The 25th Annual Hunger Games

This past Saturday, the citizens of Panem gathered for a celebration.

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The 25th Annual Hungers Games–my very own Quarter Quell–took place. Needless to say, it was glorious.

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But I figure, why tell you when I can show you?

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May the odds be ever in your favor… to get through the smorgasbord of photos you are about to be subjected to.

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Let the Games begin!

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First up: SUSTENANCE!

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Choose your weapon.

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Georgetown Cupcake!

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Cherry blossom district cupcakes and red velvet mockingjays.

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Lamb stew with dried plums (my own recipe!) and Caesar (Flickerman) salad. Get it? GET IT?!

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Fruit cornucopias and crostini with goat cheese & apples.

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Peeta Pita chips & hummus.

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Next up: LIBATIONS! (Sidebar: My cousin Nicky–Reaping Katniss–hand-drew the mockingjay pins on those shot glasses. Amazing, right?)

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Nightlock punch. Drink at your own risk.

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So. Many. Jello shots. From left to right, those are mosaic jello shots, strawberry champagne, and cupcake jello shots. Yep, you read that correctly. CUPCAKE jello shots. Let’s take a closer look:

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Aaaand one more time:

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So. Effie-ing. Good.

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And finally, the most important part: THE GUESTS! (Or, at least as many photos of the guests as I could take before I got too, ehm, libation…ed. Heh.)

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Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire. 😉

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Reaping Katniss and Seneca Crane(‘s beard).

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TRACKER JACKERS!!

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District 2’s Tribute vs. The Capitol.

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Citizens of the Capitol came out to PLAY.

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(Another sidebar: I would absolutely sacrifice my dignity and become a citizen of the Capitol if it meant I got to wear lashes like Megan’s everyday.)

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Katnisses of the world unite!

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Even the pets of Panem came out to say hi.

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And I could not have done a thing without these two beautiful ladies by my side: Aileen & Ai Rei.

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The Ai’s have it! (That’s never gonna get old, by the way. Nope. Not a chance.)

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Thanks for all the birthday love, super fun times, and, of course, birthday wine, friends! Happy Hunger Games INDEED. <3 <3 <3

My Quarter Quell

Today, I am 25 years old.

Two-five.

A quarter of a century.

Whoa.

Does this mean I’m a grown up yet? 😉

I’ve been sifting through some of the dozens and dozens of old family photos my brother has posted on Flickr, and happened upon a few that are particularly apropos to today’s date. Y’know, the day of my birth and all. So while there will likely be lots of ridonkulous photos and good timery to show you after my Hunger Games-themed party on Saturday (get it? My Quarter Quell birthday? Hunger Games? Eh? Ehhh?), for now, I think I’ll take a stroll down memory lane–a journey through birthdays past. Care to join me?


1996 – My 8th birthday


2000 – My 12th birthday


2001 – My 13th birthday


2006 – My 18th birthday (first in college!)


2009 – My 21st birthday (legal drinking age booyah!)


2010 – The big double-2 (and my last birthday at 246+ lbs)

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2011 – My 23rd (down maybe 40 pounds at this point?)


And of course, last year – My Potterlicious 24th!

Regardless of how far I may have come, how much weight I may have gained or lost throughout the years, and what the state of my health has been at various times throughout my life, one thing had remained the same: I frakkin’ love my birthday. But even more than that, I love that now I get to share this slice of my life with all of you! Thanks for being with me through the past 2 birthdays–here’s looking ahead to the next 25, eh?

Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

Something wonderful happened last night, my friends.

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I christened my beautiful, glorious, entirely too expensive birthday gift from Sean with a meal of epic proportions (for more than one reason, natch). Also, I feel it bears noting that I have named my french oven. Her name is Francette.

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As promised, the first dish cooked up in my new baby is a delicious, hearty lamb stew with dried plums as inspired by Katniss’ favorite dish from The Hunger Games. I figure that enough time has passed since my 10,000 Hunger Games posts that I can bring it back now, hehe.

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I should probably tell you now that I did not follow the recipe from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook that my friend Lara gave me for my birthday. I used the book, along with this recipe, to give me a general idea of what ingredients to include, but from there I pretty much took off on my own. The reason I didn’t want to follow the recipe in the book was because it had like 28937 ingredients, including a bunch of fresh herbs, both white sugar AND brown sugar, as well as a cup of ginger ale (?). Too complicated! I’m sure the recipe from the book is very tasty, but I like things to keep things simple and, more than that, EASY.

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This recipe definitely falls into the simple and easy category. As with any low-and-slow cooked meal, it is a little bit time consuming at first, but after you have all the stuff in the pot, you really get to just set it and forget it. From what I have gleaned, there are two options for making stews: on the stovetop or in the oven. Since it’s already hot and humid as, well, you know, around these parts, and my brother (side note: check out his redesigned photography site!) refuses to turn on the air conditioner, turning my oven was not ideal for me. Plus, I figured with a stovetop recipe, if I want to try making it in a slow cooker next time, the process will translate more easily.

I was able to find lamb specifically designated for stew, that was already cut into chunks in the meat section of my local Giant. If you can’t find something similar, I think that lamb shoulder is the ideal cut, although leg of lamb would be equally as delicious, just more stringy in texture. All the other ingredients are pretty standard (dried plums are the same thing as prunes, and I found them in the nuts and dried fruit section of the grocery store).

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Admittedly, by the time the lamb, veggies, and stock were all bubbling away together, things smelled and tasted so good that I was actually some doubts about throwing the dried plums (read: prunes) into the mix.

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In the end though, I knew that I had to be true to the one defining characteristic of this stew (it is in the NAME after all!) and toss them in there. I added them with about 25 minutes to go on the stove, and I loveloveLOVED the end result. I’m a huge fan of savory + sweet combos, so this was really perfect for me.

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The entire dish reminded me a lot of a chicken curry-type dish that my mama makes. It has a stew-like consistency because the sauce gets so thick, and she always adds raisins to it. It seems a little weird at first to add dried fruit to a dish like that (or like this!) but it just really works! I would definitely call this one a supreme success, and a dish that I will certainly be making a lot in the future — though granted, it’s not exactly a summertime dish, so I may have to waylay it’s follow-up performance to the Fall.

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It’s not easy to make a photography of stew look good, but rest assured, it tastes AMAZING!

I served this gloriousness over a bed of jasmine rice, although I think that wild or brown rice would have seemed a little more rustic. I think it also would be delicious just on its own (maybe with a crusty piece of bread to sop up all the saucey goodness?) since, as mentioned, it is very hearty and has everything in it: protein (lamb), veggies (carrots, celery, onion), and a carb (potatoes).

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Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
Print this recipe!

This hearty, delicious recipe is inspired by Katniss’ favorite dish from The Capitol in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Simply seasoned with fresh, earthy ingredients, the dried plums add just the right touch of sweetness to this delicious and filling dish. Serve over rice or on its own!

Ingredients:

1 lb. pre-cut lamb for stewing (shoulder or leg cut into pieces is fine too)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 small yellow onions, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
6 – 7 medium carrots, chopped
5 baby white potatoes, chopped
1 cup dried plums/prunes, chopped
16 oz. low sodium beef broth
1 cup red wine of choice (use a wine you enjoy drinking!)
2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder

Instructions:

1. Using a paper towel, pat lamb pieces until dry and season with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven or large stock pot, heat olive oil to medium-high heat and brown the lamb on both sides. Remove from pot and set aside on a plate when finished.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, and add roughly chopped garlic and onion to the pot. Sautee until they begin to get soft and translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Deglaze pan with red wine, making sure to scrape all the bits of stuck-on deliciousness from the bottom and sides of the pot. Add carrots, celery, potatoes, and cover the vegetables with beef stock. Season with additional salt, pepper, garlic powder, and add bay leaves. Bring to a simmer before adding the lamb and juices back in. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

3. After an hour has passed, add dried plums. Taste and season to your preference. Cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, then serve!

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Nutritional info per 1/6th serving: 353 calories, 9 g fat, 43 g carbs (6 g fiber), 21 g protein.

Mm-mmm. It was Sean-approved too, if that matters to those of you who are considering whether their boyfriends, husbands, brothers, or dads would be willing to try it. I can’t wait to bust into some leftovers for lunch!

The Hunger Games: A Review

Opening weekend has come and gone, having secured $155 million dollars in the bank, and making The Hunger Games the 3rd highest grossing opening weekend of all time (behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight). I saw the movie again last night (yay!) and I think enough time has passed that those who OMG!DESPERATELY needed to see the film probably have, so I can go into more depth and be a little more critical than I was in my last post about it.

Consider this your official warning for those who hate spoilers and/or those who hate The Hunger Games to stop reading now. (Though if you’re in the latter category, I have to ask, why? Just… why?) If you haven’t read the books yet, but intend to, you might also want to consider coming back to this entry later, since I’m sure there will be a few non-movie spoilers in here, too. I also apologize that this is probably going to be a really long and really wordy post, since, you know, I REALLY love The Hunger Games.

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As you already know, I loved the movie overall, and it was just as good the second time. Turns out, going at 6:30 on a Monday means an almost empty theatre which made it the perfect second-viewing experience. I’ve never been the kind of person to nitpick the little things when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. In fact, my favorite Harry Potter films were not the ones that followed the books to a T (like the first two), but the ones that took a few artistic and film-making liberties without detracting from the overall storyline (like 3, 4, and 8). As long as all the major plot points and characters are included, who cares that things didn’t happen exactly “the way it was in the book”? It’s only natural that some things will be left out and changed to make these adaptations into good MOVIES, as opposed to just page-by-page retellings of the books (which, granted, I would love, but any non-book-readers would decidedly not).

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The movie is action-packed, well-cast, and extremely well-acted. I’ll start with casting: I thought they really hit the nail on the head with both of the main stars. Jennifer Lawrence made a fantastic, simultaneously vulnerable and stoic, Katniss. I thought she really looked the part, too. (Am I the only one who thinks she looks better as a brunette?) I heard a lot of initial complaints about Katniss’ casting at first: Lawrence is 20 but Katniss is supposed to be 16. Lawrence is too healthy-looking to be Katniss, who is supposed to be petite and kind of waifish. And I swear, if I hear one more thing about how she’s not the right race because she’s described as having “olive skin” in the book, I will shoot myself. I mean, seriously. Of all the things to care about!

Not only is it a non-issue for 20-somethings to play high school age kids these days (hello, ANY show on The CW!) but Katniss is supposed to have a very mature quality to her. After all, she had to essentially take over the role of provider for her family after her father died and her mother subsequently went catatonic for a while. As for the “too healthy looking” comments, yes, she is from a district where food is scarce and her family is poor, but Katnissis a badass hunter, yo! The book makes it very clear that once Katniss started hunting (which is illegal, so it makes sense that it took some time for her to start doing so regularly), her family didn’t starve.

Hopefully all qualms with regard to the casting of Katniss (say that 10x fast!) have been put to rest after seeing Lawrence’s performance anyway. That scene with her and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, who was a surprising delight!) before she goes into the tube? Chills. Also, as mentioned, tears.

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I also have mad love for the casting of Peeta. I think Josh Hutcherson is adorable, has immense charm, and is still boyish which is exactly what Peeta needs to be. I know that a lot of fans were upset that they didn’t cast more of a stud to play the part of Peeta, but I thought that he did a great job (and the blonde hair was very natural-looking, IMO). I also loved the contrast that you get between him and Gale, who is a giant with rakish, manly handsomeness, and is pretty much a physical opposite of Peeta. Aside from the physical though, I can kind of take-or-leave Liam Hemsworth as Gale. Perhaps it’s because he had so little screen time, or because he’s tainted from being Miley Cyrus’ boytoy but in general, meh.

My overall favorite casting choice was probably Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman though, teeth and everything. That man is truly flawless in every role he plays.

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Moving onto the main plot: As mentioned, I honestly didn’t feel like they left out anything crucial. Of course there were some things that happened in the book that would have been neat to see on the silver screen (the flashback of Katniss and Gale witnessing the redheaded girl being captured by the hovercraft outside District 12, or the muttations having the eyes of the Tributes, as examples), but leaving them out didn’t detract from the story in any way. In fact, not including those kinds of details may have increased overall understanding of what was going on to those that haven’t read the book. One example of this is how in the book, Katniss’ friend Madge was the one to give her the Mockingjay pin, and getting to wear it in the Arena wasn’t a secret, it was allowed. But the way they did it in the movie was still effective even without that exposition.

When talking with Sean (who hasn’t read the book) about whether there were any parts of the movie that were confusing, he said that the only thing for him was the flashback between Katniss and Peeta. In the book, the occurrence of Peeta purposefully burning the bread from his family’s bakery to be able to give to a starving Katniss is extremely significant to both characters. Without the narrative inside her head, however, we have no way of knowing how Katniss feels when Peeta’s name is called at The Reaping. There’s no way to know of the connection that already exists between them, despite them having barely ever spoken. For this reason, I also feel that Peeta’s revelation of being in love with Katniss while he’s being interviewed may have had slightly less impact to a non-book-reader as well (though I still loved it, obviously).

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One issue I’ve heard some people have with the movie is how Katniss’ first couple of days in the Arena don’t play out the same way as originally written. In the book, she nearly dies from dehydration at first, way before the whole forest-fire-plus-fireballs scenario. I totally understand why they chose to change this. Not only would it have slowed down the pace of the movie immensely, but it’s hard to showcase something like the effects of dehydration in a way that A) makes sense but is B) not boring. This change, as well as the general brevity of Peeta & Katniss’ time in the cave, are things that I can support because I felt that they really helped the pacing of the film overall.

Another thing that I’ve been hearing a lot about is critics’ displeasure with how the movies “glosses” over the multitude of deaths that occur. I actively disagree. Yes, this is a PG-13 movie so it’s obviously not as gory as the book describes, but I thought that the portrayals of the Tributes’ deaths were plenty gruesome and disturbing — especially paired with the aftermath shot of the initial bloodbath where the camera pans in on several of the dead Tributes’, including the face of one girl with her eyes still open. *shudder* Cato breaking the neck of the District 3 boy after Katniss blows up their food supplies was also particularly jarring to me (ugh, the sound!).

As I mentioned in my first impressions post, there was really only one part that detracted from the movie, for me. (I should insert that I didn’t really feel this way the second time around, but this is definitely how I felt after the first viewing.) I didn’t feel that the movie gave enough time for Katniss and Rue to forge their bond. The story moves incredibly quickly, from the tracker jacker attack (I imagined tracker jackers MUCH bigger, by the way) to their plan to blow up the Careers’ food, to (SPOILER ALERT!) Rue’s death. While I enjoyed the actresses’ scenes together (I also thought that Rue was extremely well-cast, and looked exactly as I pictured her), they really didn’t spend that much time together. I don’t think that Katniss’ hysteria over her death made as much sense to someone who hadn’t read the book, for that reason.

The book makes it very clear how protective Katniss is of Rue, how she reminds her of Prim and of how she COULD have been Prim, had Katniss not volunteered in the first place. Through her discourse with Rue, we learn so much about how the Districts operate, and why District 11 in particular is so ripe for rebellion. You just don’t get much of that from their short scenes together, unfortunately. Of course, I do think that Gary Ross (the director) did as good a job as he could with the time allotted for their relationship to develop. Goodness knows I cried! One of the most unfortunate effects of the midnight release viewing was that after the death scene (during which there was some intense SOBBING coming from the row behind us), the movie cuts to the riots in District 11 and then back to a hysterically crying Katniss. When they cut back to her, unfortunately the theatre erupted in laughter. I know it was likely because of all the residual emotional tension but still. I was ready to pimpslap some teenage girls, you better BELIEVE.

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Okay, so let’s move onto some of the deviations from the book that I absolutely LOVED. I see movie adaptations of books as an opportunity to explore things that we don’t get to see in novels (especially ones that follow a single character, like The Hunger Games). I really enjoyed getting to see into the Gamemaker’s control room and the tete-a-tetes between President Snow and Seneca Crane. I felt like the latter especially set up President Snow to become the truly heinous villain we see in the 2nd and 3rd book (since we don’t really see him at all in the first book, actually). I also loved the emphasis that the movie placed on the fact that The Hunger Games is a reality TV show. Yes, a totally sick, horrible one, but a show nonetheless. When you’re reading the book, and you’re there IN the Arena with Katniss, you kind of forget that’s what’s going on outside. The sports-like commentary with Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith really helped this hit home, too.

Showing the District 11 riot is also something that isn’t present in this book, but I was utterly enthralled by it and thought it was a really great addition. Unlike in the books, where you don’t get proof of unrest in the Districts for a long, long time, we were afforded a glimpse of the unhappiness of Panem’s citizens. I felt it was powerful and appropriate.

On a totally superficial note, I pretty much expected that Katniss and Peeta wouldn’t look too banged up at the final confrontation at the Cornucopia. I mean, this is still Hollywood, after all. They can’t get their beautiful stars too uglied up! I also was selfishly kind of happy that they didn’t end up amputating Peeta’s leg. After all, it was barely mentioned afterward in the books anyway! And I like my Peeta WHOLE. Always.

So there you have it! I’m sure I have even more (erratic) thoughts that I could go on about further, but let’s be honest: I’m probably pushing my luck with you lot as it is. Kudos to anyone who actually read through all of this, haha. The bottom line is: I clearly loved it, I think it’s an incredibly provocative book AND movie, and cannot wait until the second installment is released (slated for November 2013!). Happy Hunger Games!

Thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Just want these Hunger Games posts to stop?

The Hunger Games: Initial Reactions

First off, I got less than four hours of sleep last night, so you’ll have to forgive me if it seems like I’m pumped full of tracker jacker venom as I type this.

Secondly, as you already know I went to the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games last night. I had all the best intentions to nap between work and getting to the theatre which, of course, didn’t happen. Instead, I paced around my house, braiding and re-braiding my hair for a few hours.

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Oh, and I also did my Girl on Fire makeup, natch.

We got to Tysons just before 10, which my fellow Tributes Sean and Erin were not super excited about. It ended up being a good call though, because instead of being greeted with a long line of anxious moviegoers, we walked into an essentially empty lobby. At first, I felt really sheepish. Where were the legions of squealing teenagers? After talking to an employee what the deal was, however, we realized that they had been letting people in as they arrived. We walked in to our theatre (okay, okay, so maybe I ran… sprinted… whatever) just in time to snag the last three non-front-section seats that were together.


A good boyfriend supports your dreams… of regressing to your 14-year-old self.

I have a love-hate relationship with midnight premieres. On the one hand, I am totally That Girl, the one who needs to see the movie OMGASAP! But there are always some unfortunate side-effects of choosing to see an incredibly popular movie with a theatre full of puberty-ridden teenagers. Sometimes it’s fun, like pretty much any time before the movie actually starts. But once the opening credits start rolling, I swear, you need to shut your mouth hole or I will punch you in the throat.

Naturally, the most annoying ones in attendance always end up either directly in front of or behind me. I misled myself and got my hopes up last night, because the entire theatre was ahush and enraptured as soon as the movie started. Of course, as soon as Josh Hutcherson made his first appearance I knew I had spoken too soon. (“Heeheeheehee, he’s so cute! LOL OMG SHHHHHH!”). But hey, it’s not like I won’t be seeing it again. (Duh.) I’ll just have to select a pre-noon movie time (while the legions are still curled up under their comforters) next time to avoid as much inappropriately-timed laughter as possible.

Okay, so now for the the down and dirty of it. My overall take on the movie?

So excited for The Hunger Games!

It. Was. Awesome.

I am going to bite my tongue (er, fingers?) and not give an in-depth review of the movie yet, since it technically only opens today and most of you haven’t seen it yet. That said, I do have a lot of thoughts on it and can’t wait to hear what you all think! I will say this much: I was not disappointed, and I support all of the (for the most part, insignificant) deviations and changes from the book. There was really only one part/aspect that gave me a little pause, but I’m already over it. I also don’t think you need to have read the book in order to A) understand what’s happening or B) enjoy it.

UGH. It was so awesome, I can’t even stand it. I cried no less than four separate times, and was essentially in a heightened emotional state for the entire 2.5 hours. Combine that with the aforementioned few hours of sleep that I got (yes, I am at work today), and I am a total zombie right now. But do you even need to ask? OF COURSE it was worth it. 🙂

I CAN HAZ COFFEE AND GOES AGAIN?!

Have a great weekend, everyone! And Happy Hunger Games! Friday!