Carmen Westra

Carmen has been working for the Niner Times since August 2014. She is a Mass Media Communications Major with a minor in Journalism.

Gone solar, be back never

For anyone who thought solar panels were solely used on the tops of buildings and on farms, get ready to be amazed. Birksun is a fairly new company that produces solar panel backpacks that are designed to charge all electronic needs from organic sunlight.

Photo By Carmen Westra
Photo By Carmen Westra

The only information that I was aware of pertaining to solar panels was limited, I was very skeptical because for one, solar panels are fairly expensive to install, heavy, but also, how the heck would a tiny solar panel efficiently charge a phone, laptop, etc.? Despite my doubts, I really love using alternative energy so I decided to test it out.

Birksun was kind enough to send a bag my way to try out. When my Birksun bag came in the mail, I was so ready to test out the bag to see what it could actually do. First impressions, the bag is very water resistant – meaning the fabric the bag is covered with is a waterproof material that is able to get wet and the zippers are sealed when closed so its perfect for the beach or just a rainy day.

Better yet, the actual panel on the bag is waterproof as well which is super convenient. There is a well-padded, soft laptop sleeve that can hold a 13-15inch laptop. It can hold iPads and other tablets that fit perfectly in the sleeve as well.

I brought the bag to the beach on a sunny day where I resumed to lay it out on my beach towel to begin the charging process. Birksun includes instructions for the fastest and most efficient ways to get power from the bag. It takes a few minutes for the solar panel to warm up and start the charging process and depending on which bag you purchase, will determine how fast the bag will charge the device.

The bag I was testing out on the beach produced around 2% charge every minute it was exposed in the sun. I found it very helpful to connect an external battery to the solar charging device inside the bag so that it would always be charging something even if my phone, iPad, or go pro were already fully charged. Another cool feature of the Birksun bag would be the fact that even if you do not have a device to charge at that exact moment, you can still lie your bag in the sun and it can store up to 1.5 iPhone charges for you to use later.

I love how I can grab a cup of coffee on campus, sit outside the café and lay my bag out while I am working on other things. I never have to worry about being near an outlet because the sun does the work.

Not only is the bag super convenient and looks good, but it is also good for the environment, and who doesn’t love helping Mother Nature out, right?

The light-weight bag also makes it super easy to bring your Birksun any and everywhere you decide to adventure.  

The bags are available in a variety of colors, check out to see the options and to learn more about this awesome company.

Gone Solar, Be Back Never.

Recipe: Six ingredient pancakes

Photo by Vivian Westra
Photo by Vivian Westra

My all time favorite food is pancakes, they’re light, fluffy and delicious. As I was transitioning to a completely vegan diet, I was not ready to give up my favorite food. I tried out many different recipes for vegan pancakes and I have finally found the perfect combination.

Here is what you will need:

~ 1 ¼ cups of all purpose flour

~2 tablespoons of white sugar

~2 teaspoons of baking powder

~½ teaspoon of salt

~ 1 ¼ cup of water

~1 tablespoon of coconut oil


  1. Start by sifting the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. This will help keep the pancakes lump-free.
  2. Mix the coconut oil and water into a small bowl.
  3. Create a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour the wet ingredients in the well and stir.
  4. Heat a pan to medium to high heat and add two spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan and cook until the top of the pancake has bubbles. Flip and then cook until golden brown. Continue this process until all of the batter is used.
  5. Add fruit and maple syrup for extra flavor.

Recipe: The best vegan cookies ever

Photo by Vivian Westra
Photo by Vivian Westra

Prep time:10 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

Total time: 20 mins

Serves: 12-15 cookies

My all time favorite cookies have always been chocolate chip. After becoming vegan for a couple months now, I have not been able to indulge in too many options for cookies. I came across this recipe and I promise they are even better than non-vegan cookies. Even my family cannot taste the difference. Here is what you will need:


½ cup coconut oil

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup almond milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup vegan chocolate chips


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  2. First mix together the coconut oil and brown sugar, then incorporate the almond milk and vanilla. After combining these ingredients, it should come out very watery, this is exactly what it should look like.
  3. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  4. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then fold in the chocolate chips and any other toppings of your choosing.
  5. Roll into tablespoon sized balls and place them on a cookie sheet. There is no need to add any kind of non stick spray because the coconut oil from the cookies will keep them from sticking to the pan. Flatten the cookies a little bit with your palm to help them spread when they bake.
  6. Bake for seven-10 minutes.

20 Things I’ve learned in 20 years

Photo by Vivian Westra

As my birthday creeps around the corner, April to be exact, I found myself reflecting on how much life I have lived and what I have learned from my 20 years in this world. I compiled the key lessons that I have learned these last 20 years and will continue to use moving forward as well.

  1. Hurry Up and Wait:

Maybe this is due to the fact that my mother was in the army and always told me that timeliness was essential to make it in this world, but nonetheless, she was correct.. Being on time makes such an impression to any employer or person in your life. It can better your day resulting in a more productive use of your time.

  1. Stop and Smell the Sunflowers

So many people today forget to enjoy the simple things in life whether it be waking up a few minutes earlier in the morning to enjoy the beauty of the sunrise or the barista at Starbucks accidentally making an extra coffee so you get it for free. It is so important to be able to look at the world we live in and see how much we all take advantage of to be able to ensure that nothing is taken for granted.

  1. Look Up

I noticed this as I began my Freshman year of college; when walking around campus, very few people are not looking at their phone. I found myself doing the same thing for a little while until I noticed how insecure I felt without having my phone in my hand. I used it as an excuse to not interact with those passing by. I recently started putting my phone in my bag as I walk places such as class or the library so that I can enjoy the nature that surrounds me and interact with those around me as well. This has been life-changing as bizarre as that sounds. I now smile more frequently at those that walk past me and am able to see more of my friends that might be passing by. You have forever to be on your phone, soak in the earth when you walk around, don’t take it for granted.

  1. Say Yes

Not trying to quote Jim Carey in the movie “Yes Man” or anything, but say yes more! Take the extra opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. Trying new things is good and it is a great way to meet new people.

  1. Disconnect

My new favorite activity to partake in is to hike, run, or walk without any electronics. Whether that be on my campus or up a mountain, there is something so refreshing when you disconnect yourself from the mobile world. Taking time to meditate, practice yoga, or taking a bath, can change one’s day for the better and help those become more in touch with themselves.

  1. Attentiveness

I learned this throughout middle school and high school, but did not actually take any of it into account until college. I find my mind wandering in classes and lectures that I am required to attend. Not that the subjects that the professors are explaining are necessarily boring per say, but I have always struggled with focusing in school. What I have come to realize is that anything and everything can be related to your life in one way or another, even if it it seems as though it does not. I especially felt this way in my math classes throughout my life, I always knew that I would need basic math skills to count money, do taxes, etc. But, the more advanced mathematics that I was taught, I never tried to remember the formula. What I learned is that all of those things I found useless, it did have an impact on my life in one way or another. Take everything in, it may come in handy one day.

  1. Go with the Flow

I learned this lesson especially from my father, he always stressed, “go with the flow” especially when something went wrong in life, or if I was in an argument with one of my sisters. What I have found is that with those situations that can be brushed off and forgotten within a few days or hours, it is not worth it to make a big deal. This especially helped my when dealing with peers and friends. It is easier to brush small things off and not make situations more difficult, pick your battles or else you’ll be fighting forever.

  1. Spontaneous

I used to always to be scared of everything, boats, planes and heights. I found that being scared of something like that isn’t necessarily a way to keep one safe, rather it has held me back in several situations in my life. I was studying abroad in Costa Rica this past summer, I knew that as a group we planned to go zip-lining. Physical heights never really bothered me, it was dropping from the height that had the impact it has on my stomach. After zip lining, there was a Tarzan swing that everyone was so excited to jump off of. It was incredibly tall and dropped off of a mountain, it terrified me just looking at it. I was set on not participating with the death wish swing and then it made me realize though I am petrified of dropping from far heights, I noticed that I have not actually tried doing something I was scared of since I was a child. I ended up jumping off the swing and it was honestly the scariest thing I have ever done but I am so glad that I did and proved to myself that just because that is one of my fears, doesn’t mean that it can hold me back.

  1. Minimalistic

Society today says that designer items such as bags, shoes and clothing are desirable and owning those types of items will increase your chances of one becoming more accepted into the society that we live in. I used to think that way, there was always a new purse or item that I would always kill for but it would literally break my bank. It took me a while to come to the realization that those things do not add much to your life. If you think about it, what is that item doing for you? Making you more desirable to others around you? If those around you are attracted to you because of. The things that you own, does that make them genuine people that you want to surround yourself with? I’m not implying that having designer things is bad rather, lusting after materialistic items, one after the other while falling into society’s trap of never accepting someone without those things can be very negative.

  1. Are you okay?

It is okay to not be okay. Give yourself and those around you a break and embrace the sad, bad and tragic. Even though these times are not always the best situations to find yourself in, they help you grow as a person and are a part of life, something that cannot be taken aback or prevented. Life happens and so do mistakes, take them in and embrace them even if it seems impossible, go with the flow.

  1. Go the Extra Mile

Having experienced many different types of people and how they interact and what they seem like they are missing in their life, I often stumble upon those that are yearning for something magical in their life. What I mean be magical is that they wish everything would be handed to them, like most people, it is easier to receive what you want rather than actually work for it, which I am guilty of as well. What I have learned is that going the extra mile for those around you or even a stranger can make all of the difference in a person’s life. I try to do one positive thing everyday that I can whether it be paying for the person’s toll or coffee behind me in the drive-through. Going the extra mile can also be going above and beyond for those in your life.

  1. Natural

Body image and appearance are aspects of people’s lives that many have issues with. So many eating disorders are rooted from within and from society. I used to cake my face with pounds of makeup to try and hide my insecurities and the shame I had about myself. Self-acceptance is so hard to attain and those who have accomplished this task are usually a lot happier and embrace life more. I challenged myself the year of 2016 to give up make-up for everyday use and only apply it for special occasions. At first this was so difficult, I despised my skin and how my face looked naked. It scared me how insecure I was without “fixing” my face to what I thought looked decent. As of now, I have only worn make-up a handful of times for particular events and as small as this challenge seems, it has changed my life and my opinion on myself. My skin cleared up so much, and I am growing into loving myself for everything that I am on the inside and out. It is amazing how much makeup can give someone confidence or kill one’s confidence without it. Makeup is an amazing way to express one’s self and help with confidence and self-acceptance, and I’ll always love applying it and seeing the person I can created myself into, but I will never become so dependent on it again to love myself.

  1. Compliment

I’m not going to lie, I love getting compliments on my outfits, makeup and other things about myself. It makes my day every time. I used to never compliment anyone ever, I felt weird doing it. I started speaking my mind about people in a positive way and expressing things I liked about them. I found that the compliments worked both ways, not only would I brighten someone’s day by letting them know I loved something about them, the feeling of seeing someone smile because of something said makes the happiness contagious. Tell people what you’re thinking, you might just make someone’s day.

  1. Learn

Going back on learning and appreciating education, the way to go about life is to look at it as an adventure; you’re constantly learning new things every day whether it be something small or something large. Taking things people say in and soaking it all in can give you a new perspective on something you might of never thought of before. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to talk to as many locals as I can. Talking with those that might have experienced something completely different than yourself can be so interesting. I was in the airport for spring break and started a conversation to this woman next to me and learned she was living in Indonesia while the Second World War was occurring. I had never thought about how other parts of the world were affected by the actions of different countries during that time. I only really thought about Holland, Germany and Poland. She was put into a concentration camp with her mother and was separated from her father and brother for three years. This to me was such an eye opener, you never really know anything about a person unless you ask.

  1. Give back

Giving back can be much more than donating to a local charity or goodwill. Something such as giving care packages out to those living on the street when it is cold or raising money for those less fortunate around the world can make such a difference. Not only should people give back to those around us, we also should give back to the earth that we inhabit. We take so much from the earth and wear it down, plant a tree, recycle, pick up trash if you see it outside. It makes such a difference even if one person starts caring for the earth. It is important to look out for the earth because so many people treat the earth like it is invincible.

  1. Appreciate

I think that appreciation is the lesson that I am most thankful for and something that I am constantly learning everyday that I live. There are so many aspects of life to be grateful for, it is always a constant reminder to myself that there is always someone that has it worse than you, which is why giving back is so important to me. With the that, this isn’t saying that I do not have my days that I feel down and upset, we are all entitled to those. Take everything in and don’t overlook the small things, they may be the most important.

  1. Forgive

It is often common for many people to hold grudges against one another. It is so easy to take something the complete opposite as it was intended by the sender of the message. Like I said earlier, go with the flow, it is better to pick your battles wisely. Forgiveness can be a powerful thing and can make those closer after forgiveness.

  1. Write

My whole life, writing has always been my passion and I journaled every spare second that I had. Writing was my outlet and a way I felt freely to express my true emotions and feelings. After seeing an interview with Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, he stated that you do not really know someone unless you have read inside their mind, like he did with Anne’s diary. This was really interesting and sad to me because he said that the person writing in her diary was not the same person as his daughter he knew. Not that anything she said was horrible, it is just that very few people really open themselves and show their true colors. This encouraged me to write more so that I could learn more about myself and be able to look back and see how I saw the world and those around me.

  1. Confidence

“Confidence is Key.” I’m not sure how many hundred times I have heard this statement. I never really thought that much into it, but growing up, traveling around the world and learning about new cultures really emphasized this saying to me. If you’re comfortable with yourself and embrace yourself, it is easier to be confident and love yourself and those around you. Confidence is such an attractive trait to so many people but is not very common within the human race.

  1. Love

Love is my final lesson learned by twenty, but certainly not the last. Love has so many meanings within it like self-love, loving the earth and all those that inhabit the earth as well. I am not completely finished learning how to love more and better, I still struggle with self-love and accepting some of those around me. For the most part, I try to practice what I believe to be positive for myself and all of those around me. It is so important to find self-love and do what you can to create the life for yourself that you desire. Radiate positivity and you’ll get it back.

Photo by Vivian Westra
Photo by Vivian Westra

Five fun things to do in and around Charlotte

Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Courtesy of Tribune News Service

In the winter, it is always harder to find fun or active things to do to keep busy while it is cold. Living in Charlotte for the past 2 years, I have found a solid list of exciting and adventurous activities to do to keep yourself and your friends busy during these cold winter months.

  1. Venture out and find a new favorite coffee shop: one of my favorite things to do in Charlotte is discovering new cafes to try. Some of my favorites are The Smelly Cat, The Daily Press, and Amelie’s. I love going to the Smelly Cat whenever I want a quiet relaxing atmosphere just to think or study. The Daily Press is great when you want to try a new type of coffee or a unique pastry. Amelie’s is perfect when you are having a late night or sweet craving, it has everything from macaroons to cakes. Amelie’s is also perfect for studying because it is open 24 hours which is a great bonus.
  2. Defy Gravity: one of my favorite activities to do on a rainy day is to go to Defy Gravity, the trampoline park. It is such a nice way to be active when the weather is not the best and it is also so much fun to go with friends. Defy gravity also has workout classes every night which is a nice way to incorporate exercise and fun.
  3. Hike: My favorite place to hike in Charlotte is Crowder’s Mountain. I love inviting a group of my friends to go hiking and have great conversations while enjoying nature. The hike is about an hour to the top and less than an hour back down. The view is so beautiful, especially when the sun is rising or setting.
  4. Watch the Sunrise or Sunset: my absolute favorite thing to do on campus is to go to the top of one of the parking decks and and either watch the sunrise or sunset. It is such a beautiful and relaxing view to watch.
  5. Studio Movie Grill: I love going to dinner then watching a movie, but I absolutely love going to the Studio Movie Grill in the epicenter to do them at the same time. The food is phenomenal and they have endless options from desserts to pizza to fish and chips. The prices are very reasonable and is one of my favorite ways to spend a Thursday night.

Recipe: Zoodles

Photo by Vivian Westra
Photo by Vivian Westra

My all time favorite food is spaghetti. Every time I go home, that is the meal I always look forward to. As a part of my New Years resolution, I’m holding myself accountable to cut back on my pasta intake because I consume way too much. Over the holidays, I received the most amazing kitchen tool, and it’s called a “Spirializer.” The Spirializer can turn any vegetable into “noodles” like potatoes, zucchini and beets. I decided to try making my favorite meal into a healthy alternative to pasta. Here is what you will need:

  • Zucchini
  • Tomato sauce
  • Corn
  • Sprouts
  • Spices
  • Nutritional Yeast

Directions: To start out, take your tomato sauce and heat it up in a pot on medium heat. Take your Spirializer and spirialize your zucchini. After the sauce is heated up, add the spices of your choice, such as oregano, pepper and salt. Pour the tomato sauce on the “zoodles” and add the sprouts, corn and top with nutritional yeast for an amazing cheese alternative. Bon Appetite.

Recipe: Healthy pesto pasta

Photo by Carmen Westra
Photo by Carmen Westra

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to eat healthier and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my diet. One of my all-time favorite meals has to be pasta. I usually have pasta a couple times a week, which isn’t the healthiest of foods, so I was looking online the other day for healthy ways to make pasta. I came across a pesto pasta recipe that looked absolutely delicious and tasted even better.

Here is what you will need:

– Whole Grain Pasta
– 2 Avocados
– Fresh Basil
– Minced Garlic
– Cherry Tomatoes
– Corn
– Nutritional Yeast
– Chickpeas

Start a pot of boiling water and cook pasta. Blend together the avocado and chickpeas. After the avocado and chickpeas are blended together, incorporate the basil and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. After the pasta is finished cooking, mix the pasta and avocado paste. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and mix them with the corn and add to the mixture. For a healthy alternative to cheese, sprinkle some nutritional yeast on the pasta to top it off.

Eight tips to keeping your New Year’s resolutions

Photo by Nicole Buckenham
Photo by Nicole Buckenham

Be realistic

When picking what your new year’s resolution is going to be, keep in mind what your body and mind is capable of doing. Be realistic with yourself. It’s realistic you want to work out, but starting off by working out every single day is going to be almost impossible. Also, keep your budget in mind. If your new goal for the new you is going to be costly, think about what you can afford and what you cannot. Think about if your new year’s resolutions fit who you are as a person. Don’t try to do something that does not seem like yourself or is too out of reach.

Plan it out

A good way to get you going to keeping your new year’s resolution is to plan it out from the get go. If you outline what you’re going to do, it gives you a good starting point and a track to follow to succeeding. Try writing down in your calendar what days you are going to work on your goals and what days you are going to take a break. Invest in a good planner where you can write details of what you’re going to do and how you are going to do it. If the goal is to eat healthier, try to make a grocery list to help plan meals for the week so that you are not left to resort to unhealthy options

Get an app

 There is an app for most anything, so if it relates to your resolution, download it. A couple favorites are: LoseIt! For optimal food tracking and Mint for finance tracking. These apps will definitely help attain goals.

Track your progress

Tracking how you do toward keeping your resolution can really give you the motivation to continue to do well. Also, if you do not track your progress you will never know how far along you really are. A good way to do this is by cutting up sticky notes into small, rectangular pieces and sticking them on the side of a door numbered with each day of the week on them. Every day you do something involving your goal, rip off a sticky note that corresponds to that day. That way you have a visual of how well you are doing or how well you aren’t doing. It will also look good seeing how many sticky notes you have left and how much closer you are to completing whatever you want to do for the New Year.

Talk about it

Don’t keep your resolutions a secret. Talk to friends and family about what you want to accomplish. Social accountability always helps. Having people help motivate and keep you on track is always ideal, better yet, having a friend or family member wanting to achieve the same or similar goal will give you someone to work together with.

Reward/Punish Yourself

Rewarding yourself and punishing yourself for how well you are doing on your way to sticking to your new year’s resolutions is key. Every time you do something good or see progress in what you’re doing, reward yourself. Think of what you love the most or love to do, then do it. Only do not eat unhealthy food if that’s what your goal is for the New Year. If you do badly at trying to keep your goals, do something to punish yourself. A way to do this is write down different things to embarrass yourself on small pieces of paper or if you’re goal is to work out, write down intense workouts and draw the slips of paper from a bowl. Rewarding yourself and taking things away are a great way to make sure you stick with your New Year resolutions.

Let yourself mess up

 Changing behavior is truly a challenging task. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have a slip up here and there. As long as you get up and continue your goals, you will be fine. If you get derailed, reframe it as a learning experience for next time.

Keep on Going

Lastly, the most important thing when it comes to keeping your New Year resolutions is to keep going. Do not beat yourself up about it too badly if one day does not go as planned. It takes about a month to start a habit, so results are not going to happen overnight. Always think about why you started, that should be your motivation. Read inspirational quotes and look at motivational pictures. Get advice from others because talking about what you want to do will make a big difference. The more you tell people about your goals, the more they are going to want to support you. Just keep sticking to it until you see the slightest bit of improvement, because then it will just keep getting easier from that point on. Just keep going and do not give up no matter how hard the road may seem. The results are going to be worth it in the end.

Local Wonders: The Smelly Cat Cafe

Photo by Carmen Westra
Photo by Carmen Westra

Local Gems are always great to stumble upon, especially if it is completely by accident. I was strolling around NoDa the other week and randomly walked into The Smelly Cat Cafe. It looked stylish from the outside with all of the artwork on the building and when I walked in it had such a relaxed atmosphere along with it. I was exploring NoDa with one of my friends and we had never heard of this cafe before, so we asked the owner what the best drinks on the menu were and ordered those. My friend and I ordered a Vanilla Chai tea, a caramel latte and a slice of zucchini bread. They were all phenomenal. I am a big tea lover, so every time I try a new cafe I always order a vanilla chai. All I can say is that this is my new favorite place to grab my morning tea. It was brewed well enough that I don’t think I can go back to Starbucks. There are so many amazing local teas and spices at the Smelly Cat that I don’t think Starbucks can compare to at all.

One of my favorite aspects of the Smelly Cat would have to be how approachable and nice the staff is. As we walked in, we were greeted immediately and they made us feel like we were right at home.

Another aspect I loved about the Smelly Cat would be the location. It is in such an interesting and beautiful part of town. It is the perfect pit stop in NoDa and has a great selection of food and beverages for everyone. I really enjoyed that they offered delicious vegan and vegetarian options with their pastries and other foods. The Smelly Cat also offers Vegan beverages as well—all they do is substitute the milk with almond milk and it tastes the same, if not better.

Overall, I had an amazing experience with this amazing cafe. From the outstanding customer service, to the perfectly crafted drinks, I highly recommend stopping in the Smelly Cat the next time you find yourself in NoDa.

49er fall checklist

Photo by Carmen Westra
Photo by Carmen Westra

With Autumn already here, try something new this season.

  1. Go to the Pumpkin Patch
  2. Make Pumpkin Bread
  3. Try Pumpkin coffee at a local cafe like the Smelly Cat or The Daily Press
  4. Have a bake-in with friends
  5. Go to Scarowinds
  6. Change your hair
  7. Try a new fashion trend
  8. Carve a pumpkin
  9. Paint a pumpkin
  10. Bake pumpkin cookies
  11. Plan a harvest party
  12. Throw a Halloween party
  13. Hike Crowder’s Mountain
  14. Visit a corn maze
  15. Drink apple cider
  16. Make a bonfire
  17. Go apple picking
  18. Read a new book
  19. Make apple and pumpkin pie
  20. Paint pinecones
  21. Go exploring
  22. Roast pumpkin seeds
  23. Go camping
  24. Go to a haunted house
  25. Listen to the Charlotte Symphony
  26. Grave diggers Concert
  27. Watch the stars
  28. Try a new recipe
  29. Make your own Halloween costume
  30. Make candy apples
  31. Donate to the food bank
  32. Build a scarecrow
  33. Have a photoshoot with friends
  34. Make leave art
  35. Eat candy corn
  36. Make pumpkin soup
  37. Go on a haunted trail
  38. Visit an Oktoberfest
  39. Go on a hayride
  40. Wear orange
  41. Explore NoDa
  42. Volunteer at the animal shelter
  43. Go on a road-trip
  44. Have a Fall Picnic
  45. Watch Halloween movies
  46. Eat pumpkin s’mores
  47. Make a fall playlist
  48. Go to a football game
  49. Give thanks

    Photo by Carmen Westra
    Photo by Carmen Westra


DIY: Sunflower Monogram

Photo by Carmen Westra
Photo by Carmen Westra

Wanting cute and unique décor in your room can add up fast. As the school year kept creeping up, I was struggling with how I wanted to go about decorating my room. I was in AC Moore the other day and saw wooden letters for just a dollar apiece. I had previously looked online to buy cute decorations and found a sunflower monogram for $60, which is completely ridiculous! So I decided to make my own for $10.

The first thing you will need are letters. I purchased mine from AC Moore for a dollar a piece. AC Moore is always having end of season sales and coupons so it should be very easy to find the supplies. A or eBay will have similar items, sometimes even cheaper. The next thing you will need is a hot glue gun. I does not matter what kind, I got mine from Walmart for a couple of dollars. The final item you will need is the decoration you want to cover your letters in. I chose sunflowers because they are personally my favorite, but you can use anything you’d like.

You will need to make sure that the back of the sunflowers or decorations are flat. If not, trim the stems off and make sure they lay flat on the letters.

After arranging the flowers or whatever you decide to decorate the letters with, simply glue them in any desirable fashion. On mine, I did the “C” and the “V” completely covered in flowers and just did a section going across for the “W.” Let the letters set overnight so they are completely dry before hanging them up.

I personally love the way these turned out and I like them even better than the ones that I had found online. This is a perfect gift idea for any friend or family member and won’t break your wallet. This DIY is also very versatile because the possibilities are endless when it comes to things to decorate. such as sorority letters, monograms, and even notebooks or frames.

Welcome to The Flying Saucer

The Flying Saucer has 82 beers on tap and regularly switches them out for new brews. Photo by Ben Robson
The Flying Saucer has 82 beers on tap and regularly switches them out for new brews. Photo by Ben Robson

The Flying Saucer is a beer lover’s delight and a great place to be surrounded by people who value craft beer and a good time. The Flying Saucer has been in Charlotte for over 13 years and counting with still growing success. The Flying Saucer offers 82 beers on tap, constantly switching them up and introducing new brands. General Manager Erik Hodgeman explained how each Flying Saucer location was unique because of the atmosphere and personalities of the customers, which makes it exciting to try visiting different locations. The bar is a great place to meet other beer lovers and have a great time playing darts or dominating trivia nights.

My first impression of the bar was comfortable. As I walked in, I already felt like I belonged and the atmosphere was so friendly. There were many unique aspects of the bar– such as their décor. The first thing everyone notices as they walk in is the abundance of saucers hanging on the walls and ceiling. They are packed in so tightly it looks like there are no open spaces.

The Flying Saucer’s unique name comes from its UFO Club membership. Signing up only costs $18 and members receive a T-shirt and a personal magnetic card to keep track of the beers they have tried. After a member tries 200 different beers on tap, they are put in the “Ring of Honor.” This basically means that you will now have a “flying saucer” on the wall with your name on it in honor of your achievement. The members’ names are permanently on the Flying Saucer’s wall and the color of the ring changes each time a member tries an additional 200 different beers.

Besides the saucers on the wall and ceiling, there are many other unique decorations in the bar. The entire wall that holds the beer taps is covered in shiny pennies, which gives off a really nice look and ties very well in with the saucers.

The Saucer Bratzel. Photo by Vivian Westra
The Saucer Bratzel. Photo by Vivian Westra

Not only does the Flying Saucer have a great beer selection, they are also famous for their great pub food. They have everything from salads to pizzas. I taste tested a couple of appetizers including the “Saucer Bratzel,” which is a freshly baked soft pretzel with melted swiss cheese, sliced beer bratwurst and green onions. The pretzel was perfectly soft and had amazing flavor. I really enjoyed the pretzel because it went well so well with all of the drinks and it is also a customer favorite.

The second appetizer I sampled was the “Loaded Rocket-Tots,” which are jalapeno potato tots topped with cheddar-jack, goat cheese, bacon, green onions and a fried egg. I was a bit hesitant on trying this plate because I did not think that goat cheese and bacon would go well together, but all of the ingredients incorporated together created such a great taste, and I now see why this is also a very popular dish at the Flying Saucer. 

After I sampled the appetizers, I ordered their very popular, “Lauren’s Goat Cheese Salad,” which has spring mix greens, cranberries, goat cheese, tomatoes, walnuts, red onions and a balsamic vinaigrette. All of the components of the salad worked beautifully together to create a rich and flavorful plate. I loved how fresh all parts of the salad were and highly recommend the salad to anyone who has dietary restrictions or is a vegetarian. The Flying Saucer provides tons of variety and options in their menu so there are definitely options for everyone.

My overall experience at the Flying Saucer was phenomenal. It was so interesting to be in an environment that was so influenced by their customers and that gave off positive energy. I highly recommend trying out the Flying Saucer next time you want to try amazing food, meet really cool people and drink quality craft beers.

Opinions from the editors

Calling all notorious anything-but-beer drinkers, the Flying Saucer has certainly not forgotten about you! Personally, I love the bar scene, but have a hard time finding drinks that I actually enjoy drinking — and spending money on.

After telling the manager how picky I was, he eagerly brought me two drinks that he recommends to us more hard to please drinkers. The first beer I tried was a Ginger Cider by Windy Hill. This beer looked and tasted more like wine, so naturally, I loved it.

The other drink was a specialty concoction called Humming Bird Water. This beverage was a dark shade of pink/red and had a gentle kick to it. I highly recommend both to anyone who struggles to like beer and still wants to fit in at the bar.   

-Community Editor Alyssa Fronk

If you’re already a fan of craft beer or just want to see what all the fuss is about, the Flying Saucer is the place to go. The full beer list is so expansive, you can’t help but be overwhelmed at first.

Patrons can also order a custom flight of five beer samples to experience the most variety with relatively low cost. The combination that Erik Hodgeman created for me had me feeling like fall was in the air.

I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin flavored goods, but Dogfish Head Punkin Ale and NoDa Gordgeous are undeniably great pairs for a cool fall day. But if you want a boozey beer that’s going to warm you up and sit you down, Double Barley’s Steak Cake Stout or New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk (aged in a bourbon barrel) will certainly do the trick.

They’ve got something for everyone.

-Editor-in-Chief Jordan Snyder

Foodie Friday: smoothie bowls

I have been wanting to find a delicious, filling and healthy meal to indulge in for the morning and I have finally found the best recipes for smoothie bowls. Smoothie bowls are all of the rage now and are so easy to customize and really make your own. One of my favorite things about smoothie bowls is how easy and fast they are to prepare. Also, if I am ever in a rush, I just put my smoothie in a mason jar, put my toppings on, and bring a spoon to eat on the go!

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Green Smoothie Bowl:


  • 1 sliced banana, preferably frozen
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 1-2 handfuls spinach
  • 1-2 handfuls kale

Directions: Blend all ingredients then pour into bowl, then sprinkle the toppings of your choice.


  • Granola
  • Goji berries
  • Cacao nibs
  • Drizzled Almond Butter
  • Drizzled Tahini
  • Sliced banana
  • Frozen Fruit
  • Chia Seeds
  • Mixed seeds
Photo 1 (5)
Photo by Vivian Westra


Blueberry Bowl:


  • 2 cups of blueberries
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • 1 ½ cups of oats soaked overnight
  • 1 vanilla bean scraped, or just vanilla extract
  • maple syrup or raw honey


  • goji berries
  • flaked almonds
  • hemp seeds
  • chia seeds
  • toasted coconut

After incorporating all of the ingredients, blend them together and pour into bowl, the finish off with the toppings of your choice.

Thirsty Thursday: make your own caramel macchiato

One of Starbucks’ most popular drinks is definitely the Caramel Macchiato for the summer and winter. I know that it is my favorite drink to indulge in, especially the hot version.

I used to always go to Starbucks first thing in the morning before class and spend all of my DB on Caramel Macchiatos until I found an easy recipe to follow to do it yourself:

What you will need:

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 tbs. ground espresso beans
  • 1 cup water
  • Vanilla syrup (1 oz. for every 8 oz. milk)
  • Caramel syrup
Photo 1 (6)
Photo by Vivian Westra



  • Heating the milk: Fill a pot with 3/4 cup of milk. Place a thermometer inside of the pot. Steam milk to 165 degrees. (which is almost boiling.)
  • Place a steam wand diagonally below the surface of the milk. This will make the froth for the Caramel Macchiato.
  • Tamp the ground espresso into the head and lock it into position on a espresso machine. Use 4 tablespoons of ground coffee and 1 cup water in coffee pot.
  • Pour your steamed milk over the the flavoring leaving 2 inches for froth at the top.
  • Use a metal cooking whip to foam the milk. Scoop froth over your milk until you’re 1 inch from the rim. Pour your shots over the froth. Drizzle caramel syrup over the froth.

If you are in a hurry, you can always use whipped cream as well instead of foam. This delicious drink is also very tasty over ice if you prefer cold drinks.