A New Roommate

Yes, that’s right. Today I discovered I have a roommate.

As I was sitting here, minding my own business and writing my blog, I thought I saw a shadow on the floor out of the corner of my eye. Granted, I’m a little wired on coffee and a little low on sleep, so I ignore it. Probably just my eyes playing tricks on me.

imgres15 minutes go by and darting back in the other direction, under the door leading into the room next to me I see a black something with a long tail. A mouse? A lizard? Some creepy combination of the two? I’ve heard legends of a cockamouse–half cockroach, half mouse…

Needless to say, I decided there was no way I could sleep knowing that from under the hole in the door some monstrous creature is staring at me, waiting… If it was bold enough to show itself in the light, who knows what it would do in the dark.

I called facilities, what could be more of an emergency that some kind of hideous hybrid pest invading my personal space with its germ-filled body and violent desire to eat my face while I sleep? Apparently that is not an emergency, apparently that is “routine” and I need to use the housing website to send an e-mail request.

So I sent out the e-mail, signing the little bastard’s death warrant. But until then, I’ll lie awake–staring at the space between the door and the floor–in a vigil for my new roommate’s last day on Earth.

To Carl (Yes, I gave it a name), May you Rest in Peace.

[after Westley rescues her from the lightning quicksand]
Buttercup: We’ll never succeed. We may as well die here.
Westley: No, no. We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt – no problem. There’s a popping sound preceding each; we can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand, which you were clever enough to discover what that looks like, so in the future we can avoid that too.
Buttercup: Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.’s?
Westley: Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.
[Immediately, an R.O.U.S. attacks him]

~The Princess Bride

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First Impressions

Today was the first day of school.

I packed up my bag the night before, laid out my outfit, conjured up the perfect peanut butter sandwich for my midday snack and slept an unusually restful six hours. It was calm–I should have known.

In case you haven’t discovered this about me yet, I am a hot mess ball of stress. Anything that I could possibly worry about, I worry about. Even things that I couldn’t change, I worry about. Sure there are plenty of terrible things associated with this neurotic tendency–ulcers, poor sleep habits, irritability, etc.. But I CAN say that when an emergency or freak incident occurs, I am freakishly calm because I’ve already played out the scenario in my head a million times and I know what to expect and how to handle it.

Usually the night before a big event, I will toss and turn–playing out every possible thing I could stupidly do to ruin the next two years of my life. I plan my words carefully, anticipating every question to come my way.

Something has changed though, recently, I’ve been cool and collected. That internal pressure somehow balanced below the surface. Initially, I thought it was great. Maybe God, in his infinite wisdom, thought it appropriate to finally remove that stick from my ass.

It served me well enough at my interview on Friday. It actually couldn’t have worked out better.

But today…Today the Type-A, control freak, overacheiver within me let me down.

My morning started early-orientation at 9:30 (I realize this isn’t early for normal “working” people, but give me a break). Orientation went well. I met the 14 or so other people in my tiny department as well as some of the professors. Only once before in my life have I been surrounded by so many highly accomplished people (but that’s another story). There is something unsettling when the leading researching in your area of study laughs at your normally lame industry joke and says “Please, call me Sean.”

No, super-awesome-rockstar-professor…please let me call you Professor. Not even Professor So-and-So because your name is too sacred to be said aloud.

The director of the department kept stressing that now we were adults, and practically considered colleagues. We would be published alongside them and be consulted as experts in the making in our own areas. I almost laughed out loud at that one. Expert, me? No sir, just go ahead and tell me what to think; its much easier that way.

The other people in my department had interesting back stories, but we didn’t get enough of a chance to really break the ice for me to decide whether or not they are people worth getting to know personally.

Orientation went well enough. I was optimistic. I thought maybe I could handle this…I was wrong.

Later that evening there was a department reception. Wine was served to students and faculty alike by a man in a tuxedo, and a dozen cheeses were prominently stacked on a silver platter on stark white table clothes. Industry witticisms that would normally draw blank faces caused the room to erupt in fits of laughter:

“My new media forum is taught at the Newseum, which is a wonderful place in DC, but if we listen to Professor X’s position we might as well rename it the Museum of Archeology”

^This had the room cracking up.

I’m sure at some point I will actually discuss the things it is that I am studying and my areas of interest–and why that statement had the room rolling.

I didn’t do too badly at the reception. Receptions are very popular in DC, and always extremely awkward. People tend to kind of stand around with a drink, maybe talk to people they already know, but networking doesn’t happen nearly as often as one would think. I am determined to not sit around quietly with a drink in my hand–I will not be that person.

My solution? Embrace the awkward. Uncomfortable situations happen, but what makes them uncomfortable is the unwillingness for people to accept that they are uncomfortable. The best ice breaker ever? “Wow, so this is really awkward.” Believe it or not, I’ve found that it works 99% of the time. Also “Hi my name is Liane.” I’m not sure if it works as well if you have a different name, but I guess you could try it for yourself and tell me how it works.

So you’re thinking, it sounds like you had a good day. But its not over yet.

Media Theory, sounds like a blast of a class, right? My professor is a USC alum, she proudly proclaimed as one of the students in the class said they had just graduated from there a few years ago. “This guy is going to be my favorite student,” she laughed as she threw up her little SC gang sign. Enter the mild sinking feeling in my gut. When it came my turn to introduce myself, I quipped “If he is your favorite student, I’ll be your least favorite–I graduated from UCLA” (This is one of the greatest school/sport rivalries of all time–In case you didn’t know-click here for more info)

imagesShe was smiling, but I could see the disgust in her eyes and the plot of terror unfolding in her mind. Her kind gaze had turned calculating and she quickly finished introductions with the remaining of the 15-2o students in the class.

“So,” she began, “Media Effects, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” Silence. Silence. She takes a deep breath. Silence. “Ok, you!” She says, the disgust and fervor for destruction reignited and she stares into my soul. In that moment I could have not recalled my own name. I was both blank and overwhelmed by a million things rushing into my head at once. Media effects is what I am studying, broadly. I could have passed by saying “the effect that media has on something”, but no…nothing. An airy breath escaped my throat that sounded something like “Pass, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed”– and she moved on–content that she had destroyed my spirit.

First question, first class, first day of Graduate school–my only mission was to NOT sound like an idiot…and I failed. I couldn’t even describe the basic idea behind why I was there.

If nothing else, the rest of the semester can only get better.

To……(8 claps) U (clap clap clap) C (clap clap clap) L (clap clap clap) A (clap clap clap), U-C-L-A Fight Fight Fight!

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
~ A strong challenge from UCLA’s finest, John Wooden

(I also want to say that actually the professor is really awesome, and I think she is going to make otherwise difficult/dry/boring material very exciting…but that makes less of a story, doesn’t it?)

Survival

survival-425

I lived!

For all the stink people made about this hurricane, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. A couple downed trees, some wind & rain, I don’t think the power went out–I wouldn’t know–I slept through the worst of it.

I definitely didn’t need a month supply of peanut butter and tuna.

I wish I could say I wasn’t hungover right now from too many beers, hurricanes & shot(s?) of Jameson from the Hurricane party…but we each dealt with our fear and apprehension about the storm in different ways. I won’t judge yours if you don’t judge mine.

Today looks like a beautiful day in the neighborhood, so I am going to get myself together and make the most of my last day before classes start!

To bartenders, the new postal workers
(because bars are always open, not because they are going to shoot you)

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
~NOT the postal motto, but engraved on the outside of the James A. Farley Post Office building at 8th Avenue & 33rd Street in New York, New York.  This phrase was a translation by Prof. George H. Palmer, Harvard University, from an ancient Greek work of Herodotus describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers c. 500 B.C.

Goodnight Irene


I just got back from the store after purchasing some Hurricane-proof supplies. I was attempting to avoid blogs about really mundane things, but I think I am going to consider it a challenge to myself to keep it interesting. I have three primary situational influences, let me know if you pick up on any of them–Comment!

By the time I got to the Safeway it looked the place had been looted. Nonperishable foods had been wiped clean, only a few stray, smooshed, disheveled loaves of bread remained. I took what I could scavenge–the cheapest, least smooshed bread with a semi-low calorie count. Hey, a hurricane is no excuse to let yourself go! Satisfied, I moved through the store avoiding eye contact with the other customers. It was every man for himself, you see. Except the girls who only bought tequila and margarita mix–clearly they know the true meaning of hurricane.

With only bread in hand, I searched for the next item on my life-or-death scavenger hunt. The peanut butter aisles were bare. I panicked. I couldn’t live off  bread alone–and that’s the Gospel truth (no literally, it says that in the Bible)!

Is there anything else that doesn’t require refrigeration, that goes on bread, and actually tastes good? I paused, thinking. Nope.

A man approached. I eagerly scanned him up and down–searching, searching… Yes, there it was, a name tag. “Excuse me, do you have any peanut butter in the back?” He looked back at me, his eyes filled with sadness and pity. “No miss, all we had is out on the shelves.” It couldn’t be. I sulked my way to the jelly side. In case you don’t know this about me, I don’t eat fruit and I definitely don’t eat jellies. The only thing that could have me considering such an impossible notion is a true state of emergency.

Back to my sulking… Head hung low with the feeling of defeat, I searched for a jelly that didn’t make me feel like I wanted to hurl. I failed. Miserable and defeated, I began to turn away when alas, something struck my eye. Could it be? Hidden in the darkness, far behind a gag-inducing jar of apricot preserves was a lone container of Safeway brand, reduced-fat creamy peanut butter. Huzzah! I was saved. No slow, agonizing death by starvation would befall me this weekend.

But no, this wasn’t enough. I lurked down the aisle, eyes flashing from one side to the other scouring its contents for something, anything. And then, like a silver tower, it appeared before me–canned tuna. I rushed to it, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible should some other self-serving homosapien attempt to cut in on my prey. These were my spoils and I would not be sharing them. I grabbed a stack, hastily throwing them into my hand cart. From behind me, the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. I spin to meet the face of the one who approaches.

I look into the deep green eyes of this freckle-faced girl who dared approach me, and I nod. The rest is for her. I’ve had my fill.

The water aisle was a barren wasteland. Not a single bottle lingered on the shelves or in the refrigerated cabinets. I could hear the whisper of sweet death breathing down my neck. The search for food would all be in vain if I couldn’t find water. But my mind, driven to mad genius by necessity took to the next aisle–vitamin water. I threw a couple in my hand cart.

The check out lines were a madhouse. Patrons, appearing more like zombies than customers, practically snarled at one another. I smiled to myself as I blew past them and into the Express Line. I counted my items–only 14–I grabbed the newest People, with utter ridiculous interest in Kim Kardashian’s wedding. Now I was ready.

To Irene, the most terrifying thing with a ridiculous name.

“Every disaster screams for humor.”
~Irene Millecam

 

Mothers & Mother Nature on Rampage

I’ve been in Washington DC less than a week and we’ve had an earthquake and are now facing the possibility of a visit from Hurricane Irene.

It’s all over the news, I hear. I wouldn’t know– I don’t own a TV. I was surprised to hear it from my grandmother early this afternoon. Usually I hear these kinds of things from my mom.

Moms are funny. Case Study:

You can sit next to my mom and have a whole conversation just for her to turn around and say, “Oh, did you say something?”.  Yet if on the other side of a crowded restaurant a person says something about DC, it is like her bionic mom ears turn on and suddenly she will hear every single word. Or gruesome stories about death–the more heartwrenching, tragic and bloody the better. Mom ears only pick up information that they find useful, which is information that can be used to guilt-trip their children later.

I have a theory:

In Pokemon, the characters evolved from one form to another. So you start with this adorable creature……and it grows into this terrifying creature.

Evolution_of_Charmander

The evolution of the female ear:

  • Little Girls Ears– They hear everything and repeat it in adorable ways. Not much different from Little Boy Ears.
  • Girlfriend Ears– Capable of hearing and remembering things like your favorite food so they can make it for you. But this is where things get scary….
  • Wife Ears– Primarily function by hearing anything that could possibly be interpreted as flirting with other women. (related: wife eyes which cannot find their car keys or cell phone but aptly notice you checking out the waitress)
  • …then finally–the most dreaded–Mom Ears.

So I was surprised to miss on the usual paranoid rant that would my mom would give me about how she heard Washington DC was going to have a terrible hurricane and how once someone told her about this time where some girl was all alone and far away from her family and  [insert gruesome and terrible story-probably gory] and then she died. Alas, the day is young.

Still, I have to come to terms with the fact that something peculiar is going on with DC weather. As Dr. House says, there is no such thing as simply coincidence. Therefore, being the classic egocentric that I am, I can think of only a few possibilities of why these things are happening:

  • God is warning me (negative). There was thunder as the plane landed, an UNnatural natural disaster shook the city, and now a hurricane may invade my swampy residence? Maybe He’s sitting up there on his fluffy cloud saying “Hey girl, what more can I do then buy your ticket home?”
  • God is testing my resolve (positive). It’s my first time away from home by myself, I made it through the snowstorm the first time, now He’s looking down on me through those pearly gates and saying, “I just want you to know that you can make it through anything. If you make it through this first week, NOTHING can stop you, girl!” (I don’t know why these versions of God are a flamboyant gay man)
  • The world is ending. I have nothing to add.

For more information on Hurricane Irene click on this link

Clearly, it is extremely reasonable to believe that God would go through all the trouble of making these things happen JUST to give me a little life guidance.I can’t help it that he loves me more than he loves you.

A toast, to the end of the world.

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
~Erma Bombeck (a new favorite by suggestion of a friend of my grandmother)

Earthquakemaggedon

Last time I was living in DC, the city experienced an unprecendented snowstorm. Obama declared it “Snowmaggedon” as the city virtually shut down, falling victim to the largest snowfall in DC in recorded history.

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And now, only 5 days into my glorious & triumphant return to the Capitol city, yet another uncommon disaster has struck! As you may have heard, central Virginia was hit with a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in DC history, sending shockwaves up the Eastern coast where it has been reported the tremors were felt as far north as Manhattan.

I worry that if I should ever leave DC and return again the city may face a tsunami.

It is a day that people on the East Coast will remember for the rest of their lives. One day, many, many years from now, I will sit on my porch with my friends, sipping lemonade as the sunsets over the ocean (yes, I have a porch & an ocean view) and we will ask each other “Where were you during Earthquakemaggedon?” And I’ll say, “Hell if I remember, someone get my robot and have him read me my blog…”

I just stepped out of the shower in my Washington DC dorm room. I throw on a towel, and walk to my desk. I sit down. I was about to begin one of my epic stare-into-space-and-think bouts when suddenly, the room begins to lightly tremble. Some fatty stomping down the hall? The shake gradually increases. Construction down the street? The building is swaying and shaking, my brain tries to compensate for a logical answer, ideas flashing through my mind, “It feels like an earthquake….but…but….it can’t be. They don’t have earthquakes here, do they?”

I’m a California girl, I know earthquakes. My body recognized “earthquake” but my mind was quick to step in and make the situation much more uncomfortable and stressful. Whether or not people want to admit it, I think most people thought we were under attack.

So I’m standing as the room about me continues swaying and shaking and I try to figure out what is going on.

I realize I’m still naked.

I throw some clean clothes on, whatever is going on, I don’t want to die naked and I want to have on clean underwear.

I look around the room. The door to the balcony is rusted, the shower head is too-both originals from when the building was used as a Howard Johnson’s, the carpet is dingy and stained… Logic, my personal demon, rears its ugly head, whispering into my ear “If they didn’t bother to change the shower head or the carpet, what are the chances that they retrofitted a building to withstand earthquakes in a place that doesn’t have earthquakes.”

I grab my phone and head for the door, quickly dialing my mom’s number.

“Mom, I don’t know what is going on right now, it felt like an earthquake, but I’m okay.”

I think it is interesting to see who people call first when they feel the threat of an emergency–real or perceived. For me, it’s my mom. I heard a woman outside call her boss, I hoped it wasn’t her first call.

There has been a lot of criticism about the way people on the East Coast have been handling the earthquake. Sure, I shook my head more than once at the kinds of things people said and did, both personally and institutionally after the quake. (Businesses closed down for the day!!!) But I want to put things in perspective.

  • The distance between where the earthquake epicenter was and where the earthquake was felt in say, NY, is slightly further than the distance between Los Angeles and Vegas. It would take a pretty decent earthquake to hit LA and feel it with substance in LV. I will attest, it was a pretty decent earthquake.
  • Watching people in DC handle an earthquake was the equivalent of how people in LA would react if they suddenly had a snowstorm. Screw that, people in LA can’t even handle driving in light rain.

Considering the fact that no one was prepared for it and didn’t have the knowledge of how to react to it–or what it was at first–I applaud you, citizens of Virginia and surrounding areas.

However, out of a mildly hectic situation, I managed to turn some good from it. As the only person who had ever been in an earthquake before, I was able to use my prior experience and literally thousands of earthquake drills to good use–making friends.

I introduced myself to a few panic-striken Southerners and East Coast natives. “Hi, I’m Liane. I’m from California, I guess I must have brought the earthquake with me, huh?”

The looks on their faces can be illustrated by this example:

The Setting: Restaurant
The Players: Waiter & Customer

Customer: Excuse me, sir. Can I see a menu?
Waiter: Of course. Hands him a menu. Would you like to hear the special for this evening.
Customer: That would be marvelous.
Waiter: The chef has prepared his specialty, Rocky Mountain Oysters for this evening. They are lightly battered and fried with a spicy homemade cocktail sauce. We rarely get the opportunity to serve such fresh fare, they are truly a delight.
Customer: Well  I’ve never had Rocky Mountain Oysters before, I’ll try them after such a outstanding recommendation.

Later, customer is served and begins enjoying his meal. The waiter returns to check-in.

Waiter: How is everything tasting this evening?
Customer: Why I do say, this is delicious. The flavors are superb! I never had oysters that taste quite like this before.
Waiter: Oh, I’m sorry sir, these aren’t oysters. Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles.

THAT–that face. That look of terror and disgust was stuck on the face of every student outside the building, still in shock from Mother Nature’s violent reminder of her power. I coddled their egos, explaining that I too-after years of earthquakes–felt my stomach lurch as the ground beneath me rumbled and the building around me groaned. They softened, “But what about aftershocks?” I smiled. “Doorways are the safest places, structurally they are designed to withhold collapses.” On the word collapses, I saw the flickers of light in their eyes go dim. “Oh, but aftershocks are really rare. I’m sure it’s fine just to go back inside and go back to your normal day. Back home if there’s an earthquake you usually won’t even stand up. You just wait for it to end and go on with your day.” They nodded, impressed by the bravery of the West Coast natives, who feel the Earth around them shake and just continue on with their day.

Then one of the women eased up and began making conversation. We were joking and smiling and then she says, “Yeah well I camp out under that bridge over there and I could see the whole thing just moving from side to side.”

Our smiles briefly faltered then became forced. We quickly exchanged glances. No, none of us had known that she was one of the crazy homeless people who lived under the bridge. We politely excused ourselves, finding that we’d rather brave the building than the rest of that conversation.

To be fair, it is EXTREMELY easy to mistake a graduate student for a homeless person and vice versa. This is why:

  • Bad Fashion. Currently the whole “hipster”, my clothes smell mildly like a dumpster, I-don’t-try-at-all thing is trendy–I get it. Men don’t feel the need to shave or shower. Not my thing, but some people are into that.
  • The smell. (Many, though not all) Academics have terrible hygiene. My oceanography professor’s teeth were dark yellow and you could see his plaque from 10 feet away. Also, for some reason they sweat a lot. I tend to believe it is due to the constant pressure to prove that they are actually as smart as people think they are/as smart as they want people to think they are.
  • Lack of food. Both the homeless and grad students are undernourished. There simply isn’t enough money to go around. Both are likely to beg for food. Some do it out of principle: A friend of mine recently met a girl who called herself a “freegan”. No not a vegan, a freegan. That means she only ate food that was free. By the way–she did NOT make it up, it’s an organized movement. Doesn’t it make you hate snotty, elitist, entitled, pseudo-intellectuals just that much more?
  • Lack of sleep. I actually believe that a homeless person probably gets more sleep than a graduate student does, but both are likely to wake up with bloodshot eyes and the lingering smell of cheap beer.
  • Bad Fashion, Again. Graduate students can’t afford anything. Tuition, housing & books suck up a huge portion of a graduate student’s budget. So when your casual clothes and shoes get faded, smelly, torn, bleached, tattered–you do what you can and just keep on trucking. Sure you might shell out for work attire, but a pair of jeans or sneakers probably won’t make the cut.

A toast, to the homeless because they are probably drinking anyways.

“I used to sleep nude — until the earthquake.”
~Alyssa Milano

The Past Revisited

One of the last posts I remember really wanting to write before Notebook of  a Nomad’s short, wonderful life (click there if you want to check it out) was so suddenly extinguished was about the markets in Europe. I’m going to revisit this topic so I can start talking about what I did on Sunday.

I wrote a blog about going to the grocery store in Berlin, but that is not what I am talking about.

On a Sunday morning, throughout Europe, somewhere in every city the local people are maneuvering their way to the food cathedral that is the food market. Now while that serves as a pretty turn of phrase, the food market is more like a church than you might think.

1. People go there on weekends.
Most markets are only open Saturday and Sunday, and for the best pick–you better show up early.

2. The decor.
Markets in Europe are grandiose, many with vaulted ceilings and stained glassed windows. Sure, some are simpler, but there are also simpler churches.

3. Devotion
Church is to christian, as food market is to foodie. It’s where the devout go to practice their faith and indulge in satisfaction of their soul.

4. Unspoken Rules/Procedures
Sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand. Church has rules, we don’t need to talk about them, but we know them. The food markets in Europe have rules: Don’t touch things until you’ve bought them (unlike American markets), Bring your own bag, Don’t barter with food vendors-only clothing vendors.
Walking through a market in Spain or Italy will put your body into sensory overload–the colors of the food artfully and carefully displayed, the smell of fresh fruit, cooking meat, and of course–fresh fish, the sounds of people chatting with their favorite vendors and ordering “the usual”…

Of all the markets in the WORLD, El Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain is considered one of the best. It’s as well known for its food as it is for its food displays, most notably–its fruit stacking. Shortly after marveling at the craftmanship of La Boqueria’s fruit stacking, I returned home and read an article in Gourmet Magazine (or maybe it was Bon Appetit) about how big a deal fruit stacking is at this market.

Here is a slideshow of some of the wonderful things we had the pleasure of seeing at the market:

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Notice how the meat stand sells every single piece of the cow- eyeballs, tongue, stomach lining etc…

This is also where I had that amazing Coconut/Dragonfruit drink that I rave about every chance I get. BTW- I saw Dragonfruit at the Safeway across the street from my building (SCORE DC!)

Now how is this relevant to the way I spent my Sunday?

Washington DC is huge on the use of local, sustainable foods. Many restaurants in the area support local farmers and serve food grown in the nearby area. These farmers also take their food to one of my favorite places in Washington DC–Eastern Market. Just a few blocks from the Capitol Building, and my old apartment, Eastern Market is one of the most exciting places for any foodie in DC.

The market has three sections-inside, outside, and across the street. Across the street is primarily a flea market, which I don’t mind on occasion, but sometimes when I look at things there all I can think is “That’s a dead woman’s chair” and it really kills the whole antique thing for me.

Outside of the building is filled with stands selling fresh produce, honey, sauces, nuts. You can buy tomatoes of three different colors-red, green and yellow. Yellow tomatoes are just a tad bit sweet, how do I know? Almost everywhere is willing to give away samples.

Inside there are more traditional market sections (again MARKET, NOT GROCERY STORE): deli meats, fresh beef, chicken pork and fish, a bakery, a cheese counter (where a woman who takes cheese much too seriously will scowl at you if you ask her to slice your gouda because “that simply is not done”).

I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, and didn’t actually buy anything…I guess I’ll just have to go back next weekend!

To food, for sustaining our bodies and our souls.

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”
~Voltaire