Schela Cladovei Excavation: Part II

The past speaks to us in a thousand voices, warning and comforting, animating and stirring to action.
– Felix Adler 

Often times, there’s nothing but soil. A lot of times there’s just soil. But sometimes, you get to be the first person to see something in 6000 years. Most times it’s pottery or stone. Sometimes with the right conditions it can be organic material. But again, you have to be in the right spot at the right time. A lot of archaeology can be surveyed and mapped, but a lot still comes down to luck.

I got lucky this excavation. I got super lucky.

About two weeks into the dig, with thunderheads looming across the Danube and a clear rain shadow in Serbia, we were pressed to finish our squares before the storm drove us out. I was nearly done with my square when I realized I had something at the edge continuing into the next section. It looked like a distal end of a bone. I alerted one of the dig supervisors, a professor from Bucharest. With one glance at the bone she said, ‘Human.’

I looked back to section of bone sticking from my square. That was a person. Then I looked to the square next to it. I didn’t know how far the bone extended into the next square, if it did at all. For all I knew the bone was broken. But, it might not be.

The storm rolled across the Danube and we rushed the equipment back to the dig house. The next day we returned to the site and I was given the next square. Carefully I started to scrap at the surface with my trowel, peeling back layers of soil. The bone kept getting longer and longer. No breaks.

It turned out to be a fully intact femur, except for wear on the distal and proximal ends. It was short, belonging to a sub-adult.

A teenager from the Neolithic.

During finds processing, I carefully scrubbed 6000 years of dirt off it with an old toothbrush. If I’m completely honest, it was disorienting. This person had died in the Neolithic, some odd 6000 years ago. Who they were will remain anonymous. Their age can be estimated by size of the bone, but not their sex. Sexual dimorphism is really only present in the pelvic and sometimes cranium bones. I’d like to think they were female, a teenage girl like me, but again there’s no way of knowing.

What I did know is this was once a person. Alive. They died young. I’d like to think they were missed. But they had been lost to time. Forgotten. Their burial disturbed by a later feature, leaving their bones disarticulated until some amateur archaeologist from Kansas stumbled upon one of their 206.  Their femur of all their bones as well.  Where had this person walked?  Where had they traveled?

I’ll never know their full story, and it’s their anonymity that is so frustrating but irresistible at the same time. Where was the rest of them, the other 205 bones that once made up this person? They might be deeper in the trench. They might be gone. It’s the archaeological enigma.

I believe that archaeologists who excavate with the intent of finding out the whole truth will never be satisfied. The ones who recognize they can only catch quick glances into the past are the ones who succeed.  The same could be said of today’s people. We will never fully understand everything. Hell, I barely understand my own days sometimes. But, we can catch glances.  It’s about holding onto the small details in life and using those to make the bigger picture, with each memory connected like a spider’s web.

I think archaeology is not so much about discovery as it is about memory – the human memory. It’s about uncovering the memory of the past.  Personally, I don’t believe things are so much lost as they are forgotten. Whom ever the bone belonged to is long gone, but they are still communicating with us. Their bone can tell us about who they were and the world they lived in. It’s like a fragment of Sappho’s poetry, the broken lines already so telling and beautiful.  We are left wanting more, but to our bitter disappointment we have nothing else.

It is one of the many things I believe the ancient Egyptians got right. They believed so long as the memory of a person survives they will live on forever.  I know that my 3 weeks in Romania was but a small part in the greater scheme of understanding Romanian prehistory.  But, as I looked down to the bone I held in my hand, a gracile reminder of a human life, I got my glimpse into the past.  A glimpse that once again gave a voice to whomever that person was.

And, honestly knowing my luck that person was probably some bratty Neolithic teenager.



Schela Cladovei Excavation 2k16: Part I


I’m back in Edinburgh after spending the last three weeks in Romania on my first archaeological excavation.

Just to recap: the excavation was based in Schela Cladovei, a Mesolithic/Neolithic settlement on the banks of the Danube in southern Romania (basically on the border between Romania and Serbia).  Located in the region known as the Iron Gates, Schela Cladovei had been a primary location of fishers and early farmers.  Other history in the region included battles between the Romans under Emperor Trajan and the Dacians were Trajan built a pontoon bridge across the Danube #nbd.

So here goes the longest blog post ever. I’m actually going to split this into two parts.  This will be the boring  ‘this is what I did part.’ Part two is the touchy-feely ‘I’m going to cry about old things’ part… coming soon.

The trip started out on May 21.  A group of us flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow and then onto Bucharest (the capital of Romania).  Our flight arrived at 12:05 AM, with the train to the city centre at 8:40 AM.  It was a long wait. (Read: I spent 6 hours sleeping on a plastic chair in the Bucharest airport and it wasn’t even a nice chair. It had one of those annoying hand rails between each chair and they were attached.  Like who does that?)


Finally when the sun came up we got to a smaller train station and boarded a train that would take us to Gara Nord, the central station in Bucharest.  From Gara Nord we took the 10:40 AM train to Drobeta Turnu-Severin, the larger town near Schela.  The train was a six hour journey through southern Romania.  Everyone was super tired and tried to sleep, but it was really hot and stuffy on the carriage so I got maybe 2 broken hours of sleep.  The train was also delayed by 2 hours.

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However, we finally made it to the dig house in Schela.  I had hit the ’24 hours of travel’ mark long, long ago on the train so I went right to sleep.

Our first morning of the excavation started with a quick lecture about the logistics and history of the site.  Then we walked down to the river so uncover the site.  We removed polystyrene blocks and tarps to uncover the trench.  The trench was a large square divided into metre squares, five long (509, 510, 511, 512, 513) and five wide (Q, R, S, T, U).  Those metre squares were then divided into four labeled from left to right (A, B, C, D). So squares would be labeled for example Q509A – row Q, metre square 509, box square A.

The trench had a mixture of dark soil and yellowish soil.  Dark soil is an indication of a ‘feature’ basically archaeological terms for ‘something did something here to disrupt the soil.’ Yellow soil is the undisrupted soil.

We started excavations the next day.  Our daily schedule started at alarms at 6 AM.  We left the dig house at 6:50 to be on site at 7:00.  We set up the equipment and worked until 8:30.  Breakfast was brought to site by a local Romanian woman who lived near the site.  It consisted of really, really, really, good fried egg bread and usually some meats, cheeses, and spreads.  A few days we got warm loaves of bread.  She also brought really good coffee that definitely was strong enough to snap anyone out of being tired.  We worked until 11 AM and then took a break for water/food/sunscreen until 11:30.  Then we went back to work until 1 PM.

The weather in Romania is really humid this time of year.  It’s also really hot with temperatures reaching 32C.  We started early to avoid working in the hottest parts of the day.

After returning to the dig house we had a break for lunch/showers/sleeping until 4.30 PM.  At 4.30 PM, we started cleaning our finds from the day or sorting dry finds.  This was a really fun part of the day because often times when you excavate you can’t really tell what you find because it’s so covered in mud… you just know that you’ve found something.

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Dinner was a 7 PM.  It was usually cooked by the same woman who brought breakfast to the site.  After dinner, everyone usually just went back up to the rooms to chat and relax before going to sleep.  The days were very long and often everyone would be asleep by 10 PM.

We had Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday off.  Usually we hung about on Saturdays and would go into town for shopping trips on Sundays.  We actually went to the cinema one weekend to see the new X-Men film.  It was still in english but had Romanian subtitles.

And then the day repeats for three weeks.  It was awesome.


It never got boring though.  We learned how to excavate, wet sieve, do floatation, take levels, and work the EDM.  Each day different people were doing different tasks.  Excavation involved working in the trench.  Our task for the 3 weeks was to dig 5 cm down from level 19 to level 20.  Wet sieving used a pump and  drum to pump water from the Danube to wash away mud from smaller finds like tiny bits of bone and pottery.  Floatation works similar to wet sieving except that you have to use two sieves to collect fine pollen or seed particulates that would have just been floated out of the drum.  For this we worked with a archaeo-botanist from the University of Belgrade in Serbia.  In August, she will return to Bucharest to analyse the samples.  From the sample she will be able to tell what sort of plants (both wild and domestic) grew in the area.  Taking levels involved working with the dumpy level to tell how much deeper you would need to excavate.  And lastly, the EDM is used to the set the crosses of the squares to make sure that the trench remains consistent.

Besides the dig we got a chance to go out and see parts of Romania.  During our last week we spend some time in the Old Town of Drobeta where we got to see a 16c Romanian Castle.

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We also took a boat trip down the Danube to see sites that had been flooded when the two hydroelectric dams (Iron Gate I and Iron Gates II) had been built.  The dams are actually one of the reasons why Schela is so important, because it is one of the few sites that has not been submerged by the rising water levels.  ALSO! Hi, fellow mountain climbing friends… don’t know how clear the photos are but the Iron Gates are home to some cool looking limestone walls that probably would have some great climbs.

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We also stopped at a cave that had been used by the Austro-Hungarians in the 19c as a border fort between them and the Ottoman Turks.

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We left the dig house on June 10 and took the 9:30 AM train back to Bucharest.  My flight back was at 5:10 the next day and there was not a day-of train that would have gotten us back on time.  So we decided to spend the evening in seeing Bucharest.  Bucharest is a really cool city, but it’s very contradicting.  The Old Town of Bucharest resembles the streets of Paris is its grand buildings, but you can definitely see leftover Soviet buildings.  Remember: Romania was part of the Eastern Bloc until the Romanian Revolution in 1989. However, walking the streets of Bucharest you can really tell that Romania has pushed to become more Western and remove any trace of being a Soviet Satellite.

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Also side note: in Captain America: Civil War, Bucky is hiding out in Bucharest.  There were, unfortunately no Winter Soldier sightings.

Our travels back to Edinburgh where a tad stressful with a delay in Bucharest that pushed our flight in Heathrow to a bit of a sprint.  But, we made it back.  When I got off the plane in Edinburgh the temperature was 12C with a heavy rainy overcast.  It was glorious.

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It was a lot of hard work and the weather varied (I GOT TO SEE THUNDERSTORMS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 7 MONTHS I AM ALIVE!)  but I really enjoyed my time on site.  Finds included a variety of pottery, stone, and both animal and human bones (more on human bones later…).  It was a really incredible time and cannot be more thankful for this opportunity.  I am so excited to see what the next three summers have.

Okay. Stay tuned for a really awesome post about a super cool find that I had the chance to excavate!!! Tears ensured.

(Also side note… I realised that I’m wearing my black and white striped shirt in a lot of these photos… I swear I showered and did laundry!! I’m not a gross human.)

scotland soundtrack #13 + story time


Tomorrow, I fly to Romania for my first archaeological excavation.  Honestly, everything has lead to this moment – becoming an archaeologist has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.

Okay, story time.

When I probably six or seven one of my favourite books was this huge picture book that showed the progression of a single street over time.  Each page was a different time period from early prehistory to the present.  I remember looking at how the street changed between pages but also what remained the same – noting the archaeological strata because even then I was a huge nerd.  Flash forward a few years and I’m digging in my mom’s flower bed when I discovered an old piece of ceramic pipe.  (I used to live in an old Victorian house in downtown Lawrence.) I remember showing the pipe to my family, clearly thinking it was coolest thing in the world.  I guess, that was the beginning of the archaeology bug… and it caught on faster than the Bubonic Plague.

I checked out books from the library about Egypt, Greece, and Rome and read each cover to cover.  Then I moved to the Middle Ages.  I even started collecting spare change in an old milk carton so that one day I could travel to Europe and see the pictures in the books in real life.  I remember going to a museum with my grandmother and coming face to face with my first mummy.  Maybe it was morbid, but I couldn’t look away.  That was a person.  A person with a story and a past and a life.  A person that lived thousands of years ago.  I wanted to know everything about them.

But anyway… I think you get the point that I really, really, really love what I study.

Which is why I applied to Edinburgh and thank God I got in.  So, for no reason other than I really like what I wrote/I leave for my first archaeological excavation tomorrow and I think it clearly articulates what a huge f*cking nerd I am – here’s my personal statement I submitted in my UCAS application.

Throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome, I made a promise to the Numenii to become an archaeologist.  My last night in Italy, I stayed awake listening to Florence’s Duomo and I knew there was no other option.

Living an ocean away from what I love is difficult.  I can get close, but never close enough.  After reading about the bog bodies of Northern Europe, I wanted to understand bog mummification.  With the nearest bog 4,000 miles away, I made my own.  Researching the science of the bogs, I learned about the micro-environments that cause different strata of preservation.  I mixed together peat, lime, and water to create my bogs.  By using chickens from my local grocery store, I chronicled the process of mummification.  After two months, I exhumed my chickens.  They looked the same.  I had recreated the bogs in Lawrence, Kansas.  In those moments, history comes alive, even though I am far from it.

Research and experimentation can get me close, but nothing compares to the real thing.  I have wanted to travel abroad for a long time. Yes, I am guilty of taking virtual tours of historical sites on Google Earth.  In 2013, I went to Italy.  Standing in the Amphitheater at Pompeii, I wept.  I could hear the trumpets frozen there since 79 AD.  Walking in Pompeii, I was connected to people thousands, of years ago.  In Cumae, I stood in the same place as Virgil’s Sybil, a girl the same age as myself, and read the ‘Aeneid’.  At the Sistine Chapel, I could envision Michelangelo painting in the rafters.  Until then, history had been in black and white.  Now, it was in Technicolor.

Back in Kansas, I was homesick for Italy.  For so long, I have felt out of place, out of time; finally I had found somewhere I belonged and could connect.    

My coin in the Trevi has been my motivation.  I have a published book entitled ‘Amelia and the Heroes of Old.’  In 2011, I was recognized by our Governor as one of Kansas’s Outstanding Authors at the Kansas Book Festival.  I have written comprehensive papers on the longbowmen and their contribution to representative government in medieval England.  In order to understand the sources, I learned to shoot a longbow.  History came alive the moment my fletched arrows flew just like the yeoman of Crecy, Pointers, and the armies of King Henry V on the muddy fields of Agincourt.  Thumbing through declassified CIA Documents, I created a documentary about TPAJAX, the Anglo-American involvement in the 1953 Iranian Coup.  My documentary was an alternate for the National History Day Competition in Washington DC.  In Italy, I gave a report at the Temple of Vesta.  For so long, I had studied the temple.  It was a dream to be giving my report while walking the same path as the Vestal Virgins.  In March, I will be in Greece and do the same at the Temple of Athena Nike.

I am fourth in my class with a weighted GPA of 4.063.  I am Senior Class Secretary, three time Latin Club President, two time member on the Kansas Junior Classical League (KJCL) Council, and a member of Young Feminists Club.  From KJCL, I have awards in Roman Culture, History, Myth, Art, and the National Latin Exam.  This is my fourth year of Latin.  I have also taken one year of Ancient Greek.  Lastly, I am a second degree black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do and a Varsity letterman in Pole Vault, Cross Country, and Basketball. 

I have never wanted anything as much as I want to be an archaeologist.  I think about my coin in the Trevi everyday and I know that each day I am one step closer.

Story Mode 25% Complete

And, that’s first year.

This Wednesday, I had my last exam at 9:30 AM.  I finished by 11 AM – bringing my first year at the University of Edinburgh to a close.  What. A. Year.

After I handed in my script books, I went to grab a coffee at Black Medicine.  Sinking into the comfy couch in the basement I thought about just how much I’ve enjoyed this year.  I study what I love at a world class university and I’ve gotten to do and see some other pretty cool stuff.  I’ve gone camping and climbing in Scotland and Spain, gotten involved volunteering at the National Museum, and met some amazing new friends.  And, the best part is I’ve still got three more years.  (If this was a video game, like, oh, I don’t know… Tomb Raider, I would say the uni story mode is 25% complete.)

That afternoon, I went climbing with my three flatmates come September and then to Teviot for burgers and drinks.  It was a great way to celebrate the ending of exams.  And Wednesday evening was spent reading and crying over Marvel comics (I’m still really distraught about the ending to Winter Soldier #14) .

Just to recap the year, all my classes this year were wonderful.  I got to get right into archaeology and history courses (no maths!!!!!).  I enjoyed every lecture and the tutorial discussions always made me think or see the subject in a different way.  I know I’ve said this before, like a gazillion times, but seriously coming to Edinburgh Uni was the best decision of my life.  It was a bit of a tough decision to pack up and move to Scotland, but I haven’t looked back.  There wasn’t much for me in Kansas, I knew I had to go somewhere else to get where I wanted.

And because I know everyone is going to ask: my favourite thing about living/studying at Edinburgh is being able to make connections between my classes and real life.  Basically, studying something in class and being able to go out and see it in real life.  This happens all the time in Edinburgh but also on EUMC meets (eg. the Lakes District meet where I got to walk to a Roman Fort). I spent so much of my time growing up reading books or just looking at pictures of things I studied, actually being able to go and see something in person is… well, woah.

My least favourite thing about living/studying in Edinburgh is that fact that this country does not have white cheddar cheez-its. Shameful.

But… it’s not over yet.  I won’t actually be returning to Kansas until the middle of June.  As a first year archaeology student I’m required to undertake at least three weeks of fieldwork my first summer.  So, this Saturday it’s off to Romania.  I’ll be in Romania for just over 21 days and then it’s back to Edinburgh to rest up and do laundry… and then finally back to Kansas.

I’ve been packing up my room over the last week with nearly all my things moved over to the flat to be stored for the summer.  I’ve just got the bare minimum with me still at Pollock.  I’m actually moving out tomorrow morning.  I’m really excited to finally be moving out of halls and into a real flat, but I will miss the view from my window of the crags and how close I am to Holyrood Park.  I’m still debating on whether to take a cab or just carry the last of my stuff over, it’s barely anything but I will be carrying a lamp.  But, I mean, I’ve seen stranger things than people carrying a couple duffles and lamp around Edinburgh.

Finally, if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m really going to miss Edinburgh this summer.  I’ll only be away for 2 months but that really seems like a long time.  The city has its own personality to it and I’ve really fallen into the swing of my new life here.  That and it’s going to be really strange going back home and not being able to go out for drinks with friends.  But, I am glad to be able to see Rory and my family.

So that’s about all for now.  I don’t know how good the WIFI will be in Romania (the site is literally out in the middle of nowhere on the Romanian/Serbian border) but I’ll be keeping a log for the excavation and try to post photos on Instagram when I can.  Best advice is to just keeping watching this space.

– Kenn

scotland soundtrack #12 + poetry

Okay, okay, okay. I promised myself I wouldn’t get sentimental about the end of the year because, let’s face it I’ve barely scratched the surface of my time at university… but because I’m a try-hard intrepid loser I still get emotional about the passage of time.

So here’s a playlist about general human reactions to change and the passage of time with the added bonus of some poetry by Natasha Trethewey.  We did a huge unit on her poetry in my AP Lit class my senior year and I really enjoyed it.  She even came to the University of Kansas to speak and my class got to go.  She read the poem below out loud and it quickly became one of my favourites.

I love the last couplet because it recognizes people change and move on all the time… that who you were last year is different than who you are today.  Who you were a few hours, minutes, seconds ago may be different.  That change is expected and celebrated, so that the person can look back on it fondly because humans aren’t static.  I guess, it just fits into what I always tell myself, not to try to be a different person but only a better version of yourself.  Anyway, enjoy!

Theories of Time and Space
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.

one week to go

Bună ziua! I leave for Romania one week from today!

To say that I’m excited is an understatement.

The last couple of weeks have been a little hectic with exams and revision so I apologise for not posting as much as I had been… so this post will be a bit of a catch up.

I’ve taken two of my three exams so far (Archaeology 1B and Celtic Civ 1B) with my last one (Scottish Studies) on Wednesday.  I’ve felt really good about my exams and was happy with how the courses this went this semester.  It has been a little annoying though because of how spaced each exam is – all my exams are 10 days apart from each other.  Most of my friends are already done and two of them have already left for home so it’s a little annoying that I’m still in #examhell but that’s just the way things go I guess.

I’m mostly moved out of my room in Pollock, everything I don’t need for Romania or for the States is boxed up and already in the flat. (I’ll make a Packing for Romania later this week so stay tuned.)  So that’s been really exciting.  Baymax is already in his place of honour in the turret. (Yes, the flat has a turret. #princess)  I’m really excited for the flat next year and it is very close to the Uni, about a 5 minute walk to the Old Medical School.  I’ve met some really great people here in Pollock, but I can say that I’m ready to get more of my independence back and not have to deal with screaming people 24/7 … that and be able to actually have food in the refrigerator and not worry about people stealing it…

This week I spent Wednesday and Thursday volunteering at the National Museum of Scotland with the youth group I am a member of.  A group of high schoolers came in to learn about how museums work.  I really enjoy volunteering there, the NMS is a great museum and I’ve always loved making history more engaging and accessible to young people.  Because, in all honesty if history is just kept to academia it’s going to die as a subject.  You have to make the public interested and find new ways to inspire people to learn about their past… bla bla bla.  It’s important.

Tonight is the first committee meeting for the EUMC.  I’m really excited to get more involved in the club next year and help out with the bothy.  The club is actually taking a huge 2 week(ish?) road trip at the end of May through June, but it’s right over when I’ll be excavating skeletons in Romania.  I’m a little bummed that I won’t be able to make the Road Trip, but I’ve got three more years so I’m not fussed.  Plus I mean… archaeology.

I am sad to be leaving Scotland so soon though.  I’ve really gotten to know Edinburgh and I know I’ll miss it over the summer.  It’s a wonderful city and I mean… it’s got a castle right in the middle.  But, I will be back from June 11 to the 15 to do laundry and sleep after spending three weeks in sunny, hot Romania, so it’s not goodbye yet!

That’s about it.  It’s just going to be a lot of waiting this next week for things to happen.  Which is sort of how time works.  Crazy.  Actually though, my mom shared one of those ‘Facebook 1 year memories’ yesterday and it was of me graduating high school.  It just really hit me at how fast/slow – different is probably the best word – this year has been.  But, I’m not going to get sentimental. I finish up my first year at University on Wednesday and then off to Romania for my first archaeological excavation on Saturday.


Scotland Soundtrack #11

Apparently all I do is post music. Probably because it’s exams and I’ve been jamming hard core.

BUT! This playlist has some brilliant new songs from some of my favourite bands.

‘HandClap’ is a super catchy song from Fitz and the Tantrums (I’ve also included some of their older stuff (‘The Walker’)… just because they’re that awesome).  The KONGOS are always great, I love their mix of almost ‘Celtic’ music with rock instruments (I’d recommend going to listen to ‘Come With Me Now’).  The Lumineers FINALLY put out a new album a few months ago.  And, the song is called ‘Ophelia,’ the MOST underrated Shakespearean character.  For real, no one really cares about Hamlet and his #ManPainStruggle.   Foals always have great lyrics.  Miike Snow is the new one on the list… but I just love how catchy the song is and as a history student I find the title, ‘Genghis Khan,’ extremely amusing.

And finally, COIN’s new single ‘Talk Too Much’ just came out TODAY!!  I was so excited for the release of this single.  I saw COIN live last August with WALK THE MOON.  They really worked the stage and because they don’t use a lot of electronic sounds they sounded absolutely amazing.


Scotland Soundtrack #10

Happy Beltane! That’s the old Gaelic fire festival in celebration of the coming of Summer.  Edinburgh actually had a fire display last night on Calton Hill, which I could see parts of from my dorm window.  I’ll probably try to get tickets for next year, things just got a bit busy between my birthday and exams.

Anyway, here’s a new playlist… and if it wasn’t obvious a few of the songs were picked because of their titles.  And special note on the last one, I’m a huge Disney fan and ‘Go the Distance’ is my ultimate spirit song so I’ve included it to help get through exams.