Shelf Life: Winter 2015-16

ShelfLife

Winter. I’m in the throes of it.

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I’ve already shared all of the ruler-in-snow and Bella-in-boots pics, so for today I’ll share the latest happenings. Yesterday I woke to a thick fog that left HUGE, furry flakes clinging to everything, making our yard look like a Dr. Seuss illustration.

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See how big the flakes are? Those are individual ones on the tree! You can see every detail of each flake. Incredible.

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Here’s how I’ve kept warm the last three months. (Yes, we’ve had snow on the ground since the last Shelf Life post. All snow. No grass. …SOS)

1. Rising Strong, Brené Brown

Have you heard of emotion-guru Brené Brown? If not, I might recommend you watch her record-shattering Ted Talks (1 and 2). She knows shame, vulnerability and promotes facing each with fierceness, honesty and acceptance.

This is my first book of hers to read and deals specifically with how to pick yourself up when you fall by “rumbling” with all of the emotions involved. Something we can all relate to. I’m sure the library will be so pleased to see how many pages I dog-eared. They should really just be glad I didn’t underline or take to the margins.

This book spoke to me. As someone who prides herself on her strength and resilience, I have had so many falls, most of them never discussed and many I’m still recovering from. Until now, I didn’t have the tools to face them and heal.

I recommend this to anyone and everyone. Here are a few takeaways:

* “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. We own our stories so we don’t spend our lives being defined by them or denying them. And while the journey is long and difficult at times, it is the path to living a more wholehearted life.”

* “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

* “We don’t compare when we’re feeling good about ourselves; we look for what’s good in others. When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate toward others. Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing.” (gulp.)

* “Stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing. Stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are.” (double gulp.)

* “On a one-inch-by-one-inch square of paper, write down the names of the people who really matter. These should be the people who love you not despite your imperfections and vulnerabilities, but because of them. When I’m struggling to make a difficult decision, rather than closing my eyes and trying to imagine how the cheap seats (people who criticize, but don’t matter) will respond, I go to someone on my list who will hold me accountable to my own standards.”

2. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith

This blog has chronicled me reading all three Cormoran Strike mysteries by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. (Book 1 & Book 2)

Career of Evil is a fantastic addition to the series. Cormoran and Robin are back, tensions are high and crimes are a’happnin’. J.K. continues to depart from her Harry Potter days in this truly dark and gruesome tale. I should have known when in a launch interview she described having horrible nightmares while researching and writing this book. It’s not for the faint of heart. I hope she continues her book-a-year schedule, because I have to see what happens next!

3. After Alice, Gregory Maguire

I have a deep-seated love of all things Alice in Wonderland. I’ve always loved its Golden Age animation in the Disney version, and the 1985 TV movie has given my family more laughs than just about anything. (Two words: Carol. Channing.) It’s a fascinating story and I was excited to see Gregory Maguire’s treatment. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Maguire in general. Wicked remains one of the few books I’ve started and just couldn’t make myself finish, despite loving the musical. But I had to give him another go since I’ve been Team Alice for as long as I could remember. Happy to say that I finished it! The beginning took me a while to gel into his writing style, but I really feel like he captured Lewis Carroll’s whimsy and quirkiness quite well. I enjoyed revisiting Wonderland from a different point of view, one that’s for adults. Worth the read if you have a hankering for the Queen of Hearts or a certain Cheshire Cat.

4. The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen

After muscling through my last YA trilogy (The Maze Runner series), this story is such a breath of fresh air. In her second installment, Erika Johansen really solidifies the strong characters she introduced in The Queen of the Tearling and set the course for the final book that comes out later this year. Despite its reeeeally long chapters, I am loving this series. I wouldn’t classify it as YA due to some of its unsettling subject matter, but definitely my favorite literary heroine since Katniss. If I can’t sway you enough, Emma Watson secured the rights to not only produce the movie, but also will star as Kelsea. Get reading, folks!

5. Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman

I love that I’m surrounded by other voracious readers in my family and friends circles. Many times I’ll come home and find a stack of books left by my mom, aunt or grandmother after they’ve finished with them. I’ll usually bring back 2 or 3 that look good. Sometimes those hand-me-downs sit on my shelf for a while, depending on my library reserve schedule. I’m sad to say I have too many “haven’t reads” on my shelf these days. (Possible 2016 resolution?) This is one of those books and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. I wanted something quick to read while in the pit for The Nutcracker. I shouldn’t be surprised it was so great. I usually love everything Oprah stamps with her approval. This heartbreaking tale of a woman who returns to her hometown and reunites with her first love is from 1997 (!), but still felt relevant and timeless. I’ve never read anything by Hoffman before, but I’d definitely be willing to dive into her other bestsellers. Her writing is detailed and gorgeous. Too bad it took me almost 20 years to find it!

6. Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline

I tend not read happy books. This story is rife with tragedies, but is somehow very uplifting and leaves you with a smile, despite what you crawl through to get there. I wasn’t aware of the orphan trains that would run from the east coast to the midwest, shuffling (predominately immigrant) children to the homes of those looking for an extra set of hands for their farm or business. What a scary time that must have been for them. I have several friends and acquaintances that have adopted or are serving as foster parents. It can be just as scary for them, too. Overall, this is an interesting read into a world that needs more awareness.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition, J.K. Rowling (re-read)

To read me wax rhapsodic on all things HP and this gor-geous new version, click here. Excited to read this again (always) with Lily as the next installment of LiNo’s Libros.

8. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

The word “freedom” normally conjures positive images like soaring eagles, but Franzen paints an entirely different picture of lives ruined when exploring the freedoms found within. When liberation becomes its own prison. When taking a mile when given an inch. It was a sad 550+ pages, honestly, and by the end I was so exhausted by these characters, I’m still too raw to say if I even liked the book. It has Oprah’s seal of approval and came highly recommended by a fellow book lover, but I just wasn’t crazy about it and his style of writing.

9. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

I flew through this 60-page thriller right after I finished Freedom. It was the cleansing I needed in my head. Originally part of a series of short stories collected by George R.R. Martin, Gillian Flynn’s mystery is now a stand-alone book, thanks to her Gone Girl popularity. It’s what you would expect from her: edgy, mind-messing and thrilling all wrapped up in a neat package that will take you under an hour to consume. Check it out.

10. Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson, The Blogress, is a brave, courageous woman. She’s also funny as hell. Battling multiple mental illnesses like depression and anxiety throughout her entire life, she writes to educate, to enlighten and, most of all, to entertain. I found this book a total triumph of all three. I’ve battled depression and know countless others who have struggled or are struggling with it. We’d all tell you it’s not a laughing matter, but I love how Jenny’s able to do that, tracing her jest in empathy while gently releasing the grips of stigmas and stereotypes. It’s powerful and hilarious—how does she tread that boundary so well? A few sections that really spoke to me:

* Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.

* It is an amazing gift to be able to recognize that the things that make you the happiest are so much easier to grasp than you thought. There is such freedom in being able to celebrate and appreciate the unique moments that recharge you and give you peace and joy. Sure, some people want red carpets and paparazzi. Turns out I just want banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure at appreciating the good things in life. It means I’m successful in recognizing what the good things in life are for me.

11. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks (re-read)

This is a favorite from my childhood and was the first pick for my book club with niece Lily, LiNo’s Libros! Read about our thoughts on this here.

12. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn

In my new effort to read books that have long been collecting dust on my shelves, I picked this up right after Christmas while I waited for a few library reserves to filter my way. Choosing a book about a lady who leaves behind her corporate life to pursue her dream of attending Le Cordon Blue cooking school was a pretty good pick for heralding in a new year. It made me think “what would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” I can tell you NOT attending Le Cordon Blue—where Flinn had to manhandle all kinds of meat and fat and tendons and livers and sweetbreads—would be on the list. As glamorous as it sounds to attend cooking school in France, I know I wouldn’t last long in those kitchens. But I applaud her for taking a huge risk. Her food writing isn’t as tasty as that of Julie Powell or Molly Wizenburg, but her dream is inspiring and her tales are honest and humorous. A spark of inspiration for the new year.

13. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Guys, this was my first EVER e-book read. I’ve been so hesitant to jump on the e-reader bandwagon, but I’m there. This 500-plus-page book seemed to fly when only holding a tiny kindle. I’m not giving up my love of old library books, but I was surprised how much I did like the experience. But, remember how much I didn’t like The Goldfinch? Well, Ms. Tartt redeemed herself with this one. It’s just the right length for the story (unlike Goldfinch), it’s dark, it’s dynamic. Definitely a page turner and worth checking out. It’ll make you rethink the posse from your college days.

14. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

I broke my (typically) hard and fast rule of not reading books set during the Civil War when I set a new rule of tackling all of the unread books on my shelf. I honestly think I’ve carried this book around since we lived in Dallas. I haven’t even seen the movie. I was just waiting for some perfect time, which of course is never. But I am so glad I did. This book is absolutely beautiful. And though it gives such a vivid glimpse of our war-torn country, it seemingly bypasses all of the gory battle details completely. (Which is probably why I loved it so much.) Its writing is all-consuming and beautifully dark, yet hopeful. I can see why it garnered such immediate praise when it first came out. I am looking forward to finally seeing the movie and, who knows, maybe it’s earned a more permanent spot on my shelf.

15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Hands down one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever encountered. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died at Johns Hopkins Hospital from an aggressive cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. But before she passed, her doctors took a sample of cells from her tumor that ended up changing the course of medicine forever. Her cells, known as HeLa, never died and sparked a revolution in medical research that has helped save millions of lives. But no one ever told her family, who couldn’t afford health care of their own. This is such an interesting tale of history, ethics, one family’s pain and the world’s gain. Already in the running for the best book I read all year. Read this! Read this! Read this!

16. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

It feels appropriate that I start and end this quarter’s Shelf Life with Brené Brown. Her books are transformative. I would have even more passages to share with you than Rising Strong, had I not read the e-version of this book. (Kindle people: Is there a way I can mark passages to save? Yes, I’m aware it’s 2016. Help me.) There’s not one person I know who wouldn’t be forever changed by hearing what Brown has to say on vulnerability, shame, the “never enough” culture, the perils of perfectionism and the courage and resilience needed to live our best life. The title comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech and challenges us to step into our own arena. To be heard and seen, and not afraid to fail. At points while reading this I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to absorb. It’s definitely something I could (and should) revisit again and again. Please act surprised if I buy you a copy for your birthday. It’s a book everyone should read.

Next up in the queue:

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Spark Joy – Marie Kondo
The Pink Suit – Nicole Mary Kelby
The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel
The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
The Lady in Gold – Anne-Marie O’Connor
The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist

# LiNo’s Libros: The Indian in the Cupboard

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but the girl who made me an Aunt and changed my life forever is eight today.

E-I-G-H-T.

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She has grown into such a remarkable girl–huge heart, infectious laugh and smarts for days. I absolutely adore her. And this year has brought a new project that is only fitting to unveil on her special day.

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LiNo’s Libros. I thought it appropriate that we have a celebrity couple name (Lily + NoNo) and for us to share the one thing we can’t get enough of: books.

This idea was born when I realized that Lily is the right age to read all of the books I first fell in love with. And it’s been the perfect way for this faraway aunt to connect with her busy niece.

Oh, books! My childhood favorites list could go on and on and on… too many to choose from.

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We agreed that we’d switch off picking the book, so I chose a favorite from my elementary years: The Indian in the Cupboard.  Here’s us on our first reading day:

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We’d read a few chapters on our own each week, but also connect to read one or two together and talk about what was happening.

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I thought we’d just compare notes, but being the daughter of a school teacher, Lily prepared questions for us to discuss for each chapter. It was the cutest thing ever.

I loved listening to her get into dialogue with her sweet voice. Mostly I just loved sharing something so special with her.

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It took us a while, but we finally finished it together. Here we are on the last day:

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At the end, we agreed to come up with five questions each. (Spoiler alerts for anyone wanting to read this book!)

NoNo’s Questions:

1. If you had a magic cabinet, what toy of yours would you bring to life and why?

L: All of them! I’ll put in there my baby Liza, Teddy and Bella, my toy dog.

2. Do you agree with Omri that sending them back to their lives was the best thing to do?

L: He thought it best because they were causing enough trouble, but no, I’d keep them alive. I just like all my toys already.

3. If you were transported via a magic cabinet, what would you tell your giant to bring to life so you could have?

L: Hold on, I’m thinkin’ about that. An art easel.

4. How are Little Bear and Boone alike? How are they different?

L: They have hats. They are both feisty. But one has a gun and one has a knife.

5. How do you think the story would be different if Omri had told his parents or brothers about Little Bear from the start?

L: It would probably be shocking and everyone would be fighting over Little Bear and Boone. Brothers would probably let him keep them, but not parents. Moms and Dads never let us have what you want. (Editor: hahahahaha)

Lily’s Questions:

1. How would you feel if you had to send a toy back to plastic? Plastik. Mom, you forgot the K.

N: I’m sure I’d feel sad, especially if we had become friends and had had adventures together.

2. Have you ever been sent to the principal, and why?

N: Errr, are you asking me because this happens in the book? Yes, I have. I did something I shouldn’t have done. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. Ask your mom about her going to the principal.

3. How did it feel to ride a horse?

N: What?! hahahahaha

L: You’ve been on one!

N: True, true. Um, it’s great, but you’ll be sore the next day.

4. What would you change the title to?

N: Ooh, good question.

L: I choose “The Magical Key of the Secret Pantry”

N: Man, that’s good. Okay, I choose “Booney Bear.”

L: hahahaha

Booh: Omri Makes a Friend

5. What kind of plastic figure would you be? I know! A French horn!

N: Ew, no. I wouldn’t want mouths on me. I don’t know. Probably a dog. What about you?

L: A native American. Probably Squanto.

N: What?!

L: Don’t you remember? He helped the pilgrims. He’s famous! Okay, so Squanto, or Queen Elizabeth, or a German General, and a Chinese Princess.

Booh: Uh, can we get a time frame on the German General?

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Oh, Lily, you make me laugh. Thank you for being the sweetest thing I didn’t know I needed so badly. You make everything more fun. Happy, happy 8th Birthday! We love you so very, very much.

Next up for LiNo’s Libros, Lily chose….hold on to your hats….Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m practically squealing. We might have to do this as a Google Hangout to reunite the SibSabs.

# brown butter + peanut butter rice krispy treats

First off: Krispy treats? Crispy treats? Krispie treats? America, if we can come together for the powerball, surely we can agree on a dedicated spelling of krispy treats.

But something we can agree on is that these things are damn good.

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I can’t even tell you the last time I had had one, but Joe put in a request for them over the holidays so we made these bad boys for New Year’s Eve. And they barely made it into 2016.

These aren’t the krispy treats of your childhood, at least not mine. They were rich with butters of the peanut and brown variety that, with a little salt, raised them to *almost* gourmet standards. They weren’t cloyingly sweet or overly sticky, but soft and decadent and playful. We were smitten and it was all I could do to not create a Krispy/Crispy/Krispie Treat board on pinterest.

At least not one that’s public.

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You can make them in an 8 x 8 pan for really thick blocks, or we used a 9 x 13 pan, which still produced thick treats, but more of them. I almost majored in math, guys.

My only tip is to have everything in place before you start, because once that butter starts to brown it’s a race to the finish line. One worth crossing again and again.

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Brown Butter + Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Source: Joy the Baker Cookbook

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 (10-oz) bag marshmallows (mini or large)
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter
1/4 tsp. salt
6 c. (half a box) of Rice Krispies Cereal

Butter an 8-inch square or 9 x 13 pan. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until just browned. Butter will melt, foam and froth, then begin to brown along the bottom. Whisk browned bits off of the bottom of the pan. (This works best if the inside of your pan is white or light-colored, like a Le Creuset.)

Just as the butter beings to brown, add the marshmallows, peanut butter and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until mixture is silky smooth and speckled with brown butter bits. Remove pan from heat and add cereal. Quickly stir, ensuring that all of the cereal is coated in the marshmallow mixture.

Turn the mixture into the prepared pan. With buttered fingers, quickly press mixture into the sides and bottom of the pan. Let cool and set for at least 30 minutes before slicing into blocks. Wrap individually in plastic wrap to store. They will last up to four days.

(Fellow Vegetarians, take note: Marshmallows are not vegetarian and I haven’t tried these with the vegetarian-friendly versions. Some rules are meant to be broken. You may try Marshmallow Fluff to see if it works — I’m told it’s vegetarian.)

Friday Five: Bowie & Rickman

Wow, what a week of loss. Two impeccable artists that had deep roots in both my childhood and adulthood. We’ve honored their art and their lives this week through a few of our favorite movies.

5. Labyrinth

David Bowie as the Goblin King was the nightmare fuel for most 80s kids. Doesn’t mean he was anything less than fabulous. As fabulous as his music, which I also love.

4. Love Actually

Even though I wanted to tear his character apart, Alan Rickman was the perfect choice as the cheating husband in this mish-mash story about all kinds of relationships. Always the bad guy.

3. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

I’m a little too young to appreciate his turn as villain Hans Gruber, but man did he nail it as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the only version of Robin Hood worth knowing, IMHO. One of the many reasons I love this movie.

2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

J.K. Rowling created the best “is he, isn’t he” in history with Severus Snape and I can’t think of any role better cast in the movies that Alan Rickman as the brooding teacher with everything to hide. Of all the movies, his darkness is most apparent in the sixth. This was the first one I watched after hearing of his death. I loved him in every installment, but was captivated by him in this.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two

Finding out the truth about Snape is right up there with finding out if Harry will live. Alan Rickman brought to life the dark, the light, the love, the pain, the redemption. This is a beautiful collection of his best scenes, in chronological order. Spoiler alerts for anyone that hasn’t read the books (Sean…).

# Christmas 2015: In Review

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We’re all over it, I know. No one wants to relive the glory days of the holidays when we’re all knee-deep in resolutions, but here I am with a quick recap.

One of big highlights for me this year was our tree. It’s crazy how much Christmas trees make me happy.

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I mentioned some of the new ornaments we acquired, but it seems like this was the Year of the Ornament. Thanks to gifts and Ebay, here were the other new additions:

Two song birds in a horn? Was this made for us?!

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You might have seen this when I mentioned seeing the Star Wars movie, but we had to commemorate this year’s big Christmas moment (for Joe). I spent a whopping $0.00 for this guy thanks to shopping at Kohl’s for our nieces and nephews. #winning

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Two ornaments from my childhood that I wanted to enjoy on my own tree. Thanks, Ebay.

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A sweet gift from Abby that combines her love of cats and my love of dogs.

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And, this Peanuts classic from Bryan and Robbi.

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That’s a lot of new ornaments for one year! Our tree has never looked better.

We saw a lot of these cuties via Facetime.

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We watched them open gifts with glee…

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…and missed a few kisses from Linc.

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Other highlights include…

playing lots of games. We rocked two-player Euchre, Phase 10 and I finally taught Joe how to play mancala. We haven’t stopped since.

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It warmed my heart to see my friends embrace my family’s quirky traditions with their own families…

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And we celebrated Chilali’s birthday with Star Wars (again) and a delicious meal that ended with a peanut butter cup pie. It was ridiculous.

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Overall it was just chill, which was exactly what we needed. We finished the latest season of Homeland. We slept in. We ate good food. And we shoveled snow. It was about as perfect as it could get, being away from family.

# Bella turns 11

Yesterday was a day of celebration when our precious pup turned 11!

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I’ve been thankful for all of her birthdays, but never like I was yesterday. She has come so amazingly far from where we were just last year.

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Back then, she was so sick and we were all so scared. Little did we know we had six more months of her getting worse before she got any better. But, her resilience is nothing short of astounding and, though she doesn’t quite look it here, she’s very joyful these days.

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(Yes, she desperately needs a haircut, but I find something torturous about shaving all of her hair off when it hasn’t been above freezing in weeks.)

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Since, frankly, this wasn’t a milestone we thought we would have together (if you asked me last year), we went all out in spoiling her.

First up was a fresh pair of snow boots, which she insisted on breaking in that moment.

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She. LOVES. snow.

After drying off, we gave her some Frosty Paws doggie ice cream…her second favorite thing, after that snow.

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But, our most exciting adventure was to take her to PetSmart, which I’ve actually never done before. We wanted to let her pick out her own toy, which was as ridiculous as it sounds.

Road Trip!

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Maybe a little overwhelming…

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She We finally picked one and let her watch the birds for a while. She was happy. Confused, but happy.

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Overall, it was a perfect day honoring our perfect girl. This caps what was/is/will always be The Year of the Bella for this house. This, and the amazing painting Joe gave me for Christmas.

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A picture perfect depiction of our girl. She is everything to us.