Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Reef Atlantis -- Our Room and Beach

This year my husband and I were faced with a dilemma: should we attempt to stick with our tradition of going on a vacation in the fall, or skip it because of my pregnancy? (And I do realize this isn't really a true dilemma per se, but rather a really nice problem to have.)

As I alluded to in Monday's post, I haven't exactly had the easiest time with things, so I was really paranoid about being far away from my doctors in Chicago. Yet I also knew it was important to not let all of my fears about something going wrong overpower what should be a happy time, or deter us from experiencing something that a lot of "normal" pregnant couples take part in nowadays—a babymoon.

We eventually made the decision to go ahead with a trip, but I had a ton of criteria that our ultimate destination had to meet, the main points being: 1) We had to be able to get there by taking no more than two short (less than three-hour-long) flights, 2) There had to be a doctor on site, and 3) it had to count as a place we'd never been before on the Travelers' Century Club's List of Countries. (One of our ultimate goals in life is to become members of this club, and to do so you have to hit 100 places on their spreadsheet. I currently have 41 or so checked off.)

The Bahamas immediately became the obvious choice. It's the closest of the Caribbean islands from the US, it's one of the few places in that area I hadn't been to yet, and I knew that the Atlantis resort there was big enough to warrant an on-site medical team. We waited until the ultimate last minute to book the trip (they had an incredible "off-season" deal that expired at the end of August, good for travel during the fall), which did come into question briefly thanks to Hurricane Irene wreaking havoc across the region a few weeks before we were set to depart.

But we ended up going in the middle of September and had exactly the kind of vacation we were hoping for: relaxing days at the beach (with things for Dustin to do while I lounged) and nice dining options every night. We would typically never choose to stay at a monstrous resort like Atlantis, and we'd been prepared for the worst based on online reviews and some of our friends' experiences. In the end, however, we totally lucked out because not only were we there during the lowest point of the low season (there were probably even fewer people around than would've otherwise made it there had the recent hurricane not scared them off), but we'd also randomly chosen to stay at The Reef, which was by far the quietest of the towers on the property. It's the furthest away from the center of the complex and is mostly comprised of for-sale condos, so there just wasn't anyone around. And that's exactly what we were hoping for.

We had a small suite that was just the right size. I couldn't NOT share the picture of our bed with the ten bazillion extra pillows I'd requested to assist with my weird pregnant-chick sleeping positions. The cleaning staff must have thought we were freaks:

To give you an idea of just how secluded The Reef's beach was (our tower had its own private beach, far away from the main complex's beach), here's a picture of all of the empty rows of beach loungers (with our two pulled away from the pack—that's my husband on the left!):

And here's a picture looking the other way down the beach. You can see a cruise ship in the distance:

Can I also just say that the water was some of the warmest I've ever been in? I usually take—no exaggeration—about 30 full minutes to get into any body of water. But I was able to wade right in at The Reef. I swam every day!

More either tomorrow or at a later point about some of the restaurants at Atlantis, as well as its truly impressive water park. Kind of sad to wrap up this post and then look out the window at an utterly dreary Chicago afternoon, though. BOO.

- e

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Once Upon a Time: It's No LOST, But It'll Do

First and most importantly, I want to thank everyone who left a kind message on this site, Facebook, or Twitter in response to yesterday's post. I had mixed feelings about writing out such personal stuff and then putting it on display oh-so-publicly, but now I'm glad I did.

So since you're up to speed on some of the bigger things that have been going on with me over the last few months, let's move on to the #1 question I've been asked by fellow LOST fans during that same time period: "What new shows are you watching now that The Best TV Series Of All Time has come to an end?"

What most people find hard to believe is that I really don't watch TV. I think that since my LOST posts were SO LONG, combined with the fact that, in general, I tend to be well versed in all things pop culture, there's just a natural assumption that I tune in to a lot of shows. But the reality is that since I've typically spent about three nights a week in movie theaters at press screenings since mid-2008, and since I've also had a rotating stack of DVDs begging for attention here at home that entire time as well, it just doesn't leave much room for TV. What's more, I don't have any of the cable channels like HBO or Showtime, and I'm just one of those people that hardly ever has a TV on overall—I refuse to watch any sort of news program (I read the news instead) and prefer silence whenever possible, so I'm not one to have shows/commercials/whatever on for background noise. However, I read a ton of entertainment magazines, blogs, Twitter feeds and sites, so I tend to have a handle on what's going on with all of the mainstream/popular TV series, even if I've never once watched them.

The shows I've chosen to keep up with over the years (and by that I mean that I DVR them and then sometimes weeks go by before I'm finally caught up) would admittedly fall into the "COMPLETELY MINDLESS entertainment" category. I think my brain just needed a rest after LOST. So the only shows I've watched with any regularity are Gossip Girl (yay for Chuck Bass!), The Amazing Race (travel/vacation ideas, duh), Survivor (new shades of deviousness never fail to amaze me, even after a decade), Top Chef (I hate to cook but like to learn about and be able to better appreciate good food), The Office (this one may soon get the boot, but I still love Jim at least), and—as embarrassed as I am to admit this—every recent season of The Real World and The Challenge on MTV (doesn't get more mindless than that, folks). That's it. My husband and I usually DVR all of the late-night talk shows as well, but only so that we can pick and choose to watch a specific interview or band/singer's performance that we're interested in.

But there is one show that I picked up this season, and as you already know from the title and graphic in this post, it's Once Upon a Time. I chose this one because: 1) I love, love, love fairy tales, 2) it's from two of the writers of LOST, and 3) it had gotten the thumbs up in advance of its premiere from many of my TV critic pals, like JOpinionated.

I don't foresee myself giving up on this show, despite some of the major problems I have with it, which I'm about to list out for you. But I'll start with the positive: I'm not going to give up on it because I like its core concept too much. All of the characters are living in the present day in this weird town and have no idea that they're actually all major figures from fairy tales. We see LOST-like flashbacks to their fairy-tale existences and learn how those same experiences have now translated into their current situations. It's unique and creative and I've usually found myself shedding a tear at least once an episode—another thing it has in common with LOST!

But make no mistake: Once Upon a Time is no LOST. Not even close. Here are the two main reasons why:

1) It might have the worst special effects I've seen on TV in years. Granted, I've just revealed that I don't watch that much TV so I'm probably not a good judge of what is and isn't acceptable, but so much of OUaT looks amateurishly green-screened or horribly CGI'd or just laughably fake that my husband actually refuses to watch it. I know this isn't the writers' fault, but I certainly hope that since the show has done well in the ratings that ABC will give the production team a higher FX budget going forward. It would help my enjoyment of the series immensely to not be so distracted by the B-movie-looking scenes.

2) There's no one character or actor/actress I'm really digging. As you all know, I immediately loved the character of John Locke on LOST, but also personally identified very closely with Jack from the beginning...and also adored almost ALL of the other characters, with Desmond, Sawyer, Sayid, Hurley, Charlie, Lapidus, Ben and Juliet (and Vincent, dammit!) being other favorites. On OUaT, I'm feeling no such love for anyone. If I HAD to pick a favorite, it would have been the character that was just killed off in this past weekend's episode—d'oh. And don't get me started on the kid, Henry (who's trying to convince everyone of their real identities). A child actor has to be REALLY good to not annoy the crap out of me, and the little guy playing Henry is unfortunately not up to snuff.

But the story's the thing, and that's what OUaT has going for it. I absolutely must know how everything's going to turn out for these characters—not because I really care about any of them individually at this point, but rather because the overall set-up is just so intriguing to me. How will they react when they learn who they really are? Will they remain in our world or go back to fairy-tale land? Are people like Henry and Emma Swan recognizable fairy-tale characters or not? Etc., etc.

I know a lot of you are watching Once Upon a Time, too, and so I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree with my gripes above, or am I being too hard on the show? Spoilers are allowed in the comments, of course!

- e

Monday, December 12, 2011

Testing, testing... is this thing on?

I've neglected "According to e" for 4.5 months. What do I have to say for myself?

A lot, actually.

So as to not "bury the lede"—a practice we writer-types tend to frown upon—let me start by sharing my biggest bit of news: I'm pregnant, and this kid is a-comin' next month. Assuming he (yep, it's a boy) decides to stay on schedule, that is.

Didn't my pregnancy go really fast for all of you? Aren't you glad I spared you a bunch of "oh my aching ____ " complaints and posts on stuff that only pregnant chicks care about? You're welcome!

Part of the reason I held off on mentioning this news is that my journey to bring a teeny Lord of the Rings fan into the world has taken four years. Four. Freaking. Years. As you might imagine, that period of time involved many ups and downs, and since the whole experience could very well be the subject of my next book, I'll keep it to myself for now. All that really matters is that my husband and I finally joined the ranks of parents-to-be this spring... and then I felt sick for the majority of the summer. I emerged from the depths of nausea in the fall, and then stupidly proceeded to take on a ton of clients (in addition to my full-time film critic/movie-blogging gig for Redbox) in order to try and make some extra cash before the arrival of "Baba Ghanoush," aka "Baba G," aka The Nickname We Chose Based on a Random Line from Wedding Crashers.

Unfortunately my plan backfired, as I failed to anticipate how incredibly tired I'd be—or that my Feeling Normal Again phase wouldn't last forever. All of this led to me barely being able to keep my head above water. I had no choice but to focus solely on getting my client work done each day, which in turn caused the majority of my family members and friends to assume I'd fallen off the face of the earth for the past few months.

So that's Big Piece of News #1. On to Big Piece of News #2.

As my January due date continued to creep closer and closer, I was forewarned by an increasingly large number of people that my husband and I had no idea what "exhausted" meant... but that we'd be finding out as soon as Baba G makes his debut. We were told this exhaustion would last at least two months, and that I was fooling myself if I assumed that during that time I'd still be able to maintain the level of work (writing an average of two posts a day, in addition to social media responsibilities and attending multiple film screenings per week) I'd been doing for Redbox. Believe it or not, in my 3.5 years of writing for them, I'd only taken off a total of 2 weeks. Not 2 weeks off per year... but 2 weeks off IN TOTAL across 3.5 years. I'd always found way to write during (or in advance of) vacations, on weekends, et cetera, and it just kind of became The Way It Was. I somehow made it work. But I was beginning to doubt that I'd be able to keep up this same pace come early 2012.

As it turns out, a decision on this front was made for me. A week ago my co-blogger Locke and I were informed that the site we'd been writing for (Redblog) was soon going to be managed in-house, and that while we might be asked to help with some one-off projects here and there, our time with Redbox had essentially come to an end. As the company has experienced phenomenal growth and success since we'd been brought on back in 2008, this news wasn't exactly a surprise to either of us, but I'd be lying if I said (speaking only for myself, of course) that the finality of it wasn't a bit of a shock. Even when you suspect something like this is going to happen, you're never really prepared for it to happen, you know, RIGHT NOW.

So I'm currently wading through the Stages of Grief, but I'm also reminding myself that the reason I landed the awesome Redbox gig in the first place is because of the movie reviews I'd been writing on this very site back in the day. The fine folks at Redbox had first been fans of my Long Live Locke blog, and then had noticed that in addition to loving LOST I was also quite a sucker for movies. So they reached out to me after I left the Chicago Board of Trade, and the rest is history. Had I not had the income from my work with Redbox, I probably wouldn't have been able to ride out my three-year quest to become a published author, nor would I have some of the other clients I've been fortunate enough to work with. Nor would I be a proud member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and currently be in the process of watching every last movie made this year in order to fulfill my annual awards-voting obligations (it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, as the saying goes).

My point is that while I'm incredibly sad that the weekly movie-screening-and-blogging-centric routine I've enjoyed since I left Corporate America is now drawing to a close, I'm thankful I got to experience it in the first place, and know that my life is about to change in even bigger and better ways. I figure the timing of all this change is probably as perfect as it could ever be, right? And yes, I do intend to once again write about movies on this site, so prepare yourself for a slew of year-end film reviews, Best Of lists, and all that good stuff.

I dare say this post has grown long enough, wouldn't you agree? And to think that I still have to tell you about how I'm finally going to get a home office after four years of writing from my kitchen table. And about our trip to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. And about my new MacBook Pro. And about the LOST book I'm contributing to. And about all of the new Pet Peeves I've discovered!

So, um, yeah... there's still much that I need to catch you all up on. Stay tuned for lots and lots of posts in the near future. And thanks for sticking with me. I appreciate it.

- e