The Classics.

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About this time every year, I force myself to read a classic novel.    I’m not sure why I foist the classics upon myself, I mean, other than the fact that it is a classic and, in theory, worthy of my time and a great excuse not to go outside.  Except Moby Dick–there’s 6 months of my life I’ll never get back (and yes, I’m still very bitter about that, THANKS, Melville, THANKS A LOT!).

I find it ironic that I have to basically talk myself into reading this genre (it was really bad after Moby Dick), but in the end I really enjoy it and wonder why I don’t read more classics.  Take War & Peace, for example.  I think everyone looks at it as a massive undertaking of depressing Russian literature that you have to slog through, but no, it really isn’t.  Once you get down all the characters (and it takes a bit of time because their names are all very similar), it masterfully moves quickly for a 7385 page book (that may be a slight exaggeration–I’m just too lazy to get up, find my copy, and look it up).  And no, I’m not delusional or drunk.  I mean, I may be both but not about this.

Anyway, I’m not sure why I’m babbling on about this–it has nothing to do with food or drinks or travel, but really, I just wanted to create a poll (what?? It’s either this or shovel the sidewalk–and it’s too cold for that!). Basically,  I’m just wondering if there was anyone else with this lofty goal–aka escapism for the winter blues?


Thoughts on Classic Literature
(polls)

In case you’re wondering, this year’s selection is Les Misérables.  I tried reading it when I was in high school, but apparently I was not ready for such an undertaking as Mr. Hugo.  I set it aside, with a promise that I’d come back for it.  Of course, I didn’t realize it was going to take nearly 25 years.  Good thing it’s a classic 😉

Comic Sundays #21: Winter is Coming….Eventually

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For all of you Game of Thrones fans out there and in honor of the impending blizzard (yes, I’m all stocked up on important supplies, such as pizza for sustenance; liquor, coffee, and hot chocolate to keep warm and oranges to prevent scurvy, thank you for asking!)

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Family Tradition

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This month’s wine writing challenge is Traditions, and I can’t think of a better way to honor tradition than to tell you how I got into drinking wine. Really drinking wine, that is–not the sneaking sips out of everyone’s glass when nobody was looking drinking wine…

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Picture it: Holland 1994 (and before you write in correcting me that it should be The Netherlands, please know that I lived in the province of Zuid-Holland, so…Holland).  I was a Rotary International exchange student. Even though “no drinking” was one of the five major rules of being an exchange student, I had the great fortune of having host families who took that to mean no excessive drinking when they were not around. Nearly every evening meal included libations of some sort (beer was an equally popular choice). My counselor’s family preferred beer and sweet sherry. My first host family loved white wines, especially white Burgundies.  My second host family prided itself on serving the appropriate drink for whatever dish or course, such as the occasion required. For the record, I never appreciated this until our 12-course Christmas dinner, with–oh yes!–12 different wines and apperifs! But it was my third family who taught me about wine and thus, my third host family is why we’re here today.

When it came to wine, my third host family only drank two kinds: Champagne and wine from the Rioja. My first night in the house, my host father took me to the wine cellar and asked me to pick something to drink with dinner.

I was at a loss. First of all, I am from a family of beer and whiskey drinkers. The wine drinkers (at least when I was growing up), leaned heavily towards the sweet stuff and I certainly didn’t see anything that looked like it was sweet. Secondly, I was wracking my brain to remember everything my second host mother lectured me about in terms of pairing wine with food, but I COMPLETELY forgot to ask what was for dinner. However, both of those were trumped by my awe of staring at the most wine I’d ever seen in my life outside of a wine or liquor store.

Uhhhhhh……

Uhhhhhh……

Uhhhhhh…..

Finally, I grabbed the nearest bottle to me and held it up for inspection. Hmmm…it was red and from Spain and I was quite sure I wouldn’t like it, but I was committed to my choice.

I held it high, like a trophy I had proudly won!

My host father asked why I picked that one.

I hung my head and lowered the bottle.

Ik weet het niet.

I don’t know. I shrugged, he chuckled, and we went back upstairs with my prize bottle, where he made me open it so it could decanteren.  What?  So it could…what?  More chuckling.

Breathe!  It needs to breathe!

At this moment, I was starting to panic that I selected a $300 bottle of wine.  My host mother sensing my panic, assured me that I made a good choice, as it was the house favorite and not to worry, she was sure they still had 5 or 6 cases left.

I’m sorry, 5 or 6 what?  Yes, yes, I knew what a case was, but the thought that anyone would have multiple cases of wine at one time and then have numerous cases of THE SAME WINE…and then to think to that they had a particular amount left, but not even be sure?!?

I was stunned.  I was flabbergasted.  I.WAS.SPEECHLESS!

My host father decided that he would take me under his wine wing and teach me all there was to know about wine.  He and my host mother patiently answered a plethora of questions about wines and grapes and buying and collecting and serving and tasting and on and on until finally I asked about their wine room and how they kept it so well stocked.

Oh you know, we make a trip to Spain every year.

He said it with such aplomb and nonchalance that I was picturing all of Europe flocking to the south to stock on on wine. I was–at that very moment–planning my move to the continent!

So you just drive the car to Spain, load up, and drive back?

Well, we stop in Champagne on the way back as well.

I’m sorry.  You drive the car to Spain, load up on wine, swing by Champagne buy a bit more and then come back?

HA HA HA HA…of course not.  We take a trailer, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it.  That’s why we have the big BMW.

So let me get this straight.  You hook a trailer up to the car, drive to Spain, load up on wine.  Drive to Champagne, get more wine and then drive back?

More or less, yes.  We love Spanish wine–and well, who doesn’t love champagne?

You are certainly right about that [champagne].  Wait, wait, wait.  Start from the beginning, alstublieft.

Well, it started over 30 years ago–on our honeymoon.  We drove to Spain and just fell in love with the wines from Rioja.  On that trip we came back with a couple of cases of tempranillo, and since it was our honeymoon, we stopped in Champagne on our way back and got a few bottles of champagne as well.  We loved that trip so much, we decided it would make a great yearly trip.  So, every spring on our anniversary we would get in the car and head to Rioja for wine.  Soon it became our little tradition.  Every year , however, we came back with more and more wine.  Finally, we just stopped pretending and stressing about getting it to fit in the car and bought a trailer.  Of course then we needed a bigger car to be able to pull it back through the mountains.  Now there’s no stress, a lot of room and we are able to purchase enough delicious reds, whites, and bubbly for the whole year, and in the process, get a vacation.  Beautiful country, beautiful wife, beautiful wine–life doesn’t get any better than that.

No…no, it certainly does not.

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Free Range Chickens

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Of course, there are a lot more things I could write about in regards to Key West, but we have to move on–if only because my pictures from Harry Potter World are taunting me! One last thing before I wrap up Key West: The Chickens.  I promised you a post about chickens, and well, I wanted to save the best for last.

Talk about livin’ the life: the chickens in Key West are given free range–literally.  They are everywhere.  They go everywhere and they do pretty much what ever the heck they please (anyone else now have the opening scene to West Side Story in their heads??)

The chickens have become so popular that everywhere you go, you can easily find tons of Key West souvenirs with chickens on it.  And why not?  It’s fun, it’s crazy–it’s totally Key West!  To anyone who’s been there, they have become almost as iconic as the Bouy and Mile 0 Marker!

You will find The Free Range Chickens of Key West doing a wide variety of tasks, such as:

Chickens who patrol for litter.

Chickens who patrol for litter on the sidewalks!

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Chickens who greet tourists!

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Chickens who sell Trolley Tours!

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And even chickens who hand out information!

Poultry in motion, indeed!

The Southernmost Tip

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Since we were right around the corner, after brunch at the Southernmost Beach Cafe we walked down to The Bouy, which marks the southernmost tip of the continental United States.  At that particular point, we were only 90 miles from Cuba!

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After The Bouy, we made one last trek through town for some last minute souvenirs before making our way north to the mainland.

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The entire weekend was filled with amazing and wondrous things–and fun was had by all!  At least I hope everyone had as much fun as I did.  There certainly was a lot of laugher, a lot of reminiscing and catching up, and–of course–a lot of drinking!

My Fabulous Not Forty Birthday Trip One was off to a great start–and I couldn’t wait for the rest!

BYOBM

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I feel like I have quite a few Boozy Brunch posts.  If so, this tops them all!

I luuuuuuurve me a good bloody mary, but it needs to be the right blend of spice and kick and delicious! Enter in Southernmost Beach Cafe with their Build Your Own Bloody Mary!

That’s right build your own!

BUILD. YOUR. OWN!  I don’t think ya’ll are grasping how amazing this is.  Apparently, they used to have a Bloody Mary cart that traveled from table to table.  I say BYOBM is a much better option.  Sure, table side bloody marys are cool and have a whole lot of flair.  But in my humble opinion, when it comes to booze fast is much better than flair and why should I have to wait for some dilettante to make up his/her mind while (s)he is hogging the bloody mary cart at his/her table?  It’s like getting stuck behind the newbie at your favorite coffee shop–it takes all of your concerted effort (and before coffee, mind you) not to shove them aside while yelling “if you don’t know, go to the back of line!”

La la laaaa…perhaps you see why BYOBM is the better option for me.  So how do you build your own?  Well, you pick your vodka, how spicy you want your tomato juice, your garnishes, and your rim.

EVERYONE STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND PAY ATTENTION:  Old Bay Seasoning.  Just do it.  Get the Old Bay rim.  You’ll thank yourself.  You’ll thank me.  You’ll thank everyone who ever even thought of such a wonderful accompaniment. It’s even better than (I can’t believe I’m actually saying this–and no, I’m not sick, delusional, or drunk) the Bacon rim.  That’s right.  There I said it.  Old Bay Seasoning.

So, you pick all your stuff and magically this appears:

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or this

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Or I guess other boozy brunch drinks of your choice.  I mean, I’m not going to name names **cough cough*SissyandJames*cough cough** but some at our table chose not to participate in BYOBM. Fine. Whatever.  They’re missing out.  Especially on the wonderfulness of Old Bay!  This bloody mary was sublime–nearly as good as Aunt Kathy’s (and that’s saying something!).  Although–I’m just sayin’–that if Aunt Kathy aka The Bloody Mary Queen added an Old Bay rim to her bloody marys the gap would be a lot wider (hint, hint).

Oh wait a minute before you go: let’s not forget the other (but less important part of brunch): the food!  Which of course, was very tasty.  They had several versions of eggs benedict from which to choose, but once I read the words “asparagus and cilantro hollandaise,” I just knew that i had to have the Key West eggs benedict.  They did NOT disappoint.  I mean, how can you go wrong with eggs and asparagus and cilantro hollandaise?  In a word: you can’t (okay, that’s two words, but still).

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All the other items that were ordered looked good.  James had the breakfast tacos, which looked and smelled amazing.

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I’m not sure what Sissy and TK had–I know one of them (or perhaps both) had the corned beef hash, but honestly I had my BYOBM and my Key West eggs benedict, I was a happy, happy, happy girl and off in my own little boozy brunch world!

Although a bit of warning, if you don’t like birds this is NOT the place for you, as it’s beachside and an open air restaurant, so there were pigeons everywhere.  Of course, I say just build yourself a few more bloody marys and you won’t care!

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Fabulous Not Forty Birthday Dinner #1

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There are some dinners that were so amazingly special with the right mood and the perfect wine that they are forever emblazoned in your mind.  This, however, was not one of those dinners.  It was memorable for a whole other reason: Mother Nature.

Don’t get me wrong, the food and the ambience were spectacular…and then…it started to sprinkle.  But let me start from the beginning:

We decided to splurge and go on a sunset dinner cruise.  Sounds fabulous, right?  Small boat, captain is also a gourmet chef, BYOW and we’re good to go.  Perfect!  Wonderful!  Very Key West!  Our cruise was originally scheduled for Friday, however, it rained all day (and we’re not talking light drizzling either), so the captain asked if we could reschedule for Saturday night, when the weather was expected to clear off.  Ironically on Friday, the weather cleared off right before sunset and it was a gorgeous night.

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But I digress.  Fast forward to Saturday.  Big day (snorkeling and oysters!), beautiful weather, we were pumped up, dressed up, we had wine for each course, and were excited about our cruise! We show up, meet Captain Alex (James & I–Sissy & TK have taken his dinner cruise before!), take off our shoes (Captain’s orders!), hand over the wine, and climb up to the top deck of the boat, where our table is set up–along with another table for another couple.

The boat heads out to a lovely spot with some great views of the harbor. IMG_0102

We’re drinking wine, talking, and out comes the bread: grilled!  It was so delicious.  Who would have thought to throw the bread on the grill?  Well, Captain Alex obviously, but I certainly would not have.  Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), the bread did not last long!

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Not long after the bread disappeared the pre-appetizer comes out: a hand-carved cucumber shrimp boat, with grilled shrimp and a Thai chili sauce. If you’ve never had grilled shrimp with Thai chili sauce, you should DEFINITELY try that at home!

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Next came the appetizers of crabmeat stuffed portobello mushrooms and potato & goat cheese tarts (this all paired really well with the buttery Napa chardonnay that we brought!).

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After the appetizers came the salad–a mango rosemary salad with toasted almonds, mixed greens, white cheddar, a honey vinaigrette dressing, served with a side of rain.

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That’s right…rain.  At first it was sprinkling…so we put on our big girl panties (yes, even TK!) and just hovered under the canopy.  It’ll blow over, we said.  The rain got harder.  Any minute now it’ll stop, we said…the rain continued to get harder.

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Finally Captain Alex announced that the radar showed a massive storm blowing in and we would be safer if we docked.  So, he closed up the grill while we all braved the rain to climb down the ladder and squeeze into the cabin below!

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We opened the second bottle of wine (a big, fat, delicious Texas red!) and once we were docked and could reopen the grill, we continued with the main course: a fresh catch of the day with a spicy peppery sauce, grilled zucchini and a rice dish.

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We wrapped up the evening with the most amazing key lime white chocolate whipped cream & blueberries.  I tried my best not to lick my plate.  And by that, I mean, I waited until no one was looking until I licked my plate.

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All too soon, it was time to say good-bye to Captain Alex and disembark.  I could tell that Sissy & TK were a bit disappointed by the turn of events because they were so excited to share this little treasure that they discovered with James & me.  However, I think it was an extraordinary evening.  After all, when you have great friends, great wine, and great food–who cares when Mother Nature throws a storm your way??

Fruits de Mer

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And by fruits, I mean specifically raw oysters.

After our snorkeling jaunt, we were starving and headed around the corner for lunch at Half Shell Raw Bar to get some deeeeelicious raw oysters.  And by us, I mean TK and me–Sissy & James delightfully refrained (fine by me–that meant more for me TK & me!).

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The oysters did not disappoint.  They were very clean with just a little bite to them.  While I’m not the biggest fan of limes in general (unless mixed with tequila and salt), the key limes that were served along side added a nice twist from the lemon wedges that normally accompany raw oysters. I could have easily eaten several dozen by myself (the oysters that is, not the limes!)!

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But of course, if I had eaten 2 dozen oysters then I couldn’t have properly enjoyed my crab cakes.  They were light and delicate, filled with lots of crab meat, spices, and just enough bread crumbs to hold them together (as opposed to the majority of crab cakes which tend to be heavy on the bread crumbs and light on the crab!).  It was paired with a caesar salad and made for a very delicious lunch!

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While we were very tempted by the key lime pie, there wasn’t any room for dessert–at least to be able to properly enjoy it!  Although I could have easily downed another oyster or two 😉

Fear.

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I like to pretend that I’m fearless, which, of course, is absurd because everyone is fearful of something.  I mean, c’mon…google “phobias” and you’ll get 8.2million results in 0.49 seconds (depending on the speed of your interwebs).

One of my biggest fears is drowning, which to anyone who knows me, might sound strange because I loooooove the water.  Love it.  It is soothing and relaxing, but it is also dangerous and very unpredictable, especially when you’re talking about big bodies of water, like the ocean–not just in terms of what animals lie beneath (please don’t get me started on sharks and snakes and eels–that can be fodder for another post!), but in riptides and waves and tons and tons of pressure.

Of course, I’m not one to back down and let my fears get the best of me.  Okay, okay, I will admit to needing a nudge or ten to get  onto roller coasters, but when push comes to shove, I (being of semi-sound mind and an adult capable of saying no) will get on and try to enjoy the ride.  It was in that spirit that when I was asked if I wanted to go snorkeling, I said yes.

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Naturally, the night before our snorkeling adventure there was a storm and the waters were a bit choppy, but out we went into the Florida Straits heading toward Cuba.  We parked (yeah, yeah, I know it’s not actually parking) the boat–I’m sorry, catamaran, along the edge of the Florida Reef (3rd largest in the world) and were given our instructions for putting on masks and jumping in and oh by the way, look! there’s jellyfish.

what the what?

JELLYFISH. Lots and lots of jellyfish.  We were assured if we didn’t panic we could easily avoid them.  The problem was, I was already panicking and I was still in the boat!

But I was determined, even though apparently I looked like I was about to pass out.  One of the crew members, who I’m sure had visions of having to rescue me, told me to take my time and go slowly, but I knew that would just make things worse.  So I just jumped in.  I would like to tell you that it was a graceful jump and everyone applauded my efforts.  Alas, it was more like I slipped, flopped into the water, and sank.  I’m pretty sure everyone held their breath to see if I would actually surface or if someone had to dive to save me.

The good news is that I swam back up, the bad news is that I had water in my mask and when I tried to breathe, it seemed I was breathing in just as much water as I was air.  panic…panic…panic…until finally I couldn’t handle it and had to take off my mask (and by take off, I mean rip off).  I treaded water for a few minutes, summoning my courage to put my mask back on and try again.  With the help of Sissy, I adjusted the mask and lo & behold! the water was staying in the ocean and not in my lungs!

For the record, breathing underwater is NOT natural, but once I could calm myself down enough to look around I saw…a lot of jellyfish.  And some other fish…but mostly jellyfish and a lot of murky water.

After about who-knows-how-long (maybe 30-45 minutes) of avoiding jellyfish and panicking about breathing underwater and fighting the waves and occasionally coming up for “air” (i.e. treading water without my mask on), I noticed people heading back to the boat, so I figured that was the green light that I needed to reboard the boat.

The only thing less graceful than me getting in the water was me trying to get out.  At this point the waves had picked up and I was attempting to use them to push me up on the stairs.  The problem was that rather than gracefully helping me up (like what you might see in The Little Mermaid), the waves more or less smacked me into the steps and the only thing I could think about was trying not to hit my head hard enough to lose consciousness or drop my fins which I managed by some miracle to pull off my feet while in the water, lest I would have to dive down to retrieve them.

Soon we were all back on the boat, enjoying a cold one.  I did it–I can’t believe I snorkeled and lived to tell the tale!  Sure there were a few touch & go “I’m gonna die” moments, but there were some pretty awesome “I’m actually doing it!” moments, as well.

It was a gorgeous day and the boat ride offered some great views–and overall, it was a fun trek.  It certainly was awe-inspiring to be able to face a huge fear and push through it.  And–believe it or not–I’m actually willing to try snorkeling again.  Although, perhaps in calmer, less jellyfish invested waters.

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La Bella Vita

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Happy New Year!

I hope your holidays have been wonderful and bright and all that jazz.

I recently have been playing host to 4 friends from very different parts of the globe.  Now that they have all gone, stillness has quietly crept back into my house (aside from the yelling at the &%*I$(#^&^%$^ football game), which has allowed for some inner reflection of the craziness that was 2014.  I had some pretty spectacular moments; unfortunately they were not all happy spectacular moments, but a few gut-wrenching ones as well.

Don’t worry this isn’t going to be a sappy-Shez-has-had-too-much-champers-and-going-to-make-everyone-cry post.  First of all, I don’t do sappy very well and secondly, I need to get a move on because it’s halftime and I definitely don’t want to be writing/editing when the game comes on again, lest my laptop be accidentally thrown in a fit of screaming “my granny could run faster than that!”

Where was I?  Oh yes: I just wanted to say thank you.  Thank you to all the wonderful bloggers who support me and challenge me and make me laugh.  And an even bigger THANK YOU to my amazing family and friends for, well, everything.

I’ve had some very surreal moments this year.  Snorkeling with jelly fish, for example, or watching the Times Square ball drop and being covered in confetti or sitting on a deck in Minnesota, staring at a beautiful sunset looking out over Canada or standing next to my cousin while she solidified her life with a really great guy (although NO ONE tell him that because we’ll never hear the end of it!).

Not too long ago, I was having coffee with my friend Des, who remarked that her favorite thing about me was that it didn’t matter what crazy place she wanted to go or what crazy thing she wanted to do, I had a story about why it would be a great idea.

I realized at that very moment that I had been blessed with a very unique outlook on life that made it unpredictable, but oh-so-beautiful.  It was nothing like I ever imagined it would be when I was growing up smack dab in the middle of Texas and it certainly isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I think–no, I know–that I have spent a lot of time in the past few years obsessing about the negatives and everything that has gone wrong, and so my goal for this year is to focus more on the positives and figure out a way to create even more beauty in my life….starting with reminding the Cowboys they are actually playing today and figuring out how to get them show up and win (what? surely you didn’t expect me to end on a sappy note?!?!).

Best wishes for a happy, prosperous, and beautiful 2015!

xoxo,

Shez and the darling princess pupcicle

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