Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I ranted a while ago on my personal Facebook page about Fifty Shades of Grey. I noted that it wasn't the sex scenes, rape undertones, or flawed nuances of a BDSM relationship that bothered me after becoming aware and attempting (read: struggling and failing) to read the first book in the series. I know that I am probably in the minority on that front, since many have been up-in-arms over those things since the book debuted a few years ago and the discussion has only rekindled with the launch of the film adaptation of the first book. If you aren't angry about the sex, then what is left to be angry about?, you might ask yourself upon hearing what already sounds like the beginning of a rant. Oh, plenty. I am not ashamed to admit that curiosity got the best of me in the same way it did when I read the first book in the Twilight series. I found a free PDF copy of Fifty Shades online a few months back and I thought I would check it out to see if it lived up to the hype of being a sexy, edgy love story. I have not seen the movie, which grossed over $90 million opening weekend and coincided with Valentine's Day (hopefully some follow marketers made some serious bank for that genius timing...), but my hopes are bottom-of-the-barrel low after my brief experience with the book, which I'll gladly hop on the haters train to nopeville to tell you about. Although I am normally eager to support my local libraries and booksellers, I was very glad that I did not waste a trip or burn my hard-earned American currency to purchase something that would arguably be better to burn as kindle for a campfire over which s'mores could be made for more satisfaction. I seriously read the first two or three chapters of the book before I succumbed to the fact that, no, it was not going to improve. Yes, those typos were going to continue to present themselves for another 200-something pages and, no, I was not going to be able to ignore them. I quickly resorted to skimming over the rest of the book in an attempt to be a trooper, follow-through, and finish the damn thing as fast as humanely possible so I could justifiably make fun of how awful it was to read. Enraged from perpetually rolling my eyes so far back in my head and instinctively copy editing along the way, I managed to beat the odds and "finish" the whole story. The book broke me -- and not in a sexy sort-of way. Reserved, wallflower of a girl meets attractive, mysterious boy. Boy is intrigued with girl and also happens to be an extremely wealthy 26-year-old. Looking at the Dot.Com boom of the 90s and the social media era of today (aside: some suggest that we might or might not be seeing a second Dot.Com bubble), I could sort-of buy the concept of a 26-year-old multimillionaire. It would be uncommon but not unrealistic. It was everything that I read on top of that which started my perpetual eye rolling. Successful and sexy despite serious mommy-daddy issues and sociopathic tendencies. A contract approach to an S&M relationship with someone who wasn't sure if she preferred chocolate ice cream over vanilla, let alone being flogged with a leather or silicone strap. Descriptions like that trudged on and on, painful to read even when skimming instead of diving into the gory details. Funny enough, one thing that got to me was this: where does savvy, young millionaire-man shop for his instruments of sexual deviance? Why, at a local mom and pop hardware store, of course. Young, rich, successful Mr. Grey goes out on his own and shops at a mom and pop hardware store for Duct tape and rope to use on his sexual partners. Even my grandma (rest in peace) knew that sex toys could be found in practically every city across America or online, if one could perform a basic Yellow Pages or internet search to find them. Instead, the author develops Mr. Grey in the image of a modern, albeit richer, Ted Bundy. I'll get off of the poor story line and character development to go back to the typos because there is a lot to hate on that subject. Fair notice: I might be a little obsessive compulsive when it comes to spell checking when I am writing emails, research assignments, and other things. It is, after all, a large part of my job to ensure that things are polished and ready to publish to larger audiences to sell a product or service. Just like routinely saving your work, it becomes second nature to periodically spell check, too, when you are writing something. Write a little, hit the key for spell check, repeat, and avoid looking like an imbecile. Not for nothing, but how did the final draft go to press without some copyediting? Seriously. I am not talking about a few issues, either, like a stray character or a missing word in a sentence. Nobody, not once, read this book through in entirety in a Word (or equivalent application) document? Nobody saw little red and green squiggles under words and sentences, indicating misspellings and grammar errors? NOBODY hit F7 in Windows (or the equivalent on a Mac) to spell check before the book went to print?! If you think that I am overreacting on this point, take this food for thought: this book has spent over 76 weeks on the New York Times best sellers list based on combined print and e-Book sales. 76. weeks. The other two books in the series are also on the list, with all three ranking in the top 15 as of this week. I am aware that being a best seller does not automatically mean that the book is considered a prized work of art, but it means something, right? People know about the series and have purchased it, or will as a result of the hype, and the author may call herself a "best seller" from here on out, a tremendous honor to have. The Fifty Shades series currently ranks with three books that were also made into movies -- Still Alice, Wild, and Gone Girl. These three movies were nominated in various Oscars categories this past year, with at least one winning top accolades (Julienne Moore for Best Actress in Still Alice). With that comparison, it now seems criminal to think of these standing in the same Best Sellers category, at least in my eyes... In all seriousness, though, the book might have been perfectly fine if not for the errors that, for me, deteriorated it to the status of a Harlequin Romance novel reject sitting on top of a trash pile. This book could have benefited from some serious polishing on all accounts -- from story line to character development, editing, etc. The fact that this is a best selling novel in a series of best sellers, grossing millions of dollars in sales and standing with other works that were translated into Oscar- nominated or winning movies, makes the lack of polish much more offensive to me. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that Kanye West will be storming the Oscars next year, no doubt demanding to know why 50 Shades wasn't nominated for "Best Picture" because Beyonce's song was featured in the trailer. I certainly won't continue reading the series and I don't plan on seeing the movie any time soon. Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Chia Pudding: The Verdict

Has anyone tried chia pudding? It is no more than chia seeds soaked in milk (or vegan-friendly nut milk) overnight with additional flavoring (vanilla, maple syrup...) and toppings (yogurt, granola, nuts...), if desired. After hearing about all of the health benefits and how easy it is to make for a quick breakfast or a healthy snack, it was, of course, high up there on my list of things to try. While browsing Brit + Co, I came across a recipe for apple pie chia pudding and decided to finally try it. The pictures of the recipe looked wonderful, as they generally do on that site, and the mason jar preparation seemed brilliant, since I love using mason jars and have a lot leftover from my summer and fall canning projects. I figured that the addition of the yogurt and fruit later on would make for an interesting texture along with the seed-like consistency of the pudding, but that was exactly what concerned me: the seed-like texture of the pudding... From a previous experience, I already knew that chia or flax seeds, when soaked in liquid for a period of time, soften and become jelly-like. In this case, I imagined that chilling the mixture would cause them to set-up into a firmish mass, just like a pudding. Now. Food and beverage textures generally don't bother me, but something about this made me say to myself, I am going to either tolerate and maybe grow to like this, or this is going to be one of the worst F@#%ing things that I have put in my mouth... Not quite extremes, but not high hopes, either. For those reasons, I stopped after completing the first few steps of the recipe, making the base of the pudding as a starting point. To a half-pint mason jar (half the size of the jar pictured in the Brit + Co pictures), I added 2 tablespoons of mixed chia and flax seeds. I keep them in a shaker containers in my pantry for when I feel like sprinkling them over oatmeal, granola, and yogurt (I am already a fan). I topped the seeds with about a quarter cup of cashew nut milk, covered the jar and shook it lightly, and put it the fridge. It sat for a few days until I got around to trying it, which was fine since there were no ingredients that would cause it to spoil. When I took the jar out of the fridge and unscrewed the lid, things kind of looked the same except a majority of the cashew milk absorbed into the seeds, as expected. I mixed it a little and decided to just go for it. Frankly, I am glad that I trusted my intuition and just made one test jar. After I tasted the pudding on its own, then the pudding with some coconut-flavored Greek yogurt mixed in, I didn't bother to complete the apples portion of the recipe since I determined that chia pudding was just not for me. I like tapioca and rice pudding, both of which can be pleasantly chewy. The texture of this pudding was similar, but different. It was kind of... goopy. Slimy, even. Thin, partially-set Jell-O goopy, but this was far from an artificially-flavored cherry-berry extravaganza in my mouth. Biting into the little blackish-brown seeds suspended in the cream-colored liquid reminded me of when I ate meat on a regular basis -- chicken, specifically -- and would accidentally bite into soft bone, cartilage, or gristle. Yeah, so, needless to say, kind of a gross memory, but that was my immediate frame of reference. The yogurt definitely improved the taste, since the yogurt was sweeter than the cashew nut milk, but it was still not something that I wanted to devour in one sitting. Meh... I'll try again maybe some other time and see if my opinion changes. If you can persuade me with another recipe, then let me know and I might consider it. For now, though, the only newish or revived healthy snack trend that I am fully on-board with is juicing -- yes, including green juices, which I've grown accustomed to drinking.

On Pinterest: Chocolate and Mint

For me, something just screams "St. Patrick's Day" when I think about chocolate and mint, both the flavor and the color combinations. In design, mint green seems like a perfect color to represent spring -- especially the shades on the lighter, pastel end of the spectrum -- but it can be elevated to a level of sophistication and all-season suitability when paired with contrasting, rich chocolate browns. And nothing is more perfect than the familiar taste of 90% of the population's favorite Girl Scout cookie flavor, Thin Mint, transformed beyond cookies and into brownies, fudge, and other confections. Today, I am looking at Pinterest for inspiration on all things chocolate and mint. I recognized recently that my foodie to-do list is missing an obligatory dose of chocolate, so I am bound to see something in this category that will inspire me to add another recipe to the to-make list. These chocolate-mint macarons could be a great challenge seeing how, as embarrassing as this is for me to admit, I love but have never attempted to make homemade macarons. I know, I know. I've really exposed myself here as a noob, so to speak. I'll redeem myself someday. Sure enough, one of the first things that I found was this amazing-looking recipe for chocolate-mint macarons. I know I was immediately transfixed by the idea of minty and crunchy-chewy macaron cookies, complimented by smooth dark chocolate ganache. I'll give you a minute to salivate over the pictures on her site as you think about that description. Double yum. Fashion, design, and home decor were also top-of-mind when thinking about this color theme. I loved this color palette, named "Bicycle", which would be awesome for both web design as well as home decorating projects coming up for the spring. (For some inspiration on the home deco front, take a look at this kitchen, which has minty-colored walls, rich ebony cabinets, and stainless steel and glass accent; a nice modern design with good contrast.) Deviating from brown to black and white paired with shades of mint, the bold chevron patterns used in this re-branding project really struck me as sophisticated and cool, especially when paired with pops of gold as seen in the product logo when placed on some of the items pictured and in the stationary. I especially loved the photos of the product packaging featured towards the bottom of the post -- bold patterned gift wrap paper topped off with complimentary ribbons -- and immediately thought that this would be great inspiration for anyone planning a spring wedding or other event where gifts or favors might be exchanged. Finally, this cable knit sweater layered over a windowpane-patterned back and white blouse was definitely up my alley as something I would love to wear to the office... [caption width="494" align="alignnone"] Photo courtesy of PopSugar, Nordstrom, and/or ShopStyle (original URL unknown). [/caption] I found a similar blouse at Banana Republic recently, albeit short-sleeved, but was heartbroken when I discovered that the sizes were way off. (My normal size didn't fit right in certain areas, but the size up fit like a shapeless, baggy tunic. Not sure how that is possible, but go figure.)

Review: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

As always, I will try my best to speak in general terms about the movies that I am reviewing, but there might be some accidental spoilers, so please read with caution. It goes without saying that there was some steep competition for the top accolade of Best Picture at this year's Oscars. Among the nominees were Birdman, American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. While Birdman took the top honors, I think everyone and their mothers would agree that Boyhood could have won on the pretense of dedication alone. The lead character was actually progressing through his child years to adulthood during the 12 years that it took to film the movie. At least four movies showcased real people and events -- including Dr. Martin Luther King and his march through Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement as shown in Selma, and the accomplishments and struggles of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle as shown in American Sniper -- all with their respective marks made on the history of the 20th and 21st centuries. The Grand Budapest Hotel, a Wes Anderson comedy about the trials and tribulations of a hotel concierge and a lobby boy set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka during the early 20th-century, and Whiplash, the fictional story of a driven music student who will stop at nothing to please his teacher, were also among the nominated and certainly could have won based on cinematography. Following the Oscars, Howard Stern took a moment on his live show to critique Birdman's Best Picture win, pointing out that Hollywood loves to see itself featured in movies and give itself accolades. I happen to agree with this assessment. Birdman was a good movie for showcasing, for lack of better words, Hollywood douchebaggery. The way that that characters were portrayed, the fantastical CGI sequences, and the cheeky references at pop culture peppered throughout the movie all made for a satirical tribute to Hollywood that the Academy ate up like snacks at the movie theater**. But anyway, don't get me wrong. Birdman was far from awful. It had great casting with Michael Keaton in the starring role and the familiar faces of Ed Norton, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifinakis in supporting roles. The movie poked fun at the whole industry, with Keaton playing washed-up action star Riggan Thomson. Thomson wanted to become a "serious" actor in the eyes of his colleagues by taking on a pet project on Broadway, an adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and using much of his remaining fortune to guarantee the play's success. Galifinakis played Jake, Thomson's eternally flustered publicist, and Stone played Sam, Thomson's sassy daughter who was brought in as a production assistant after finishing up a stint in rehab. Norton played Mike, a pretentious actor who Thomson and everyone else hoped would save the play after an on-set mishap put one of the original cast members out of commission. By the time the play hit its first previews, things quickly started spiraling back out of control, with Mike's true colors coming out and family drama ensuing between Thomson, his daughter, and his ex-wife. The movie was very much focused on Thomson's trials and tribulations. Relationships with loved ones, colleagues, and the industry at large suffered as Thomson struggled to redeem himself in the eyes of many and make his play a success. Scenes featuring budding relationships between the other characters (e.g., Mike and Sam) were interesting, but disappointingly fleshed out. It was evident that these characters were there just to get caught up in the whirlwind of Thomson's wacky life, but some parts were unnecessarily drawn out or included to seemingly make the movie longer than it needed to be. As the movie progressed, the lines between reality and fantasy blurred, with nonsensical sequences of flying, explosions, and other CGI kicking into overdrive. Now, there are people out there who are going to say that all of this was symbolism, and, yeah, I got that. Birdman is Batman, a clever nod to Keaton's real-life acting history. Keaton's character was trying and failing to leave his past behind, essentially turning into his famous action hero character. All of that was good, if not for the use of special effects that became a little ridiculous to watch as the movie went on. If you are planning on seeing a movie this weekend, Birdman is a fine choice but I would highly recommend seeing Whiplash instead. This movie might as well be mandatory viewing for current or former musicians, students of music, band/ensemble members, and/or music lovers; however, it is also for anyone who can appreciate and relate to the drive and determination that it takes to master a discipline. The intensity of the movie is something that cannot be described in words alone. The movie is technical in terms of its references to music terminology, but not in a way that would cause someone without this knowledge to get completely and totally lost in what is going on. Even if you can't read music to know that the scores shown on the screen are very complex, you can certainly understand what it takes to read, understand, and play them based on what else is shown. The blood, sweat, and tears are graphically shown at parts that left me cringing (in a good way). Overall, I was very, very happy with the movie. ** As an aside, I am convinced that the long previews at the movies are designed in hope that you will lose your self-control and obliterate your popcorn as you are watching them. As preview after preview of tired superhero reboots, romantic comedies, and other movies that you don't care about pass by, the theater hopes that, in boredom or frustration of waiting for the actual movie to finally start, you will eat through your snacks and be forced to take a trip back to the lobby to purchase more snacks for the start of the movie. And never mind the brief anxiety of hoping that nobody is going to think that you are sneaking back into the movie because you forgot to take your ticket with you. The tricky bastards. Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday 9: Mysterious Ways

Writing prompt via Saturday 9 1) In honor of St. Patrick's Day (this coming Tuesday), we're featuring one of Ireland's most successful exports, U2. What else is Ireland famous for? Guinness and Jameson, the Blarney Stone, golfing on really green grass, tea and scones... I could go on, but I guess I will stop there. :) 2) The Dublin studio where U2 recorded this song (and all of Achtung, Baby) is now a music store called Claddagh Records. U2 pilgrims from all over the world travel to the spot (Celia Street, Dublin 2). If we were to visit your neighborhood, are there any landmarks you could direct us to? Not very familiar with any of the landmarks in Easton, PA aside from the center square where they have Easton Farmer's Market during the summer and fall months, the oldest and continuously-running open-air market in the United States since 1752. Flemington, NJ, where I most of my youth, is famous for being the location of the Lindbergh kidnapping and subsequent trial. The Lindberghs had a home in East Amwell, where the baby was taken, and the trial was located at the Hunterdon County Courthouse on Main Street. 3) Lead singer Bono is rarely seen without his trademark sunglasses because he suffers from glaucoma. How is your vision? 20/20? I wear glasses or contacts, but the prescription is normal and consistent, I suppose -- not too strong or weak. 4) Bono and wife Alison were married in 1982 and are still together today. Who is the longest-married couple you know? My grandparents on my mother's side would have been the longest married couple that I have known, but my grandfather passed before they could reach their 50th wedding anniversary. They were married on New Year's Eve 5) When Bono inducted Frank Sinatra into the Grammy Hall of Fame, he applauded the older man's "swagger." Do you think you have swagger? "Swagger" is defined as an aggressive or arrogant walk or behavior. While it is not generally my intention to be arrogant, I can certainly come off that way to people who might not know me very well. In not-so-nice terms, I have often heard this termed for women as a "resting bitch face" -- hah. 6) Bono has been honored by world leaders, including President Obama and Nelson Mandela and the Pope, for his philanthropy. Here's your turn to brag: tell us something you have received praise for recently. My philanthropy is far from the status of Bono's, I can assure you. My eternal bragging rights, however, would probably be the fact that I donated a kidney to my mom. Recently, on a personal level, I got a 104% grade on my accounting exam (yes, I said accounting), which still seems unbelievable to me. 7) Clearly Bono is the most famous member of U2. Who else is in the band? The Edge is the guitarist, but he is the only other person that I am familiar with. Although I do enjoy some of their music, I wouldn't consider myself to be a die-hard or even a big fan of the band. 8) On St. Patrick's Day, will you wear green? I might wear a little green, yeah, but I would still want to keep my green work- and fashion-friendly, as opposed to garish. 9) Will you enjoy a glass of green beer or maybe a Shamrock Shake from McDonald's? Probably not; not a huge fan of watery beer dyed with green food coloring or artificial flavors. Dark beers and whiskeys of various kinds, as I have mentioned in the past, are generally my go-to preferences any time of the year. I might enjoy a few more beers than usual over the course of this week, but don't plan to go out binge drinking as some do to "celebrate."

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