.

-Written by James Dicus, current senior in the Levine Scholars Program

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Everything's Better at the Beach

          All week I had been looking forward to the fall beach trip. When I was a freshman in the Levine program last year, everyone kept telling me that this was a fantastic time to relax and bond. Between the whirlwind of summer internships and the start of the school year, I was then looking forward to the level of interaction where there was company without the pressure of expected conversation as well as the spontaneity that wasn't hindered by responsibilities. It all started with the road trip down!

          We even stopped to get peach ice-cream and take hipster pictures.

          When we got to the beach, we immediately ran out to get our feet wet and be surrounded by the salty scent of the ocean breeze. The temperature was that perfect balance between warm and breezy. I took tons of walks along the beach talking about philosophy or the future or whatever came to mind. I even got to make progress on my book. I spent the majority of the trip stealing coffee that other people had made, playing mini-golf, and swimming. 

As the annual beach trip came to a close, I was sad to leave the peaceful interlude for my busy world, but it leaves me something to look forward to next year!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Becoming the Teapot

This summer I got a concussion.

On the fourth of July my newly muscled younger brother kicked a soccer ball as hard as he could from about 5 feet away and it hit me squarely in the face. I sat down confused as he and the 5 year old kid we met at the pool had a good laugh at my expense. I couldn't really express what was wrong and I didn't want to spoil the fun so I tried to act like a good sport when the kid asked me what my coach would think if he saw that I quit after getting hit in the face once.

I had been working on writing a program with my friend Dan in my abundant summer free time after getting back from Costa Rica and when I sat down to work later that night, I had trouble connecting my thoughts in logical ways. I noticed my head was cloudy and I was getting irrationally frustrated with problems that weren't as serious as I was making them out to be. When these feelings didn't go away over the next couple days, I had my mom take me to the emergency room.

I described my symptoms to the doctor (headaches, dizziness, frustration, confusion) and the event where all of this started, and he immediately informed me that I almost certainly had a concussion. After some tests to make sure nothing was seriously wrong, I was sent on my way with the instructions that I was to avoid exercise, reading, video games, driving and anything else that would cause mental strain for about a week. This is to say that I was told to stop doing literally (well not literally) everything that I had been spending my time doing: no more Street Fighter, no more programming, no more gym, no more Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, no more guitar,  nothing.

The next day at an absolute loss for what to do with myself, I logged into the Netflix account that my parents had decided to get as a way to properly utilize the newly purchased and not often used Xbox One. Something in my hazy and untraceable thoughts told me to look up Bruce Lee because he was a cool guy, one thing led to the next, and I had watched 3 or 4 Bruce Lee movies as well as 2 documentaries about this person who I had no interest in the day before. At some point during this, I had also decided that I wanted to be Bruce Lee.

In my quest to become Bruce Lee I purchased a couple of his books, a jump rope, and I watched countless YouTube videos of him doing impressive martial arts things and explaining the potpourri of ideas that made up his tao. The  interview that has stuck with me was one in which he was talking about how his personal philosophies had ended up in his movies.

Bruce Lee here is referring to how he approached fighting, which isn't of much use to someone as adverse to violence as me, but one of the best (and potentially worst) parts about quoting people is how we can interpret and make applicable what others have to say even when it has no basis in what they originally meant. For whatever reason, in my unabashedly illogical thoughts the line about becoming the teapot stuck out. It has since become something like a mantra in my life.

Something about the metaphorical resonance of the whole situation struck a chord with me and becoming the teapot is at the heart of it all. The whole life throwing you a curveball and you rolling with the punches, making the best of a bad situation, and eventually taking away something of meaning that you bring back to share with others speaks to being raised on idealistic movies that always have a happy ending, acknowledging that, and sticking to your convictions anyway (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Run On). To me, the phrase itself says something about working towards self improvement and always staying flexible, but never taking oneself too seriously.

Am I crazy for making an out of context line from an old kung fu movie into something of a personal philosophy? Probably. Maybe that soccer ball knocked some already loose screws out of place. Taking a look at the whole of human existence shows there have certainly been worse philosophies. The point is, I might not know exactly what I want to do or who I want to be (unique problems I'm sure, at least it isn't Bruce Lee anymore), but I take solace in the fact that no matter what, I will always be working towards becoming the teapot.

Feel free to join me in my quest to become the teapot at REDACTED which will hopefully exist by the time you read this. Edit: It doesn't exist, but I thought it read nicely with this sentence.

James Budday
Class of 2016

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dancing with a Star

In one of my favorite books, Into the Wild, the protagonist writes, “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security.” I remember rediscovering this book fall semester when I was considering studying abroad—that quote cemented my decision to study abroad.  
Trying out zip-lining in Monteverde
Since my arrival in Costa Rica, I have had so many new experiences—enough to fill an 80-page Microsoft word document. As I read over those pages, I keep finding that I have written about the joy that I have found in trying things I never thought I would do—zip lining, bungee jumping, caving, engaging in Spanish debates, and trying new foods. Chris McCandless, the protagonist from Into the Wild, was absolutely right.
Coming to a new country, over 2,000 miles away from home, terrified me. Traveling through customs alone terrified me. The thought of making a terrible mistake while speaking Spanish terrified me. And more than anything, Latin dancing terrified me.
I have the worst coordination in the world. Really, I can trip over myself. So, when my friends told me that we were going to a Latin dancing club one Thursday, I laughed at them. This girl, born with two left feet, was not about to embarrass herself in front of complete strangers. However, an hour later, I found myself contentedly watching different dancers twirling across the floor. But someone else had a different idea. A man, who introduced himself as Alonso, probably in his early 30’s, with frizzy hair tied back in a samurai ponytail, glasses, and a huge smile, asked me to dance. I was a little hesitant, but everyone told me to go, and after warning him that I really couldn’t dance very well, he led me to the floor.
Pura Vida at its finest!
It was one of my best experiences in Costa Rica. Alonso knew all the words to the songs and would belt them out, his head thrown back, an expression of pure joy, excitement, enthusiasm, and bliss on his face. I can guarantee you that his expression was not due to my dancing skills. We danced for a solid hour. We did all kinds of flips, and I learned for the first time what it meant to have a guy lead. He would hold up his hand, and I knew that I was supposed to turn, and I knew in which direction I was supposed to turn. We were all over that dance floor, twirling and twisting—him with his smile and me just laughing at the ridiculousness of the entire situation. We even did dips, which I learned are a lot of fun. And then—then, it got even crazier. “Vivir mi Vida” by Marc Anthony came on. This song is incredibly popular in Costa Rica and has become my favorite song and personal anthem. We were spinning all over the place, working well together when out of nowhere, he picks me up and starts spinning me around in a circle. We did the kind of lift that the contestants from “Dancing with Stars” do. I was speechless. Other people stared at us, almost as if they were asking, “Did that just happen?”
Yes, yes it did. And it was an incredible experience.
I returned to my seat with a beat red face, hair out of its braid, jeans that were glued to my skin with sweat, and eyes sparkling. Sometimes, one needs to be terrified into having these “encounters with new experiences,” because as I learned, there is no greater joy than losing one’s “inclination for monotonous security.”
Wishing you a pura vida,

Christina Koehler
Class of 2016

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's Snow Big Deal

The first time I saw snow was January 17, 2008. It was truly magical.

I awoke to the shoves of my younger sister around 3AM to see the small snow flurries hit our bedroom window. I jumped out of bed, put on every layer of winter gear that I owned, and headed outside. It was my only natural response.

My sisters, Imani (right), Jasmine (center), and
I smiling outside in the snow. 
My family moved to Charlotte several months before, and the one thing I looked forward to since our long move from Miami to Charlotte, was the chance to experience the seasons. Miami only has two seasons, rainy and dry. I couldn't wait to see the leaves change colors, feel the winter wind's chill the air, but most importantly, I wanted snow. So when my sisters and I marched onto our neighborhood street that frigid morning to catch snowflakes in our mouths, I was ecstatic.

Needless to say, I was very, very excited to see snow in the forecast this past week. I called my mom after my Earth Science class where my professor confirmed it. Charlotte would receive snow. I eagerly awaited the first snowfall of 2014. I checked the weather app on my phone obsessively, borrowed a tray from Crown Commons for sledding, and put on my hiking boots for safety in the ice. Rumor spread that the university would cancel classes, so a group of us braved the harsh elements (at least I thought they were) to sled down the hills around campus.

First-year UNC Charlotte students post-sledding adventure.
Isabella, Eileen, Austin, and I made snow angels. Casey posed for artsy snow pictures. Ryan tried to sled on his stomach. Davis stopped us from sledding into trees. We spent nearly two hours enjoying the snowy campus until our fingers numbed.

There is something about the snow that will always make me giddy with excitement. While we only had a few inches, I enjoyed every second of our time out in the snow, and I am keeping my fingers crossed for more snowflakes in the future.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Too Many Penny Jenny

I tried. 

I tried exceptionally hard to figure out something I could write about that would live up to the standard of this blog, but alas I was left nonplussed. So instead of a thought-provoking post or a heartwarming tale from my college life, I am going to share an anecdote from my high school days. What follows is the tale of how I learned vending machines do not accept pennies as a legitimate form of payment.

It was a cold morning, and the threat of snow from the night before had been unfulfilled. I, in na├»ve anticipation of a snow day, had turned off my alarms, and instead of being awoken by the wonderful tones of “Circle of Life,” I was thrust from the sweet embrace of sleep by what sounded like a herd of elephants stampeding. In reality, it was just my brother running down the stairs.

Late, I sped through my morning routine and grabbed a quick bite to eat as I ran out the door.  Though I had started out my morning a full 45 minutes late, I still managed to get to school on time and getting an acceptable parking space. As I stumbled across the track to the high school nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I was very cold and still bitter that we even had school that day. I mean, my hair froze on the way into the school building, which was a mere five-minute walk from the parking lot! That had to be categorized as some form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Regardless of my beliefs about whether or not school should be in session, the first bell rang, and so began another day at school. The second class of the day started before I realized I was missing something. I am a self-proclaimed food snob, and blatantly refuse to eat what my school cafeteria called “food.” As a result I always brought my lunch from home. And because I wanted to add some personal flare, I didn’t just “brown bag it” like most people. No, I brought my lunch in a Mystery Machine lunchbox, which I had conveniently left at home that day.

It looked like I was going to have to eat school lunch that day. As we headed to the cafeteria, I reached for my wallet and realized that in my blind sprint to make it to school on time this morning I had left all the contents of my wallet except my license at home. I frowned. I don’t particularly enjoy going up to strangers, and even less so when I have to ask them for money. But, I needed to eat and so I began canvasing the cafeteria.

For some odd reason the only extra money people had was in the form of pennies. I managed to collect a grand total of 165 pennies, which was just enough for a water bottle and a granola bar to hold me over until the school day ended. The lunch lines had already closed, and so I walked over to the vending machines, both my hands cupping the plethora of pennies that had been generously donated to me.

I put the first penny in the machine and to my dismay, heard the sound of the penny dropping out of the machine. I tried again and again until I realized that it would not take my pennies. And it was at that moment, standing in the middle of a high school cafeteria with two handfuls of pennies, that it was going to be a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

From the "City Upon a Hill" to the campus of many, many hills

Happy 2014, everyone!

I hope that you've enjoyed the new year as much as I have. Hopefully you've been able to reevaluate yourself, establish new goals, and develop strategies to achieve those goals. Perhaps you've spent time in reflection, or reconnected with long-lost friends; maybe you've focused your attention on those who are closest at home. I've done my best to attempt all of these, and while the reality of the new year hasn't yet sunk in--and likely won't for the foreseeable future--I hope to reflect on 2013 both academically and personally. With that as my introduction, I'd like to spill a little ink and discuss what has weighed most heavily on my mind since I swapped my 2013 "Cats in Hats" calendar for a more generic "Kittens" 2014 calendar.

In short, I'd like to tell you about spending a summer in Jerusalem, the famous "city upon a hill." I plan to talk about archaeology. I'd like to tell you about how I fell into it, and ultimately, I hope to explain why it matters. I'll try my hand at brevity, I promise, and I plan to proceed in no particular order.

While I may try to be brief, if I begin to write about the first century (such as this 1st century tomb), I'm liable not to stop. 
This past summer, I spent ten weeks in Israel working on two archaeological excavations. The first excavation lasted four weeks and was located in the Jezreel Valley, which is about a stone's throw from Nazareth. During these four weeks, I learned the basic process of archaeology--we broke thru the soil, removed layers of fill (debris) and came upon layers of pottery buried in soil that had not been disturbed for thousands of years. In unearthing these remains, I was shown how variations in soil texture can tell volumes about a site's history; I saw how influential even the tiniest piece of pottery can be--even the smallest evidence can disprove an entire archaeological theory. Jezreel introduced me to a field of study that I had no prior exposure to. In retrospect, I acknowledge the absurdity of commiting ten weeks--my entire summer--to digging in the Middle East which I admittedly knew nothing about. I took a risk and was duly rewarded--I learned (literally) from the ground up, and it felt great.

Although nothing feels as great as a nice, cold drink when it's 90 degrees outside. In the Jezreel Valley.
Immediately after four weeks digging at Jezreel, I began my second excavation--the Mt. Zion project in Jerusalem. This excavation is sponsored by UNC Charlotte and--fun fact--is the only American-run archaeological excavation in all of Jerusalem. (I'm very, very proud of this.) I participated in the full four week excavation at Mt. Zion and was thus shown another aspect of archaeology: through Jezreel, I was familiar with the process of digging, but now became immersed in the meticulous process of archaeological recording. Because an excavation is predicated upon the destruction of an archaeological site, archaeologists keep detailed records for future generations of scholars. (Perhaps "detailed" is an understatement.) This became my job.

Recording elevation data in Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, I was an assistant supervisor tasked with a greater administrative role. I recorded elevation points in detailed site maps, and assisted in keeping daily records for each area of excavation. I was excited to experience this aspect of the excavation and gained a greater understanding of archaeological process, but was not prepared for how mentally exhausting this would be. I quickly discovered that every basket of pottery we unearthed represented hours of analysis, all of which must be dealt with in the post-excavation period. I learned that the excavation didn't end after four weeks of digging; in fact, that's when the real work began. 

While Hollywood imagines archaeology to be action-packed, in reality, most of archaeology is rather monotonous. Here I am recording data in my first excavation in the Jezreel Valley. 
I was fortunate to stay two weeks after digging concluded, where I assisted with post-excavation activities. Again, I was shown the massive scope of an archaeological undertaking. I saw that for every elevation I recorded, for every scale drawing I completed, for every accomplishment tat I was proud of, there would soon be hundreds of other tasks that time would prohibit me from completing. These tasks would be worked on throughout the year and, unless instant teleportation becomes a real thing, I was unable to assist the remaining eleven months of the year. This project became much bigger than myself, which living in Jerusalem reaffirmed.

At least once a day I think of Jerusalem. I think of the basics--how it looked, how it smelled, how it tasted. I remember the contours of the city streets, the path I would walk to dig on Mt. Zion. I remember the joy of sipping a cup of tea at 7:00 am, watching the sun rise over the Mount of Olives, and listening to the Muslim call to prayer. I miss the dirt in my boots, I miss the excitement of a new day of discovery. The energy of an archaeological dig is like no other--it truly is indescribable.

Reason #373 to participate in an archaeological dig: finding a 1st century bathtub in the former mansion of Jerusalem's priestly elite.
Archaeology to me is something more than a fascination with the past. It is first and foremost a fascination with the present--with the people who come to volunteer at a site from Russia, Brazil, Germany, Florida, Utah, Charlotte. The diversity of our dig mirrors the diversity of Jerusalem, of the world, and engaging in such a community provides an intangible benefit difficult to describe. Through our interactions, these wayward archaeologists helped teach me more about myself than any amount of self-reflection could have and to them I am eternally grateful. They provided the context for a detailed examination of our collective past, one which I am privileged to excavate and uncover.

This is why I dig.
I write these words with a smile, knowing that I plan to return to Mt. Zion in the summer of 2014. I have been asked by Shimon Gibson and James Tabor--our site directors--to take on a supervisory capacity. In 2014, I will have my own area--I plan to excavate from the surface down and am honored at the chance to do so. I'll keep in touch, I promise, and look for another blog circa-July. I'll post then and fill you in on the excavation.

Stay well, my friends. Just don't ask how I got the next picture.

Atop the city wall of Jerusalem, looking down at the Mt. Zion excavation.

Caldwell out.

Kevin Caldwell
Class of 2015